MISC: George Washington and the gods of old # 1
twopointthreefivefilmwerks at yahoo.com
Fri Jan 14 22:20:37 PST 2005
Tom Russell presents
& THE GODS OF OLD
Stories are never made up, they're never created, child, and don't let
anyone tell you any differently. Now, there are such things as
authors, and as style, and works, but it's conceited, even
pretentious, to think that just because Ernest Vincent Wright puts his
name on Gadsby that he came up with the story that's there. I'll go
you one further; he didn't even come up with the stylistic affectation
with which he wrote that great experiment. No, it came from some
god-thing, whatever deity you believe in, or whatever deity exists.
All this work, all the great works of civilization (and all the
piss-poor ones) come from god.
If you're going to tell a story, you have to be humble. You can't
think yourself better than the story, or the people in it; you can't
lord it over them like you're somebody because you came up with them.
I'm telling you, you didn't come up with them. Every creative thought
and act of imagination we have is put in our heads, and we should thank
god that he put it there. We should thank him and humbly,
workman-like, do the task he set before us. Don't think you're
hot-shit, friend, because you're not. Don't think inspiration will
come again, because it won't. It ain't a light-switch, you can't turn
it on and off; you can't turn god on and off like no damn light-switch!
If god gives you a story to tell, than you tell it, to the best of
your ability, and you thank him for giving you a story to tell. And
all this preamble adds up to is, I have a story to tell, child, a long
one, one that reaches back not just two and a quarter hundred years,
but also back to the dawn of time, and to the end of it, to the end of
all things. And, as one might ascertain from the title, it concerns no
less a personage than that most American of gods, the General George
Washington. And Benjamin Franklin, Loki and Prometheus and even
Priapus all rolled up into one. And Nikola Tesla, and the greatest
poet that ever lived, Stephen Vincent Benét, the one who set down the
immortal words GOD THE SON, GOD THE SIRE/ GOD THE TRIPLE-HANDED FIRE.
You see? He knew where his gift came from. Say that out loud, child,
say it over and over like an incantation. Benét's words will scare
you shitless, unless you're too old to get excited, or too young and
And this story is about gods, old gods whose names are so old that
they've been forgotten and you and I could never pronounce them anyway.
And this story is about hell, and time-travel, and adventure, and
love. And this story is about telling stories. I don't know if it's
even true or not, but it doesn't matter; god gave me a story to tell,
and I'm going to tell it to the best of my ability, and I hope the
scope of things doesn't get the better of me. Well, I suppose I better
start. All these words spewing out of me, it's really just my way of
cozying up to the beginning of this tale, of trying to find the words
that do it justice. Failing that, I suppose I must be simple, and I'm
afraid you'll find the prose herein to be mostly plain and unadorned.
Benét would not be proud.
ONE: HOW WASHINGTON WAS SUMMONED BY THE GODS OF OLD ON DECEMBER 25,
The sky cracked open o'er the Delaware, and notice was taken.
The light was bright and severe and warm, spilling out from the
heavens like rain, or perhaps hail. The ice glowed in the light, and
the men in the boats, cramped and damp and used to the dark, found
their eyes throbbing from the light and their bodies slightly toasty.
"Cover your eyes," said Washington. Those words-- cover your eyes--
they were not his words. It was his voice that spoke them, and he was
conscious of his mouth moving, but it was as if the words had been put
in his stomach, and were now being retched up.
"Sir, how can we see the ice?"
"Cover your eyes," Washington said again. He felt more sure of
himself this time, and to assert himself, he stood up in the boat, his
own eyes covered. And then? Then, child, the heavens spoke.
"Keep your eyes closed, or they shall surely burn. Only Washington
"Cover your eyes," Washington said again, lowering his own arm. His
eyes squinted, the light becoming brighter as something else came down
from the sky. It was in the shape of a man, only made of most perfect
and black ebony, nude and bald and without genitals. Its feet-- no
toes-- were pointed down towards the earth, as its body was slowly
It stopped, and stood in mid-air, just a few feet in front of
Washington and with its feet at his eye-level. He had to look up at
the creature, straining his neck. Martha would have to rub it again.
"All men who value their sight will not see. Only Washington shall
"You said that already," one of the men called out.
"I wanted to make it plain," said the thing, its voice deep like the
beating of a drum: forceful, clear, resounding across the river.
"What will you have with me and my men?" Washington said. "And what
manner of thing are you?"
"I am the youngest of the old gods."
"We are Christian men, here," said Washington. "We do not believe in
any pagan thing."
"And yet I am here, a pagan thing. How you deal with that is not my
concern." It paused. "You are a brave man. It is because you have
the effrontery to stand up to a god, and to question him, that I have
been sent for you."
"Stuff it," said one of Washington's men, a professional soldier. He
never saw why dashing George Washington was the one who got to lead the
army. Dashing, foolish Washington. "I don't fear you either." He
opened his eyes, and they burst into flames. The man screamed.
It spoke again, but dispassionately: "Washington is brave. You are
Washington laughed inwardly: the latter, at least, was true. But he
kept his face calm and said to his men, "Keep them closed."
The soldier with the burning eyes fell out of the boat and into the
icy river. One of his friends called out his name.
"Leave him to die," said the thing.
"Keep them closed," said Washington.
"But he's going to drown!" said the friend. He opened his eyes and
was about to dash after the soldier when his own eyes burst into
"Keep them closed," said Washington.
"This is why," the thing said, "I warned you repeatedly."
"Quite right," said the man who had said, you said that already.
"Shut up," said the thing.
"My patience is growing thin."
"Shut up," said Washington.
The man did not speak.
The thing resumed. "Shall we get on with it, then?"
"What do you want of me?" said Washington with a nod.
"I have been told to bring you to the world of the gods."
"For what purpose?"
"That I do not know." He paused. "But, I think there is war on the
horizon." Another pause. "But I didn't say that."
"You are but a messenger and are only following orders."
"That is correct."
"Do you have a name?"
"None that your mortal tongue can pronounce."
"What shall I call you, then?"
"Whatever you would like."
"What if you don't like it?"
"We are not as petty as the Olympians. We do not offend easily. Any
name you choose shall suffice and I shall bear you no ill-will."
"Any name at all?" Washington said.
"Yes, yes. Get on with it, then."
"Then I shall call you Cassandra."
"Then Cassandra I shall be."
One of Washington's men called out, "Cassie for short!"
The man exploded.
"I thought you did not offend easily," said Washington.
"Cassandra does not suffer fools."
Cassandra floated down a bit, until his eyes met with Washington's,
and his feet touched the icy waters of the Delaware. He offered his
"Shall you come with me, then, to see the gods of old?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Yes. Here's your other choice." Cassandra pointed one of his
fingers and someone's head exploded.
"Now, that one didn't do anything. Do stop."
"He was thinking of it," said Cassandra. He offered his hand again.
"What's it going to be?"
Washington took Cassandra's hand. And in an instant, both of them
disappeared into the waters of the Delaware. The sea grew choppy, and
the light faded like sunset.
© 2004 Tom Russell. All rights reserved.
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