The Message (A Short Story)

I CAN’T …

Oh, God … where do I … ?

If it wasn’t for my voice software, I wouldn’t be able to even post this. I can’t … I can’t type anymore …

All right.

Focus.

This is it.

My last blog posting.

How long has it been, now?

Is it three days?

Four?

I can’t remember.

It’s all such a blur …

I’ve been … I’ve been in a … I’ve been having this constant anxiety attack!

For three days!

Haven’t slept.

Haven’t been able to sleep!

They won’t let me!

They won’t let me do anything but get the message out!

I can’t believe that I forgot all about my own blog!

I’ve been so tired!

It’s horrible how exhausted constant panic makes you feel …

My blog …

It’s only just occurred to me!

I’ve only just remembered it!

It’s not a very big blog … it’s not very important.

Still … to the few hundred of you who visit regularly … well, I know you’re expecting me to talk about chrysanthemums or gladioli or roses …

It’s why you’re here.

But … you’re a few hundred more people I can get the message out to.

When I … when it first happened …

When it first happened, I tried posting on whatever forums I could get to. Whatever forums I could find.

I started trolling for them … on Google? Trying to find lists of forums.

I applied for membership to as many as I could … it didn’t matter what they were about, I posted the message there, anyway!

But … the forums were too slow … the constant application process … waiting for an email back before I could log on to them and post the message …

… too slow …

And then it hit me!

Email!

I mean, this all started with email, right?

So, I hit Google again and tried to scrounge up as many email addresses as I possibly could!

Oh, God … ! I just thought … !

My ISP … !

Oh, God … please let me have enough time …!

What if they cut off my access?

They must think I’m a spammer, or something! I mean, I’ve been sending thousands of the things in the last couple of days! That’s gotta be a violation of their Terms of Service, or something! If they …

There’s always the library, I suppose.

Though … not at this time of night …

What about an Internet Café? They might …

… no.

Not in my condition.

They’d want to call an ambulance and I couldn’t let them. Then they’d call the police! Then there’d be no way I could …

But I’ve got to get the message out!

What was I … ?

Oh …

Email.

It all started with email.

I looked on the Internet for email addresses and found some sites with lists! Thousands of them!

Still … even that only took me so far.

I started looking for freeware … open source … programs that would harvest email addresses for me! I had to find as many as I could!

And I did.

But … then I had …

… problems …

I tried copying and pasting this huge list of addresses en masse once I found them, but my computer seized so many times once I hit ‘send’ that I had to resort to copying an individual address and pasting it into the ‘to’ field then sending the message … copying an individual address and pasting it into the ‘to’ field then sending the message …

… copying an individual address and pasting it into the ‘to’ field then sending the message …

Three days I’ve been doing that!

I don’t know …

I don’t remember even getting up from the computer!

Not in three days!

I mean, I must’ve gotten a drink or gone to the toilet, or something. But I can’t remember …

It’s just been panic! Panic and …

… and pain …

Oh, God …

I have to get the message out!

I don’t know why I’m explaining all this … I mean, I’ve got to get the message out … but …
I guess I just thought that … well, since this is my last post …

I’ve got nothing left. No more ideas on where to post.

My blog is it!

I figure that … if … if people knew the story … the story behind the story … I guess they might find it more believable, somehow. I mean …

You’ll all find out soon enough …!

I just … I just wanted people to know that I’d done as much as I could.

I …

I don’t remember where I …

Oh …

See, I’d never tried finding masses of email addresses before! I’d never needed to! I mean, when I started having to do all this, I just tried typing random words into Google, clicking the link on whatever result came up. Then I just looked on the page for an email address! After all, searching on the page for ‘@’ was easy enough …

It … it occurred to me to try some hacking sites, too.

Surely, I thought, surely they’d have a way of harvesting email addresses! That way I could get the message out to as many people as possible!

But … I don’t know … I couldn’t figure them out.

There was mention of some programs, but I couldn’t find them. And I didn’t know how to go looking for them.

I guess I wasn’t ‘in‘ enough to the ‘culture‘, or something.

I thought there’d just be some easy links, you know … ?

I remember this massive panic attack just hitting me, though, because I suddenly thought, ‘Oh, God … what if I pick up a virus from one of these sites?’

What if it ruined my computer?

I couldn’t afford that!

I had to get the message out!

I went … I mean, initially … I tried ringing the media!

But none of them were interested!

Can you believe it?

Not talkback radio, not the TV stations … the newspapers wouldn’t even put me through to someone to talk to! Just the secretary, or whatever, on the front desk!

I even tried some of the magazines that would have been used to this kind of stuff, but even they weren’t interested! I thought sure the conspiracy one would be, but the guy I talked to treated me like I was a lunatic!

Can you believe that I actually tried calling the police?

They just told me to stop wasting their time!

Fine, I thought …

I’ve got the Internet.

This all started with the Internet.

That’s the way I’ll do it …

That didn’t make sense … I’m sorry.

I’m just … it’s just … I’m so tired!

But, God … my heart’s racing, I haven’t stopped sweating … and I can’t slow down my breathing! Three days …

And then there’s the … the r-reason I … the reason I cuh-can’t … tuh-type …

And the …

… the other stuff …

Sorry … I just …

Sorry.

It’s just …

… the pain …

They contacted me, you see?

know …

I sound like a lunatic …

But it’s true!

I don’t know why it was me! Don’t have any idea!

I mean, I’m not important! I’m just an ordinary guy! No wife … no girlfriend, for that matter. No kids. I live alone! I mean, I only even know a handful of people … and I don’t even talk to them all that often.

I’m … quiet!

I’m a clerk, for crying out loud!

I don’t know why they contacted me …

But they did.

And the way they did it … !

I don’t know how …

Hang on …

I’ve gotta calm down. I sound like …

God … I just thought …

How can people believe me if I don’t have some sort of … of evidence …

This isn’t making sense.

And it won’t make any sense!

have no evidence!

Well … aside from what’s …

… what’s happened to …

… muh … me …

I can’t show the original emails.

I can’t show the original emails because they deleted them!

They’re gone!

There’s no trace that they were ever there!

I mean, I’ve gone and looked! Each time, it was just there long enough for me to read it, then …

… gone!

And why do they want us to know, anyway? What kind of sadists let us know they’re coming and don’t care because they know we can’t stop them?!

God …

So tired …

Aaahhhh!!!

Oh, God …

God …

That hurt so much …

I shouldn’t have done that …

But …

… it woke me up …

I just pushed my fingers … clawed my face with my fingers …

I figured the pain would wake me up …

I never knew there could be such pain from having no fingernails …

God … I have to tell …

Okay, then.

Okay …

From the beginning …

It was … it must’ve been …

It must’ve been about three days ago …

I was … contacted.

By computer …

It was an email … an email where the ‘From’ field was blank …

I remember wondering why my anti-spam program hadn’t picked it up – hadn’t filtered it – until I took a closer look at it.

Of course it wouldn’t pick it up.

Like I said, the ‘From’ field was blank.

There was nothing in the ‘Subject’ field, either.

Without anything in either field, my spam-blocker probably couldn’t have registered that there was even an email on my system.

But … it was there.

The date and time were clear as a bell.

Even though the message is gone now – even if I don’t remember exactly when all this started … I do remember that the date and the time were there …

I remember thinking, ‘How could anyone send an email without a return address, let alone anything in the subject line?’ Because there was no return address, either. I mean, didn’t email programs disallow that kind of thing?

I don’t know.

How would I know?

I’d never even tried sending an email with a blank subject line, let alone tried figuring out how I could mask my return address.

I figured it was just some new way the spammers had figured out of getting around spam-blockers, or something.

Anyway …

I opened it …

Now, I’ve gotten some spam in my time. I mean, who hasn’t? And most of ’em were the same kind of thing. Porn. Drugs. Finance tips.

The usual crap.

But I’ve also gotten ones that had nothing but weird text in ’em. Just words strung together. The words were recognizable enough, but they didn’t make any sense. They weren’t a coherent sentence.

At first, I thought this was one of those …

I skimmed over it. I remember wondering what the hell it was all about. I remember thinking that it wasn’t one of those ‘weird text’ messages, after all. There were sentences, but what they were saying was just …

Anyway … I deleted it.

Whatever it was, I wanted to make sure it was gone, so I clicked on my ‘Trash’ folder and emptied that.

It’s funny … although I can’t remember exactly how long ago this all started (three days or four), I do remember all these little details.

I remember swearing because I emptied my trash before I’d had the presence of mind to see if there was anything in the email I could have used to add to my spam filter.

Still … too late.

It was gone.

I was all set to go back to what I was doing (updating my blog), when I heard the chime again.

New email.

And there it was again …

The same message.

The same lack of ‘Subject’ or ‘From’.

Okay … so … I knew there was a message there. And this time I decided to add it to my spam filter.

But the computer wouldn’t let me.

It kept asking me to ‘Please Select a Message’.

I remember getting a little annoyed at it all. I mean, it was taking me away from updating my blog. I’d spent the week in the library studying up on the latest in valid propagation techniques for chrysanthemums and was all set to write it up and post it. Whatever this email business was, it was stopping me from doing that.

Then I thought about my spam filter’s blacklist. I figured, ‘If I can’t automatically add it to my filter … I’ll manually add it’.

But that didn’t work, either.

I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Then it occurred to me that I might have a virus. I mean, my computer was acting weird. Emails with nothing in the ‘From’ or ‘Subject’ fields. The same email popping back up after I’d deleted it. I’d knew enough about computers to know that if my machine was acting weird, then it could be a virus.

So I looked on Google.

But, no matter how many search terms I typed in, though, no matter what pages they took me to, I just couldn’t find anything even remotely similar to the email I’d received.

There was no mention of it on virus alert Websites, nothing in hoax alert Websites …

… just … nothing.

I’d finally gotten curious enough about it all that I decided to forego my blog entry for a while. I mean, this email business was annoying, sure. But it was also intriguing … in an annoying sort of way.

So … I looked on Google to try and see if I could figure out how to determine where an email came from.

I found some interesting articles about ‘spam headers’. Apparently, spammers can fake ‘From’ addresses, so that people can’t track them down (which is actually pretty gutless).

I learned that I could get my email program to display the message headers of an email. I mean, I’d probably know that already if I’d bothered to read the manual.

But I hadn’t.

Anyway, I clicked around a bit and my email program was now showing headers.

I learned that – apparently – the ‘Received’ lines could tell me where a message came from.

‘Apparently’ being the operative word, because there was nothing in the ‘Received’ lines.

My own email address was in the ‘To’ section, but there was absolutely nothing in any line underneath that. All that was there was ‘Received’ … and the rest was a blank. Not even any information about what ‘routers’ the email may have passed through (whatever they were).

Just a blank.

And … when I looked a little closer … even most of the sections after that were all blank.

The ‘Message ID’.

The ‘X-Mailer’.

The ‘Date’ was correct.

And so was the ‘Time’.

But the ‘From’ section was (of course) empty.

The ‘To’ section had my email address (like I said) … but the ‘Subject’ line was blank.

There was information in the ‘Type’ section, but this looked to me like nothing more than information to the computer on how to display the message, because it had the word ‘text’ buried among everything else there.

And I didn’t even know what ‘Content-Transfer-Encoding’ was all about.

I remember getting tired of the whole thing, then. Curious or not, I really just wanted to work on my blog entry.

So (once again) I deleted the message and emptied the trash.

I decided to run a virus scan, too. And I figured I could do that while I went down the road to get some tea.

When I got back, the test had finished.

No Virus Has Been Detected.

‘Good’, I thought, and sat back down to get to work.

And the email was back.

growled at it and deleted it, same as before.

emptied the trash and sat back to look at the screen …

… and it returned.

So I deleted it again.

Then emptied the trash.

Again.

And again the chime informed me that I had email!

‘God’, I thought.

‘Fine … I’ll just print the thing out and show it to the tech guys at work. See what they think of it’.

Which was good in theory, except for the fact that nothing printed.

The computer said it was printing the message. And I looked in the ‘Printer Properties’ information, which told me that there was a document printing …

… but nothing was coming through the printer but blank paper.

‘Fine’, I thought.

‘I’ll reply‘.

Now, all the Websites I’d looked at about spam and emails and such said to never reply to spam, because it only lets the spammer know that your email address is active. But this was really starting to annoy me, and a sarcastic reply to whoever it was might just make me feel better. If nothing else.

Of course, I didn’t think that it would send (what, with no return address and suchlike).

Still, I fired off a quick, sarcastic reply, and was surprised when the computer told me that it had been sent successfully!

Nevertheless, I expected to later get an email back from my ISP’s mail ‘daemon’ saying that the mail could not be delivered.

In any case, I felt a little better because of my act of petty revenge.

Even if it probably wouldn’t work.

And then …

… and then the fish happened …

That doesn’t make sense …

What happened was …

I remember this sound …

This small hissing noise.

I was trying to work out where it was coming from …

It was only this small hissing noise … but it was getting louder.

And then there were these … bubbling sounds.

Just a few at first, but then really getting going. Like water boiling in a saucepan … but louder …

… like more water than would fit in a saucepan …

Then the smell hit me …

I knew then that it was something to do with the fish tank. It was this smell of … of salt, somehow (even though it wasn’t a saltwater tank) … of boiled plant-matter and rocks …

… and something else.

I got up and went into the lounge room, but I stopped before I managed to get too near the fish tank …

There was no reason for it … there was no heater in the tank (goldfish don’t really need one).

But still …

… my goldfish was being boiled alive right in front of me.

I didn’t relate the two events – the spam and my goldfish being boiled alive – until later.

My feet started shuffling forward again, even though I could see just fine what was happening without the need to get any closer, really. The water was outright boiling in front of me as I approached, and I knew that it wasn’t some sort of malfunction with the air stone (not that that could account for the mass of bubbles in the tank), because I could feel the heat growing as I moved closer.

When I’d nearly reached the tank, the boiling suddenly stopped. Not petered out. Just stopped. As though someone had lifted a pot of boiling water from the stove.

The water was full of … particulate matter … whirling about in the eddies caused by the boiling. But through it I could see something else …

Scales floating around the tank and sinking …

… and what was left of my goldfish.

Waterlogged flesh that seemed somehow whiter than before.

I recognized cooked fish when I saw it.

I was reasonably upset. I mean, Rex was just a goldfish, but I’d had him for nearly ten years.

Gingerly, I reached down to poke at Rex’s remains, but I stopped just before I could touch the still-steaming water.

Thinking there had been some sort of electrical problem with the light above the tank somehow, I turned it off at the wall.

There was this huge bang as the tank cracked with the heat all of a sudden and boiling water, the remains of Rex, cooked aquarium plants and hot sand all burst onto the floor, sending this steaming wave of heat and smell throughout the house.

If I hadn’t been off to the side turning off the switch at the wall …

For … I don’t know … half a minute, or something … I just stood there, looking at it all. The heat and the smell and the humidity all pushed up at me. My eyes were watering from it. But also because I was looking at this little boiled lump on the carpet that used to be Rex.

And then I heard the computer.

The chime again.

More email.

But this one was different.

Oh … same lack of information about who it was from …

… but the content was different.

Do as we say.

“I’ve got neither the time nor the inclination to deal with this crap”, I told the sender (well, the computer screen, anyway), and turned around to head back into the lounge to see what I could do about cleaning up …

… see what I could do about figuring out just why it happened, too. How …

I hadn’t gone more than two steps when the computer chimed again.

The water was an example.

Do as we say.

Spread the message.

Of course, now I saw a connection. I didn’t understand it, but I saw a connection. Somehow, the email and what had just happened with Rex …

I felt the first twinge of fear …

But I felt angry, too. Was this some sort of some sort of hoax?

But … how could anyone do that? How could anyone …

It was like one of those movies where there’s a person on the phone and he knows what the girl in the house is doing because he’s in there with her …

I started looking through my house …

The lounge and dining room and kitchen are all open plan, so it was easy to see there was nobody there. I looked in one bedroom, then the other, then the laundry and the bathroom. Then the toilet.

Nothing.

My only clue was the email …

The water was an example.

Do as we say.

Spread the message.

I got a response before, despite the fact that there was no return address. So I send a reply back again. And this time, my language was a bit more … colourful.

I don’t normally use such heavy language, but I was beginning to feel a bit stressed.

Almost instantly, whoever it was sent a reply back …

Spread the message!

I replied with two words that weren’t very nice …

… and every houseplant I owned burst into flame.

I don’t know how it happened, but I had more than a few, in most of the rooms in the house. Fortunately, I’ve also got a fire extinguisher, and I grabbed it and ran around madly putting them all out.

With smoke and steam and clouds of foam or dust or whatever from the extinguisher all over the place, I stood there wondering just what the hell was happening.

It wasn’t some sort of electrical fault. It wasn’t some sort of spontaneous combustion. I mean, I’ve heard of potting mix that can do that, but I didn’t use that kind. There simply wasn’t any logical reason why every single plant I owned would just …

An email chime …

Spread the message.

I dropped the extinguisher and stepped over to the computer. I’d read descriptions in novels before about people walking with ‘wooden steps’ because they were afraid.

Now I knew what the writers had meant.

I reached over and started tapping the keys with shaking hands.

“Please … who is this?”

I hit send.

You have been toldOur message must be sent out.

I spoke at the monitor, then – at the computer.

Of course, I didn’t expect an answer …

… but I got one.

“But … why pick me? Why … “

And I felt … I felt my insides heat up …

The pain …

I’d never felt anything like it.

I fell on the floor and just shook with the pain. I was convulsingFrothy spit was throwing itself out of my mouth.

I couldn’t even scream.

And then …

… just as suddenly as it had happened …

… it stopped.

Now, this was all happening so fast – everything was such a blur – that I was … well, I was overwhelmed.

But I’m not a fool.

I could see the connection for sure now. The connection between … between the … the worsening events …and the demand for me to get their message out.

So …

… I tried to leave.

Dreading another attack of whatever it was that had caused that agony, I shuffled over to the front door.

I reached out …

… and the door handle melted just as my hand touched it.

I can’t describe just how much …

… just how much it hurt …

In a panic – without knowing what I was doing – I headed for the front window, looking as I did so at the bubbling globs of flesh being flung from my hand to the carpet by the shaking of my hand that the pain caused.

With my other hand, I tried to open the window …

… but the lock didn’t seem to work.

I didn’t know what I was doing – I was moving on autopilot – as I picked up the small side-table near my recliner in one hand and tried to smash the window with it.

The table bounced off the window and smashed me right in the mouth, instead.

And there was nothing – not so much as a mark – on the window.

It wasn’t ‘special’ glass. I knew that. I’d paid for it.

It was just glass.

It should have broken and I should have been able to get out.

But it hadn’t …

… and I couldn’t.

The police …

I tried to call the police.

When I picked up the phone, there was a normal dial tone once I’d held the receiver up to my ear …

… for about a second and a half.

Then the most ear-splitting (I realize how that sounds but it’s true) sound I’d ever heard came through the line.

I fell to the floor, shaking.

What was happening?!

My ear felt wet.

With the hand that wasn’t burned, I reached up to my ear …

My fingers came away covered with blood.

I wasn’t game to use my mobile.

But I did know that I could send out a call for help with email …

I ran over to the computer and typed as fast as the pain would let me …

As soon as I touched the mouse to hit ‘send’ I found myself flat on my back.

I’d felt jolts of electricity before. In school there was some sort of generator that you could wind that produced electricity. I’d also touched an electric fence (for cattle) back when I was young and stupid.

knew what electricity felt like.

I remember I just lay there, whimpering. I was looking around wildly …

… waiting for something else to happen.

I was racked with more pain than I’d ever known, and it had come in less that two or three minutes …!

But I noticed above it all the aches in my fingers …

And in my mouth.

With the hand that wasn’t burnt, I dry washed my face, running it up into my hair in fear and exasperation …

… and pulled out some clumps.

It was while I was looking at these that I noticed my fingernails …

They were coming off.

When I started to speak – to say, “What the … ?” – I could feel …

… I could feel a looseness in my mouth …

Wisps of bloody hair between my shaking fingers, fingernails dropping off before my eyes, I nevertheless reached up to my mouth …

… and when I pushed against it …

… I felt some of my teeth plop back onto my tongue.

I opened my mouth to scream …

… but all that came out was a wheeze …

… and blood …

… and teeth.

I don’t remember standing up and running to the bathroom, but I do remember suddenly seeing myself in the mirror.

Blood was coming from my mouth, my ears, my nose.

From the corners of my eyes.

Instinctively, I reached out to turn on the tap. Somehow, some part of me figured that water would cool the pain …

… but all I got for my trouble was another email chime.

Spread the message.

Or it will grow worse for you.

Worse?”, I screamed at the computer. “How can it possible get any worse?!”

And it answered me … by email … without me having sent a reply email.

Truly scared now in the face of the unknown – more frightened that I’d ever felt in my life, actually – like a robot, I sat at the computer …

and did as they told me to.

And now – three days later … three days of mopping blood from every orifice when I had to go to the toilet – three days of swallowing blood along with the few sips of water I’d somehow managed to keep down – three days of vomiting blood, losing all my hair, feeling blood cake on me, watching my fingernails completely drop off and the remainder of my teeth fall out – three days of panic and terror and anxiety and fear and desperation and …

I came to the last thing I could think of to do …

My blog.

And now … now I can barely speak, my throat’s so raw.

Now … now I’m having trouble even seeing the screen …

Now … I’m having trouble even breathing …

The message:

They said that they were the original creators of humanity.

That mankind began as an experiment.

But enough time had gone by.

And now the experiment was over.

And it was time to collect the results.

They’d arrive in a little over three days, they said, to collect such specimens of humanity as they deemed fit.

Thousands – perhaps millions – would be collected from all over the planet for vivisection.

There would be no pattern to the collections – mothers would be taken from children, husbands from wives, sisters from brothers, children from parents – at random – from all corners of the globe.

Those chosen would simply appear to disappear.

I don’t know why they told me to spread the message. I don’t know why they decided to even send a message in the first place. I don’t even know who they are.

But I do know that they must be more sadistic that I can possibly imagine …

… and more powerful.

They’re telling us this … they’re letting us know …

… and they don’t care if we’re prepared for them or not …

… because they know that nothing we can do will stop them.

God …

I’m amazed that I can still think now … now that my body – my mind – is failing me … like it’s been steadily doing – I realize now – since I’d received the first email …

Nevertheless, now that the message is finally out …

… I can try and figure out just how long it’s been since everything started …

… but …

… but now I can hear …

… distantly …

… through my impossibly unbreakable windows and my inexplicably sealed doors …

… the screaming begin outside.

Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
5,336 Words

This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.

Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might … you never can tell).

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Strange Behaviours (A Short Story written with Brad Mengel)

THE ANTHROPOLOGY PROFESSOR rubbed his eyes. He had been working for some time and needed a break. Stretching, he stood up.

“Ahh”, he sighed, as life surged back into his restive muscles.

“Ah, well”, he thought with a twinge of resignation. “Back to it”.

A sudden chime from the door broke him out of his reflective mood.

“Come in”, he called, pleased at the timely interruption.

The door slid open to admit the post-graduate student who’s doctoral thesis the professor had been facilitating.

Smiling at both the pleasure of the interruption as well as at seeing a favoured student back from a potentially dangerous field study, the professor greeted her.

“Ahh … how did your expedition go?”

“Very well, thank you, professor”.

Never one for prevarication, the student continued.

“There may be some small doubts as to the validity of my research due to my presence possibly affecting the behaviours of the people I’ve been studying. But I’ve managed to gather some fascinating notes”.

“I collated them on the trip home, sir, and I’d appreciate it if you’d read them and make any suggestions … to help with my thesis”.

Receiving the notes, the professor motioned the student to sit. He returned to his work area and began to read over them.

What appears to be a common religion amongst the subjects is – naturally enough for many primitive cultures – sun worship. Participants travel to their open-air temples during varying rest periods and religious festivals. These worshippers wear special clothing of shifting design, the males usually opting for groin-hugging briefs and the females mostly choosing either one or two-piece fabrics of similar multiple designs, colours and closeness. With very few exceptions, and regardless of the tone of the epidermis of these people, the subjects smear themselves with an unknown grease-based substance for reasons I have yet to completely discern.

Insofar as this application of the undetermined grease-based substance, my theory is that it is these people’s belief that the sun god apparently shows its pleasure and displeasure by turning the skin of faithful a darker colour and leaving the unfaithful undarkened, or reddened (sometimes painfully so). Presumably this is some sort of psychosomatic reaction occurring due to their belief-level (or lack thereof).

Worshippers apparently exercise their faith by throwing themselves onto specially-prepared and decorated prayer rugs. Some read what appear to be religious texts, although the contents of these texts seem to vary from individual to individual. Others indulge in what appears to be a form of icon worship. Sometimes by twos, other times as part of a larger group, these individuals take a flat disk and hurl it between them. Seemingly less strict than other facets of sun-worship, catching the disk is greeted by sounds of approval and failing to catch the disk appears to be greeted by hoots of derision.

Another test of faith for the worshippers seems to be pitting the sun god against the water god (perhaps this is some sort of cleansing ritual). En masse, worshippers hurl themselves into the nearby water, sometimes clutching large boards, other times clutching boards half the size of the larger ones. Still, other times they enter the water bereft of board support. Ultimately, they return to the land, seeming proof that the sun god has protected them. In most cases, this appears to produce joy amongst the worshippers.

There appears to be another facet to the above-mentioned sun god/water god test insofar as priests of the sun-god religion, who wear unusual form-fitting types of head dress, define where the worshippers should enter the water:

There are – on occasion – instances wherein some subtle aspect of the ritual appears not to have been applied by those in the water. On such occasions, the priests dive into the water, make their way over to the obviously-distressed worshipper and forcibly remove them from the water. Perhaps religious fervour has overcome them, for some among the priests bend and kiss the prone worshippers repeatedly, until the worshipper returns to normal, sitting up with a bewildered look crossing their face, or being taken away in a conveyance that ultimately arrives, perhaps to sequester them for monastic contemplation of their texts (undetermined as yet). Large crowds gather and appear solemn at such a prospect.

The above-mentioned culture is unusual in that – unlike many primitive cultures – it appears as though they have more than one organized religion. This, however, is by no means certain.

The reason for this uncertainty is exacerbated by the possibility that the other two religions may, in fact, be sub-sects of the above-mentioned sun-worshippers. I will give descriptions of these and you may decide for yourself.

Both of these other two religions (or, perhaps, sub-sects of the one religion) appear to revolve around an organized combat ritual (perhaps a past battle recreation). Both involve a rounded ceremonial object (though both are different sizes and shapes), possibly an icon of some description ( – related to the above-mentioned disk? – ) and many stick-like objects seemingly used as the focus of these religions (altars?)

The first of these two rituals involves two selected tribes of males who stage battles with one another over the possession of an oval-shaped icon. The tribes then attempt to place said icon between two large poles set vertically into the ground at either end of the arena (the altar). During this time, the opposing tribe attempts to stop them, frequently tackling and bringing to ground the worshipper holding the icon. Throughout the ceremony, members of the tribes appear to take turns placing the icon between the posts of their opposing altars.

Unlike the sun worshippers, there are thousands upon thousands of non-combatants who cheer on the members of each tribe as their battle recreation is played out upon the holy ground the festival is celebrated upon.

After a certain period of time, the festival ends, only to begin again after approximately seven days. This cyclical pattern suggests the possibility that this festival may, in fact, represent some sort of fertility rite. This theory is supported by the fact that the festivals are held during the local winter, suggesting that those involved are preparing for the traditionally-fertile time of spring/summer.

It is during the local summer that the ritual displays/festivals change dramatically. Non-combatant attendance varies dramatically. While the majority of rituals in the above-mentioned examples are enacted at night under the glow of ceremonial lighting, the below-mentioned rituals/festivals are enacted during either the day or the night.
Perhaps this ritual/festival is a combination of the sun-worshipping religion first mentioned, due to the fact that the vast majority of observance of this ritual takes place during local day.

Seemingly less battle-oriented than the winter-based festivals, this rite nevertheless involves ceremonially-garbed tribes in apparent opposition to one another. A rectangular path appears to be the focus of the ritual, and this is edged by three vertical sticks embedded into the ground on either side of the rectangle. Said sticks have two smaller sticks balanced horizontally across them.

An icon is again used, though this is a small hand-held sphere. In recreating this battle (or performing this worship), the sphere is aimed at the vertical and horizontal sticks in an attempt to dislodge the horizontal sticks.

Said sticks on either end of the rectangular altar are ‘protected’ by members of the tribes carrying large, flattened sticks, with which they deflect the sphere as it is hurled towards the vertical and horizontal sticks. These ‘protectors’ are garbed in padded uniforms that vary markedly.

During the local day festivals, the protectors often dress solely in white – as do all members on the holy ground the festival is celebrated upon, and such occasions can last nearly a local week. However, on occasion, observances which begin during the day continue into the local night, and on these occasions the participants are garbed in colours representing each tribe. Again, at night, the same glow of ceremonial lighting is utilized, indicating a link with the first-mentioned sun worship religion. Perhaps the alterations of colouring indicate a more intense form of worship/belief.

In either variety of the ceremony – day or night – other members of the tribes attempt to catch the sphere that is deflected by the stick of the protectors. If said sphere is caught, the protector leaves – perhaps judged unworthy to protect the altar – and is replaced by another of their tribe. When this has occurred many times, the tribes appear to change roles.

However, the vast majority of occasions that the protector deflects the sphere from the vertical and horizontal sticks evinces members chasing the sphere as it rolls along the ceremonial grounds, whereupon they stop its forward-momentum and attempt to hurl it back in the direction of the rectangular altar.

Standing behind the sticks, another member of the opposing tribe catches the sphere and attempts to strike the vertical and horizontal sticks with it. During this, the protector mystifyingly runs from one set of vertical and horizontal sticks – along the rectangular altar – to the vertical and horizontal sticks on the other side of the rectangular altar. Perhaps this is a test of faith, as – on most occasions – the protector arrives close enough to the vertical and horizontal sticks that the member of the opposing tribe whom catches the sphere stops themselves from striking the vertical and horizontal sticks.

On occasion, the sphere is struck by the protector hard enough that it sails into the hands of one of the many thousands of non-combatants, an occurrence that is greeted with much approval.

The professor looked up when he had finished reading the notes. The look upon his student’s face prompted discussion.

“I have more information, but that’s what I’ve collated so far … ”

“Naturally”, the professor said.

“You will”, he continued, “have to be cautious about your interpretations of these observations. The academic board has lately been clamping down on papers that have an obvious cultural bias to them”.

“Well, you taught us that it was impossible to give a completely objective view of any culture”, the student replied.

“True”, countered the professor. “But I also taught that it s possible to minimize your subjectivity”.

“I’ve already lost this debate in your tutorials, so I hope we can change the topic”, the student said good-naturedly.

“Okay”, the professor smiled, and sat back in his chair.

“What do you intend to call your thesis?”

“I’ve been considering something like, ‘Religious Practices of Humanoid Tribespeople of the Australian Continent – A Study in The Beach, Rugby League and Cricket’”.

“A trifle derivative”, the professor judged, “but serviceable, Q’rly”.

“By the way”, he added …

” … I trust the trip back from Earth wasn’t too tiring?”

Copyright © 2007 by Brad Mengel and David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
1,772 Words

This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of our imaginations or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.

Please don’t assume that our characters speak for us or carry our own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might … you never can tell).