I was sitting there eating my lunch. Just sitting, minding my own business, like every other day of the week. This guy comes up to me. It’s one of those moments you dread, you know? Total stranger, wants to talk to you about whatever it is that is eating at him right now. It’s never anything interesting, it’s always anatomical or scatalogical or whatever, and you’re like “Hey, buddy! I’m trying to eat my lunch here!”
The guy? He looks like crap. Long hair. Vacant eyes. Erratic twitches. What a previous generation would have deemed a hippie. Is he on drugs right now? Could be. Could easily be. I prepare for the worst. He plunks down on the stool next to me and says,
“have you heard about the godstone?”
Okay, that’s a new one. And as long as he doesn’t start talking about his asshole, this might be an acceptable conversation to have over lunch. So I rise to the bait. “Nope, never heard of it.”
He says “Yeah… Dude down in the Amazonian jungle, I think it was, comes wandering out of the rainforest with his eyes gouged out.”
I knew there would be blood and gore in this conversation. Why does this always happen while I’m eating? But he continues so I don’t have time to do more than point out that I’m actively chewing right now.
“Dude just walks into this remote village with his eyes ripped out. Tore them out himself, he says. No one in the village had ever seen this guy before. He was starved nearly to death and was covered in leeches and dirt” (still eating here!) “…and he babbled constantly. They couldn’t get the guy to shut up.” (sounds familiar) “They didn’t have phones or any other electronics in this village, so they sent a runner to the next town to call for a rescue chopper. They’re trying to calm this guy down in the meantime because he’s looking like he might drop dead at any minute. As they listen to him babble they start to piece together his story. He’d gotten separated from his tour group somehow. Lost and alone, he’s desperate. He looked for anything, even a ray of sunshine, to get his bearings. When he finally sees some sunlight he wanders out into an even hotter empty daylight than the rainforest he had been in.”
“It’s this huge opening right in the middle of the rainforest. He’s thinking ‘this must be some of that clear cutting I’ve heard rumor about.’ but there’s no stumps in the ground. Just bare earth under his feet. Wandering aimlessly through this hot, humid mystery, he steps on a frozen stone. It’s a hundred freaking degrees and 90% humidity, and this thing feels like it’s cold as space, dude. So cold as to numb his entire leg. Well, that freaks him out. Worse than that was the compulsion that came over him. A desire to look at the stone covered by his foot. It was like a voice in his head demanding to be answered. The stone’s demands freak him out so bad that he tears his own eyes out! Then he runs, blind as a bat, as fast and as long as he can. He ran as if the devil himself was following him, never stopping until he stumbled into that jungle village. He died a short time later, and none of the scouting parties sent in the direction that the eyeless man came from ever returned.”
“The travel company that came for the guy’s corpse sent out search parties. For insurance reasons, you know? The first search party didn’t come back. So the second party was more cautious. They had drones with them, drones with remote recording. High tech. The recording shows the party finding the clearing just where the villagers said it would be. In the clearing there are the bodies of the first search party lying contorted all over the ground. They’re thinking ‘Ambush? Poison?’ So they send the drones in first to hover over the area before entering. They don’t find any threats, so they advanced into the dead zone. The moment they see the stone in the middle of the field, the recording shows that they all just fall on the ground. Stone dead, just like the first search party.”
“They all, all of them, are heard to exclaim ‘It’s true!’ at the moment that they catch sight of the stone. The stone that the blind guy said wanted him to look at it.”
I’m thinking, well, that’s a decent story. But I had a question. “Why did you call it the godstone? What does exclaiming ‘it’s true’ have to do with god?”
“That’s the best part. I was waiting for you to ask that.”
“Are you planning to tell me anytime soon? Because I’m done with my lunch. Thanks for the entertainment and the puzzle.” Picking up my assorted crap I headed towards the exit. As I’m dropping the garbage in the can, the stranger says,
“The blind guy said that the stone asked a question and demanded an answer. ‘Is god real? Look at me, and I will tell you!’“
What the fuck? Is god real? “Seriously, that’s the best part?” I turn back to the guy make sure he heard me… and he’s gone. Just flat fucking vanished. Can you beat that?
My boss says “And you expect me to believe this is why you are late back from lunch? As if I care. Get back to work before I change my mind and fire you.”
But the story gnaws at my gut, you know? All that day, and then the next day, and then the next day too. “Is god real?” The damn question wakes me up at night. I can’t sleep, I can barely eat. The stone can answer the question of god’s existence, but takes your life when it answers? Is that what the story means? For the thousandth time I ask myself, “What the fuck?”
Unfortunately I’m back at work when I say this out loud. The boss never forgave me for being late back to work that day, however long ago that was, and my work has been pretty crap ever since then because I just can’t seem to focus. Come to think of it, he looks pretty tired when I look up to notice he’s heard me.
“That’s it, you’re fired.”
I leave him his own personal f-word as I punch myself out for the last time.
I have some vacation time coming. That, plus the severance check is enough to get me a one-way ticket to the depths of the Amazonian jungle. The question of where to find this godstone isn’t a mystery anymore. The story isn’t passed by word of mouth from stranger to stranger over lunch in some greasy spoon diner in you-name-the-city at this point.
Now it is on the news. Hundreds of people went missing on hearing of the godstone when the story first broke in the US. Hundreds and then thousands of people all across America, and then all across the world. Every channel on every major network is now spreading this meme. The story subconsciously demands to be spread, if not just outright dominating the weak-minded. And as social creatures, we happily passed the damn thing to every unsuspecting soul on the planet before we recognized the danger we were in. Encoded in the sounds Is god real? or somewhere within the story itself was the message “come to me!” along with the location where this me was. Whatever it was.
So I knew exactly where I was going. When the location first became public, the major airlines tried in vain to keep their flights from going there, but any pilot who had heard the story couldn’t help but fly to the region, landing at the nearest airport, if the passengers were lucky. If not? Well, the area directly around the stone somehow always managed to remain clear of any bodies or debris. In the end the only planes left in the air were planes that could only be flown by wire. Which would be great, if there were crews left to service them. Transportation hubs were the first to see the drainage of manpower, the danger in the message.
So I wasn’t gong by plane. I wasn’t going by boat, either. There were no passages to be had on a ship of any size above a dingy (if I could have found a dingy) even if I had wanted to take a ship. So I bought bus tickets. A week to get there by bus. It could have been a month and I would have paid it anyway. I would have walked the whole way if I could, and I wouldn’t have been the first one.
Every person on the bus looked like the face I saw in the mirror, when I bothered to look in a mirror anymore. Empty-eyed shells with no drive in them other than to satisfy the need to know. Every town along the way was filled with terrified people. They would sell you food, of course. Your money would always be good for as long as there was food to last and people to serve the food. The latter beginning to be in a noticeably short supply by the time I reached my destination.
On a freshly graded road, a road that hadn’t existed a month ago, I stepped off the bus into the village that I had first heard of from that stranger. How long ago had it been? I can’t seem to remember. I had a job then, I do remember that, even if I can’t remember what exactly the job was. The need compelled me now. The need for an answer.
I was struck motionless by the fact that there were still people in the village. This close to the stone and yet there were still people here? How was that possible? The woman who served me flatbread and beans was happy to answer me.
“What is god?” She said. When I tried to explain the nature of an all-powerful creator that listened to prayers, she waved me off as if I was a lunatic. “Oh. You mean creation. The life all around us. What you call nature, yes? It doesn’t listen to you talk. Why would you talk to nature?”
“Well, no” I said. “God isn’t nature. God is the creator. God created everything, including us. He did it in six days and rested on the seventh. Nature is the unforgiving, uncaring world around us. God is love and peace.” Hadn’t this woman ever read holy scripture? I mean, I’d read every religious text I could get my hands on when I was young. I wanted to know everything that had ever been written down about the subject of faith. Had she even been in a church? There wasn’t a church in the village that I had noticed. Not that I was noticing much these days. What was the deal here?
“Oh, you poor thing. It has you bad doesn’t it?” I wasn’t even sure what the it was at that point. She just smiled at my confusion and said, “don’t worry. Your pain will be ended soon.” Now, that was a relief to hear. I had been in terrible pain ever since I had lost my shoes somewhere in Mexico. I forgot which town that was. “Just follow the trail, dear.” she cackled at me, when I looked at her quizzically.
The trail ends at the dead zone. The DGZ as the news has taken to calling it. The Dead God Zone. “That’s appropriate” I muse to myself as I study the mountain of bodies piled in front of me. There have to be millions of people buried in this mountain, I think to myself as I start my climb.
I don’t really think about the reality of the situation until I’m halfway up the visible slope. It was the face that gave me pause. The face that I had almost stepped on. I study the face.
She was probably an attractive woman once. Someone’s cherished child, perhaps a loving wife and mother, before she became just another corpse in a pile of tribute to the dead god. Tribute for the DGZ, I laugh to myself as I go ahead and step on that face, continuing my climb.
The need, the need compels me.
When I look up to gauge my distance I realize that I am mere inches from the cherished knowledge. The end of my pain. The answer to that most important of questions, is there a god?
I pause. I pause for one last glorious breath. Even in the reeking atmosphere of death and destruction all around me. It feels so good to breath, to feel the pulse in my veins. “Do I really want to look?” I ask myself.
“What a stupid question,” I reply to myself. “Do you think we traveled all this way just to turn away at the last moment?” We. I referred to myself as we. I’m well down the road to crazy, I think to myself. The knowledge will be worth the sacrifice. The task must be completed.
The last disgusting few inches are quite a struggle. The freshly dead flesh feels weird under my hands, like weak plastic. The bodies lower down have most of the flesh torn off already, torn from the passage of so many travelers mounting to heaven. The skin on a downward swinging arm comes loose in my hands as I grip it, and I nearly fall to my death.
“Stupid asshole!” I rage at myself. Or maybe it’s at the arm that nearly killed me. “You almost died!” So it is me I’m mad at. That’s good. Thought I might be losing my mind there for a minute. I chuckle, and reach to grip the exposed skull above the arm, a skull gripped so many times by so many hands that the eye sockets look like the finger holes in a bowling ball.
…and then my head crests the top of the pile. There is the clean ring before me. No death. No decay. No mortality. And in the center of the ring is… a pebble?
That’s it? I think. but the thought is erased by agony. A heart attack? Now? My heart is convulsing. The pain is unbearable. I release the skull under my hands to clutch at my chest and tumble back down to the bottom of the mountain of bodies.
I come to rest. Just another corpse in a field of heaped, rotting corpses. I’m dying, I realize. I’m dying and I haven’t got the damn answer yet! To come so far only to be robbed of the promise. I form the biggest fuck you that my limited universe has ever seen as my parting shot, knowing that the fall has killed me. The whispers all said that the answer would be given. Where is my answer? I saw the damned pebble, give me my fucking answer! But my rage is impotent, the pain is flowing out of my body, the world seems to be closing in.
Laying there gazing into the darkening, shortening distance, I see something moving. Is that a figure? I can barely make it out. Is that someone walking towards the pile? Maybe they know some medicine. Maybe they can save me. Or is it another tribute on their way to their own death? I wish them better luck than I’ve had. They’ve got shoes, at least.
Or are those hooves?
The figure begins to take shape from out the haze. It’s a satyr I think to myself. What a weird thing to see in a South American jungle, much less an inexplicable desert in the middle of an otherwise natural jungle, nearly filled with a ring of rotting corpses. I’d read about satyrs in some of the trashier fiction I’d picked up over the years. Back in the days of my youth, when I had time to read. This satyr is reddish in color, not the more common white or grey of the goats they are kin to.
The demon chuckles softly to itself and speaks.
“You were a fool to sacrifice the greatest gift in the universe, the gift of life, for such fleeting knowledge. Little good will it do you now.”
My vision goes dark as he reaches down for me. My last breath comes out as a whisper.
Editor’s note. I have removed the postscript that was in this location because I am working on additions to this story and I don’t want any spoilers. However, I am still looking for feedback. My contact info is at the bottom of my about me page.
I have now done the cursory bit of research and discovered that there was something called Godstone before I came up with the title. I had never heard of the book by T.H. White before now (08/23/2020) oh, well. It is a different story.