I had a seasonal image pop in to my mind the other day, and it turned itself into a short story. I thought I’d share it here…
The people were looking around for the next distraction from their routines. On the breeze, they caught the scent of the Creature, and followed.
There were just a few to begin with — the eager and unquestioning — but soon others noticed, and moved in the same direction. Eventually, even the reluctant trailed along.
They collected and hoarded things as they went, comparing their own stash to that of others. When theirs felt insufficient, not enough for the Creature, they would look for signs that told tell them where they should go and what else they should gather. The signs became more frequent. The people’s stride quickened.
The Creature was now in sight. The people became frenzied. They stockpiled what they could, going out for more while they still had time. Days were numbered, and the Creature would be hungry.
The Creature tightened its grip, draining the people’s energy and resources. It had been growing in size and power, and each time it appeared it demanded more and more of them, though it never said so directly. Rather, it manipulated the people so that they competed to impress the Creature. It never moved; they moved towards it. They sacrificed to keep it fed. The days passed and the frenzy escalated.
They were close to the Creature now, and they became a writhing mass — bodies running, panicking, some devouring, the weak being devoured. But gradually, the exhaustion and stupor from the searching and hoarding gave way to gluttony and excess. It was their release from the bondage of the Creature. Strangers met illicitly, and expressed deep frustrations and desires, believing, hoping, that when they reached the Creature time would stop and so infidelities would be permitted. The people saw an alluring portal of uncommon possibilities open up in the presence of the Creature. If they stepped in, they could live out things that they couldn’t in their usual life. This was their chance, before the end.
The Creature was an incarnation of the God of the Machine, which was alive and thriving. People’s days became an orgy of gifts to their god. They were so consumed that they did not see their weaker neighbours falling, breaking, alone. They still passed through the sacred places in hollow ritual — their usual ritual, but one that very few placed any value on.
But all the while, in the shadow of the Creature — hiding for fear of not being enough for its followers — was Love. It couldn’t compete with the pull of the Creature and its god, and so it gently and gracefully waited, signalling to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see, inviting them into common union through simple gestures that were anathema to the Creature and its followers.
Suddenly the Creature, whose name the people remembered was Christmas, moved on. It shape shifted into another form, another distraction. The people looked around, dazed, embarrassed, seeing waste, exhaustion, shame. They were exposed. It was not the end, after all. They were hung over and winded from the encounter but another day had come, and another cycle would come. It would all happen again. The God of the Machine worked through the Creature and it did not care for the souls of the people. Their emptiness turned to fear, of resources used up and deep needs not met. And yet they knew they would have to summon the energy to continue, to repeat the cycle next year.
But quietly, non-judgementally, rebelliously, Love emerged from the retreating shadow of the Creature, and offered itself again. It had never left the people, but they did not know what it could mean — that the people did not need to spend themselves on the Creature, or worship the Machine, which grew strong. They did not need to use the presence of the Creature to justify expression or care.
Love told the people that the Creature called Christmas had lost its soul many years ago. It now worked for the God of the Machine, who told the people that fear and consumption and the self was the only way. It had warped the idea of Love into plastic and gloss, money and things to hoard, empty words, and so whilst the people used the word ‘love’ all the time, they had forgotten what it really meant. They had forgotten its deep power. They need not sacrifice for the Creature and the God of the Machine anymore. Love came into the world not just every year but every moment, and Love would remain.
But the people had come to believe that the self was the only way, and they did not know how to approach Love, which was not loud like the Creature. So Love put itself in each person, and in plants and creatures, and helped them see in new ways. It bound them, and moved them to perceive and act. Those resistant to Love hardened their hearts, focusing still on the God of the Machine, trying to get others to follow. But Love never gave up. It remained in everyone and every living thing, connecting them as one.
Next year, and for many years, the Creature returned. Many people still followed it — it would take time for tradition to evolve or die — but Love no longer had to hide in the shadow, or in the hearts of children, idealism and romance. More people felt it, lived in it. Love did not leave them when the Creature called Christmas did. The world would enter a new age, when Love and its mystery and uniting force would bring answers and restoration and hope. The God of the Machine was weakening.