Okay, so in the shower this morning I was thinking about Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and then I got cranky, as one does, and then I wrote this. It could probably do with a an editing pass or three, but for now, I present it to you as-is: Those Who did Not Walk Away (but neither did they turn away).
Content warning: there is a lot of sacrifice mentioned in this story. None of it is described in any detail at all.
“So you want your little town to thrive.” The demon lounged inside its summoning circle. It looked comfortable, relaxed. It did not look human, which was a blessing of sorts. Its legs were too long, its skin too leathery, its horns – well, it had horns. And a tail. But it looked humanoid, and that was nearly enough. “I can do that. You know I can, of course. That is why it was me that you summoned and not some other being.”
Either the thing was flattering them or it had garnered that much from the carefully-researched phrasing of their request. Dr. Hoge, the putative leader of their group, nodded. “We know you can. To thrive within the definitions we’ve provided here – good health, good lives, good chances in life as per the outside world, good opportunities to help others.” That had been a very important point in all of their arguments leading up to this discussion – they needed to be able to do good outside the town limits if they were going to do this.
“I can do that, exactly as you’ve asked, and with no loopholes, no traps. Of course, there will be a price.”
They all straightened up. “We are willing to pay,” Dr. Hoge told the demon evenly. Their town was growing right now. It was expanding. It was doing all right, despite the current troubles in the world. All ten of them were willing to do anything it took to make sure that their home remained safe and happy.
“Merely sacrifice to me one virgin on every blue moon-”
“No!” They decried this as one voice. Dr. Hoge continued.
“No. We don’t intend to tax sex and sexuality such that we’re going to know if someone is a virgin.”
The demon rolled its three eyes. “Very well then. One child every, mmm, 49 months. An infant is preferable but any child-”
The demon was no longer lounging but sitting up. “I have increased the length between sacrifices,. And yet still you protest?”
“A child, especially an infant, cannot understand what is being done nor comprehend it,” Dr. Hoge explained.
“You have criminals? I will take a criminal on the turn of every year by the lunar calendar. They will hurt in proportion to their crime and you will have less criminals in your world,” the demon wheedled.
Dr. Hoge shook her head. “Willing sacrifices. We offer one completely willing sacrifice to you on the first full moon after every seventh spring solstice.”
There was more than one reason they had chosen this demonic entity to call upon.
“They will hurt,” the demon warned them. “They will suffer until the next one comes. For every seven years – I will need to get my money’s worth, as your phrase goes, from this sacrifice. For willing, for old, for no innocence guaranteed – all these things take away the energy they give. The young, the unwilling, those full of potential give me so much more.”
Dr. Hoge knew that. They all knew that.
They also knew that this demon was not often called upon, was nearly forgotten, and that being forgotten was its own punishment, its own drain on energy.
“The full moon after every solstice, after every equinox, we will greet you and praise you,” the Doctor offered calmly. “Every seven years, a willing sacrifice will come to you. They may be young; they may be at the end of their life, but they will come.”
The demon huffed. It looked between them, their faces implacable. “You’re not just asking for your flowers to grow,” it muttered.
“You’re not just asking for your named to be remembered,” Dr. Hoge countered.
In the end, they signed the contract. Their little town of Alpine thrived. Its people were healthy, well-educated, and prone to going on to greatness in one way or another. Its flowers bloomed and so did its crops and its gardens. Even when disease once again swept the land, the people in Alpine stayed healthy.
They used their prosperity to build homes for the homeless, the sick, the elderly, and the dispossessed, as many within the boundaries of Alpine as they could manage. They used their health to research disease and their education to solve problems outside of their little corner of the world.
And on four full moons a year, and then eight, and then every full moon, everyone in Alpine walked to the center of the town, to the sigil set in stone, and there they gave thanks to the demon who had brought this to them.
Once a year, every child who had become an adult in Alpine, every adult who had moved into the town, everyone who was thriving in this environment, would be taken out on the dark of the moon to the place where it had all begun, and the demon and the Town Council explained to these new adults what had been wrought and why.
Some left immediately. Some left and then returned. Some stayed for two years, three, and then fled, either to stay gone or to leave and then return again. The Council and the demon understood all these responses and did not dun them.
Because many stayed.
And every seven years, a volunteer walked willingly to the platform where the demon would take them. Every seven years, someone – often elderly or dying, sometimes merely tired, sometimes someone who had been given enough that they’d done all they needed to – gave themselves to the demon, gave themselves to the town.
The demon liked to pretend that they spent seven years in torment, but by the time a century had passed, everyone in Alpine was fairly certain they simply spent the time drinking tea and playing Go with the demon.
It was nice to be remembered, after all, and their sacrifices made it sure that the demon, for all time, would be known.
You can read “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” here. Content warning: child abuse and neglect, trolley problem.