A.E. Williams is a writer, editor, novelist, and screenwriter who earned his BFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. He is a writer with stories to tell and an editor with a desire to elevate writer voices. His areas of interest include sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, children's (MG & YA), comedy, screenplays (film & TV), video games, comics, and transmedia storytelling.
To learn more about him, visit www.crazednovelist.com
Him of The Goddess
In almost every city, homeless men and women stand alongside the highway at major intersections to beg for money. In Atlanta, there is a common intersection where homeless men, matted with dirt, foul-breathed, and overtly somber, post themselves on either side of the road. They meander betwixt the lanes and approach cars in hopes that someone might throw unused change into their dirty palms or their cups from McDonald’s. They situate themselves within a corporeal juxtaposition between the rich and the poor, a sad and disturbing otherworldly place.
I drive past these people every night on the way home, without so much as a look in the eye.
I recite a prayer to the Goddess every time I shirk my reason to be, my sole purpose for living and breathing. When I arrive home to my husband, he speculates me through his bifocals and calculates my facial expressions between each spoonful of cereal. With each exaggerated crunch, he comes closer to engage me and my dilemma. His tanned skin shines under the fluorescent lights over the kitchen table. He sports his flannel pajama pants and Smurfs t-shirt.
“Something on your mind?” he asks me.
“They’re out there again and I still do nothing to help. The Goddess would have me smote for not helping them as I’m supposed to. Why do I deny that part of me?”
My husband looks to me. As a man of deep intellect and reserve, he never answers immediately. Several seconds go by. My stomach growls and I pour myself a bowl of cereal. He answers just as almond milk meets Fruity Pebbles.
“The Goddess knows you are a good man. She will spare you for your denial. Of course, like I’ve been saying, you should reach out to the indigent. You’ve been coming and going without much regard for others these days. You’ve forgotten your purpose and the gift the Goddess has bestowed upon you. Perhaps you could use it again to help those in need? Free yourself from this guilt?”
I set my spoon down into the cereal bowl.
“Eric,” I say. “I don’t know… to do that again… it’s painful.”
I sit as an indecisive statue, a piece of art that doesn’t understand its purpose. My mouth hangs open for some time, but Eric brushes his velvety hands over mine. A calmness washes over me as the clock ticks against the silence of the room. However, a heavy downpour batters against the roof. I nod to Eric. I can deny who I am no longer.
# # #
The next day is almost like the last, but this time, as a young man approaches my car, I roll down my window. His bushy blond hair and blue eyes captivate me. He extends his shaky, dirt-ridden hand towards me as I place a $10 bill in his hand.
“Goddess bless you,” he tells me. He smiles through rotted teeth. Despite the youth of him, he has become something much older. I smile back. The traffic light changes from red to green, but before I am able to pull away, the young man grabs my hand. My heart slams against my breastbone. My breath becomes shallow.
Melancholy erupts through me and I begin to sob with terrible conviction. Heavy tears stream down my face as I let out a wail and pull the young man closer to me. For fear of something drastic, he escapes my clutches like a wild creature. Before I peel off, the young man’s eyes widen as they pierce into my soul. He has seen a man desperate to feel again, desperate to do the will of the Goddess, but also reluctant and afraid.
Eric arrives home around the time I finally calm down. He joins me in the bedroom and sits next to me. I gaze at myself through the mirror: a dark-skinned man catches my gaze. He looks through reddened eyes, burned by guilt and anguish. He clutches himself for warmth and comfort. The man staring back at me gives a weak smile. However, the crisis is far from averted. Eric, forever calm and understanding, runs soft hands through his.
“It’s going to take time to get used to it again,” he tells me. “It won’t happen overnight.”
Eric is right, of course. All the years that I let pass without an acknowledgement of power, without embracing the destiny the Goddess bestowed upon me, has sparked my journey anew.
Eric leaves me alone to prepare dinner while I lay on the bed, still shaken by the emotional transfer. To truly heal and truly help, one must bear the burden of others. I am still reluctant to do such a thing.
I turn on my back. The ceiling fan blows cool air over my sweaty brow. Paintings of my favorite places cover the walls, and spaghetti sauce and meatballs fill my nostrils. Eric calls me into the kitchen for dinner. I rise from bed and open the door. I step out onto the street.
No people. No cars. However, the young man stands before me. He speaks wordless speech as he points his dirty finger in my direction. I remain where I stand as shock run downs my spine. A cool breeze blows leaves off a nearby tree. When I do not move, the young man lumbers towards me, his gaze focused and intense. My heart begins to beat with a newfound urgency. I remain still, frozen by fear and curiosity.
“I said, would you like more?” said Eric. We are at the dinner table. I have finished my spaghetti. Eric offers me more, but my stomach tightens with each inhale.
“No,” I tell him. “I’m full, thank you.”
Eric sets the dishes in the sink and we move to the living room to watch a movie.
# # #
On my off day, I join the other city folk in a brisk walk along the beltline. Joggers and cyclists and skateboarders and the like crowd the walkways. I meander through the throng, unaware of them as I focus on the music thrumming in my ears. Soft rock distracts me from vacant expressions and smiles and wails of unhappy children. I smile as sunlight warms my face and the trees sway in the wind. Graffiti covers the bridge pillars and brick walls of abandoned buildings. I stop to take pictures in approval, of course.
I cross the bridge headed towards the park as an older man passes by me. We bump shoulders and all his turmoil becomes my own. I clutch my heart as visions of the man’s life overwhelm me: a young boy torn from his mother’s embrace; a young man set out on the street at eighteen; a young adult waist-deep inside a dumpster searching for food. The Goddess bestows these visions upon me. I wish I can refuse them.
My heart weighs heavy with guilt and remorse and I turn to seek out the old man, but he is gone. I find no evidence of him left behind, no scent or fragment or inkling. He is like many of the others, a ghost, a shell of a person who once lived. Once again, I have missed an opportunity to move with the Goddess’ plan
By the time I reach the park, sweat weighs down my tracksuit. The heat of the day has gotten the best of me. I chug water from my water bottle as I head into Piedmont Park. Men and women walk their dogs or herd their children towards the playground. I scratch an itch at my back, something like a spider climbing in between my shoulder blades. A man enters my periphery and I recognize him as the blue-eyed man from the other day. This sensation. The Goddess asks for me to do something. But I’m not exactly sure what.
I turn to seek out the man, but he no longer stands before me. Birds ascend into the air out of the thick trees of the park. I change direction and bump into him. His expression is vacant as he looks into my eyes.
“You’re the man from the other night,” he says. “What do you want from me?”
His hands shake furiously from drugs or bad nerves. He’s not so different than the people in their cars who pass him every day, those looking for an opportunity to do a “good deed”.
“I want to help you,” I said. “Tell me what I can do to help.”
I place my hand on him and he becomes a bright light.
# # #
The next few days I curse the Goddess and all the gifts bestowed upon me. I curse the family from which I was born. I curse the voices that fill my head every hour of the day. I curse the emotions that weigh heavily upon my heart and threaten to break me apart. I rescind all the emotions from before. I plead with the Goddess to take me back to before, to harden my heart once again. But my prayers remain unanswered.
Each night I attempt to close my heart to the voices and the visions and the pain of those around me. I fight the Goddess at every turn and plead for her to release me from this torment, to remove whatever power of empathy I have inherited. I pray that she sever this connection, this insurmountable bond with all people, this curse placed upon me. Still the Goddess does not answer.
I stop eating and drinking. I stop leaving the house. And I ask Eric to leave me for some time. For days I wither away to nothing in order to get the Goddess’ attention. Surely, she will not let me, one of her children, die. I know this for certain. I am rare, after all, one of the very few.
Perhaps my death would be punishment for her? She forces us, her children, to live this life as connections between her and the others—those born without empathy and sympathy, those who fail to know remorse or concern or desperation.
It seems to me that people who live their own lives only do so because they have no other way. They do not seek to possess responsibility or a sense of civic duty. They do not look upon other men and women and question whether or not progress can be made. There are many who don’t understand, or empathize, or sympathize.
The Goddess doesn’t answer my prayer. I get out of bed and eat and drink. I remove myself from isolation and seek to unite amongst the others.