A special outcast feels special things...(2nd Place, “Quotation Inspiration, 02.21)
| Elijah glared at Jericho. From the mouth of the cave a few hundred footsteps away from the village, he was assaulted by feelings of loathing and contempt toward the inhabitants who had been his tribe, a city he once loved. His ancestors named it after the famed city of fortitude from their book of mythologies. The village had remained standing for three hundred years because of the farms, the ability to cultivate an array of crops not grown in the neighboring towns. He scanned these farms and houses, could see the wall Jericho had begun constructing. It was far from completion, but they’d made progress since the twenty-nine-year-old was exiled five years before.
The ground shook, a low rumble from beneath the surface. Dust fell from the ceiling of the cave, trails of dirt falling through the shreds of light to the uneven stone floor. The tremors were more consistent, strengthening.
Elijah smiled. It would serve Jericho right sending him as a sacrifice to Abaddon, the god of snow and fire. He didn’t believe in the gods anymore, but there was a satisfying sense of superiority warming his heart and bringing a semblance of peace to his mind. It was his hope those who forced him from the village would interpret these signs as omens, the destructive divine seeking vengeance. He imagined them running and screaming. He wanted them reminded every time the earth grumbled of how they had scorned him to this god forsaken recess, the one his ancestors had called The Shelf of Sheol in the base of the mountain. He wanted Jericho’s crops destroyed, the corn and lettuce dead, the watermelons and tomatoes wasted. He couldn’t desire the people harmed, but they needed to know they had made a mistake when they’d banished him here. The anger soothed his heart, a cool salve for his scalded emotions. In his mind, he was comforted as he saw their crops disappearing into an abyss as the ground split to swallow all their hard work and prosperity.
Elijah stood, stretching his legs and casting another glance of disdain at Jericho before uttering a sigh and turning back into the darkness of the cave. The halls were empty except for the occasional ghosts of whispers echoing through the stone passageways, the only voices besides his own he’d heard in years. Deeper within the corridors of this cave were the bones of his people. The Shelf was where they had sent each other once age or disease set in, and though it was uncomfortable and chillier, this mausoleum was home, more so than Jericho had ever felt.
A sharp jolt from within the mountain resounded, and he walked out of the cave. The ground shook as he jerked his head up toward the left, watching intently as the smoke rolled out from under the ground on the side of the crag.
His eyes narrowed in on the area of snow above the tufts of black vapor. There was a line, fuzzy and ambiguous, an avalanche crashing down as snow broke loose from the higher bluffs and raced toward the rising heat. There was always cooler air pushing down the edifice, and when mixed with the warmth of the volcano, it created clouds of precipitation. He watched as the snow moved toward the smoke, cascading, tumbling down the mountain. The avalanche slammed into the side of the volcano with an audible whoosh! just as part of the mountain blew away. The explosion terrified him, the sound of the eruption eclipsing his attention as a wave of wind shoved him to the ground. The pressure from beneath the new opening sent liquid fire up, clashing with the frigid air. The snow vaporized as it thrust into the fresh heat, and the cloud above the volcano grew, amassing into something that seemed to be breathing, a whirlwind forming and taking power as he watched.
The molten rock poured from the gap in the mountain, flowing with ease and discovering the path of least resistance. It meandered further from the volcano, working its way into the valley and toward the town, sluggish and thick as it progressed.
The funnel widened and twisted, mixing the black ash and soot with the gray of the clouds. From within, he could see lightning crackling, bursts of light as the liquid fire was drawn into the overcast sky.
Was Abaddon climbing into the cloud, a chariot to carry the deity? Elijah stared, awed by the formation, the way it seemed fragile as it writhed, gaining strength. It danced with delicacy as it agitated, the growl from within becoming louder. For a second, Elijah was certain he could see eyes blinking in the black thunderhead, the horns of the god protruding high above.
The storm was inching forward. Elijah watched the volcano spit fiery liquid into the air, saw it pulled into the giant cloud as it twisted up and around an imaginary pole. It was symbiotic. It was beautiful.
It was also deadly and headed down the mountain.
Elijah scrambled back to the cave, the heat and sulfur more intense as the breeze became a gale stronger than he could stand. He ran into the dark, going further than he normally would. He wanted to escape the incendiary winds as they frenzied outside in a roar, a crescendo of the whirlwind’s voice, angry and gnarly.
Elijah possessed a concrete belief in the gods in that moment, and he wasn't sure if he felt afraid or excited.
Once he was far enough in, he crouched down. The ground beneath him shook, but whether it was from the volcano or the fiery tornado, it didn’t matter; Abaddon was here. Elijah hoped the mighty demon would remember all the times he had looked up at the volcano, a desire allowing his heart satisfaction when he would imagine the deity stepping from beneath the rocks and down toward Jericho. He pictured the faces of his parents, infuriated and confused as to why he never showed any interest in marrying and raising a family. In his mind flashed the rabbinical council who decided he was unfit to live in Jericho, sending him to spend his final days as a godless heathen. He saw the men who, when they had been but boys, pushed the smaller Elijah around, forcing him to act on their commands. He begged for the fire to wash through the farms, to burn away their food and cleanse Jericho of their judgments.
He turned his head to look down the corridor. The inferno from inside the funnel was sending an orange glow into the cave, a soft warmth unnatural in The Shelf. The pebbles on the ground quivered, and then they were gone, bits of shale sucked into the air to be used as shrapnel. He felt the vibration of the world, a thunderous authority descending the mountain just on the other side of the stone.
He wondered if this would last forever, but the sound was dissipating by the time he realized the storm was moving away. He stood and walked down the passage, dark and cool again. He crept, carefully listening to the noise.
There was a cracking as the funnel wandered away, the sound of stone breaking away and rubbing together abrasively. He jogged to the entrance and eased around the opening to watch the judgment of the deity as the farms were overtaken.
The cloud had grown as it traveled down the mountain, and, though it appeared to churn slowly, Elijah’s brown hair slapping his forehead in the breeze testified to the fury fueling the wind. Deep within the funnel, the faint glow of deep red lava ran up the middle like a fiery serpent. The track where the cyclone had traveled was scorched. Fires whipped into and out of existence.
The whirlwind crashed into the stone wall of Jericho, tearing it apart; the rocks and boulders were now projectiles. He squinted, but he could only make out minimal movement from anyone inside Jericho as the pieces of wall slammed into houses, smashing them away. This wasn't what he’d hoped for, not the revenge he sought. Elijah knew it was too late for the villagers. They’d had no warning.
The beast moved into town, blasting into the buildings, tossing around the chunks, and eviscerating the mundanity of life. He was sure the villagers were screaming, apprehension squeezing as they realized they would be obliterated by The Destroyer, but from where Elijah stood, he could hear no screams above the groaning of the wind. The rooftops sparked with fire before hurling into the distance, burning discs falling to the ground and splintering as they sent fires tumbling into the grass.
The large statue of David, the one the rabbinical council had erected on top of the temple, flew through the swirling gusts before it was ejected carelessly from the whirlwind. It crashed to the ground, shattering the icon. The domed top of the temple itself moved through the air with grace, swaying lazily one way and then the other. As it was propelled from the monster, Elijah realized it was aimed toward him, a spinning weapon of fiery thatch and wood. He dove into the safety of the cave just as the giant roof broke across the entrance, another jarring clamor of destructive power he felt inside his body. He took a deep breath before looking out again.
The behemoth plodded through the town, closer to the river. It continued its extermination, gnawing up existence and spitting it out as it journeyed. It came upon the river, began crossing it, and Elijah heard the water colliding with fire, an animalistic hiss stretching across the distance. He watched the fire extinguish from the bottom, inhaling the cool water into the fiery core. The orange glow from within faded and disappeared. As the funnel moved to the other bank, it weakened. He watched it go for a time, and then, it was no more as it leapt up into the clouds.
He sprinted the few hundred steps to Jericho, the heat and silence oppressive as he surveyed the now unfamiliar landscape. The devastation was complete. The village had been annihilated. There were blazes all around finding life by clawing to wood or cloth. The odor of scorched existence, the overbearing smell of death was nauseating. He heard something and turned to his left.
From inside a pile of rock debris and devastation, someone was pushing out, forcing a piece down the small hill of rubble. A young woman poked her head through the hole and crawled out. She was dirty, shaken, and trembling as she limped with caution to Elijah. Her eyes questioned Elijah, keeping distance while her frayed mind pieced together the events of the previous few minutes.
She bowed, falling to the ground as she wept. She reached out, her fingers grappling and grazing the skin on Elijah’s feet.
Elijah felt responsible. This was the result of his endless chattering to Abaddon, the desperate warmth he discovered the nights when loneliness was too heavy. He had envisioned this moment many times, but he wasn't happy. He’d summoned Abaddon’s wrath because of the unrequited affection for a life he wasn't chosen to live, angry with those he’d loved for having chosen to separate him from their lives.
He didn't feel the gratification he'd expected. There was no vindication, no contentment. His heart was heavy, a dense ball of glacial ice.
In the distance, a baby cried.
"Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth
or burn down your house, you can never tell."