“The Rut and the Dial” Dark Fantasy by Jake Sheff

My name is Winthrop Doubleday, and I just became the Chief Prophet of the Osiris Order by killing my father and mother. Father was out hunting bear and turkey, and I pushed him into a snake pit. I watched his limbs go limp, and his eyes go blank. Then I returned to my mother tending the vegetable garden, and told her the news. “Very well,” she said, with a suspicious look. I handed her the poison mushroom, and like a true Osirian wife, she joined her man in the ultersphere. I ran into the cabin. I didn’t bother to light the lunar candle or smoke the moth wings; silly superstitions. I dashed off a vision to be read for the expectant crowd at tomorrow’s mass…

St. Mercury’s Day, 1894

Read at the Gathering for the Morning’s Reckoning Prayer to the congregation

And lo, an angel appeared over the lake in the form of a holy haboob. Her skin was a quicksilver absorbing the moon-glow so that all I saw was her likeness. She spoke like a starburst. It rattled my ears so that all I heard was her missive. And ba-la, I was transported – dumb, deaf and mute – to the scene of my father’s death and my mother’s honorable suicide. My heart was overcome with grief, but soon after my body was filled with warmth. A fiery ear appeared, and I whispered to it the forgotten prayers in an alien tongue

My name is Eliza Bolton, fiancée to the new Chief Prophet of the Osiris Order, or the Algonquin Prince Real, as he’s formally known until Devotion Day. I am also the head of a rebel group whose sole aim is to replace our current religion with a better one. We believe the Osiris Order is offensive to God, it oppresses creation. Under Osirian Law the air is too thick to breathe, the birds cannot fly and the earth buckles beneath its weight. After the Gathering for the Morning’s Reckoning Prayer, I spoke to the rebels.

“For too long we’ve forged ahead on the tracks of tradition, a trajectory unkind to change and to growth and incongruent with the nature of time. But we are the children of dark matter and dark energy, we are the gravity and glue that prevents the dissolution of here and now, and never and nothing. So brothers and sisters, take up arms! Tonight is the night we march to the edge of the world and over! [The crowd cheers.] Tonight is the night we…”

“Eliza!” 

– – Winthrop Doubleday stood on a boulder behind the rebel party, across from where Eliza stood. His Royal Garments were tattered and bloody. It appeared his right ear had been cut off. He spoke to Eliza, and the rebels all turned to listen. – –

“Eliza. The Imposters have broken through the gates, they’ve sacked Iowa City. And I’ve heard that Des Moines has also fell.”

– – The Imposters were a neighboring tribe that had settled two or three generations ago in Ames. A formerly nomadic band, they eventually grew and again became restless, a war-loving people obsessed with the ancient idea of Empire. – –

– – Anonymous cries from the crowd rang out: “Those heathens!” “Those dirty pagans!” Hatred and nationalism veiled their fear. – –

“So you are the rebels,” Winthrop continued. “The rumors are true?”

“I’m sorry, honey,” Eliza replied.

“Where are the children?” a woman called out from the crowd.

“They’ve been armed, and sent to defend the treasury” – – an old Civil War fort – – “the guards were sent to the front, which right now is at Butler Creek, but fast encroaching.” Winthrop looked at Eliza. “I need your help if we’re to survive this onslaught.”

Eliza nodded at Winthrop. “Our God is mightier than theirs.”

– – The crowd plowed through the forests with rifles and bayonets at the ready. They screamed their jingoistic slogans that rallied and mobilized the mob of untrained citizen-soldiers. They’d honed their skills with a gun by shooting passenger pigeons and non-violent white-tailed deer. Eliza and Winthrop lead from behind, allowed themselves to fall back, nearly out of earshot. – –

“So this is it, Eliza.”

“It looks like it, Your Luminance.”

“Don’t call me that. When we were kids – in high school – you loved me.”

– – Eliza didn’t answer. – –

“But that was before the 8th Revelation, the 3rd and 4th coming,” he went on. “Before the light dimmed and your father’s exile, when all we had were The Strangers’ Stories and The Imposters were on the coasts, or so we believed.”

Eliza started, “Winthrop, I know you’ve tried. But I can’t forgive…” – – Suddenly her ears filled with the hissing of snakes. – –

“It doesn’t matter,” Winthrop interrupted. – – And he removed his Royal Garments, revealing the fresh tattoo that shone on his chest in the crepuscular haze: the forbidden glyph of The Imposters.  – –

– – From her shocked state, Eliza perceived herself falling. She was relieved to feel herself land on the solid chest of a bulky man in leather and cotton attire. She turned to see the face of her benevolent former Chief Prophet, frozen as if time had finally stopped. Her fear was veiled by the sensation of being pierced all over and filled with the warmth and light of a love she had never even fathomed.  – –


Jake Sheff is a pediatrician and veteran of the US Air Force. He’s married with a daughter and six pets. Poems and short stories of Jake’s have been published widely. Some have even been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing). A full-length collection of formal poetry, “A Kiss to Betray the Universe,” is available from White Violet Press.


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