During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the eight (eight!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE. The deadline for submitting to the anthology has passed, but you can still submit and maybe have your story published this year!
What if the gods were like a disease? This is a riveting, original story which tells the tale of a world where the gods choose a human to bond with, which is no easy thing. The story takes you through The Becoming--the agonizing, twenty-four hour process it takes to Become worthy of being chosen by a god. This is a fantastically dark fantasy story, and I would love to see more from this author and this world. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor
By Taylor Buccello
Humans don't remember every second of the day. It's not something the consciousness can handle. Now, The Chosen, they’re different. The Becoming gives them one day to remember everything, yet wish they’d experienced nothing.
On whatever day your god chooses, you wake to the zero hour bells. Because of the aching deep in your joints and muscles, you give up on trying to fall back to sleep. By the third hour, you’re completely awake.
No matter how much you stretch or walk or run, no matter how many hot baths or concoctions you take, the aches persist, getting worse until the mere thought of breathing makes your chest hurt.
Aches and pains, now those can be hidden, can be written off as being tired or slipping into some sickness. Seizures can’t. They’re a statement. Gods love attention, they crave it. The shrines, the thunderstorms, the sacrifices—they thrive off it. They’d die without it.
The eighth hour: school time or work for the lucky ones and the opening of the market for the rest. The eighth hour is when you can no longer deny you have been Chosen.
The shaking begins with gentle tremors, like you’re stuck in one of the cold Districts without a cloak or a shawl. Then, your legs and arms and entire being begin to shake so badly the world blurs—colors bleeding together and faces smearing across your vision.
By the ninth hour, your muscles start to calm, but not because of whatever the doctor or apothecary has forced down your throat or into your blood. Medicine doesn’t do anything to ease The Becoming. Priests can do nothing. Prayers and sacrifices are worthless. Mortal attempts to relieve suffering are no match against the plans of the gods.
The ninth hour is bliss compared to what came before, compared to what is coming.
The pain recedes—still there, but less. A pot near boiling with bubbles trapped on the bottom of the bowl, not yet shaking the water or smothering the air above with steam. Not yet choking the water with heat, but slowly building the temperature.
Slowly—oh, so, slowly building the agony. Building until your heart is pounding and frantic, your breathing heavy and strained. Until you’re soaked in a cold sweat and the sheets of the clinic bed are stuck to your skin and your hair is matted across your head. And you’re cold. You’re so cold, the shaking comes back. Not caused by the gods, not this time, but by your own body fighting against the frost creeping up your fingers and toes.
At the eleventh hour, a wheel spoke drives itself into your head. Not literally. It only feels literal, as though your fingers would come back sticky with blood if you were to touch a hand to your head.
Every heartbeat, every breath, every footfall or spoken word—it all worms into your mind and rattles around. It’s a game of Lines, except, instead of shaking a dozen marbles in your hands, you’re shaking shards of glass in your head.
The twelfth hour is the worst.
When the bells of the twelfth hour near, you’re afraid. You’re so utterly fearful that the sound of bronze rod striking bronze bell will finally crack your skull open. The anxious tension in your chest become so tight you begin to believe your heart will stop under the pressure, blood stilling in your veins as you wait for the end. Stilling, sitting, rotting.
When the bells finally ring, the headache vanishes and takes your vision with it.
Blind, you can’t see the panic of those around you when they watch your eyes drain of all normal color. Every part fills with a red so deep that, before we knew about The Becoming, the doctors thought The Chosen were bleeding in their minds and had no hope left. Granted, at this hour, The Chosen have forsaken any hope of survival and traded it for the hope of death and the peace it ought to bring. Life in The Underworld must be better than The Becoming. Anything must be better.
Those who fail to meet the standards of the gods, their eyes don’t turn back. The Cursed Ones, they’re called. Their sight never returns, their voice soon following. Their sanity, too, in some cases. Living in utter darkness with no ability to express themselves, it’s hard for them to make it back to reality.
With sight cut out of your world, the rest of reality begins to slip away to join it buried in the back of your mind. Buried underneath the visions, underneath the voices, the delusions.
It’s hard to know when the hallucinations begin. The Chosen are too far from the rest of the world to ask about a sundial or candle to tell how much time as passed. The screaming usually begins near the thirteenth hour.
The visions are different for each person. They’re for understanding, I’ve been told. Understanding the life of the god that chose you—because there can't be anything worse than a Chosen who doesn't value the power of their god.
Minan's Chosen thrashed in his bed for hours as the goddess of war showed him battle after battle after battle. The Chosen for Sofiia, goddess of beauty and education, surfaced from The Becoming in tears over the dangers of ignorance. The god of love and dreams, Lazari, drowned his Chosen in stories of great and terrible romances, of dreams that flourish and dreams that collapse and take their dreamers down with.
I was shown thousands of deaths and grieving families and rewards and punishments. No living human knows what The Underworld is like. I was given a tour by the goddess of death, afterlife herself.
None of the visions are pleasant. The lives and duties of the gods are never pleasant, not to humans who don't have the same abilities of apathy and strength. For weeks, the visions linger, piecing themselves into your life. When you're living lives thousands of years longer than your own, only so much can fit into half a day. The rest have to come in the form of phantom voices and all-consuming flashbacks.
It all feels so real—the feelings are so real. The sensations are so lifelike you begin to feel as though you’ve been completely removed from your real life. You begin to convince yourself your real life was the dream, the hallucination, and this one, this dark and cold and lonely life is what is yours. It takes a lot to hold on to yourself during those hours.
The fever hits during the twentieth hour. If The Chosen weren't protected by the gods, their minds would melt from the heat.
The bleeding begins at the twenty-third hour and doesn't stop until the day’s candles have nearly melted down to nothing. The best move on the part of doctors is to put The Chosen in the bath when the fever hits and not to take them out until the day is over. Otherwise, the blood leaking from their mouths and noses and eyes and ears will soak through their bed sheets and into the mattress.
The Chosen wake from their nightmare when the candles are nothing more than a thin film, translucent over the metal base. They wake for long enough to throw up the contents of their stomach, drink a cup of water, and smile to their mother, if they're fortunate enough to still have her around.
Then, when the zero hour bells chime, they collapse, falling into a sleep that lasts the next three days. When they wake, everything from that day has disappeared. The only sign any of it happened comes from the memory of those around them and The Mark.
Like the visions, The Mark is different for each person. For some, it's small, nothing more than a flower the size of a fingernail on their collarbone. For others, they wake up with intricate wings stained into their back and shoulders. With the outline of a lily flower drenched in red and its black leaves framing my right eye, I have no chance of forgetting or pretending not to be Chosen.
It's a damned infestation, if you ask me. The gods check to see if you're a worthy host, one capable of keeping them alive, then take over and start cleaning out their new home. It's an epidemic of gods moving in. I see at least three a week being brought into Dr. Nal’s shop. Gods that haven't been seen in years are showing up and claiming their—
I sigh, shaking my head to draw back my focus. Having a voice in your mind that isn't yours could be quite distracting.
“You're hungry, too. I know you are.”
I have yet to find a way to drown out Runa’s voice. Something about her being a goddess made it so nothing could outshine her when she didn't want it to.
“Come on, Vae. Let's take a break and go get some of that...whatever you call it, the sweet thing, from the market.”
I pick up the washing bucket and set it on the floor. Grabbing a rag, I start drying off the surgical tools on the counter.
“Vaera. Vaera. Vae. Vae. Vae. Come on. Vae.”
I slam down the scalpel in my hands. “I can't take a break whenever you want pastries! That's not how it works here!”
The head nurse, Josef, raises an eyebrow from his desk on the other side of the room.
“Sorry,” I say, ducking my head and going back to drying the tools I had just washed.
“People are staring. They think you're crazed,” Runa says. “They won't let you work if you're insane. Come on, let's go get pahsterees.”
I squeeze my eyes shut, taking a breath. Throwing the tools into their bin, I set it back in the cabinet and rest my forehead on the cool wood of the door.
For The Chosen, The Becoming may only last a day, but the gods, they never go away.
Taylor Buccello is a senior at Central High School. She lives in Monmouth, Oregon with her parents, two dogs, a cat, a coatimundi, a lemur, and two tortoises. She mostly writes action, fantasy, and horror YA stories. She is currently writing the third draft of an assassin novel she hopes to have finished before attending Oregon State University in the fall of 2019. She aspires to be a published author and forensic pathologist.