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art by Tim Stewart

G is for Graven

Tim Pratt's stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and other nice places. He's won a Hugo for his short fiction (and lost Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards). He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and son. Find him online at timpratt.org

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles and is currently writing a middle-grade adventure series for Candlewick Press. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons and the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, among others. Follow her adventures at jennreese.com.

Heather Shaw is a writer, editor, gardener and aikidoka living in Berkeley, California with her husband and son. She's had fiction in Strange Horizons, Polyphony, The Year's Best Fantasy, Escape Pod and other nice places. She just finished her first middle-grade novel, "Keaton T., Junior Gene Hacker" and is looking for representation. For more, visit heathershaw.org

Greg van Eekhout's fiction for adults and children includes the novels Norse Code and Kid vs. Squid and stories published in Asimov's, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and other places. He lives in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit writingandsnacks.com.
I worship Mal'llandri, God of a Thousand Tongues. When he first came to Earth, I thought that meant he could communicate in every language. But no. He literally has a thousand tongues. I know this because I'm one of the artists Mal'llandri chose to recreate his image. Working in marble, I can carve approximately 37 tongues a day.
When Mal'llandri first arrived, he was heralded as an alien invader, not a god. Then he destroyed Las Vegas and people took it as a sign. He hadn't chosen Paris or Moscow or New York, he'd chosen the city that most symbolized the depravity of humanity. He'd destroyed our modern-day Gomorrah.
My husband had been in Las Vegas when it happened. With his girlfriend. I took it as a sign, too.
Mal'llandri grants each of his devoted followers a boon, because deep down, I think he wants us to worship him out of love more than fear. Most people choose money, land, or power. One poor soul chose to help the Middle East, only to have the next sick bastard come along and ask to have it all destroyed.
When my turn came, I knew exactly what I wanted. Nothing fancy, nothing flashy, nothing that would affect other people. I'm an artist, and my dreams are lofty. I asked for psychometry--the ability to read an object's past by touching it.
As a sculptor, I thought this might help me see inside my materials. Might help me find the image waiting to be released. Critics used to call my work "more lifeless than the stone from which it was carved." With psychometry, I hoped to elevate my art, to finally succeed in unveiling the hidden masterpiece inside all things. Mal'llandri's arrival to Earth had been the source of so much terror and upheaval. I thought I had found a way to turn the God's terrible power into something wondrous.
But once I was taken into the God's employ, the first marble I received was not a shapeless slab of rock awaiting my magic touch. It was Winged Victory of Samothrace. The Winged Victory. I touched her, hands trembling, and saw a thousand other hands do the same.
Back through the millennia I travelled, to an anonymous island sculptor working the stone in a fever of divine inspiration, convinced each bead of his sweat paid tribute to the goddess Nike. I could feel the calluses on his hands, the quiver in his stomach, the muscles in his arms straining with each hit of the hammer. When the people of Rhodes emerged victorious after a long, bloody battle at sea, this sculpture was their reward. She would stand on a pedestal, forever fresh from war, forever their symbol of hope and perseverance.
When I came back from my vision, I saw that Winged Victory wasn't alone. The God Mal'llandri had delivered other materials in which I was to carve his likeness: David, Venus de Milo, The Discus Thrower, Hermes. All the great sculptures of human history, all waiting to be destroyed by my hands. My clumsy, talentless hands.
It wasn't enough for Mal'llandri to kill our people; he wanted to erase our culture. To break us from the inside.
I refused at first, hoping the God's whim would lead him to mercy. He destroyed Denver instead, just because my ancient mother had been clinging to life in one of its hospitals.
When my tears had dried enough for me to see, and when my hands had stopped their shaking, I lifted my chisel and began carving tongues.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

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