God Seeking Internship Opportunities
by Jeff Baldwin
Jeff is an English professor living in Gwangju, South Korea, who enjoys crafting stories that are weird, with an aim for finding an audience who is even weirder.
I am God.
Well, I’m a minor God. New divinity, as they say. Not the most widely worshiped, but I have my flock. I was an Idol, not exactly false, but not well respected. A handful of people prayed me behind closed doors. Some kept idols stuffed in the bottom of their wardrobes, or etched my name in dark corners where eyes were not prone to wandering. There were a few groups of women who’d head out into the woods and dance naked while chanting my name. I liked that. I’m an omnipotent non-sexual being, but still.
Then, not long ago, twenty thousand years at most, some guy who was a fan of mine convinced some other people I was alright. He even got them to worship me. And to die for me, if necessary. It wasn’t necessary, actually, but this man didn’t see it this way, and through my name he gained power over a small region. It isn’t the biggest or the most fertile land, but I guess I shouldn’t complain.
He ruled over this region for a while, absorbing power, collecting tributes, hoarding concubines. I didn’t much mind. If I’m honest, I’d enjoyed my little foothold in the universe. This man begat a son who was able to hold onto this small kingdom, and the son begat another son who expanded into nearby territories, leaving fire, blood and fatherless babies in his trail.
I guess I expected it to go on like this. Maybe I was supposed to watch over things a bit more? The hand of this particular God was a bit apathetic to the whims of men, I’m embarrassed to say. Before long there were cracks. Sons of sons bickered over lands. Merchants became wealthy. Then they became lords. Power was hoarded. Power was lost. And where was I? Soaking up the reverence. Being a God can be pretty neat, ok. Once I started paying attention there were five separate kingdoms where once there was one. Whoops.
So I made a new millennium’s resolution, I’m taking a hands on approach. Two kings have marched shiny, ironclad armies of men wielding swords and spears and other pointy things to a wide valley. This battle will decide a three-year long war (I was having a bath and missed most of it). Both kings pray to me for guidance, for strength, but mainly for victory. They tell their followers the men across the battle lines are heathen for celebrating my glory in slightly different ways. I’m actually not that picky.
Bront VII, ruling king in East Xanbia loves to slaughter goats in my name, and have his priests, my priests, technically, pour sour wine over his head, coating his face red before his men. The heads of families do this during holiday feasts in East Xanbia as well. These rituals, passed down from cleric to cleric for generations are held sacred. They also build large houses of worship, requiring the common folk to givith a percentage of their livestock, precious metals or whatever else they own. I’m given to believe this is a common practice.
Genessi, the kingling whose legs are dangling off an overbearing thorne in Tal Lachi, is currently being ushered along by his uncle Gabbai. That’s the guy who really holds the big stick, though I’d bet both of their heads will likely be fitted for spikes if they lose the upcoming battle. They have priestesses in Tal Lachi. Very progressive. Bront VII has another word for it. They also frown upon the killing of innocent animals for waste, eating all parts of any beast. Even the gross bits. They do march their dead to the top of the highest mountain in their small kingdom, slice the bodies into pieces, and allow the birds to feast upon them. Something about being closer to me? I find it all a tad icky but sometimes it’s the thought that counts.
The powerful men from both of these small pieces of grass and dirt claim to want to rid the other of their barbaric ways. Bront VII spreads rumors to anybody who will listen, a lot of people when there’s a crown on your head, that Genessi’s mother is besot with demons, and that he has unnatural relations with Gabbai behind closed doors. I happen to be good friends with a few demons. They aren’t opposed to entering the body of a woman, but generally take the shape of a man first.
It’s also well known in the villages in Tal Lachi that Bront VII and the wealthy members of his court sodomize the goats before sacrificing them, and that the wine they pour over their heads is mostly the blood and urine from small boys. I have to give these people credit, they know how to sully a man’s good name. And sure, after this battle, the winning side will certainly force the commoners on the losing side to adapt their rights and rituals, or at least meet half way. All in due time, but that’s not why they’re at war. They’ve decided to let these men die to claim the rights to a bit of land with a river running through it. The river is muddy and slow, but accessible by ship, with small cities along it, rich from trade with people who worship other gods. Maybe I should ask one of them for some advice?
No, I just need to take a little initiative, that’s all. A bit more shepherd and a bit less lamb. I could whisper kind words in the ears of the men below, encourage them to declare a truce, and split access to the river. They’d marry sons to daughters, and this truce might see 50 years. But, why put off until tomorrow? No, this is a squabble better settled. But who is better fit to rule?
I figure the best way to determine who should win this battle, and therefore control a larger chunk of my realm, is to test the spirits of the men who wish to plant their flags upon my soil. Flipping a proverbial coin, the men of Tal Lachi will be given the first opportunity to bare their souls. I shall weigh their hearts against a feather, and if that fails try to find out if they act like dicks.
To do this I’ll need to stretch my consciousness a bit. It sounds difficult, but the concept of some actions being harder than others renders Godliness a bit useless, doesn’t it? No, in fact I’ll simply be performing a play where I am cast as both lead roles, and that of the Mcguffin.
Enter stage left. A woman, played of course by me, in tattered rags and reeking of the filth that embodies a camp populated by makeshift soldiers. She approaches the courtyard where those of importance have their tents, some as large as small castles, and where she hopes her pleas might be heard.
Another woman follows her at a clipped pace. It’s me again, and my skin is now smooth and my gown made of soft, expensive textiles. She belongs in a tent like this one, though her personal tent is overseen by her merchant husband, whose small private army is on loan to the court of Tal Lachi. They left their comfortable estate to follow the battles as a constant reminder of the debt they are to be owed, and of course to be in a good position to switch sides and use their considerable resources to help propel another would-be ruler if tides begin to change. All for a price, of course. The trick, if I understand it, is to become rich enough to bet on both horses.
There’s one more actor in this play. This one’s crying. That’s not abnormal, he’s a baby. Don’t worry, he’s me as well.
Finally, playing the part of himself, Gabbai arrives carrying a roll of papers and sits on an ornate bench, adjacent to the throne intended for young Genessi.
“Speak,” he says, not bothering to look up from his scroll, “And quickly, there are more important squabbles about.”
“M’ Lord,” the poor woman stammers.
“He is king regent, not the king,” scoffs the rich woman.
“I am Gabbai Ghakari, uncle and hand to King Genessi Ghakari, and Regent of Tal Lachi until the 14th anniversary of the king’s birth,” his voice rose as he spoke, and was punctuated by a short growl. “Plead your petty case or be gone. Now.”
Ok, points off for good manners. And patience if I’m being honest. Though he does know how to command a room. I noticed more than a few guard’s knees looking less than stable. But I’m not here to determine how well he can talk down to his subordinates, I’m here to see if his judgement is fair.
“M’ lord,” Begins the poor woman, “This here child before you is of me body, not yet four months and hungers for me milk. Three days past this woman came wit’ two men. They had swords M’lord, n’ armor. They took him from his cradle and left me face bloody for protestin’.”
“A filthy lie from a filthy peasant, my honorable king regent,” the rich woman says, making a polite curtsy as she spoke, and keeping her head down. “This woman snuck into the private tent of my fine husbands, whose men go around not stealing babies from the wretched camp following whores like this one, but rather taking arms for your noble cause.”
Gabbai opens his mouth to speak, then pauses and takes a deep breath. He looks over at the guard next to him, who seems more tin sculpture than man.
“Fetch the young king. This will be an opportunity for him to learn where the ideals of firmness and fairness cross paths.”
The guard seems at first to not have heard Gabbai. The ornate helm covering his face didn’t move as he was spoken to. But after a second he slams the butt of a longaxe onto the floor twice, making a dull thud. This gesture probably intimidates people a lot more when done on the stone floor of a castle. The dirt floor here has been covered by soft rugs, but that doesn’t help with the acoustics. Still, the armored guard makes a scene of his exit, with stomps and turns. I must say humans put a lot of time into ritual and pageantry. If I ever set down a holy text, I think I’ll title it Less is More.
After a long wait a small boy in a green silk shirt comes into the room. He looks to have been dragged here straight from his bed, and his curled hair is sticking out at the sides.
“I don’t wanna meet with the council today uncle,” He whines as he rubs his eyes with his balled hands.
“Genessi, one day you will sit this throne and rule over our land. How can you learn to do that by sleeping past noon?”
The king hops onto the throne, which towers over him. He slumps his head to the side and rests it on his arm. His mouth gapes open, and I’m waiting for drool to form.
“Now, why should I believe either of you,” Gabbai asks, fixing his gaze on the two women.
“I make milk for him m’lord.”
“Many whores can perform that trick after they’ve dumped another whelp on the side of the road.”
“It’s lies m’lord. The baby comes from-”
“My own loins, and the seed of his father, my husband, whose men will bravely fight for you tomorrow, my honorable regent.”
“Enough,” Gabbai says, and peers at the rich woman. “If this is your son, how has it come to pass that this woman is making claim to him?”
“She dressed as one of the servants in our service,” The woman begins. “Though all she truly serviced was every man in our company who would throw her a coin for her effort.”
“It’s not true, m’lord. I ain’t never seen her till she comes to me camp n’ takes me boy.”
Gabbai’s eyes go back and forth, and creep sideways to peek at Genessi, who is busy looking at his thumbs.
“The solution is simple,” He finally says. “I cannot ascertain who among you is telling the truth, therefore you both have a claim over this child.”
“My king regent, if you are suggesting we share the raising of this child I must-”
“You must learn to listen to the king’s regent when he is speaking.” The rich woman takes a step back and bows her head low. “As I was saying, the decision is simple. The baby will be split in two, and each of you will be entitled to half.”
Genessi suddenly looks up, and something hooks the left corner of his mouth into a wry smile. He looks up to his uncle, then peers down at the crying baby.
“No, m’lord, you can’t do-”
“You will find there is little I can’t do, peasant.”
“I get the head,” The rich lady says, crossing her arms.
“No, m’lord, I lied. Truly, I did. He’s not me own son, I swear it. She tells it true, m’lord, I took him when she weren’t lookin’. Stole him from his crib, I did.”
“See, my most honorable king regent, it’s just as I said.”
“Yes, I do see now. I see very clearly who in this room is a mother, and who is not. You,” Gabbai says, nodding to the poor woman, “Take your child and find somewhere safer than a battlefield to raise him.”
“What?” Genessi says, managing to sound like a sword tip dragging across glass. “But I wanna see um’ cut it.”
Gabbai sighs, putting his finger on his temple and pressing hard. “Genessi, did you not see the lesson here?”
“Yeah, that dumb rich lady didn’t know it was a trick. But I wanna see um’ cut it.”
“But you learned your lesson, yes?”
“Uh-huh, yeah. I learned it.”
“Fine.” Gabbai says, and motions to the guard with the longaxe with one hand. Before either woman could protest he swings the axe through the cradle, taking the child at the midsection and covering both women in a wash of blood. Gabbai’s face lights up with wonder.
Not a great start. Shame too, I really thought I had something there. Hopefully Bront VII is a man of rational stability and moral fortitude. Or at the very least doesn’t chop babies in half. But that baby thing gives me an idea. Although, maybe it would be best not to come as a lesser being, but a higher one. Both physically and metaphysically.
I find Bront VII not in an ostentatious tent surrounded by servants and concubines, but in a hastily constructed altar, where he is bent over praying to me. Is it eavesdropping if I listen in? The conversation is intended for me anyways. I suppose not, so I glide down and land on his shoulder.
Oh yeah, I’m a bird.
“Ah,” Bront VII cries, “Shoo! Away!”
There are two guards outside the door leading into this room, but he is alone. One guard cranes his neck around the entrance, but quickly pulls it back after seeing the king is speaking to a common bird. I hover above the king for a second, then land on the altar. We’re facing each other.
“How can I keep vermin out of my-”
“King Bront of East Xanbia, I am no pest, but a God among kings,” I say without moving my beak, in a voice only Bront can hear. His eyes widen, and he falls back on his arm.
“Who, who are-”
“I am who you are praying to. The one who decides the fate of your kingdom with no more than a thought, for your kingdom is truly mine. I am here to answer your prayers, be you worthy,” Do Gods really talk like this? I assume I’m the first God Bront has talked to so maybe he won’t know any difference.
“My, my lord. God upon Heaven and Earth, is it really you?”
“Question not my, wait, seriously? I appeared as a freaking bird. What do you need?”
“I apologize my lord,” Bront says and throws his arms out in front of his body, his head resting on the ground. “I am unworthy of your presence.”
“That’s… to be determined.”
After some careful instructions, Bront VII meets me at the base of a mountain trail, bringing his only son, cleverly named Bront VIII, but henceforth referred to as that baby. Whether he managed to slip past his guard’s watch, or convenience them of the importance of this quest, I don’t care enough to review the tape. I guess I could ask him. But no, let’s get on with it.
“Your child looks healthy,”
“He nourishes in the worship of your divine spirit, my Lord.”
“And food, right. You do feed him?”
“Of course, my Lord. He eats not solid food of yet, but has an appetite.”
“Follow me,” I say. I fly ahead, allowing the two Bronts to keep up as we head up the mountain, which is really an overgrown lump of rocks and dirt but it’ll have to do in terms of dramatic effect.
We come to a small clearing with a view of Bront’s camp. I stop and allow him to rest and catch his breath.
“You shed the blood of others in my name. Are you willing to shed your own blood?”
“My Lord? Everything I am I devote to you.”
I flutter over to a rock, landing next to a steel dagger that has been conveniently forgotten here.
“I ask that you shed your own blood, a symbol of the pain you might endure for me.”
He lifts the dagger and without flinching pricks his finger, causing a drop of blood to spill.
“Seriously?” I ask.
“What? I apologize, how much blood will be necessary? It’s just, you didn’t specify.”
“Well, like, more than that. Cut your hand.”
Without pause Bront clasps his hand around the blade, then slowly slides it out. His blood covers the knife and leaks onto the dirt by his feet. Gross.
“Is this en-”
“Yes, yes. You have proven yourself worthy of the next test.”
“Are there many more?”
“What do you mean?”
“The tests. Don’t get me wrong, all my time on this Earth I devote to your service, but, you know, there is a battle tomorrow my Lord.”
“Consider deeply what will deliver victory to your soldiers tomorrow, my grace, or your strategy.”
Without waiting for his reply I continue up the mountain. Ok, this one’s a bit dense, I’ll admit that, but he certainly listens to me. He may not make the wittiest dinner guest, but he’s malleable, in an idiot sort of way. After about an hour of walking I notice the king is getting tired, which makes sense. The path is rough and he’s carrying his only son, who looks small but has been crying and kicking through much of the journey. This is as good a place as any. I fly down and land on the narrow, barren branch of a dead tree. Beside the tree is a wild boar, about the size of two ponies tied together with thick rope, but much angrier. The beast has dark, scraggly fur and tusks the size of a child’s arm. Bront falls backwards and starts to crawl away.
“Who do you fear more, king of men?”
“You, you my Lord on high. I, I, I fear you above ahhhh,” He screamed as the boar turned to face him, fifteen paces away at most. “All. I fear you above all my Lord.”
Watching the urine stain the king’s cambric pants I doubted what he said was entirely true. Still, this isn’t a test of honesty, but of courage. And what is courage if not bravery in the face of mortal danger.
“Stand, Bront. Hold close your child. Fear not this boar, as I am master of man and beast. Stand.”
Bront rises to his feet, though they wobble so wildly I fear they might snap. The boar charges at the man and his child. Bront’s eyes are mostly white, with a speck of color bouncing around the middle, but he stands his ground. The boar stops, close enough for Bront to smell his breath. I see the king’s chest heaving, and worry I might kill the poor man by making his heart burst open. The boar reaches near Bront’s shoulders in height. Bront closes his eyes. The boar circles the pair. Twice. Sniffs at Bront’s crotch. Bront tightly clinches every bodily orifice I can see, and I assume the ones I can’t see are even tighter.
“Open your eyes.”
Bront opens his eyes to see the beast is gone. Vanished, or walked down the hill out of sight. I’ll let Bront decide when he retells this story.
“Certainly I have proven myself-”
“Is it the child who informs the teacher when he has learned his lessons?”
“Yes, of course my Lord, but-”
I’ll need to get better at parables, sure, but overall this is going pretty well. Then again, the last time I tested a man’s spirit he proved himself worthy right up until he cut a baby in half to amuse a petulant child, so let’s not call the game at halftime.
We walk for two more hours and reach the top of this mountain. Even in the form of a bird I have to admit this is a nice view. But not to be distracted I land near a thicket of dry sticks, curved into the form of a small cradle.
“How deep does your faith in me root?”
“My. Faith. Runs,” He begins.
“Catch your breath first,” I say.
“Sorry,” He leans over and pants heavily for a minute before looking back up. “My faith runs from my skin to my core. I am nothing without my faith.”
“Place your son in the thicket, and grab the torch beside it,” I say. Once the torch is in his hands I light it in a small explosion, and it burns hot and bright. “Take your son, your only son Bront VIII, and offer him to me as a burnt offering, as your priests in Xanbia offer burnt goats.”
Bront obediently begins moving the torch near the child. He doesn’t flinch, but his eyes are puffed out and starting to water. His hand begins to shake as he gets closer to the dry thicket, but he keeps moving forward. Right before he allows the flame to grab hold of the bramble cradle I reveal myself in human form. I stand a head taller than the king, with shoulders like an eagle’s wingspan, wavy blond hair and abs like a newly cobbled street. I’ve been in a few human bodies now and I’m God enough to admit I’ve discovered vanity.
“Stop! Lay down the torch and behold me. You have proven yourself worthy of my blessings. You faced the pain of a dagger. You revealed your faith in my power over beast. And here, you have proven yourself willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Now I will be merciful. Your first child may live a long life, and your triumph on the field of battle will be heralded. Glory will adorn you. Put down your torch, pick up your child and lead your men to victory.”
“Excused me, what was that?” Bront asks. Is that smoke I smell? I turn around to see flames licking the sky in a halo around where a once joyful child rested quietly.
“Oh, um. Nothing, never mind. Ok, have to go now, so, yeah, good luck tomorrow and all that jazz.”
Bront woke up two hours before dawn the next day and prayed until his men took the field. The battle wasn’t swift, but in the end Gabbai of Tal Lachi proved that pious devotion rarely defeats a few well-placed archers. I stayed out of the affair.
I’ve decided to take a step back. I see two beggars arguing over a loaf of bread. I think this problem might be on my level. Demigod steps.