Virgin Sacrifice’s, by A. Michael Marsh
Searing wind whipped Daniel’s ginger hair around his face. Despite the acrid fumes forcing his eyes shut, he struggled to take one last glance – at her. Sara’s flowing, golden locks concealed her delicate face. Her fingers squeezed his; holding his hand, literally, for the last time. His heart fluttered as the unending winds slowed. Sara parted her hair with her free hand, allowing their eyes to meet. Red light lit their faces from far below, as only dim rays came to them through a sky choked with smoke and clouds.
They stood on unsteady feet, perched at the edge of a newly formed cliff face which dropped half a mile straight down into a molten river of death. It carved a scar across the landscape as it followed him – Sarnath.
A hand gently touched Daniel’s right shoulder and another touched Sara’s left. They both turned their heads toward the man standing behind them. Skin streaked with ash, and in torn uniform, Colonel Harper gave a grim nod.
“I wish there was another way,” he said. “I really do.”
Daniel squeezed Sara’s hand. “I can’t believe any of this is happening, Colonel.”
“But,” Sara said. “If it will stop Sarnath, then we have to do it. I’m ready.”
“Me, too.” Daniel took a long look at Sara. “I’m sorry we didn’t get our wedding night.”
“That’s okay.” Tears streaked down her cheeks, but she managed to laugh in spite of their fate. “We get to save the world.”
Earth cracked loud enough to make them all cry out. A rock face only meters away from them broke apart from the cliff, and fell for what seemed like an eternity before hitting the molten river below. Daniel and Sara stood up straight. Arm in arm, they supported each other, inching to the edge of the cliff.
“Together?” Daniel said.
Sara paused to take a breath. “Always.”
They bent their knees, as promised, together.
From behind, they heard the Colonel’s last word to them: “Godspeed.”
“I love you,” Daniel said. He forced power into his legs and jumped.
A heavy weight on Daniel’s left arm stopped his momentum and sent him tumbling back down to the rocky ground. Sara hadn’t moved. Her grip on Daniel’s arm saved him from going over.
“Wait!” The voice called out again.
All three looked to the jagged path which led up the rock face behind them. A man in a filthy lab coat half jogged, half hobbled up the slope. He held an iPad in one hand and a bottle of Fiji water in the other.
“Holy crap!” He stopped at the top of the slope, panting. “Oh, man, that’s a long damn way up.” He leaned forward and took a slug of the water.
“Doctor Emerson?” Colonel Harper stepped forward in disbelief. “What’s happened? What are you doing here? We’re about to send Sarnath his sacrifices and stop this madness!”
“Yeah…” Emerson nodded and pursed his lips. “Yeah, that’s sort of the thing, guys.”
Daniel and Sara looked at each other; their hearts still racing.
“What ‘thing’?” Daniel said.
“Oh, you guys,” Emerson paused for another drink of water. He drained the bottle and tossed it aside. “You guys are so going to hate me.”
The colonel cocked his head to the side. “Continue.”
Emerson made a pained noise and gave them a nervous, toothy smile. “Okay, so you remember the translation of all those ancient pictograms?”
“You mean the one that said the only way to stop Sarnath is for virgin sacrifices to jump off this cliff?” Sara said. “Yeah. Rings a bell.”
“Oh, really,” Daniel said. He dusted himself off and spoke directly to Sara. “Because, a second ago it felt like I was the only one jumping. So, I thought maybe you had forgotten. Or something.”
Sara faced her boyfriend with narrowed eyes. “Uh, you’re welcome,” she said. “First of all, you’re welcome for saving you. And second: Not now, Daniel!”
“Both of you, stop!” Colonel Harper raised his hands. “Now, Doctor Emerson, please continue. We haven’t got much time.”
Emerson’s eyes darted back and forth between the couple. “Yeah. Well, I had emailed a colleague of mine to confer on the translation and he just got back to me. Looks like I may have fudged up a little bit on the… On the details, here. See, it’s not ‘Virgin Sacrifices,’ it’s actually ‘Virgin Sacrifice’s.’ As in, don’t sacrifice a virgin, but, make the virgin sacrifice something.”
Daniel’s face turned to stone. “Are you fucking kidding me right now?”
“You asshole!” Sara charged Emerson, smacking him around the face and neck. He tried feebly to fend off her strikes.
“Enough!” The colonel picked Sara off of the doctor and moved her to a safe distance.
Daniel balled his fists and spoke through grit teeth. “How could you make that kind of mistake?”
“Well,” Emerson said. “He just responded to my email. I came as soon as I could, man.”
“He sure took his sweet time,” Colonel Harper said.
“Half his city was getting torn apart by ‘Sarnath the World Masher’, so, I think he gets a pass on this one, guys.”
“What about you,” Daniel said. “Do you get a pass?”
“Oh!” Emerson let out a bitter laugh. “Hey, let’s have ol’ Doctor Emerson translate a language he’s never seen before – and that’s been dead for twenty thousand years – then we’ll just expect that he won’t make a single mistake. That sounds a like a good plan, guys. Let’s do it.”
“I’m sure they didn’t expect that you’d make such an important mistake as this one,” Daniel said.
“Look, I’m the world’s leading expert on ancient linguistics. What the hell do you do for a living, guy?”
“I’m a firefighter,” Daniel said.
“Oh.” Emerson stopped speaking for a few seconds and kicked at the ground with his toe. “That’s a pretty important job. I’m sorry, I just got kind of upset. Everyone’s yelling at me, and it’s not like I don’t feel bad enough-”
“Doctor,” the colonel said. “We need to know what to do next. What do we do, for God’s sake?”
“Oh, yeah. Here’s the revised translation.” Emerson raised his iPad and walked to the others. He tapped the device and the screen lit, showing a picture of ancient stone pictograms overlaid with English writing.
As he read the translation he slid the image to the right with his finger, revealing more pictograms and text. “Oh, great and powerful Sarnath, Ruler of the Purifying Fires, yadda-yadda, Harbinger of Doom and Master of the Voids, blah, blah, when the hearts of men have truly forgotten your glorious commands you shall return, etcetera, tear the world asunder with your Mighty Tentacles of Divine Grace, yep, yep… Okay, here it is: Upon your magnificent throne of stone and destruction, overlooking the wake of your ruin, shall mankind make penance for his carnal wickedness when a virgin sacrifice’s in your name.”
“What does that even mean?” Sara said. “Like, I’m a virgin so I need to go to the cliff and sacrifice an animal or something?”
“No,” Emerson said. “The pictogram doesn’t refer to an animal, or anything outside of a person. It’s one of the reasons this thing mixed me up. It refers to a single person – the subject who is making the sacrifice. A virgin has to sacrifice something personal. Not another living being, but, some aspect of their life that’s been important to them.”
“So, I have to give something up?” Daniel said.
Emerson bobbed his head. “Basically.”
“Oh, this is such horseshit.” Sara marched to the edge of the cliff.
“Sarnath!” she called out into the growing wind. “I pledge to never watch television again!”
The four of them looked around, not sure what to expect. After a moment of silence Colonel Harper reached into his pocket, took out a BlackBerry and began pressing keys.
“Anything?” Emerson said.
“Apparently,” the colonel said, “He’s still tearing the hell out of Prague, so, I’d say not.”
“Well, what the fuck!” Sara marched away from the cliff. “You must be wrong.”
“No,” Emerson said. “Everything else I’ve gotten from this text has been proven right. The parts of the world he’s tearing apart, the timing of his arrival, the number of tentacles; it’s all correct.”
“We’re missing something,” Daniel said.
Emerson sighed. “Okay, you guys are really going to make me be the asshole who says it? Fine. Sara, are you really a virgin?”
She whipped her head around, looking dangerously close to launching another attack. “How dare you!”
Colonel Harper folded his arms over his chest. “Answer the question.”
“Of course I am. I’ve never had intercourse with a man. I’m waiting for marriage and so is Daniel.”
“Okay,” Emerson shuffled nervously, “I’m not really good at confrontation. But, did anyone else hear some hair being split there? ‘Never had intercourse,’ and, ‘with a man,’ and all that…”
“What are you trying to say?” Sara said.
“Growing up, I knew some girls who used to make the same kind of pitch, okay. But, there were things they were totally cool with doing. You know, like…” Emerson made a fist and pumped it toward his open mouth.
“Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you!” Daniel stood on the balls of his feet, his fists out in front of him.
Colonel Harper jumped in front of Daniel and put a hand to his chest.
“Settle down!” he said.
Emerson raised an open hand and maneuvered to ensure that the colonel stayed between him and Daniel. “She didn’t say she’s never done it,” he said.
“Of course she hasn’t.” Daniel faced Sara. “Right, babe? You’ve stayed true, right?”
Sara didn’t answer.
“You’re kidding,” Daniel said. He dropped his fists.
Sara blushed while she looked sheepishly to the rocky ground.
“You promised me, Sara.” Hurt painted Daniel’s voice. “You lied to me. From the start, you’ve lied to me.”
“Well,” she faced away from Daniel and shot the words at him from over her shoulder, “If you weren’t such an unbelievable goody-goody, maybe I would’ve been more honest with you!”
“Enough.” The colonel silenced their argument. “As we speak, Sarnath is destroying cities in Europe. Daniel. You are, in fact, a virgin?”
Daniel nodded, although his eyes never left Sara.
“Then, please, for the love of God, go sacrifice something.”
A few seconds of silence passed between the group. Finally, Daniel gave a terse nod and marched to the edge of the cliff.
“Sarnath!” As he shouted the words, purple lightning erupted from the dense clouds overhead. Thunder louder than gunfire rolled over them.
Emerson looked down and spoke to no one in particular. “Told you so.”
“I come to you a virgin,” Daniel paused long enough to shoot Sara an icy glare. “And I offer to you as sacrifice,” his voice echoed from the cliffs; accented with thunder from above, “the marriage I had planned with Blow-Job Betty, and instead I’ll find a woman that won’t start lying to me ten minutes after we meet.”
A horrific scream, like the bending of a thousand steel beams, reverberated through the air around them. In the distance, a brilliant burst of yellow and white light streaked across the midday sky. In its wake the clouds parted, revealing the hidden blue heavens. The molten river below them immediately began to slow and cool.
“…And that, children, is why we never have sex before marriage.” Three children, whose ages ranged from eight to ten, sat open-mouthed and wide-eyed around their grandfather’s rocking chair. The old man packed a fresh wad of tobacco into his pipe and lit a match.
A young boy shook his head vigorously. Moisture glistened in his eyes. “I don’t want Sarnath the World Eater to destroy my family.”
He took a puff from the pipe and looked each child in the eye. “Well, there’s nothing to worry about if you behave. Remember, kids: What’s the only thing you have to do to keep Sarnath from consuming you and everyone you love in a fiery rage?”
Every child piped up in unison, “No sex before marriage!”
“That’s right, kids.” Their grandfather leaned forward in his chair. “The fate of the world is on your shoulders.”
An old woman stepped behind the group of children on her way through the living room. She shook her head and spoke under her breath, “You’re a real asshole, Harry.”
“Not now, Agnes,” he said in a pleasant, sing-song voice. “I’m preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancies.” The old man set his pipe between his teeth and grinned.
A. Michael Marsh writes Contemporary and Science Fiction, and occasionally delves into other genres. He has a degree in Computer Engineering and has been known to work in IT when writing doesn’t pay the bills, (which is often). Marsh has a life-long fascination with art, science, and spirituality, and feels that there are strong ties connecting the three. His first novel, The Red is now available. You can see more writing and updates on his website: AMichaelMarsh.net
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