Here is another collage I made of five of my old photos. I wrote this story to go with it.
Somewhere in an empty country, there is an empty church and within it, a furnace. The few people who live there know the furnace is the heart of their God. He eats skulls and cats and traveling birds. And he spits out little humans, motley children formed in the dust.
The ritual started taking shape approximately 400 years ago. Those few people knew how to read and write then, but they also wanted to keep their secrets: the reasons why their relatives had such unusual coloring, why they were so good at climbing or swimming or hunting squirrels. They did not want the rest of the world to know about their apprehension toward a bipedal lifestyle -- they could walk on two legs, but it was uncomfortable. The only way we know about this history today is because some of those few people did keep their stories, stories their children kept as well.
On the last new moon of each cold year, the last and darkest night, those young adults, looking to conceive their first child, line up outside the church door. Each of them brings a large basket, containing a sacrificial animal, a libation of beer or milk, a lock of their hair. Alone, they climb the stairs and enter the church. What they see, they are forbidden to tell. God will test each of them individually, give them a personalized horror, extract from them an oath of silence, discover their true will within parenthood. With their offerings, they feed the heart of God, and hear his laughter. The milk and beer are burned away, those waiting outside inhale the scent of scorched hair. The floor inside the church is piled ever higher with the bones of the animals. Everyone can hear the screaming of a new baby.
Babies with dark skin and light hair and light eyes. Babies with yellow eyes and long fingernails. Babies with slitted pupils and full, black curls. They develop quickly, learn language easily. They don't remember where they came from, and they never ask.
The population of this country gets smaller each passing year. Less prospective parents line up outside the church on the last and darkest night. They are beginning to forget everything about their past, and God is beginning to forget them.