art by Shothot Designs
The God Solution
by M.E. Castle
M.E. Castle lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she tolerates the moss that grows in her grass, ignores the redwood needles that accumulate in the bed of her pickup, and occasionally stands in the rain and watches the stream behind her house. She owns six umbrellas and doesn't use any of them.
It never occurred to me to wonder why there are no more gods walking the earth. I've always known that there are.
In the old days, gods were born to gods, and even when one was born of human parents, the adult gods took it and raised it as one of them. But the adult gods have disappeared. Now when gods are born--a rare event, else we'd be overrun--it is always to humans. If the young god is lucky and smart, it learns to curb its power and live among us. If it does not, then we puny humans must deal with it ourselves.
I know this because I am Deliah, and I deal with the gods. My first case was my own brother.
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On that day, we walked together up the hill. I was fifteen; Deece had just turned five. He insisted on carrying the axe, which should have been much too heavy for him to lug through the snow. It gave him no problems. I knew it weighed nothing for him.
I turned to glance behind us. My track through the calf-high snow was heavy and obvious; his passage was marked only by the thin line the axe head made as he dragged it behind him. As I suspected, he was walking on top of the snow, and I wondered if he knew he was doing it.
"Of course I know, Deliah," he said. He grinned at me, having read my thoughts with ease. "Why should I slog through the snow like you're doing?"
"No reason, I guess," I said. "Not if you don't have to."
A few more steps, and he said, "What are we gonna do with the tree when we get there?" He could have pulled this information from my open mind, but he liked asking questions and having them answered.
"We cut it down and take it back to the house and decorate it," I said.
"Because it's tradition." Granted, a new tradition to him. We hadn't had a tree since he was two. The fire that year had taken half the house and one of our sisters. I squashed thoughts of fire far down into the tiny corner of my mind that Deece couldn't see.
"But I can get it myself," he said.
"It's more fun this way," I replied, keeping my tone and my thoughts light and happy. "The snow is fun, and it's nice to be outside. Don't you like walking outside with me?"
He turned to beam a smile at me. "You're my favorite sister, Deliah."
"I know." I smiled back at him.
With six children still alive, Deece's birth had caused little disruption to our family. Father and us older children worked the 'stead, and Mama took care of the house and the baby and the little ones.
It hadn't taken us long to figure out that when the new baby was hungry, we were all hungry; when he was happy, so were we all. Mama and Father talked about it, at night when they thought we were all asleep in the loft, but it was clear that they didn't understand what had happened to their family. That had been my first lesson in the fallibility of adults.
When he was a year old, Deece learned to manipulate the youngest of my brothers and sisters. They cried when he forced their legs to carry them in circles around and around the house, or ran them into walls. He laughed. Back then, Mama or Father or one of us older ones could usually distract him with food or funny faces.
But that Christmas he controlled Rose--the next youngest--and made her push the tree into the fire. Rose died.
"So which tree do we want?" Deece asked.
"We need a very special tree," I told him. "One that will give our home a touch of grace."
"Huh?" he turned to me as we walked. He didn't bother with the question this time, and I felt him enter my head, retrieve my meaning. Then he smiled. "Touch of grace," he said. I knew he was seeing the image of our last tree--the beautiful and festive image I had quickly concentrated on to replace that of the blackened husk of my sister that always came to mind when I thought of holiday trees.
"So do I get to decorate it when we get back?" asked Deece.
"Yes, if you want to help, of course you may." I knew the answer that was coming.
"I'll do it all myself!"
"And that's fine, too!" Of course it was fine. Everything was fine.
Everything was fine with Deece, or there were… repercussions.
I was different. From the beginning, I could sometimes resist Deece when the other children could not. I could often feel his intent and divert him. But when I did, things went worse for the rest of the family, so I learned to hide my ability, to pretend that he was in control. I discovered that with effort, I could shelter my deepest thoughts from him. But he became suspicious if he saw my effort, and pushed harder. So I learned to create a partition--a tiny part of my mind that I could keep from Deece. But the price was high. I had to be always on my guard against him.
By the time he was three, he could enter the minds of our parents. I never discovered why he didn't try to physically control them like he did us children. I didn't dare think about it for fear that doing so would plant the idea in him.
Until this past fall, we were coping. Our 'stead was on the edge of civilization, so there were no neighbors. Father had managed to convince himself--and thus Deece--that taking the day's walk to the nearest town was a horrible and onerous task. We learned to deal with the strangenesses in our lives, like cake for dinner every night for a month. Regardless of what Mama cooked, when it got to the table, it was cake. We lived with the bizarre and often frightening changes in the structure of the house. Steps that led to nowhere, doors in the ceiling or floor, and the ever-changing location of the kitchen and outhouse were the norm. We even got used to the casual invasions of our thoughts and self-control. And we learned--Father and Mama and us other children--that to upset Deece was dangerous.
When the next two babies Mama delivered did not live past their first breaths despite being perfectly formed, we knew why. We lived with it, and everything was fine, just fine.
"Okay," I said. "We're here."
Deece stopped and looked around. "This place looks like all the others," he said.
"Ah, but it isn't. It's a very special tree place." I truly believed this, so he did too. "Why don't you hand me the axe, and see if that tree over there is the one you want."
Deece dropped the axe and ran over to the tree I had pointed out. I picked up the axe and followed more slowly. "Is this the one?" I asked. "Shall I cut this one down?"
He craned his neck to see the top. "I don't know," he said. "It's little. And I want to cut it down."
"Okay, but why don't you check the trunk first?" I replied.
Two weeks ago our oldest brother Abam disappeared. Mama was beside herself, and I don't think she or Father noticed then that Deece had… well, changed. He seemed bigger, and would hear nothing negative at all.
Then Berla disappeared and Deece became stronger. Then Jona, and now Deece was unassailable, and no one dared talk about it. Happy, happy, everything is fine. All but two siblings gone, well, they were never there. Mama sobs at night, but everything is fine.
Deece squatted down in front of me and peered at the trunk of the tree I had chosen. "It's too little," he repeated.
"Oh, I think it'll be fine," I said. My voice was light and cheerful.
Two days ago Deece turned his full attention onto Ephram, who rocked back and forth, and lived in his own head, and barely acknowledged his surroundings or his family. Ephram wasn't immune to Deece's control, but his lack of response had provided Deece with little entertainment. Deece mostly ignored him.
So when Ephram had suddenly jumped up from the dinner table and started to scream, Mama, Father and I knew the cause.
Mama finally snapped. "Stop!" she'd screamed at Deece. "Stop it!" It was a mistake, I knew that instantly, and saw that Father knew it too. Deece didn't even flinch.
Then Mama was on fire, and Ephram was on fire, and as I scrambled over the table to Ephram, I saw Father rolling Mama up in a blanket. But it was too late for her, and for Ephram too, and Deece just laughed.
Fine, everything is fine.
I moved without fully thinking. Deep in the tiny Deece-free part of my mind, I knew I'd have one chance, one blow--ever--and the time was now. I swung the axe with all my strength.
I was too slow, or perhaps not as careful with my intent as I'd thought, and he caught me. The axe whistled through the top of its arc and his confusion roared into my head. "But you're my favorite!" I heard his voice in my head as if he'd spoken aloud.
Time slowed, and even today, I don't know if it was caused by Deece or my own perception.
The axe began its descent. For the first time, Deece was as open to me as the rest of us were to him. My betrayal had stunned him, and I realized then that even after everything he'd done, he still didn't understand what he was. At that moment, he was just an overwhelmed child, and he was my baby brother.
He could have stopped the axe at any time--he had the power. But for the first time in his life he had lost the control. I could still act to save him. Even now, with a tiny bit of force I could deflect the axe past his head. My chance for freedom had changed to a chance of mercy.
Thoughts of fire raged through my mind as the axe thudded home.
His lifeless body was small, frail, suddenly that of a normal five-year-old. My blow had spun him around so his wide, dead eyes looked up at me. His blood stained the snow in front of the little tree. I stood over him until my feet were numb in my boots.
Then I retrieved the axe and headed down the mountain to Father.
I am Deliah, killer of gods.
This story was first published on Monday, December 20th, 2010
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