01 Feb How I became a God
“I wasn’t smart when I was born. In fact I was a cripple and a simpleton. I couldn’t walk, so I dragged myself around the forest floor, never straying from my mother’s presence. I felt at the time she never cared much for my siblings and I, mostly letting us fend for ourselves, but I realize now she kept a careful eye on us. She was cold, distant, and dumb like me, but she knew how to watch for large animals and other potential threats as my brothers, sisters, and I slowly figured out how to feed ourselves. It seems cruel in retrospect and many of my siblings died young.
Life was hard crawling in the dirt of the forest floor, treating anything remotely edible as a banquet to be cherished. As I slowly grew, she eventually disappeared, leaving me and two of my remaining brothers alone at a very young age. They both perished shortly after.
But somehow I managed to survive against all odds. Crawling in the mud and struggling against my disability, finding food and shelter anywhere I could. I slowly learned how to use my disabilities to my advantage, setting ambushes and traps for small game. But I was still fundamentally an idiot and no matter how clever I thought I was back then, failure was common and life continued to be difficult.
Surviving in the jungle while mentally disabled and handicapped was mostly a factor of sheer luck, though at the time I thought myself to be quite adept. I never stayed in one place for long and I moved very slowly but carefully. My diet consisted of anything I could find laying around which was edible, mostly small animals I could catch, but I could go hungry for very long periods of time.
Eventually, I stumbled on a small stream with an even smaller cave nearby. I made it my home for a while. It wasn’t much but it was hidden well and provided some sense of security. I would drag myself out to the stream and bask in the warm tropical sun at times, take naps under trees, and eat as often as I could manage. Those were my simple pleasures in life back then.
Predators were always a threat, and being crippled, running was not an option. So I learned to hide. I learned to read my environment. I learned when to be loud and when to be quiet. And against all odds, I somehow survived. Once again, in retrospect, I mistook luck for cleverness.
And that would have been my entire life, up until I starved or finally ran out of luck. But that is where my story really begins: where it should have ended.
I was crawling along the forest floor searching for something, anything to eat. It had been many days and I had a furious hunger. All I knew how to do was hobble around, crawling and dragging myself through the jungle, looking for scraps or small animals I could ambush on the ground. I had just pulled myself through a small bush when I saw it.
The jaguar was low to the ground, in a pouncing position. On any other day I might have become its meal then and there, but it was focused on something else. I remained absolutely still, barely even breathing, hoping to not draw it’s attention. It crouched down even further, clearly preparing to strike, it’s eyes focused like only a hunter’s can be. I dared a quick glance at it’s target.
And what I saw was the most unusual bird, giant and dangerous in its own right. Bright and colorful, and nearly the size of the jaguar itself, it was a rainbow of feathers with a crown of plumage on its head. Of course at the time, I didn’t realize how unusual this creature was, all I knew was that this jaguar was going to try and take down the giant avian at any moment.
And it did. Try to at least. The bird took flight the moment the jaguar lept and it soared into the canopy, the cat pursuing. I remained still for some time to see if it would return, but eventually eased out into the small clearing. There wasn’t much of interest so I wiggled up the small hill the bird had been resting on, only to find when I reached the top that it was in fact a giant bird’s nest. And to my delight, resting inside were three very large eggs of unusual color.
Of course I ate them all right then and there and then dragged myself back to my usual resting spot. Sleeping with a full belly was always it’s own reward.
But that was when things started to change. Over the next few days I started to notice things I hadn’t been aware of before. Small things at first: observations about my surroundings that I hadn’t noticed before. The world looked a bit more colorful than it did, shapes a little more defined. I was able to pay attention to more things at once.
As days turned to weeks I started realizing I could make plans that were more sophisticated than just waiting silently for something to run by so I could grab it, or looking for scraps laying around. I started to devise clever traps, using rocks and other features of my environment to help me catch my food. Choosing my resting locations in places where bushes and leaves would ensure I could hear predators on the ground. I was still a cripple, but I was growing smarter.
I also began to grow bigger. Alot bigger. I had been an underfed runt most of my life but in the span of several months I had become a veritable giant. Well nourished now and nearly six feet, all muscle. I still had to crawl around but I could do so with a speed and vigor I had never known. I felt optimistic and elated, yet I had no idea what was still to come.
As months turned to years I was able to walk for the first time in my life. Few predators could stand before me now, as I stood nearly twelve feet tall, a titan of the forest, with a strength to match. I strolled carelessly through the trees, eating what I wished, when I wished, where I wished. I built my first house out of stone and fallen trees. I was the king of the jungle.
And I climbed my first tree. I will never forget it: hundreds of feet up in the forest canopy, I finally reached the sunlight atop the tallest tree I could find and looked out upon my domain. Endless green as far as the eye could see in every direction. A playground which had once threatened to consume me, but which was now mine to explore freely. And so I did.
I began to travel more. I discovered rivers, waterfalls, groves, huge cave systems, and giant sinkholes and lakes. And so many new types of plants and animals I had never seen. Frogs and birds, cats and spiders, animals which ate plants and plants which ate animals. Over time, I took a special love of watching the tree monkeys, as they were the only other animals which seemed to express an intelligence like my own.
Which is why when I found a small one which had been injured, I carefully collected it and took it with me.
I nursed it back to health, fed it, earned it’s trust, and it became my little companion. There were no names back then, but none were needed. For the first time in my life, I felt genuine love for this one specific creature. My first friend.
I had to take great care, as my growing never seemed to cease. By my memory and estimates, I may have been nearly 30 feet tall by then, and this little monkey was barely a fly by comparison. But the joy he brought me as we traveled together, as he gathered tiny fruits for me, and as he slept peacefully next to me, made me realize how lonely I had been all those decades wandering the forests all by myself. Always just watching, but never feeling like more than an observer anymore.
When he finally died peacefully of old age, I was of course heartbroken. I knew it was coming, I had seen how he slowly weakened and deteriorated. While I seemed to defy the years and continue to grow, time shifted the world around me. Landscapes slowly changed, rivers altered, animals came and went. After he died, I retreated back to a more observational phase of my life again, mostly wandering the forest and indulging in the sights and sounds around me.
I don’t know how long I spent like that before they found me. Other monkeys, but these ones were even more like me. They were extremely clever. They made noises at each other in rapid and consistent manners. They used tools like me, maybe even more clever than the ones I had devised. And of course they were terrified of me.
I was a giant, towering over them, looming nearly as tall as the trees. I mostly left them alone but would sometimes go and watch over them. They built strange houses out of sticks and leaves, not too dissimilar to the one I had built out of rocks before I no longer had the need for such a thing. They even appeared to be able to wield fire, and lit up the night in ways that I had only seen from the thunder of an angry sky.
As time went on, more and more of them would come and visit me, and I slowly gained their trust, even if their caution and fear never fully passed. I learned over time what their noises meant and after some effort on my part, we were able to communicate quite well. They would often come to me and ask questions about the area. Good hunting grounds, water sources, places to make a new village. After all, I had been almost everywhere.
One day some of them started leaving strange carvings in stone around where I slept. I asked one of them about the artifacts, a youngling who had come to ask for my help removing a mighty tree which threatened to fall on his hut. He told me that they were left as offerings, so that I might bless them with good fortune. He told me how their lives are hard and short and then told me that a god such as myself could surely make their lives better.
That was the first time I had encountered the concept of a god. I had taken a liking to these little ones, so I had already been aiding them with my knowledge whenever they would ask for it. But he was right, I could do more. Much more.
I remember the look of terror on many of the little people’s faces as I towered over their village. Perhaps they were expecting some wrath for a perceived slight, I can’t know, but I quickly made it clear I was there to help by removing the offending tree and setting it out of harm’s way. Our relationship expanded quickly over the next few years and they devised great and clever projects which took advantage of my size and relative strength. In those years, we accomplished in days what would have taken them decades on their own, were it even possible at all. We even replaced the village huts with a more durable collective structure, stones stacked so tall that they dwarfed the trees around them. The giant pile of boulders was carefully stacked to create living space to spare. A crude pyramid of sorts, I would later come to realize.
Things went well for a while, and I took a very active role in the lives of my new friends. It reminded me of my old monkey friend from so long ago, except this time there were many and I could speak to them and share my thoughts and feelings. It was an exhilarating time for me, and we accomplished much. We dug trenches to allow water to reach areas where they could cultivate crops. We studied the stars together and speculated on the mysteries of the forest and the world. I watched friends be born, age, die, only for new friends to appear.
After many many years though, the number of friends grew. And grew. And grew. Eventually, there were so many that they began to fight each other over what seemed to be the infinite bounty of the forest. Their noises changed and I could no longer understand all of them anymore, only the ones I remained near. They began to ask me for help or blessings hunting other people, fighting other villages. I always refused.
The tipping point came when the village I attended attempted to sacrifice a young girl in my name in order to gain my support in an upcoming raid. I had tried to tolerate them and understand them, but their pettiness had boiled over and I was exacerbated. There were too many people, too many villages, too many conflicts, too much sadness. It felt like I was crawling through the mud again, a dumb cripple, unsure what to do or where to go, and with little means to accomplish anything. I realized the moment they placed that little girl on the altar that I had forgotten what it meant to be helpless.
So I accepted their sacrifice. I took the girl, and I left that village and never returned. I went as far as I could away from that place and I did my best to take care of that little girl. She was small and frightened at first, but grew to trust me over time. We traveled south until we reached a great cliff with a waterfall, far away from the little people. I built her a little house of stones at the top of the cliff right next to the waterfall, with a spectacular view of the forest below.
I didn’t even think to ask her name until she took the initiative to tell me, much later. Names have no meaning in the forest, but I discovered it was Sacniete, an old and beautiful name I will never forget.
We were together for a long time. She grew up, and once again more little people discovered us. Once again they would come and ask for advice at first, and once again their requests would grow to be increasingly more and more demanding. Untrusting of the little people now, I would often withdraw or refuse to speak to them. Often I could not even understand their noises anymore. But Sacniete would take over and represent me in my stead when the weight of it all became too much. She even put feathers on her head like me in order to gain some trust and status from the visitors so they would eventually come to understand that I trusted her. After a time, it almost became expected that she was the one you would speak to when you came to me.
Which I was fine with. She never once misrepresented me, we were both children of a similar fortune. Abandoned by fate but then entrusted with something special we could use to help others, and I knew she could be trustworthy. I slowly came to understand that she was good at what she did. I watched her mend divides, forge alliances, and eventually even end a war. I was a simple person of the forest, but she was a politician and she knew how to use my name and power to change the little people. To make them better.
I loved her, more than I even loved that little monkey. She was kind, gentle, but intelligent and uncompromising. She taught me things I had never heard of, things she learned of from our visitors. We had no needs, so knowledge was paid for with knowledge. Forms of what I would later find were arithmetic, astronomy, philosophy, and more slowly arrived bit by bit. It gave me a new window into the world around me, one I had never given it’s due consideration despite being more ancient than many of the trees. It always amazed me that these little people were so creative and intelligent, and it was her, she was the one who in the end inspired me to put my faith in them again.
I started to take a more active role once more, but being mostly stuck in one place, I studied and philosophized and tried to make myself useful to the little people in the ways I could. I slurped up knowledge and I offered it back to any who asked. I was too big to move so freely around the woods now without laying waste to it, but the little people seemed more than happy to come to me. Sacniete even gave me a name, and while the little people had called me many things before, this was the first one I truly took to heart.
And in those years, my heart grew nearly as fast as I did.
When she died I was once again heartbroken. It was a tragic accident. Nearly 140 feet now, I was so massive it was hard to even move through the woods anymore without trampling everything in my path. I tended to just remain in the same spot near the top of the waterfall as a result and spent most of my time asleep or staring out over the vast and beautiful jungle, framed by the mountains hundreds of miles behind it.
I don’t know why she had come so close to me while I was sleeping that night, or what cruelty of fate caused me to roll over, but when I woke up I found I had accidentally crushed her to death. I could barely even recognize her. I had seen the little people cry before, but that was the first time I myself had ever truly wept. I hadn’t even realized I was capable of it.
I retreated deeper into the forest after that, avoiding everything. Everyone was so small, and I was so dangerously large. I just wanted to go hide in a cave somewhere and never come out, but even finding such a large cavern now would seem nearly impossible. As was so often the case in my life, I do not know how much time passed, probably ages, but eventually, the little people found me again as they always did.
But this time it was different. They remembered my name. They brought me food and gifts. They once again asked for my knowledge and may help to save and improve their lives. I enjoyed their company despite my distrust, apathy, and depression. Eventually, though, they asked me to come with them to their town, and after much deliberation, I finally agreed.
What I found when I arrived there was a landscape drastically transformed. The massive destruction of a forest replaced by farmland, and a great city made of stacked stone, much like the one I had made so long ago but much more refined and massive. And the number of little people was uncountable.
The forest’s devastation was so great that I could not even see the trees on the other side of the city. I just stood there, towering over everything, and felt horror ripple through me from my head to my toes. I felt as though this was somehow all my fault. I should have known this would happen. I should never have helped the little people, for they were so smart that the forest itself had become their prey. Or maybe I should have helped them more, taught them better to be stewards of the forest, not destroyers of it.
I immediately left without a word back the way I came. They followed me yelling and crying my name for some while before eventually giving up and returning to their desolation of a home.
I went further south. Far further south. I dreamed about that bird from so long ago. Was it the last of its kind? What destruction had I myself wrought on it or it’s species when I ate its eggs? I wasn’t intelligent enough to have such thoughts back then when I did it, but now it was always there in the back of my mind. How easy it truly is to destroy something beautiful out of sheer ignorance.
I finally found a new cave, my cave, large enough for me to fit in snugly, and I went to sleep. As always, I do not know for how long. Ages most likely. And once again I was awoken by the little people.
They hadn’t changed much by my perception, but their noises were new. It took me some time to understand them again, but once I did, they told me of how things were. An empire they said, greater than any before, and cities of stone which fed and housed vast numbers of little people. I could only barely imagine how so many of them could survive on the fruits of the forest, but they told me they no longer needed the forest. They claimed to have tamed the wilds.
I remember at one point asking one of their supposed wise men what had happened to the old little people who I had once seen doing the same thing. He told me their cities had been abandoned long ago and they had retreated back into the forest. This gave me some hope, and I believed that in time they too would return to the forest. I did not tell him my thoughts though, I simply sent him away.
More and more of them flooded to me and before I knew it they were erecting monuments all around my cave, destroying trees and slaying animals in the process. I tried to chase them off but they would always return eventually. I fled them in a fit of anger one night after years of fitful and interrupted slumber. I went further south.
Eventually, I found another home. One of many in my travels, but it was suitable. Deep, dark, and hidden in the bowels of a sinkhole. Nobody but I could get down this deep into the earth, so here I would finally be safe to rest. No more little people. No more sadness.
But this time it was a different kind of noise. Grating, whirring, ripping noises. Alien noises and the smell of fire and ash. I don’t know how long had passed, but when I woke, deep in my hidden chamber, I knew something had changed. These were not noises of the forest or even noises of little people. I had to investigate.
When I peaked out of my cave, I stood up and looked over the trees to see smoke filling the air and huge swaths of forest completely burned to the ground. I went to go see what was happening and observed the little people burning and chopping and tearing at the trees with strange tools I had never before seen. Noisy tools. Violent tools.
Some of them spotted me and it wasn’t long before they were screaming and fleeing in mass. I couldn’t understand, there were no crops here, no city. Why were they destroying the forest, burning it to the ground even? Not even using the wood from the trees as they used to do. I walked through the devastation and saw it stretched out seemingly forever. In the distance I saw strange buildings, very different from the stone and thatch ones I was familiar with, and vast herds of unusual animals I had never encountered before. The forest had turned to grassland at the hands of the little people.
I stood watch over the area for a few years, frightening off those who dared trespass. I wandered around and patrolled, destroying the infrastructure the little people used to attack the forest wherever I found it. I took care never to hurt any of them, and it wasn’t hard as they always fled in my presence. I became cold hearted though, and felt the little people were a plague, a disease I had allowed to fester. Once again, I believed this was my fault, that it was something I could have prevented.
Time continued to pass. Many suns, many seasons, many years. I remember one day I saw a strange bird fly overhead. I now know it was an aeroplane, but at the time it reminded me of the bird from when I was just a young cripple. Giant and majestic, beautiful. I tried to follow it but it was far too fast and I watched it disappear over the mountains. I remember wondering what new lands the bird would discover over there. Maybe ones without little people.
No matter how much I tried though, I couldn’t stop the destruction. Always small groups, simple tools, and a lot of fire. I could not be everywhere at once. I felt despair.
Time passed, but an old man found me one day and spoke to me in new and unusual noises. At first I ignored him, but he persisted and slept nearby every night, refusing to leave. He would come every day and make the same noises at me. He seemed harmless and I felt lonely, so on a whim I decided to let him stay for a while so that he might teach me the new noises. We were eventually able to speak more clearly.
He gave me his name, Fabio, and he was also born in the forest. He told me many strange, wonderful, and terrible things. He told me about how the land was now used for raising cattle. He told me about how the silver bird was in fact a machine created by little people. He told me what he knew about science, about history, about society. That there were entire nations of little people all over the world. That the little people had conquered it all.
I came to feel he was like me, for he seemed saddened by it. He said there was nobody left who understood the old ways. Living in the garden and only taking what you require. He told me few people believed in me anymore, that I was just a scary story told to frighten frontiersmen’s children, or just a mythology told in schools. That those who claimed to have seen me were met with disbelief. And he said he had seen me as a child when I had run off his parents at the edge of the forest, and that he had spent his whole life searching for me since then.
The little people were always full of surprises.
I took him in and his welcome company and knowledge warmed me as I continued to hide in my cave. He taught me to play chess, he told wonderful stories and even brought me books. I had seen the scratchings in stone from long ago and their meanings, but these were far more sophisticated. I learned to read and I lusted after the knowledge. He would go out once every few months and bring back more books, photographs, and at one point even a motion picture for me, which I devoured greedily. Years passed almost in an instant and I barely ever left the cave.
Eventually he told me I would need to face my fears and do something about the encroaching little people, who grew closer every day. But I knew he could see my wounded spirit, and he was kind and let me rest, never pressing me. He knew the little people had broken my heart.
But what is broken can break again, and when he finally passed away a few years later, I found myself alone once more. Timeless, not like the tree, but like the very stone I dwelled in, I knew everything around me was ephemeral. It was all going to change and die anyways, so what did it matter what I did.
And so I slept. I don’t know how long. It might have been ages.
Eventually I was awoken again by the little people’s noises. Well, in this case, you specifically of course. I remember thinking at the time that I was half tempted to snatch you all up and carry you to the edge of the forest and tell you never to return.
But I observed you from a distance without intervening to see what you did. My trust of the little people was low enough by now that I was prepared to even squash you if you stepped afoul, but to my surprise you all were nothing if not respectful of your surroundings.
After several weeks of observing you, I saw you rescue animals, study the plants, record information. I saw you exploring and appreciating the wonder of the forest, just like the little people of old. Just like I did. I realized you were the scientists the old man had told me about. That you were here to learn, not to destroy.
And that was when I decided to make myself known. I knew you would be terrified, but I was used to that at this point. And I still remember the look on your faces when I first presented, but when I managed to convince you I was harmless, your innate scientific curiosity took over I can only assume. The same curiosity which drives me. I believe you are like the other little people I once knew: kind, loving, and well intentioned.
And that is why I trust you with my story. I hope you are able to share it and help me, for while I was once called a god, I am just as helpless as a baby snake crawling, crippled in the mud on the forest floor.”
I turned off the recorder at that point and looked up at the towering feathered serpent, unfathomably large. I told him that was the last thing I needed and that I would return to see him again as soon as I could. He nodded in understanding, but watched with a sorrow in his eyes as we slowly made our way into the woods, leaving the cave we had been exploring for weeks behind. My colleagues and I had expected to discover an immense undiscovered network with possibly uncatalogued species. We had not expected to discover this particular uncatalogued species.
As I write this log of his recording, we are setting up camp less than a day from the airstrip where we will be picked up. I don’t know if anyone will believe me, or if they will think I photoshopped our pictures, but the rest of the team agrees we need to tread lightly, lest we bring him unwanted attention. But I have to do something. I still remember the first words he spoke to me, after all those first days of terror and uncertainty, not knowing if we had discovered a monster, not knowing if we were going to die. But the monster turned out to be anything but.
I will never forget what he said, the first time he spoke to us:
“I have been watching you. Do not fear. I have been here a long time. The world is changing and I am crawling in the mud again. I was once a little forest snake, but I was given the name Quetzalcoatl long ago by someone I loved very much. Now once again, I am as helpless as a little snake.
I need you. Every day my home gets smaller, and the little people grow. Every year I must hide deeper and deeper to avoid their shiny birds and stinging smoke.
I may look big to you, but I am just a simple creature crawling in the mud.
Please help me save my home.”