Out of the Land of Sinners


Thomas Rindt

    There is a great river which countless centuries ago was named Luxor after the mountain range in whose deep valleys it has its origin.  The Clara Lux mountains rise from the earth into steep, jagged peaks as if they had been drawn upward by a great magnet; the distribution of their mass is uneven and awkward; and the peaks appear brittle.  In the most ancient times, when the first people dwelt on the eastern slopes and bathed themselves in the cool mountain streams which in their descent meet to form the river Luxor, there was a gap in the mountain range, directly in the center, which later would be filled by a peak nineteen thousand feet tall, named Wilhelmina.  The entire Clara Lux range, with its myriad peaks, was the sacred domain of God; each of the peaks was one of His brides, and He spent His days traveling from one to the other in order to be a husband to all His wives.  The highest peak, until God's Queen, Wilhelmina, was set in place, was eighteen thousand feet and was the birthplace of the great river, which was said to be this mountain's tears, shed when her husband went away to be among His other brides.  This peak, with its deep flow of sorrow, was said to be God's favorite.  In those ancient times the river was neither as deep nor as wide as it is now; on the day that the peak it arose from was replaced by Wilhelmina as God's favorite wife, its flow is said to have doubled, and doubled again each one hundred years thereafter, until now, at its mouth, it is more than a thousand miles wide and two hundred feet deep.  Great sharks abound at its mouth and occasionally swim upstream; these sharks are said to be the children of the sea gods, who were called upon to send them so that the last of the sinners, as they attempted to escape God's wrath in boats of woven reeds and timber, might be devoured.  Since that time, the mountain which had given birth to the river has become an outcast of God; the river itself is believed to be contaminated by the people who bathed in its headwaters and who later sinned most grievously against the Almighty.

    So ancient are these people who bathed in the headwaters of the Luxor that they have no name, unlike the Coastal Dwellers, the People of the Valley, or the Hill People.  They are too ancient even to be called Ancient Ones; the Hill People's descendants are called that.  They are called, simply, People.  In private, some of the more blasphemous and daring of the Coastal Dwellers call them the Bathers, a name which God has forbidden even to be spoken, so odious is these people's contamination of His bountiful earth.

    They lived in houses of timbers and reeds, timber from the great stretches of forest which covered the floor of the valley, reeds from the limitless reach of marsh lands, along the coast, fed by the Luxor.  Along the plateaus and the gentlest slopes of the mountains these people built their villages.  Each village had a meeting place and an altar, the meeting place at one end of the village, the altar at the opposite end; and in the center was a great open square which in the warm months served as a market where vendors brought fresh fruits and vegetables and grains to sell.

    No animals were kept within the village, though at one time, when these people had first gathered into villages, all the stockyard animals and the pet dogs and cats were kept as near to each dwelling as possible.  The People believed that having animals nearby enriched their lives, and this intimacy made them feel less alone whenever they were troubled; it made them feel a part of something bigger than their own society, something which did not depend upon the whims or the caprices of the human will.  Not until God explained to them the error in their thinking were they able to realize how wrong they were in regarding animals almost as equal beings.  They carry disease, He told them; they cannot reason nor can they comprehend the existence of their Creator; they have no control over their impulses, nor can they distinguish the subtleties of existence.  To animals, God explained, good and evil consist only of pleasure and pain; the one they gravitate toward, the other they shun.  Having no awareness of God, they have no means of expressing their great love for the Deity, no way to show their subordination.  They, the dumb brutes, are incapable of worshipping God.  And, above all, the great nobility of sacrifice is unknown to them.  Therefore, God ordained, they must be removed from the villages and kept in fenced-in areas beyond.

    God instructed the People in the arts of husbandry, and He showed them how to butcher cattle and hogs where, before, the People kept these creatures only for the joy of tending them.  At first they screamed and ran off when they saw the blood spurt from their animals throats and saw the panic in the gentle brown eyes; it was as if the People themselves were being butchered.  But God ordered them to come back and learn so that their lives may be enriched.  They all wondered what value lay in butchered flesh; God, being omniscient, sensed their puzzlement and began cooking the meat of their cattle and hogs, which He then commanded them to eat.  They cried and begged for mercy, but God knew what was best for His People so He made them eat the flesh of their animals.  At first they vomited the meat from their bodies; but God knew that in time they would acquire a taste for flesh, so He persisted.  Finally, after much coaxing, the People grew used to the taste of animal flesh - and, more importantly, they grew accustomed to the idea of slaughtering other creatures for food.  Soon they began regarding their cattle and their hogs as inferior beings whose only purpose in existing was to provide them with sustenance.  They even found uses for the skins of these creatures, an unanticipated endeavor which greatly pleased the Deity.  He could see that, every day, they were growing in wisdom.  At night, though, when He went to be with His brides, He could not see their anxiety or their sense of loss, their feeling that in some way a paradise had been destroyed which could never be rebuilt.  They accepted their superiority over all the other creatures; but their innermost hearts yearned at night for the great peace they had known; and often they cried and held their pillows, especially when they were troubled or saddened or frustrated, where in earlier times they would have gone among their animals to feel the warm love of a trusting body.  Now, whenever they approached the stockyards, their animals would grow tense and the warmth would flee their skins and they would try to get away.  Fear had replaced harmony.

    Still, the population grew.  The rich diet of meat insured there would be enough food no matter how many babies were born each year.  Besides which, God encouraged His People to be fruitful and to multiply.  So desirous was He of making His People happy, and prosperous, and powerful, that He put a ban on all acts which interfered with procreation.  Adolescents were forbidden to be alone, away from the society of others; children were refused permission to touch certain parts of their bodies, which God ordained to be private; and, above all, no two persons of the same sex were ever to grow fond of one another or to show the slightest physical affection.  Men especially were forbidden to touch each other except on the game fields, and then only when engaged in such contests of skill as wrestling or some team activity.  Special guardians were appointed to insure that these rules were obeyed and that anyone who disobeyed was punished.  Under God's direction, tiny cages were constructed; these cages, two feet wide and deep by three feet in height, were used to imprison anyone found disobeying God's rules.  Only when it was felt the transgressor had repented was he let out.  These cages were stored behind the stockyards so that anyone in the village would know and could plainly see that these disobedient ones were of lesser value to the community than even the stock animals.  Anyone who refused to repent was kept locked up until he changed his mind or until he died.  Willfulness and stubborn pride offended God more grievously than all other transgressions.  One day He called His People together and explained to them that it was not enough to keep those who refused to repent locked up, that an example ought to be made of them so that others would know how great an evil it was to offend the Almighty.  When asked what could possibly be a greater example to others than being locked in a cage, God pointed out to His People that these transgressors were lower than the animals - were they not? He asked.  Yes, the People all agreed that they were.  And did they not butcher animals?  Yes, the People admitted that they did.  Therefore, God reasoned, was it not alright to kill those who were in fact lesser even than the stockyard animals?  The People puzzled over this; reluctantly they agreed.  In their hearts were doubts; but had their eyes not seen these transgressors in tiny cages beyond the stockyards? and could they doubt the proofs of their very senses?  So they agreed that yes, it was alright to kill these beings who were lower than the animals.  Then, if it was alright to do so, and if it would serve as an example to others not to disobey God's rules, was it not sensible that the transgressors - at least the most unrepentant - should be killed?  Yes, the People were led by the superior logic of their Creator to agree, they should.  Therefore, God commanded, they will be killed.  And God would show His People how.

    There could be many ways.  The People were wise now, and they were creative; the many things they had been shown by their Creator had sharpened their minds to where they could invent ways of their own to carry out God's commandments.  But if they wished, for now, for these first executions, God would demonstrate a variety of techniques and they could choose their favorite.  Yes, please, they asked their maker, do show us, as our minds are yet a blank.  Very well then.

    God came to the first cage, opened it, reached in to pull out the first transgressor.  Taking a firm hold of him and drawing forth a huge knife, God slit the man's throat.  The People all turned away at the sight; some vomited, and a few of the weaker ones ran off screaming in panic at the sight, and the incomprehensible thought, of a fellow man being butchered.  Temporarily, as God in His eternal wisdom knew they would, the People forgot all He had told them - forgot that these transgressors were not their fellow men but, by their own decree, lesser beings than even the stock animals.  Perhaps, God told the People as He threw the first transgressor to the ground, they prefer not to employ the same techniques reserved for slaughtering animals.  They said yes, they did prefer some other means.  They did not come right out and say it, but in their hearts they hoped there might be a less cruel way of execution.  Coming to the second cage, God opened it and reached in, taking hold of the second transgressor as He had the first.  This time He drew no knife; instead, He lifted the man over His head and brought him down against the hard ground.  The man's head split open and his brains slid out.  All the People gasped.  God asked His People how they liked this method.  At first they could say nothing; then, when their tongues seemed to have returned to their control, they muttered that they were not as strong as the Deity and could perhaps not manage this method as successfully as He had.  Well, God advised them, two or three of them together might manage it.  And while they thought it over, God would demonstrate yet another technique.  When He came to the third cage, He did not open it, and did not take hold of the transgressor, did not pull him out.  The People thought perhaps He had run out of methods of execution or had forgotten the next method He planned to show them.  He sensed their thoughts and, turning to them, chided them for their lack of faith.  They hung their heads a moment, but quickly raised them when their eyes caught the sudden spark of a flame.  God had lighted a torch and held it to the third transgressor, who began screaming and trying to break free of his cage.  In a moment the man's clothes caught fire and then the hair on his body and then he was a torch himself, screaming and banging his head against the bars of his cage.  At last the wooden bars broke and he could escape; but he had grown silent and had fallen in a heap.

The People stared wide-eyed in horror at this spectacle.  Never had they witnessed any living thing burn, and never had they heard such shrieks as these.  In their hearts they prayed that some other method than this could be devised, any method, even slitting the transgressor's throat or beating his brains out: anything but this.  With God standing so near, though, not even the innermost secrets of a man's heart could remain hidden from Him; He sensed their prayer.  But it was a prayer falling on deaf ears.  God went to stand before His People.  He spoke.

"This," He commanded, "shall be the method of execution.  Transgressors shall be burned for their sins against you, my People - for it is against you they sin when they disobey the rules and the ordinances I have laid before you for your well-being and prosperity.  You shall burn them."

The people did not answer.  They were weak and they could not yet be counted on to carry out the sentences they themselves must hand down.  God knew this, and though it pained Him that for lack of strength justice might not be served, He knew also that He dare not ask too much too soon of His People.  So he fixed upon a compromise.

    "My People," He told them, "are a good people.  You do not wish to see even so lowly a creature as a transgressor suffer the just fate his sins have netted him."  Everyone eagerly nodded their heads in agreement.  "Therefore, you shall not have to witness their suffering."  Everyone sighed a great sigh of relief.  "I command you," God continued after a pause, "to weave huge baskets, as many as you need.  And to put strong handles on them.  And to build a platform to hang these baskets from."  Again God paused.  He knew what His People would be thinking, and He let them think it.  We will not have to execute anyone, they thought, but only to conceal them in baskets.  Then God continued speaking.  "Into these baskets," He commanded, "you will put transgressor, as many of them as there are, one into each basket.  You will then hang the baskets.  You will then light torches, which you will set to the baskets.  In this way you will carry out the sentences I have ordained for you and that you know to be fair and just, yet you will not have to look upon the just sufferings of the transgressors.  I am a merciful God, an understanding God.  I will not force you to witness something which you cannot bear to witness, no matter how just and necessary it may be.  Now I must return to my brides, but will again come among you at the full moon, when you will have your baskets ready.  Until then, peace be with you."

    Everybody was stunned at the finality of it, at the awesome intransigence of the Deity, and at His superior will.  They were all pleased that they had raised no objection to anything God commanded; they felt that it would in some way have been taken as disobedience if they had, and in the back of their minds was a deep fear of having something they might do declared a transgression, themselves transgressor.  As it was, only the sin of being with one's own kind - men with men or women with women - was a transgression, and only these persons need be condemned and executed.  And, after all, look at them, the People thought: look how they sit in cages in their own filth - surely that alone demonstrates how unworthy they are of life; besides, think how they have transgressed.  They did not deserve to live.

    The People set about weaving the baskets their Creator commanded them to make.  Ingenious people who, on their own, had discovered how to make cloth from plant fiber, how to till the soil, how to heat their houses in winter, how to care for the infirm among them, how to store food so that it did not spoil - they set about creating the baskets which would serve to execute the transgressors.  The men, women and children all gathered reeds and collected the broken limbs of trees from the forest floor; together, they worked until they had devised a method for weaving these materials into a fabric strong enough to support a man's weight, everyone contributing ideas as well as labor, even the children.  Then everyone set about building a scaffold sturdy enough to hold all the baskets.  Finally, by the appointed time, they had constructed enough baskets to contain all the transgressors, of whom there were now twenty-five, and a scaffold big enough to hang the baskets from.  Early in the evening, just before the full moon began rising, the People set all the baskets before the scaffold then gathered around in a circle.  The moment the top of the moon became visible over the mountains, God made His appearance.  He went immediately to inspect His People's work.  Nodding His head, He pronounced it good; but He had a strange feeling as He gazed upon the row of baskets and then up at the scaffold, as if something about them displeased Him.  How were they made? He asked.  The People explained.

    "Ah," He mused, "there is the source of my discontent."  Then, turning to His People, He chided them for the impropriety of their methods.  "It is not proper," He said, "for women and children to be expected to do the work of men, nor for men to do the work of women and children."  The People all looked at one another in great amazement, for they had never heard of any other way of working except collectively.  God resumed speaking to them.  "The heavy work and the work of design falls naturally to the men," He pointed out, "whereas the menial tasks of weaving and the like fall naturally to women and children.  This is the order of things.  Any other way is unnatural."  Everyone hung their heads in shame at their ignorance of nature.  When, they each wondered silently, will we ever become wise?  "Henceforth," God commanded, "all ideas will originate in the minds of men alone, as the minds of women are as unsuited to conceptual thought as are the minds of children.  And all important work will be done by the men, as women are incapable of distinguishing what is important from what is trivial."  Many of the women blushed deeply to this; some of the men sneered at the women in a condescending way which only increased their humiliation.

    "And what of the children?" someone asked.

    "Children should be seen and not heard," God explained.  "They are the rightful property of their parents and are henceforth subject to their fathers' wills, as are wives to their husbands' wills."  Everyone was stunned at this, for they had never heard it said and it had never occurred to them that husbands and fathers had any right of ownership over wives and children.  They could not help wondering where this idea came from and why they had never heard of it before now.  Sensing their dismay, God explained that He had kept this from them until He felt they as a People were mature and civilized enough to be told of it.  He could tell, He commended His People, from their eagerness to serve Him that they had finally come of age as a people.  It pleased them greatly to hear this; they felt suddenly wiser and less ashamed of the many ignorances they had been guilty of.  They understood more than ever how generous and benevolent their Creator could be when they had earned His good will.

    The moon had slowly risen its full form above the great mountain peak which looked down on these villagers.  Where earlier it had seemed almost orange, now that the moon was high overhead it became white, and its many shadows and hollows were plainly visible.  The People asked God about these aspects of the moon.  For a moment He said nothing, as if He were reflecting upon the  question; then He replied that these phases of the moon were created when He released the moon from its bondage.  Bondage? the People all wondered.  It was in bondage to the earth, God explained, held in place by great chains so that it could not get loose.  This had been the work of the evil one, Jessamyn.  Finally God had had enough of his evil and destroyed him, thus releasing the moon from its chains, though the scars of its captivity still remained.  God's explanation satisfied the People, although a few had the distinct impression of have just heard a fantasy - something made up at the spur of the moment.  God felt suddenly apprehensive, but could not quite determine why; He had, for the briefest flash of an instant, the look on His face of someone caught in a lie.  He grew impatient.

    "Well," He said, "is it not time for the festivity to begin?"  Everyone was aghast.  Festivity? they all wondered, awestruck: surely this cannot be named a festival.  Then God, who was never long out of absolute control of Himself, realized His mis-statement.  "I, of course," He said, "meant to say ceremony.  This is indeed too solemn and dignified a ritual to be considered a festivity."  The People seemed relieved, and satisfied with the explanation.  "Very well then," God commanded, "let the transgressors be brought forth."

    Fifty of the strongest men went swiftly to where the transgressors' cages were kept.  Opening back the cage doors, they grabbed hold of the transgressors and pulled them out, one by one, from their cages.  There were twenty-five transgressors; they were all brought before the Almighty.  The sight of them was offensive to God, as their stench was to the People.

    "Let them be put inside the baskets!" God commanded.  Swiftly, the fifty strong men led the transgressors to where the baskets stood, beneath the scaffold, waiting.  Two men lifted each transgressor into each basket, until all twenty-five baskets were full.  Now that the transgressors had disappeared from His sight, God let the scowl on His face relax.

    "Let the baskets be hung!" He commanded, and they were hung, each two men lifting one basket high upon their shoulders until they managed to drape both of its handles over one of the overhanging pegs of the scaffold.  In this manner, all twenty-five baskets were made to dangle from the scaffold some fifteen feet from the ground.

    "Now," God commanded, "let the torches be lit!"  And the torches were lit.

    "Let the fires be set, let the execution commence, let justice be served!"  And it was done as commanded.  The baskets, which had been left in the hot sun all day to dry out, caught up quick blazes each.  In barely a minute it became evident from the sudden movement of the baskets where before had been only stillness that the transgressors were beginning to burn.  Almost every basket revealed a dreadful convulsion as its occupant attempted to crawl out.  Occasionally a hand would appear for an instant at the opening, but the fabric was too supple to permit a full grown man to lift his own weight; and so each attempted escape failed, each man falling back to the bottom, either to try again or to give up trying, each hand disappearing as quickly as it appeared.  As the flames grew higher and more brilliant, the shrieks grew also.  Twenty-five grown men screaming and crying out like hungry infants, and twenty-five beautifully glowing baskets convulsing like a caterpillar's belly with each shriek.  Beneath the awesome white moon's tender light the baskets raged and fumed and roared and finally died out.

    God watched enthralled.  On His face was the implacable peace of the judge whose sentence has been duly executed, whose love and worship of justice has been served.  When all that remained was twenty-five charred heaps on the ground, the handles having finally given way, God turned to His People to commend their ingenuity.  "This," He told them, "was exceedingly well done."  Right away, the half sickened looks on their faces gave way to smiles.  Even in the midst of such a great ceremony, however, even though He had just praised His People, God could not pretend not to have noticed a glaring fault in their manner of witnessing the execution, nor could He in good conscience fail to reprimand them.  "You did not," He informed His People, "assemble yourselves properly, or with the dignity which such an occasion warrants."  The People were crestfallen.  "I will instruct you now in the correct pattern of assemblage," God said.  The People listened attentively.  "You must not gather around as you are now, women and children indiscriminately mixed with the adults in such a huge half-circle.  Rather, you must assemble in rows of semi-circles.  The men among you must always be in the front rows, the women and children behind.  There are important reasons for this arrangement which I will reveal to you all in good time.  Now I must depart, but I shall return at the next full moon."

    Before the Deity could leave, however, the People made bold to ask what should be done with the charred remains of the transgressors.  They were told to clear a huge space beyond the scaffold and dig a pit, into which they could dump the remains.  Should we all take turns at the shovels? the People asked.  No, they were told; select from among you a crew to do it.  How, they asked, should they go about making the selection.  This would not be as important a task, they were told, as, for example, setting the torches to the baskets; so they should select the least important members of their community, the most unworthy among the men to carry out the task.  The People looked puzzled.  How, they wondered, could they determine who was least important.  As always, God sensed their consternation and took pains to enlighten them.  All they need do, God explained, was decide who had the fewest gifts, because the dearth of good qualities tended to render a person less pleasing in God's sight, as well as less valuable to that person's community.  Again, the people were puzzled: how could they determine which qualities were most pleasing, most valuable, and who had the least of them?

    "In general," God said as He departed, "the outcome will determine that."

    The People, as they watched God ascend the mountain and grow smaller the higher He got, puzzled greatly over this final cryptic reply of His.  What could it mean?  How could the outcome determine which qualities were best?  Everyone looked to his neighbor for an answer and, finding none, he then looked to himself.  Each man began examining his own qualities to see if they seemed good and, more importantly, if they seemed better than his neighbors.  The Deity having made it perfectly clear that the better the qualities the more pleasing a person was to Him and the more valuable he was to his community, it seemed to follow naturally that those with better qualities were therefore better men.  And, being better men, they ought not to have to do the worst kinds of work, like burying the transgressors.  Still, they puzzled mightily over how to determine who was bitter than whom; they could find no suitable criteria.  Nevertheless, each one knew that he wanted to be the better man, that he wanted to be more pleasing to God, more valuable to his community, even if it was a brand new idea that there could be any such distinctions among men as to render a hierarchy of worth.  They had never entertained such a notion, yet the idea was so clear to their Creator that they could only hang their heads at not having discovered it, at having to have it pointed out to them.  When, they despaired, would they ever grow wise enough to see these things which were so evidently commonplace that the Deity could not trouble Himself with pointing them out?

    "I have good qualities," each man told himself.  Convinced of this, each man went and told his neighbors; but his neighbors would not accept his opinion.  No one seemed willing to admit to anyone else's good qualities.  Clearly, a stalemate was brewing.  And, all the while, the charred corpses lay in twenty-five heaps rotting and attracting flies and giving off the most offensive odors.  Something had to be done.  A few of the wiser men began to see that if they waited until their peers willingly accepted them as better, they would wait forever; and the corpses would grow worse with time until the entire village might be uninhabitable.  Something had to be done, and done now.

    Men began to form into groups, quite often the same men who played on a given athletic team grouping themselves together.  They began discussing the problem.  Being friends, they felt that they were all possessed of equally good qualities, but that at the same time they were better than the rest of their peers.  When it came to taking their collective opinion among the others within their community, however, they always drew the same blank: they could not get a consensus to support their claim of superiority.  Clearly some other ingredient was needed, but no one could discover what they might be.

    "If only it were as easy as being on the playing field!" some of the men decried.  "There, you need only subdue your opponent and your superiority is automatically asserted!  If only life itself could be as simple!"  Gradually, the thought came irresistibly to some of the men that perhaps life, after all, was, or at least could be, or could be made to be, just exactly as simple as the playing field.  "But ah!" they despaired, "what would be the means of effecting a decision of this kind?  What would we do?  Knock the others down?  Outrun them?  Out throw them?  Wrestle them to the ground?  What?  What could we do to assert ourselves and thereby prove our superiority?"

    Why not? they began to reason.  Why not throw them, or wrestle them, or knock them to the ground?  Why not?  Better to do that than be disinherited by rotting corpses!  Why not?

    The idea began to take hold.  It was a way out of the dilemma the People's Creator seemed to have inadvertently placed them in; and not only was it a way out, it appeared to be an easy way out.  Everyone knew from past experience how difficult it was to persuade others to do things they did not wish to do; and now, confronted with something which must be done, more than ever the People realized the insufficiency of persuasion.  In all their experience they had never imagined another method existed - yet here it was, all along, with them from the very start: in their athletic games and contests, the very method they needed; and in their abysmal ignorance they had overlooked it!  Force, sheer brute force: the solution to this their most troublesome problem.  

    Whether systematically or not, whether through deliberate conspiracy or through the chance syllogism of everyday conversation, no one could really have said; but gradually a plan - many independent plans - of action began to unfold in the community as the same idea struck more and more individuals.  Almost instinctively - truly instinctively, so long had team contests been a part of their society - the People realized that singly they could do very little to compel others to accept them as superior, as better, as dominant, let alone to assume the subordinate positions needed for the clean-up of the corpses.  More than ever the idea of teamwork presented itself as the indispensable ingredient of the social order.  More than ever the individual players on the various athletic teams came to regard their immediate peers as a means, perhaps the only means, of achieving superiority over their neighbors, and of avoiding the distasteful task of burying corpses.  Eventually, the smell of decay creeping ever nearer their village, the People, little by little, began acting out their newly discovered social principle.  It began with one attack, on one person, by one other person, as his fellow team members cautiously watched from a distance.

    "Greetings," this individual said.  "Will you acknowledge my superiority?" he asked.

    "No," was the reply, "I cannot."

    Without a further word, the first man grabbed hold of the second and threw him to the ground,  "Will you now acknowledge my superiority?" he asked.

    "No!" was still the reply.  So the first man applied pressure where he had gotten a firm grip about the other.

    "Now will you?" he asked.  Still it was "No!"  More pressure was applied, and yet more and more until the answer became the desired affirmative, at which point the man was released.  Once up, however, he quickly changed his mind and, running off, cried out that he would never acknowledge the other's superiority.  But on his way he was caught by the first man's peers and told that, indeed, he would acknowledge their friend's superiority - and not only their friend's but theirs as well.  He finally did.  Before he was released, however, he was warned that if he dared change his mind another time they would get hold of him again, perhaps even break his bones this time or kill him outright.  He ran immediately to his own peers, told them what had happened, and issued a warning: stay together, all of them, do not let themselves be caught alone by that gang of brutes or else they would risk being killed.  They took his advice.  Similar incidents throughout the village netted similar advice, until the entire village was virtually a honeycomb of prowling gangs each at war with all the others.  Only those people who were part of a team stood any chance of assuming superiority within the community; individuals not affiliated with any athletic team were easy victims - everybody's victims, everybody's inferiors.  Even so, there were nowhere near enough inferiors to dig the pit and bury the corpses.  Many of the weaker teams, though it required a greater expenditure of energy, greater risk, and greater patience, had to also be subdued.  In the course of the struggle, many weaker teams joined forces, seeing their only chance in increasing their ranks; this made for difficulties, internal bickering over whose plans should be adopted, and so on; but it at least kept them from being overrun by the stronger teams.  Following suit, some of the stronger teams likewise joined forces; the same set of internal problems ensued.  In time, a tenuous hierarchy of sorts had been established.  Enough inferiors had been found to complete the work; many of these died mysteriously shortly after the corpses had been buried.

    For three whole days they were made to dig a huge pit behind the scaffold, after which they were forced to carry the rotted corpses and dump them.  Almost all the inferiors vomited and became ill during this last phase of their work; and the flies buzzed about them to where they thought they would go mad, and all manner of vermin crept upon their living skin from the rot of the corpses.  When the work was done, and the corpses were covered over, and the flies had vanished, the inferiors were allowed to return to their homes.  After their work, however, it was felt that they must not be allowed to bathe in the crystal mountain streams lest they contaminate the pure water.  They carried an odor about them of decay, and with so much sickness now among them, it was decided to make them move their homes to a place beyond the rest of the village, closer to where the stock animals were kept.  At last, the great task of burying the transgressors was done, along with all the subsidiary tasks it generated.  The cycle of the full moon had come again, and God made His appearance.

    "Behold, I have come among you again, even as I promised!" the Deity announced.  The People all gathered around Him, except for the inferiors, who were kept at a distance so that the Creator would not be offended by their presence.  God looked around.  He pointed.

    "Where are the baskets?" He asked.  The People's faces went blank.  "Is it not the eve of the full moon?" God asked.  Yes, the People nodded, according to their reckoning it was.  "Then why are there no baskets?" God asked.  Again He drew a blank.  "Have you decided to dispense with the baskets?  To burn the transgressors out in the open?  Perhaps you have devised hooks from which they might dangle while they burn.  I see no stakes, so I must assume you do not mean them tied in place.  Yet I see no hooks either: how so?"  Well, the People tried to explain, there were no hooks; nor stakes; nor baskets.  "What manner of burning can there be left?" God wondered.  "Have you devised a fuel which when spread over the transgressors will burn them even if they are left free, even as they run to escape the flames or roll on the earth to extinguish them?  I commend your ingenuity, but must also remind you that it is not meet for your Creator to have to go chasing after burning transgressors to watch their execution, so as to authenticate it; nor is it dignified in my People to be running around like that either.  But, be that as it may.  Bring out the transgressors."

    A terrified, half-sickened look came over every person's face at these words.  It occurred simultaneously to all the people that in their efforts to get the corpses of the last transgressors buried they had entirely forgotten to secure a new group of transgressors.  They dared not tell this, yet neither did they dare lie, or, least of all, did they dare not respond to their Creator's words.  God was clearly becoming impatient.  At last they spoke up.

    "There are no transgressors," the People confessed.

    "What!" the Deity screamed.  "There are none?"

    "No, our Lord, there are none."

    "No one broke my commandment?"

    "We...forgot to watch for it, Lord."

    "Forgot to keep faith with my commandments?  After all I've done for you?  What ungrateful wretches!  And, indeed, by failing to keep faith with my commandments, you have all transgressed!  All of you: you are every single one of you transgressors!  Each and every one of you worthy of execution!"

    The People desperately tried to explain what had happened, and why it had taken them until just a few days ago to bury the corpses.  God was angrier than ever at this explanation.

    "Where are these inferiors?" He shrieked.  "Bring them before me, they who, through their sloth, have kept you from fulfilling your obligations!  Bring them here!"  The inferiors were brought before the Lord.  He looked upon them with a cold eye.  "Through your unwillingness to do your solemn duty you have let sin run amuck throughout your community!  Anyone can see from your disheveled, unclean appearance and anyone can tell from your foul odor that you are indeed inferior beings!  Yet for almost a month now, since the day I was last among you, you have refused to accept your place in your society.  And as a result sin has gained a frightful foothold here.  Therefore, I command that you, harborers and accomplices of those who lay with their own kind, be damned and sentenced and executed in their place!  Come forward!"  He called to His People.  "Take hold of these sinners.  Bind their hands and feet and tie them from the scaffold."  This was done.  "Now, set your torches to them!"  This too was done.  The inferiors burned as they dangled from their ropes, screaming and trying desperately to get loose.  By the time their ropes burned to where their weight freed them, they were too burned to run away, so they just lay in a heap, screaming, and died.

    "Now get them buried," commanded the Deity.  "And take care you do not let more transgressors roam your village freely.  I will expect double the number the next time I appear.  Until the full moon, I bid you farewell."  And God departed.  The People stood watching Him once again ascend the mountain peak to be among His brides.  In their hearts was an infinity of deep sighs, as each person surveyed the enormity of the task God had given His People this time.  It had been so much to do just to bury the dead, so great a task to round up enough inferiors to do it; now they were no more, they had in the ugly twinkling of a torch departed their community forever.  New inferiors had to be found; the whole enervating process had to be endured all over again.  And while this went on, the transgressors had to be ferreted out, rounded up, secured in cages while the baskets were being woven.  Deep and fitful were the sighs in the People's hearts. 

    They had, as they very soon discovered, one advantage, however, over their previous endeavor to secure inferiors: they were better organized, by teams, by groupings of peers, than they had been.  They realized that in their efforts to determine who was better than whom in their society, they could carry on where they left off before; they would not need to begin from scratch.  The principle had already been discovered, the methods for effecting it established: the basics of hierarchy were already in place, they need only reference their activities against it.  Before long, they discovered yet another principle, a coincidental facet of their struggle which had not previously occurred to them.  They found that, by using the network of teams which they had had to set up to secure inferiors, they could facilitate the capture of transgressors. Where before they could only recognize transgression when and as they by chance encountered it, now they were able to observe one another's behavior more closely; to watch in tandem with one another - to watch in teams; to follow without being observed; and to be present whenever a rendezvous took place between two persons of the same sex.  It was found that certain members of certain teams were much better at this kind of activity - this observing, then tracking, then detecting - than others; and that if these persons primarily were given the task of rounding up transgressors, it could be more expeditiously effected.  Ironically, it was also found that these same persons who were best at capturing the transgressors seemed also to be best at securing inferiors; they generally managed to prove themselves better than their neighbors.  By the end of the month, when the full moon was fast upon them and their Creator would now return, the People had discovered what they felt might very well be the single most significant principle governing their society: they planned to present this newfound principle to God to see if He would give His sanction.

    They were excited this time watching for the Deity.  When they saw Him, a cheer went up which He heard and which pleased Him greatly.  Ah, what a warm, loving, generous people is my People! He thought.  Coming among His People, He looked around before greeting them.  In the background, well behind the others, He saw a shabby, dirty group of people: inferiors.  He saw no evidence of the corpses which had burned a month ago.  Finally, glancing to His right, He beheld fifty reed and wood woven baskets lined up before the scaffold.  He gave silent thanks for the beneficence of this universe He presided over.

    "I greet you!" God said to His People.

    "Hail to our Lord on the highest!" His People exclaimed.  God was ecstatic.  Then a representative came forward to speak for all the People.

    "Oh Heavenly Father," this man said, "we welcome you, and we wish to inform you of our idea for a better society, and we hope we can secure your blessing."

    "Proceed," said God, who, first looking over His shoulder to make sure the full moon had not yet risen to where the executions should begin, decided there was time for a few words.  The spokesman told of his People's discovery, of the great new principle, and of their wish to incorporate it into their lives.

    "Though we have no name for what it might be, we truly believe it will benefit us and, most important of all, it will reflect greater glory upon you, our beloved Creator!"

    "Then it shall be done!" God exclaimed before even hearing it.  The man started to explain what it was they had in mind, but God raised His hand. "Say no more," He commanded.  "You have convinced me of the purity of your motives.  I give you my blessing.  You may, upon the morrow, proceed to put this great principle into effect.  I trust your wisdom and your judgment, for as I look around me I behold the evidence of your maturity as a People.  I will know each month how well your plan is working.  Now: let the execution begin.  And let them be - in your honor: in your honor, my People! - let them be dedicated to your Creator!"  So they were, month after month, year after year, as this new principle the People had integrated into the customs of their society made possible the most highly organized business of seeking inferiors and of securing transgressors and, most importantly, of carrying out the executions.

    In time, God told them they might use the term "power" to describe this great principle they had discovered; and, furthermore, that they could use the word "rulers" to categorize those among them who, having proven themselves the best within their society and the most capable of preserving their customs and upholding the law, had been charged with the responsibility of determining who was inferior and who had transgressed.  The society ran like a great clock; the community grew and prospered as more and more the ranks of the inferiors swelled.  There came to be far more inferiors than were needed to dig the pits and bury the corpses.  It was, in time, found that, with a class of persons who, having no value to their community, could be made to exceed the amount of work normally expected of anyone yet denied all but the barest subsistence, it was possible to store up a vast treasure of food.  This in turn freed the other members of the community from agricultural or husbandry work, freed them also from the menial labors requisite to building and maintaining shelter against the cold winter winds which came down the mountainside and the drenching rains which arose from the great sea beyond the coast.  In time, numerous villages sprang up along the gentle slopes of God's queen, each built by the legion of inferiors.  Great wealth abounded.  The population grew.

    To excess, in time, the population grew, until one day, upon the occasion of the full moon, the People took their dilemma before the Deity.  There are too many mouths to feed, they informed Him.  "I will think it through," He told them; a great gleam shone from His eyes.  One month later, upon His return, God gave His people His judgment on the matter they had presented before Him under the previous full moon.

    "You all know me for a peace loving God," He said. "I cannot bear the thought of seeing my People starve because there is not enough food to feed them.  I do not wish to have their blood on your hands for you have done exceedingly well to be fertile and multiply.  So, to relieve you of that awful burden, I, your Creator, will take their blood on my hands."  The People were all stunned by this, and greatly puzzled.  "Here is what you must do," God went on to say.  "Each month, you are to gather one hundred among you - in addition to the transgressors, whose numbers have, as you know, fallen off of late, due no doubt to your great diligence; gather one hundred, and prepare an equal number of baskets, and at the rising of the full moon, sacrifice them.  You may do this in my name and in my honor.  I will accept their blood on my hands.  It is the least I can do for you."  The People were shocked and horrified at this; God sensed their dismay.  Fearing that in their reluctance to sacrifice their innocent they may neglect to do what was best for their society, God spoke His strongest voice before His People.

    "I do not ask this of you, my People," He said, "but command it!  You cannot know what over the eons will prove beneficial, what will prove harmful.  Only I, your eternal Creator, can know this; and I say to you: you must accept my judgment in such matters.  You must have faith in your Deity, in His wisdom, His judgment, His great and abiding love for you.  You must believe in Him, and accept what must be.  His ways are the ways of truth.  His ways lead only to peace.  His ways will insure your survival.  Therefore be not with care, be not troubled or doubtful, but accede to your Lord's wishes.  Sacrifice your excess population that you may preserve your society.  The good of all must come before the well-being of any one member.  So it must ever be.  Amen."

    And so it was done, just as the Lord prescribed.  On each full moon, one hundred baskets sat before the great scaffold.  In each basket - already in it so that the People need never know who had been chosen by the rulers - was a sacrificial victim.  Should anyone wonder what became of a person they knew or loved, they could always assure themselves that this person had simply gone to live in another place; in this way the awesome social necessity need never assume too personal, too real, an aspect for the People.  For countless generations this ritual continued, the rulers of each generation never failing to secure one hundred sacrificial victims each month.  Yet the population continued to grow, so well organized was the People's society.  Transgression had become all but eliminated, no one dared lay with another of the same sex; the class of inferiors each year grew greater, the wealth they created permitted a never ending rise in the standard of living, which in turn insured a steady increase in the birth rate.  Sacrifice was becoming useless to keep the population in check; it could not keep pace.  

    The People brought their problem, and their concern, to God at the full moon.  They expressed their fears.  But God was not disturbed by their words, nor did He seem surprised.  He merely nodded His head benignly.  

    "You are a wise and a mature People," He said, "one which has learned the lessons of civilization well.  I trust in your judgment.  I have no doubt that you will discover on your own what must be done to alleviate the situation.  Therefore I shall offer you no advice this time; rather, I shall leave to your own judgment to devise a way out of your dilemma.  I have faith in you, as you surely have faith in your Creator, and will stand behind you in your hour of judgment.  Whatever you decide, so it shall be.  Your destiny is in your own hands.  I can guide you no further.

    With these words, God departed, slowly ascending into the deep mists which had suddenly arisen to engulf the peak of the great mountain.  The Lord grew dark, then invisible.  The moon too disappeared behind the huge billows.  The People were left alone, to work out their problem.  What shall we do? everyone wondered.  Never before had they been left to their own devices; without guidance they felt uncertain, even fearful.  What shall we do?

    They all turned to the rulers.  The rulers said they would study the matter.  They withdrew to their fortress to study.  After a week of studying, however, they returned to their subjects without a single idea.  We can perhaps study further, they suggested in questioning voices.  The People stared at them, dumbstruck: here were their rulers, the best among them, and they could no more think what to do than the lowliest of the inferiors!  Of what use were they, except to carry off people in the dead of night to be sacrificed under the full moon in woven baskets?  The People grew angrier the longer they stood watching the pitiful spectacle of their rulers' helplessness.  The rulers seemed to sense this.  We had better go, they suggested.  Yes, the People said, return to your fortress to consider the matter further, why don't you? while we must be here when the Deity returns to bear the brunt of His wrath!  The more they stood there the angrier they grew.

    "Perhaps," the rulers timidly suggested, "perhaps we could increase the number of sacrificial victims.  Perhaps this is what the Deity assumed, therefore intended, we would do."    

      This only served the further aggravate the People.  What? they cried, you have not butchered enough of our loved ones already? you want to butcher still more?  Are you nothing but a pack of wolves that your first and only response to anything is to shed innocent blood?  Well, we have had enough of bloodshed! and if you wish yet more sacrifices, it can be you who shrieks and squirms and tries to climb out of burning baskets! because we are tired of hearing the cries of our beloved!  So choose: continue sacrifice, at the cost of your own lives, or find another way of dealing with the problem!

    "But there is no other way!" the rulers begged their subjects to listen to them.

    Very well, the People said, then you - all of you - shall burn!

    "No!  No!  Please!  Not us!  Anyone but us!  Not us!  Please!  Please!"  The best among the People had in the space of an instant been reduced to the whining, sniveling position of inferiors pleading for their lives.  "Oh spare us!  Spare us!"  The rulers fell to their knees before their subjects.

    What shall we do with such as these? the People all wondered.  Then an idea came to them.  Taking hold of their rulers, they dragged them beyond the stockyards to the filthy place where the inferiors dwelt in broken down hovels placed so close together that nothing but vermin could crawl between each.  There, they called the inferiors to gather around them in an open space.  The People flung their rulers onto the ground and, departing that vile place, told the inferiors that they might do with these rulers as they pleased.  The People gone, the inferiors formed a tight ring about the rulers, slowly enclosing upon them.  The rulers began screaming, crying, begging for mercy, for pity, for help.  The inferiors stood there watching this spectacle, not knowing what to make of it, dumbstruck by it.  They had no idea what to do next.  Many thoughts flitted through many minds, some vicious, some compassionate, most simply curious.  Finally, someone suggested they should strip the rulers of their clothes to see what it was about them that had set them above everyone else.  Ordered to strip, the rulers eagerly complied.  Stare as they might, though, the inferior could see nothing unusual about the rulers' bodies.  Have them perform, someone else suggested; so the rulers sang and danced and tried to speak their most eloquently, but here too was nothing unusual, no great talent was exhibited.  Leave them be until nature forces them to remove their bodily wastes, another suggested; let us examine the process and their excrement to see if the difference between them and us lies there.  In time, the rulers were forced to expel wastes and liquids from their bodies; but it was apparent to the inferiors that nothing significant had happened.  At last it was concluded that there was no difference whatsoever between the best and the worst, the highest and the lowliest: the rulers and the inferiors.

    "Perhaps if we cut them open, their virtues would show," someone suggested.  Horror filled the rulers' eyes at these words.  Great knives, used for butchering the stock, were gotten.  The circle closed still further.

    "No," someone else suggested.  "Why should we shed blood for their sakes?  Would we not then sink as low as they have? Do not hurt them, but let them go.  They are not worth the ugliness or the mess of butchering.  Let them go."

    Slowly the circle widened, until a breach was formed at the western end.  Seeing their chance, the rulers got up and began running.  They ran through the breach, and on into the night, headed all the while for a deep precipice which they had long ago forgotten.  Soon, muffled screams came out of the west, and the rulers were no more.  The inferiors were at first silent; then they began considering the absurdity of what had happened, and broad grins started maneuvering their faces beyond solemnity, beyond aspects of awestruck hardness, as if invisible hands were massaging the muscles of their faces, until in a very few moments the inevitable outburst of suppressed laughter could no longer be contained.  For almost an hour they laughed out there, in a circle, not far from the great precipice, before finally returning to their miserable hovels to start supper, unaware of the awful cataclysm about the befall their society.

    The People, who had sent their rulers among the inferiors, continued debating what to do about their excess population.  They flatly refused to even consider increasing the number of sacrificial victims: one hundred of their loved ones shrieking and squirming in woven baskets beneath the full moon every month was too many already.  "Yes," they said over and over, as if only now realizing it: "Yes, far too many; far too many."  Over and over, their new litany: far too many.  The People began to cry for their great loss.  "Why?" they all asked: why have we allowed it?  Why?"  They were wrenched with an unbearable feeling of guilt, which increased their tears.  They thought too of the inferiors: "What have we done to them?" they asked.  "Why have we allowed them, who are human also, to live in such squalor and such misery? Oh why?  Why?"  Again, their tears increased.  It seemed to them they could think of nothing which did not bring tears; for even the thought of the transgressors and the terrible sentence which had been passed for countless generations upon them made the People cry.  "Did they do so wrong that we should have taken them up and kept them in cages and executed them?  Was it they who sinned against us - or us who sinned against them?  And what if they had not all been exterminated as quickly as they were discovered?  Would their acts not have helped perhaps to reduce our population?  For does it not require one member of each sex to produce offspring?  That a man with a man or a woman with a woman cannot help but be barren no matter how fertile each separately might be?  Were they not in fact, in truth, showing us all along a way to control our population - and not only did we fail to recognize it, we killed them for showing it to us?  Is it not a natural means of keeping our numbers small?  And if natural, how can it be other than good?  Yet we have punished it!  Why?  And how: how could we be so foolish, so cruel, as to punish what was for our own well-being?  All along - all along - we might have regulated our growth and thus have averted this terrible dilemma we now face!"

    Another thought then came to them.  "Why were we not told of this - warned of it?  Surely the Almighty could not have failed to see it?  Why then did He not warn us?  Were we still too immature?  Did He wish to let us discover it on our own?  And all the lives we took: what a price to pay for knowledge!  Would it not have been better had He told us right off?  So much suffering, so much death - and all of it needless!  If only we had known!  Perhaps, though, He knew we would not have listened had He told us.  Perhaps this dreadful bloodlust is too deeply within us.  And perhaps He has allowed this dilemma to confront us in order to force us once and for all to forsake our evil ways.  Oh blind, blind sinners that we have slaughtered legions of our own to where not even God could stop us!  Oh blind, blind sinners!  We are not worthy of His great love!  We are not worthy."

    Then came their resolve to mend their bloodthirsty ways.  The night was still visible in the western sky, but across the east was a deep red haze which slowly ascended into the clouds to become golden.  The People looked, as if they had never seen a sunrise before.  Tears once more flowed, but these were of life and even of joy, tears born of the People's resolve never again to shed the blood of their brothers or their sisters.  From this day forward there would be an end to all executions.  Furthermore, transgression would no longer be a sin, no longer punished, no longer forbidden; transgressors were from that day on as free to exist and to seek the companionship and the love of their own kind as others were free to mate and reproduce.  A great joyous feeling of relief arose as if it too were a morning star.  The People felt as if terrible chains had been loosened from around not only their bodies but their souls as well.  And they gave thanks for the wonderful benevolence of a world in which they could experience such a sense of freedom.  They could hardly wait for the full moon, that they might tell their Creator of their newfound happiness.

    The days seemed all to linger in one another's tracks, as if each sought to block its successor entry.  Today could barely get started for yesterday; and by the time it slowly wore on to where tomorrow stood waiting, it had slowed to what seemed to the People almost a complete halt.  Never before had they noticed the days so stubbornly reluctant to vanish.  The People were reminded of the sacrifices of old; something about the days unfolding at so monotonous a pace made them recall the squirming inside the baskets, a movement as soundless as the days' progression.  Time, which the People took to be the very essence - the soul - of the universe, had become disordered, diseased even, since their decision to cease all sacrifice.  Or perhaps, they reasoned in clear moments, it was only their anticipation which made time appear so unnatural.  Perhaps this was the first time ever that they longed for the full moon; perhaps it was not that time passed too slowly this month but that it had always passed too rapidly in the past.  Perhaps something deep inside them had really and truly, all along, despaired of the monthly return of the Deity and all that His reappearance signified.  A thousand and one "perhaps'" in the span of a single month, till at last the cycle of the full moon had been fulfilled.

    On a clear day the People gathered.  Beneath the tiniest sliver of light above the great mountain peak, the shadow of God stole down upon them.  They watched anxiously.  Something about that shadow made them wonder if they had not been too severe with their days, if perhaps instead of wishing the days over with they ought to have been attempting to coax an even greater stealth out of them.  The shadow would rise, grow long, fall back, then disappear, then suddenly rise again as the Deity made His way down the twisting paths.  Finally, the shadow was fast upon them, and they were filled with a sense of doom, as if in some mystical way that awful shadow had acted out an argument they had not consciously considered when they made their decision to abandon sacrifice.  A number of steps behind His shadow came God upon His People.  Looking around, He knew something was wrong.  There were no baskets.  The Creator spoke.

    "My People is a forgetful People," He said.  He tried to sound calm.  A terrible look came across His People's faces, which made Him consider His words.  "'Are?'" He muttered.  "Or 'is?'  My People is a forgetful People?"  He pondered.  He decided to try a different approach.  "I see not baskets," He said.  He tried to force a smile.  Horror was on His People's faces.  "No baskets," He muttered; "I see no baskets."  The face of the Deity grew red.  Silence was endured a few moments, but only a very few, till God commanded His People to speak.  In great fear they told Him of their decision.  His face grew red and fierce to where they thought surely it would explode.

    "We thought," they tried soothing the great beast-like being standing before them, "we thought this was what you wanted us to do, that it would please you, that you would be honored by our decision."  This only intensified His rage; and when it burst, it burst forth from His mouth, first in a blood-curdling howl, then in curses and damnations upon these People  who had sinned so grievously against their Creator.

    "Degenerates!" He screamed.  "Atavists!  Liars!  Cheats!  Thieves!  Murderers!  Fornicators!  Sodomites!  Bloodsuckers!  Leeches!  Blasphemous demons!  How dare you - how dare you - stand before me, who has given you everything; and insult me with your insolent disobedience!  How dare you throw sin - your abominable, filthy sins! - right in my face!  How dare you take my generosity, my great beneficence, and cast it as ingots of sin to cast against me!  I have given you everything, I have shown you everything: I have taught you sacrifice that you might do honor to your Creator, I have allowed you to exist on the very slopes of my Queen, who you have now contaminated to where I must find another!  My beautiful Clarissa you have made an abomination who I can no longer bear to look upon!  I gave you leave to do as you see fit - and look what has come of it!  Look what you have done!  You have returned to sin the very moment my back was turned!  Where are your rulers that they did not stop this evil?  Let your rulers come forth, for as all sinners look alike to me I cannot tell them from the rest!"

    There were no rulers to come forth.  This infuriated the Deity nearly as much as the horrible decision His People had made.  "So," He raged, "not only have you sinned against your Creator, you have sinned against you own society as well!  You do not deserve to exist one minute further - and I say unto you, you shall not!  For behold, I call down lightening bolts from the sky to strike you dead!"  The Deity raised His hands and commanded the skies to release their fire.  The People all cowered.  Yet nothing happened.  An embarrassed look came over God's face.  He looked up - up at the very mountain His People had just made abominable to Him by contaminating its slopes.  "Clarissa," He muttered under His breath.  "You are still my Queen - and will always be.  I swear my eternal love to you.  Deliver us both from these sinners.  Release your fires to strike them dead, I beg of you."  Still, there was nothing.  The clouds straddling Clarissa's peak like a necklace of shimmering stones refused to open.

    "I have changed my mind," God said to His People.  "You are not worthy of so swift a death.  I shall plan another death for you."  With these words, God departed.  Behind Him trailed his shadow, rising up, falling back, rising up; finally, a few steps behind Him, disappearing forever into the darkness.  The People at first could not move; neither could they speak or even think, so great was their sense of horror at what had happened.  Slowly, from out of the shadows beyond the gathering peak, the inferiors stole upon the People, thinking that it was time for them to bury the corpses, although they did not recall having heard the usual shrieks of the sacrificial victims; they could always hear the death cries from their hovels, and if it was light enough they could see great black billows of pungent smoke ascending toward the overhanging moon.  Tonight they neither heard nor saw anything; but it was their responsibility to gather the dead and bury them, even if there were no longer rulers to compel them to do it.  So they came upon the place of sacrifice.  Their presence seemed to bring the People out of their trance-like state.  They were greeted - something which had never in their memory happened.  They instinctively looked around to see if perhaps there were others behind them - perhaps the rulers, who they thought had all gone over the precipice.  No one was behind them: it was they, the inferiors, who were being greeted.  They were puzzled, but they returned the greeting.  This seemed to please the People, who finally regained their power of speech.

    "Where are the corpses?" the inferiors asked.

    "There are none," the People told them.  After a silence, the People said "We are doomed," and explained what had happened.

    "We must escape!" the inferiors cried, forgetting the fate of their rulers.

    "Escape the wrath of God?" the People asked in voices of futility.  

    "We must try," was all the inferiors could answer.  The People were convinced by their inferiors to devise a plan of escape.  But where to? everyone wondered.  God rules those peaks and the land on either side as far as the eye can see.  He will seek us out no matter where we are.

    "Then we must build great boats and sail far out into the sea," someone suggested.  And, not knowing anything else to do, everyone agreed to the plan.  The weavers and the loggers gathered their materials.  Working together, the People - side by side with the inferiors - managed to get the boats built, under cover of night, carrying their materials piecemeal down the mountain side to the banks of the Luxor.

    Unknown to them, they were all the while being watched from the summit of the mountain.  When God saw that these sinners were about to complete their boats and escape the just retribution for their sins, He knew it was time to act.  He went to a deep cave which smelled of death.  There, He gathered a handful of verminous insects which were feeding upon the carcasses of dead wolves.  He then gathered up the rats which scurried about and set the insects into their fur.  Finally, under cover of darkness, He crept down the mountain and released the rats at the gates of each village.  The very next day the People grew sick.  Two days later almost all the People were dead, their bodies bloated with blackened sores all over.  Only a handful of People managed to escape the plague.  They reached the boats and, putting them into the river, set sail for the sea beyond.  But the Almighty sent a terrible squall to churn the river into a mass of waves which overturned the boats.  Before the People could drown, great sea beasts, which had been driven to a frenzy in the churning waters, devoured them.  When the last cry came from the water, and the last body was dragged under, and the last spurts of blood bounded against the waves, God calmed the troubled waters.  Quickly a sea of red glazed over the blue gray river.

    God shook His head sadly.  "There," He said in sorrow, "are the wages of sin.  Man must learn that the Law cannot be disobeyed; it was established for his well-being.  But man is weak, and easily tempted.  Therefore I will divide people that there will always be someone alien to sacrifice.  No more shall mankind exist as one community.  Rather, I shall have one over there, on the coast; one there, in the valley; one in the mountains; perhaps one more far off in the desert; perhaps even one deep inside the caves of my brides.  Man must be taught one way or another to give up his sinful ways.  Who better to teach him than his Creator?"