‘Once upon a time,’ Finnan had told her, ‘there were gods all over the place. I mean, if you want to know how many gods there were, you only have to look at Ireland; a tiny little island and it’s still full to the brim with spirits. Jesus, but half the fookin saints used to be the heathen gods of old, and all those fairies, every one of them — what are they but gods who lost their glory and went skipping off into the gloaming with only their glamour left, when Christianity came and put them out of their homes? That was the choice, ye see, when the angels came: sign up or ship out. So some of them join up, becoming yer Saint Bridget’s or whatever; and some of them take to the hills. Jesus, but can ye imagine it? Going from king of all the Tuatha-de-Danaan — of Cuchullain of the red hair, of Lud the silver-handed, Bran the thrice-blessed, the Dagda, with golden cauldrons and chariots and war-hounds bigger than men — to this foolish little lord of the Sidhe, hiding in burrows under the earth, and finally to the fookin fairy-folk of Victorian fancies. Fookin leprechauns and pots of gold. Celtic Twilight, my arse.’

‘Once upon a time,’ Finnan had told her, ‘there weren’t any gods at all. Just human beings that lived and died and dreamed up foolish little fireside tales to make them all feel a little warmer in the cold night. They looked out ot the sunset and they thought to themselves, why that’s so beautiful there must be something out there. They buried their dead in the ground and couldn’t bear to think of them just rotting, so they told themselves there was a land under the earth where all the dead live on like us. Or maybe it was in the far north, or at the source of some great river, in the mountains, in the sky, wherever. But for all the adventurers and explorers that went wandering over the face of the earth, did any of them every find anything but people, painted up and draped in skins and dancing like loonies to the moon, but people nontheless? Did that stop them though? No. Why, they says, if there’s no Heaven then we’ll fookin build one. If there’s no gods out there, we’ll raise ourselves up by our bootstraps, grab a star out of the sky, and wear it as a fookin crown, and we’ll be gods our fookin selves. So they built themselves a language for a ladder and clambered up over their own words till they did it. Only they took so many stars out of the sky, ye see, [that] they left it full of holes, too weak to hold itself up; and so eventually, one day, the sky came crashing down on them so hard and heavy that it drove them right down into the earth, so deep that the only thing left of them sticking out was those crowns on their heads. Sure, there’s those who somehow manage to stick their necks up out of the shite and look up into the ruins of Babel, read a few words written on the rubble, but at the end of the day, that’s what we were and this is what we are now: up to our necks in history, in humanity, and with no more choice about it than the poor dead bastards buried in the earth by all our ancestors.’

‘Once upon a time,’ Finnan had told her, ‘the gods got fed up with this not existing malarkey that they’d had to put up with for the last forever, because if you don’t exist, well, there’s no pressing need to get out of bed of a morning; it’s not like ye’ve got any work to go to, eh, and obviously that kind of unemployment lends itself to low self-esteem, if not downright depression. So they all came together one day and decided amongst themselves that they wanted to have a go at this existing thing. They’d been watching humans at it for a good few millenia, from the inside of their heads, living in the human imagination as they did, and the humans seemed to be having all sorts of strange experiences — living, dying, fucking, grieving, hunting, drinking — hell, even suffering is at least an experience, and to a god that only gets the secondhand scraps of dreams and delusions, well, its better than nothing. Of course, most people have such poor imaginations that the gods had no idea what they were in for. They thought it would be all epic battles and noble struggles, valiant causes, good against evil. Ye have to pity them, sure, because they weren’t at all prepared for life as it is, poor sods. What the fuck is this, they says to themselves, when they finally find a way to push themselves out from the back of our heads and into the noggin as a whole; when they pick themselves up off the floor and dust off their stolen bodies and look around at the world. What the fuck is this? Where’s the grand quests and eternal mysteries? Where’s the foreshadowings and symmetries, the plots, the themes? Where’s the meaning? O, in time some of them would come to love it, sure, this mad world of ours; but some of them, well, they just keep trying to make it fit their notion of what a world should be like. They’re insane, of course, and sooner or later one of them will come along and try and rope you into some mad empire-building scheme of theirs. And, of course, if you’re not with them you’re against them, far as they’re concerned. Take my advice and steer well clear of them.’

‘You know,’ she had said to him, ‘nothing you say actually fits together. Shit, Finnan, can’t you even try to be consistent with your bullshit?’

Thomas had laughed, brattishly superior as only an elder sibling can be.

‘Consistency,’ he’d said. ‘Fuck consistency.’

‘It’s not about consistency,’ Finnan had said. ‘Where the Cant is involved it’s not a matter of consistency. You can’t tell the full story, the complete story, and hope to be consistent. Best you can hope for is… coherent and comprehensive. And where the fucking unkin are involved you’re probably better off not bothering with either. Trust me, if they think you’ve figured out what it’s all about — as if there is any such thing as what it’s all about — they’ll be all over you like fucking crows on a battlefield. Because that’s what they want: a nice, simple answer to it all.’

‘And you don’t think there is one?’ she’d said.

He shook his head.

‘Even the book doesn’t have that, from what I hear.’

‘What book?’

‘The Book of All Hours.’

‘What’s the Book of All Hours?’

‘Ah,’ said Finnan, ‘now that’s another story altogether.’
— Hal Duncan, Vellum

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