Rain pummels hard into my town. Gutters become streams, roads shine in the daydark glowering and are ignited by frequent lightning flashes. Some folk run indoors and emerge with coats, but most stand beneath the deluge, or in doorways, pushed together in small groups like debris in riverbank eddies.
The storm eases unexpectedly and a cooling breeze opens the clouds for a brief moment. The rain is gentler now, but more persistent.
And Father Benjamin points out to Doug's Dad a rainbow messaging the sky as the first great billows of smoke rise relentlessly above the canopy of Lastwailing Wood.
Soon, five or ten or a hundred people are shouting "Rain!" and many of them stand with their heads thrown back and their mouths wide open, their arms spread out to both sides as if mimicking a crucifixion.
Or practicing a sacrifice.
Warm rain falls and open mouths cheer, and even when it falls hard, its giant drops hammering painfully into hot welcoming faces, all people do is shield their eyes and grin at one another as it soaks them.
Thunder roars and lightning flashes above them, the downpour is torrential now as a few whisper thanks for answered prayers
The streets of my town are full of people.
They are all out there, faces looking up at the sky.
"Didn't need a sacrifice after all," Father Benjamin chuckles to Doug's Dad, who smiles.
Someone a long way off shouts "Rain!" and no one believes them, or perhaps no one has the courage to believe them because they really cannot cope with any more disillusionment. But then the dust at Father Benjamin's feet explodes outward in a tiny explosion, as if someone has dropped a tiny stone into it. And the dust clouds black.
And another voice gleefully cries "Rain!"
A tremendous crash of thunder deafened me, the lightning strike burned my legs and my agonised tongue frazzled in my mouth. Small pains over my body rapidly intensified. I saw, dancing directly in front of my eyes, tips of flames rising hungrily through my pyre, at first some way off and then quickly nearer. Then my vision left me, leaving agony where my eyes should have been.
Another crash, and the roar of flames around me intensified.
Feeling nothing but an unconnected numbness, I freed myself to burn with the trees, at last to be at one with Lastwailing Wood.
There was nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Just a blackness I wasn't aware of, a timeless nothing which I was no longer part of.
I no longer existed, though I wasn't aware of it until...
...until the smell of acrid smoke burned the inside of my nostrils and I gasped for air. But there was none! Hot smoke ripped down the back of my throat like long fingernails raking into my mouth, and my eyes burned with an intense pain. I tried to move my arms and legs but I couldn't - if they still existed they weren't responding to my desperation.
It was happening...
Soon I would merge with the trees.
I knew it was truly happening because slowly, the weight of the crushing wood preventing me breathing lessened. I still couldn't breathe properly, but that didn't matter, the pain was leaving me. Blanketed by darkness, whatever was left of my vision disappeared. Now, only blackness remained, a backdrop to weird and wonderfully-coloured shapes that danced hypnotically.
Then all pain was gone, I drained into the earth, and floated in blackness amongst the tiny tendrils of life, ready to rise through the roots of trees and become one with them.
And soon I would be part of it.
It could have been seconds, it could have been hours. I had no idea of time, but eventually I crawled on my knees to the base of the oak and squirmed my way into the tangle of broken wood. It was hard, the branches were heavy and initially I felt too weak to move them, but Lastwailing Wood fed my arms and my back and slowly but surely I got into the middle of the pile.
The weight of the wood was crushing and no light found its way through the hoard.
I knew, of course. Oak.
My raw palms bled and tingled with a delicious pain and I licked the blood off them. Seeing the open wounds, I felt like Jesus.
When the pile of wood was taller than I was, I stopped, sat down on the rustling floor and gazed happily at it. Every now and then it was lit by the electric storm that still raged out there somewhere, out there, far away... where nothing at all mattered. And when it was lit up, for that brief moment, it was a beautiful Christmas tree leaning against its Father Oak.
The trees told me when I was at the heart of Lastwailing Wood. Inside me, the wood relaxed, and allowed itself to merge into my flesh, happy that I understood now what needed to be done.
I collected dead wood as quickly as I could manage it. I gathered broken branches from the floor of the forest and carried them by the armful. Heavier branches, coated brown with dried out moss falling off them, I dragged along the ground, and piled them all up against the trunk of a huge tree, wishing I knew what sort of tree it was.
In the deepest part of Lastwailing Wood there was no daylight. I couldn't tell if outside, out there in what used to be the remains of the real world, it was night or day. The only light came from the frequent lightning flashes which drove through the gaps in the trees like shining silver nails through soft wood. And for every flash there was a crack of thunder, a loud, deafening fracture as if my brittle universe was snapping apart.
I didn't want to hear it and covered my ears with bloodying hands as I pushed through the yielding undergrowth.
And in my universe it darkened as cloud covered almost all the sky. There was a sudden flash, as lightning speared the earth, once, twice, three times. But no rain fell.
A rumble of distant thunder announced my entry into Lastwailing Wood. Flashes of lightning made the shadows of trees spasm and jerk.
I pushed my way through brittle branches and they snapped as I passed by. Many of them tore the skin on my face and my bare arms as I went deeper into the forest, but I felt nothing but the tickling of blood escaping down my skin.
I walked slowly into the trees. There was no rush.
No rush since I knew what was about to happen because I controlled everything. Because I was everything.
A single thought of Archie crossed my mind. He no longer lived, or he lived: it was of no concern. And I understood then that I was a fearful God, a fiery God but a just God. I was chance and I was coincidence, I was circumstance and I was aftermath. I was everything: but there was no room there for compassion - and that is just how it is in my Universe.
Silence stalked me as I walked towards Lastwailing Wood, nonchalantly tossing the rock as if my past was nonexistant .
In that past I was a boy, some kid in a huge world, helplessly dependent. Now I felt changed. The boy within me was dead.
It came back to me then: Doug's Dad saying "what the caterpillar calls Death the wise man calls a butterfly" and me looking at him like he raving.
But now I understood.
My caterpillar was no more. I had become God.
Within me, the butterfly's velvet wings stretched ready to fly.
The roar of Satan's laughter filled the world.
This pointless death, no sacrifice, just satisfying a passing whim... filled my past.
It didn't matter. It disappeared into my past, into the black emptiness behind me. The past - a place that is no more, that may never have been.
In some way, I had become the executioner and the executed.
Within me, Satan laughed and God understood because I understood. Only now mattered. Only knowing now what must be done mattered.
I was the temple of God. The temple of Satan.
And I knew what I had to do.
Archie, dazed and confused, watched me as I stood next to him. From my hand and the blood splattered pointed rock I still brandished blood dripped, red raindrops, dripping slower, befitting a weakening storm.
His irrelevance was annoying. Even if he wasn't irrelevant, it would be annoying to have to waste thought on him. He'd served his purpose.
I couldn't be bothered to kill him.
A needless sacrifice was pointless, wasn't it? A needless sacrifice gave no honour to God or God's Priest.
But Satan was different.
With indifference, I smashed the rock into Archie's face as I walked past.
Lastwailing Wood beseeched me, called to me.
To be with my trees when the heat finally fled the world, to be with them when the sap begins again to rise from the earth, to be with them when they celebrate new life by unfurling new canopies of bright and pale leaves. Let banners of rebirth flag the treetops! Let rebirth announce itself beneath cloudy skies! Let there be ensigns of the brightest green, let the colour of all life and all innocence radiate from my trees. And let that colour be green.
Thus have I thought: Let it be so.
But why was I waiting? Lastwailing Wood called my name through the hot air, hummed my power into my adoring sky.
I stood upon my earth, Lord of all I surveyed, and I laughed.
Almost half the sky was now covered in cloud, and the air felt compressed below their blinding whiteness, pressed down and crushed. It pressed against my face, making my skin tingle. My eyes felt dry, and every time I moved, the air scraped their soft surface with hot sand.
But my sacrifice had summoned cloud because this earth and all this universe... it was all mine.
I couldn't blame him. He'd just witnessed his best friend being horrifically slaughtered. How could he deal with that, or the fact that he'd just seen God in action? He'd seen God speak to us in the clouds, and he'd seen his friend become God and witnessed God perform His sacrifice on earth.
No, I couldn't blame him.
But my hatred continued to burn, burn hot and vindictive within me, burn as if Hell itself raged inside me, and the deafening fiery roar I heard was Satan laughing at my young friend's helplessness.
Helplessness that both amused and angered me.
With a supreme effort of will, Archie raised himself to his knees. I could see the effort etched in the bulging veins in his forehead, in the glassy stare that implored me for help, in the throbbing arterial snake that wriggled blue and pulsing up his neck. His tears had dried on his blotchy face and his eyes were huge and bloodshot. His body shook violently, but I was being drawn back to those sickening and repulsive eyes, drawn there because I could see their desperation and it amused me.
But what amused me most was the emptiness behind them.
Sinews tightened. My fists clenched so hard they hurt, but it was an effortless clenching and the pain in them increased as I looked down dispassionately at their white knuckled rigidity.
Power surged into my arms, from where I didn't know - but yes... I knew, because I knew all. It surged from below, from the roots of everything, the roots of grasses, the roots of trees, the roots of mountains, it came from the roots of existence and it fed my being because I had become existence: the vast and teeming Whole,
Me: the Everything and the All.