His groaning was distracting, though.
Some of the clouds were bulging white, a couple were big fat ones like we'd learned about in school. I couldn't remember what they were called- no, wait, of course I remembered, cumulous, I know everything because I am everything.
I am Lastwailing Wood.
Archie still struggled to crawl away, he'd given up trying to stand. Fair play to him, he'd crawl home if he had to, if he had a home to crawl to. Shaking violently, he'd crawl inch by terrified inch.
But shut up Archie. Let me think. Shut up now. Or else.
Archie was broken.
He lay on the ground, retching, sobbing, sometimes trying to get up but always failing as his trembling legs and arms gave way beneath him.
I knew he wanted to run home, he wanted Mammy and Daddy, needed their comfort. I knew this, and, because I knew everything I knew he didn't hate me for sacrificing Doug. His thoughts were so jumbled, he wasn't even thinking about me: he hadn't even made the logical connection that I could sacrifice him, too, if that would please Me.
Yes, Archie was broken. Consequently, no longer any use to me.
Standing beneath the timeless sky, watching the clouds slowly increase, watching soft white wisps miraculously appear then grow, and knowing that I had pleased God enough for Him to give me the power over life and death - for hadn't it been me who had made the clouds? Hadn't it been me who had destroyed Doug? - I was filled with a feeling so vast and so exhilarating I could hardly comprehend it! Being one with God, sharing His thoughts, His aims, being one with the earth... I had become part of God, I was filled with His power.
I was God.
I leapt to my feet and viewed Doug's lifeless body. Happy that the sacrifice had been completed, I looked up into the sky.
"Every time you look into the sky, you look into the face of God," I said to no- one, repeating what I'd heard Doug's father say. He'd been talking about the night sky, and about seeing things as they were millions of years ago - like looking into a past even before human beings were around, like looking at the start of the Universe; but what he'd said seemed appropriate to now, too.
Archie moaned and sobbed loudly.
Two things surprised me: first, the heat of the blood that spurted up over me and second, almost immediately, the way it pooled, black and viscous, on the hard ground. If I had bothered to think about it, I would have anticipated the thirsty, vampiric earth sucking the blood away like rainwater. But no, the ground was too hard, the earth too weak to even drink.
For some time I stared without thinking into the coalescing colours that steamed inches from my eyes, but I was soon distracted by Archie vomiting and retching loudly. His moaning quickly lit my anger.
My happiness was short-lived because Doug's leg moved, his fingers spasmed weakly and a liquid groan, barely audible, escaped his throat. He was coming around.
It was more reaction than intent.
First the rock was silhouetted black against bright sunlight, held high by tightly clenched hands.
Then, silently and blindly, it thrashed down, barely hindered by the splintering, shattering bone of Doug's skull, until the earth gripped it, wet and immobile, still caged by my rigid fingers.
My elbows jarred painfully as they took my weight and my head came to rest above what had once been Doug's face.
His hand reached out to grab my wrist, feebly trying to stop me driving the rock through Doug's head, but his grasp was feeble, a baby's grip. Effortlessly, I pulled away from him.
Something came out of Archie's mouth, words, or a moan, I didn't know.
Lastwailing Wood shivered noisily in a sudden wind, its topmost branches shaking like trembling fingers, as if pointing up into the sky and I followed their direction to see that the thin wisp of cloud had grown, to be joined by others.
I nodded happily.
God was content. We were on the right track.
"No, no!" cried Archie, "Stop it, stop it, you can't- "
His words were barely understandable, his sobbing was desperately intense as he stood shaking like some misshapen, diseased sapling. I shook my head in disgust. Could he not see the strength of the trees, their roots solid in the earth, unlike his roots skimming the ground? Could he not see the yearning of Lastwailing Wood, its dependence on us, could he not see its trees lean forward towards us to watch us perform a miracle for them? Could he not - ?
No, of course he couldn't: he was Archie.
Wide-eyed, Archie trembled, shaking visibly.
"A cloud!" he gasped between sobs. "The heatwave's breaking! There's no need to - don't sacrifice Doug! The heat's ending - it's over! - That cloud! - It's a sign from God!"
Fool! This was Archie all over! Fool: with a Capital F. He wasn't like Doug, who was always right, always right because his father was God. Poor Archie just couldn't understand.
It was a sign alright. But one tiny cloud was nothing but God telling us that we were on the right track...
...that what greater sacrifice could there be than the son of God himself?
My fingers tightened around the rock. Sinews in my wrists became hardened branches, my shoulders tightened and my teeth bit through my lip.
When Archie yelled "Look! Look!" and pointed at the sky, I was aware of blood squirting out over my chin and the taste of hot salt in my mouth.
I looked, following his pointing hand.
And there, just above the trees, a sign from God.
I blinked. Disbelieving.
It was still there. The faintest wisp of white cloud, barely a smear on the retina of the sky.
But it was there. And it was real.
Lastwailing Wood fell suddenly silent. The earth itself became mute, and like all times when a permanent noise suddenly ceases, the silence it summoned had a solid presence of its own. The silence filled the space we inhabited, it stole the air and became the earth and the sky. Its presence was tangible, a soundless physical entity. This was the same silence that had been felt since time began: the silence of a world before life, the silence of endings, the silence after the crucifixion.
It was the silence of death, enduring and unwearying, watching us play out the inevitable.
The rock in my hand
...feeling the perfect fit
The rock, caressed in both hands
...brutal hardness vibrating into my palms
"Oh my God!" Archie repeated. Glancing up at him, I saw that he knew what was about to happen.
Doug still had his face covered by his hands. A groan bubbled up out of his throat, and, still semi-conscious, he barely moved.
I raised both hands above my head. The point of the rock pointed the way into Doug's skull.
Accept this sacrifice, Doug had said.
"Accept this sacrifice!" I screamed, madly ferocious into the white-blue sky.
His pathetic, imploring face fed the rage inside me.
Helpless. Pitiful. Words I didn't need now.
A sacrifice must be made.
Doug lay on his back on the ground, barely breathing. God help him. But not even his Father could save him now.
I reached for the rock he'd dropped when I'd hit him. He was right - of course he was, Doug was always bloody right - it felt perfect in my hand.
God fed me through that rock. I felt its power, His power. Life and Death.
"Oh my God!" Archie bleated.
I knelt down beside Doug.
I pulled Archie upright, steadying him.
We were wasting time: with every crack of wood, with every breaking twig, every dried leaf falling, with every root squirming in blind anger in the dead earth, time was drying out, becoming a lifeless husk.
With every wasted moment, time itself was dying.
Desperately holding me, Archie spoke hoarsely
His huge innocent eyes implored me. He didn't know what Doug intended to do, but he knew I'd saved him from something, something very bad.
He looked wretched and hopeless - and my hatred of his weakness and gratitude flared because of it.
Archie staggered to his feet, blood pulsing slowly but persistently down the side of his face. He staggered backwards, then sideways.
Christ's sake, Archie, I heard myself thinking aloud as I grabbed his arm and pulled him roughly towards me. He fell against me, his knees buckled and he was on all fours on the ground again.
"Get up!" I commanded.
"Look at Doug!" Archie was crying again. "Look what you done!"
"Get up!" I snarled.
I didn't care about Doug, the heat was burning my skin and I felt that at any moment it would blister and peel away.
Someone's voice rose above the noise of Archie groaning. It was an aged, croaking, unrecognised voice that cried out "Sacrifice him now!", a voice red with bloodlust and yellow with hatred.
With shock I realised the voice was mine.
But Doug continued talking, yelling at the sky, head thrown back in weird ecstasy
"Yea, Lord, release us from the torment of this hell!"
There could be no release if there was no sacrifice.
I stood above Archie.
And with all the force the woods could muster, my fist crashed noisily into Doug's face and he crumpled slowly to the ground.
"Lord, hear- "
Doug could pray forever. Jesus, once he started on a subject there was no stopping him. This prayer could last half an hour. His eyes burned white hot in his red and glowing face as they stared up into the furnace of the sky.
"-our prayer and accept-"
Doug held the stone high as if it was a trophy, his fist proudly pumping the air.
Archie tried to get up.
Doug's elbow crashed into the side of Archie's head whose blood pumped thick and red even before he'd hit the ground.
I'd never seen Doug like this and it scared me. Scared Archie, too, I could tell, because even though he was still on the ground he was trying to back away from him.
But every time Archie moved, Doug moved, to remain standing over him.
"Accept this," Doug's voice resonated in the sticky air and I'm sure the trees of Lastwailing Woods echoed the words, "our sacrifice!"
But the voice of that thing within me did not echo them. It spoke its own words. It gave its own command:
"We need a sacrifice. Do it. Now."
Hatred clenched my fists.
I jumped out of my skin at his voice, it was so different.
"Lord, hear our prayer!"
It was deep, like a proper grown-up, and loud, too. Not in a shouty way, but different, like it filled the whole sky.
"Accept this, our sacrifice..." He stood unmoving. Both his hands were raised into the air, and he held them there in silence as sweat flooded from his red face and down his neck. White spit dribbled from the corners of his mouth. His eyes widened and blazed with excitement.
"...so that we may find release from this heat."
Then it all stopped. Doug pulled the sobbing Archie away and he fell awkwardly to the ground nursing both fists while Doug grabbed my arm roughly and whispered angrily into my face
"We pray first. How's God supposed to know a sacrifice is for Him if we don't tell Him first?"
I didn't know. I thought God knew everything.
Blood trickled down my cheek and Doug brushed it away with the ball of his thumb.
I guess he probably had a point, his Dad being God and all. Ok, a minister anyway.
Doug raised his stone high above his head.