For the Old Gods (Flash Fiction)

The first drops of rain fell thick upon Catherine’s face, staining her cheeks and mixing with her tears. A hot wind blew in strong from the east as they approached the shore, and Catherine’s blonde curls were ravaged as she carried her fears and the boulder tied to her waist. Her bare feet slipped in the dark soil, small rocks tearing lines into her flesh, as the villagers followed her along the worn path. Their elder, dressed in a ceremonial garb of rotten bones, elephant tusks, and blood stained leather, led the march. He raised his gnarled staff to the darkening sky and prayed to the old gods.

The time for sacrifice had arrived.

With a violent crack of thunder, the rain fell harder and soaked her bare skin. The boulder, roughly thirty pounds in weight with jagged corners that bit her hands, began to slip from her grip. A crude whip made of vines lashed her back and Catherine cried out in a shock of pain. The boulder fell, and the thick vines that joined her to it pulled her to the ground. She turned, her face full of horror, to search the eyes of the villagers for compassion. None was there.

The elder screeched a vicious yell into the swirling air, and the storm responded to his call. The black clouds rumbled all around them like a stomach yearning to be fed. The rain fell harder, and the elder approached Catherine with his staff of dead wood. With jaundice-yellow eyes, he leaned down close to her. The rain flushed grime and soil from his knotted hair, and the deposits streamed down his face like a river of death.

“Pick-up,” he said with a heavy accent. “Pick-up.”

Catherine opened her mouth to speak, but only croaked. The villagers looked on with a knowing fear in their eyes. Lightning crashed around them. Slowly, Catherine picked up the stone and moved to the edge of the cliff.

A froth of white water thrashed below her. Massive waves slammed against jagged stones. Light fled from the horizon and left the sky black with small pockets of gray. But still, even in the growing darkness, Catherine could see something else churning in those waters. Something big, something that forever lurked in the deep.

Fear clutched at her heart, and she turned back, but the villagers closed in around her. The elder slammed his boney hands to his chest, rattling the bones that adorned his body, and yelled into the dying heavens. In a brilliant flash of lightning, Catherine saw there was no going back. Each villager, from the youngest child to the most ancient of elders, would die to see her over that cliff. She turned again, facing the erupting sea, and flung herself into the air. As she fell, she clung to her boulder, her only companion in the coming darkness.

The burning wind of the storm was replaced with waters of searing ice. She cried out in pain as the cold bit into her skin. The boulder fell from her hands as she rushed to get back to the surface, swimming with all her might. Her voice bubbled around her as she fought against the stone, fought against the dark, fought against the cold. When her face broke through the surface, she gasped her final breath and was pulled back under.

She descended quickly.

As she descended, the icy water seemed to claw at her skin. It came alive with movement, and she suddenly felt an ominous presence. She understood then, that the water was not trying to bite into her, rather, it was trying to flee. The ocean itself was alive and seeking refuge in her body from the creature that was coming. It dug into her pores and pierced her openings. It broke her skin and clawed into her eyes.

The old god had returned.

The pressure of the water crushed her as the boulder pulled her further and further. She embraced the darkness, understanding the peace of surrender. Before she passed, a thick tentacle wrapped around her naked body. The sensation was that of being embraced by time, of being embraced by that which erodes the mightiest mountains and swallows islands with hurricanes.

The sacrifice was accepted. The storm passed over.

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