[r/writingprompts]: The Shrine

I recently discovered r/writingprompts, which is basically a collection of writing prompts that anyone can respond to however they please. It’s an awesome exercise in creativity, and although I’m no professional writer, I had a lot of fun spinning up this tale. 

The following is my response to this prompt: Temples are built for gods. Knowing this a farmer builds a small temple to see what kind of god turns up. 

The harvest this year was off to an alarming start. Jon had rendered hours of back-breaking work, and all of that effort had barely netted enough food to put dinner on the table. For months he’d ambled through the screen door at dusk armed with a new explanation for his wife about why all of his efforts were failing.

Jon had hung on through lean times before. As was his routine on most hard days, Jon took a seat on his porch. He propped his mud-caked boots up on the railing, swigged a bottle of something cold and strong and gazed out over his fields.

Like a crumpled ribbon, the dirt road that bordered the front of Jon’s property wound in and out around small farms and homesteads. One of these farms belonged to an eccentric man who, at the start of this season, had built a temple of sorts in his driveway. His temple was a motley of deconstructed pallets, dried flowers and animal skins. Crowning the pitiful structure was the skull of an elk; undoubtedly the spoils of one of the farmer’s many hunting trips.

Under normal circumstances Jon would have dismissed the strange temple when he’d first seen it. He was pragmatic and logical; his neighbor was fanciful and superstitious. But the temple hovered in Jon’s mind, mainly because the eccentric farmer had lustrous green fields that seemed to produce an ample amount of food for his family and others. The eccentric farmer didn’t seem to have a care in the world, despite the fact that surrounding farms were struggling. Each day as Jon passed his neighbor’s farm his curiosity— and envy—grew.

On this breezy summer evening Jon could no longer resist the urge to discover the eccentric farmer’s secrets. They had the same tools. They planted seeds in the same soil. They followed the same cycles and used the same procedures to harvest their crops. But why was Jon struggling while his neighbor was flourishing?

“It’s that temple,” Jon thought. “It’s ludicrous and I know it, but it’s that pathetic little shrine!”

Jon wasted no time. He sprung from his spot on the porch and began dragging tools and odds and ends out from his shed. He worked throughout the night. By daybreak he had temple of his own that was taller, grander and more elaborate than the eccentric farmer’s.

Jon powered through the day; he didn’t have the luxury of sleeping away hours of light. That night he went to bed right on schedule. He rose the next morning and went through the same routine; climbing into bed around the usual time after a long day. After several days of the same he had grown enraged at the fact that nothing had changed. The harvest was still slim. His days were still long. His wife and two kids were still hungry.

A week after erecting the shrine, Jon stormed down his driveway. He looked up at the sky and shook his fist in the air.

“Curse you, if you’re even out there, If you’re EVEN LISTENING,” he spat, “curse you for forgetting about me and my family!!”

Jon thought about demolishing the shrine, but his energy was depleted from the outburst. He back to his porch and through his front door. He changed his clothing, turned off the lights and climbed in bed next to his wife. He quickly drifted off to sleep.

In the middle of the night, a breeze stirred the curtains on the bedroom window. Jon immediately knew that something was wrong—he was awake, but he couldn’t move his body. His ears were ringing, his mouth felt dry and his hands were shaking. A raspy, sinister voice filled the room.

“Jon, you expect me to bless you, you demand me to bless you…but you don’t want to give me anything in return. You have fine China in your living room, but you don’t want to give me anything in return…”

Jon awoke earlier than usual the next morning. He was hazy on the details of the preceding evening, but he knew what needed to be done. While his wife slept, he unlocked the cabinet that contained the fine China, which he’d inherited at his wedding from family. Numbly, Jon stacked the delicate plates and cups. He swiftly walked a half mile away from home. After a brief pause, he crushed the China underfoot and buried the mangled pieces in the dirt. As he walked back toward his house he crafted a little lie about placing the China in storage for safekeeping. He hoped this would be a good enough explanation for his wife in regards to the now-empty cabinet.

That day, nothing changed. That night, nothing changed. But the following morning, Jon began to see a transformation. Healthy and hardy stalks of corn sprung up between the drooping stalks that had dominated the field for so many months. There were only a few, but Jon knew that his luck was changing.

Several weeks later, Jon was jarred awake in the middle of the night for a second time. The same sinister voice echoed in his mind.

“Jon,” the voice said, “you expect me to bless you, you demand me to bless you…but you don’t want to give me anything in return. You have a car that sits in your shed, unused and unappreciated, but you don’t want to give me anything in return…”

Again, Jon was awake before his wife and children. In the shed he yanked the musty canvas cover off the old car. He fished the keys out of a rusty can and jammed them into the ignition; praying under his breath that the tired old engine would turn over. It gasped to life.

Jon drove several miles down the old country road and took a turnoff that he remembered from his youth. The rutted turnout led to a small cliff overlooking a deep lake. As a boy, he’d loved leaping from that cliff; feeling the air rush through his hair and bite at his skin in those weightless moments before he’d plunged into the cobalt depths.

Now, Jon killed the engine to the old car at the precipice of the cliff. The springs of the old leather chair protested as Jon leaned back and tried to push out the images that lapped at his mind. He could see his father smiling as he pulled the car into the driveway. He could hear his dad saying “well done, son” after they had worked together to replace several of the tires. He could see himself holding open the passenger door for his then-girlfriend, now-wife, on a summer evening, as his father watched proudly from the front porch.

And now, Jon saw himself shifting the car into neutral. Shakily, he closed the door, and positioned himself at the car’s rear bumper. He gave several strong pushes and the front wheels of the vehicle crept over the cliff’s edge. Within seconds the car was sailing over the cliff; falling weightlessly like Jon had as a boy on so many carefree summer days.

Jon silently trudged home. He was in a dark place, but he lit up as he approached his fields. It had only been a few weeks but the crops were thriving. He knew that within a short time he’d harvest his fields, and his wife and kids would be able to eat to their heart’s content.

At the end of the workday Jon gathered some extra odds and ends for his temple. He meticulously placed the trinkets around the base of the shrine and hoped silently that he’d be visited by the strange presence again soon.

The moment he walked through the front door, his wife was waiting. There were tears in her eyes.

“Jon, Fran down the road said she saw you out at the lake this morning with your dad’s old car,” she sputtered. “Fran said she saw you push the car into the lake. I told ‘er she was full of it but I went out to the shed and there’s no car there!”

“Sweetheart, relax,” Jon said as he placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders. “Fran’s crazy as they come, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I drove the car into town this morning to get the engine serviced! She’s just messin’ with you, don’t listen.”

Jon’s wife wasn’t convinced. She backed away, shaking her head more vigorously with each step.

“No, no, Jon, something’s goin’ on here. Fran swears she saw you with the car down by the lake. She swears it, and I believe her. What reason does she have to lie?”

The calm that Jon felt before was instantly replaced with rage. How dare this woman challenge me, he thought. Fuming, he seized his wife’s shoulders and yanked her close to him.

“That stupid prick is lyin’ to you,” he hissed. “You think she knows about what I did this morning better than I do? Huh? You think that?” Jon shoved his wife to the side and stormed out of the house. Her sobs grew dim as he walked across the dirt road into one of his corn fields.

Jon marveled at the fact that every time he looked at his fields, his crops appeared healthier and stronger than ever before. What had started out as his worst season was quickly shaping up to be his best.

Jon grasped one of the stalks. it was firm, green and growing each day. He snapped a head of corn off of the stalk and peeled the husk away. The kernels were plump and the coloring was perfect. Jon smiled as he thought about the fact that his fields were filled with thousands of delectable vegetables.

He worked quickly that day and retreated to his shrine again in the evening. He laid down several more odds and ends, unsure of what items would satisfy the mysterious being who was blessing him with so much abundance. Long after sunset, Jon slipped into bed next to his slumbering wife.

“Jon,” the raspy voice woke him up again in the middle of the night. “You’ve obeyed me, and I have blessed you. Your crops are more abundant than ever before. You will have more food and riches than you could dream of. But I know you are not satisfied…I’m not sure you’ll ever be satisfied. You still expect me to bless you, you still demand me to bless you, but you haven’t given me enough in return. You have a beautiful wife…”

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