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“The river stole the gods.”

That’s what my grandmother used to say, anyway. “The river stole Them away from us, and left us alone. Left us to survive without Them.” They had belonged to our people for centuries, longer than we’d been maintaining a record of our tribe. I still remembered the stories that we would hear every night, that the elders of the village would share. Stories of how the gods came to be, what They did.

The First of the gods had come to us from the river, so it never seemed strange to me that the river had taken Them back. It was perfectly logical to me, but I was always a bit strange, according to my brother. The First was born to us from the reeds and the mud, given shape by the flowing water that still sustains our village. The sun looked down and saw the shape, and baked Him into hard clay, and the full moon looked down on the empty body and saw fit to give Him a soul, and then the moon began to wane, and He rose up and made His seven sisters and brothers in the same manner. Soon, all of the gods had been given Their shape, with the First asking the sun to dry Them, and the moon to give Them souls as well. The sun complied willingly, for the sun is always hot again with each new day, but the moon replied that there was but one soul left, and that it was the moon’s own soul, for there could be nothing more given until the moon was full again. So the First god took His own soul and broke it into eight pieces on a rock at midnight, when the moon was gone, for He could not wait for the moon to return with new souls. My grandmother told us that this was supposed to be a lesson about patience, but I never really understood why. I wanted to ask her if the rock the First had used to break His soul was still there, if she knew where He had done it. Instead, I’d just smile and nod and encourage my brother to do the same so that she wouldn’t yell at us for not learning from her stories. Father and Mother would have spanked us, so even the yelling was preferred if it came to that.

One fraction of the First’s soul, He took back into Himself. The remaining seven fragments were given to His brothers and sisters, and once They too possessed souls, They stood by His side. Together, They then set about naming all of the things, and dividing the world into parts that each of Them would oversee. The seas, the skies, the stars, the earth, the plants, the beasts, time. Each of the First’s siblings was god of these things. The First presided over Them all, giving Them guidance, since He was connected to all of Them through His soul. For centuries, our people lived in peace under Their rule, and They would return to our village every month to visit the place of Their birth. “We would watch Them from a great distance, and we could see that every one of Them stood at least twice as tall as my father, who was the tallest man in the village,” my grandmother said. “And we would hide, but still try to see what They were doing. Their gatherings always lasted from sunrise to moonrise, as They honored the place of Their birth. They appeared at dawn, They stood at the river’s edge in the mud from which They were formed, and They vanished as the moon took its place in the sky.” We asked my grandmother to describe Them, beyond Their great height. “They were the color of the river, bright when the sun shone on Them, blending with the night save for a subtle shimmer when it didn’t. They were beautiful.”

The gods were kind, benevolent, and very slow to anger. My grandmother only knew of one time when They had seen fit to punish any of the people of our village, just before the river took Them. It was harvest time, and one of the men of the village had been found having killed his neighbor. Murder was unheard of in the village. Death was not uncommon, but it was not the explicit realm of any of the gods, and so it was deemed to be something far beyond the control of men. After all, if the gods have no power over a thing, what hope does man have of controlling it? When this man was found with another’s blood on his hands, he was locked away until the next time the gods came. The villagers had no idea that it was going to be the last time. The gods returned as was Their fashion, and instead of hiding from them, my grandmother’s father stood near where he knew they would appear. When They arrived, he called out to them, and my grandmother and the others hid in the usual place. “My father spoke to them,” she says, “but we couldn’t hear him or Them from our hiding place. Eventually he came back to us, saying that the First had demanded the murderer be brought to him. We brought him out, and my father took him to where the gods waited for them. They looked at the man, and instructed my father to come back to hide with us.” Here she always grows sad. “We heard the rushing sound of the water, and saw the gods step into the middle of the river, the killer up to his neck. There was a great rush of white and blue, and when the surge passed, there was no one left. No murderer, no vengeful gods. We never saw any of Them again after the river stole Them away. Punished him, and punished us all by leaving us here without Them.”

Note: This story was written for a “Story from a Sentence” challenge from Chuck Wendig over at terribleminds. He hosts similar challenges weekly, and I’m trying to get back into the rhythm of writing for them. Hopefully more microfiction will continue to arrive here on a somewhat consistent basis. Thanks for reading!

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