Tetragrammaton

by Eric Williams

We were in the backyard playing a game of telephone when I accidently discovered the name of God. Josh had whispered a word and it evolved down the line, Darius to Marianne to Sally to James to Mia to me at the very end. Mia leaned over to whisper it in my ear, and the sound she’d made was warm and fuzzy, like the purr my cat Hambone made when I got back from school and she snuggled up on my shoulders, bonking her head into mine. It was a nice noise, golden and bright and comfortable, but I felt like I hadn’t heard it exactly right, a tangle of syllables that lilted and tripped and shaped themselves in my head. I’d never heard anything like it, in fact, so I hesitated to say it aloud. They all were looking at me, waiting.

“Well?” asked Darius. “What was the word?”

“You’ll never get it,” said Josh, laughing. “It’s a good one!”

“It wasn’t that good,” said Sally, making a face.

“Ah, you probably didn’t get it right,” said Josh, waving his hand. “It’s a good one! Come on Marcus, what do you think the message was?” I hemmed and coughed, and then opened my mouth.

“ – ” I said. When I started, the word leaped from my tongue to hang like fire in the air.

Then the sky exploded.

The blue and the clouds peeled away like the skin of an orange, and the color that boiled beneath was like the pearly iridescence of the ammonite I’d found in Wyoming last summer vacation—pure and rippling and never-still. Time felt razor-sharp. The birds all took up the same song, the chickadees and the cardinals and the magpies and the mourning doves all chirping or screaming or cackling or moaning the same four notes, over and over again. The wind died and the trees all bowed low, and God descended from the hole in the sky.

I could look right at it, because it was me who had said the Name—I knew this to be a fact for the same reason, because I’d said the name. Everyone else couldn’t stand to see it like that, of course, and so they all burned to ash around me, Josh and Darius and Marianne and Sally and James and even Mia, who had almost said its name before me, had gotten close but not quite there, and so she burned the slowest, a puzzled look on her face as she crumbled away.

That didn’t seem right to me. A lot of things didn’t seem right to me. I turned towards the sky and looked at God.

It was like a great chain wrapped around the Earth, except if you looked closer you saw that there was really just the one link that was repeating itself, like an echo, forever and ever. Its billion eyes glittered like the stars never did, bright points shivering in the air as I counted them all. The birds kept sighing their four notes, and the world fell away beneath me. I thought it was shrinking, but then I realized that it was me who was getting bigger. I stretched out my hand and it grew wide as the universe, wider, until I could hold God right in my palm, cold and soft and glowing as I closed my fingers around it, raised it to my mouth, and swallowed.

It was bitter as memory on my tongue, hot as dreams as it slipped down my throat.

The birds flew from the trees, chattering, scattering, and the wind drifted through the backyard again. I heard the traffic from the freeway beyond the embankment, smelled the exhaust drifting over the neighborhood. The grass under my feet was brown and dead in the winter chill.

I brought my friends all back to life, picked their atoms out of the ruin of the universe and stuck ‘em all back together. Josh and Darius and Marianne and Sally and James and Mia, who smiled and nodded. I crowned them with amber flames; only I would ever see it, but everyone would know there was something different about them, something terrible and special. They went home, thinking new things, difficult things.

I went inside and made a snack, saltines with peanut butter, something to wash the taste from my mouth. I took it and myself over to the couch to watch cartoons. Hambone leaped up and kneaded my stomach, rumbling and blinking up at me as I dreamed new worlds.

Eric Williams is a writer living on the lithified remains of a Cretaceous seaway in Austin, Texas.
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