Part Three: As the Curses Rage
I waited outside in the Osminog costume. Blue had said that today was the day, that Chirchirrup was well and had spent enough time praying to the Protector.
The Osminog leather smelled strange. It wasn’t quite like bull leather or even alligator, but something else. It felt thin and supple, seemed almost translucent as I let it hang over my legs, stooping so that the forward legs covered my arms. I waited for Chirchirrup, watching the house and the smoke that came up from the fire. I heard the door open, the chirping of Osminog muffled by the blizzard, and picked my head up. Looking through the nearly translucent lid where the Osminog’s eye used to be, I saw Chirchirrup coming toward me.
Chirchirrup, dressed in clothing that Blue had given her, trudged through the snow. She would see the lights of the fires around me, the torches well wrapped in moss and dipped in fat from the dead Osminog. The flames would burn bright, alluring.
She did step forward, cracking open the jar of jam I knew Blue wouldn’t have been able to send her away without. I watched, seeing her place the jam on each of her tentacles when she got close, drawing herself prostrate on the snow and closing her eyes.
“Holy Protector!” she cried.
I looked down at her. She was as devout as Blue had been when I’d first met her, but young and influential rather than old and feared. I kept myself from saying anything with my vocal chords and, still bent over, brought my gloves into the torso portion of my costume. It was a bad costume, barely fitting, but the Osminog didn’t seem to have a good grasp of what was real and what wasn’t.
“Do not fall down and worship me; save that for the God that matters,” I said. She opened her eyes a peek, looking up at me. “I am but a messenger, the Protector has heard your prayers. Listen well, for I will only tell you this once.”
I stepped forward a little bit, flopping the leg skin as best I could. Chirchirrup wasn’t entirely impressed, but she wasn’t frightened by me, either, as I used the tentacle palm to grab up one of the four torches nearest me. Four was an important number to the Osminog, it seemed.
“I will do as you say, oh messenger,” she said, closing her eyes again.
“No – keep them open,” I instructed. “You need to see as well as hear in order to follow my directives.”
I handed her the torch and, as soon as her tentacle had grabbed the thing, backed away to the middle of the three remaining torches. It was awkward not turning around as I moved, but it would be something the Osminog would point out as too strange to deal with. They didn’t turn, just changed which face they interpreted as front.
“This is fire, given to you to control. You should have listened to your mother when she told you that the curse is not from the Protector, but is instead many predators eating the Osminog from the inside out. Once inside an Osminog, these predators cannot be killed, but must only run their course. Giving water, food, and warmth will help cursed Osminog survive the attack, but the one who cares for the cursed Osminog runs the risk of being the next victim. Keeping barriers between you and a cursed Osminog will reduce the likelihood of the curse being passed.
“But that can be developed later. For now, the important part is that your need for warmth is killing you. The dead contain these little predators, and until you get rid of them, the predators will live amongst you. Take this fire and bring it to your people. If the fire is seeming to die out, touch it to some dry moss until it spreads. Wrap moss around sticks to make a new fire carrier. Letting the fire die out will mean you have lost faith in the gods and your people will die.”
Chirchirrup clung to every word, blinking as she thought hard about what I said.
“Take the fire to your people and build a great nest, made of moss and twigs, then touch the fire to the nest. Once the nest is blazing, toss the dead into it. You will find the fire warms you, just as it is for your mother now, and will continue to burn wood. Keep the fire fed and the winter will not harm you.”
I fell to my stomach, digging in the snow and covering myself up as quickly as I could, leaving the skin above the snow. I heard Chirchirrup come forward a couple steps, squealing when she saw the skin.
“Protector!?” she called out. “Protector – what has happened?!”
I remained under the snow, hoping she would think the god gone and leave. I couldn’t remain in this position for long, not as cold as it was.
“Protector… I will do as you say. I will go back to my people and show them fire!”
I covered my face, wishing that I hadn’t done what I had just did.
Chirchirrup walked away, though, and so I popped my head up from the snow. I saw her go back to the cabin and, for a few minutes, talk to Blue. I heard the clicking and chirping and, while they were distracted, far enough away in the snowstorm not to see my dark figure moving, I took the three torches and tipped them upside down in the snow to douse them. I laid the sticks down in the snow, covering them and the signs that they had existed before hiding back under the skin.
Chirchirrup, upon focusing a face pointing toward me, did seem to notice the lack of lights, but didn’t come near. I was glad – water was starting to come through my clothes and freeze me. The extra layer of the costume had provided some additional protection and warmth, but it wasn’t very much.
Chirchirrup gone, I took my skin over my head and booked it back to my house. I climbed up the ladder and went into my outdoor hatch, pulling off the wet clothes quickly and laying on my warm floor.
“Thank you, floor,” I whispered, my skin against the warm wood. I placed my Osminog skin on the floor near me, water dripping off it, and pulled myself forward to the hatch where I knew Blue would be waiting. I propped the hatch open with my plastic, noting that it was starting to wear where I used it to so often keep the door open. Perhaps I needed something more permanent.
“Creature?” Blue asked. She was, just as I had expected, waiting just below for me to return. “Creature – you have done something amazing. My daughter said a messenger of the Protector told her how to save her tribe.”
I smiled. “Good! I’m glad that they’ll survive.”
Blue looked at me with more seriousness now. “She said she saw the messenger, told me of its visage. It was you, wasn’t it?”
I moved to sit next to the hatch. “Yes, of course it was. I have a pretty good idea of how to save your people, and this was the only way I could think of to do it. So I was a messenger and told her how to do it. And now, I assume, all my people will die. You’re welcome, Blue!”
Blue shook. “No – no, I didn’t mean it that way. I am grateful, Creature, eternally so. But, you see, when you told me you were not a god, you didn’t tell me what you actually were. My daughter saw you, Creature, and told me what your visage was. I’m sorry I’ve disbelieved you, Creature. I should have been listening to a messenger of the Protector.”
I was satisfied, at first, with letting Blue think that of me, but then I started and shook my head. “No, no, I’m not doing this again,” I declared.
“She said she saw a torn and mangled Osminog, one with eyes closed as if in death, that almost floated over the surface of the snow. You’re an ancestor! An ancestor that has lived with the Protector and has been sent from her realm to come protect those left behind! One that has sacrificed so much should not be so poorly treated by one such as me!”
I put my face almost right up against the crack and argued, “No, Blue – that’s not what I meant. I’m not a divine creature at all, Blue. I’m not. I don’t want to lie to you about it, even if I had to lie to Chirchirrup so she wouldn’t run from me.”
Blue seemed confused. “Then… then are you a soul escaped from the Predator’s realm?”
“No, Blue,” I said. “I am… I am an Osminog, but not an Osminog. Evidently, now that I’ve forsaken my people and they’re either all dead or the predators of my people have stopped caring, I’m here to help you all. Perhaps I am working for the Protector, in a way, but it’s not with her explicit permission. It’s because I want to help you, Blue, because you’re my friend. So leave it at that… I’m your friend, but I’m not divine.”
Blue sat on the mud. “Then why show your visage to my daughter, who is not your friend, long before you’ve shown yourself to me?” she asked.
I hadn’t thought of this predicament. She was right. How was I going to get out of this?
“She didn’t see my true visage. She saw a lie.”
Blue seemed disappointed. “A lie? What do you mean?”
“I pretended to look like an Osminog and, evidently, Chirchirrup believed me. I used to lie to you when you thought I was a god, now I lied to her and she thought I was one of the gods’ messengers,” I said.
Blue, in all her scorn, said, “Lies are the realm of the God of Preadators.”
I held myself still. I had to do what I had done. “I just helped your daughter, saved your tribe, at the risk of my entire people and you do this? You thank me by telling me that I’m a messenger or… or something from the god you hate? What was I supposed to do, lie to you now, too?”
“You didn’t need to lie to her! How can I know what you say is the truth?” she asked.
She had me. I’d lied so much, even if a lot of it was half-lies. But, at the same time, there was no physical way to tell the truth in the Osminog language.
“When you can call me friend, you’ll know why I can’t tell you the truth all the time. It’s not because I don’t want to, it’s because I can’t. It’s an impossibility.”
She went over to her bed. “Like I thought: a predator.”
“No – no, I’m not!” I shouted. “Look… what would convince you otherwise?”
Blue laid down. “I don’t know. I’m feeling pretty tired now, Creature. Or Messenger. Or Predator. Whatever you are.”
I tapped the floor, thinking. I realized what had caused the conversation in the first place and looked at the Osminog skin. It was jealousy.
“What if I let you see me in the same form as I let your daughter see?” I asked.
She closed her eyes as she laid in her bed. “That’s still a lie.”
“But… but I’m afraid you won’t like me anymore if you see what I actually look like,” I said.
“Then show me tomorrow, see what happens. Think about it tonight, creature. We’ll have the time and I will convince you to show yourself.”
Blue was wrong. I knew the Osminog; they’d starve another one of their species just because their spots were of another pattern. They’d forget who their own mothers were just because the spots had disappeared from their skin. She’d see me and really would run out in the snow to die.
Before I could argue, though, Blue was asleep. I went back to my own pallet and laid down, ready to think about Blue’s proposal.