The beginning is a good place to go wrong, some say, but there’s a certain deity who omnipotently disagrees. Forget all you thought you knew about the first moments of existence, and prepare to have your beliefs played with, tickled, spanked, stretched across spacetime and shattered into so many irrelevant motes of stardust. Travel back to before creation itself, and witness what happens…
WHEN GODS AWAKEN
In the end…
The Observer observed, from deep within non-space. None could challenge his powers of observation. At this, if at nothing else, he was without peer.
The death of existence had come around again, already. This cycle had been surprisingly active, especially all that stuff towards the end with those nucleic quasars forming rudimentary intelligence and learning to build machines that spirited them from the hearts of their galaxies to gather at the far edges of existence. Now that had been a spectacle worth observing.
But now those isolationist quasars were crushing together with their long-lost galaxies, screaming in fear and spiralling into a tight ball of radiance, until only a glint of light and a glimmer of consciousness remained. Then a final wink, and—
Void. Existence had once again disappeared into its own proverbial sphincter. The Observer sighed. Why did it always have to be a Big Crunch these days? He’d hoped for Heat Death for a change, but no.
“Better luck next time,” he muttered, with little optimism.
But here it was – non-space surrounded by a cosy blanket of nothingness – and he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to enjoy it. It had been so long since such serenity had existed.
Or not existed, he thought, in a rare moment of non-essential existentialism, and proceeded to confuse himself into a state of apathy.
Aeons passed as he relished the peace and quiet. But such perfection had never lasted…
Ethereal filaments – memories and hazy concepts of past and future – bled into the void. The wandering elements coalesced into an undulating core and, in a colossal explosion, vast rings of energies burst outward. Stars huddled together into newly-formed galaxies, narrowing like the dazzled eyes of newborns.
The Observer fixed his attention on the immense nexus.
He watched, anticipating.
And there it was, as he knew it would be – tendrils of consciousness forming the fundaments of self; the emergence of a cosmic entity, oblivious of its recent death and reincarnation, mewling and unfurling.
With a nebulous flourish of stardust, and a swipe of barbed planet-shattering talons, Cosmos roared into existence. The entity’s shining shadows bristled as it contemplated the stars.
The Observer groaned at the familiar sight. Cosmos considered itself the creator of existence – every time! – but the Observer knew that even a toy-maker’s wood must first be cut from the tree. The entity’s self-deception was inevitable, of course, carved as it was into the very building blocks of creation.
The arrogance of cosmic deities was unparalleled.
Cosmos gazed out upon a gleaming mosaic of swarming nebulae and cascading walls of galaxies. These were his primordial infants, and the black backdrop was their playground.
He turned his attention to a small planet orbiting a bright star in a nearby galaxy, on the fringe of an immense galactic supercluster. The little planet whirled, clumsily pirouetting in mimicry of its elders. Cosmos pondered the blue-green orb, and he reached a decision.
“You will be called Earth, and you will be rightly named, for—” Earth? Cosmos sighed. I can do better than that. Think, he willed himself. Something I can make rhyme.
Existence danced patiently as Cosmos ruminated.
Finally, he said, “You will still be called Earth, but you shall have many other names. Therefore you shall also be called Terra, and you will be rightly named.” Cosmos reared, swelling in might above the tiny world. “Let there be terror!”
Bad-um, tssssh! the Observer thought, as he watched the unbalanced entity plunge into the planet’s exosphere. Cosmos’ inherently cruel disposition permeated through space, enveloping the planet in a shroud of suffering.
“Here we go,” the Observer muttered. “Again…”
Cosmos spiralled down through Terra’s skies, his rumbling laughter crashing clouds together into lowering, bruised monsters that burst over the lands and seas in torrents. Cresting the airwaves, he circled above the mountains and sand-swathes and grasses, then plummeted to the rain-drenched ground. At the last he buffeted his shadow-etched wings and landed with a quake that shook the land for miles around, splitting mountains asunder.
Lightning tore the dark skies, and Terra shook under peals of thunder. Cosmos uttered the words of Creation and flicked one of his barbed tails at the ground, scoring the earth. A small bipedal figure climbed from the mud and clay. It lifted its hands and wiped some of the dirt from its face. Two blinking eyes stared up at Cosmos.
“You,” Cosmos said, “shall have many names. Your secret name shall be Cosmodore, being the first to whom I have gifted life. You shall also be known as the Progenitor, for you are the first of your kind. And, lastly, you shall be known as Terry. Behold—”
A gap opened in the dripping clay beneath Terry’s eyes and he spoke, spitting globs of dirt. “Are you my mother?”
Cosmos sighed and shook his head. “No. I’m your Creator.”
“Make your mind up. Did you give birth to me, or not?”
“You’re my father, then?”
Cosmos considered the question, for it was a good one. Being a divine entity of infinite might, Cosmos was all things. “Look here,” he said, “I am nothing so restricted as a mere woman or man, a mother or father, though I am male. It’s complicated; more so than you could wrap your little head around. But know this: I am better than you, for I am omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnificent—”
“Are you saying you’re an androgenid?”
“Oh, you just made that up!”
“No, I didn’t. Well, maybe a little. I suppose hermaphrodite would be just as good a word.” Terry grinned. “You know when the son of Hermes and Aphrodite was ravaged by the naiad, Salmacis.”
Cosmos cleared his throats. “I know all about Aphroditus, you fool. I created him just as I created you. And I created that rapacious water nymph, too. Well, I didn’t create them, but I created their creators. Or, rather, I will do in about, oh, two hundred thousand years.” Cosmos shook his heads, exasperated. “Look, forget it. It’s too convoluted for your simple brain to grasp. Who in Hades told you about all that, anyway?”
I should just leave and come back, Cosmos thought. Start again. As beginnings go, this one’s turning into a real stinker.
The warm deluge had washed most of the mud and clay from Terry’s face, revealing long, thick hair framing dark, prominent features. “I suppose,” he said, slyly, “you must have imparted the knowledge to me. Since, you know, you’re omni-whatever-you-said, and all. Like just now—something about a Hades?” Terry shrugged. “We should probably also ignore that we’re really communicating in a series of clicks and grunts rather than a language filled with complex grammar and syntax, subtle verbal nuances, particles and participles, prefixes, prepositions—”
“Shut up.” Cosmos flicked the top off a nearby mountain. “Can we get back to the matter of my name? You don’t mind, do you, Terry? You don’t have any further nuggets of insight you’re dying to impart? No? Right, then.” Cosmos drew himself to his full height. His cavernous chest swelled and his wings and various other appendages spread open, encompassing all the land and the rain-filled skies. “Henceforth,” he boomed, “you shall call me your Omniarch, or Creator, or Lord. Maybe God. Lord Omniarch sounds best. But don’t call me Jehovah or I’ll drop a mountain on your head. I’m not joking.”
“Fair enough,” Terry said, then quickly added, “Lord Omniarch,”
“And you shall spread word of my names – except Jehovah – to everyone! And to the dust shall you shout my names; yea, to the trees, also. And the mountains shall ring with the echo of my names, and the beasts of the ground and of the air and rivers and seas shall hear of me, and, though they will not comprehend, they will yet grovel under my might.”
“Why,” Terry said, “if you don’t want me to say it, do you keep mentioning the name Jeh—” The wind changed, and Terry gagged as rain gusted into his mouth. He brushed aside his drenched hair that had plastered across his face, and looked around. He held his arms out and shouted into the lashing downpour, “Who exactly am I supposed to tell? I’m the only one here! Unless you want me to start preaching your names to the Neanderthals? If I’m honest, I think it’ll probably go over their heads. They’re not the brightest bunch, you know? I could make a pilgrimage and spread your word to the various hominids and Gigantopithecus to the East? I think the ape-men might—”
“I’m the only one here, CREATOR!” Cosmos boomed. “Look, forget about prophesying to that lot. It won’t do them much good since they’ll all be dead in a hundred and sixty thousand years.”
“You’re going to kill them? All of them?”
“Don’t go climbing on your podium and preaching at me, little man! For your information it won’t be me who kills them, it’ll be you.”
“What?” Terry shook his head. “I’ve got nothing against the Neanderthals. Certainly no grudge enough to warrant genocide. Is it just them and the Gigants, or do I get shouldered with the extinction of any other species?”
Cosmos’ myriad grins did not reach his eyes. “All of the uprights will die,” he pronounced. “Man will survive all other hominids, for only Man is my creation, and therefore only Man may have a soul.”
“Oh,” Terry said. Then he frowned. “So, who created the others?”
Cosmos snarled, and the skies shook. “Can we just drop it?”
Terry shrugged. “At least the animals survive.”
“Oh, you’re joking!”
“Most have already gone extinct, but many more will follow them; those too weak, too tasty, or just too stupid.”
Terry’s shoulders slumped. “Even the dodo?”
“Especially the dodo. It’s survival of the fittest, not survival of the fattest, dear Progenitor. Anyway, don’t intermingle with any of the creatures. You stay with your own kind – Mankind.”
“Um, about that…”
“Well, I don’t like to hammer a point home. It’s just, you know that thing we mentioned earlier?” Terry coughed into his hand.
“What’s that you say?”
“I’m the only Man here. The whole place is teeming with Neanderthals but completely devoid of Homo sapiens, except for me.”
“I see your point,” Cosmos said. “I wasn’t intending to create a woman for you for some time yet. I wasn’t going to create you so soon, but it seems I’m a capricious Omniarch. In truth I intended to wait another – oh, I don’t know – two hundred thousand years, give or take. Right now I wish I had. But, since you’re here, I suppose…” Cosmos pointed one of his many-taloned appendages at the coastal horizon. “Behold!”
“I can’t see anything!” Terry craned his neck, trying to get a better view.
“Oh, for the love of—” Cosmos plucked Terry up and set him back down several leagues to the north, amid a grassy landscape near a sandy coast. “Is that better?”
Terry nodded, staggering dizzily, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. The Progenitor blinked into the rain. “We might find some Gigants around here.”
“Forget the Gigants already!” Cosmos swept a grand gesture. “Behold!” he roared. “Eden!” And he was pleased to see the Progenitor shut his mouth and give an appreciative nod. Cosmos pointed at the grasses and spoke the secret words of Creation, and a sapling emerged, its branches lengthening and leaves unfurling till it towered thrice the height of Terry. “Life,” said Cosmos. “The first tree of Eden.” he pointed again, and a second tree rose from the soil. “Knowledge,” he told Terry. “You’ve already proven yourself to be a smart-arse, but I’ll let that pass. From here on, you’ll resist the temptation to be clever. Leave the omniscience to me. Touch the tree of Knowledge and reap the consequences.”
Terry started to speak, but the wind gusted and the rain lashed into him. Cosmos pointed at the raging seas beyond the sodden land. From the depths rose a towering wave that came crashing towards the sands bordering the east of Eden. The Progenitor crouched and covered his head. Cosmos clasped a claw about Terry’s waist and lifted him, setting him down safely under the boughs of the tree of Life. With a grin, Cosmos whipped four of his barbed tails into the air and cast them far and wide across the land. They arced down and plunged deep into Terra just before the approaching wall of water. He tugged the tails back towards him, tearing deep furrows through the land. They met and became one, gouging a cleft through the centre of Eden. The foaming torrent raged into the newly-made canyon and swept along, fanning out into the channels like the flexing foot of a monstrous bird.
Cosmos said, “Behold the rivers Karun, Baton, Tigris and Euphrates, merging and forming the River Eden. Karun leads to wealth, such as golden stones of power, aromatic resins—”
“It’s all very beautiful,” Terry said, “but I think you might have overdone it a bit with all that rain and tidal waves and stuff. It looks ever so slightly flood-prone to me, especially there.” He pointed to the River Eden. Terry’s eyes narrowed and the ghost of a smile played across his lips as he said, “You wouldn’t want lovely Eden to become… engulfed, would you?”
Cosmos clenched his assortment of limbs and stamped several of them down in exasperation, shaking the ground.
“That probably didn’t help matters, either,” Terry muttered, quite within earshot of Cosmos’ omni-auditory organs. Then the Progenitor brightened and said, “Fish would be useful. Are there any fish?”
“You simpering git! Yes, there are fish.”
“Will you show me how to catch them?”
“No. You’re a vegetarian.”
“Am I?” Terry opened his mouth and pointed a finger inside. “Denn rhy goo I ag—”
“Yes, you are,” Cosmos said. “Now shut up and listen, you malodorous little shit.” He cleared his throats. “You can eat any fruit in the garden, except one. Fruit from the tree of Life will give you eternal life; those, you may eat. But from the tree of Knowledge, I command you never to eat.”
“Why’s it there, then?”
“Decoration. And because I put it there.”
Terry scratched his head. “But you don’t need Knowledge, since you’re already omniscient. Which means the tree of Knowledge is a bit of a wasted effort. Unless you’re just trying to be a—”
Cosmos sneered, and the Progenitor wilted under his might. “Not only will you not eat the animals, you will also not copulate with them, for none will be a good helpmate.”
“All right. Wait – A what?”
“A helpmate…” Cosmos trailed off, muttering in frustration. “Look, I’m ordering you to not have sex with the beasts; not the mammals or the birds, nor the reptiles or insects; yea, not even the fucking Neanderthals.”
“Because you’re not compatible!”
“O ye of little faith.”
“I’m your Lord Omniarch. I don’t need faith. You, on the other hand, would do well to procure some.”
“Never mind that. What am I supposed to have sex with? I’m a man, after all. I have needs.”
“I will create you a proper helpmate,” Cosmos said, grins spreading across his many faces.
“From the ground?”
Cosmos threw back his shadow-wreathed heads, and his laugh echoed into the skies. “No, Terry; not from the ground. Oh, I’m going to enjoy this.” He lowered an appendage, and a bladed digit harder than diamond and sharper than obsidian emerged from the tip. With it, Cosmos scored a line through the flesh over the Progenitor’s ribs.
Terry grimaced and clasped his hands to the wound. “What did you do that for?”
“You want a woman, don’t you?”
“Then you must create her yourself. I grant you this power, one time only. You must reach into yourself and withdraw a rib.”
“Are you sick?” Terry’s face was ashen.
Cosmos shrugged his colossal shoulders, ruffling his starlight-studded wings.
“Wait,” Terry said, aghast. “Are you sure this is how it’s supposed to be? I don’t think I can do it.”
In a voice like silk, Cosmos said, “Have faith, Terry.” With a mighty beat of his wings he took off into the darkened skies. “But, Progenitor,” Cosmos boomed from the Heavens, “do be swift in finding your faith; I could yet change my mind and let the Neanderthals live instead of you…”
Cosmodore stared into the starlit sky as the shadow of his Creator disappeared into the stormy night. With slumped shoulders, he limped under the branches of the tree of Life and lowered himself to the ground, leaning against the trunk. With his side throbbing, he pondered his dilemma.
After a while the rain slowed and stopped, and the sun broke over the horizon and cast its rays upon the garden of Eden. Cosmodore rose and considered the verdant grasses and lush foliage and bountiful trees, and his hand went to the wound at his side. He could stay here in this paradise land, gifted him by the Lord Omniarch, or he could leave and sit around with the Neanderthals. Conversation would be sparse, and the topics would be limited, but at least he wouldn’t be alone.
You won’t be alone here, either, he told himself, if you use the power your Creator has granted.
He took a deep breath. What was one rib, after all? He’d heal. The Lord Omniarch said he’d live forever if he ate from the tree of Life, so losing a rib wouldn’t kill him.
No, but it’ll damn well hurt. He shoved his fingers into the wound. The pain was excruciating. He squeezed his eyes shut and screamed, but refused to pull his fingers out; he pushed them further in and they slid between two flesh-covered ribs.
Nausea engulfed him. He doubled over, and with one final effort wrapped his fingers around a rib and tugged with all his might. There was a resounding grind and snap as he pulled the rib clear of the terrible wound, then he fell, sinking mercifully into the soft grass and unconsciousness.
When he awoke, the wound was closed. Dried blood stained his naked body and the ground on which he lay. He still clutched the meaty rib tight in his fist. Tentatively, he rolled and pushed himself to his knees. There was no pain.
Staring at the rib, he said, “What am I supposed to do now?” The rib didn’t answer. Cosmodore stood and looked into the sky, now clear and blue. Wispy clouds like the fluffy seeds of a lions-tooth flower drifted in the breeze.
“Are you there?” Cosmodore shouted to the sky. “Hello, Omniarch? Can you hear me? What do I do with this rib? It’s a bit abstract, isn’t it? I mean, give me a clue here. Lord?”
There came the distant flapping of enormous wings. Cosmodore lifted a hand to shield his eyes as a shadow passed before the sun’s glare. It loomed nearer, the beating of wings grew louder, and now he could see – but not understand – the entity that was his Creator, the Lord Omniarch.
Cosmos landed before the Progenitor, grinning and flashing mouths full of diamond needles. His talons gouged into Terra, digging deep ruts in the stone and soil. Terry stared open-mouthed, looking as stupid as a Neanderthal.
Cosmos said, “I won’t be making a habit of this, you know – answering any time you decide to call my name. What is it?”
“I have removed my rib, just as you said I should. Tell me what I must do now.”
“Is that all you wanted?”
Cosmos flapped a wing. “Worthless cretin. Can you not think for yourself?”
“You did tell me not to,” Terry pointed out.
Clever little bastard, Cosmos thought. Aloud, he said, “No, I didn’t.”
“Well, you sort of insinuated it.”
Cosmos sighed. “Take the rib and stick it in the ground.”
Terry squatted and plunged the bone into the soft soil.
“That’s right. Shove it in deep.”
Terry looked over his shoulder. “And now?”
“Now stand up and get out of the way.”
Terry rose and stepped back. Cosmos glanced at the Progenitor from the corner of one of his many eyes, and grinned to himself.
The fool really believes I gave him the power to create a woman. He stifled a giggle and wiggled a talon at the ground where the rib was buried, muttering to himself the secret words of Creation.
From the ground rose a woman, coated in dried clay and earth, her stiffened hair plastered to her head and shoulders in concentric curls. She was tall and curvaceous, pert of breast and wide of hip. She stared up at Cosmos and smiled. The dirt about her face cracked and fell away, and she opened her mouth.
“Before you ask,” Cosmos said, “No, I’m not your mother. Nor your father. Neither am I your bloody wet nurse. I’m your Lord, plain and simple. Ah, not simple. Not plain, either.” Cosmos cursed under his breath. “Say it!”
“Amen,” the woman said, and Cosmos was pleased.
The Progenitor stared long at the newly-made woman. As the last of the mud and clay crumbled from her body, Terry said, “Her skin is as the ground under our feet.” He lifted his hand to his face and studied it. “Mine, too.”
“Of course,” Cosmos said. “You are both born of Terra.”
The Progenitor frowned, his features twisted in confusion. “But our earthen coverings are washed and crumbled away, yet the dye remains upon us.”
“Very astute.” Cosmos raised an eyebrow of glittering shadows. “Your Terran coats are shed, yet have left their imprint upon your skin. Therefore, your colour will henceforth be known as terracotta, meaning coat of Terra. And as your kind grow in number – for you will procreate – and as your children – my children – spread across Terra, so shall there be many colours of Mankind; from the blacks of the deepest soils, to the whites of the tallest stones. And you shall be as one. Theoretically.” Cosmos nodded a gigantic head wreathed in golden winds towards the silent woman. “Well, then, Progenitor, what will you call her?”
Terry scratched the stubble that had already grown on his chin. “How about Woman?”
Cosmos shook one of his heads. “Too generic. Be a bit more creative.”
“Isn’t that your department?”
Cosmos bristled. “Another quip like that and I’ll put you on your arse.”
“What do you think of Sister, then?”
“She’s not your sister,” Cosmos said. “She’s your wife.”
“Sod technically!” Cosmos roared, and the trees bent and snapped with his fury; and, yea, even the clouds in the skies did retreat from his wrath. “Last chance, Terry.”
Terry thought long, and the woman watched him silently. Finally he shrugged, and said, “Fish?”
“I’ll name her,” Cosmos said, “because I’m good at naming things, and the things I name tremble before me! Don’t they, Terry?” Cosmos rose to his full height, so high that he looked down on the whole land-mass but could still see Eden and its two tiny occupants. “I name this woman … Teresa!” And the whole world did indeed tremble.
Terry grinned. “I like it, Creator. Thank you. She’s a real beauty. You’re the best, O Great Lord Omniarch.” Terry fell to his knees in supplication, and Teresa did likewise.
“Of course I’m the best, you grovelling little worm,” Cosmos said. “I’m the only.”
And so the worship of Cosmos was born from fear and nurtured by awe. Even with the Progenitor’s devotion, Cosmos knew Terry’s devious nature was going to be trouble.
Which is exactly what I’m counting on, Cosmos thought, his innumerous maws grinning widely.
Although Terry was openly mischievous, there was a glint in Teresa’s eye that spoke of a quiet scheming. He’d have to keep a watchful eye on that one; time permitting, of course.
It had been a shaky start, though it was nothing compared to what Cosmos had in store for the Progenitor’s children, and for many generations to come.
The terror had scarcely begun.
From its perch, hidden high among the boughs of the tree of Knowledge, the Nachash watched the stardust-enshrouded behemoth ascend to the Heavens.
Reaching out, the nimble reptile plucked a fleshy fruit from the tree and hefted it in its claw, hissing a quiet giggle to itself. The Nachash sank its needle-like fangs into the juicy ball and tore off a chunk. Gulping it down, the reptile flicked its forked tongue across the sticky sweetness around its mouth.
Down on the ground, the woman, Teresa, wandered barefoot and naked among the grasses, her hips swaying and her eyes gazing about in wonder.
“Yesss, my precious,” the Nachash hissed, juice dripping from the fruit down through the branches. “Come closer now. Come to me…”
(the beginning of)
When Gods Awaken © 2014 Scott Kaelen