Mike’s note: What follows is an excerpt from Godlings, a whimsical retelling of the Biblical creation story. Author Cy Chase charts an alternative history for the human race. Atom and Erg have traveled through time and space to reach earth, their new home. Atom comes from another planet, and Erg from a ball of light. His skill and her insight clash. Erg is new to all things physical, and thus challenges gravity, darkness, and her new mate. Interested in a review copy of Godlings? Copies are available for qualified bloggers via Speakeasy. Find out more here!
Atom was pleased to predict the whales would be there on the morrow. He and Erg walked hand in hand on the beach at high tide, enjoying the soft sand and the sound of the shorebirds calling to one another.
A wolf, a dog and three puppies gamboled about. None of them liked salt water, but with the seal pounding in and out of the water around them, Pyro finally got brave and tried the surf. He came up for air just as a wave curled over him, and he tumbled over and over to the shore.
Shaking his canine body vehemently, his tongue kept erupting from his mouth with, “Pthaagh – Pthaagh” sounds.
“Tastes weird, doesn’t it Pyro?”
“Pthaagh.” The big dog shook until spikes of fur stuck straight out. But when the sleek and cocky seal slipped up beside him, he was not to be outdone, and he dived back into the breakers. Atom and Erg joined seal and dog, and soon they were all body surfing.
The puppies were more cautious. About three months old, they bumbled at the edge of the water. As a wave receded they followed it down. As another one crashed on the wet beach, they blundered up the beach, usually staying ahead of the water, and sometimes tumbling. Wolfine stayed on the dry sand with the cat. Salt was not her thing.
Patience was wrung out of Atom at the sounds of tumultuous shouts and laughs and cries. Here came the natives.
Atom had not expected natives. Though they had worked with Atom in the mountains – hunting, mining, blacksmithing, even partying with him – he had his valley, they had theirs.
It wasn’t the whole colony running down to the beach. But dozens had come. They brought lots of children and enough gear to overflow four wagons. It looked like they had come to stay.
Brown bodies of all shades ran around happily. Shore to bushes to river to rocks to shore again. The display of colors awed Erg, as she watched so many cotton frocks of every color tumble and splash and shout.
“What is it?” Atom asked, struggling to hide his annoyance.
Everyone talked at once until Erg singled out a few women and came to Atom. “Marriage.”
“What?” Atom asked testily. “You like it? You don’t like it? What can I do about it?”
After eruptions, one wrinkled woman with white eyebrows splaying in all directions hushed the others, and spoke clearly. “It is not clear who qualifies for marriage.”
Children were playing in the sand, and amid the romp – puppies. Yips and shouts and laughter followed their play. A puppy got caught in a tug of war between two boys, and Erg pounced. “Look kids, these animals are puppies. They are the babies of Atom’s wolf and that big yellow dog over there.” She took one boy’s hand and stroked the puppy gently.
Loudly, she said, “These animals are new to you.” She summoned Pyro who came to her call. She fluffed up his wet fur and asked him to sit. “This is a ‘dog’.” Pyro raised a paw into her hand and licked her fingers. “This one’s name is Pyro. He came from the stars because I asked him to.”
Kids were crawling under grownups’ legs to pet the puppies. Erg caught the chamois that Atom threw to her. While people milled around nearby, she toweled her dog until he was fluffy.
“Funny looking wolf,” one man said.
“It’s not a wolf,” she explained, and raised her voice to carry. “This is a dog, a domestic animal whose puppies will become dogs. These sweet and smart animals will hang out with humans, warn you of danger, guard your children. They’ll need you to include them in your meals because they are not wild and will not develop hunting skills. Also, because each dog chooses to include a family in his or her pack.”
By now the whole crowd was watching. Erg found a fat log of driftwood and stood taller. Her hands beckoned the rest of the kids and their parents. “These animals are sent from the heavens to be our friends. Each dog will eventually choose the person it wants to spend its life with, but you must honor that trust. To keep a dog you have to earn it. They are to be treated with sacred respect.”
People circled around, and Erg gathered the other puppies. Pyro and Wolfine stood over them. “These dogs are mortal angels.” People pointed and petted, and shushed each other. “Each dog will show you unconditional love that is hard for a human to emulate. Like they will greet you with joy, even if you have left them behind for a hunting pursuit. They will forgive you, even if you keep tripping over them in the camp circles. They will yip with joy at your triumphs and grieve with you over your losses. A better friend you will never find.”
People rearranged themselves so everybody got to pet Pyro and cuddle a pup. Even Wolfine was sociable.
“It is no coincidence that their title, ‘dog’ is actually ‘god,’ backwards.” The public tried out both sounds and elbowed each other, nodding at the paradox. It was a quick intro, but Erg hoped they got it. “Dog” was ordained.
The folks out of earshot came into the gathering. “What are they?” asked one. “It’s a Dog!” announced another. And then, “Isn’t that Atom’s wolf?” and “Oh, look at that yellow one!” and “Not a wolf.” And one kid hollered, “He’s god, backwards.”
Moms and dads reached down to fondle puppies, and Pyro waved his tail as he checked each puppy, nosing them, licking them, claiming ownership.
A very pregnant mom approached the gallant sire. Pyro sat and held up one wrist, paw dangling. She laughed, and took it. He licked her hand. She scruffled his ears. He stood and pushed his head up against her swollen belly. “Oh, he’s sweet! I think he knows I have a baby in here.”
With instructions shouted to children to stay close and wait for a grownup before going in the water, folks pursued their marriage cause. They surrounded Erg with shouts and arguments.
Erg spread her arms and invited people to sit down in groups of agreement. “Choose one spokesperson each to tell us how marriage is stirring up such a muddle.” Content that their kids were safe nearby, folks separated into three groups, and were busily conferring.
Despite passionate outbursts, there was an effort to be civil. Erg’s eyes surveyed the clusters of earthfolk looking to herself and her mate with hope. It was as she feared – these people assumed starfolk knew more than they did.
She looked to Atom, who was looking out to sea. His mind was on his marine entourage. Erg was on her own.
Erg moved from group to group, listening to them argue. Her voice rose above them. “Will everybody sit, and then you will take turns speaking your views.” Even this caused altercation, but Erg kept circulating until most of them sat.
Erg searched faces for Zyra and Vizak. Must still be doing weddings back in the jungle, she thought. She stood before the crowd, her brows raised, her hands beckoning for input. Two people rose, but Erg gestured no, and insisted on one speaker.
“It’s because they think marriage is only for making children. Only to increase family and create a ruling clan,” said this one.
Someone else jumped up, but Erg’s hands reached out, palms down. They took the hint and sat. “One speaker from a group who thinks mating is only to make children,” she called.
Three stood from one side, and Erg beckoned to a calmer woman.
“Well what’s the point of mating for life if there are no kids to hold the bond together?” she said.
Half a dozen stood, and shouting prevailed. Atom rolled his eyes to the sky and stepped closer to the water’s edge. Erg spoke clearly, but softly enough that people couldn’t hear if murmurings continued. “One at a time! This first time, only, I will lead the discussion and enforce the one-at-a-time rule. Watch how I do it so you can lead the next one.”
Pyro loped up to her with a long bleached and gnarled stick of driftwood in his mouth. “Oh, thank you, Pyro!” She petted him and stood the stick, as tall as she was, on end beside her.
“First, I must formally introduce my dog. His name is Pyro. He is named after fire because he sort of looks like fire. Also because he was a ball of fire before he came to earth.”
The crowd looked on, enchanted. “More tame than Atom’s wolf, Pyro will get to know all of you. He will visit your camps, lick your children, and eat whatever scraps you care to give him. But please don’t ever give him bird bones. They are hollow and will splinter as he chews. They could poke holes in his guts. Agreed?”
People nodded and Pyro sat and licked Erg’s hand. He licked a nearby child’s cheek and grinned ear to ear, his tongue lolling out to the side.
“Don’t mind his licking. Dogs do that with their puppies and litter mates… a form of affection. Their mouths are clean, carrying no germs that are communicable to humans.”
Erg leaned down and picked up one ear. She spoke above the dog’s head so the crowd could hear. “Pyro, will you mill around among all those who are sitting and let them get to know you?”
The dog wagged and scuffed through the sand, stopping only to greet the folks who were sitting. They all sat, and he continued to schmooze among fifty-some people. The ire in the air abated.
“Good boy.” She raised the crooked stick. “This is the Speaker Staff. Only the one with the staff may speak. Do you agree?”
Nodding, muttering, shuffling brought rearrangement into a messy, multi-row semi-circle so each could see the others. Erg’s eyes sailed across the three groups, her heart swelling.
Someone from the middle pushed one girl up, and she said, “We’re the group that doesn’t agree with these other two groups.” Erg planted the speaker staff beside her.
The girl was young and bubbly, and hugged the staff to her face as she rose up and down on her toes. “We…” she pointed to a lad sitting at her feet, “We want to be married but our parents want us to wait to see if they can find others they like better.”
“How old are you?”
“Seventeen years,” the couple said together.
“Can you both put together enough tools and trade to live without your parents’ support?”
They eyed each other, dismayed, and then nodded.
“You must be sure. Marriage is long, often hard, but should be stable and secure. Can you?”
The lad stood up beside his lass and said boldly, “Definitely.”
Erg chuckled. Her eyes swept around the circle. “Is it uncommon for youth to choose their own mates?”
A young, squat woman, nursing a baby, stayed down but spoke up. “If parents get a chance to choose, they do. If the kids make a baby, parents butt out.”
Erg smiled at the eager couple. “But making a baby isn’t a promise to stay together. The baby needs that.”
The girl was jumping up and down. “We promise!”
“Then I don’t see why you can’t marry.” She looked over the mumbling crowd. “Do you all agree that seventeen-year-olds can marry?”
There was a riot of positives and negatives, so Erg walked before them to settle the mood. A shout, “Kids do it anyhow.” was answered with, “Set a limit!”
Erg whispered to Pyro, and he walked into the noisiest group. As they quieted, Erg looked over other clusters. “Will all those who agree that seventeen is the age limit to marry please raise one hand?”
She hurried to one end to ask a woman to count hands. Then she scurried to the other end for the same. The two counters concurred, and the number was announced.
“Now, all those who favor no age limit on marriage.” The two lovebirds in front raised their hands, plus a noisy cluster of youth off to one side. They were a minority.
Erg took the speaking stick and declared: “Age seventeen, marriage limit. That was a vote, folks. Your first act of democracy.”
About the Author: Cy Chase is a biologist with a passion for nature, animals, and laughter. She sees science as a relevant truth in all our doings and weaves it into gutsy orbits of activity. Chase’s flow of fiction is influenced by Robert Heinlein, Madelynne L’Engle, and J. K. Rowling. Her stories are uplifting and funny, carrying her readers into higher levels of consciousness. Chase lives with her husband and Goldendoodle amid volcanic mountains tucked into the red rocks of Utah.