six short stories from the book of lethe
I was participating in a Dream Park style LARP, in which I played Ratboi, a scavenger and shaman. Not a strong fighter, but fearless and clever. We had lost one of our party due to some mishap, and I beseeched the spirits of Earth and Air for guidance. We followed the trail, each plying their respective talents, reading signs in the flights of birds, plantspeaking, teasing rumors from backroom inebriates. We were led to an ancient railway running endlessly through the desert, and one by one we grabbed handholds on the rumbling traincar and held on for dear life. Even when the rail ran right down the beach and under the waves, we held fast, trusting in our instincts and protector spirits. The train carried us to the underworld where we bargained for our comrade’s release. The price was dear, but we had not come this far to fail, and we paid it.
Later, during the break between one day’s episode and the next, I was reading a trade magazine and discovered that two of my friends had written part of the game. I went and found them in one of the gamer lounges to pay my compliments, and they returned the congratulations. When I was nonplussed, they told me to turn to a certain page, where I found an article I had written myself.
I was a camp counselor. Some kids found an old well in the woods and broke the lock off the cover, releasing a centuries dormant and thoroughly malevolent water spirit called Il-Belliegħa (Maltese for The Swallower) that proceeded to terrorize and slaughter the campers. In the sequel, it reached a city and wreaked havoc until the military developed a microwave gun that boiled it away. But can you ever be certain a sentient puddle of water is truly dead?
The worst part was that if it got into your bloodstream it could make you run around killing people and committing atrocities against your will, while you remained conscious, helpless to resist.
I was a legal proxy for God- one of a few people whom, it had been discovered, could channel the voice of God directly; and were put on the stand in His stead when people wished to take legal action against Him, a phenomenon that occurred with increasing regularity once precedent for this method had been set.
Proxies (as we came to be called) were kept in cells not unlike jail cells, whether to protect us or to protect others from us was never certain. One of the side effects of channeling the Almighty was gradual and total erosion of personality. Another was the inability to sleep or eat. Proxies tended to take considerably longer to waste away than was considered normal for such deprivations, on the order of weeks. But it’s not like they noticed. It was as if the Voice of God had, in passing through them, hollowed them out and left nothing but a pallid, 2-dimensional image of a human being in its wake.
It’s kind of interesting to consider how fast His followers would turn on Him if they could actually reach Him in some tangible way.
As opposed to, y’know, prayer.
The whole point of the dream, or at least a big part of it, was that in becoming this channel, this tool, I was no longer Me. I wasn’t the only one- despite their artificial longevity, Proxies got used up quickly. It was not at all a pleasant dream.
The private cell was to discourage assassination attempts. It was never clear whether the bigger danger was from those who wanted to try to hurt God, or from the people who wanted to keep God an abstract concept in whose mouth they could put their own words, not the other way around.
I was Merlinus Ambrosius, wandering in the woods and came upon a wounded bush-creature, a forest spirit of some sort. I aided it as best I could, and it granted me a boon of pathfinding- if I were ever lost in any wood, I had only to call its name and it would lead me to safety. As I continued wandering, I wondered how exactly this would work. Could it lead me to safety if I were surrounded by foes? What about its own life? Would the poor creature be bound by its word to wade into mortal danger to honor my call?
Later, through a twist of fate, I became enmeshed in a conflict of wills between the local fae. The Forest Queen and the Lake King both sought to use me for their own ends. Somehow I had secured boons from servants of both factions, and with their help I tried to navigate the eddies and brambles of politicking between the fae courts.
At one point, I found myself in very deep water (both metaphorically and physically). The Lake King’s gift of waterbreathing had been rescinded, but I was able to convince my nixie companion to collect barrels, planks, and other flotsam from the far reaches of the lake and transport them to me that I might build a raft on which to survive the night.
I was in the most violent, corrupt city on Earth. Street gangs, militias, dirty cops, and mafiosos ran amok in a neverending riot of gunfights, betrayals, and recriminations. To escape the worst of the violence, we sought ever deeper refuge in a seemingly endless network of caves beneath the city. Eventually our flight led out of darkness into golden sunlight and lush greenery.
Somehow, beneath the desert sands, beneath the depredations of man, we had discovered the lost Garden of Eden. In this Garden, this place where life began, was the progenitor of each living thing on Earth, vibrant and alive. Here was perfect respite, perfect safety. Or so we thought.
Of course, there’s a reason mankind was cast out of the garden. And the evil seed that took root in the heart of man has grown and flourished for millennia before finding again this sanctuary.
One of the first things we discovered was that if any of the proto-creatures or plants was killed here, all its progeny on Earth would sicken and die in less… See More than 24 hours. Some tried to abuse this power, others tried to oppose them, but none wanted to risk killing a human being here- the consequences could be unspeakable. Of course, when one of our number tried to erase humanity by murdering himself, we discovered that humans were somehow exempt. Maybe because we have individual souls. Or maybe because Adam, the proto-man, had already left the Garden. We never knew for certain.
Then a new discovery was made- in the center of the garden were innumerable strange statues of fantastic beasts unlike anything that walks, swims, flies, or burrows on the Earth. Supposedly, God brought all the creatures before Adam to be named… maybe some got left out, and so never came to be? At least that was our best guess, after one of our children decided to give the bear/tiger/alligator/wolf statue a name, and it promptly came to life… and started hunting us.
In a matter of days, we had changed life across the face of the world irrevocably. The only thing left to do was destroy the passage here and then make sure none who knew where it was survived.
I can make that sacrifice, for all mankind.
But who has the heart to murder an innocent child?
I was a soldier on an Earth at war with an enigmatic alien race. During the years long campaign, a phenomenon known as “Black Houses” and “White Houses” emerged.
Black Houses were places- bivouacs in the middle of military contractor camps, basements of suburban homes, warehouses, hotel rooms- where one could, for a significant sum, purchase the… use… of an alien prisoner of war. The fee is doubled if the prisoner is rendered… unable to continue service. But aside from collecting the money, nobody asks questions. Nobody knows anything.
White Houses were places where one could purchase Sacrament, a drug distilled from alien lachrymal fluids, that releases massive doses of dimethyltryptamine from the pineal gland, producing the effects most commonly associated with near-death or out-of-body experiences, temporal lobe seizures, as well as lucid dreaming.
After years of processing enemy POWs for these… recreational… pursuits, it was discovered that many of the supposed enemy combatants are in fact humans who were themselves POWs subjected to some alien biochemical agents, surgical alteration, and brainwashing techniques to render them cooperative slave-soldiers.