by David Penny
“Listen well, my precious ones, and I will tell you of our Mother, the Goddess of Secrets.”
The alley cat nosed more newspaper around her kittens. Cruel wind chilled all their bones. She licked stray whiskers, soothed hungry cries. They clamoured for her story.
* * *
In the beginning, the world was light. Many Gods, bright and cruel, roamed the land. People were of all shapes and cowered from the God’s self-important wrath. The God of Death was born from necessity and laboured eternally. You see, Death was smaller, less important in those times. He was just, and fair, and implacable in his kindness. Death did not know all then, and some survived when they should not, but that is another story.
One bright moment among many, a woman fled from the unkind Gods. She was beautiful, with graceful limbs and curving tail, proud as an arched whisker, and sharp of wit as a well-groomed claw. The Gods chased and laughed and fought amongst themselves for the right to claim the spark of joy in her heart. She was afraid. The world was light with no dark places to hide. Death knew her and waited by her side. She begged Death, not for life, but for spite, to keep her joy away from the cruel Gods.
Death obliged, and hid her inside himself, the single unlit place in all creation. He gave her a choice — stay with him in darkness forever and be safe or leave into the light and meet her end with the other Gods. If she left, her spark would die with her, because Death had no power over other Gods at that time.
She stayed, and wept, alone. Death was also lonely, for no one whispered love to him in those times. He came to her softly in her first night, and she was blind, afraid.
Yes, my darlings, Gods can visit inside themselves. They drink paradoxes like we drink cream.
Death whispered kind words and gave her a gift, not of light, for that was beyond him, but of shades and shadows. He stole the black behind the moon, wrapped it with tender words and presented it on bent knee. She accepted Death’s courtship. Afterwards, darkness was clear to her as water to a fish, and she knew no fear from unseen things.
A joy shared is a joy doubled, so she shared herself with him, and Death claimed part of her spark, freely given. This was her plan. Death was a kind prison, but prisons chafed. She resented the freedom Gods gave themselves. She whispered her anger in Death’s ear and made up a secret that Gods could die. In love, Death believed her. No more were Gods immortal in the world.
Death summoned himself for the first time. He slew a cruel, brilliant God in her name. The divine corpse-void brought the first proper darkness into the world. Death hid the dark in him to conceal his deed. Death grew, and the woman could stretch out once more. She murmured soft praise to her lover. The Gods did not see, for they could not conceive of their own destruction.
Again, she drew Death into her to share her spark of joy. Again Death slew in her name. Death grew once more. Three, and three, and three again were slain for her. She danced through the halls of Death and sang her joy through the echoing chambers of Death’s love for her.
The Gods knew treachery now, and came to kill Death, but Death would not come for himself. With the strength of her song inside him, Death threw back all who tried. The Gods discovered fear and withdrew from the darkness of his touch. Light flickered in the world, dangerous to all the people, for the void claimed any place where the divine light did not fall.
Death came to her once more for wisdom. She whispered into his ear. The Gods, so fearful of his touch, were herded outside the world, locked behind the void corpses of the nine, plucked from the body of Death, left where their Godly light touched the people but could not harm them. The woman filled to bursting with the nine-fold doubling of joy now returned to them. She bore Death’s shadowy children, every night, for many nights, each with a sliver of their shared joy. These shadows became night and filled the corners of the world where the light did not touch. People became safe in the darkness for the first time.
At last, she lay exhausted, curled inside a Death too small to contain her. Their last child and only daughter, with eyes that saw all, and ears that heard all, nestled in her arms. Death whispered all his secrets for there was no other way to express the fullness of his love. He shared his divinity as she shared joy. Unconfined at last, the Goddess of Secrets padded away from the safety of Death for the dark patches and secret ways of night. Her daughter followed, soft and sharp, kind and vicious.
All shadows whispered to her, and she knew all, from love found in the shade of a tree to the shadow of evil inside a twisted heart. She whispered all these secrets to Death, and none could ever hide from him again.
Her daughter’s children, and children’s children bore the co-mingled spark of joy from nine divine deaths. Death honoured each one, in memory of his undying love.
* * *
“And that, my kittens, is why you must watch everything, and peer into all spaces, so your Mother of Secrets can whisper to her love. Do this, and you can greet father Death as a friend until the ninth, when you will go with him forever.”
The alley cat licked her kitten’s foreheads once more and whispered her love into their ears. The wind blew colder. The kittens slept, for now. She looked up to see her friend, Death, waiting at her side, the fourth time for her. He stroked her kindly, once, and stroked the cheek of her youngest, and weakest, who blinked awake, eyes wide but unafraid. Death took only his due and the kitten tumbled back to sleep. They all slept soundly. Tomorrow was another day, and there were kittens to feed.
* * *
About the Author
David Penny lives with his wife and daughter in Ontario, where he also plays host to their perpetual house guest and cat Louis. When not writing, David likes to fiddle around with a violin and spend far too many hours prepping and running various TTRPGs. He works in the civil engineering field, but would rather read stories of all kinds than more technical documentation.