Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Love is Sacrifice. Please enjoy.
The rain always makes me nostalgic. It reminds me of Joelle Iphigenia, the only woman I ever truly loved.
It was such a simple gesture. When I realized I no longer felt the heavy drops of rain falling upon my head, I looked down to see beautiful azure eyes, braided auburn hair, and a petite hand holding an umbrella over my head.
Unlike other students, my extracurricular activities did not take place on campus. It required a bus trip to and from the university as my current financial situation afforded me little better than public transportation.
I neglected to bring an umbrella. I had enough room in that bag I carried even with the change of clothes I stored but I felt at the time that a true native of Washington State should not even deign to protect himself from the rain. Now I carry one with me wherever I go.
She asked me why I didn’t sit in the shelter with the other men, opting to instead freeze in the rain. Originally from Olympia far south of Seattle, Joelle was just a freshman. She was ignorant of my sullied reputation.
I told her the truth. It was a religious dispute of sorts. The men and I had a discussion of my religious beliefs and they were dismissive, mocking, and told me in no uncertain terms that my views were “insane”. After that, I had no interest in waiting in the shelter with such bigots.
“Would you like to talk about it more over some coffee?” I asked simply seeking an opportunity to preach and convert. I had no ulterior motives in mind.
She misunderstood me. Joelle thought that I wanted to ask her out on a date which she immediately accepted. It was the most serendipitous mistake I ever made.
Not that our first date went without a hitch. Whenever I brought up the topic of religion, of the important of the work my congregation was doing, not just for us but for the world at large, she diverted the conversation elsewhere. She was not a religious woman, far from it. An agnostic she called herself, though it’d be more accurate to say she was completely indifferent to the idea of there being greater powers.
“I’ve heard about them all,” she would say cutting me off, “And I have come to one conclusion. Either all religions are correct or none of them are. It doesn’t affect me one way or another, so why should I care?”
Joelle peppered me with questions about my life, my past, and my hopes and dreams. Not that there was much to tell. My mother died shortly after childbirth. My father disappeared not long after. Raised by inattentive grandparents, I received little love at home or at school. I had grown up alone, an outcast. This all changed when I found the congregation.
“There you go talking about religion again. I understand it’s important to you, but can’t we talk about something else?” It was amazing that we even got past our first date.
Perhaps it was loneliness. In spite my muscular build and boxed military cut, I did not receive a lot of feminine attention. Not that I was seeking it too strongly. My religious obligations demanded most of my time.
Yet, there was definitely a void in my life. Our scriptures preach the importance of marriage. My lack of wife did make me feel like a less devoted disciple. Perhaps it was just a matter of filling the spiritual vacuum that consumed me.
No, that’s not true. I have a tendency to downplay her radiance, her magnanimity, the simple beauty of her mere smile in an effort to sedate my tumultuous emotional distress. Everything about her was perfect. I loved her so much that I almost wish I never met her.
She understood me as she too came from a broken home. Her mother was promiscuous to put it politely. Joelle never knew her real father though there were several candidates. Mind you, her alabaster skin ruled out several men but she was never able to narrow it down to a single candidate. My beloved was the youngest of three sisters, well, half-sisters at least.
Unlike her other siblings, she worked hard to break the cycle and ensure she didn’t become a statistic. She managed to avoid drugs and bad influences, instead opting to take her studies seriously so that she would be able to make it to university.
Joelle admitted that part of her ability to concentrate on her studies was spurred on by her desire of simply avoiding home. At times she’d even go so far as spending the night a sympathetic teacher’s house in order to avoid finding her mother with yet another paramour who would often set his sights on her or her sisters while Joelle’s mother was asleep.
It was for her strength of character that I immediately felt in love. In spite of everything, she persevered and met adversity with a smile. Her experiences would have broken a lesser woman. Instead, she excelled, a scholar as well as a cheerleader, the most popular girl in her school, a friend to everyone, and the valedictorian of her class. The full ride scholarship was just her latest achievement.
We continued dating after that after that night, through the entirety of my senior year and the rest of her collegiate career. Even after I had taken that job at a local tech company, our love continued to blossom. The two of us shared many moments under that umbrella throughout those magical years.
To this day I’m not sure why she loved a man like me. I was and frankly still am a rigid sort, never one to smile, quite solemn and serious. Joelle told me I made her laugh though it only seemed to happen when it wasn’t my intention.
I proposed to her shortly after she graduated and to my utter surprise, she accepted. We were married the next spring. The three years we spent together were bliss, though that is not to say we never had any conflicts.
One of the biggest points of contention was, perhaps unsurprisingly, my religious convictions and her lack of them. I was an avid believer, more so than the average parishioner. I would spend up to five days a week going to temple. No matter how much I begged Joelle to go with me, she utterly refused, and chastised me for going so often.
She knew how passionate I was while we were dating, of course, but she was under the notion that my attendance would lessen after marriage. Joelle had hoped that I would have other things on my mind. However, it was quite the contrary. If anything, my attendance had increased.
Often she’d be quite incensed that I’d choose the temple over a social activity that she had planned with another couple. This dispute of ours would practically define our first year of marriage.
Eventually, I acquiesced. After all, love is sacrifice. Marriage is about giving up our selfish desires for the sake of another. Giving up some desires, anyway. And I feel ‘selfish’ is inaccurate and harsh too.
Regardless, to preserve our marriage I was willing to spend less time at the temple and more time with the one I love. I reduced the number of visits to one a week, on Sunday, “like a normal person” as my wife put it.
The leadership of my temple were hardly ecstatic when I explained that my attendance would drop dramatically. I had become the proverbial pillar of the organization and my absence would surely be missed. However, they also understood. Our religion stressed the importance of love and matrimony above all else. If reducing my participation would preserve my marriage, than it had to be done.
Our marriage was wonderful for the next couple of years. We enjoyed every moment we had together. I felt joy like I had never felt before. Being home more often did wonders.
That that is not to say that I abandoned trying to get my wife to join me in my weekly religious excursions. Naturally she continued to refuse no matter how much I begged.
In the spring of our third year of wedded bliss, just a week before our anniversary, I was finally able to convince her to join me.
My congregation’s most sacred event was approaching, the sacrificium est dilectio, an event that happened only once every ten years. Every married couple of the congregation needed to attend that night. Participation was mandatory.
Joelle initially was hardly amenable to the idea of going when I brought it up to her. We had a heated discussion of the matter, though I must admit it would be more accurate to say that I spoke calmly while she exploded with rage.
Hardly raising my voice at all, I explained that this wasn’t like the other times I asked her to join me in the temple. This event only occurred once a decade. Most likely all she would have to do is stand and wait which was hardly an unreasonable request. After much cajoling, she eventually and reluctantly agreed to join me. Joelle was never an unreasonable woman.
The battle wasn’t over, though. Attendees were required to wear the congregation’s finest robes. I had procured one for my wife shortly after our marriage in the naïve hope that she’d one day join me in worship.
When I eagerly showed her our garments for the night, she blanched. “I agreed to go, but I’m not wearing that ugly thing!” she shouted. I had no idea what she meant. The coal black hooded robe with a white eye with white tentacles surrounding it etched on the back was beautiful.
Though it took some persuading and by that I do not mean through actions such as begging and pleading on my part, she eventually agreed and we both wore the proper entire to the temple’s most sacred event.
On the way there, I tried to explain the intricacies of the affair but my wife refused to listen. Joelle interrupted my every attempt by swiftly changing the subject. She had her reasons for being so sensitive.
“My mother was supposedly religious,” she once explained, “She thought that prayer would make some god forgive her for spending what little money we had on alcohol and drugs instead of food for her children. She used her beliefs to justify a lot of her behavior. She used it to justify what happened to me and my sisters.” She never elaborated when I questioned her about this. She refused.
The trip took us a lot longer than the typical forty-five minute drive I made every Sunday. Joelle noted her confusion when I drove past the city of Tacoma towards Olympia and I explained that the ceremony would not be held at the temple but instead at Ocean Shores along the coast of Washington State. Specifically, it would take place on the largest seaside cliff.
It was the only place where conditions were conducive enough to make it even possible to conduct the ritual, I explained. Although her face expressed bemusement over this statement, my wife remained silent as we continued our journey.
I parked in a nearby town, the roads ending far before our destination. A hefty trek awaited us. Our attire attracted more than a few sideways glances from the town’s population much to the chagrin of my exceedingly embarrassed spouse. I instructed her to ignore them.
We had hiked through forests, through trees, through rivers and through valleys. It was a relatively short part but strenuous and exhausting. While the trek took at most an hour to complete, it was exhausting. My wife needed several breaks and the excursion had left her despondent.
In spite of this, we still arrived much earlier than the ceremony would take place a few hours before sundown. The majority of the congregation had yet to arrive. I suppose I was a bit too eager for the upcoming event.
Joelle was noticeably upset. The slog had taken a lot out of her physically and mentally. She was cold and hungry, and would rather have spent her Sunday morning in Skagit Valley enjoying the Tulip Festival.
She stormed off away from me, sitting and pouting about a foot from the cliff. She was shivering violently. I made my way over to her, gently opened her robe, hugged her, and placed my robe over her to keep her warm. Although resistant at first, Joelle eventually curled into my arms and fell asleep. A small smile formed on her lips.
Most of the congregation arrived just before sunset and as they did, I introduced each of them to my lovely wife as she was the one person none of them had ever met. Joelle had numerous questions to ask, most of which we would have normally been happy to answer. However time, or should I say lack thereof, prevented this from happening.
I had over a hundred people to introduce, after all, so I was in a bit of a hurry, staying just long enough with each couple to not be rude. In spite of this, I still ran out of time as I was only about a quarter of the way finished when a gray hooded robed man interrupted my efforts by announcing that the ceremony was about to begins.
This man was our deacon. He gave each of our wives a number written on a small slip of white paper. Joelle, clearly confused, questioned why. I smile and told her to relax, it was just part of the ritual.
She showed me her number. Seventeen. Hardly a lucky number. I resisted telling my wife that I did not like our chances.
The deacon bade us to gather in a semi-circle towards the center of the cliff, the point that had most of its circumference facing the ocean. He then announced that the high priest was approaching.
We turned to see a regal man in a purple robe and golden crown approach the mass gathering of individuals. Each of us expressed notions of reverence upon seeing him. He was not only the highest standing individual of our religious organization but was also an exceptionally busy man. The high priest oversaw all branches of our religion throughout the nation. Only on occasions such as this one would he even bother setting foot in our state.
Flanked to his right and left were several couples, men and women, all of whom were dressed in crimson. They were his entourage, the highest ranked married couples of our congregation.
In each of their hands were large bamboo torches. The high priest waited as each of them placed the torches around us and lit them with lighters they kept underneath their robes.
Once finished, the men and women in crimson gathered with the high priest and they began to make their way inward. We made a path to allow the high priest and his cohorts access to the center of the mass of people gathered for this holy day.
“His crown looks like a tiara,” whispered Joelle as the high priest passed us. She tried desperately hard to muffle her giggles.
“Silence!” I scolded, “Please show the high priest the proper respect.” Joelle complied meekly and obediently.
The high priest was at the center of our large semi-circle along with his four companions. Each of them spoke in turn in a language that was completely indecipherable to me. It was similar to Latin but the cadence was wrong and the words were completely unfamiliar. His words were almost inhuman, alien even. Something that did not originate on earth.
These men and woman were powerful orators. I was captivated by their speech as was the rest of the crowd. Even Joelle seemed impressed by the sermon.
After the fourth impassioned speech given by one of the women in crimson, the deacon entered the semi-circle with a box in one hand and a pedestal in the other. He placed the pedestal on the ground and put the ornate red and gold box on top of it. With a bow, the deacon returned to his position outside the crowd.
The high priest demanded silence. We obeyed. He reached into the box and fumbled around for a few seconds before pulling out a large ball of crumpled paper. Swiftly, the high priest smoothed the paper and held it over his head. All of us gasped in awe. The number was seventeen.
“You won!” I shouted with a mixture of pride and apprehension enveloping my very being.
“What…what does that mean?” Joelle asked, clearly confused. Her answer came in the form of the crimson clad women quickly shuffling her away through the crowd. They led her to a nearby olive green tent where the deacon was standing. He had apparently set up the tent while the number was being drawn. The man bowed to the women as they entered.
Scores of minutes passed as we waited, until my beloved exited the tent dressed in ceremonial garb. She was clad in an aquamarine and gold dress with white trimming. Atop her head was a silk headdress with tassels hanging from the side. On each ear were two long, rainbow colored earrings.
My wife smiled broadly at me as she reentered the crowd and headed towards the center where the high priest stood. That smile was positively radiant. I had never seen her more beautiful in my life.
Gently, the high priest put his hand on my beloved and motioned her towards the ocean. He briefly explained she was to remain facing forward during the remainder of the ceremony. The high priest stood a few feet behind her as the rest of his crimson guard joining him a few feet behind. All of them stood parallel to the mass of people gathered in a semi-circle.
With only the torches providing what little illumination there was in that otherwise pitch-black sky, the high priest began to chant, slowly, in a low hum. His chant began to crescendo. After a few stanzas, the men and women in red joined in reciting the hymn. Soon, the rest of the congregation including myself engaged in the chorus.
I had memorized these words but their meaning was completely foreign to me. They were foreign to almost everyone. Yet, somehow, all of us still knew the impact of our chant.
At one point, Joelle turned and gave each of us a baffled smile. She seemed confused by what was taking place. Upon seeing this, with fire coming from his eyes, the high priest gruffly pointed her forward. Joelle was not allowed to turn around. The woman reluctantly obliged.
The hymn continued to swell as it grew into a large cacophony. Louder and louder, the words were gradually spoken in a much fiercer and stronger manner. Our chant grew more wild and crazy until it became completely unhinged and untamed.
Not just our words, but our mannerisms, our expressions, our very actions became unrestrained. We were riotous, deranged, absolutely mad. We ignored Joelle’s panicked cries as we continued our guttural and fiery hymn.
Our environment began to change. It was as if the very air became thick and tangible. We could almost literally feel tension. Somehow, beyond all reality, the sky became darker. The torches and moonlight struggled to provide any sort of light. The temperature decreased immensely. It was suddenly freezing.
A wind came from the ocean’s sky in the west where we were facing. It moved slowly at first but with every passing instant its speed increased. It began to circle in the middle of the sky, violently and rapidly until it was a vortex. It continued to do this until it formed into a small tornado. Bolts of electricity exploded from its core.
Suddenly, the sky split open. A large pustulous being climbed through the newly formed portal. His description defies human words though I will do my best to describe Him.
He was a scaly beast. His body was mostly black though He had putrid brown spots on his chest and head. A translucent pallid slime poured from every pore and orifice.
Claws protruded from each of His six hands. The mouth was perpetually agape showing His large, distended teeth along with His large, black fangs. His large head was almost like a toad’s, though He had no discernable eyes and large, devil like ears. He was gigantic, with only a part of His head and torso able to fit through the portal.
An inhuman scream came from my wife as she immediately tried to escape when He reached down with several of His hands. It was terror unlike anything I had ever heard before and it took nearly our entire congregation to hold her back in order to offer her to the being.
As we held grabbed her and pointed her to the creature, I couldn’t help but notice the stunned look of horror on my beloved’s face. Tears were streaming down her face. Her mouth was wide open. It was as if she wanted to scream but the words simply escaped her. Just as the being laid His meaty hands upon her, we let go. When the malodorous being grabbed her, I nearly passed out from the smell. My wife struggled in vain as He took her with Him into the portal.
The swirling winds began to subside. Seconds later, the portal, along with the creature and my wife, had completely disappeared. The tension in the air dissipated. The air thinned back to normal. The night sky became a little brighter.
“That concludes our ceremony,” the high priest said calmly, “I hope to see you all here in another ten years.”
After congratulating each other for a successful ceremony and wishing each other farewell, we all returned to our homes. Sadly, for me, I returned minus a wife. I comforted myself knowing that she’s happier where she is now. She’s in a better place.
Her terror was due to ignorance. Had she listened to my explanation, she would have realized that the Creature with No Eyes and Many Fangs seeks a bride every ten years to add to His concubine. His preference for married woman steams from his desire to ensure the woman is worthy of His love. Marriage, after all, is the ultimate sign of love.
There have been tales passed along that had we not offered Him a bride the world would have incurred his wrath which may have motivated some of the more impressionable parishioners, but that was not my motivation whatsoever. I don’t believe those fables one bit. He is a god of love, after all. He wouldn’t ask for anything out of pure malice.
She should not have been so worried. The Creature took her to paradise where she will live happily for the rest of eternity. It truly is an honor.
That is not to say there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t miss her. Every time it rains I think of her and it certainly rains a lot in Seattle. Perhaps one day I will remarry, when I am emotionally ready to do so. The hardest part will be to once again steel myself for the potentiality of losing another wife. I’d have to remind myself that her happiness is more important than my own, much like it was for Joelle. After all, love is sacrifice.
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