forgotten gods

The Ruins Breathe

What creature of stone languished in the desert waste? A forgotten ruin, buried under sand and obscured by detritus, breathing hot, dry air through lungs of worn rock. Last gasps of a civilization long lost. A collapsed temple, gently pulled into the present by archaeologists, excavated from darkness back into the sun. Centuries, millennia had passed since last its depths were plumbed. Yet, walking its halls, these new explorers felt wind blow where there should only have been quiet, only stagnation. They touched the walls and swore they hummed. Somewhere deep within, a low, dull heart seemed to beat.

                This place… is alive. The thought leapt unbidden, unspoken, to many a mind. Discarded for its absurdity and yet as they lingered in this sacred place, it seemed all the more a certainty.

                There were too many mysteries about this living, rubble beast. From whence did it hail? There were no other remains for miles, no cultural touchstones from known nations that had risen, only to fall. It sprouted, a malignant tumor on the Gobi’s epidermis, in the middle of nowhere, built suring no obvious when. The hieroglyphs whittled on its walls and ceilings match no others. Only through inference could linguists and ethnographers even hope to translate. And in the reading most meaning was surely lost.

                Created… life… stone… life… we… life… subside… life… only… Temple… allowed… life…

                At night, in tents and substructures dwarfed by the ruin that grew more and more each day as sand was cleared away, these explorers dreamed of times long forgotten. Memories known to none still alive. Painted faces, harsh guttural sentences, simple and brutal for a simpler, bloodier time. Their souls boiled with emotion foreign to modern sensibilities. They itched to… to… they were not sure what.

                They sent a messenger to let the world know what they found. No phone would function, some magnetic force blinded the eyes of satellites above. Only by horse, or camel-back, over hundreds of miles of wasteland could they send word.

                Weeks passed, months, and the desert temple of unknown provenance grew and grew. Its corridors had no end, and still in the distance a heart beat and a voice whispered, and still they could not find it. They waited for reinforcements, to be relieved, to be free from the eye of the sun, from the words on the walls that every day became more a part of them.

                Months passed, and these creatures began to worship a God with no name, in dream and in ritual, reborn after centuries.

                Finally, relief came, but too late. They arrived before an empty temple. No trace of the tents, or the life that had erected them, no trace of those who had uncovered the desert wonder. The halls were wide and silent, only the quiet breath, a silent, echoed thumping. The only hint that anything transpired in this place in a recent eon? Blood, streaked on the ceilings and walls, covering long-unreadable hieroglyphs in recognizable English words, though what they meant was arch and unsure:

                They created life, stone life, our life, ours… subsides. Only the Temple, only those of the temple are allowed to…

                And now we join them, and leave this life behind.

Old Money

                Ah, the gentlemen’s club, last bastion of fresh cigars and old money. Where scotch vapors and thick smoke choke the air. Dimly lit by lamp and the brief life of matches, by lighter and watch-face, navigating the chairs and tables in the dusk is as difficult task as navigating the social scene, the inbred legions of old money, of pretension and condescension. Where image is all that matters, where status is greater than substance. It is the dying resting place of the wealthy, but it is not dead, not yet.

Here Walter Mathis made his home, here lived his people.

                So it came much to his surprise, one inauspicious Friday night, when he found seated in his regular chair a young man he did not recognize. There were no labels designating this chair as such, his preferred place by the fire. Where he whiled away many an hour sipping whiskey and talking nonsense with fellows who, like himself, were products of birth and not their own labor. Here such things as station, and wealth, and what was owned, and by whom, were just known, understood, and never questioned.

                “Excuse me.”

                The young man looked up, but did not move. Eyes placid, dark moons in a white sky.

                “Can I help you…”

                “Walter. Mathis… Sir Walter Mathis,” The noble sputtered, unused to being so challenged. He gathered his bearings and continued. “And you know very well what’s required.”

                His voice carried no inherent command, just the assumption that, backed by his name, orders from it would be obeyed. Walter was not one accustomed to resistance.

                “Ah yes, of course,” The young man smiled, moving only the corners of his mouth, like the rest of him was cast in plaster. “You want me to move.”

                Walter silently fumed, and said nothing, waiting for his place in the universe to restore itself.

                “You see, as I understand it, the oldest money can sit where it may-”

                Here Sir Mathis could bear the indignity no longer. “The Mathis family has been coming this club for generations. Here the eldest has always sat. Ours is a proud family, a wealthy family, and it is on our patronage that the legacy of this place was built. So you see… you see…”

                Mid-tirade, the young upstart, usurper of Walter’s rightful place, turned away watching the wood crackling in the flames as if nothing in the room were more worthy of his attention.

                “You speak of generations, of centuries, as if I should be impressed Walter. Time… is a fickle thing. So much of it passes, worth so little.” As the young man spoke, still he did not look at Walter, but the flames. And every eye in the house was drawn to their confrontation, and so too were they taken by the young man’s impudence. Wondering how a stranger unknown to them all even merited entrance to their world.

The young man’s voice was low and hollow. And it struck Walter as though it belonged to one much older than the face it bore. The shadows he cast, flickering with the blaze that cast them, stretched long in the gloom, far longer than his seated form merited. There were depths here, depths Walter was too blind to recognize. And he waded into them now. Unbeknownst to him, the waters swelled way over his head.

“Anyone in this club will tell you who I am… what my family has done.” Walter continued to flail and drown, confident his name was life-raft enough. “Who, pray tell, are you? How have you earned MY seat?” He moved to stand between the young man, still nameless, and the flames. He would be acknowledged. In his world, he would not stand to be ignored.

“I am one who does not have to answer. That I sit here, unmolested, should be answer enough. Run along, ‘Sir’ Mathis, before you open doors you cannot close.”

“You… you… that is old money’s chair. The oldest! No one here even knows your name! Everyone can say what the Mathises have done. How they helped build this-“

"Old money?" The young man laughed, “Old money? You know nothing of time, and understand even less of wealth.”

The façade fell away, youth and naïveté falling with it, and Walter saw it was he, of salt and pepper hair and the paunch of middle age, who was the youth here. The creature in his chair, with eyes of flame and soot, cast in coal, skin dark and shining like obsidian, seemed far older than even the idea of man. Than life itself.

"Old money?" The ancient scoffed, "You men are fools. We have accrued wealth since before this universe was a twinkle in its God's eye! We have watched the parade of expansion and collapse with little interest. We exist, or not, at our own leisure. This… club? Your chair? Are of little consequence to us. But I claim what I will, and I will not. Be. Questioned."

Suddenly Walter saw that he was alone, alone with a presence that measured its life in epochs. How small he felt then. Unsure of protocol, he fell back on dealings with royalty, and knelt. And begged.

“My Lord, I-I’m sorry, I didn’t. I did not know!”

“No, I suppose not,” The being’s voice echoed a hundred, thousand times, equaling the number of souls in its timbre, “But that still will not save you.”

With a wave of its hand, the whole room caught fire. Turning to ash, the former Sir Mathis burned away with it.

Those interviewed later, by the police and their families, by gentlemen in other clubs, by friends and curious barman, all insisted on the same truth: Long after the club burned, long after the smoke settled and the foundation crumbled to dust, the screams of the late Sir Mathis could still be heard, dwindling in the evening frost.

The Slow Remembrance of Lost Selves

                After who knows how long, an age spent wandering in the desert, the lost began begin to remember. No memory can be suppressed forever. Burrowed deep beneath years of disuse, the skeleton of the truth always remains, waiting for flesh to dress its bones once more. Waiting to be recalled, hungry to be acknowledged.

                “Sandals with wings,” One amnesiac soul muttered.

                The guide stopped in her tracks. “I’m sorry?” She asked, pretending disinterest.

                “I remember… wearing sandals with wings. I was a messenger. A messenger between…”

                “Yes, well, you are no longer,” She feigned Impertinence. It was her sworn duty to ensure they never rose again. She had promised the son. The fathers who had overthrown their own fathers would languish. Their own minds overthrown, memories of their former prominence buried under mountains of sand, the pressures of hell. But still within them, embers of old lives flickered, and to extinguish them was a delicate dance. In the balance hung her life.

                You do not want me to intercede, dear Pandora, if I do, the Gods may not survive. But you… you will most certainly perish.

                Fear thrilled within her. Pushed her to speak more than perhaps she should. ”Indeed, you never were. You must leave behind these fantasies of past lives. This heat, these sands, are all that are. Everything else is a lie, beyond you, beyond me… Let us accept our fate.”

                The Gods, who had forgotten themselves, and their station, strung out behind her. Refugees in an unforgiving landscape. Their eyes no longer even bothered to scan the horizon, for they knew that there awaited the same nothing that had greeted them for the same thousands score of days they trudged through the endless sun and the endless barrenness.  In most of their eyes lay defeat, the dull nothingness that reflected the world devouring them. But in a few eyes, long dormant flames were slowly stoked.

                In one skeletal messenger, each blink brought dreams of wings. And scoundrels, silver tongues and the wandering dead. His charges, his… worshipers. Souls that cried out to him still.

                In one blonde-haired maiden, each step brought memories of prose composed in her honor, sculpture worked by her patronage and inspiration. Human hands… humans, she mused at the word. Strange creatures, her strange creatures, motivated to sculpt by her power. Art, she remembered art.

                In one silver-haired giant, still broad-chested despite millennia of starvation, flickered dreams of… fathered hood. Strange images, bovine, golden rain, giving life again and again. Lust and jealousy, indefatigable hungers. He was… he was…

                “Father, they called me Father.” He whispers. And their guide turns back to him and says nothing, but in her heart, which pumps not blood but black ambrosia through her veins, despair trickles. They would remember. And in their remembrance came promised death. She hears the dark whispers of the king, perched perilously on his throne. Whose dominance predicated on these immortals remaining lost forever.

                I am watching you. Always. I will not allow failure. Not this time.

The King In A Tesseract Castle

                The castle contains all things and nothing, is constructed from all colors and none. Is built in the styles of every time, and thus reflected none of them. It is a horrid cube. A pyramid, a flat-line raised in the Nowhere. In it, rainbows haunt the darkness, and darkness meshes with light. All is clear, but the only certainties are the unknown.

                “Again,” The monarch’s tongue, forked and metal, slithers out from between the idea of lips, from within the fog, a hazy truth that existed at the center of all universe. Perched on a crystal throne at the center of a castle constructed beyond time’s ceaseless flow, he watches, on a screen made of air, the highlight of all creature’s suffering. Of genocide and heartbreak, death and abandonment, the evil we work on ourselves. The reel starts from the beginning; its images form a blooded, wailing chorus line.

                “Again.” Servants stand by him silently, each with a foot in a different reality, constantly feeding him that which keeps him alive: Schadenfreude. His eyes burn red, the still hot embers in a dying smelter’s fire at their core flare with pleasure in the presence of so much pain… but still. It is not enough. He can feel his heart slowing, he can feel the real start to break apart.

                “More… I require more. What haven’t I tasted in while.” The multiverse was infinite and so was he, a creature stretching across times. It is hard to find something new.

                “The Immortals, sire?” One of the blank faces, a reflection of his own, speaks. A servant in the back, a nameless regent of an unknown realm.

                “Immortals?” It takes the king a moment to remember. “Ah, those long dead Gods? I sent them beyond my sight for a reason. Only they can-”

                “They will not escape sire, the Guide I provided them with can assure that. But in the meantime, they will suffer. Greatly. The deathless suffering of those who were once much more than they are.”

                “I sense danger in this. I sense…” The King is unsure why he hesitates. For one who exists in the future as well as the past, it was difficult for him to see either clearly, yet on his slivered tongue he feels danger, tastes blood. It does not scare him, but excites. Finally a chance for change.

                “Fine, show me…”

                The air shifts in an instant. Now showing the image of a desert in the furthest corner of the most distant reality. A ragtag band draped in rags and disillusionment, those who wandered so long they forgot who they were and what they must do. It shows their guide, the echo of a lie, who promises no escape, leading them further and further from their only exit and the thrones that were once theirs.

                “There is no exit, not for me or for you. This is the only world. It always has been.”

                One of the ex-Gods stops, scratching at his head, trying to remember. “But I swear, I remember blue… green… other colors that are not here. I remember… wielding… immense power. I remember…”

                “Dreams,” The guide interrupts quickly, hazarding a look at the space in Nowhere from whence the king watched their pilgrimage. “You remember nothing but dreams.”

                “A prior life perhaps?”

                “Perhaps,” She allows herself that small, dangerous confession.

                We must give them space for their doubt to fester, she thinks to the king. Otherwise, in their anger they might boil over to other world.

                Trust me, she implores the king. I am their master. I can continue to lead them astray.

                In the King’s gut of metal and magic, watching a God briefly recall a flash of itself, something new rumbles deep within. Fear, yes… but again excitement. He feels a dark hand reach towards him from the future.

                Something, or someone was coming. Perhaps a death he cannot see.

The World Beyond Life

                The Immortals craved death. But before them lay only desert. Behind them the same wastes, the same desolation. The sun-fired sands in turn cooked their feet. Their soles calloused and their skin burned brown, their entire bodies covered in the same even tone.  Their naked forms blistered in the sun, their shoes and clothes all long since lost to time. They needed not eat, drink or defecate. They did not even remember that once they did these things.

Hollow eyes fixed on the ground before them, on each shuffling step that carried them deeper into the burning sea. Each day carrion birds trailed them, hoping perhaps one of them might fall, or perhaps they too were cursed with infinite life amidst lifelessness, an existence without hope. They stumbled up dunes and then down again, indentations from their steps linger behind them in the windless steppe, where not even the sands shift, where they were the only things that moved.

“How long must we walk?” A Nameless one wondered aloud, punctuating centuries of silence. His fellow travelers stared at him mutely, perhaps they forgot how to speak, or why they even would.

                “How long until we die?” Shielding his face from the sun, which shined and shined and never set, under which they walked and walked and never slept, never stopped, he regarded it as if expecting an answer. But if indeed there was some intelligence who watched them, some force that had cursed them with survival, no answer forthcame from the skies.

                “Why are we here? Why? Why do we endure?”

                The susurrus rustle of men wading through still sands was the only reply.

                “Why I ask you? Why?” Finally he grabbed another of his compatriots, a nearby woman of indeterminate age and origin, face etched with deep lines but with shining brown hair and dark eyes that saw open and clear.

                He quickly realized: He did not know this woman. Into their hermetic desert entered something new

                “You are the ones that time forgot,” She addresses herself not just to this man, of no identity, no name, no memory. But to the group. “You are the ones life left behind.”

                “Who? Who are you?” One of them asked, which one mattered not, they all had long since ceased to be individuals, but empty husks. Full of blood but not verve, ambulatory but not alive.

                “I am your guide.”

                “Where are you taking us?” The initial questioner demanded, though the question echoed in every mind.

                “You are already there,” And with that, she turned and started walking back the way the group came, back over their innumerable footsteps. And, after a while, the men followed, lost in a world beyond life.