Wednesday, July 12, 2023

“Omiwatari” • by Patricia Miller

Gods don’t exist in a vacuum. And if They walk the land, there must also be those who pray to them, honor them, and plead for their intervention…

The first teaching of Jinsa

The vast lake was mirror smooth, unmarred by so much as a leaf except for a trail of markings bisecting its surface in dots and dashes all the way across its length. Reba Baylor’s ice cleats added new depressions to the left of the staccato line as she studied the tracings left behind by the nocturnal visitor to the base camp.

The markings were near uniform in length: approximately 43.2 centimeters long. Feathered ridges had formed on alternate sides, right-left-right-left as far as the eye could see, vanishing into the morning haze. The distance between ridges averaged 5.7 meters. There were no depressions in the snow leading up to the marks, nor were there any on the far distant shore—that was the second thing Reba had checked, right after the security footage.

All of these observations were meticulously recorded on Reba’s data pad, as if they required careful analysis before any preliminary conclusions could be drawn.

She’d already drawn hers—Hell’s bells, it was so damn obvious she would have been willing to publish that morning. She’d grown up in Minnesota and knew exactly what kind of evidence speed skating left behind. Just one tiny hitch prevented her from going forward.

The cameras had not picked up an intruder, nor had the sensors. In the seventy-eight days the expedition had been on the planet, the explorers and scientists had discovered no trace of any intelligent life. Indeed, they’d found nothing larger than a fox-sized canine.

Dr. Marcus Rendell thought the ridges were a naturally occurring phenomenon. “Come on, Reba, they’re just like the ones on Japan’s Lake Suwa. It’s an artifact of the weather.”

“No way. Nature might be symmetrical, but weather isn’t. They look like they’ve been laid out with a transit,” Reba argued.

“You’re so determined to find intelligent life on this frozen rock. I can’t believe you’d be willing to throw your training and reputation out the window.” Rendell wasn’t the first of her colleagues to find fault, just the first one that morning, and since he was leading the expedition, his opinion actually mattered. “It is a human need to assign meanings to patterns, to anthropomorphize the ridges into the left-right stride of an as-yet unknown species.”

“This rock isn’t always frozen.”

“It’s in the middle of a glacial ice age. It’s been frozen for centuries.”

“Earth’s life survived any number of ice ages. We’re proof of that.”

“And at glacial maximum, only twenty-five percent of Earth’s landmass was iced over. More than seventy percent of this planet is covered in ice and frozen ten meters down.” He waved his arms around. “This is the warmest bit of land on this planet, and even we can’t survive here without special equipment.”


“No ‘buts.’ There’s nothing here. Nothing larger than anchovies in the lake, nothing bigger than snowdogs on land. There aren’t enough proteins or carbs to sustain anything bigger.”

Reba shook her head, not wanting to admit she was wrong. “But the regularity of the pattern—”

“It’s the wind.” Dr. Rendell tried not to lose his temper. “We’re leaving as scheduled in forty-eight hours. And first thing when we get back, I’m taking you to Japan and showing you what Nature is capable of.”

“Lake Suwa.” Rendell had mentioned it earlier, but Reba didn’t have a clue why it was so important.

“They call it Omiwatari—God’s Crossing.” He reached out and placed a heavily insulated hand on her shoulder. “Sometimes, the answers disappoint, but this is why we conduct research. You’ve done great work here, Dr. Baylor. Don’t throw it all away.”


The ship left on schedule with every person and piece of equipment accounted for. Its departure was witnessed by a growing pack of snowdogs, Jinsa’s kin, craning their necks high as they tracked the contrails through the overcast sky. They were thankful for the departure, thankful the odd creatures with the odd skins had left them to their worship.

Thousands gathered at the shore over the next ten days, waiting until the full moons were just rising over the hills. One by one they stepped on the ice, fur pads protecting their paws from the bitter cold. Careful not to touch those marks the odd ones left behind, they followed the trail of the SnowBearer to that far distant shore. They’d made the crossing many times, and each crossing had brought them closer to grace, closer to the new age of the SunBearer. One more crossing would see Him rise from the hills, say farewell to his winter sister, and awaken the frozen land.



Patricia Miller is a US Navy veteran who writes SF, fantasy, horror and romance. She is a member of SFWA and CODEX.

Publications include short fiction in A Quaint and Curious Volume of Gothic Tales, 206 Words, Amazing Offer!, and the Cinnabar Moth Literary Collection e-zine. Upcoming publications include short stories for Brigid’s Gate Press, Cinnabar Moth Press, Zooscape Magazine, Wyngraf, and Touchstone Press.

P.S. If you enjoyed this story, consider reading “Kickstarting Fate”, “Sins of the Father,”, or “The No-Win Scenario,” also on Stupefying Stories.

“Do you miss Firefly? Do you like The Expanse? If so, then Privateers of Mars is exactly what you need. [...] Structured as three loosely interconnected short stories, it reads like three episodes of a great science fiction show that you wish someone would make.”

—Amazon reader review


Karin Terebessy said...

Absolutely lovely piece!

Made in DNA said...

This has just the right amount of lore and wonder I've always associated with Japanese superstition. Melded with science fiction makes it perfect. Such a very lovely piece, indeed. More, please.