Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Eye's Snow by Lee Widener (Random Title #3)

The Eye blazed angrily with fire, parching the land below. People knew from experience to stay inside during The Eye's Fire. Anyone who ventured out during the Fire was swiftly eyeburned, and if they stayed out long enough, even covered in nasty blisters. It was difficult to tell when the Fire would come, seemingly a capricious decision by the Eye to turn fiery, though a class of prognosticators had arisen claiming they could predict when the Eye would shift cycle.

The Fire was the most difficult cycle for the inhabitants of Jaloonga. Rivers dried up in a matter of hours, and even wells went dry if they weren't properly covered. Animals and livestock had to be kept inside or they became dehydrated, and finally desiccated. Anyone venturing outdoors without protective gear suffered the same fate. Villages were filled with tragic cases who had found themselves outside during the shift, only partially covered, winding up with withered, skeletal hands or heads that would never grow hair again.

No one knew why the Eye turned angry when it did, though the subject was constantly debated by many. Priests often claimed to have the answers, but nobody really knew. Fortunately for the inhabitants of Sterinoptiko immediately following the Fire was The Eye's Rain. The Eye would weep nonstop during the Rain, drenching the land with blessed sweet life-giving water. Rivers filled to overflowing and people took the opportunity to rejoice, shedding raiment and dancing under the gaze of the ever watchful Eye.

Every possible vessel had to be filled with the liquid nectar and stored, for one could never survive The Fire without hoarding The Rain. Livestock was herded outside to soak up as much of The Rain as they could. Though the Eye was weeping, all those below were overjoyed for the time of plenty. Crops grew quickly and had to be harvested as soon as possible. Even wood was cut during The Rain, even though it was soaked, because after The Eye's Rain came The Eye's Snow.

When The Eye's gaze turned icy it snowed, covering the land in mountains of white powder. Temperatures dropped radically and once again people stayed indoors, because to stay outside during The Snow was to freeze. It didn't take long in the frigid temperatures of The Eye's Snow. Every cycle a few unlucky souls would be found frozen stiff, unable to find shelter in time. The harsh cycle made it dangerous to travel. To be caught on the road during The Snow or The Fire meant certain death, so inter-village fraternization was rare, though necessary for survival.

So it had been on Jaloonga since the beginning of recorded history. Priests and their followers sought to appease The Eye with rituals and offerings, praying for longer Rain cycles and shorter Fire and Snow cycles, though nobody really knew if it did any good.

One particular cycle The Eye's Snow seemed endless. Temperatures had dropped even lower than usual supplies of fire wood became scarce. Priests performed near constant rituals begging the Eye for respite, even though that meant the coming of The Fire. The Eye stayed blue and icy, immune to the priest's entreaties. People gave up hope. Huddled indoors under as many blankets as they could get, shivering as their fires flickered out, the inhabitants of Jaloonga filled with despair.

One by one people watched each other die, either clinging to each other, shivering under cover, or lost in the murderous snow outside, searching for a scrap of wood to kindle the fire.

That cycle was known as The Terrible Blizzard. It was the longest period of The Eye's Snow ever recorded. Nine tenths of the population died, frozen, like mock statuary. Some villages were abandoned, their few survivors risking the trek to the nearest neighbor during The Fire so that resources could be pooled, and solace sought. Many priests found themselves without followers, both from death and from no longer having faith placed in them. After all, they weren't able to end The Eye's Snow before nearly everyone died.

Jaloonga continued, thrived and repopulated. A fear had taken hold of the land though. What if The Eye's Snow lasted so long again? Or even longer? What if The Eye's Fire lasted that long and everyone died from thirst? No one had an answer, not even the priests, and so some people began to hate the Eye. Instead of respecting the Eye as the bringer of Rain, the source of all life, they saw it as a terrible harbinger of hardship and death.  They saw no purpose in a life lived in the shadow of an entity's whims. They saw no reason to live a productive existence when it could be cut short at any moment, so they spent their time frivolously, filled with debauchery. They even spread their discontent to others and society on Jaloonga teetered on the brink of collapse.

The Eye continued on as it always had, casting its fiery gaze on the land below, or weeping in sadness, or turning an icy stare on everything, unaware of the turmoil below. This went on for many generations until the unrest grew so prevalent people were killing each other over whether they loved or hated the Eye. Entire villages did battle with each other, often resulting in total annihilation.

And so one day it ended. The last two villages wiped each other out, even amidst protests from some who reasoned that killing over a concept was insanity. Was it really a life or death matter whether one believed the Eye was benevolent or malignant? Yes, the others answered, it did, so they cleansed the world of the remaining population.

Above it all the Eye remained, unaware of developments below. It looked down on the land and made Fire if it was angry, or Rain if it was sad, or Snow if it was aloof. The Eye itself had no idea why it felt one thing or another, it just existed. And so it does today, still cycling through its seasons, blissfully unaware of anything but itself.


Stories by Lee Widener have been featured in "Detritus" and "Death to the Brothers Grimm," both from Omnium Gatherum Media. His Lovecraftian novella "Under the Shanghai Tunnels" was published by Dunhams Manor Press, an imprint of Dynatox Ministries. He's working on his first novel and living in constant fear of eviction in Portland, Oregon.

Copryright 2014 Lee Widener

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