The Death of Chaos
By anne m. gibson
On September 30th of the Year of Soft Bunnies, Sunny the Goddess apparated to her temple in the City on the Cliff, already in warm flannel pajamas and carrying her stuffed bear. She said goodnight to the priests and priestesses, entered her sanctum, and went to sleep for the winter.
On October 1st, the Mad Chicken-Hatted God, Seth, awoke from his summer sleep. He emerged from his mountain temple, dressed only in a backwards pair of pants, smoking a carrot like a cigar. A white Silkie Bantam chicken roosted on his head. Only its extremely sharp black beak differentiated the bird (named Wigglesworth) from a Russian fur hat. “Let the chaos begin!” Seth declared. The skies opened up, the winds blew, and the streets flooded.
The storms, we knew, would continue until Sunny awoke on April 1st. This is the way it had always been, and this is the way we believed it would always be. Summers of bliss brought winters of chaos, and we hated it.
I was the head of the Town Criers, and the only crier who’d managed to live in “Soggy on the Cliff” for five winters. The Guild considered our archipelago of tropical islands a “high turnover” location, but I liked it.
My Town Crier guildmates on the Greek mainland had an entire pantheon of complex gods and their lusty, dishonest intentions to try to report on. I had Sunny and Seth.
Sunny’s months were tranquil and calm. Plants grew, plants were harvested. Sheep lambed, lambs grew, sheep were slaughtered. Summer was rhythmic progress.
Seth’s madness was predictable in its unpredictability. Two years before, it rained green-bellied newts for a whole week. Four years prior, the clouds belched flowers, but only on the women. No one will talk about the Year of the Canned Beans. In the winters, anything could, and did, happen, and there was no question of why.
Gods are notoriously difficult to change, so the people of the City on the Cliff had to choose every year: stay and curse the madness, become mad, or leave. In the words of our Goddess, it was what it was.
December 19th of that same year, Old Morant, head of accounting up at the castle, finally cracked while trying to balance the city budget.
“One minute he was calculating grain subsidies, and the next he was standing on a table sharpening quills with a broadsword,” one of the Junior Accountants told me over a glass in the Watered-Down Ale Pub.
“Then what?” I asked, jotting down notes.
The man shrugged. “He ran out, screaming ‘Dammit, Seth!’ and we went back to work.” He leaned in close and added, “He was the fourth one this week to snap.”
I shrugged. “Jellybean thunderstorms will do that.”
Two days later, I stood chatting with Kind Rick, one of the Guard, outside the marketplace, when a woman pulled Rick aside and motioned toward the stationery shoppe.
“That man’s naked,” she whispered, and pointed in the window. “He’s — well he looks like he’s wearing a business suit, but it’s all paint, and his, um,” she waved her hand at groin height, “it’s pretty noticeable…”
Kind Rick nodded, and took leave of us to address the issue. The lady and I stood outside.
“It’s all body paint,” she apologized. “It’s such a good job, well, I’d swear you could unbutton the sleeves. If there hadn’t been a stiff breeze through the door, I mean…” she trailed off.
“What was he doing?” I asked.
“Buying all the ledger books,” she said. The door to the shoppe slammed open, and a figure bolted out carrying an armful of ledger books.
“Stop him!” Kind Rick yelled, gripping a bleeding wound in his shoulder. A few other guards gave chase. I sent the woman to get a doctor and ran over to Kind Rick.
“What happened?” I asked, guiding him to a seat on a bench.
“It was Morant,” he said. “I asked him to take a walk with me, and he stabbed me with this,” he said, holding out a sliver of steel.
“That’s a letter opener.”
“Sharpened to a dagger, yes,” he said.
The doctor and a host of guards descended upon us, and I slipped out of the crowd. I followed Morant’s trajectory to the city gates, where I found a bemused guard named Kelly trying to wash body paint off her hands with water from her canteen.
“Morant?” I asked.
Kelly nodded. “Came at me running with his arms full of books and his junk flying in the wind, and when I reached out to grab him he slipped through my fingers. Was wearing some kind of paint.” She shook her head. “Quite a sight for a Thursday.” She looked up at me. “Said he was going to kill the Mad God Seth. You suppose he could?”
I got the scoop from Captain Roderick at the Watered-Down Ale Pub the next day. The King had ordered a full investigation. Roderick told me of the impeccable order of Morant’s rooms, every item labeled and neatly stored, and the exquisitely-written letters detailing Morant’s plan to kill Seth The Chicken-Hatted God.
The King had decided that perhaps Morant wasn’t welcome in the City on the Cliff any longer, and the guards were told to block his entry. We cried the news during a freak quail egg storm Sunday night, and the matter was considered closed.
Monday morning, the water rains returned at 10 a.m., and stopped at 4 p.m. Folks spoke of their luck, as the storm’s timing made it easy to get to and from work, and by that point we needed a bit of a break.
Tuesday morning the rain began again at 10, and ended again at 4, and people stopped talking of luck. When chaos is the rule, patterns are very suspicions. The pattern repeated on Wednesday. Even the King had questions.
The Town Crier network had answers. A runner came down from Seth’s temple in the northern mountains. “Morant defeated Mad Seth!” she reported. “He shot the God with a quill-pen arrow and stabbed Wigglesworth to death with a letter opener!” She brought a surprisingly lucid written report from Seth’s not-wholly-reliable clergy. “Mad Seth’s body disintegrated, and all his power transferred to Morant! Morant is the new Winter God!”
I was loathe to believe that an ancient God was that easy to defeat, but natural phenomenon seemed to indicate otherwise. The rains fell on weekdays between 10 and 4. Turtles crossed the cobblestone roads only at high noon on Saturdays. Thursday mornings were rutting season for all the archipelago’s creatures, which made for some interesting headlines (and a baby boom later). Hens laid their eggs promptly at 5 p.m. Crickets started their night songs at 6pm. Babies cried every four hours like clockwork. Milk curdled at exactly 180 degrees, into solid cubes of cheese.
Spontaneous parades broke out in the streets when people realized they could predict what kind of umbrella to carry and when. Children wrote poems about winter sunsets. The City on the Cliff relaxed, as one.
Then things got a bit creepy. Few had realized just how unregulated their days had been, and the sheer amount of daily living Morant the Sane God controlled seemed overwhelming.
Young lovers were the worst ones hit. Try as they might, a “romantic moment” would only occur Thursday mornings.
“It’s not much of a date on a Thursday morning, you know,” one young soul confided in me. “No candlelight, no romantic dinner. Porridge for breakfast, then a quick romp with the mistress, then off to work.”
“And the rest of the days?”
The man colored. “Well, it’s clearly not my fault…”
Soon the routine became boring. Artistic talents broke down; there was no fresh inspiration. Scientific studies always produced repeatable results. Fathers knew by a glance at a clock when diapers would need to be changed. Mothers knew how many fish would be in the day’s catch.
By March the people grew restless. Emigration from the City grew to an all-time high, even compared to the Year of the Canned Beans. Men and women, overcome by ennui, stopped showing up for work, or tending their fishing nets. Depression swept the country. At least a Mad God kept things interesting.
We held spirited debates on what to do. Some called for the King’s Warriors to kill Morant. “I will be glad to send the first person who can tell us how to kill a god, flanked by my best Warriors,” the King said. No one volunteered.
Others demanded we awaken Sunny from her slumber, but her high priestess forbade it. “Do you truly want to rouse her early? Have you forgotten the Spring of Many Winds, when you held a fireworks show in front of the temple on March 15th?” Faces in the crowd went pale, and one woman fainted.
Nothing came of the debates. The days crawled by, each less interesting than the last.
April 1st arrived, and with it Sunny’s Awakening Ceremony. At 9am, the clergy threw open the temple doors and invited the City on the Cliff inside. They served massive platters of eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles, and gravy. Vast cauldrons of coffee and tea heated over applewood fires. The smell of coffee and frying bacon was well-known to rouse even sleeping goddesses from their slumber.
We ate, and we waited, desperate to escape Morant’s program.
The Goddess did not rouse.
The clergy grew uncomfortable, and then nervous as the clocks ticked. At the two hour mark a heated discussion between the priestesses broke up. The high priestess hesitantly knocked on the inner sanctum door, then entered Sunny’s sleeping chamber.
The priestess returned to the dais with a blank expression and a large basket containing a single egg the size of a watermelon. “She wasn’t there,” the priestess said.
The crowd rumbled with questions. As if in response, the egg jumped in its basket, rocked back and forth, then cracked open.
The Mad God Seth stepped out.
Frantic parents covered their children’s eyes, for the god was once again naked. “Good morning everyone!” Seth hugged the high priestess and kissed a nearby dog.
Lightning struck the egg basket. Thunder shook the dais. We rubbed our eyes. Morant stood toe-to-toe with Mad Seth. He still wore a body-painted suit, and carried a giant golden letter opener as a sword. “What is this?” he sputtered. “I killed you! You’re dead, you rat-bastard child of a fool’s dream!”
Seth patted the old man on the head. “Such tenacity! I’m sorry sir, but your shift is over,” Seth said.
Morant lunged with his letter opener and ran Seth through. Men fainted. Women turned away. Seth giggled and wiggled the hilt sticking from his chest. “What fun!”
Seth pulled the blade from his body, flipped it in the air over his head while twirling, caught the hilt, and sliced Morant straight down the front, from nose to toes. The crowd gasped as Morant’s body collapsed like a heavy coat falling off a hook. In the center of the Morant-skin, Wigglesworth squawked and laid an egg.
“Don’t worry folks, it’s all good.” Seth held up Morant’s skin, which did indeed look like a coat, and pulled it on, one arm at a time. I was grateful for the God’s newfound modesty until I realized the coat was still anatomically correct.
Seth picked up the chicken, settled her on his head, and pointed at the temple doors. “I’m just the opening act!”
Sunny walked through and yawned. “Oh, I’m sorry. I overslept. Bacon, my favorite!” she cooed. She noticed Seth and tilted her head. “Hello, fool,” she said with a sly smile.
“Hello, love,” he said. “I would linger, but I must get some sleep. Enjoy the party!” He vanished.
She shook her head, smiling. “It is what it is.”
I sighed. Sunny had not changed. Seth had not changed. But the City on the Cliff changed — and from that day forward we celebrated both our Mad Chicken-Hatted God’s Bedtime and Goddess’s Awakening on April 1st.
It is chaos, and we love it.