I’ve done a few of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges before, but haven’t in a while. I’m trying to write more fiction, so I decided to do the latest one. As always, I challenge myself to write it in one sitting, without a plan before I start.
There comes a time when a god has outlived its usefulness. We can all tell it’s coming — everyone except the god itself. It’s collapsing under the stress of not fitting into the world any more, and everyone can see the cracks, see the disjoint between what it symbolises and the world, but the god can’t see what’s happening. Sometimes the collapse takes hours, sometimes decades, but the final end always comes as a shock to them. You can see the utter astonishment on their faces, as their facade shatters, and the hollowness inside them is revealed.
Sometimes, if they crack the right way, the face remains whole during the disintegration. If you know where to look, you can sometimes find a godface where it landed, buried centuries ago. I like to go looking for them, and to wonder what they were god of, though of course I can never know. I’ve found a few, but have never reported them to a museum. I always leave them in peace. It seems the right thing to do.
But when you dig up the great, petrified, four-metre-tall faces, they all have the same expressions, as if in their last instant of life, they’d realised that every assumption they ever had about the way the universe worked was wrong.
Which is, of course, exactly what has happened. Anathema has whispered her word to them, and they’ve realised the truth.
Anathema, alone of the gods, understood the nature of their existence. The gods all convinced themselves that they were creative forces — that the god of thunder created thunder, or that the god of music invented melody. But Anathema knew the truth. They were neither creator, nor created, but byproducts. The existence of the concept necessitated the existence of a god associated with it. And that god would have power, but only so long as the concept had power.
And so the gods, despite their belief in their own immortality, all had limited lifespans. Some, like the god of the Sun, were measured in the billions of years, but a billion years is nothing to the eternity which the gods believed was theirs by right.
And so, as the concept with which they were associated became less useful, the god would be hollowed out, even while not realising it. And then one day, there would be no more city of Ur, and no-one alive who remembered the city, and no-one who even remembered the story of the city, and there would be nothing left of the god of Ur except a shell that thought itself a god. And then Anathema would come, and whisper her word, and that would be the end of it.
The other gods knew nothing of this, of course. They never thought to ask Anathema what it was she was god of (and she had ways to make sure the question would never occur to them), and when one of their fellows disappeared, they would forget it had ever existed. And so the gods were protected from the knowledge of their own mortality. Once a god has died, that god is totally forgotten.
Many have wondered what Anathema’s word might be. Over the millennia, there have been hundreds of cults and movements worshipping her. Philosophers have debated for centuries what word might have the power to destroy the gods, and theologians have discussed what language it might be in, and what effect it might have on a human who heard it. Would it, perhaps, destroy the human the same way it does a god? Or might it make humans immortal, by giving them knowledge kept from even the gods? Might it be incomprehensible to them? Might the universe itself be merely the echo of the word?
All these questions and more have been asked, over and again. And Anathema has let her worshippers continue, and her investigators query. And then, once the pious and the inquisitive have died a natural death, she ensures that they leave no trace upon the world. The books go out of print and rot on the shelves; the churches fall into disuse, their stones stolen and used to build nondescript hovels, and within a generation of each movement dedicated to her, she’s unknown again.
Some have said that there is a more secret movement dedicated to her, a movement which never has any more than two members at any time, and which keeps the hidden truths of her. Some say that the periodical waves of interest in her are inspired by this movement. Some say that her secret followers control the whole world. Others say that this secret movement consists of the real gods, the ones who created the gods we all know.
Some say a lot of things.
But no mortal will admit to ever having heard her word, and no god can possibly conceive of it. We can merely deduce its existence from its effects, much as one cannot see the wind, just the destruction caused by a hurricane.
We know that her word serves a purpose, and that eventually all gods would hear it. But we never thought what that would mean. Until today, when I was forced to.
A crack came from the sky — the sound of a dying god, directly overhead. I rushed to shelter myself, and saw the godface plummeting. It landed mere metres from me, and once the dust had settled, I went to investigate.
There, in front of me, twice my own size, was the first fresh godface I’d ever seen, parted from its god only minutes before. It was the face of Anathema. And her expression was different from any I’d seen. It was a look of perfect content and satisfaction.
I’d never thought, of course, about the fact that Anathema herself was a god, and must also one day die. But now I can think of nothing else, just about what happens now that the god-killer is dead. And what might have killed her.
When gods die, we’re meant to forget them. But I’ll never forget that face.
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