Adam and Eve

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A tear.

Sparkling. Pristine. Pure.

Another follows, then another.

Like rain, those first bitter drops precipitate into a storm. Soon, dual rivers flow along the age worn contours of Adam’s and Eve’s windswept cheeks.

A village once stood where Adam and Eve now kneel, but a village stands no more. For before the water from their eyes, there came a fire, a monster forged in the crucible of hate and destruction. It started abroad, caught like kindling in the hearts of their people, and spread, until their small civilization collapsed, until the people picked up their grievances along with their weapons and bled into the dry, dusty ground.

Magic.

It was a menace, some had argued. It had to be suppressed. It was dangerous to wield, and what good it could effect was far outweighed by the devastation that resulted whenever it was summoned by wicked hands.

It was an important tool, others had countered. Not only could it summon the rains to water the fields or heal those who were beyond the aid of a doctor, it could be used to defend against those who chose to pursue a darker path.

They argued.

Whenever magic was used for evil, those who were against it would point to what had been done as an example of why it should be suppressed. Whenever magic was used for good, those who were for it would point to what had been done as an example of why it must be saved.

And they argued.

In their hearts, a transformation had begun. Their love for each other died; their hatred for each other grew. Each side argued that their only interest was the common good, and each side used what means they had to destroy the other, until the drums of war could be heard over the horizon. Until someone started the fire. Until the world began to burn.

The Adams and Eves of the world did their best to broker peace. “Sit,” they said. “Let us settle our differences as brothers and sisters, not enemies.”

But those who were for magic and those who were against denounced them as one. “How can you remain neutral while the enemies of humanity would destroy us?”

And they argued.

The Adams and Eves looked on with mute horror as the lights went out in their neighbors’s eyes, and they watched, helpless, as their people went to war with themselves, as they killed those they’d broken bread with only months before.

In the name of love and peace, both sides had slaughtered with reckless abandon.

Now, this particular Adam and this particular Eve kneel before the ground, a world sized altar whose constant thirst for sacrifice has been slaked once more. They’ve buried the bodies. They’ve prayed for peace.

A tear falls.

Another follows, then another.

They water the ground. They make the barren earth fertile. Adam and Eve have faith that the fields will grow once more, that humanity will rise from the ashes of its ancestors to love and thrive again.

There are none left in whom the fire still burns, for only the Adams and the Eves remain.

Exile

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The road Jeremy traveled crested a steep, sandy hill, and he stopped for a moment to look around. Not that there was anything to see. The landscape had remained unchanged since his arrival some five hundred years ago.

He didn’t know where the road began, only that it was long, that as far as he knew, it had no end. It stretched toward a horizon that never got any closer, surrounded by dry, desolate desert.

A hot convection oven breeze kicked sand into his blistered, sunburned face, and he slitted his eyes, praying it wasn’t the start of yet another sandstorm, from which he’d never enjoyed any protection.

He was immortal now. He hadn’t always been, but his captors had made him so before exiling him. An unexpected gift, he’d thought at the time, a miscalculation on the part of his enemies. Now, centuries later, he knew better.

The wind died down, and with it the momentary blast of sand. The world came gradually into focus.

Jeremy recoiled.

In the distance, perhaps a thousand feet ahead, perhaps two, a lone figure stood, feet planted in the middle of the road. This far away, he couldn’t make out much, only a dark speck against the blinding backdrop of the desert.

Hadn’t they said the never-ending journey was his alone? Then why would they come to him now, after so many years? It had to be one of them. Nobody else could have found him.

Cautiously he continued, a thousand possible scenarios streaming through his head like film. An assassin? A messenger? Maybe they just wanted to taunt him. He wouldn’t have thought them capable of such cruelty, but he didn’t put it past them either.

Each step forward, each rise and fall of the sandy terrain, brought the two closer to whatever inevitable interaction awaited. Jeremy could make out more details now, the ink black robes that covered the figure from head to toe, the canteen that hung from a strap at the figure’s side.

A canteen. That meant water.

If Jeremy had been allowed a drink, his mouth would have watered. But there was no water in this place, nor had there ever been, as far as he could tell. With a single spell, they’d given his body all it needed to survive the unrelenting heat, but not an iota more. Part of his punishment, they’d said. It was a wonder he hadn’t gone mad.

If they’d decided to kill him, it would be a mercy. Clinging to sanity was a daily struggle, and with each passing year he could feel himself slip a little further, feel himself succumb to despair a little more completely.

Another step. Then another. The figure was close now, but whether they were a man or a woman it was impossible for Jeremy to say, the black robes obscuring their face and hair.

A second blast of wind took him by surprise, and a spray of sand zapped him in the eyes before he could turn away. The burning was enough to make him stagger.

“What do you want?” he growled. “Have you come to delight in my suffering?”

No reply.

Slowly he opened his eyes. Tears welled at the corners, blurring his vision.

They stood face to face now. The figure, untouched by the sand, stared at him with bright electric blue eyes.

Didn’t he know those eyes from someplace? The ghost of a memory danced at the periphery of his mind’s vision, but he couldn’t bring it into focus.

“Hello.”

At last, the figure spoke. Their voice was deep, husky, like gravel sliding across the sand, but the sound was unmistakably female. More memories, sharp now, but disjointed and inconsistent, like shards of glass, sparkling haphazardly beneath the sun.

“You’ll remember.”

And sure enough, the pieces realigned, fused, formed a cohesive whole. At last, he saw the vision his mind had tried so hard to reveal.

Six robed figures, silent, still as marble statues. Three men, three women, representatives of humanity, as they called themselves, though their function was judicial rather than diplomatic.

“How do you plead?” they asked in unison, breaking the silence. The sound rolled through the vast underground court, and the torches in the stone walls wavered, as if their words had the power to summon wind.

Jeremy looked up, beaten, broken, feeling as if the wind had been knocked from his lungs.

The six nodded, as if they hadn’t expected him to say anything else.

“You condemned millions to a life without hope. We sentence you to the same.”

And they had exiled him, sent him to this hell of endless sun and sand. The woman with the electric blue eyes, she’d been there too, hadn’t she? Looking him up and down, appraising him, sizing him up.

“You will wander alone,” she’d said in the same gravely voice. “On and on, without respite or reprieve. The horizon’s end will be forever out of reach. You will know despair, as your victims knew despair.”

She and two others carried him, kicking and screaming, through a gate, depositing him in the world he cursed today with every exhalation of breath.

Only here she was again.

“You,” Jeremy croaked, rubbing red, swollen eyes. “You were the one who sent me here. Is this part of my punishment, to taunt me at my lowest point? Then do it, and be on your way!”

The woman’s eyes sparkled. Stunned, Jeremy realized after a moment she was crying.

“Your sentence,” she said, voice lowered almost to a whisper, “has been commuted. You’re free to go.”

Free to go. He knew the meaning of the words, could understand how they fit together in a sentence. But he couldn’t understand what they meant in relation to himself.

“What do you mean, free to go?”

“I mean, your exile is over and I’ve come to take you home.”

“But—” He sunk to his knees, salty, bitter tears cascading down cracked, sun baked cheeks.

“Your punishment was to taste the despair of your victims, to understand on a visceral level what you did to them. But it was never truly a life sentence. Our function is to rehabilitate, not to destroy.”

She said this with such unexpected care, like a mother opening her arms to a wayward child.

“You had to know what your victims went through in order to understand the gravity of your crime. Now that you’ve been broken, we can make you into something new.”

Anger. Incredulity. Absurdity. These emotions and more flashed through his heart, one after the other, chasing each other around in his head until all he could feel was numb.

The woman stepped forward, took him by the shoulder.

“Come,” she said, and at her touch, the desert around them faded to black.

Donna

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I had a lot on my plate this week and wasn’t able to write a new piece, so I’ve reposted one of my Patreon shorts from last year. It should be new for most of you. I’ll have an original story for you guys next week 🙂

Her human name was Donna. She had a husband named Bill, a son named Rob. Donna lived in the desert in a house she and Bill had built when they were young.

Her humanity was an integral part of who she was. But it was not the only part, nor even the largest part.

In a realm beyond the stars, beyond even empty space, she had been a queen, was still a queen, for in that place there was no time, so that when she eventually returned it would be as if she’d never left. She had ruled, and continued to rule, with wisdom and strength. But something was missing. Something important. Something necessary.

So she’d descended, subjected herself to the internal workings of the cosmos, taken on flesh and blood. She experienced the fullness of humanity, the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows. She plumbed the depths of human emotion, divined its arcane secrets. She learned what it was like to live. To breathe. To feel. Sometimes there was pain, but she found that it was always followed by relief. And sometimes there was sadness, but she found that it was always followed by joy.

Love.

That had been the most important lesson. She’d lived many happy years with her husband, her family and her friends, and she’d loved every one of them. Love sustained her. Guided her. Fulfilled her. It quickly became the source and summit of her human existence. It was what human poets wrote about, what human musicians sang about, what human philosophers dreamed about. It was the one thing that set the species apart from all the other creatures in the universe.

The linearity of time ensured that just as her life had begun, so too would it end. She suspected she had a number of good years left, but when it was time for her Earthly pilgrimage to conclude, she would let the sting of death take her, would let that last pang of loss teach her its final lesson. Then she would ascend once more to her incorporeal throne in the stars, and would carry the memory of her humanity with her.

It was part of her now, and would be evermore.

The Voice

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“You can’t do this,” whispered a malevolent voice in the dark, a sound Amanda hadn’t heard in years.

She gritted her teeth, dug in her heels and tried to stand her ground. But it was persuasive, and Amanda didn’t know if she was strong enough to defy it.

The voice had been with her from birth, a dry hollow rattle that only she could hear. Its jealous strains had always tempted her to doubt, but the successes of her youth had made her confident, perhaps overly so, and for decades, the voice was little more than a nuisance, a background static in a constellation of accomplishments and accolades.

She’d conjured whole worlds ex nihilo, populated an entire cosmos in the realm where reality and conscious thought were one. Still, the voice was persistent, pointing out the flaws, the imperfections in her work.

“That world over there,” it would say, “Look how it wobbles and tilts on its axis.”

And Amanda would see it as if for the first time and realize the voice was right.

“And that world over there,” the voice would continue, “Look at its bulbous, oblong shape. How can you call yourself a professional?”

And Amanda would look again and once more realize the voice was right.

On and on the voice argued, and no matter how long Amanda honed the finer details, no matter how long she strove to satisfy the exacting requirements of perfection, she always fell short, and the voice was always there to remind her.

Amanda’s final attempt had been almost ten years ago, a tiny desert world that had come to her in a dream. In her eyes, it was a possibility for redemption, an opportunity to reduce that awful voice to silence at last, and she labored for the better part of a year, drawing on every resource left at her disposal.

When at last she was finished, sweaty and short of breath, the voice offered a terse appraisal.

“A good idea that suffers from a lackluster implementation.”

Amanda withered. A few weeks later, she retired.

But the urge to create had proved too strong to ignore. She’d tried, of course. For years she’d tried. She’d worked other jobs, and when she got home she would occupy her off hours with various unrelated hobbies, all in the vain hope of drowning a desire that had only ever lead to heartbreak and frustration. But the old dreams refused to die, and though Amanda had found some temporary respite from the voice, she knew it wouldn’t be long before she would have to try again.

When that time finally came, when the need to create grew into an all-consuming fire that threatened to scour her soul to the bone, she locked herself in her basement, where she’d covered over her old workshop with a faded dusty tarp. Now, taking a deep breath, she swept the tarp aside.

“What are you doing?” asked a familiar voice. “You’ve been out of practice for years. What makes you think you’ll succeed now?”

Amanda trembled. She knew it spoke the truth. Even during her peak, the voice had found plenty of flaws in her work. What made her think she could do better now?

Still, the desire to create overwhelmed her. It was an ocean of power held back by only a single floodgate, a force of nature that would destroy her if she didn’t channel it properly. So she ignored the voice. She picked up her old tools, dusted them off beneath the dim illumination of a nearby desk lamp, and after a shuddering, rattling breath, she got to work.

“Didn’t you hear me?” asked the voice, incredulous at her determination. “You’re going to fail. You’re going to fuck this up just like you fuck up everything.”

Amanda hesitated. She tried to focus on the nascent world in front of her, tried to shut out the voice’s spiteful remarks, but it was hard, it was so hard. The tools slipped in her fingers, and she wondered, not for the first time, if she was making a mistake.

But that urge, that need to create, it burned, it burned so much, and every moment she spent second guessing instead of working was a moment of torture and almost unbearable agony. So in spite of the voice’s constant rebukes, in spite of her own crippling doubts, she kept at it.

On and on she toiled, for hours or days, she couldn’t say, and as the rusty hinges and squealing iron gears began to turn as they once had so many years ago, the pent up magic burst inside her like a grenade, a shower of bright, coruscating sparks that filled Amanda with almost euphoric joy.

When at last she’d finished, the voice offered a scathing critique.

“That world,” it mocked, “Look how crude and simple it is. Hardly your best.”

Amanda considered its remarks. “You’re right,” she said, but after having released a decade of frustration, after having poured her soul into the project, she discovered that was okay. She’d learned that through the lens of imperfection, beauty could only be magnified.

The voice sputtered and could offer no reply. For so long, it had used the truth as a weapon. Now, that weapon was useless. Deflated, it fled into the darkness and was silent at last.

Amanda knew it would return, that in the fullness of time it would make her doubt again. But instead of shrinking away from the inevitability, instead of hanging up her tools for another ten years, she decided she would face it head on.