A tale was once told among the ancestors of the people who live at the base of the great mountain to the north, from which a waterfall plummets into a river that winds across the land. The people who now live in that rich and lovely place still remember the tale of how and why their ancestors’ hearts once grew still and frigid. And they still remember what part the everyday gods played in the tale.
The ancient people of the mountain and the river believed that there was a hierarchy of greater beings, beings which their descendants would call “gods” (and so they would come to be called in the tale). The greatest of these beings were the creators of the world. So great were they that they could not be perceived by mortal beings like animals and humans. In the next tier of beings were those who operated the world that was created by the creators. And so it went, a chain of order at the end of which were the everyday gods.
While the creator gods were too vast for mortal beings to perceive, and the operator gods were as massive as stars, the everyday gods were the size of small birds or insects.
The everyday gods lived among mortal beings, who could perceive them, and treated them as they treated each other, sometimes with kindness, and sometimes with cruelty, sometimes with indifference, and all in between.
Like their counterparts in higher orders, the everyday gods had powers that mortal beings did not possess and could not understand, though the reach and magnitude of such powers were much diminished.
But the everyday gods were far more varied in their inclinations and talents. Some were curious and inventive. Some were content to cast the same spells for eons.
The everyday gods liked the mortal world well enough. And they enjoyed the many wonders that the mortal world possessed and offered, as well as the wonders that godliness offered.
There were a few exceptions, a few mortal experiences that the everyday gods could not experience. Most were not bothered by such exceptions. But some were, and every now and then, one of the everyday gods would try to find some way around those exceptions.
One such exception was a simple and passive activity that almost all mortal beings performed and enjoyed.
I wish I could sleep, one of the everyday gods said to himself one day.
He was an inventive and curious god. He was among those who painted the leaves as the seasons changed. And he was among those who advised the frogs how best to position their legs to spring higher. And he was among those who tinkered with old, forgotten spells, and crafted new spells (some that worked well and some that did not). And so he named himself an inventor god.
The everyday gods never built anything of substance the way that mortal beings like animals and people did. So they did not have houses to live in. They would live where they could find a space that suited them.
But they could find no quiet place in the mortal world, for rivers rushed, brooks burbled, birds and crickets chirped in the forest, and even in the clouds they could hear the rushing of air even on still and stormless days.
Even places that seemed quiet to mortal beings, were full of sound and movement to the everyday gods, for gods had senses that mortal beings did not.
Because they could not find quiet, the everyday gods could not fall asleep.
So the inventor god who longed to sleep searched and searched for a quiet place that his fellow gods might have overlooked. He found at last a structure with thick and sturdy walls that could withstand all the sounds of the world outside them.
It was a heart, and not the heart of any creature, but a human heart.
And when the inventor god entered the heart of a human who passed him by, he saw why the walls were so thick and sturdy. A furnace burned between the lower two of four chambers. It burned with such intense heat that even the inventor god could hardly bear the heat for long. Furthermore, while the sounds of the world outside the heart were silenced, the sound of the heart itself was not.
The drumming was constant.
Four chambers did the human heart possess. Surely, one of those chambers would be quiet enough for the god to take his rest. But when he visited the hearts of one human after another, he found that in every heart and in every chamber, there was the constant sound of drumming. And furthermore, the heat from the furnace reached every chamber.
The inventor god was dismayed. The other everyday gods had warned him that his quest for sleep was futile.
But the inventor god’s curiosity and his longing were too strong. He would not rest, until he could rest…in sleep.
Mortal beings needed sleep else they might die, the other gods argued. It was well that the gods had no such weakness. But the inventor god returned their reasoning with a challenge. They only belittled sleep, he said, because they could not do it.
The inventor god, being inventive as he was, studied the human heart to find if there was some way he could muffle the sound of the heart’s drumming, or perhaps even still the sound altogether. He saw that the drumming sound of the heart was caused by the beating of the heart, and he saw that the heart must beat so that blood could flow through a human’s entire mortal form, keeping that mortal form alive. So if the inventor god could invent a way for the blood to flow without the beating of the heart, then the mortal would remain alive, and the heart would be, at last, silent within. And the inventor god could lay down in the heart, and sleep.
As he studied the heart even more carefully, he observed that the beating of the heart was driven by the furnace that sat between the lower two chambers. So all he need do was turn down the furnace with one spell, and divert and propel the flow of blood with another.
He began to craft the proper spells.
When he was done, he tested the spells to ensure that no harm would come to the mortal in whose heart he would, at last, find a quiet place to sleep.
The inventor god watched as the human man went about his day, his heart still and cool. The man’s blood continued to flow, driven by the spell, and his mortal form still seemed to operate as it did when his heart was beating.
The inventor god felt a swell of eager anticipation within his own heart.
Once more, he entered the human heart of the mortal man on whom he had cast his spells. And within the now-still heart was a cool, comfortable, and quiet chamber.
The inventor god lay down and closed his eyes.
Soon, he fell asleep.
Though the everyday gods had observed mortal beings sleeping, and the many ways in which those mortal beings woke, they had no need of ways to wake, since they never slept.
And so, despite his careful planning, the inventor god had set himself no way to wake from his slumber. He would not hear the crowing of a cock inside the heart. He had not asked another god to come and wake him. And he had woven no measures of time into his spells, so unless he himself undid those spells, they would abide until the end of the mortal’s life.
So the inventor god slept and slept.
The other everyday gods did come to see him. They watched him sleep, and they marveled. They did not wake him, but only observed his spells. They were simple spells, and he had not hidden their construction.
Seeing how peacefully the inventor god slept, other gods followed his example. They cast similar spells, and with similar success. They too were able to lay down and sleep. They too set no limits to their slumber. And they too were visited by still other gods, only the curious and the bold at first. But soon, even those gods who had held no interest in sleep began to hear the rumors of sleeping gods, and soon began to observe for themselves that the rumors were true.
But while the gods slept, so did humanity’s hearts. Some gods were careless, and in their haste, they extinguished the furnaces within the human hearts altogether. They slept, but humanity suffered, for the world was now full of cold hearts. And having a cold heart was like having no heart at all. For the furnace that burned within the human heart did not simply keep the heart beating so that blood could nourish the mortal form. Many and varied were the flames that the furnace ignited within the human heart, the flames of passion and compassion, the flames of kindness and delight, the flames of fondness, and the flames of love.
All were extinguished.
The entire region, and soon the entire world, became full of heartless people, caring not for each other or even themselves, caring not for the world, caring not for times that were, times prevailing, or times to be.
All because one god wanted to find a quiet place to sleep.
One day, many, many years later, the inventor god woke at last. He woke feeling rested and rejuvenated.
He realized that he had overslept. He found that the furnace in the chamber where he slept still burned low, though the embers were almost extinguished. He uncast his first spell, expecting the furnace to blaze back into life. When it did not, the inventor god worked to reignite that furnace, but he could not. He felt a strange chill within the heart, a chill unlike the chill of ice and frost.
The inventor god was driven out of the heart by that strange chill, and by a desire to find his fellow gods, to tell them in triumph what he had done, and to ask them in humility for their help in reigniting the heartly furnace, whose construction he could not fathom, for it was built by a higher order of gods.
But when he searched the region, he found that his fellow gods were all asleep, all asleep within human hearts whose flames were quenched. The inventor god watched the mortal people shuffle about their towns and homes, their mortal forms kept alive by the spells that conducted the flow of their blood, but their spirits near death for want of passion, kindness, love, and all the feelings that arose from the flames that should have been burning in their hearts.
He tried to wake his fellow gods, and some woke, but some did not, or could not. He noted that those who could not wake had—whether purposefully or unwittingly—extinguished altogether any embers in the furnace of the heart they occupied. Whether pricked by thorn or struck by the sound of his voice crying out, they would not wake. And he could not carry them out of their hearts. He knew not why, but it was as if they were anchored in place, or frozen in place, even as the heart was frozen still.
He beheld all that had happened while he slept, and he despaired.
For many moons, he tried on his own, and he tried with the help of those gods whom he had woken, to reignite the furnace in the heart where he had slept for many years. He did not rest. He had had enough of rest. He crafted spell after spell. But each failed. And so did the spells of his fellow gods. He did not know if his spells failed because they were not the right spells, or if they failed because the furnace was broken and could never be ignited again.
So he devised a way to test the furnace. He could think of only one way to do so. He would place a flaming ember from his own heart within the furnace of the human’s heart. If the furnace reignited, then he would know that it was not broken. Then he would be able to try more spells.
But as the inventor god removed a flaming ember from his own heart, he wondered what spells he would try, for he had tried them all.
When the inventor god placed the flaming ember from his heart in the furnace of the human heart, the furnace ignited at once. The flames were not as hot as those that once burned in the heart, but the inventor god hoped that they would be once the fire was properly stoked. The heart began to beat, but the beat was weak. The inventor god dared not release the spell that directed the flow of blood until the heart’s beat grew stronger. He would return to stoke the fire until it was strong and steady, and until the beating of the heart was likewise strong and steady.
The god, satisfied that he had put right what he had mistakenly put wrong, left the mortal man’s heart, so that he might help his fellow gods likewise reignite the furnaces in the hearts of other mortal people, who unwittingly hosted sleeping gods within their hearts.
But when the inventor god left the mortal man’s heart, he noticed that the flame within that heart began to dim, and before he could stop it, the flame died. So great was the shock to the mortal man that he collapsed, and fell into a sleep that was neither restful nor rejuvenating, but feverish, as if his mortal body was trying to find some way to return the heat it had lost in its heart.
Once again, the inventor god used his own godly flame to ignite the furnace in the mortal man’s heart, and once again it worked. The inventor god stayed and stoked the fire, watching it grow and burn. The heart began to beat, stronger and quicker, and as it did, the heart’s flames burned through the inventor god’s last spell, the spell that directed the flow of blood.
After many bedridden days and nights, the mortal man woke, drained and dizzied, much in need of true rest and healing, but alive and well. With the furnace of his heart now blazing, the man was even able to smile and jest, and laugh. And though the healers around him, with slumbering gods in their cold hearts, could not smile and jest and laugh with him, memories stirred in their curious minds, memories that filled them with a vague but steadfast longing.
Unable to leave the mortal man’s heart without harming him, the inventor god had to wait until the mortal man was on his feet again, before he could call out to his fellow gods. He told them how they could reignite the furnaces that they had near-extinguished, and he warned that the cost—unless they could find another spell—would be their own imprisonment within the heart.
As word spread, the everyday gods reignited the furnaces of the human hearts they occupied. As those hearts began to beat and to warm, and as feeling returned to those hearts, feeling returned to the mortal world. Compassion returned to the world, and kindness, and delight, and passion. And love.
Not all were saved.
Those gods who had recklessly extinguished every ember in the furnaces of the hearts in which they slept could not be woken. There were some who tried, especially those who occupied the hearts of elder mortals. When the elder mortals passed on from mortal life, the everyday gods who resided in their hearts tried to jump into the heart of a human whose heartly furnace had died altogether. The chill was unbearable, but they tried to bear it, long enough to place their flame in the furnace. But the godly flame would not abide in the dead furnaces. They would be extinguished, and the everyday god would be driven out of the heart by the unbearable cold. And they would tried to pull their sleeping fellow god out of the heart, but could not.
Those gods slept still, and their fellow gods hoped they slept well. But they knew that those gods, though still living by some measures, were all but dead. And those humans who carried dead gods in their hearts remained miserable until the day that they themselves died.
The everyday gods were honest gods. They told the humans what they had done. And most mortal people, after their anger had died, came to realize that neither they nor the gods had a choice. The humans would have to carry the gods within their hearts. And the everyday gods would have to bear the constant drumming of their new homes. For they were bound together now.
Some tales say that with the coming of future generations of people, people whose hearts had not been tampered with by everyday gods, there was no need for a god to sit within the heart to keep its furnace going.
But some tales say that the people of one region, a people who lived at the base of the great mountain to the north, from which a waterfall plummets into a river that winds across the land, made a bargain with the everyday gods. They would let the gods sleep, every now and then, within the chambers of their hearts, if the gods agreed that they would ignite more than the furnaces within their hearts.
The people of the region became learned in spells and magic. They became great artists and great artisans. They were wise, and they were loving, for their hearts burned brightly with godly flames. They gained much from the everyday gods.
All because one god wanted to find a quiet place to sleep.
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel