So I missed another day yesterday to take some time to look at pacing and order of events for this weird little story I’ve been playing with.
I also needed to have a bad day.
I would be a terrible liar if I said all the changes that have been happening since the end of September are something I’ve taken in stride.
I’ve had a huge upheaval to my life, my location, everything that constitutes day to day existence, and what exactly is ‘normal’ right now. It’s been stressful, difficult, unfair in many ways and I am confident enough in myself to let myself fall apart. It’s a natural way to feel and there is no shame in expressing such things, even if that just means a day in bed bursting into tears for no reason and playing video games.
The upside it to it all, of course, is that these larger stresses have let me just post my writing directly into the world, good or bad, and… I have some new followers as a result! I consider it a win, therefore.
Still! Enough about yesterday, let’s get into some more ‘Fickle’ for today. John remains a little less sarcastic and grumpy in favor of *gasp* genuine emotion! And it looks like I will be wrapping the story up next week, probably around the 30,000 words mark (at a guess).
Either way, I’ve enjoyed this project for what it is!
‘Fickle’ Part 9
I didn’t sleep well. Nor did Gemma.
When I heard her shuffling about the kitchen before the sun was even up, knowing the day would be anything but normal, I poked my snout out of my door and just called her in.
“No point dragging it out, eh? Come on in.”
“Into… your bedroom?”
“Yes. I’m not going to do anything to you.”
“I didn’t think you were it’s just… well. You can be very private sometimes and I don’t want to intrude.”
“You didn’t look around while I was away?”
“Of course not!” she scoffed, folding her arms. “Besides, with your book collection, I don’t want to know what you might have been keeping under your bed.”
“I don’t have a bed.”
If nothing else, that got her to step over the threshold into my abode. She cast critical eyes across the walls and floor, at least… where my bulk wasn’t filling the space.
“It’s more barren than I expected. I thought you’d have art and furs and all sorts in here.”
“I just use it for sleeping, and I like to stretch out.”
“Why not sleep in a smaller form?”
“I feel more comfortable hugging that.”
I jerked my head toward the pillar that took up the entirety of one wall of my curved room and let her approach it. It was just a smooth and perfect curve of dull stone, but she automatically reached out with instinctive reverence to touch it, pulling her hand back as if she risked being burned just before she did so. She seemed confused at her own actions and feelings as she turned to me with a frown.
“What is it?”
“In itself, it’s just a smooth pillar of rock that goes up the center of the mountain. If we climbed all the way to the top of Krakatau, you’d see the top is all fractured from the day the world ended, and that some of the rocks hanging over the island also have this smooth core going through them. It’s like a hollow column holding the mountain up.”
“That doesn’t sound normal.”
“It isn’t. Volcanoes are weak spots in the earth where molten rock from underground comes up… hardly a neat process. But this is all to do with my parents, and how the world broke. This is what started to build when they started fighting down here.” I reached out one of my massive claws and fondly patted the warm stone. It had always made me feel more real, and comfortable, despite what I thought and kind of knew it to be.
“I don’t entirely know. Maybe it was just the result of two opposing forces twirling around each other. It’s… it’s what’s inside it that concerns us though.”
Gemma stretched out a hand again, and this time actually touched the pillar. I saw her shoulders sag a little as tension dropped out of them, the warm smile curve across her lips once she had her palm flat on the rock.
“Mm-hmm. It used to be warmer, back when the rocks above us were floating higher, too.”
“So are you saying… it’s not molten rock in there?”
“If it was, it should have flowed out of the top by now. No, it’s something else. The same thing that’s keeping the rocks floating around up there.”
“And that is…?”
She always did look cute when she was confused. For someone so put together and driven all the time, it was nice to see her in moments of vulnerability, just being human. She opened her mouth to ask a string of questions about what I meant, but I forestalled her with a raised claw – she wouldn’t, after all, know the right questions to even ask to understand what I needed to tell her.
“Look, just let me ramble for a bit, ok?” I said, settling down to just work my way through a series of thoughts and explanations that by all accounts don’t make much sense, even now. “There’s this weird misconception people ended up with, that helped all this chaos we’re living in to happen. The idea in several of the old major religions that God, whichever one you’re talking about, made people. It seems to be some inherent thing in your species that you need a beginning somewhere, something defined that can be pinned down. Even the very oldest religions had this problem – the Egyptians believed their main god masturbated people into existence, which is just… well. What a treat of a species you can be.
But it’s wrong. Gods didn’t make people to believe in them… people’s belief made their gods. You have souls, and whether there’s some greater Ur-god that caused that and ruins everything I know… it’s whatever is in the human soul that both allows godly things to happen, and for people to make their own miracles.
In the space of just a few decades, people harnessed lightning and metal so thoroughly, you could send information to anyone on the planet in seconds, and also send people into space to other planets. Even now, there is a little planet up there entirely inhabited by robots people made, beaming back information to a planet that is no longer listening. To a planet that once made rocks think. Souls caused all of that. Souls, and critical thinking. And it caused the Break.”
I extended my forearm for Gemma to sit on as she walked over to me, brow furrowed but lips firmly shut. She was still listening, which was the most I could ask for.
“Unified, mankind is terrifyingly effective. But you rarely unify for long. That’s to be expected – it’s just a part of being a natural part of the world and its eco-system. You said it yourself – for all humanity has and can do, you’re also still just animals down here, with everything else. Animals, plants, fungi… but you do have souls, and you did create gods. Gods that were supposed to guide you, even if that meant war, but not outright kill you. Not by their own hands.
But they did. It all got so snarled up, my parents caused a genocide unlike anything else, and worst of all… they didn’t even really notice or care. Six billion people wiped out along with every human city, and they didn’t even notice. That’s a lot of dead people. With nowhere to go.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know. It’s hard to put this into words… words don’t work for some things. It’s just… so many people believed their god of choice was a loving and caring god… who would welcome the good into a heavenly embrace, and punish the wicked to a terrible fate or some kind of redemptive journey. I’m not even going to start on what I find issue with in all of that… but I think we can both agree being mushed like a fly by the thing you had believed in for so long, without it even noticing… well. It was not what had been expected. And the dead have every right to be angry.”
I cast a glance back at the pillar in my room and tried not to think of what angry ghosts must sound like.
“I’m not a force of nature. I’m a god, made by people. Instead of being the kind of god that people think THEY have to serve, I’m the kind that fits the way it always should have been – serving them. I exist because the world is broken and people need hope, someone to fix things. And I have a cache of about five billion souls to do it. Five billion dead people who, like you, probably just want the world to be better for who came next and are hanging around to let me do it.”
We sat in silence for a few moments and cast our glances over the pillar. I could feel Gemma’s thoughts, snapping into place. That I existed only because the dying breath of multiple billions of souls had willed me into being, just to try and help those left behind. That I had been born with a purpose, that couldn’t be refused, for a price only the most desperate… the dying… would be happy to pay.
“So that’s why you never said no to anyone…” she murmured.
“I never asked for all this, you know. And none of the dead people, or the living ones, think I should be kind or nice or pleasant… so I’m not. That’s my choice.”
Maybe it’s wrong of me not to carry out what might have been the spirit of the grand wish that created me, and been benevolent… but no one asked me if I minded being a janitor to a broken world and species, and frankly… I kind of do mind, which this rambling tale has no doubt proved.
“What has this got to do with the floating rocks?” Gemma interrupted my own grumbly line of thought with the least important of questions I’d expected her to have. I shrugged a shoulder, which sent a wave down my arm and caused her to bob with the motion.
“Every time I go and do something big, use up a lot of energy to do some immense world-changing work, it uses up the souls of the dead. And the rocks hanging around here, supported on 5 billion little beliefs, sink a little for each one that gets burned up. When they’re all gone, I assume I will be too. And there’s a lot less of them than three years ago. A lot less.”
“So our wishes… we really are spending the souls of the dead? From the old world?”
“And if I make a wish… the rocks, the island, you…”
“Fade away, yes. I assume when it’s all done, I’ll probably vanish too. The belief of the living is very very small compared to the wishes of the dead, and I have no desire to install myself in any position like that my folks once held.”
Which is true, and always has been. Six billion or so people died during the God wars. Of them, near a billion were selfish jerks who died not caring about much save themselves, and I have no clue what happened to their souls if they even had such. But for those that did, for those who thought beyond their own flesh and feelings, I was granted a lot of knowledge. Everything the dead knew when I was spontaneously created I just know, and I know that the old way didn’t work, and shouldn’t happen again. Gemma has always known it too, my little educator as she is. I never wanted to be worshiped.
I just wanted to paint, and find some peace. And I will happily fight anyone who tries to tell me that isn’t a feeling all my own, and merely derived from the dead. I’m allowed to be a selfish jerk and to send dissenters to my complaints department (Bertha. My complaints department is named Bertha.)
“So. If I make a wish…?” The weight of my revelations were clearly weighing on Gemma. Of course they were – that had been the entire point of this exercise, and the drama in the last twelve hours. Still, if I had to deal with humanities stupid and wasteful wishes, it felt good to share the actual cost with one of them too.
“Then I disturb the dead,” I answered with another shrug. “Depending on how big it is, I might be ‘spending’ quite a lot of them. And I know how much the old world means to you.”
“That’s what you thought would bother me?! ‘Spending’ the old world?”
“…what? Of course…” I admit I didn’t expect her outburst. I mean, I had thought the fact I was frittering away thousands to millions of souls on other people’s stupid wishes would bother her, but she was practically angry-laughing at me and I still don’t entirely get why.
“You are such a stupid idiot, Fickle!”
“They’re dead, grumpscales! The least the dead can do is help the living! They helped cause all this, they can damn well help fix it. That’s just sensible!”
“…I. Alright. You have a better right to decide than I do, I suppose.” I was paying lip service, and I am not ashamed to admit it. I will never, ever, understand the unique crazy that is Gemma.
“Actually, I don’t. And… you’re right. I don’t… I don’t want to make my wish right now.”
“I have my reasons. Look, I… can I ask you something? Just an ask, between us, not a wish.”
“Well, everything else has been like that so far…”
“Good. Then get up, and let’s go get breakfast, and have a swim, and just relax today. Clearly, we’ve both been overworked.”
“Sure, if that’s what you want…”
So, we did. I told Gemma the greatest secrets I held, everything about the who and why of what I was, even justifying a few of her preconceived notions about my behavior… and we spent the day swimming, sunbathing and eating fruit.
For once, no one even came to the island to ask for help. It was a very nice day.
The next morning, she was gone.
I knew the second I woke up, and while I had expected that on the day she chose to go back to her own people, I would be terribly sad… I just felt numb. My island was quiet and serene, and empty, and so was my heart. I felt calm as I made breakfast, and perfectly reasonable when I went into what had been her room to tidy away those few things left behind.
I checked on the printing press, and on the room which had become my gallery now there were no books, and carried the note in her handwriting with me, out to the bath I made. I burnt it in the fire I set under the tub, then climbed in to relax in the hot water, surrounded by the smells of coconut and citrus that I associated with her.
In the afternoon, I got up and went to Mexico, like she had suggested, with the intention to paint some of the new corals we had installed together, back when all this started. Three years was hardly enough for the reef to have gone mad with growth, but it was enough time for other life to also settle in, and for the fish populations to begin to recover. I sat on the beach and painted until the sun went down.
I could have gone to find her. It wouldn’t have cost me much, or taken that long. But I didn’t feel the need to, nor did I want to. She wasn’t on the island anymore, and I had known from the moment I woke up that it would be a long time before we met again. And that was OK.
I hung the painting in the back of the gallery when I got home, where I wouldn’t have to look at the freckled bat-fish every time I walked past the door and went to bed.
In time, the not-hurt faded. Life always goes on, after all, and I had not yet worn out my purpose. Nor still had humanity worn out its desires for petty solutions. Still, over time, the requests did start to change.
I stopped really counting the days and months, but I think it was about five years I spent on my own, and even in that short of a time, I could feel the world… relaxing. My work had, it seemed, had an effect.
The weather calmed down if nothing else. With the planet pulled back into line in terms of ocean currents and ice levels, the number of hurricanes and weird seasons in some parts of the world stabilized, and the rains once again blessed Africa like they were supposed to.
Hot and cold built and ebbed in the right places again, especially when I snuck off on my own back on day to finally fix all the glacier issues still outstanding. I built a few up in the Arctic and around Greenland and put the Antarctic back to the right size too.
With the climate now the way I wanted it, I set about making sure my island was still appropriately difficult to get to. Gods shouldn’t outright kill men, but any man stupid enough to poke a snapping turtle or a viper was only getting what they deserved from nature herself. It took all my self-control not to mutate some of the big lizards still in the world into an Allosaurus just because I could.
In between all of this, I also tried to continue my ongoing quest to grow strawberries on the island, to the usual lack of success.
And speaking of lack of success, naturally, my safeguards also didn’t work. For every five people who kill themselves learning the hard way about the hazards of my lair, the sixth one makes it through, and thus, I kept busy.
In North America, an outbreak of the plague was easily solved with a little itching powder. Amazing how people who have been putting off washing for some reason or another and are passing around infected fleas will have a proper bath, in hot water, just to get the itching to stop. I also brought in a few predators to cut down on the rat population and burnt old clothing stores in a show of terror, but it got the job done, and it was honestly one of the last big jobs I did that seemed… uninformed.
I found myself spending more time cleaning up blocked or choked out rivers and lakes to make the water safe again, or answering petitions to help struggling mothers with childbirth, or restoring gutted forests. Cities fell and grew as I was dragged in to be a living bulldozer, steadily working my way through the souls of the dead to rebuild the world of the living, whether I liked it or not.
But… it was nice to fly through air that steadily seemed to be smelling clearer and clearer and to see the broad silver band of the entire milky-way, even close to human settlements, by night.
The world kept turning, and for a brief while, I dared to hope I might actually finally convince humanity to leave me alone, now they were so busy beginning to cope and manage by themselves. Soon, I was sure, they would forget about me.
Some days, when I woke up, I thought I felt Gemma nearby, but by the time I’d actually roused myself from bed to peer out into the morning mist, the feeling was always gone. I knew she at least wouldn’t forget, but she was human – one day she too would die, and maybe then we could all put the silliness behind us.
I was hopeful. It was a weird feeling, considering, and not one I was at all used to. But of course, in the truest nature of all things, I needn’t have worried – humanity came along once again to muck it all up.
They brought me a bloody happy ending, is what they did. The gits.
Word Count: 25,957/50,000