The gods’ house was unguarded. Toima knew this was unthinkable; it was the blood-duty of a single warrior to guard it from sun’s rise to twilight. Yet before her the house stood, a strange and unnatural structure rising out of the forest like a gigantic metallic mushroom, its tarnished, ovoid body perched atop a perfect cube of white stone. No one present. Beside the featureless metal door in one side of the cube-base, the place where the warrior always sat was shockingly empty.
I shouldn’t be here. The truth of the statement echoed in Toima’s every bone, and she clutched the clay water-pot closer to her thin chest. She had been going to the springs, like she did every day to fetch water for her mother. One could glimpse the top of the gods’ house from the path, but not since she was very small had she sneaked away, through thickets and cane-brakes, to peek at the house. It was improper. Everyone knew the gods did not want humans interfering in their affairs. Therefore, the house was guarded. Why had she risked discovery to spy on the place now?
But there hadn’t been a guard today. And Toima did not like the fluttering of temptation in her stomach.
“Why is no one allowed into the gods’ house?” she had asked her mother when she was younger and more ignorant.
“It is forbidden,” came the reply. “Long ago, the gods deemed it improper for the unclean to come into their homes. And so we have obeyed them ever since.”
“But the gods vanished many generations ago,” Toima had said.
“It changes nothing. An immortal god’s rule may not be changed by humans. We do not speculate why they chose to leave us, but their laws will stand forever. Why all these questions?”
Toima had given no answer. She could not explain to herself her fascination with the gods. But her ears had been open to tales of them and their house in the forest. One of those stories she now recalled: an anecdote used by elders to impress upon children the sanctity of the gods’ house. Many years past, the tale went, two boys chanced to find the gods’ house unguarded, and commenced—as boys would—throwing stones at it. The rocks ricocheted off the walls with a noise like the striking of a gong. At last one boy hurled an ill-aimed rock, and it crashed through one of the oval windows ringing the top of the house. The building began to howl, whooping and shrieking so loudly that the din was heard in the village. In terror the boys fled. They confessed their sins in the village circle, and were beaten to death there for the offense. On festival nights, when all sat around a bonfire on the hard-beaten dirt of the dancing-ground, an ancient woman had recited the story to Toima and her friends. “The house’s scream! It sounded like a giant beast. A noise like death! It yanked your heart into your throat and made your skin feel like it was crawling off your body and running far away. Do not go near the gods’ house!” the crone had warned. Continue reading