Today’s blog post is going to be something a bit different. Recently a friend of mine sent me a short story he wrote and I absolutely adored it! His story was just too interesting and powerful not to share, and so, with his permission I am sharing it with you today!
But first, about the author! Riley Nichols is an aspiring writer and podcast host, and he currently is a radio DJ! I also think he is an all around super cool guy! If you want to hear more from Riley feel free to follow him on Instagram (@this_is_riley98), and find him on Facebook.
And so, without any further adieu, I present to you a Riley Nichol’s original!
On a Hill of My Own Design
By Riley Nichols
I spoke with the devil upon a hill of my own design.
As I trudged along that upward ascent, sweat streaming down my tattered form, I fixed my gaze to the top of the incline, the place of truth, of answers.
In anger, I gritted my teeth, my breath coming in short, agonized bursts, as my awareness granted me a cursed keyhole through which to watch and hear the broken cries, the gnashing of teeth, of the shattered realm below. This ascendant ramp, upon which I climbed reached desperately towards heaven, pleading for one who might come to make things whole.
Yet my thoughts that day dwelt not on that One, that absolute, that monad from which all things had sprung, not on that longing for a returned messiah come to claim his own. My thoughts that day were only for the would-be usurper, the accuser, upon which I placed my anger, my quiet dread, my nursed hatred, my desperate blame for the ruin beneath my road.
My patience grew short, as I drew closer to the place: a plateau under the stars wherein I would place that ancient serpent on trial for ruination. A trial of truth, a quest for answers was my mission, and I readied my inquiries; my accusations were sharp, refined in the fire of conflict, disaster, and scorn. As my bruised and bloodied feet carried me ever upward, I wondered how I might compose myself before such a monstrous person. How could I keep my long, focused rage at bay before such an antagonist? I knew not, yet still I would face him.
Finally, in an agonized shriek, my feet crested the isolated plain, and my strength betrayed me. My tattered white garb, stained by blood, crusted with sweat, and dirtied by excrement rubbed painfully against my raw flesh, an irritant to further provoke my anger. I felt the inquisitive prod of grass upon my face, a yearn for the nutrients which I, upon the precipice of ultimate failure, could provide. The sound of crickets rang loud in my ears, the jury come to spectate this grand confrontation. I laid there a moment, yet to my mind, it was as an age, the wind my only companion, the grass my only bed.
My respite was brief, as my friend the wind felt beckoned elsewhere, answering the cries of broken children, rushing to their aid to provide perhaps a moment of peace in that hateful hell below. The grass beneath retreated, leaving only barren dust to caress my beaten form. The jury fell silent, as the accused made his grand entrance, and I raised my head to look upon my enemy.
Here, certainly, you must think I beheld a monstrous beast, a horned demon, a winged gargoyle. I anticipated the form to match my disposition, an ugly thing to pierce with the sword of my righteous rage. Yet, when I opened my eyes, I found not a monstrous dragon, but something yet more terrifying: the figure of a man, whose wiry frame sat upon a stone stool.
His mischievous grin beneath his strong nose, and deep-set eyes held a youth in direct contrast to his hair, seasoned with salt. The feet of his favorite winged emissaries imprinted on the sides of his burning eyes marked him as my prey. His wrapped figure was embraced in a deep ebony cloak, its clasp supporting a high collar that hid his neck from sight, though when he inclined his head in greeting, the collar betrayed a colony of purple welts, a ring of tattoos rising behind his slight ears.
I rose to meet my adversary, my anger building, fueling the strength in my limbs to lift me, the flames within fanned at the site of this creature. Finally, I would have my answers, my validation, my confirmation. Here stood the one who wreaked havoc upon my beloved world. Here stood the one who, in my eyes, was the source and cause of my people’s self-destruction.
“Who is it who calls upon me for answers? What crimes have I committed?” His voice was strong and resonant, though I did not hear it through any external means, indeed he never opened his mouth. Yet there was a slight strain to his words.
I could not help but laugh at his words, his refusal to accept his part in the pageantry of destruction, his feign of innocence. “One who has seen your signature scribbled across this apocalyptic tapestry that you have painted.”
He scoffed in retort. “My signature? Oh, my dear child, have you have spent so long writing in accusation of me that you forget the shape of your own pen?” At this, he nodded to a stool not unlike his own, and I sat, readying myself for the interrogation to come. His voice was captivating, and I steeled myself to resist his alluring pull.
I gazed into the smoldering inferno set deep in the old man’s wrinkled visage, cleared my throat to present my case, and began. “Long have you oppressed us, you fallen from on high. The calluses from the whip’s cruel hilt are engraved upon your hands. You drove us from the gaze of the Almighty, quenched the fires of devotion and worship that held us in awe of the One. And in the darkness, you whispered in our ears, Shai’tan. You forced the dagger made for you into the chests of our brethren, you tore children still clinging to their mothers’ breasts and twisted them into abominations, and you twisted our young men into oppressors, all the while their strings bound tight in your claw. Accuser, you stand accuse now; what have you to say?”
“Flowery words, indeed, adversary. What else have you to say?” He sounded almost bored, as if waiting for my true charges to be brought.
“You brought our great societies, our upright citizens, our decent men, and ravaged their minds, confused them with philosophies without end, without solution until they could no longer recognize that they held hostage the very lives they were trying to save and uphold. You removed from their equations and solutions the very One who provided these utilities, and in that void, you placed toys, fragile trinkets that held poisonous barbs. You replaced our Almighty with the smiling politician, the scowling philosopher, and the enlightened moralist, and while they distracted themselves with their lines of reason, stretching without end, you sent the needle of distraction to numb the minds of citizens. You eroded their minds to behold only with their ever-dimming eyes. You dazzled those withered with trinkets and shining things, until little else held their minds. You, oh Lucifer, you satan of old, you who would darken and hold what we desperately seek forever out of our grasping hands, you are the one who brought us to stagnation, content to fester in our squalor, unable to see the torch that you held under us all the while.”
He chuckled, the horrible sound growing to a deep, roaring laughter. I could almost see the inferno glowing in his throat, a reflection of the beacon that blazed within my heart. I awaited his response, not knowing what he would make of my claims. His next words shocked me.
“Quite the revisionist you are, adversary! You claim that I drive the whip that pushed you into shadow, yet who was it that pulled the fruit from the tree? Not I, dear child. Not I. You say that I deluded the minds of men, yet who was it that tried to take the mantle of Almighty for himself? Oh certainly, I laid out the aftermath Adam’s rebellion, yet it was he who failed to consider the implication of true knowledge, the intimacy of it. I told him he would know good and evil, and he did! I told him he would not surely die, and for nine hundred years, he did not! Was it I who drove Adam to make his choice? Was it I who forced Eve’s hand? No. They had full awareness of what rebellion against El would mean, yet they chose.”
“Since that ancient day, who were the ones who sought to remove El from your damned equations, your philosophies, and your policies? Not I, adversary. Not I. Your politicians and philosophers sought to oppress one another and rule over one another not by my hand, but by your own. The calluses of oppression cover your clenched fists even now, dear one. Why should you blame me for those who continue to make the same choice that Adam did? Why should you hold me accused for the crimes of Eve and her offspring? Make no mistake, you now play the accuser, the role that is rightfully mine, and what an incredible thing! Not only do you wish to usurp El, as I did, but you wish to usurp my place as well. Perhaps we have more akin than averse, dear adversary.”
I was trembling, now, struck by his melodious voice, as he wove tangles around my accusations, halting them in their tracks. I opened my mouth to speak but found not the words to say that would justify my retort. My rage too had evaporated: a thing long in the refining fires of my heart now extinguished in an instant. A whimper escaped my lips, and burning tears ran down my dirtied cheeks, cleansing small paths, to fall browned to the dust below my feet.
The adversary chuckled again, that horrible sound! He reached for the clasp that held his cloak, unlatched it, and let it float down behind his back. The purple bruises that decorated his neck reached up to the back of his old head, an echo of a bitter defeat. He caressed the marks tenderly, as if they were yet freshly earned.
“Make no mistake adversary, my fate and ruin are not just for mastery and seduction of your squabbling ilk, but also for my own transgressions against El.” At this, the man again rubbed the purple marks and grimaced. “A grievous miscalculation I made, to oversee that El would condescend to your squalor, yet it cost me dearly. You call me Shai’tan the whisperer, and in this you have validity, but be not deceived, my child, I do not prod or force, I merely suggest. I do not force your kind to evil, I merely coax that which is already present. Do not try to vindicate your kind. Your hearts are rotted carcasses, lost long ago to your own destructive desires. Your desire to step into El’s place has made you oppressors, murderers, and madmen. In this only have you surpassed me in wickedness. It is no wonder that he seeks to confine us to solitary.”
At this I fell to my knees, struck dumb by the accusations so easily turned back upon me, I felt the rushing wind once again fall upon my face. I raised my head, but that horrible person had gone, though his accusatory laughter rang still in my ears. I let my head fall, and I wept bitterly for my foolishness, for broken humanity, for our ruin.
I knelt there, my body weak from my struggle up the mountain, a hill built of my synthetic righteousness, my soul crushed by the weight of accusation. I opened my eyes to behold the dust beneath me one last time, its ugly purity the only embrace that would deliver my soul to rest, but I beheld a perplexing thing. The grass had grown again to greet my bared knees, and upon the bed of green, I saw two sandaled feet. The leather straps barely concealed two cruel scars driven through the darkened feet beneath, and I was struck in my heart to behold them.
After a moment, I raised my head to behold my new companion, and I was greeted by a warmth like the sun upon my dirtied face. A hand likewise pierced as the feet reached down and cupped my cheek, a thumb banishing my tears, and I could see the figure clearly, though my mind fails me as I try to describe him now. His robe was white, as was his hair, and his eyes shone like lightning encapsulated and forced to continue burning passed the momentary flash of its nature. I shielded my face from him, in terror, as though my adversary had returned in force and fury. Then a soft but firm voice, wise beyond its projected years greeted me.
“Fear not, my child.”
And in that moment, all fear and sorrow left my heart, and I rose to face this new figure. As I looked upon his bright visage, I grew starkly aware of the height of the mountain upon which I stood, and the pride with which I sought to accuse the adversary. A great guilt settled upon me, and I closed my eyes, unable meet the stranger’s own. In awe of him still, I was filled with a great regret for the journey up that hill. The stranger grasped my hand, and strength surged through me, as if after a much-needed rest. I looked down upon my broken form to find a white robe, shining in resonance with the stranger’s,
“This was never a thing that needed to be built, my child. That courtroom is mine. Let me be rid of this false attempt.”
I nodded, not knowing how to respond, and beneath me the mountain gave way, crumbling in upon itself until far beneath only a grassy plain remained.