Image by Rumen Stojanov | story originally appeared in Slit Your Wrists! ezine on Nov. 30, 2012
Have you heard about the Lightsire? Can I tell you about the Lightsire?
If so, somebody might have messed up. We aren’t supposed to tell everyone about him. We don’t proselytize. We aren’t soapbox orators, nor do we accept everyone into our Order. It’s not like all the other religions, who will take anything they can get. Come one, come all! No, the Lightsire’s arms are not wide open. Neither are mine.
You are probably not welcome here, with us.
You must be worthy. You must prove yourself. You must be inducted after a rigorous examination where the limits of your faith and your loyalty are put to the test. We have many such tests. If you pass the first one, you are a Brother or a Sister of the Lightsprawl Order. Thank you, welcome, here’s your yellow cloak. You are now a vessel of the Lightsire, a delivery mechanism by which the world’s iniquities will be eradicated. His victory will shine off the blood of the unrighteous.
His will is ordained.
Lightsire be pleased, Lightsire be pleased.
I was nothing before the Order. We all were nothing. A collection of animated corpses wandering, lost, wicked. This is the nature of humanity. Gifted with the world, we have squandered the Gift for thousands of years, destroying the world through avarice, each other through hatred, all of it born from ignorance. Humans have become parasites. Like locusts we consume everything the world has given and returned nothing.
Lightsire be pleased? Not hardly. Lightsire is not pleased. The world has become the tired sow, her teats swollen, chapped, bleeding from the greed of her litter. They need to be weaned, but she hasn’t the strength herself. She needs the swineherd.
We Lightsprawl, we are the swineherd. We few have been chosen to right the wrong.
It is an age of nothingness. The gods of old are long forgotten, abandoners. Where are the old gods now? Gone. How can a god who is supposed to be so powerful just disappear, even from memory? It can’t. Real gods don’t fade away. Remember that. There was nothingness before and the plague arrived to cleanse the flesh of the world like maggots on a blackened sore. The people left behind felt suddenly empty now, that everything they loved had been stripped away. I admit, it’s how I felt. Yet we were all mistaken. The plague didn’t take from us. It shone the Light upon the nothingness. The Light is truth and the truth is painful. The Lightsire, our God, is the seed of truth.
We animated corpses have too long ignored the truth, averting our eyes from the Light. The truth cannot stay hidden.
There were few religions before the plague, but when it arrived there were many who scrambled to fill the void of the nothingness with hope that the new gods provided. These new gods, they welcomed everyone, made them feel like they belonged. They preyed upon the lonely, the vanquished, the fearful. This is the easiest way to swell your numbers. To provide the immaterial — whatever people lack for themselves. Give someone what they lack and they are yours forever. That was always the approach of the other dogmas. They lured people who were vulnerable.
The Order is different. It is exclusive. We do not take just anybody. You must demonstrate your worthiness. Those who are accepted become more loyal. That which is earned has more meaning than that which is given. That is the way of everything. Earning it makes each of us special, chosen. The other gods and their followers would accuse us of insanity. Yet those who are aware, awake — alive — they always seem crazy to the blind.
But getting in is just the beginning. As I said before, there are many tests of loyalty, but there is one that stands above all others: if you are good and loyal the Overseer will take you to meet the Patriarch. You are tested and measured and if you are found worthy, the Overseer gives you his blessing to meet with the Patriarch, the Highest of our Order. The Patriarch is the only one who wields the power to show you the Lightsire. The Overseer chooses who sees the Patriarch, the Patriarch chooses who sees the Lightsire, who is God.
It is the Patriarch’s sole discretion who gets to see the Lightsire. No one knows how he comes to these decisions. All we know is that the Patriarch takes great pleasure from seeing our loyalty, and he takes great pleasure in presenting some of us to the Lightsire. It doesn’t happen often, but the time is at hand.
I have been good.
I have been found worthy.
I have been chosen to see the Patriarch.
The Overseer, Brother Sigilus, enters the room where I have been waiting for nearly an hour. I stand and he approaches me, places his hands upon my shoulders. I can feel my heart throbbing like thunder in my chest. My mouth is dry. The Overseer smells like vanilla and some kind of wood. The scent stands apart from the smell of dust.
“It is time. Are you ready?”
I have been ready since they gave me my cloak. “Yes, Brother.” The hour wait was an eternity.
“Good. Lightsire be pleased.”
I don’t even have to think about it, the response just falls out of my face. “Lightsire be pleased.”
His eyes bore into mine and I want to look away but I’m not sure if that will ruin everything. I’m not sure if holding his gaze will ruin everything. My eyes are starting to feel dry. “You are about to see the Patriarch, the Highest of our Order,” he says. “He will ask one final task of you. This rite will be a catalyst for advanced metamorphosis. You will never be the same.”
“I am ready.”
“When you enter the Smallerhouse there will be no turning back.”
“I am ready, Brother.”
Sigilus nods and beckons me to follow him. We walk down a series of dark hallways. I have never been to this building before. We approach a tall, thick door that opens onto a winding stairwell that descends into darkness. Sigilus takes a torch from the wall and leads me down the stairs to another door. Through this door is a small chamber with a fireplace encased in crystal so the light is thrown in all directions through the room. The whole room is ablaze with these sparkling reflections shifting and playing. A figure stands several feet away at the far wall in flowing yellow robes. On his chest is the Lightsprawl emblem, a black circle around a flame with rays of light protruding from the circle. He wears a dark mask with golden spikes extending at the same angles as the emblem. Sigilus nods at the figure and exits the room, leaving me alone with this person.
I am unsure of what I am supposed to do, so I stand there. The shimmers from the fire and the crystals are distracting. After a moment he inches forward until he is within reach. He is taller than me by a halfarm’s length, though part of that might be the mask. It is hard to tell.
“Brother. Welcome. I am the Patriarch.” The voice seems deeper than it would be without the mask. It is very soothing.
“Father.” I know not what else to say. He lets the silence linger, the lights swirling over everything. I can’t breathe.
“You are here because you have been found worthy. Do you know of the Smallerhouse?”
“Yes.” I stare into the dark holes of the mask, what I assume to be eye holes. The robes are long enough to drag along the floor. No part of his body is showing, not even his hands.
“What do you know of it?”
The presence of the Patriarch is exacerbated by the lights. I can’t think. I try to steady my breath. Where did the Overseer go?
“It is a place where the iniquitous are cleansed and returned to the nothing,” I say.
“It is. It is a process of sacrifice. It is a place of pain.”
“Pain,” I repeat.
“We are the instruments of that pain. Of the sacrifice. What is to be done with a cancer?”
“It must be excised.”
“And what is the cancer?”
“Good. You are ready to be tested, then?”
“You are about to enter the Smallerhouse. In it you will find only wickedness. It is a house of lies. The lies must be cleansed, the iniquitous returned to the nothing. You know what is asked of you?”
“Yes, Father. It was explained to me.”
“Very well. Once you enter there is no turning back. Remember — it is a house of lies.”
He turns and reaches up and his gloved hand peeks out from the sleeve of his robe. He pulls a lever over the fireplace and a mouth in the wall opens up to the sound of stones grating together. The Patriarch points at the new doorway and I walk through it into another chamber and immediately the door slams behind me and the screaming begins. There is a man strapped to a large stone slab next to a table with a selection of surgical instruments and other tools. There are several torches along the walls. The room is awash with blood. Everything is red here.
“No no no no no no no. Stop. Listen. Listen. Listen to me.” He strains against the leather bindings, the tendons on his neck jumping out. He is frantic. “Do not do this.”
I look at the man on the table. He is naked, thrashing now against his restraints. I can make out flashes of tears in his eyes, the torchlight glancing off them makes them sparkle.
“I must.” I know what is asked of me. I cannot fail this test. I walk to the table of implements and select a pair of shears.
“No, no. You must not. Listen. Just listen. You don’t know what you’re doing. Brother, just lis—”
“Do not call me Brother.”
“I am one of you!” Flecks of spit line his lips.
“This is a house of lies.”
“Yes! You are the one they lied to. You have been misled.”
“You have been judged as wicked. The world must be cleansed of the blight.” I slip his little toe between the blades of the shears. It takes more effort to squeeze through the bone than I anticipated, and he answers with new screams.
He is crying full on now, and the spit has advanced from small flecks to ropes dangling from his chin. “Stop! Brother, please!”
“This is a house of lies.” I diminish him by another toe. He pleads with me some more, tells me I realize not what I do. I tell him the wicked must be cleansed and that there is none who can be spared. He struggles and squirms some more and manages to catch his breath from the screaming. I hold off for a minute.
“Don’t you see what’s happening?”
I really shouldn’t indulge him, but I figure it won’t matter in the end. This is the Smallerhouse. “My faith is being tested. You will say anything to delay the inevitable. I am impervious to your guile. This is my final task before I meet the Lightsire.” I take several more toes, eager to finish and collect my reward. The stone walls do little to muffle his wailing. The thought of the Lightsire gets my heart beating faster, so I trade the shears in for a saw.
“You have been judged as wicked. The world must be cleansed of the blight. This is my final task. It is a transformation. For you. For me.” I run my thumb across the teeth of the blade. There are pieces of some other wicked person still on there.
“Please, no. Please no, don’t don’t don’t don’t.”
I try to tune out the screams by focusing on the sound of the saw blade rasping through the flesh and bone. I have to think of it as a chorus, lifting praises to the Lightsire. I’m sweating by the time I get his foot off at the ankle and his screams trickle off into a whimper. There is blood everywhere. His face is losing color. It is hard to maintain a grip on the saw, it’s starting to get too slick. He succumbs to unconsciousness before I’m halfway through with the second foot.
I wish I could end it here and now — it would be so easy to cut off his head and be done — but that would defeat the purpose of the Smallerhouse. This is a sacred place, a sacred rite.
The wicked enters and the sins are made smaller.
It’s not that the limbs are sin, no. The act is just a way of representing the spiritual diminishing. While he goes through a literal and spiritual transformation, though, I go through my own transformation, a spiritual one. As he grows smaller with his sins, who I was before grows smaller and smaller, until eventually I will be nothing of myself and belong only to the Lightsire. This is the final rite.
So I get to work making him smaller. He is dead long before I finish, but I leave the head for last and when I finish the big stone door opens and the two of my Brothers enter to congratulate me. The Patriarch remains outside the door, probably to avoid getting blood on his robe.
I stare at the Patriarch and feel his Light upon me as the other two stuff the pieces into sacks. I understand why the room is so red. Everything is covered in blood.
“You have done well, my son,” the Patriarch says. His mask dips forward into a slight nod. I nod back.
“Thank you, Father.” I put the saw back onto the table with the other instruments. One of the others picks up a finger off the floor and drops it into his sack. The other two haven’t looked at me yet. They are just focused on collecting the pieces of the wicked.
“You have proven yourself worthy once again. You have rid the world of another cancer of iniquity. You withstood the lies. There are many lies in this world.”
“Yes, Father. They would say we are crazy.”
He nods again, almost imperceptibly. “Are you ready to meet the Lightsire?”
He points at a spot a few feet in front of him. “Come forward.” I do as he commands. He turns and begins to walk away and I don’t know what’s going on, so I start to follow him back into the other room but then I’m reeled backwards by the other two, my Brothers, who’ve got me by both elbows.
“What are you doing? I have to go meet the Lightsire.”
They don’t respond, but start tearing my wet, bloody clothes off. Maybe I’m supposed to be cleaned off first. Nobody ever said what happens after the ritual. The Patriarch had taken care not to sully his robes, so it must be important. Maybe because I just “cleansed” the wicked, I must also be sort of cleansed. It makes sense now. Maybe they are going to give me a new robe, a different one, one that will set me apart from my peers. I help them get my clothing off. I want to be quick so I can meet the Lightsire. When I get my trousers off, they grab me again and throw me onto the table and force me into the restraints.
“What are you doing? I’m supposed to meet the Lightsire.”
“You are going to meet the Lightsire.”
Once they get me strapped in they grab the sacks full of the last person and exit the room. Once again I can’t breathe. What is going on? A few moments later the door opens again and a man enters the room. He looks at me and then at the table full of tools and instruments. I struggle against the leather straps.
“This is a house of lies,” he says.
I start screaming. I know what the Smallerhouse is now.