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The Sacrifice of Ethan Roads (Short story)
© 2012 James LaFond
On Ascension Eve
The sky was a powdery blue-grey, a moisture laden sky that would have awakened their thirst a bare month ago. This day, however, was not sweltering hot. No merciless sun beat down on their upturned faces as they sat bound together in their appointed places above the Sacral Road. The place of each and every one of them had been decreed by the Priest, and seen to throughout their easy lives by his acolytes. Life upon their Mother Land had been a life of leisure. They were the lucky ones, spared the harrowing chaos of the wilds beyond the borders of their bounteous Mother Land.
Ethan considered their plight solemnly, for he was the senior among the souls of this appointed place, those blessed in this Golden Row, this family-of-families, this cultivated gathering of sacral sky-seekers. They were bound to this place as much by their hunger and thirst as by the nature of their confinement and their fear of the wilds. They, unlike the damned in the woods beyond their Mother Land, had no fear of a violent untimely death.
Certainly there were those such as Reginald, their eldest, who had grown weary of an entire life spent awaiting Ascension. This was a terrible though rare affliction, thankfully not common. Still, it had pained Ethan when Reginald had forlornly disengaged himself from The Matrix. The suicide had commenced when the sun yet burned the Mother Land through the Long Days. Of all of the members of the five families appointed to this sacred place, only Reginald had disengaged. He had, like anyone well-fed who decides on death by fasting, lingered for over a month. Now, finally, after 34 nights by his closest friend’s side, Ethan sat next to Reginald Road’s pungent, somewhat sweet-smelling, corpse.
Ethan was sad that Reginald had chosen damnation in his sorrow. Only yesterday he finally died, yet today—today!—was Ascension Eve. Tomorrow morning the Angels above would descend on them from beyond the Damnation Wilds. They would be saved. After a lifetime’s sacrifice they would enjoy eternity at the foot of a benevolent God. God’s benevolence was not, however, infinite. Heavenly grace extended only so far. Suicides such as Reginald would, according to the whims of the Priest, suffer either the indignity of burial or the desecration of being devoured by the beasts!
Ethan was both elated and saddened by this thought, so decided to project his mind into tomorrow. Thought was what separated them from the beasts, the art of repose, the sacred act of contemplation. Part of this day and one final night remained to Ethan to perfect his meditative arts. Toward this end, and in the cause of putting poor Reginald’s plight from his mind, Ethan considered the Angels. One dared not consider God, directly, attempting some crude construct. God was awesome, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and was not to be consigned to artifice, either mental or effigial. For the mind could construct an effigy of thought. Yet God would not abide depiction, rendered in crude form by some fumbling mortal mind.
He wondered, “Yes, the Angels? What were—rather are—rather will—they be like?”
When one was dedicated to a lifetime of theographic repose, when one’s reason for breathing was simply to consider the wonder and the meaning of life, such a question was a bit rhetorical, even if only addressed to one’s self. After all, Ethan Roads, First Mind of the Fifth Golden Row, had been cultivating the answer to this seminal question for an entire lifetime, even if only in the ponderously construed logic endemic to Mother Lander philosophy. But still, logic, no matter how unimaginatively pursued, will eventually find a reasonable answer, with the possibility that the conclusion arrived at may actually be The Answer.
It was quite simple really. One need only consider the mediating life forms: the Priest and acolytes. Priests and acolytes were clearly mutilated Mother Landers. Granted, they had somehow—perhaps with Angelic aid—achieved a symbiosis with some type of towering beast. Perhaps the beasts were brought for this purpose by the Angels. One could not know, as each generation of Mother Landers ascended en masse, leaving none but the alien clergy with certain knowledge concerning the fate of the preceding generation.
Furthermore, since the clergy lived for generations, it must follow that they were part Angel. It would further follow that the beastly aspect of their symbiosis represented a practical measure and not their nature. Indeed their nature, minus the mutilations, was mirrored in the visage of every Mother Lander.
Taking these facts into consideration Ethan narrowed the possibilities down to two: Mother Landers were made in the image of the clergy, who were in turn modeled after the Angels, or, the clergy were mutilated Mother Landers miraculously transformed to care for the next generation on behalf of their heavenly masters. Either of the two possibilities were cause for joy on Ethan’s part. Privately Ethan harbored a belief that the later was the case, based on the crude nature of priestly communication, and his vein hope that perhaps Reginald might be raised by a compassionate Angel and permitted to live as a priest, a steward of Mother Land.
However, it was only for him to ponder, not judge. Each and every Mother Lander would come to their own conclusion. Ethan did his sacred duty, his last in this earthbound life, he broadcast his news to the world. The essence of his reasoning, the depths of his pondering, and his ‘Dual Divine Possibilities’ was disseminated in every familial row of Mother Land.
The Priest and his acolytes ceased their dirge.
The weakening sun set beyond the distant wilds.
The Mother Landers breathed deeply of the cooling air of Ascension Eve, air that somehow seemed sweeter than any evening breeze in living memory. As they did so, each of them considered the ‘Dual Divine Possibilities’ postulated by Ethan Roads while gazing dreamily at the darkening sky above.
And Angels Come
Like the clergy the Angels were alien in form, but far more so, with nary a hint of Mother Lander. Also, like the clergy, all Angelic activities were accompanied by great noise. The Angels were as noisy compared to a Priest or his acolytes as a clergy was compared to a Mother Lander. The earth rumbled with the tread of the Angels, their every move announced by thunder from heaven.
Ethan, like his kin, felt fear and dread, felt the presence of the divine, the unseen touch of God. They communed their bliss, their fear, their rapturous wonder to one another, from row to golden row!
Then they came, the Angelic acolytes. The Angels—there were only two in sight, and but one near—carried acolytes. The acolytes were shorter and more the color of the earth than those who normally attended the Priest. The Priest was barely in sight, apparently not even given to a benediction.
Ethan was stricken with a hollow feeling of abandonment as the Priest turned carelessly away and headed back down the Sacral Road.
Then they were upon them, the scrambling acolytes of the near Angel, separating them, severing their connection with The Matrix, tossing them irreverently about. Now Ethan experienced what suicide must have been like for Reginald. He could not transmit his thoughts, could not receive the thoughts of his kin, could not transmute the song of their Mother Land. He felt helpless, disconnected, uprooted!
He was not hungry however. In his ascendant form, though still within his body, he was not plagued with thirst or hunger. The uplift, the ascent, in the arms of the fanatical acolytes, was an elating experience. Then he was launched, propelled through the sky toward the broad back of the Angel, only to be caught by an acolyte mounting the Angel’s back, and placed among his kin.
He was at least snug again, if discombobulated. The worst part was his inability to communicate. The severance of The Matrix consigned them all to isolation. Perhaps this isolation, this unconnected state of being, was necessary for their ascension? Ethan meditated on this as the bodies of his kin, and of others, and others still, came pressing down upon him. He had at first felt himself lucky to have landed head up, at least able to contemplate his progress from the back of the Angel. But now he suffocated like the rest, pressed in upon by the helpless bodies of half of Earth’s Mother Landers it seemed.
Ethan’s horror was only heightened when the Angel roared off with a deafening thunder. Only his senses of hearing, sight, and touch remained intact. Ethan’s ability to scent, to smell the world, so important to any Mother Lander, was all but gone. What was worse though; was his inability to communicate.
Ethan Roads, First Mind of the Fifth Golden Row was utterly alone, pressed down upon by scores of likewise mute and dazed fellows, even as he bore down upon poor little Jacob, squashed and bleeding now beneath him. He wanted to reach out to Jacob, to offer his consolation, to hold out hope, to assign this terrible form of ascension some meaning within the Dual Divine Possibilities. But he could not. He, even with his great mind, could do nothing for poor Jacob other than lend his considerable bulk to his torment.
Ethan sent up a prayer to God, not knowing how his thoughts could escape into the sky above without the aid of The Matrix. But pray for his friend he did, he must!
Of God Deposed
They did rise. He had not been deprived of his sense of gravity. But they did not rise through the sky as had been believed, as had been promised!
“Promised by who,” he thought. “The clergy have ever been aloof if codling. It was nothing but our assumption, our hopeless belief in a rapturous ascent.”
Ascend they did, for a great distance, though achieving but a slight increase in elevation, barely above the treetops of the Damnation Wilds, surely far behind them. For most of the day they travelled on the back of the Angel.
Eventually the thunder stopped with a great hiss, and the Angel came to rest. Then they were tossed about again, and taken down now, into a deep vile pit!
“Oh God” he thought. “This cannot be a mid-place between damnation and salvation? If it is some place of judgment how shall we be heard, disconnected as we are?”
The world—for this was surely not Heaven, and surely a land possessing the very same specific gravity of Mother Land, turned to a slow churning nightmare. They were further mixed, diluting any familial sense of security, alternately laid beneath, and on top of one another by an ever changing parade of acolytes—lighter of skin now, and taller.
“Perhaps,” he thought, “our ascent is beginning anew. After all we knew nothing about the process of ascension with certainty.”
Eventually, after a disorienting stay in a dark cool place, blocked off from the sky—which alone was a thing unimaginable to a Mother Lander—Ethan emerged with some others on a conveyance, into a wonderland of bright perpetual light. Ethan, renowned for his great girth and prominent head, was given pride of place among his associates. They were all Mother Landers from various rows, apparently the greatest minds of Mother Land. They were placed among representatives of various cultivated inhabitants of the Earth. There were no beasts to be seen, no wildlings encroaching.
“Yes” he thought, “we have gained access to heaven, an audience at least.”
It saddened him though that it had been a selective process, and that only the best and brightest had been chosen to go with God. He permitted himself briefly to envision God. But then a blasphemous thought occurred to him, that perhaps God resembled a Mother Lander of the Rows. Feeling certain that the fact that he and his companions had been given pride of place, arrayed as they were above the other cultivated citizens of the world, and that this had effected his ability to reason, he chastised himself and waited with dignity for…
…A brightening of the ever-present light and a storm of acolytes!
“Good God Almighty—acolytes in their hundreds” he thought in amazement.
Most stared and then passed, but many stopped to caress him. They were more richly attired than any acolytes so far, and came in various shapes colors and sizes, all appearing like mutilated Mother Landers. The other various cultivated ascendant earthlings tended to be selected by the acolytes in a hurried fashion. Ethan and his companions however, became objects of noisy acolyte discussions, as well as the subject of many caresses.
Eventually Ethan was seized, on the account of his great girth, by his very head, by some burly acolyte doing the bidding of a smaller one. There was a mesmerizing journey about this enclosed world, followed by an emergence into sunlight, a journey within a small Angel, emergence into more sunlight among cultivated fields of green, and finally entry into a smaller place: a place of ascension he hoped. Ethan’s hope though was beginning to wane. He could no longer smell at all and his head hurt.
It occurred to Ethan as he was placed in the center of a flat raised platform, that perhaps the acolytes worshipped them; this particular family worshipping him. He put the blasphemous notion from his mind. Besides, it was obvious that he was the center of attention. Two smaller acolytes had joined the burly brute and their leader around his platform. Various tools were in evidence, including the same type of tool that had been used by the Angel’s acolytes to sever them from The Matrix.
The taller of the small acolytes contorted its mutilated body as it eyed him hungrily. Then the brute seized Ethan by the head, and stabbed him in the neck with another such tool!
Ethan had never known such pain! This was worse than being crushed on the Angel’s back. The brute kept pushing the blade around beneath Ethan’s head, pulling at his crown all the while. The extreme searing pain and the awful rending sound combined with the degrading and vile sensation of being penetrated to form the ultimate sense of misery.
“Oh God,” Ethan thought.
Then it came to him, the realization of all of the debates among Mother Lander’s, as to whether the soul resided in the body or the head, that he, as an adherent to the ‘body school of thought’, had been wrong. For Ethan was still alive, if in misery, looking down upon his dismembered body, as the brutish acolyte held him in its remorseless claw.
He chastised himself even as he faded, “Dear Reginald was right after all. The soul resides in the head.”
He bled, he cried, his throat seeped a thousand agonies. He was, however, spared the worst as he watched his great body being disemboweled and castrated by the smaller acolytes, under the supervision of their leader. He was laid to rest, left wondering, as his sight faded somewhat, and his thought became less keen, cut off as he was from the great stores of energy housed within his body, now being discarded into some pit.
“Is this ascension?” he mused “Or am I just a sacrifice to God on the part of the acolytes? Do the clergy serve not God, not us, but just themselves, appeasing God with our ruin?”
Ethan was grown numb, nearly in shock from the pain. He was becoming weaker, even as his neck sealed itself off from this world’s cruel embrace.
“At least” he thought “the worst is behind me. Soon there shall be but sweet oblivion! How right you were Reginald. How right you were!”
Then, the most curious thing happened. His body was being mutilated by the initiates to resemble—themselves, acolytes. Perhaps one of his proposed theories on Dual Divine Possibilities was correct. He was being raised, his body anyway, transformed into an acolyte.
“Yes” he reasoned “this is my fate, the reason for the selective process. I am being granted immortality, shall go back to Mother Land as an acolyte—perhaps even a priest!”
Something was placed within his body, and then Ethan was placed back on top of his body, and taken out into the cool evening air. The pain had abated. He was able to get precious little of a connection, was only able to achieve a ghostly parody of his former symbiosis with his body, a symbiosis that had been so total that he had thought himself one and all, rather than body and mind. His perch atop his eviscerated body did permit him some tactile sensitivity. Although, considering the terrible fate of his body he was happy to have been unable to reconnect totally. The pain would have been maddening.
Ethan was marginally content, perched atop his hollow body, which was perched atop a rudimentary symbiotic structure, apparently still in a state of cultivation. “One day” he thought “I will return to Mother Land and tell the truth. I will not be as the mindless greedy Angels and the ravenous acolytes. I will free The People; find a way to bind their will, row, by golden row. We will ally with the others—what, what is this?”
The brute had returned, returned to interrupt Ethan’s militant solitude. This disoriented Ethan as night was falling, and acolytes did precious little at night. It was the time of rest, not…
…He was removed once again by the coarse and uncaring claw of the brutish acolyte from his mutilated body, and held aloft as some terrible smell, and a heat wafted up from below. Ethan was then placed back down upon his body and his mind took fire, seared as if by a hundred of the cruelest of midday suns! His world, no, their world, the hideous world of the acolytes, nothing but barren damned roads, roaring Angels and tortured wild grass, dissolved in a nightmare of indescribable pain. The initiates stood beneath him in wonder at his immolation, at his indescribably agonizing sacrifice. They contorted their mutilated bodies, rocking along atop their hideous symbiots, the claws of which pointed at him, as if to say, ‘There he is, the blasphemer’—“No!”
He had mourned Reginald for damned, had smugly thought himself the wiser. But he, Ethan Roads, he now knew damnation. As his mind cooked within his head he at least knew the comforting thought that Reginald, wise Reginald, had escaped the fate of them all. Reginald was a Roads at least. One of their Golden Row had made good despite the odds, despite the Angels, the acolytes—despite the Fire Below.
Author’s Note
I think it was 1978 when my English teacher gave us a creative writing assignment with a Halloween theme. I horrified everyone with my pumpkin’s view of the pagan holiday. My sister and mother have recently asked me whatever came of the manuscript. It is long lost. The piece above certainly differs on many details, though I rewrote the long dead story with the same insidious empathy.
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