Here on the small island of Pahvlo, we celebrate logic, reason, and scientific thinking, as we have since Pehavi’or created the land a thousand years ago.
Every winter, we make a sacrifice to Him to ensure the days will grow longer and warmer and the fields will sustain a crop. Being logical, reasonable, and scientifically-minded, the High Priest Kontish’oneeng proposed an experiment to determine whether the sacrifices could be done away with altogether. The first critic of this plan was the peasant Kohn’trol, who blasphemously suggested that the sacrifice might not be necessary in the first place and the best way to find out would be to just stop. Naturally, this was deemed far too dangerous, and Kohn’trol was put to death in the great volcano, Grand Prohppo’osall.
To go about beginning the great experiment, it was determined that Pehavi’or’s association with the desired outcome (the return of summer) must be systematically transferred from the original stimulus (the annual human sacrifice of a dozen and a half virgins) to an introduced one (the chief suggested ringing a bell, but it was decided this probably would not be heard in the heavens, so lots of fire and lots of noise were chosen instead. To appease the chief, the high priest volunteered that this could be accompanied by lots of bell ringing). This idea was met with general approval, and that year, on the longest night, candles and bonfires were lit all around the island, and the sounds of bells and singing could be heard from anywhere on land or in the sky. The sacrifice went on as usual, though at least a dozen and a half people (obviously not very intelligent) proposed we test the theory already.
Thus, for the next several years, the new customs and rituals coexisted comfortably with the old, proven ways. After twelve years of singing and dancing around a bonfire on the longest night of the year, the sacrifice was tentatively reduced to fifteen virgins. Summer came as normal, and no one could wait for the next solstice. That year, the number was lowered to twelve, with no observed change in annual weather patterns. Finally, after two decades of devout and devoted empirical experimentation, the winter sacrifice to Pehavi’or stood at three virgins and a youth of questionable morals. Yet still, the days became longer and the terraced fields grew.
After one-quarter of a century, with three chiefs having come and gone by assassination, and the high priest no longer able to recall why we started, we finally, and with bated breath, ceased the sacrifice altogether. That winter, we made sure to increase the revelry; we sang and danced for twelve straight nights, and the bonfires burned down two huts and half of the drum-maker’s hair. Everyone waited for the winds to change, hoping against hope and praying to Skih’inah that the sun would not be swallowed by the sea forever. For almost a month the waters were watched with rapt attention, and the old men started at every rumble from the mountain.
Finally, it became apparent the experiment had been a success – summer rolled in; every village on the island rejoiced. There was dancing in the streets; some coloured lanterns set alight the net-maker’s shack by the bay. That was when we noticed that the days kept getting longer after the midsummer festival. The manioc delivered a record crop, and the days were balmy enough that working men halted in their labours and declared an additional feast day. There was singing and dancing and lantern-boats were set adrift, carrying questions and prayers to the sea-gods.
But the days kept getting longer, and the sun kept getting hotter, the more the people danced and lit fires. The manioc died in the earth; it was soon followed by the melons and the palm trees. By now, the people had stopped celebrating, but it was too late: the cycle had been initiated, and the stimuli were out of our control. It was so hot and dry, wildfires became common, and wails of agony could be heard in the market-place.
The more noise and fire there is, the more brutally hot Pehavi’or makes the winds; the more scalding and scorching the atmosphere becomes, the more fires and screaming people there are. There is no solution.
I write these words in the hope they may be found and read as an artefact of our hubris and subsequent destruction, or at least before the leaves I am writing on succumbing to the climate and are burnt to a crisp. I am – was – the high priest’s assistant; I suppose I am now the new high priest, as he was killed when the Small Fern Cluster Village burned down last week. Though priest of what, I am not quite sure. If you are reading this, take note: try not to apply classical conditioning to omnipotent sky-fathers.
Assistant to the High Priest of Pehavi’or