Flash Fiction: Unlucky Jackals

In the dark void, Kral sat for all the time before time, alone.

Finally weary of her solitude, Kral reached into the emptiness with her will. From the infinite depths, the first creatures came forth.

Two shapes moved toward Kral, and, drawing on non-memories of a time that no longer ever was, she decided they ought to have legs to propel them.

The four-legged jackals (as Kral so named them) could not see Kral. “We wish to know our creator,” they told her, so Kral scattered stars across the expanse to provide light.

The jackals, with their rough fur and impressive agility, amused Kral as they played. The jackals hopped from star to star, chasing and hiding and wrestling. When they knocked a star out of place, Kral shook her head, smiling, and put it back.

There were only so many games the jackals could play, however, and Kral began to wonder how else she might be amused. In a moment of insight, she asked the jackals for advice.

“We long for new places to run,” the jackals said. Kral sensed they did not know from whence this desire came, and thought it must be a remnant from the time that no longer ever was.

From the non-memories, Kral spun her hand in the void near the largest of the stars, and baked her new sphere in the star’s heat as the jackals watched, eager tongues lolling.

It was not longer before Kral began time anew, and placed on this world every manner of creature that she could conceive. The jackals helped, giving ideas, and soon other wise creatures contributed. Kral took ideas from the owl, the zebra, the parakeet, the snake, and the cat.

The owl wished for thick forests, with trees on which to perch.

The zebra wished for vast plains to stride, with lush grassland for food.

The parakeet wished for music, and was the first to sing in this new world.

The snake wished for dry lands and dune-swept deserts, where they might warm their bellies in the light of the largest star.

The cat wished for a microcosmic representation of Kral, people to tend to their every need.

The jackals loved everything in the new world, and Kral watched with amusement as they took a paw in every point in the creation, then played new games.

Kral’s mind wandered, however, and she wondered what other worlds she might create, so she turned toward another star, telling the jackals to keep an eye on her creation.

“We will keep it safe!” they assured her.

With Kral’s attention turned away, the world went on as she had set it, and the jackals played and played.

The cats, however, grew bored of their easy lives with the humans and decided to visit the other animals. They were not satisfied with their brethren nor with the contributions they had made, however.

In the deep forests, the cats grew cold. The owls slept high in the trees and ignored the cats, so the cats tried using the human’s fire to warm up.

The trees caught fire and the cats fled. When the jackals smelled the smoke, they rushed to the forest. Their yapping woke the owls and they worked together to extinguish the flames. The owls stared long and hard at the jackals, who were too busy panting from exertion to notice.

Meanwhile, the cats visited the plains. Seeing the zebras running gave them the idea to chase after, like the jackals had. However, the cats were soon bored with the game and attacked the zebras. They killed all they saw and then left.

Hearing the yelps of pain, the jackals ran and found the dead zebras. Another group of zebras arrived and saw the slaughter, then fled.

While leaving the plains, the cats looked up and noticed the birds chirping. This presented a new challenge, so they chased them.

All the animals noticed the lack of song as the birds perished. The jackals investigated and, at the same time as the parakeets, found the tiny bodies of fallen birds. The parakeets screeched at the jackals, who sniffed around and finally found the scent of the cats leading toward the desert.

The desert was a beautiful garden, unique from the rest of earth, with its spiny plants and brilliant flowers. The snakes slid along beneath the plants and basked in the sun.

The jackals arrived in time to see the cats leave their mark on the place.

Dry trees and bushes were ripped apart and scattered, the sand stripped of the vegetation that could survive. After the cats shredded it all, tumbleweeds were nearly all that remained.

Chased away by the jackals, the cats fled back to their homes with the humans. The snakes soon found there was no more shade and hissed at the jackals, “Our bellies will grow too warm! We will dry up!” Panting from the heat themselves, the jackals had no answer.

Kral turned her gaze back to the world. Seeing it so dilapidated, she demanded that the jackals explain.

“It was the cats,” they bayed. “Just ask the other animals.”

The owls reported, “We woke to find fire all around and the jackals running like mad.”

The zebras cried, “We found the jackals standing over our fallen brethren.”

The parakeets chirped, “We saw the jackals snuffling their snouts among our dead birds, then they ran away!”

The snakes sighed, “From the sand, we could only see that something with paws and teeth shredded our garden.”

Despite the jackals’ accusations, the cats lounged in their homes, bathing themselves calmly.

Kral shook her head and told the jackals how disappointed she was in them. When they refused to admit their fault, Kral saw no other choice but to curse them.

To this day, the jackals are viewed as lowly deceivers and mongrels.

But they still remember what the cats did, and will one day have their revenge.

– – – – –

The flash fiction challenges that Chuck Wendig offers from week to week are almost always compelling, but not always specific. When I am presented with a writing prompt, I typically find a way to use it. Specific prompts help tie the imagination down to a number of parameters. Looser prompts give the imagination free rein to explore the boundless possibilities.

Me? I’m more of a tighter focus kind of guy. Given free rein, I can go anywhere. Freed to go anywhere is dangerous, because it’s just as easy (or perhaps even easier) to go nowhere.

(No doubt there is some sort of joke about the brain-addled writer sitting with pen in hand going nowhere, but I’m too addled to think of it while typing on my tablet so this joke is going nowhere.)

The prompt this week offered two columns of words, from which the participant shall extract one word each to have the title of the story. Being a man who is frightened of too much free-range running (two columns of 20 words present… a lot of possibilities, which far exceeds my brain’s RAM), I relied once again upon Ye Olde random number generator.

Going RNG can leave you in a weird spot. (I’ll have to check, but I don’t think anyone chose geriatric hip candy man as their photo prompt.) Especially with something as vague as a simple title, I felt a bit apprehensive.

Then I d20’d myself into the title Unlucky Jackals.

Here in the U.S., I don’t think a lot about jackals. Mostly, we have coyotes to account for a majority of our wild canine population, with a fair showing of regular old wild dogs and a few wolves sprinkled in. Culturally, jackals feel like they exist in another world.

When I reflected upon what little I do know about jackals, I felt like they did always get a bit of a negative review. They were always called cowardly and deceptive and all around tricksy. God does not even seem to like them, if the Old Testament is any indication.

I could work with that. Maybe the jackals got an unfair break, a turn of events that I could somehow turn into misfortune.

In my half hour of research on jackals in culture, the Serer creation myth stood out to me. The jackals seemed to be viewed with, at best, suspicion in that myth. I like the idea of showing how the jackals might have found themselves unlucky in the creation of the world and therefore spurned.

Then came cold hard reality. Fascinating as it was to read about it, Wikipedia’s entry would not give me the knowledge necessary to work with a story this important and change it willy nilly. And there’s no way I could justify the amount of time required to perform the required research. I’m writing a short story here, not an academic paper.

So how do I keep the idea of tweaking a creation myth to my own malevolent ends without choosing between spending too much time studying and acting like (more of) a fool in public?

Well, create my own creation myth!

I reached this conclusion partly from being lazy and partly because I think these stories can be pretty fun. After all, the writer of the creation myth gets to make up all the laws of the entire universe. If that’s not power, what is?

I drew on my recent reading of David Eddings’ Belgariad to help me consider my structure and tone. Each of the five books has a prologue that relates the Events That Came Before, including the creation of the world. I liked the style on general but also wanted to use the morality take style of stories I had read when younger.

This story was probably the most fun I’ve produced in a while. I doubt I could ever publish it in any serious capacity, but, hey, who knows, maybe it will give me some good experience for later.

Ha! Is it really all that likely, an Author of Serious Science Fiction , needing to create his own worlds? I’m pretty sure we just do laser guns and space battles.

In other news, I picked up a free collection of H. P. Lovecraft’s works from cthulhuchick.com and started trying to read it. My first introduction to the concept of Outside Things came from Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire, which read a lot easier than The Call of Cthulhu. I’ll get through it.

In other other news, I burned through the new entry of The Dresden Files, Skin Game, in around four days. It was good.

In even other other news, I slogged through two hours of watching The Host. Boring, uninspired cinematography, shaky acting, all around dull. But, hey, I guess it wasn’t made toward me.

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