The River Stole the Gods
Flash fiction challenge
This post is in response to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge. Basically, he listed several sentences, suggested we pick one at random, and then write a short story around it – about 1000 words. He does this frequently and I’ve never participated. Today though, one sentence caught my attention and wouldn’t let it go. So no, I didn’t choose my sentence at random. It randomly chose me.
My sentence? The river stole the gods.
Without further ado, the story that wrote itself while I was editing my novel this morning:
Rain fell day after day until the ground could hold no more. Grasses bent into great puddles and the river crept up its banks. People scurried like ants around carrion, lining the surging water with bags of sand, bits of stone, any piece of debris they thought might keep the water at bay. They fell to their knees and, with arms outstretched, begged the sky for pardon.
“Forgive us!” they cried.
And still the rain fell. It pelted their upturned faces as if their words infuriated the sky and the clouds. “You are not forgiven,” said the rain. “You are not worthy of forgiveness.” Within a day, the river ate the barrier the people had built, a great gluttonous devouring of faith and safety.
And still the rain fell. It fell in hard diagonal lines and the people huddled inside their church, weeping near the altar. “Why are you so angry with us?” They sobbed between prayers, their keening voices filling the small building.
Thunder crashed and winds howled. Lightning struck the ground again and again, a tumultuous onslaught of power. Trees bent until they broke and the river carried them away, bobbing and twisting and catching on each other, excited for a change of scenery after a lifetime of stillness. And still the river swelled, each raindrop adding to its girth. It tiptoed out of its bed like a child sneaking out of his room, slinking ever closer to the village.
Everything it touched, it consumed. Bits and pieces of human life gobbled up and carried away, a gift for those downstream. Water stole down the paths normally trafficked by mortal feet and poured through doors into homes, chasing people upstairs and onto roofs as if it were a monster finally freed of the dark. Relentless. Uncaring.
Children plunged into the water’s icy depths and parents lamented. “Not my child! Take me instead! Why have the gods abandoned me?” Wails of grief drowned out by the rain and the wind, the thunder and the ever present roar of water. Payers falling on deaf ears.
And still the rain fell. It cascaded down, day after day and night after night. The river overpowered the village and nothing was sacred enough to withstand its wrath. Water flowed into their churches and swept over their altars. The river stole the gods, carrying their idols down the river, forever lost to the village.
Water filled the buildings from floor to ceiling, the remains of life captured between the walls and floating inside. A doll’s hair streaming outwards as it hung suspended over a child’s bed. A dress billowing out from a closet like some exotic sea creature hunkered in a cave. Fish swam through kitchens and pecked at the flesh of those claimed by the water, invited into the realm of the air-breathers like tourists on vacation, unaware their very presence was sacrilege. “Look, Martha.” Peck, peck. “What a delightful world filled with wonderful things!” Peck, peck. “I wish I could thank its inhabitants. How strange that they aren’t here.” Peck.
Day and night were interchangeable in this new wet existence. People shivered and shook while the sun and the stars and the moon hid behind the black clouds that commandeered the world from those who thought to make it their own. “You are powerless,” said the rain to the man. “I will take all you’ve made,” said the rain the woman.
And still the rain fell.
Many perished, gave up their lives, unwilling to last through the tumultuous downpour, the ever present winds, and the bone-chilling damp. Some plunged themselves into the river, crying out against their gods. Others simply lay down never to get up again.
But there were those whose strength would not be diminished. Could not be diminished. As the water swept by, they fished debris from the river and fashioned shelter atop the very roofs that’d once covered them. And when the water swept away the shelter, they climbed into the treetops and used the leaves and branches as refuge from the rain. They stopped lamenting the rain and began celebrating each day they woke to feel the water upon their face.
“If I can feel the wet, then the wet has yet to claim me,” they said. They raised their voices to the heavens in a resplendent offering of gratitude. They rose to the challenge of cold skin and damp fingers and rain and water and wet with the grace of strength housed deep within the soul.
“I will not bow my head and fling myself into the depths,” said one to the other. “And nor shall you. For when you feel like plunging head long into the water, giving up against the rain, take my hand and I will keep you.” One by one, bit by bit, the people adapted. They grew strong, hand in hand, day by day, unconquered by the river and the rain.
And then one day, as quickly as it started, the rain stopped. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and the sky exploded, rays of light shooting down upon the water where it burst into sparkling ripples dappled in gold. The people squinted and covered their eyes. A silence as deep as the river stretched out amongst the trees. No more pattering of water against water. No more howling of wind in their ears. They sighed and stretched their arms wide, faces turned upwards collecting the warmth of the sun.