The Genius & The Godless
Tirigan was almost two when he stopped talking.
It wasn't overnight but a gradual decrease in language until he stopped all together. Of course, I don't remember this being just a toddler myself, but I can remember suddenly feeling very alone. When he stopped communicating with me, it felt like half of me went missing. My parents said I had a very hard time adjusting to the shift, lashing out and getting angry with Tirigan often. Some of Tirigan's favorite toys got a raw deal out of the situation, a lot of them conveniently getting broken, but I was just a toddler.
It wasn’t until our sixth cycle around the sun that Tirigan finally spoke to me again.
It was a moment in our childhood that traumatized both of us, although it’s embarrassing to recount now. Living the kind of life we’ve led, my brother and I don’t get to meet people very often. Due to this rather unfortunate and incredibly boring circumstance, when a horse farmer approached our trailer at a gallop one day, Tirigan and I were equally terrified. The man was simply inquiring after his missing horse, but that moment of overwhelming fear opened a channel between our minds.
Tirigan pushed his thoughts so forcefully into my head that I remember feeling like the entire world was exploding. I cried out and clamped my hands over my ears, probably startling the rancher quite a bit. He was gone by the time I opened my eyes again.
Tirigan's thoughts, if I could even call them that, were disjointed and scrambled, like a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be solved. I felt his terror through the chaos, an anxious fear that crashed through his mind like waves in a violent storm. When I was finally able to understand what was happening, I tried my best to send my own thoughts back to him, wanting to calm him down.
It's okay. He's gone. He was just looking for an animal.
Despite the man’s disappearance, Tirigan’s thoughts continued to assault me without filter. It was a thousand thoughts at once, none of them seemingly connected in any way, pushing and pulling at me until he realized how much pain I was in. Then the thoughts abruptly stopped. A door slammed in my face, my brother pushing me away again.
Even though he had closed himself off, I kept my mind open to Tirigan from that day on. By always keeping my mind open to his, we hoped that Tirigan could take my mind and use it as a guide for his own. Gradually, Tirigan began opening up to me again. He allowed me glimpses of what he sees and how he thinks.
Tirigan’s mind is dichotomous. Sometimes he thinks in short, clipped, barely formed sentences, and other times Tirigan's thoughts read like an old Englishman's diary, poetic musings and detailed observations that seem to drone on forever. My brother is very logical and observant, and he can solve problems faster than I can realize they exist. He also likes to pretend he doesn’t have emotions. I like to remind him he does. Typically, I aim for irritation, but I settle for exasperation whenever possible.
He's never explained why he chooses not to speak aloud, but he speaks to me through our connection just as if he were.
Though my father says it isn't uncommon for Anunnaki twins to have this ability, I've never read about any others. Some of the ancient books talk about the power within Anunnaki blood and how the humans used that as an excuse to worship us for a time, but there is no mention of telepathy. Of course, there’s no real-world way for me to find out because we never stay in one place long enough to meet anyone. Even if we did stay put for more than a week, we’re usually too far away from civilization to actually meet anyone. My mother and father have had us traveling the world since we were infants, and I don't think I've interacted with more than a handful of other Anunnaki.
Our constant traveling is a result of my parent's career draft picks which, luckily for them, happened to be in the same field of service. Wildlife photography. Which means Tirigan and I have been trapped in this trailer all of our lives, listening to our parents discuss shutter speeds and all eleven different types of wheat. Real fascinating stuff.
I want to get out.
I want to go into a city, any city, and meet people, make some friends, have a conversation that isn't with my parents or within the confines of my mind. I love my family, my brother especially, but sometimes I really want to strangle him. Not enough to kill him, but maybe just enough to render him unconscious for a little while. Maybe it would save me from having to endure a few dozen of his disappointed glares when I don't understand something as quickly as he does.
I look down at the recipe I’m referencing for dinner tonight and cringe. It’s a human cookbook, which means I have to ignore about sixty percent of the ingredients if I want anything I make out of it to be nutritional.
This stew contains mostly whole ingredients, except for something called a bouillon cube and corn starch. Humans used a lot of corn. I’m also leaving out the steak. Not only because it’s difficult to get viable meat out in the middle of nowhere, especially the particular species of animal this recipe calls for, but also because Tirigan would refuse to eat it.
“Want me to chop some of these carrots?” John asks. “I’m an above average chopper, you know.”
“Oh, I’m aware,” I reply, handing him the carrots and the knife I used to cut the potatoes. “Knock yourself out.”
John slides in next to me and starts chopping while I reach for the kale to wash and tear it.
“So, you’re heading closer to the jungle tonight, right?” I comment as nonchalantly as I can manage.
We travelled for weeks to get to this particular jungle, my parents more outwardly excited than they have been for any other job before. The legends that surround it are notoriously gruesome, which make my parents probably the most insane Anunnaki alive for wanting to venture so close.
Back on Eridu, horrific creatures known as Aqrabuamelu live in the deepest valleys of the planet. Some say the Aqrabuamelu found a way to make it to Earth and now roam freely in the areas that have yet to become habitable, but there is no real evidence for this. The jungle my parents plan to enter tonight, Zoúnkla, is one of the places that has had supposed Aqrabuamelu sightings.
“Yes,” John says with a smile. “But as I’ve told you before, there is nothing to be afraid of. There are no scorpion-men on Earth, nor is there anything in that jungle that can render an immortal dead on sight.” He looks out the window to my mother and brother and his smile grows wider. “Besides, Zoúnkla is special to your mother and me for other reasons.”
“How can you be so sure?” I counter, ignoring the last part of his statement. “There’s a reason the jungle is forbidden. You guys want to risk it just to take a few pictures of some rare flower?”
John places the knife on the counter and turns to me. Keeping my hands busy with the kale, my eyes stay on my preparations.
“I won’t lie to you; the jungle can be dangerous for those who don’t know it as well as we do.” His hand goes to my shoulder. I feel instantly calmer upon contact. I lift my eyes to meet his. “We’ve photographed there before. Don’t worry so much, alright? Your mother isn’t even going in the jungle. She will stay outside and get some pictures of the perimeter.”
“What about you?” I challenge.
John laughs at that. “I am over three hundred years old and I heal faster than any other Anunnaki you’ve ever met. I think I’ll be fine.”
I want to argue that I could count the number of Anunnaki I’ve met on my currently marred right hand, but I let it go. There’s no point in arguing with either of them. My parents are going to do what they want; they always have. They’ve always encouraged Tirigan and I to do what we want as well. Under the guidelines to always think of the other first, my brother and I have lived our seventeen years doing pretty much whatever enters our minds. Living on the road, so far from civilization, we haven’t really had to worry about other people. Our activities range from climbing mountains, to lounging about and reading all day, to throwing knives at unsuspecting trees. We run for exercise, but neither of us has ever enjoyed the activity unless one of us is chasing the other. Tirigan pretty much lives in trees when he can, but I’ve stayed on the ground since the last time I fell out of one and broke my arm. Thankfully, John and Calla were on a long scout that day and my arm had healed enough by the time they were back that I was able to hide the injury. Otherwise I probably would have had Calla shadowing me for a week. Kind of like she’s doing now.
Perhaps if I died of starvation, you would take it as a sign to accelerate your progress. I huff and shake my head at my brother’s telepathic complaint.
You should have helped, Sarrum.
It is not my night to cook.
Rules are made to be broken.
That is false. Rules are made to-
“Oh, shut up,” I say aloud, raising my voice so he can hear me through the open window.
“Yeah,” John says loudly after me. “Quiet down, Tirigan!”
I see Tirigan’s chest shake as he laughs softly, and Calla’s smile grows wide and bright. She speaks softly to my brother, who nods his head once.
“Why do you think he won’t start now?” I blurt out, quiet enough not to be overheard. “He speaks perfectly in his mind, better than I do even. Why not speak out loud?”
My father doesn’t take a moment to think. This is something he has obviously already given a lot of thought to.
“Maybe he doesn’t really know how.” John finishes his chopping duties and places the carrots in the pot of seasoned water already on the stove. “Or maybe he doesn’t find the need to, since he has you to do that for him.”
“True.” I give the pot of ingredients a stir, and then set the lid on top.
“Alright, how long before this is done?” John asks, clapping his hands together and peering out the window again. “I want to get out there before the sun sets.”
“You’ve got some time,” I reply. “Go get the truck packed up and join the lazy ones outside. I’ll call you in when it’s ready.”
John leans forward and kisses my temple.
“Best daughter in existence.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I roll my eyes, but smile at my father’s compliment.
John walks back into his bedroom, presumably to pack his equipment for the night shoot. His exit accompanies a wave of nausea that I try to ignore. I really don’t like the idea of my parents going inside the jungle tonight.
I consider myself to be a brave person, never one for the damsel in distress bit, but there’s something unnerving about Zoúnkla. Not just because of the stories, but because of the way the jungle affects me personally. I haven’t been closer than several bêrus away since we arrived, but even when Zoúnkla is in the distance, the sun casting shadows above or the moon creeping beside, I can feel it.
The trees stare at me, beckon me inside. When the wind whistles in Zoúnkla’s direction, its song is enticing, entrancing. The closer we get to Zoúnkla and the closer my father comes to actually stepping inside the jungle, my body strangely begs to follow. My mind, however, is staunchly opposed to the idea, and the battle between the two is beginning to drive me insane.
Tirigan says he feels the same way sometimes, but he seems to be able to shake it off easily enough. It’s always hard to tell with him, though. I tried to shrug it off too, but the very next time I laid eyes on the haunting mass of palms and breadfruits, the feeling pulling me towards it didn’t lessen.
It’s only gotten stronger.
John comes out of his bedroom fifteen minutes later, bringing their equipment for the shoot outside so he can pack it into the truck. When he comes back in a little while later the stew is simmering nicely on the stove. The smell wafts through the trailer, and my father makes an appreciative noise.
“Smells delicious, Lee Lee.” I groan at the nickname, but say nothing of it. John is the only one who I let get away with it.
“Thanks. Why don’t you get out the bowls and set us up outside?” I stir the stew a few times and take a sip of the broth. “I think we’re about ready here.”
“How many will Tirigan need?” John asks.
I count on my fingers the different ingredients before answering. “Three.”
John nods and pulls the bowls from the cabinet and spoons from the drawer, then places them next to the stove. I peek out the window at Calla and Tirigan and watch them wordlessly interact. With the sun setting in the distance, my brother and mother are cast in the most beautiful pink shadows. It makes my mother’s dark auburn hair look more indigo than red, a picture so dazzling it makes my smile grow wider.
“Dinner! Get your drinks!” I yell out to them, laughing when Tirigan practically tramples Calla in his haste to get inside. I hold out his bowls and he grabs them, but I cling on until his eyes meet mine. It only takes him a second to retrieve the magic words.
Thank you for dinner, Charlie.
I give him a nod. There are three ingredients.
Tirigan eyes the stew for a second, forcibly overcoming his isue with his food co-mingling. I step aside so Tirigan can spoon each vegetable into its own bowl. Rather than serving himself, John helps Tirigan take his bowls to the table outside. My mother’s eyes are hard on me instead of dinner service. Scowling, I round on her.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” My tone is teasing, but I know she can hear the truth under my words. “I’m fine, and you’re driving me crazy.”
Calla raises her hands in innocence. “Hey, I wasn’t even thinking about your impending death from loose cabinetry.” She smiles brightly at me, and I can’t help but return it.
“Then what were you thinking about?” I spoon out a healthy portion of food for John and myself, then hand the ladle to my mother. She takes it and fills her bowl.
“Just that we got really lucky with you two.” With the hand not holding her full bowl, Calla pushes my hair behind my ear and looks at me fondly. “You take care of him, and he... your brother loves you more than you know.”
I flush, embarrassed, but I smile down at my soup. “I know.” Looking back up to find my mother’s eyes have grown somber, I pull my brow together in confusion. “What?”
Calla’s mouth quivers for a second before she blurts out something I wasn’t prepared to hear. “You take care of each other. It’s nice.” After a beat she continues. “You’ll stick together, won’t you? No matter what-” Calla clamps her lips together as if she’s said something she hadn’t meant to. When she speaks again, there’s a carefulness to her tone that worries me. “You’ll always look out for one another, right?”
I’m sure my surprise is written all over my face, but I do my best to sober my features quickly. “Of course, Calla.” She smiles, her features becoming less concerned and more like my mother again. “But, you know, if there is some way to avoid the scenario where that becomes a serious question, I’d appreciate you taking care to do so.”
She laughs the kind of laugh that makes the crinkles around her eyes deeper. The sound soothes my growing anxiety. “I’m sorry. I’m being creepy, aren’t I?”
“Not creepy,” I disagree. “Just a little weird. If you’re that worried about going to the jungle, maybe-”
“Oh, don’t be silly. That’s not what I-” She cuts herself off again and shakes her head, laughing. “It’s nothing.” Calla gives me a convincing smile and turns to join the others outside. “Hurry up, will you? I want to get out there as soon as the sun sets.”
I follow my mother out the front door casually, but there is something in the air I recognize, and it quickly becomes impossible for me to ignore.
It’s the phenomenon of going outside of your body and watching yourself live a moment that will forever be imprinted into your subconscious.
My mother’s plea for Tirigan and me to stick together with genuine concern in her eyes, that’s what I think about as I join my family outside, the sun falling quickly below the horizon and the jungle taunting me in the distance.