Spark of Divinity
"Oh, come on. Wake up already."
The tiny, furtive whisper was probably supposed to be inaudible. It was probably something I wasn't supposed to hear. But there, swimming in the darkness with my head feeling like I'd had about ten drinks too many, I heard it all too clearly.
My eyes slid open.
"Oh!" I heard them say, rather more respectfully. "I- That is, uh. Welcome!"
She was young, I saw when I collected myself enough to look down. About my age.
About my age before the truck went skidding out of its lane and tearing across the freeway, that was.
"Where am I now?" I whispered. "I thought I was supposed to get another life."
They'd been very clear, in the classroom where I'd woken up. Reincarnation. Absolute insanity. I wasn't even Buddhist. No one seemed to care, and they certainly hadn't asked my opinion on things. They'd just jammed the test in front of me, moving on to the next human-shaped shade and repeating the ritual. I’d stared down at the list of questions, blinking away tears and completely, totally confused.
And then, without any other options available to me, I’d started to write. One word at a time, I’d answered their test, spelling out my ethics and life’s history and opinions. Okay, so I might have gotten bored about halfway through. I’d gone faster and faster, puking out answers in my desperate need to be done.
Until at last, I’d woken up here.
I stared at the woman standing in front of me. “Well?” My strength built with every breath I took. “What’s going on? Who are you? Where the hell is this?”
The young woman leaned away, clasping her hands in front of her. Wherever we were, it was bright - and getting brighter by the second. Her blonde hair was braided into intricate loops she'd pinned back neatly. Combined with the glow from the blinding sun, the effect was stunning.
"There's been a bit of a change of plans," she said, inclining her head. "Something's happened."
"What do you mean?" I asked cautiously. Grief lingered there under the edges of my senses. I'd died. That sucked. But right then, fear was pushing out front, drowning out everything else under its shrieks. "Changed how?"
"It's- It's quite unusual, really," she said, looking down at the clipboard clutched in her arms. "Your scores were- Well, they were exemplary to say the least." She smiled up at me. She'd probably intended the expression to look pleasant. There was too much anxiety lacing the gesture to be anything of the sort.
"You've qualified for divinity. Congratulations."
I blinked. The world dipped and wove, spinning around and around. With every passing breath, our surroundings took form. Grass appeared under our feet. The brilliant sun overhead faded, exposing the blue sky at last.
"Divinity," I said slowly.
"As in, a god."
"....Yes?" she said.
"Are you asking, or are you telling?"
She sighed at last, shaking her head. "It's not proper, that's all. I...Well. It's not up to me. But there are a number of vacancies of late, and there's no arguing with your results."
"You have to know I didn't take that thing seriously," I said. Part of me screamed to shut up. Divinity, it said. Like, Godhood. What the hell was I doing? What would they do to me if they found out I-
"This isn't a test you can cheat on," she said, arching one eyebrow. "Surely you don't think we'd be as careless as that. The results are clear. You will be a good deity, I'm sure."
"Oh," I said, feeling the blood slowly drain from my face. "Wait. So. What do I-"
"We'll find you somewhere quiet," the woman said, flipping through her pages. "There are a few island nations that have recently undergone some strife. I believe they'd be more than willing to take on a new-"
"What's that?" I said, cutting her off with a raised finger. As the sky cleared, it left a haze in its wake off in the distance. It was difficult to make out with us so far away, but the white blemish on the otherwise-flawless sky was unmistakable.
The woman turned, following my finger - and froze. "D-Don't worry about them," she said, waving a hand at me. "The Greater Gods won't trouble you. Well. Jesus's missionaries might come knocking, but they'll wander off before too long. You've got nothing to worry about."
"So, what," I said, still looking up towards the sky. I'd liked life. I'd liked my job, and my friends, and my pets. I hadn't wanted to die. "I just need to find some godless folks to believe in me?"
The woman paused, furrowing her brow, and glanced back towards me. "Ah...something of the sort, yes."
But whether I'd wanted to die or not, it didn't look like I was going to get a choice. At this stage, I might as well make the most of it. I remembered my life well. The people. The questions they'd had. They'd had religion once. Even if they'd moved on, their hearts would remember. They just needed to be shown how.
That left a young, enterprising deity a lot of room to work with, didn't it?
More than anything, I was tired of it - the fear, the worry. It wasn’t fair. I’d barely gotten started, hardly had a chance to make a name for myself among the living. This woman wanted me to go live on some island, secluded from the rest of the world? How was that fair payment for the life I’d had stolen away from me?
"What did you say your name was?" I said, looking towards her at last.
She was still watching me, her expression carefully guarded. "You can call me Alice," she said, once again bowing towards me. "I've been assigned to aid you in this adjustment period."
I smiled, hearing my pulse thunder in my ears. I could still take her advice, go hide on an island somewhere. I'd probably carve out quite a nice existence there.
But that sounded boring - and there was a bigger prize waiting for me.
"Well, Alice," I said, offering her my biggest, most confident smile. "Let me tell you about my idea, instead."
My declaration hung between us, bold and brassy and filled with a confidence I prayed I could back up.
Alice leaned back on her heels, a strand of hair sliding down from her ear. “Oh? If you’ve got an idea, then it would of course be my pleasure to hear it out.”
I winced. The words were polite enough, and there was still a tiny, pleasant smile on her face, but the first traces of iron settled into her words.
Even still. I straightened, locking eyes with her. “I’m some divine being now, right?”
“You have that potential, yes,” Alice said, her expression growing more doubtful by the second.
“Then why the hell would I want to retreat to some backwater island in the middle of nowhere?”
The young woman, or angel, or whatever she was, just stared back at me. Her fingers tightened around the clipboard she held. And then she sighed. “It would be in your best interest to-”
“How long would I last out there?” I interrupted. “How long would I keep my believers?”
“I’m a-afraid I can’t answer something like that,” Alice said. “That would be up to Fate, I suppose. But surely-”
“Probably until something horrible happens to whatever group I convince to follow me, right?” I said.
There was no mistaking it. A faint red flush climbed Alice’s cheeks. “That would be entirely dependent on your own skills.”
“A century? Two?”
A breeze swept across the grassy plateau we stood on. I held my ground, folding my arms against my chest. The seconds ticked by as Alice squirmed. I took the opportunity, examining my surroundings.
Alice had talked about the Great Gods when I pointed to that distant blip. I’d never heard of anything like that, but, well, I wasn’t born yesterday. I had enough context to piece together what she was probably talking about. Who she was probably talking about.
There were others, though, I saw as I slowly craned my head around. They were little more than mirages, glimmers on the very edge of the horizon, but here and there I could make shapes out. Towers. Mountains. At the very edge of my sight, I could see what looked for all the world like the looming branches of a tree, taller than a skyscraper. Taller than lots of skyscrapers, in fact.
The adrenaline was starting to fade. It couldn’t last forever - and when it dripped out of my veins, only cold exhaustion lay in its wake. Everything… Everything was wrong, wasn't it?
Wherever I was, I was a long way from home. That fact had never been more obvious, and the reality of my situation was starting to sink in.
“It is true that your growth potential would probably be...limited,” Alice said at last, forming each word with careful precision. Her lips curled down in a scowl. “But it isn’t hopeless. It would be safer for you to choose a starting place with a bit of security.”
“Pass, I said, turning back to her.
She stiffened. “Pass?”
My heartbeat thundered. Maybe I was being stupid. Maybe I was being hasty. But I’d died. This existence was my new life - and I’d be damned if I let them push me into a corner where I could be swept under the rug and forgotten.
“I don’t want to go, Alice,” I said, wrapping my fingers around my arm. If she saw the tiny quiver that wracked them, she didn’t react. “There are a whole mess of people right here, ready and waiting to believe.” I smiled, a slow, broad expression. “You said there were vacancies. I'm looking for a position. So, I’m staying right here, thanks.”
Alice stared at me. Her eyes were perfectly round, showing the whites. “Don’t be an idiot,” she blurted out. Her hand flew up to cover her mouth in the next second, as though she’d remembered herself.
She shook her head, collecting herself, and let her eyes slide shut. “If you’ll pardon me, mistress, I don’t believe you understand,” she said, more firmly. “The godless here are...not receptive. Gaining any traction will be difficult.” Her eyes slitted back open. I watched her glanced towards the distant, gleaming shape in the sky, her face darkening. “It’s also their backyard. I don’t believe they would want you tromping about like you owned the place.”
So I’d make enemies. I hesitated, weighing the options again. Survival was definitely something I wanted. I wasn't done yet.
But I'd never gotten my break in life, damn it. I'd always looked for it, but it was nowhere to be found.
Turned out all I had to do to find it was die. Perfect.
"I'm sure," I said, forcing myself up to my full height. "Go big or go home, right?"
“Idiot,” she muttered.
“What name would you like to be registered under, then?” she said, snapping back to perfectly-polished without pause.
What was my name? “Ta-”
“Not your human name,” Alice said. She rolled her eyes, letting the clipboard clutched to her chest go slack. “That name is dead now. If you’re to be a divine, then you need something proper for them to call you, yes?”
“Oh,” I said, faltering. “Right.”
The silence dragged out. Alice arched one eyebrow. “Mistress?”
“I’m thinking,” I mumbled. God, this wasn’t so easy, was it?
If I was going to win over the hearts and minds, then I’d have to be a deity. A real one. The difficult of that was starting to rear its head.
I had no creation myth. No stories told about me, no legends to draw from. I wasn’t some heroic individual who could create a cult of personality. In fact, part of the reason there were so many available followers out there for me to ogle contemplatively was because modern religion had...well, it had started falling out of fashion, somewhere along the line.
I couldn’t be me. No one would follow Tara, the random, unknown girl who’d gotten herself hit by a truck. I couldn’t exactly bill myself as the creator of the known world, either. Even if it was true, no one would believe me. Anyone I managed to convince of my existence would be labeled a crackpot and waved off. Tara was just-
The idea that had started to spring to life in the back of my mind stretched wider, blossoming.
If people weren’t going to believe in me, then I had to take on something they would believe in. Something I could sway them with. Something they’d be passionate about.
Besides, I’d always loved some good, cold logic and reasoning. I smiled to myself. I didn’t even have to stray too far from what I knew, did I?
“Give me that,” I said, holding my hand out towards Alice.
Her hand jerked involuntarily at my command, but she reined herself in. “What? Have you decided something to-”
“Just give it to me,” I muttered, reaching out and snatching it away from her. She started, her nose wrinkling in distaste, but subsided into an irritated sulk.
The form was surprisingly simple, I saw when I scanned the sheet over. Name. Identity. Type. There were a few check boxes, which I sped through with the same urgency I’d put into filling out the exam.
I didn’t have time for all this paperwork - and I should have known better than to hope it’d end when I died.
A few last scratches with the elegant pen Alice had hooked across the clipboard, and I was done. Mostly. I thrust it back toward her, my lower lip stubbornly set. “There. I got it. There were a few things I wasn’t sure about, but-”
“Let me see,” the young woman said with a sigh, taking the clipboard and fixing me with a tolerant look. Her blue eyes dropped to the form a heartbeat later, scrolling back and forth.
And then she looked back up to me.
“A nature goddess?” she said, giving me a long, hard look.
“I-Is there something wrong with that?” I snapped, clenching my hands even more tightly.
She laughed. The sound was soft, delicate, and derisive enough to make me want to wipe the smug look off my assistant’s face. “Of course not. My apologies, ah….Terra?”
Again she looked at me. This time, though, the humor had faded, leaving her serious.
I nodded, shoving my hands into the pockets of the jeans I wore. I hadn’t been dressed for fashion when that truck decided to go off-roading through my car. Looked like I was stuck with it for the time being. “I don’t like new things. Problem?”
Alice paused, tilting her head to one side. Her lips parted, curling back like she was holding onto something.
“Spit it out,” I said.
“I’m afraid a deity already claims that name,” she said, bowing her head towards me. “I do apologize.”
I frowned. “Yeah, I know the name is a thing. That’s why I want it. So I can’t have it?”
She was starting to sweat. It was barely noticeable, just a fine sheen across her forehead, but it gleamed in the brilliant sun. “T-That’s not...necessarily the case.”
“So I can?” I said, beginning to glare. “Spit it out.”
“Only one can have the name at a time,” she said slowly. The flush had abandoned her skin at some point, leaving her pale. “You may have it - but you would have to claim it from her.”
“That Roman goddess, right?” I said, running a hand through my hair. My mind spun all the while. “That’s ancient history.”
“It is true that she’s not exactly strong,” Alice said slowly. “Even still, I would recommend-”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, cutting her off. A different name would be easier. But I liked this one. It was mine, sort of. And it was different enough from the usual fare of gods and divinities to stand out. It was younger, somehow.
And I wanted it. This was my afterlife, wasn’t it?
“I’m allowed to make a go for it, aren’t I?” I said, focusing my gaze back onto her.
Alice froze, caught under the intensity of the look I’d sent her way. And then she nodded once. “Yes.”
“Then let’s do this,” I said, forcing a smile. “What next?”
“Is everything here correct, then?” Alice said, holding the form up for me to inspect.
I hardly glanced at it. I’d filled the damn thing out, after all. “Yes.”
“Hand, please.” Her voice was all business, her professionalism back in place.
I stuck my hand out, my brow furrowing. “What do you want my-”
My palm erupted in pain. I yelped, pulling back, but she’d gotten me by the wrist before I could escape.
“Stop that,” she said absentmindedly. “Hold still.”
She’d pulled a knife from somewhere up her perfect grey sleeve, tiny and smooth-bladed. And then she’d stabbed me with it. I glared at Alice, barely restraining myself from throttling her.
The woman didn’t seem to notice. She slipped the form closer, pressing it against my hand without another word. I hissed, wincing at the sharp resurgence of pain.
And then she’d pulled away, leaving a bloody handprint across the words I’d so hastily scrawled. “There. Was that so bad?”
“You could have warned me,” I muttered, grabbing my hand.
To my horror, I saw the cut was already starting to close. That, more than anything, was the sight that shook me to my core. My stomach churned, rebelling against the sight.
“Don’t be a baby,” Alice murmured, pulling a tiny book from the sash on her jacket and beginning to note something down.
“So what now?” I said, shoving my hand under my armpit. I wouldn’t have to look at it there. I’d still know, though. “What’s the plan?”
“You need a prophet,” Alice said, still completely focused on her booklet. She closed it with a sigh a moment later, turning to me. “You saw it on the registration, yes?”
“I remember.” It was one of the spaces I’d left blank. I’d expected Alice to protest. Apparently, it was all part of the process.
She grabbed my wrist, pulling my hand palm-up. I hissed in protest as the half-healed wound pulled.
And then the world around us slowed as light seeped from my palm, flickering to life in green and gold embers. It filled the air around us in the time it took me to gape.
Alice’s hand settled around the back of my head before I could react further. She leaned in, pinning me in place with her gaze.
“Listen carefully,” she said, all attempts at formality abandoned. I let her go on. Something about the look in her eyes said I didn’t have another choice. Not one that would end well for me, anyway.
Not when she looked so worried.
“You need a follower,” she said, inching closer. “Someone to know you exist. Someone to believe. Without a one, you’ll fade, and as you are, you’re outside the cycle.”
“So I’ll be gone,” I whispered. I thought I’d been doing well so far. I’d kept my chin up, I’d plowed onward despite the confusion and the fear. Her words shredded that confidence like paper.
“If you don’t want to disappear, then you need to make this work, mistress,” she said, still holding me fast. “So listen. Find a follower. Convince them. And then claim your name.” She smiled tightly. “If I were you, I wouldn’t waste time.”
Without another word, her hand slipped free of me. I stumbled away, shaken but fighting to recover my dignity. “I-I got it,” I said, pulling my hoodie back into place. I nodded to myself, letting my thoughts return to my old life.
Someone to believe in me...someone to acknowledge me. I didn’t have all that many acquaintances, and me turning into some sort of divine after my death would probably be completely unbelievable, but… “I think I know someone,” I said, nodding once more. Decisively, I hoped.
Alice smoothed her jacket, coming back to her prim demeanor. “You do?”
“Uh. Yeah. Probably.”
She watched me a moment longer, then sighed. “Very well. Are you ready?”
Was I ready? Fuck, no. Nothing made sense. I was confused, and scared, and the thought that I was dead still hurt in a way I wasn’t prepared to discuss. But was I ready to start doing, instead of talking?
“Yes,” I said, grinning over at Alice. “So what-”
Before I could finish my sentence, the world around us vanished.
In the blink of an eye, the grass was gone. The blue sky blinked out.
All that was left was empty space under my feet - and the blue-and-green globe of the Earth filling my vision, impossibly large and impossibly beautiful.
I’d have appreciated the sight more if I wasn’t falling, plummeting towards it at a thousand miles an hour. I screamed. I’m not proud of it, but I did. People always said there was no sound in space, but either I was close enough to air to get the job done or rules like that just didn’t apply anymore. My arms swung like pinwheels, clawing desperately for anything to cling onto. My feet kicked at the void. Neither found any purchase.
Alone, I fell towards what I knew, knew was going to be my second death.
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