Flash Fiction – One Random Sentence
This week, Chuck Wendig posted ten random sentences and encouraged us to choose one or more for a flash fiction piece of around 1,000 words. They are all pretty great sentences (the list is here, if you’re curious), but one in particular really stood out to me and immediately put me back in the world of By the Queen’s Command. The result is about 630 words of prequel or backstory inspired by the sentence, “The river stole the gods.”
The river stole the gods. Not all at once, mind you. It crept up slowly, almost imperceptibly, over many years, eons even. But eventually, the river spirited them away, one at a time. At first, only a few individuals, the priests mostly, noticed the river’s steady march toward the temple. They tried to raise the alarm, to warn us all of the river’s approach, but few paid them any heed. “There go the old priests,” they said, “babbling again about unimportant things when we know there are more pressing concerns – the paltry harvest, the failing power grid, the constant threat of the invaders. Don’t they realize that we don’t have the time or resources to devote to a decrepit building and a bunch of crumbling statues?” And so, a generation passed and the river still came.
As the water rose to engulf the steps of the temple, those who were still devout began to express their concern, but again, we failed to heed the warning. We had other things to concern us – the wasting sickness that swept through our village, the freezing winters, and the scorching summers. It was only later, they say, when the river finally swept the first god away, that we began to really pay attention. Our village was under near-constant attack it seemed, from plagues of insects and desperate predators, both human and animal. We struggled to survive in a world that grew increasingly hostile. It was into this world that I was born. My earliest memories are of conversations, long into the night, between the few who were left. “The gods are angry that we have neglected the temple,” they said. “We must protect it and appease them if we are to have any hope of surviving.” And so, some of us began to try. We piled stones in the doorways to block the river’s entrance, and when that failed, we began to dig at the riverbank, to try to change the river’s path. But still, inexorably, the river came, stealing away another god and eroding away the ones who were left. I still remember how my mother wailed and clung to the god as it slipped it from its pedestal and floated away from her, out of sight.
As I grew to adulthood, the conversations continued while the river stole another god, and then another. “This is proof that they are abandoning us,” some said. “We must build another temple, on new land far away, and move the gods who are left,” still others said. We fought amongst ourselves, squabbling like apes, until finally, we were torn asunder. On the day the others left, packing their meager belongings and setting out toward the rising sun and away from the river, I could do nothing but hang my head and weep. I did not understand how they could abandon our village, our land, the only home we had ever known. “These gods are dead,” they’d said. “We will find a new land and build a new temple with new gods.” They shook their heads at my folly and left me alone with the one god who was left in our temple.
I kept vigil over the years as the river rose higher and higher, swirling around, pushing at the last of the gods until it had its prize, snatching it away from my clutching hands and sweeping it downstream, out of my sight.
The temple was empty now. I knew the time had come. I piled my few belongings into my canoe and pushed off into the river, determined to follow where the gods had led, looking back only once to sear the vision of our land in my mind before taking up my paddle and facing forward, anxious to learn where the gods would lead me.