The ineffable truths regarding the morality of an absent god – fast fiction ~title by Ether_Shadow~He stood there, looking at the small altar. It had what he needed, but the more he stared at it, the more he thought that maybe he shouldn’t be messing about in these things. Jay scowled at the candles burning and turned away from them. He stepped into his tiny kitchen and slumped into the uncomfortable chair. Jay noticed that even from there he could just barely see the edge of the altar, and the light splashed up on the wall. He lifted the small tattered book on the table and turned it over and over in his hands. Sighing, he opened it up to the page with the crudely sketched diagram of the alter was, and looked at the picture.
It took him a few weeks to find the brass candlestick holders of the right height, and he ended up having to make his own green tallow candles, his kitchen still bore the marks of that endeavor. He found the small cloth in a second hand shop for a quarter. The dried herbs were the hardest, yet the easiest. He expressed an interest in finding them to his elderly neighbor after he had been looking for over a week. None of the books, nor the internet recognized the names that the book gave. When he said the names to her, she began to laugh. He remembered her fragile old voice as if he just heard it a moment ago.
“Why Jay, honey, where on earth did you dig up those names,” she asked, while sipping a tall glass of sweet tea.
“Well, Mrs. Townsend, I found an old book that i think was my grandpa’s and there were a few recipes, and just notes in it,” Jay began, but was promptly interrupted.
“My my, well, come on in honey. I think I should have most of them. The only thing I don’t have is that last one, but you have it in your front yard,” she spoke as she lead him into her house.
Jay lifted his head and looked at the corner of the altar again and sighed.
“You know, this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,” he spoke to the silent and empty house. “It’s not like an elder god is going to awaken just because i found this old diagram in this raggedy old book. Let alone actually listen to my pleas.”
Jay stood then, letting the book slip from his fingers to the table top and walked back into the living room, and the altar. He stood before the small altar again, and almost turned away, but before he could change his own mind, he found himself sitting. His hands went to the small dishes and piles of dried herbs, pawing at their different textures and making the room fill with a complex smell. Carefully he lifted a pinch of the center bowl, sprinkling it over each of the candles. As the powdery substance came in contact with the flame, it flared and sent little glowing embers falling to the small tray at the base of the candle stick, while fragrant smoke filled the air. Jay concentrated on the careful movements that he had practiced, and found that the words that he so often read while moving came spilling from his mouth. Each dish, at the precise moment had a pinch taken and either mixed and sprinkled, or just sprinkled over the flames. The room was hazy with aromatic smoke, and Jay’s eyes were watering, even though he was sitting on the floor. The words stopped spilling from his mouth when he looked up and saw the small wooden cross that his father had made and placed on the wall. Jay remembered the moment, watching his father pound the nail in, listening to his mother scoffing as the cross was placed on the nail. He remembered that they started fighting not long after that, and as he stared at the cross, he grew angry.
“If you would have been here, or even answered one of my prayers…. I probably wouldn’t even be thinking of turning to… whatever this is I’m trying to summon,” he shouted at the small, silent cross. His eyes watered even more and he rubbed at them with the back of his hands and looked back to the candles and dishes of herbs.
“I summon you, God of the Deep. I request your aid, in matters below you. Oh Slumbering God, hear my call and awaken,” he intoned. His eyes stung more than ever now, and the flickering light from the candles made strange shadows dance on the wall before him.
Jay sat for a short while, and aside from a creepy feeling, he neither saw nor heard anything. With a sigh he pinched the fire from the candles and stood. The smoke was all around his face, but as he looked around the mostly dark room, he saw the small wooden cross on the wall again. He stepped over to it and reached out to take it down when he noticed that there was no smoke near the cross. When his hand, that was still dusty from the herbs, touched the cross he felt a small jolt. The cross fell from his hand and clattered on the wooden floor and Jay scowled at it for a moment, but decided to let it lay where it fell. He walked to the bathroom and turned on the light. As it flickered he thought he saw movement in the mirror, but when he looked harder at it, nothing was there. He wiped his eyes again using the back of his hands, and then turned the water on. The sink sputtered, and from it poured foul smelling, rusty water. He rested his hands on the edges of the sink and his head fell.
“I guess it’s time to call a plumber,” he sighed, looking at the rancid water. He idly wondered if he had enough in his savings account to be able to pay to have the older pipes and water heater replaced, but as he thought about all the hassles he was going to have to deal with in the morning, the water cleared.
Jay stared at the clean water for a moment, and then slowly dipped his fingers into the water. He shouted in pain as he removed his hands, his fingertips blistered and violently red from the heat of the water. Cautiously he turned the hot water off and let just the cold run for a moment before placing his hands back under the stream of water. The cold water felt good on his pained fingers, but soon the cold water became painfully cold. When he could no longer stand the frigid water that poured from the tap, he pulled his hands out and turned it off. Jay carefully wiped his hands with the small towel and set it aside. When he looked at his hands to assess the damage, the blisters were gone, and only a few areas were still red. He smiled as he flicked the light off and moved out of the room. His darkened house didn’t seem as dark as it normally did, and there was a faint glowing in the corner of the living room. He stared trying to figure out what could be causing the light when he realized that it was the small cross he dropped. He paused, staring, then shook his head and moved down the hall into the bedroom. He looked at his bed and sighed. He contemplated flicking on the light switch, but decided not to. As he undressed, he considered everything that happened and when he picked up his pajama pants he realized that he was still just as lost as he had been before the ritual. He slid the cool cotton over his legs and crawled between the sheets. When his head settled on the pillow, he felt his exhaustion overtake him and he quickly fell into a deep sleep.
“Jay,” a quiet voice pleaded in his ear, he noticed overwhelming white light out of the corner of his eye closest to the voice. “Jay, Jacob, can you hear me? You need to make a decision, it’s crucial. Please, listen to me. You just have…”
A deep laughter sounded on the other side of him, a sickly green light filtered from that side, seeming to be not brighter, but closer to in front of him and covering more space.
“Have you even listened to what the boy said,” snarled the deep voice, seemingly talking to the quieter voice on the opposite side. “Your God, if you can call him that, already failed the child once. More than once actually.”
“Jay,” the soft voice sighed. “This isn’t just good over evil, it’s more important. Turning down that road is madness. You have to see that, you’ve read your grandfather’s book.”
The deep voice laughed again, this time, as it laughed, the sickly light pulsated. Jay wanted to turn his head to see the hidden speakers whispering in his ears. He wanted to be able to speak and ask questions, but the more that he thought about things, he convinced himself that it was all just a strange dream. He tuned the arguing voices out, instead letting his mind wander. He wandered through memories, of his parents, of his sister, of his friends, and his sexual exploits. He remembered his clumsy first kiss, and the girl whom he shared it with; his sister playing the violin on a small stage at a recital; his parents walking down the isle in Kohl’s hand in hand. From there, the memories turned sour; he saw his sister messed up from ‘falling down the stairs’ even though she didn’t have stairs at her house; his parents screaming in their bedroom, the sound waking him from a sound sleep and keeping him up all night; meeting a young girl, who then proceeded to force him beyond the point of his comfort, and in the end leaving him a crying lump in her bed. He tried to shake himself awake while the voices kept on bickering over him. The soft one pleaded with him when it could get a word in edgewise, but that was becoming less and less. When he finally opened his eyes, the sun was streaming in through the mini blinds and making his head hurt.
Jay rolled over and grabbed his cellphone off the nightstand. Looking at the time he groaned, and flipped the phone open. After pressing a few buttons, he held the phone up to his ear.
“Yeah, this is Jay, I need to speak to Mitchell please,” he said, his voice rough and gravelly. “Mitchell, hey. I don’t think I’m going to be making it in today.” Jay coughed, then pulled the phone from his ear and coughed again, bringing up a large wad of phlegm, the same color of the light in his dream.
“Yeah man, I’m really sick, and now I’m going to go take a hot bath and see if i can loosen this stuff up,” he croaked before closing his phone and putting it down. He rolled back onto his side and breathed heavily. Each breath was a pain, and he knew he needed to start breathing better or he’d end up back in the hospital. He rolled out of bed and staggered into the bathroom and turned the water on in the shower to heat up while he relieved himself and undressed. The small room quickly filled with steam, leaving the air looking like it did last night, but this time the smell of the steam was sweet and comforting. He felt the pressure in his lungs lessen and when he eased his fingertips into the water, it was perfect. He stepped into the shower and felt the hot water course over his body.
“Man, what a bizarre dream last night,” he said out loud, surprising himself.
The day progressed slowly and his neighbor Mrs. Townsend stopped by when she noticed his car was still in the driveway. She stood in the doorway and she could smell the burned herbs. Her eyes widened for a moment, but then she lifted a large container of soup.
“Saw you were home honey, brought you some soup. You only stay home if you’re sick, just like your Dad. He always worked too hard, and I worry that you’re doing it too,” she said, looking up at him with concern in her eyes.
“Thanks Mrs. Townsend,” Jay croaked. “This is just what I needed.”
Mrs. Townsend waved her hand dismissively at him and stretched up to plant a bright red kiss on his cheek before tottering off to her house. Jay stood in the doorway, watching her to make sure she made it in, and when she waved before shutting her door, he smiled grimly, waved back, and closed his own door.
After eating the delicious and hot soup, Jay lay on his couch in the living room. He could see the messy altar, and a few feet away lay the small cross that he tried to take off the wall the night before. He stared at them and his eyes grew heavy. As they began to close, the bickering started up again, leaving his rest disturbed and shattered. He woke up and shambled into the kitchen and put the container of soup in the microwave to warm it back up, and when the microwave beeped, he almost heard the cruel and deep laughter sounding. He lifted the container to his lips instead of dishing it out, and drank the hot liquid deeply, saving just a small bit so he could take some cold medicine. He swallowed the pills down with the last of the soup and staggered to bed. Once he slid between the sheets, the bickering started up once more. Jay covered his eyes with his arm and noticed that his skin was burning hot and the more he thought about it, it felt like an elephant was sitting on his chest. He groaned and rolled from one side to the other, seeking a comfortable position. He fell asleep before finding one, and spend the whole night listening to the pleas, ridicules, and bickering of the two voices.
When he woke, he saw Mrs. Townsend sitting on the edge of the bed, her cold hands on his face.
“Oh Honey,” she exclaimed. “When you didn’t come to your door all day yesterday, nor at all today I went and found my spare key. When I found you here, I called you an ambulance because I don’t drive at night anymore.”
Jay stared up at her in confusion, the voices were bickering even louder, and the only thing that quieted them was when he began to cough. Mrs. Townsend handed him her handkerchief and rubbed his back as he hacked and wheezed. In was seemed less than a minute, there was a knocking on the door, and she stood up and hobbled to it, letting the paramedics in. They came in and saw him, and one of them backed away and crossed himself while the other just stared aghast. When they finally got him on the gurney, Mrs. Townsend tottered behind and said that she would be riding with him, and asked the ‘good boys’ to wait for her to get the house locked up. Once she was in the back, sitting beside him on the small bench, both men got in the front and the ambulance drove off. She stared at him a good bit and then shook her head.
“Honey, I cleaned up your altar and put it away, along with the book. I also hung your Daddy’s cross back on the wall where it belonged. Now, it’s time you make your decision. I’m not gonna judge you either way, you’re still my little Jay.”
Jay just stared at her in disbelief and shook his head.
“Mrs. Townsend, what’s happening,” he groaned, the breathing mask obscuring his words slightly.
“Well, I can only guess you got sick of the relatively absent God in your life and searched for another. I remember when your Granddaddy did it, and I remember the choice he made. It was the right one for him. You need to make the choice that’s right for you,” she said, looking at her purse in her lap. “Can’t say that I’m not scared seeing you like this Honey, but, I know you’ll be ok.”
“So if I make a choice, they’ll shut up,” Jay asked.
“Don’t know Honey, I never messed with the slumbering Gods.”
“If i change my mind, can I go back?”
‘Sorry Honey, once again, I don’t have a clue. I only remember watching your Granddaddy, and I was just a girl then. He never got sick like you, but I remember he had an altar just like yours.”
“I don’t want to choose either of them,” Jay wheezed. “I just want it to go back to the silence it was before. This endless bickering is too much.”
Mrs. Townsend shrugged and squeezed his hand. Her skin felt like ice compared to his. She smiled down at him and with her other hand she brushed a piece of hair from his eyes.
“The Gods are what they are, and that mostly means absent. Doesn’t mean that we get off the hook and get to do what we want though,” she said, picking at a hair that was stuck to his forehead. “Close your eyes and get some rest, and make sure to tell them what you chose.”
Jay nodded, his eyes slipping closed again. Both of the lights were muted in comparison to before, and both voices far weaker. Jay listened to them bicker, heard their promises, and realized how empty their words were. He felt his eyes open, and turned his head from side to side, seeing only amorphous shadows undulating in the light.
“I’m not taking sides in your war,” he said, looking from one side to the other. “Don’t drag me into it.”
With those last words, the lights faded and Jay fell into a silent black expanse of deep sleep. Mrs. Townsend sat, her hand still lightly holding his and smiled.