He staggered through the mass of trees, tripping over unseen stones in his lumbering haste. Vines slashed against his naked torso spraying their caustic sap over his bronzed skin and adding to the already seeping assortment of cuts that plagued his body. His breath was shallow and wheezed in his throat, but he had long forgotten the discomfort of his fatigue. Through blurry vision and a padded mind he tried to make out what was ahead of him.
‘There had to be something else here; there had to be something left.’
There had been stories of citizens who had escaped the village before and disappeared into the jungle that hugged their civilisation.
‘They had to go somewhere, surely. They must have found something.’
His body shook with a death rattle of a cough and he slumped a shoulder against a trunk to try to catch his breath. As soon as he stopped, however, a thousand alarm bells rocked through his body and he knew, if he rested now, he would never move again. He forced his body away from the tree and started to lurch through the forest once more.
The Decision Maker stood atop of the ziggurat in the faded ceremonial robes. He cast his arms in a dignified wave to the crowds below and the citizens of the village let out a cheer in reply. Around the flat-topped pyramid, that was the centre of the village, crowded it’s whole population. Every man, woman, and child clustered in an excited ocean of celebration around the ziggurat, cheering and calling out to The Decision Maker.
All morning troubadours had played cheerful bouncing, melodies and groups of villagers had clustered around them signing the traditional songs of their ancestors. Today was a day to celebrate existence and thank the gods for their divine gift of life and luxury. It would be today that The Decision would be made and they would receive another year of glorious wealth and prosperity.
Throughout the morning the gods had provided their usual percussion to the ceremony. Every year, on Decision day, a series of loud thunder claps echoed from the forest and dark grey clouds that never rained danced around the sky. Today was no exception, around fifteen claps of support had echoed from the forests. After every loud crack, the crowd cheered and sent out a singing prayer to the gods in thanks of their support.
From his vantage point The Decision Maker watched the citizens gleefully cuddle in tighter to the ziggurat. Their naked bodies were bronzed and lean, sculpted by the elements of their existence, but to whatever hardships their physical beings had been subjected, their spiritual bodies were jubilant and well fatted. Life was hard, but it was a gift. It was something to love and cherish.
The Decision Maker held up both his hands and slowly the hubbub of the crowd died away. Their upturned excited eyes glinted back at him in the noon sun and he couldn’t help the feeling of power surge through his body.
“My friends,” he shouted down to the crowd, walking slowly around the edge of the ziggurat as he spoke, “It has come to that time again. A year has passed and now it is, once more, time to make The Decision.” The crowd erupted in an enthusiastic cheers for a moment and The Decision Maker paused until he was sure he could be heard again. “One hundred and eighty years ago the gods created us and this lush green, beautiful world. They decided to let us make our home in this small clearing in the hope that we could flourish as the rest of the world has done. Little did those great divine beings realise that our humble stomachs could not tolerate their food and soon our whole civilisation was near to collapse from hunger and poisoning.
“Before our species had had a chance to show this beautiful world what we could achieve, our ancestors looked certain to face their doom. Yet, there was hope. In that first year of our creation, the first mortal Decision was made. The great Prymythos fought his way through the venomous forests and, by a great certainty of action, he stole the divine dust that was used to create this world from the gods.
“Prymythos brought it back to our village, but feeling the guilt of what he had done, he built this temple for the divine dust to be housed and sent up a prayer to heaven for forgiveness. He told the gods that he was truly repentant and that he only chose to act because of the suffering of our village.” The Decision Maker paused as he saw a large grey cloud rush into the sky from the forest. He held his hands up, like a peacock parading it’s feathers, just as the rumbling sound of the gods pleasure rushed around him. The crowd cheered loudly and danced around each other, linking arms and swinging their partners round in jubilation.
“It was then,” The Decision Maker shouted over the celebrations and the crowd turned back to him in delight, “that the gods, in their infinite certainty, looked kindly upon Prymythos. They were impressed that animals such as ourselves could make decisions. They saw a divine spark in their creation and in reward of our abilities, they allowed us to could keep the divine dust and use it to create food for us to eat, as long as we could keep proving to be strong of heart and certain in judgement.
“One hundred and eighty years since, the gods still favour us and our strong wills. Once every year, since Prymythos chose to steal from the gods so that we could eat, the gods test us and ask one of us to show that we can still determine action with divine certainty. They ask us to make one decision and, with that, they provide us with the sustenance we need to survive.
“We have never faltered, nor shall we ever. Our hearts are certain and our judgement true, and it is for you that I am now about to make The Decision that will feed us for the next year. I am confident of my judgement and I shall not fail you.”
The crowd sent up wild cheers in response and the troubadours, which were scattered around the gathering, played a few sparkling melodies from the villages ancient songs. One player, louder than the others, took the crowd with him and soon they were all singing along. “The Decision day his here, The Decision day is here, the Decision will soon be made, The Decision Day is here.” The Crowd sang these lines repeatedly as The Decision Maker went to the small raised platform in the centre of the ziggurat.
He carefully stroked the stone and, as his hand swept along the smooth surface, a gentle humming emanated from the flat topped pyramid. Slowly a piece of the stone block sank down and then slid sideways as if it were melting away. Beneath was revealed a panel of strange material. It blinked like the night sky and on it was written in square lettering The Question: “LEFT OR RIGHT?”. Below the strange panel were two buttons, one glowed Green with a letter ‘L’ and the other glowed red with a letter ‘R’.
The Decision Maker smiled and let his eyes raise to the sky for a moment. In soft words that few from the crowd below would have been able to hear he said “With a strong heart and confident judgement, this is my decision.” He pressed a button.
The ziggurat let out a louder hum, as it always did, and the crowd cheered even louder than before. They pressed round to the four doorways which would soon open to reveal a years supply of food. The doors were still shut, walls of unmoveable stone. The people at the front waited patiently, but those at the back pressed in further to try to see what the hold up was.
The hum grew louder and the ground started to shake. The Decision Maker glanced around in sudden panic and pressed his chosen button again. The crowd too were starting to look around themselves in fear. This wasn’t how it had happened before. Usually it only took a second for the doors to slink backwards and the food to be revealed. A few of the men at the front of the crowd threw themselves upon the stone walls and tried to force them open, but they refused to budge.
A rumble like distant thunder came from the ground beneath their feet and suddenly everyone was starting to run. Some ran towards the unopened doors of the ziggurat, some ran away from them, and others started to run to and from the ziggurat like panicking chickens. They had nowhere to go. Their village was surrounded by an impenetrable forest, all they had was their humble homes and this mighty temple to the gods. There was nowhere to go.
There was suddenly a moment of silence, and then the ziggurat exploded in a white ball of pure energy. A column of dust leapt into the air from the clearing, flowing high up into the sky. The dark grey discharge sweeping through the air turned in upon itself and then blossomed out into the sky, creating a perfect mushroom.
He’d heard explosions all morning, but this one was closer. He could feel the heat rushing past him. The hot air pressed against his body’s sores and caused his muscles to ache. In his stomach he could feel the sickness rise. It wasn’t sickness from the venomous saps that were soaking into his blood, it was the sickness of dread.
He pushed on further, his feet no longer stumbling on the ground but gliding over it. His breath went in and out of his lungs without troubling his blood stream, but he no longer cared. It had come from straight in front of him, it had come from..,
The trees parted and the lone man scrambled out into a clearing. Around the edges were a few half built walls, blackened by soot, some still smouldering to themselves. He slowed to a hobble, the hot soil burning the soles of his feet as he picked his way through the remnants of another village. It must have been just like his. The clearing was the same size, the buildings looked like they had once been built of the same materials, but, where the ziggurat would have once stood in his village, was a crater. A deep ,empty, black pit that smoked slowly like a volcano’s summit.
He turned and slowly walked back to the clearings edge. He wasn’t sure how much further he could travel, but he knew now that there was something else through the curtain of the forest. That knowledge would sustain him for a bit longer, hopefully long enough for him to pass it on to someone else.