Posted by: lordkyler | April 12, 2017

Deeds Most Foul – Short Story Week 2017

In the days when men first began to dream, two shadows met in the dry and dusty air. They were wicked things, known to none but recognized by all, the stuff of sin, misery and malice. They watched the people of the village and saw how they tilled the soil, how they built their huts, and how they grew stronger and happier with every passing day.

This would not do.

The first shadow spoke with a voice like the growl of a wolf. “These humans live most contentedly, cousin. It pains me to see them thus. They are small, and we are weak, but we shall grow stronger from their sorrow, shall we not?”

“We shall,” said the second, with a voice like the skittering of spiders. “Perhaps we may make a contest of it, kinsman. You may torment the people of this village, and I shall afflict the ones that live across the way, and we shall meet in a year to see which of us has caused the most suffering.”

And so it was agreed, and the shadows parted to work their wickedness.

•••

In the days when men slept little and watched for more than wolves, two shadows met in the mists of evening, swelling with new strength and mischief. They saw how men had sharpened their staffs, and women counted their children and the dwindling of days.

There was still much to be done.

The first shadow rasped like a millstone. “I have done well, brother. I have stolen and hidden and whispered, and the people grew to mistrust the chieftain and his family. His daughter was captured by another tribe, and none would help him, so now he rules them harshly and earns their hatred.”

“Well managed,” the second shadow whispered like a knife. “I too, have turned my people against their chieftain, but they have thrown him down, and now the people rule themselves.”

“Ah!” cried the first. “But does this not accomplish more good than harm? For when every man is king, each is free, and the people may prosper.”

“No, friend, this is not so. For now every soul must bear the total conscience of their crown, but none shall have its full power, and they shall turn against their brethren and become their own oppressors. And so this freedom is a finer evil, in the end. Let us meet back when ten years have passed, and see what we have accomplished.”

And so it was agreed, and the shadows left to wreak their wrongdoing.

•••

In the days when men made rivers of dirt through the wilderness and built mountains stone by stone around their villages, two shadows rode the winds, gleeful and glorying. They saw the face of the land, covered in fields and farmsteads all stitched together with brown threads, and how the people labored from darkness to darkness, and found no joy in their toil.

They had come far, and yet it was only the beginning. They were mighty now.

The first shadow rumbled with a voice of thunder, dark speech echoing from hill to hill. “Do you see how they slave away, my fellow tormentor? I have withered their crops, smitten their cattle, and scattered their treasures to the farthest corners of the earth. They exist on the brink of death, spending their sweat on barren ground, subsisting from day to day with no promise of prosperity. Are they not the most miserable souls upon the face of the earth?”

The second answered as the wind, surrounding them with his soft and sinister words. “A wretched circumstance, to be certain, comrade, but they are not yet a miserable people. Look more closely, and you will see that their troubles have united them. Former foes have become allies, families find strength in one another, and faith abounds for the harvest.

“Wealth is a better torment by far, for given the chance of wealth, they afflict themselves in its pursuit. I have granted them gold, commerce, and currency, and see? None may enjoy their abundance for fear they will lose it or grow poorer than their neighbors. Families and friendships are torn apart by the lure of riches, and they worship the god of gold, mistaking true worth for its idolatrous avatar. Come, we have grown stronger – let us divide this land between us, and see what works we might manage in a century.”

It was agreed, and the shadows departed to sow their sorrows to the far shores.

•••

In the days when men beat the bones of the earth into blades and split blood as oft as water, two shadows danced in their midst. They sang their sinful sermons to devoted disciples, and reveled in their terrible power.

The first laughed, and was echoed in the screams of the people. “My people run riot, and ravage the earth. I have brought them to such depths of depravity that they turn on their own kin. They slay orphans, widows, and cripples with impunity, acting on their basest and most vile impulses. Can there be a greater evil?”

The second spirit chuckled, and men from shore to shore shivered at the sound. “Evil indeed, but remember evil is not our final aim. We sow suffering and sorrow to reap strength. You have turned your people inward, purging them of their most miserable. I have turned them outward, urging them to war. Your people eliminate the orphaned, widowed, and crippled: mine make them.”

Roused and ready to test their newfound strength, the shadows parted to new lands and made a pact to reunite at the turning of the new age.

•••

In the days when men sailed the seas and turned their eyes to the secret workings of the world, two great shadows rode the edge of night and surveyed the horrors they had wrought.

The first screamed triumph in the tongue of chaos. “Ahh, brother, who may surpass my magnificence? My people spread suffering wherever they wander, they seek out knowledge to invent new and wondrous torments, and I have raised a warlord that shall spread death and destruction for decades!”

Sweet as the thorny rose, the second sang his reply. “Magnificent indeed, my rival, but short-sighted yet. Your warrior is a fearsome champion, but in time he shall perish, and his legacy shall fade into obscurity. I have a raised a faith and a figure that shall live on eternally, ever changing yet ever consistent. Men shall learn to despise themselves, to judge others and justify their own wickedness, to resist peace at times of war and create division in times of peace.

“Once more, my kinsman. We shall meet in a millennia, and conclude our contest.”

Thus they parted, and began their great and final effort.

•••

In the first and final days, when men began to dream once more, two shadows made real stood on a world remade from ashes, watching the survivors begin anew. They were silent for some time, considering all that they had done and the lessons they had learned.

The first spoke, subdued, in a voice that could be felt but not heard. “I do not understand so well as I once thought. I inflicted horrors of every sort, I maimed and slaughtered, and in the end I was left with nothing. My subjects simply… ceased. I was left bereft. And yet your slaves persist, enduring every deprivation and atrocity with seeming infinite patience, even spreading the misery of their own existence of their own volition. How?”

The second did not speak, for it no longer had the need. Stars dimmed, storms churned, and all of nature communicated the meaning to his conquered kinsman. Simplicity itself, little one. In the midst of my monstrosities, I gave them the cruelest curse of all. 

I gave them HOPE.

•••

In days long gone, two shadows once were near and nameless. But now they are far distant, living only in human thought, and they are known and cursed by all that are wise. I wonder, can you tell me their names?

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