R. A. Wilson
The Weight of Sin
By: R. A. Wilson
Traveling during the day, choosing the sweltering heat and mirages over the fringed and concealing night, this lone drifter was just waking up with the suns. There were a couple bags sitting near him that held his sole possessions; in them was his handful of clothes, as well as the little gold, silver, and copper he carried, but no valuable wood coins where among those. He carried no more food and very little water; in this state, a person in the desert would be walking towards death for water is life, but he knew a town was nearby. He only needed to find it. The town was new, one made when people began abandoning the onetime god-controlled city-states to start anew where they would not be reminded of the gods’ cruelty. The city was not on his map, but he could smell the moisture in the air that comes only from a well, the center of every city on Valaria. If there was no well, there was no life.
This drifter was not utterly alone in his journey as he had a traveling companion: a donkey. It was an odd-looking donkey, for it was black with white markings and had tan eyebrows and cheeks, giving it an expressive face. The man picked up his sole possessions and went to his companion to strap them on for the days travel. He never rode the donkey himself, but only because he had tried once before. It lay on the ground after he mounted and sulked for a whole day, refusing to move even after he dismounted; the donkey would carry his bags though, but only because they were bright pink. The drifter had to rid himself of his old dirty bags shortly after getting the donkey as it sulked when caring them, barley lifting its feet, its tail and head sagging; after using the new bags, the donkey would trot along happily.
It was not until after packing his belongings that the drifter first noticed the stranger walking towards him. He thought it might be a mirage as they show many things, but the stranger drew closer and did not vanish or waver. Sound also came from the stranger, and that was something a mirage could not do unless the viewer had completely lost his mind. This drifter had not.
The stranger came up to the other. He wore chaps, a white hat, and a blue shirt. His face was sandblasted and dark. “Hi ya,” the stranger said with a gruff voice.
“Hello,” the drifter replied. “What brings you out here?”
“I was going to ask the same thing.”
“I’m trying to find the town around here. I can smell the water in the air.”
“Ah, yes, Vaslin. I know where it is.”
“Would you take me there, or at least point me in its direction?”
“Sure I would, only if….”
The drifter grimaced. “Only if what?”
“You wouldn’t happen to have any water, would you?”
“Water? A little.”
The stranger smiled through his cracked lips. “I am a scavenger from Vaslin, and I was trying to find something of value from the ruins near here.”
“The Tarin Ruins?”
“You heard of ‘em?”
“Yep, you could say I’ve heard of them.”
“The problem is, I had to run from some sand beetles, and I dropped my water. That happened at dusk, so I’ve been traveling all night without any.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, my friend, but while it is a sad tale, I can’t give you my water.”
“Just a sip would be great.”
The drifter opened a bag on the donkey and pulled out a water skin, then tossed it to the stranger.
“Thank you, friend,” the stranger said through gulps. He only stopped drinking when there was no more.
The drifter’s jaw dropped. “I wasn’t expecting you to drink all of it.”
“Oh, sorry. I got a little carried away. Well, at least the city is near.”
“Is it? I’m so relieved. That’s all the water I had left.”
“You gave me all the water you had? I thought you had another water skin. That was either very generous, or very stupid. You should never hand over all your water.”
The drifter grumbled, “I appreciate the gratitude.”
“Oh, not that I meant you are stupid. Of course not! Not a friend of mine.”
“Well, if we are friends, will you show me the city?”
“Of course, and we better get… go… ing.” The stranger looked at the loner’s donkey. “That’s an odd looking animal.” He walked towards it, but the donkey became excited, ran towards the stranger and rolled onto its back while in mid-stride, sending the bags and their belongings flying through the air. The stranger stood there, uncertain of the belly-up donkey before him.
The loner sighed. “Want’s you to rub her belly.”
“Rub her belly?”
“What a strange donkey,” the stranger said and laughed. He bent down and scratched its belly. The donkey became very still and stretched its legs out.
“Her name is Jack.”
“Her name is Jack?”
“The original owner thought she was a he, and so named her Jack, but it was too later after the truth was discovered.”
“Jack the donkey, huh?”
“Actually, her full name is Jack Dorado Bob Philip Valintino George Rasmussen the Third of Ass. She prefers Jack, though.”
“Your donkey’s name is Jack… of… Ass?”
“You are a strange one yourself.”
“I said I didn’t name her. So, do you mind showing me where the town is since I shared my last bit of water with you?”
“Why not? I’m from there, you know.”
“Yes, you already said that.”
“So I did. Let’s go then.”
“That would be great!” The drifter shoved Jack, and she got to her feet, reluctantly. He then proceeded to repack his bags and strap them on the donkey’s back. “You can be so infuriating,” he said to her.
“You ready to go?” the stranger asked.
“Yeah.” He grabbed the lead of Jack’s harness, and began to walk.
“Aren’t you going to ride Jack? Can I if you aren’t?”
“Can’t ride her.” As the stranger opened his mouth, the drifter said, “Don’t ask.”
“I see your point.”
They walked for about an hour before they could see the city. To the loner it was a shining pearl of hope; something of magnificence; a splendor indescribable. Others would have said that Vaslin was built all too hastily, and with the wrong materials, but the fact that they built it was beautiful to the loner. The town looked like a jigsaw puzzle that had all the wrong pieces hammered into all the wrong places, but it was; it existed. These people had left the cities that represented the gods to build something of their own, where they could feel they were their own masters for once.
“I have caused so much harm, and there is nothing I can do,” the drifter said to himself as they entered the city. “Despite that, they are still living.”
“I didn’t catch that. What did you say?” the stranger asked from ahead.
“No, it was nothing.”
As they walked down the main street of Vaslin, the stranger asked, “So what are you going to do now that you are here?”
“I plan to find a bar and become a fish.”
“A fish?” the stranger asked, confused. “What’s a fish?”
“It’s a long extinct animal. It used to swim in vast expanses of water.”
“Vast expanses… of water?” The stranger began to laugh. “No such thing.”
“There was at one time, long ago.”
“How are you going to become a fish then?”
“I will swim in hard liquor all night.”
“Hey! That sounds like a plan. I think I’ll become your mythical fish too, and I know the perfect place.”
They walked to one of the buildings. The only difference about this one compared to the others was the letters B A R painted on a sign above the door.
“Alright! I knew there had to be one here,” the drifter said as he tied Jack of Ass to a pole outside the bar. “After you.”
The stranger went in first, and the other walked behind, leaving his moody donkey tied on the street, where it sat down to sulk about being left alone.
Inside, the bar was cozy. There was a piano in the corner that someone pounded on, tables stood around the room with patrons at them, drinking and playing cards, prostitutes stood on a balcony over the main floor, and the counter was at the back wall. The two sat at one of the tables, and the barkeep came over to them.
“I’d like…,” the drifter started.
The barkeep cut him off. “I don’t want any trouble. You’ll have to give me your gloves, handslinger.”
“Oh, all right, Grandma.”
She smacked him in the back of his head. “Don’t call me grandma.”
“Sorry, miss.” He grimaced while pulling off the two gloves. They were elbow length and jet black with silver markings down their length; the tip of each finger donned a silver plate. He handed them to the barkeep, and then she took their orders.
After the barkeep brought them their drinks and again left, the stranger said, “I didn’t even notice you were packing. Those were odd magic hands.”
“They were given to me by someone who saved me.”
“So you are a handslinger. I’m not surprised. Most people are these days. What do you intend to use them for? Are they for protection, or are you one of those criminals? It stuns me that in this day and age, people would take advantage of another with all the other problems we have.”
“They’re different from all the other magic hands.”
“They’re good for absolutely nothing.”
“Good for nothing? You probably don’t know how to use them.”
“No, I do. They just don’t to anything.”
“Well, what type are they?” The stranger drained a shot glass.
“That’s just it. They don’t shoot fire, ice, lightning, or anything like that. As far as I can tell, they just don’t do anything. My magic hands can’t kill, destroy, or maim.”
“They probably are just used up. It happens all the time, and there is no way to revitalize them, at least that anybody has figured out. Why do you bother to keep them?”
“They have sentimental value.” The drifter took a swig from his mug. “You know, friend, I just realized I don’t know your name.”
“Reeves? I’m Kiva.”
“Kiva, you say? That sounds familiar. Where you from?”
“Between you and me, that’s of no consequence.”
“Alright, all right, you can keep your secret. But tell me, you don’t have a place to stay, do you?”
“No. I’ve never been here before as you well know.”
“Then you can stay at my place if you want.”
“Thanks. I think I will do that.”
“No problem. After all, you are covering our drinks.”
They stayed there late that night, talking about nothing of substance. Eventually the bar closed, and after retrieving the drifter’s magic hands from the barkeeper, those two stumbled out onto the streets, holding on one another to keep from falling as the ground spun all around them, trading places with the sky. Reaching Reeves’ house, Reeves found his bed, and Kiva found the floor of the entryway.
In his long life, Kiva had seen much that no one should ever witness, yet he did not feel that he suffered more than anyone on this planet. He knew each one of the survivors even though they did not know him; he had seen everything that they had gone through on the account of the now dead gods. He felt sad for them all and wished he could have taken their place to wipe their suffering away. Only the children born now would be free of such memories, but the memories would still affect them.
Kiva felt all that happened was his fault, and to a point it was, but not at his intention. The gods came and destroyed a fruitful world, creating this devastated one. It was enough a make a grown man cry, and it has, many times. Just as every night, the drifter cried when he closed his eyes, for he saw everything all over again; the countless dying time and again. He witnessed the planet withering in his dreams, going from a lush ball of vegetation to the dead world Valaria had become. Kiva wept for his sin.
The suns had already risen to their pinnacles over the city when Kiva and Reeves crawled outside onto the porch. Neither had strength to walk, and the tiniest sounds boomed in their ears. They talked in hushed voices and hid their eyes from the blaring sunlight while the rest of the town went about its business.
“It’s a shame, really,” Reeves said, “that we are forced to live in such a horrible place. All we can do is work together and try to resuscitate this god-cursed planet.” He leaned back in his wicker chair.
“Cursed by gods, maybe, but that ultimately means cursed by ourselves. Man created god, after all.”
“Yes, we did, but it was two that started it all. They deserve the credit.”
“Is it fare to blame them?” Kiva asked.
Reeves sat up and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. “Why shouldn’t we blame them?”
“Somebody else would have created the gods eventually, I think,” Kiva said.
“Perhaps you’re right, but all we have is what happened. Man created god; god kills man; man retaliates against his illusions.”
“Then we are not free yet.”
“Man still exists.”
Reeves laughed. “Then we should save ourselves and die!”
“I hope that’s not the answer,” Kiva said with no humor in his voice.
“Without us, the gods never would have existed. The monsters would never have come about, and the animals and plants would still be alive.”
“Yeah, but without us, we would not exist.”
“In oblivion there is no sin.”
“Then why are you trying so hard to survive?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Reeves said. “To live is too suffer, but without life, there is no happiness.”
“I haven’t experienced true happiness for many moons now.”
“Few have, but while we are alive, there is a chance.”
“Then you continue to live purely for hope?”
“For hope, or in spite of the gods. Take your pick.”
“What are you going to do when the food is gone?” Kiva asked.
“We are trying to cultivate the land, to make it vital again. If we can get plants to grow, then we have a chance.”
“You have seeds?”
“Oh yeah, they are our most prized possessions.”
“Where did you find them?”
“There were some in the food stocks, but the majority of them were found in the Tarin Ruins.”
“So that’s why you were there.”
“Yes, but I wasn’t able to find anymore. We might have all that is left. They are worth more than anything, save water.”
“If you can get them to grow, then maybe there will be a chance.”
Reeves looked out over the city. “That’s what we are hoping for, and we will never give up hope. We will continue living.”
“That is beautiful. My hope goes out to you.”
“Why don’t you stay here with us?” Reeves looked back at Kiva. “We can always use more help to cultivate the land.”
“If the people would accept me, then I don’t see why not. I want to start over, and Vaslin will be as good as anywhere.”
“We’ve never turned anyone away before.” Reeves looked over the street before the house and became excited. He called out to one of the people walking by. “Fuliver.”
A man looked over to the two and answered back. “Reeves! It’s good to see you back. Any good news?”
“I didn’t find any more, but I brought back someone that is willing to help.”
Fuliver looked at Kiva and came closer. “What is your name, stranger?”
“Kiva,” Reeves answered. “This man is Fuliver, the town sheriff,” he said to the drifter.
“Kiva? Did you say Kiva!” Fuliver’s mouth opened, and his eyes went wide in both fear and recognition.
“Yeah. What’s the matter with you, Fuliver? He’s my guest. Show some respect.”
“Oh shit!” Fuliver ran away as fast as he could, leaving Reeves confused, and Kiva nervous.
“I wonder what that was about,” Reeves said as he watched the sheriff. “We picked him as our sheriff because he has such a level head.”
Kiva stood. “I think I should go.”
Reeves looked at him in surprise. “Go? Where to?”
“I don’t know, but I need to leave.”
“Leave the city? But why? Don’t you want to stay here with us and help?”
“I do, but I would not be welcomed here.”
“Don’t worry about Fuliver. I’m not sure what his problem is, but he is a good person.”
“You don’t understand. You’re a good man, Reeves, but I have too much of a past to settle here. Some people will not be able to let go of what I have done. I do not want to bring my trouble upon you. Farewell, my friend.” Kiva stepped off the porch and double checked his bags to make sure they were strapped tightly on Jack. Satisfied, he untied the lead rope and began to walk away from Reeves, down the street to leave the town.
A crowd was already gathering by this time, and they began to mass in the street. Fuliver was talking loudly so they all could hear him. As Kiva reached them, Fuliver turned to him. “Where do you think you are going, murderer?”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” Kiva said as he tried to walk past him, but Fuliver moved in his way.
“You can’t go.”
“Let me pass.”
“You are going nowhere.” Fuliver pushed Kiva, knocking him to the ground.
Reeves watched this and became infuriated. He ran from his porch over to the mob of muttering and yelling people. “What are you all doing? This is no way to treat a guest,” he yelled at them as he helped Kiva to his feet. Jack looked nervous and began to shuffle about.
“He’s no better than the monsters in the desert. In fact, he’s worse!” a lady screamed.
“He did this to us all,” Fuliver said.
“Did what?” Reeves asked.
“He’s Kiva, Reeves, Kiva.”
“I know that. I introduced you.”
“No, apparently you don’t. Kiva of Drn-Darth Korda.”
“Kiva the God Begetter?” Reeves suddenly understood. He turned to his friend. “No, no, that can’t be true. Is this true?”
Kiva did not answer.
“Did you create the gods that destroyed this planet?” Reeves asked.
The drifter looked down. “In part. I was one of the two that originally designed the religion they came from.”
“You were the one in the temple of Drn-Darth Korda?”
“How can you be so casual?” Fuliver yelled. He leaped past Reeves and punched Kiva in the jaw, sending him to the ground once more. “You murderer. Scream in pain!”
“Stop, Fuliver,” Reeves commanded.
“No, we have the right to do this. We have the right to kill this bastard!” Fuliver yelled. “He cursed our lives and Valaria. It’s his fault. Bring the horse.”
From behind him, someone walked out of the mob leading a horse, and seven people jumped upon Kiva, again throwing him to the ground. Jack ran and hid behind a building, only showing her head to watch, but wincing for each blow Kiva received from the mob that swarmed over him.
A rope was tied to the horse, and in turn strapped about Kiva’s feet. Fuliver then mounted the horse and kicked its sides; it began to trot, and Kiva was pulled out of the crowd. Fuliver sped the horse to a gallop, then a full sprint, leaving a trail of dust behind him from the writhing body of Kiva on the cutting sand. He slowed the horse, turned, and began to trot again, sending Kiva rolling, then dragged once more. Fuliver pulled him through the street three times before stopping in the midst of the crowd once more.
A man came forward and untied the rope, then kicked Kiva in the side, rolling him onto his back. His arms and face were cut and bleeding in many places, and his clothes were in tatters; only his black magic hands remained unscathed. The crowd gasped at seeing his mostly naked form, for it was covered with deep scars where flesh had been stabbed, sliced, and even carved from his body. Some scars were so deep that they had to descend into muscle. There were marks from stabbings, deep cuts, tears, and impalements from what could only have been magic hands and bladed weapons. His body was a roadmap of suffering, but it only showed a fraction of what he felt inside from knowing what the mob felt was warranted. Women covered their faces with their hands in horror, and men looked away, unable to witness the suffering that Kiva must have endured.
“I am Kiva, and I did create the gods. It is my fault… all of it,” he said through winces of pain. “I do deserve to die.”
“What happened to you?” Reeves looked over his tattered body. “Who did this?”
“This is part of the price of my sin. The gods tormented me for I would never forget them as I was their life force. The men that saved me and killed the gods added to my suffering to pull me out of my illusions. My body shows the suffering of man, and also that of the gods. I killed this planet, and many people, and even the gods who only desired to exist. I have paid a prince for everything that I have done, but it will never seem enough.”
“This changes nothing!” Fuliver screamed. “I’m glad to see you have suffered so, but it is not enough. We deserve your life.”
“You probably do. I’ve accepted my fate long ago, and even relished for oblivion to come. There is no suffering in oblivion, but Reeves made me realize something. There is no happiness in oblivion either. I want to live; I want to experience happiness once more.”
“You don’t deserve happiness. You only deserve suffering.” Fuliver pointed his palm forward, spreading his fingers towards the heavens, and Kiva saw that he too had a pair of magic hands, a red pair of fire. “I will take you out of our suffering.” The glove began to glow, and from each fingertip, a beam of dark red light was emitted, and they all bent around, coming back into the palm, building a shining orb.
“No, you mustn’t,” Reeves pleaded. “He has suffered enough, as have all of us. We can only rebuild this planet by working together.”
“He won’t be here to enjoy the fruit of our labors. He does not deserve to see the revitalized planet.”
“I probably don’t. I remember how it used to be. There were great forests and fields with vegetables. There were no monsters, but animals. And the water, oh, the water. There were roads of water that flowed from the smallest creak into the mightiest rivers, and they all joined together where the Abyss now sits. The Abyss used to be a vast ocean that covered most of the planet. It was beautiful, but now gone forever.”
Fuliver’s lower lip quivered at hearing about the ocean, and he stepped back in uncertainty. “Water so vast. How could that be?”
“Yes. One could not see the other side, and it was so deep you could not swim to the bottom. I gave that all up for beliefs that were false. I wish I could change it, but nothing can undo the damage that has come.” Kiva lifted himself up with his elbows and gave a faint smile. “I would not hold it against you if you took my life, brother, but there would be no point to that now. It would change nothing. If I live, then I can make a difference, and maybe find a way to repent.”
“Fuliver,” Reeves said. “Don’t shoot him.”
“I have the right,” the sheriff said with a shaking voice.
“He could not stop what happened. He had no idea what would come. He has suffered much more than anybody else. Kiva watched his planet die, all those he loved disappear, and his creations kill so many throughout centuries. He deserves happiness more so than anyone else. Let him try to find it somewhere.”
“I owe him nothing but oblivion.”
“We all owe him. If it wasn’t for his suffering, things would have been worse. Let him go.”
“I… I… can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can. He deserves to find his own happiness.”
“If it wasn’t for him, all of this would not have happened.”
“We can’t know that. Somebody would have created something similar. It would have still happened. Kiva is a victim like the rest of us.”
Fuliver fell to his knees and the light from his magic hand diminished. He buried his eyes in his hands and wept. He shed tears for the man that caused the death of Valaria.
Jack walked over to the mob, and they parted for her; she went to Kiva and licked his face. “There you are, you coward.” Kiva smiled and grabbed the length of rope on her halter, and she helped him to his feet. Together, they began to walk out of the town, leaving the mob behind. Back into the desert they went as he held a stone hard face, gazing into the blue sky, finally knowing the resolve he needed. Alone, again, he traveled, not knowing where he was headed, nor to what ends. All he knew was that he must keep hope.