stories of faith and fright
Al Bruno III
“It slobbered into sight and gropingly pulled its gelatinous green body through the crack in the Earth. After vigintillions of years the stars were right again and Glutomoto was loose and ravening for delight. But you know what?” Uncle Roy said as he lifted the jar from the shelf, “I nearly stepped on him.”
The jar was a cylinder of glass the size of her uncle’s thumb, the lid had been sealed in place by a wire band and a layer of red wax. Little Ophelia held it up to her eyes and puzzled at the confusion of tentacles and eyes within, “Is it dead?”
“No, it is merely sleeping.”
“But how does it breathe?”
“It does not need to, my child,” Uncle Roy plucked the jar from her hand and put it back on the shelf with all the others. Uncle Roy was tall and fat, with pink skin and thick glasses. He had been Little Ophelia’s guardian for as long as she could remember.
“You’re not teasing me are you?” she asked. She wore a dress that was the same shade of black as her hair.
“Of course not my child.”
“Wow.” She whispered. A whole room full of gods, each of them carefully labeled and kept in glass, all of them small enough to fit in your pocket.
No wonder Uncle Roy never went to church.
Then again Little Ophelia never went to church either, or to school for that matter. But what did she need school or church for when everything she needed to learn was contained within the walls of the house’s expansive library?
At least that’s what Uncle Roy said.
And not just books, she had all the toys and games she could ever want. And music too, symphonies and jazz records all for her to play on a hand cranked Victrola. Little Ophelia didn’t miss the amenities of the modern world or the company of children her own age. Why would she when she had her own thoughts to keep her company?
“What about that one?” she pointed at another bottle and Uncle Roy dutifully handed it to her.
“That,” he explained, “is Halmas the Unnamable. I found him in an apple orchard in upstate New York. How fortunate I was to have brought along a butterfly net.”
Halmas the Unnameable didn’t look much like a butterfly, in fact it looked like a half crumpled leaf. Little Ophelia almost said so but then it twitched. It was a tiny motion, so quick that she almost thought she imagined it. “Why is it Unnamable?”
“Supposedly if you speak its name it will appear and smite you,” Uncle Roy explained, “such smitings usually do nothing more than raise a few welts but there have been some allergic reactions.”
She handed the bottle back to him and turned her attention to the long table in the center of the room. Bottles, tweezers and pins were at the ready. A thick old tome was in the corner, the cover was pockmarked and leathery, the pages brittle and worm-eaten. Uncle Roy’s workshop wasn’t anything like Little Ophelia had imagined and she had imagined a great many things.
How many times had she passed by the closed door at night and heard her guardian singing tunelessly to himself? How many times had she surreptitiously tried to open the workshop door while he was out in his garden or away on one of his long trips? She had spent weeks reading detective novels before daring to try and pick the lock.
In the end all it had taken was a hatpin and some patience. When the workshop door had swung open Little Ophelia found Uncle Roy sitting in the darkened room, he had been waiting for her.
“I wish I could go with you,” Little Ophelia said as she thumbed through the old book. It was written in a twisting unfamiliar script, “I hate being alone in the house for so long.”
“It is for the best,” he patted her shoulder, “I assure you.”
“What is this Uncle?” she pointed to a scratchy illustration of a creature that looked like a worm trapped into a clump of dust.
Uncle Roy sighed, “Ah, this is Dievini the Chaos Sultan, or at the very least it was. It drowned in a rainbarrel before I could find it. I tried to preserve it in amber but it was too decayed. I was so disappointed.”
“Are these really gods?” Little Ophelia asked.
“Now your old Uncle wouldn't be one to pull your leg would he?”
“But...” she looked around the workroom, from the neatly arranged glass bottles to the butterfly nets and framed black and white photographs of strange, lost looking places. “But these gods aren't very godlike. Why is that?”
Uncle Roy sat down in his comfortable-looking leather chair, both it and he creaked with age, “A sensible question my dear. You see these are the gods of a thousand other worlds, they travel through space stopping by each planet to deliver their telepathic gospels and father messiahs.”
Little Ophelia nodded, it made perfect sense.
“That was the way it went of eon after eon until the stars were right and these gods seeped down to came to Earth. But they found that there was something about our world, or maybe out humanity in general that weakened them. They shriveled up like salt-sprinkled slugs, some became no bigger than a baby or kitten, others became smaller than the smallest bugs. Many of them went mad with misery some forgot they had ever been gods at all.”
A shudder ran through Little Ophelia, the thought of shrinking away, it was the most terrible thing she could think of, and it was familiar, like a half remembered nightmare.
There was a twinkle in Uncle Roy's eye as he pinched her cheek, “The stars were right but the world was wrong.”