This story is also available in audio, which you may find on this episode of Wingardcast.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I have accepted human sacrifice. If you can't worship me at my worst, you sure as hell don't deserve my best
Yahweh992 has inspected you, as he does every sparrow that falls! Check him out - he's a good match!
Pass. Since when was a god of everything exceptionally good for anyone in particular? She hadn't even prayed to that 93% harvest goddess, and Her portfolio included specific mention of regular weather miracles.
Don't be shy. Send It a prayer.
She wasn't really comfortable with genderless gods. It was just a preference. She didn't have to defend it to anyone.
Check out this pantheon of suggestions!
A generic father god, a generic mother goddess, one of those party gods with all His pictures full of wine and half-naked worshipers. Pass. Pass. Pass.
You have one new prophecy.
She opened it.
Hello, Luanne. Yes, I know your real name. I'm looking for a close, personal relationship with you. Don't worry that you'll be lost in a vast congregation. I'm telling you - just you - that next week, it's going to rain on Tuesday over Pensacola. You're my prophet about that, but if sharing that special knowledge with the world goes well, maybe I can trust you with more?
It was obviously a form letter, even if He had her name right. She closed it without reply.
im strict monolatry all the way if i find out ur cheating on me ill litening ur ass
Pass. Luanne didn't have any competing gods, but she didn't think monolatry was for her.
She modified her search settings to look among her fellow mortals. Some people went to DivineMatch for reasons other than its stated purpose. Of course, she could say that she was in the market for nondenominational socializing all she wanted; some people would think she was just out to be converted - but maybe she'd find someone to have a plain, secular friendship with.
_Parishoner_4_ lived a mile away from Luanne and liked waterskiing. Send her a testimony! It still called them that even when Luanne had no intention of proselytizing; she supposed the site couldn't tell.
Hi, Parishoner. I just want it clear up front that I don't want to be preached to about (Luanne checked the profile again) the Divine Kaleidoscope, although I'm sure She's great. I just wondered if you wanted to waterski together sometime. I haven't been able to find anyone else who likes it among my offline friends.
Luanne hit Send.
She browsed some more mortal profiles. She didn't find anyone else claiming hobbies in common with her, and hadn't really expected to. DivineMatch was full of mortals trying to court gods for special favor. Most people weren't going to talk about waterskiing.
Just to pass the time, Luanne started pretending she was a goddess, combing through the throng for a high priest or a crusader. Should spelling count? Did it matter if her intercessors were ugly - would it turn off other worshipers? That guy with an architecture degree wanted to build her a beautiful temple if she'd cure his cancer...
Luanne logged out.
This took her back to the DivineMatch homepage. A stylized icon of an angel invited her to make an account. "Fill the god-shaped hole in your heart, or swell the choirs singing Thy praises!"
Choirs singing her praises...
They hadn't checked to see if she was really mortal when she'd made her account. Would they check to see if she was a goddess, if she wanted to pretend?
Luanne smirked, and clicked the angel.
I am a Goddess seeking worship.
She crossed her fingers, and clicked again.
Soon, Luanne was logged in as "smallgoddess". She didn't want to go around claiming huge miracles; she'd be found out at once and reported to the God Mods. She wrote her profile as a modest household goddess.
I won't demand much from you. No tithing, no getting up early once a week, no burnt offerings... just someone to pray to when you need a listening ear.
She considered adding I'm a cuddler, but no, people generally weren't looking for senses of humor in their gods unless they were into Trickster figures, and that didn't fit with what she was trying to project.
Current number of worshipers: 15
She didn't want to claim a huge church. That would be suspicious. But even on a matching site, people steered clear of gods who nobody counted on their pantheon.
She didn't think it would be too suspicious if none of her fifteen followers were on DivineMatch. Maybe that would even be appealing; she was enough god for them, they weren't looking elsewhere to fill out their personal pantheons.
Or she was inflating her number. But she was, so she couldn't really provide much evidence against it.
After she'd gone through some more match parameters (holy days: first of each month [standard calendar]; minimum number of mortals required to gather in Thy name: 1; favored charitable causes of the church: sustainable anti-poverty efforts...) she named her ordinary mortal account as her own worshiper. Then just for kicks she awarded herself priestess status. Not "high" priestess; with only fourteen imaginary congregants to preside over there wasn't much room for elaborate ecclesiastical hierarchy.
I strive to be approachable, rather than living on a mountaintop or a distant planet, but if you're interested in knowing more about Me and don't feel comfortable with direct prayer, you can send a testimony to My priestess, lu_lu_lu.
Dietary restrictions: strictly no cannibalism, limit high fructose corn syrup, thou shalt not consume Vegemite. (She giggled to herself.) Symbol...
Luanne drew a picture of crossed skis, stylized so the only hint that her symbol wasn't an "X" was the slight curve to the tops of the lines. She scanned it, cropped it, and uploaded it.
Preferred intercessors: priesthood. (She couldn't very well send seraphs or unborn souls or imprints of her face in toast hither and thither to bear her messages.) Minimum frequency of prayers for members in good standing: 1/wk. Acceptable monetary contribution types: consult priestess.
Luanne hoped that no one was going to actually send her money; that would feel wrong. If someone asked her-as-lu_lu_lu about it, she'd suggest diverting the contribution towards a charity.
Monolatry... The buttons offered were "monolatrous/henotheistic worshipers only", "worship only within My formal pantheon" (this was greyed out, since she hadn't joined a pantheon), "polytheists OK", "kathenotheism/short term worship OK", "katheno/poly both OK", "I am a concept; this question does not apply", and a write-in box for "other/details". Luanne ticked "polytheists OK". It'd be hypocritical of her to do otherwise.
She realized abruptly that her mortal profile needed updating to reflect what she was doing; lu_lu_lu currently advertised herself as godless and had a profile full of her mostly-hypothetical virtues as a follower. She logged into that account in a different browser, and fleshed out smallgoddess's details while lu_lu_lu's page loaded and processed those changes.
Thirty minutes later, lu_lu_lu was the sole priestess over fourteen laity in the worship of a more thoroughly explained smallgoddess. (Luanne didn't have any brilliant ideas for a "real" goddess name, let alone fancy titles. The site didn't demand them, but it did prod her to add them in order to attain 60% profile completion.)
Lu_lu_lu also had a new testimony.
_Parishoner_4_ wrote: Hi, lululu! I'm in a skiing club you could join (Luanne clicked the link open in a new tab, then closed it when it announced that it required registration to read) but if you're not looking to hear testimonies what are you even doing on this site? Do you think your "smallgoddess" (doesn't She even have a title or anything?) is really enough to fulfill your spiritual hungers? I love the Divine Kaleidoscope but She's got a limited portfolio - but She's not a household goddess at least, She's everywhere, She's a goddess of colors. And protection and stuff. But I still want to fill in my pantheon some, don't you? But I guess you don't really want a testimony you just want to ski, so yeah, skiing club.
Time to think of a title, Luanne supposed.
Except everything she could think of sounded dumb applied to herself. It was all well and good for (click, click) an ethereally lovely woman with giant gaudy butterfly wings to go by "Divine Kaleidoscope"...
Luanne poked around at other deities who also listed themselves as household-type gods. Most of those didn't have titles, or had quiet unassuming ones like "The Hearthwarmer" or "Threshold's Guardian".
She decided to do without a title unless she had a really good idea later - or someone else came up with one for her - but she needed a name. Her mortal profile didn't reveal more than the first two letters of her name. She took the rest of it and turned it backwards. "Enna". That sounded like it could be a goddess's name.
My name is Enna, she prepended to her profile's freeform box of text.
She proofread both profiles, then signed out, wrote in her diary, and went to bed.
Welcome back to DivineMatch, Enna! Thou hast 312 new prayers.
Luanne knew that gods got more messages than mortals - there were fewer of them, and while some mortals only worshiped one god, all gods wanted multiple worshipers. (Or if there were some who didn't, they didn't hang out on DivineMatch.) But she hadn't even uploaded a likeness yet, or issued prophecies to any mortals...
She clicked the link, biting her lip.
The patterns in these messages were different than the ones she'd gotten as a mortal, but after the first ten or so she'd gotten accustomed to the stock types. She regretfully archived the mass-distributed prayers about diseases and soccer matches and world hunger. She forwarded questions about her doctrine to the lu_lu_lu account, so she could answer them without having to worry about sounding godly. She clicked the "acknowledge this prayer" button to wordlessly confirm receipt on the surprisingly large number of prayers of thanksgiving; people were already asking for things, and by sheer coincidence apparently were sometimes getting them.
Luanne wondered if any other gods were faking.
But she didn't know how to find someone's real name to address them that way in a message. She couldn't fling lightning at anyone. She couldn't even do more household-goddess things, like fence burglars out or keep the gutters clear. Not without training a couple of dogs or renting a ladder, anyway.
Feeling deeply silly, Luanne went outside and focused on her gutters with what she hoped was a deific stare.
They still had heaps of pine needles in them. She went back in.
It was days after the start of the Enna... thing... that Luanne got around to checking her regular email. I'll be in town soon said the subject, and it was from Ramona.
Ramona was Luanne's oldest friend, which was saying very little, as they'd met less than a year ago. It hadn't been on DivineMatch, but it had been on a messageboard around a the topic of gods and religions in general. Ramona had said something clever about how mid-tier sorts of worshippers would wind up having the worst fits with their gods: undesirable mortals could worship whoever they liked best, since eventually they'd get the hint that no one would offer them special privileges. The most appealing mortals, the most beautiful or faithful or competent, could afford to hold out for priesthoods or prophethoods or consortships with opportunities to bear demigods, and be choosy between several such options. Mortals who were neither might try to hold out, and might get offers, but not necessarily from the gods who were best for them.
Luanne had remarked that gods had some insight into who would work well with them and who wouldn't, and Ramona had answered, and everything had gone from there.
But Ramona lived a hundred miles away, so the email was exciting.
I'm going to be near you for a convention on Friday, the message read. It was not Friday yet, mercifully; Luanne hadn't let the visit fall moot in her distraction. Can I crash on your couch 2 nights? I'll buy you dinner, we can hang.
Luanne replied at once. Of course. She gave her address. What's the convention?
The reply came within a couple of minutes. She'd caught Ramona online. Oh, good, you're there, I was worrying about hotels! It's a work thing, all about traffic light timing, it'd bore you to tears. Are you busy lately?
No. Seasonal work, Luanne answered. Till snowfall season I'm just sitting on the computer all day wishing I could afford to hire someone to tow me around waterskiing on my own. I don't suppose you want to go in with me on renting just a boat so we can take turns?
Ramona answered, No can do, I don't have a swimsuit, which was a flimsy reason; Luanne took it for the polite rejection of the activity that it was. I'll show up on your doorstep Thursday at 8ish!
Thursday at eightish, Ramona rang the doorbell. Luanne let her in. She'd tidied up the place, so it was no longer too embarrassing except for its size and poor repair. "Ramona!" she said happily, holding out her arms in what Ramona could choose to take as an exclamation of enthusiasm or an invitation for a hug.
Ramona chose the latter, giving Luanne a quick squeeze before dumping her knapsack full of luggage on the shoe mat. "Hi, Luanne! It's great to finally meet you in person."
Ramona was a little short, a quarter Asian, a snappy dresser. She wore most of her pantheon's neatly matched holy symbols in a charm bracelet, with the primary god of the bunch in a place of honor on a chain around her throat. She also had a halo glowing sunnily over the crown of her head.
"I didn't know you were haloed," Luanne remarked.
"It's new!" Ramona enthused, grinning. "My Lord Anthos gave it to me when I dedicated his new temple for him last week, and he's let me keep it so far. I'm so blessed! What do you think?"
"It suits you," pronounced Luanne.
"What about your spirituality? Still seeking?" Ramona asked, sidling in and sitting on the couch that Luanne had wrapped in sheets. "We don't talk enough, I doubt I'd know if you'd been made the caliph of a sun god or something."
"I'm not a caliph," Luanne said, shrugging. She sat down next to Ramona.
"Aww," Ramona sighed. "I don't understand you. Most people who've been seeking this long will at least pick someone generic to worship while they look for a better fit. My church would have you - we like to think we have something for everyone."
"I've been, you know, looking around," Luanne said.
"Didn't you have a faith when you were little?" Ramona prodded. "How long have you been godless, anyway?"
"Yeah, of course," Luanne answered automatically. "Just... you know, a while."
Why had she said that...?
"You don't want to talk religion, do you," Ramona said. "If I were you I wouldn't either. Where do you want to go for dinner tomorrow? My treat, and I can expense it, don't worry if it's pricey."
Luanne named a restaurant. They talked about food, and about travel, and about how Ramona had begun to adjust her wardrobe in reaction to the halo, and finally they went to sleep. Ramona apparently couldn't turn the halo off, and Luanne had to stuff the crack under her door with a t-shirt to get her room dark enough for sleeping.
Why had she said she'd had a faith when she was little? Most people did, but she didn't think she was one of them.
What had she been raised as? Not just religion, but in general. Culture, language - would Ramona be able to identify Luanne's accent, if asked?
It occurred to Luanne that she didn't remember anything about her childhood to speak of. She had ideas about how to answer questions regarding it. She'd name a date of birth when prompted, for instance. She gave "Smythe" as her last name on forms that needed one. She remembered claiming to have played soccer on a forum.
She got up out of bed and looked up the forum post. It was months old, but the search feature worked pretty well.
I used to play soccer, read the post. I'd look for a team now but it wouldn't mesh well with my work, which is seasonal: as soon as the snow melts, I'm busy all day.
That was backwards. She worked in the winter.
She backtracked to the post where she'd first interacted with Ramona. It was posted in the summertime. The thread had gone on for a bit, diverging from the religious topic.
No, I'm not working right now. I have an autumn-and-spring-only job.
Luanne remembered writing that, come to think of it.
Why had she written it?
Luanne stared at the screen, then nudged the t-shirt out of the way of her door and woke up Ramona.
"What is it, Luanne?" her friend asked groggily, sitting up from the half-doze.
"I'm really, really sorry," Luanne said, "I know this timing is really inconvenient, but I just realized I have no idea where I came from, I don't know what to do."
Ramona blinked sleepily. "Huh? I'm gonna guess, your parents."
"I don't know if I have any. I can't remember them, I don't know how I'd get in touch with them, I don't remember anything earlier than about a year and a half ago, I've been saying things that I can't figure out why," Luanne said.
"Anthos's bones, Luanne, I just wanted to crash on your couch, please don't be a crazy Internet person," mumbled Ramona, dropping her face into her pillow. "I just wanna sleep. Anthos'll strike you down if you murder me in the night, you know, I got a halo. G'way."
Luanne stood up and drew back. She returned to her bedroom, replaced the t-shirt, and sat at her computer. Too wired to consider sleeping, she went through her entire e-mail history.
The first email she had ever sent was apparently a reply to a spam message, which included a great many terms that didn't apply to her and, randomly enough, the word "waterski".
She'd answered it with the sentence "I like waterskiing!".
What in the name of any and every god...?
Luanne paged forward. It looked like every personal trait she had came from someplace similar. She remembered typing the words, looking at the spam - it wasn't like she was trawling a stranger's account - but she couldn't remember anything significant about her mental state at the time. Had she been reminiscing about something she could no longer remember? Had she been discovering things about herself she hadn't realized, or inventing them as she went along?
When she started sending emails to recipients other than spambots, they were all the same. She was never working; she was always seasonally employed during some other season. She was never a congregant, always a seeker. She'd signed up for DivineMatch under her mortal screenname six months ago.
She had no correspondence anywhere from a landlord on her house. Her bank account was a year old and showed no paychecks or rent charges, just a steadily dwindling balance from an opening deposit of $15,775 spent on food and clothes and household objects. She didn't seem to have paid anything for her car, either.
Something was up.
It had a miraculous flavor to it.
And Luanne knew where to go looking for gods.
"Don't worry about me, the convention serves breakfast," Ramona called in the morning. Luanne was up - still. "I'll see you tonight, we'll get dinner."
"Okay," Luanne called back.
She was still paging through the gods that DivineMatch offered to her. She'd answered every parameter question offered to mortal users, trying to narrow down the field. Who could have done this to her - or made her in the first place - or done whatever had been done to cause her to be out of nowhere?
Then she made a new mortal account called "fromnowhere" and answered all the questions again, skewing her answers to attract Trickster gods, because this smelled of trick.
DivineMatch obligingly showed her pages of sneaky, mischievous gods. She took an instant dislike to each one, but none stood out, and none of the messages that accumulated in fromnowhere's inbox looked like anything other than mass mailing.
Luanne abandoned the computer to look through her house for physical evidence. There were books on the shelf, all of which she'd bought in the last year. There was food in the fridge and the oldest thing in her cupboards was from eight months back. Was she going to have to go to City Hall and look through records to find out who owned her home? She couldn't find a birth certificate, a Social Security card, anything like that anywhere.
She went back online.
She tried a new deity account, this time posing as a boring sort of goddess looking for a pantheon to join under the handle "allthingsbright". That didn't yield anything either. She logged out.
With four accounts on DivineMatch, she didn't type her screenname anymore, she just clicked in the box to get a dropdown menu.
She didn't recognize that last name...
She started to log into that account, then changed her mind, logged in as lu_lu_lu instead, and searched for the profile.
I'm Unnael the Recordkeeper, a goddess of memory.
Last online: more than 1 year ago
Preferred intercessors: priesthood
There was a link to a profile of a priest, "journalKeeper".
Luanne clicked it.
I'm Rob, priest of Unnael the Recordkeeper. This is just a placeholder profile until Our Lady Unnael returns to us. I'm not going to be checking my inbox very often, sorry.
Well, that wouldn't help, if he wasn't going to answer her mail asking what in anyone's hell was going on.
Luanne logged out.
She typed "recordkeeper" into the screenname box, and crossed her fingers, hoping her browser knew the password that she didn't.
She was in.
But there was no startling revelation associated with it. She could edit Unnael's profile, if she wanted, read all the answers to all the questions, but she didn't remember this place.
"Recordkeeper". Some recordkeeper. She wasn't learning anything more inside the profile than she could have seen from outside of it.
She started poking around in the rest of her computer. Some recordkeeper, she thought, unable to turn up anything that she didn't expect to find there. She kept diligently updated files of her past grocery lists and her budget and her to-do list, but there was nothing older than a year ago.
Luanne collapsed onto her bed and fell into an overdue sleep.
"I'm staaaarving," sang Ramona's voice. "Let's go out and get some food on my boss's dime, huh?"
Luanne's eyes fluttered open. "Coming," she said.
She threw on a new shirt, as she'd been in the old one for almost two days by this point, but deemed her jeans acceptable, and came out to meet her friend. "Uh, does pasta sound good?"
"I'm easy," said Ramona. "Hey, are you feeling better? You were acting funny last night, do you sleepwalk and talk about your dreams or something?"
"No, I just have no idea where I came from, as of about a year ago," Luanne said, pulling the front door open. "I'll figure it out, though. I think."
"Okay, I'll play along," said Ramona, following. "Ahem. 'Wouldn't you have noticed this earlier, Luanne?'"
"How did it happen?"
"I'm not sure. Have you ever heard of a goddess called Unnael the Recordkeeper?"
"Not off the top of my head..."
"Didn't think so," sighed Luanne. She got into her car; Ramona took the passenger seat. "Do you have enough pull with Anthos that you could get Him to help? I know it's a lot to ask..."
"I just have a halo, not a holy relic; I'm a small-time cleric," Ramona said. "Hey, I rhymed... I don't even do priestess stuff as my regular job, I do traffic signal timing to pay the bills."
"Right," sighed Luanne.
"How does someone from nowhere pay for stuff?" Ramona asked playfully; she obviously thought this was a fantasy scenario Luanne was toying with.
"Mystery fifteen thousand dollars. Mystery lack of rent or utility bills and car payments."
"What a mystery," said Ramona.
"Yes." The noodle restaurant wasn't far. Luanne parked, and they got out. "It's very mysterious."
"Is this a story you're writing, or like a screenplay, and you want to see if your plot twist is predictable...?"
"What do you think happens next?" Luanne asked. "Two, please."
They sat. "Uuum. So the protagonist is like you?" Ramona asked.
"Lots like me, yeah."
"You find the story's faith interest and He or She provides you with the revelation?" suggested Ramona. "Decent screenplay has to have a faith interest."
"How do I find the faith interest?" Luanne asked, frustrated. "Undirected prayer?"
"Maybe. I found my pantheon that way," Ramona said, touching the charm on her necklace. "You spend so much time on DivineMatch and you haven't gotten anywhere."
Luanne scanned the menu and then dropped it, making up her mind to order the usual macaroni dish. "I forgot to mention that early on I find evidence that the whole thing is somehow connected to the faith of Unnael the Recordkeeper."
"The name kind of implies that somewhere, there might be records," said Ramona, nodding and smirking.
"Yeah, I guess." But she'd already turned the entire house upside down, looking for documentation of her existence, turned her computer inside out, looking for old files...
They ordered pasta. They ate pasta. Luanne drove them back to her place, and Ramona announced that she was exhausted from a day of traffic light seminars.
Luanne sat up, staring at the login screen offering her five accounts on DivineMatch, until she drooped with tiredness again and went to grab her diary and scribble a few words in it before crashing. She'd neglected it yesterday, staying up all night.
She looked at the new blank page for a moment, and then slowly, deliberately paged backwards.
The first page of the diary was dated a year ago.
And it was inane, too. I seem to live in a house. I think I like it. I need an email account. No wonder Luanne had rarely thought about the time of her inexplicable origin; she'd been boring then.
That was the first page, it didn't go back any farther.
Luanne closed the diary, and opened it again. She tried to open it harder. She tried to open it like she was a god -
Paper bloomed under Her hands, reams of it, books and books and books, and Unnael found Herself again.
"Recordkeeper," said Rob, dropping to his knees. "You have returned."
"Never re-alphabetize My books again, Reverend," said Unnael. "That you are allowed to look at them is a privilege. Do you think you know better than the Recordkeeper how to order a library?"
"I am so sorry, Recordkeeper." Rob swallowed. "I did not think it could harm You..."
"It no longer can; I've seen to that. But I wouldn't go by this title if My records were unimportant. If I am ever confused into incarnating Myself again, then I will not be so forgiving after reaffirming My divinity."
"I'm sure it will never happen again, Recordkeeper."
"Come up with a good story about it," sighed Unnael. "Something that explains why I was gone and doesn't make Me sound vulnerable to shelving."
Unnael departed in a swirl of documents.