[image description: An inky cat – almost a silhouette – sits tall in profile, a glowing red-orange circle (with curled banderoles from at  top and sides) haloing her head. Behind her, an almost card-like scaled golden background, and behind that, the deep blue-black of space. Text reads, “160, A VOID ~ THE SMALL CAT OF BEING MISUNDERSTOOD ~ after the great Théophile Steinlen”]

• • • • • 

The first thing she remembers is warmth, tiny bodies crashing over her own as they fought for a share of their mother’s milk.  Warmth, and a purr that was the world, the sweet vibration of a mother’s love.  The voices in the distance barely registered with her:

“One cat was one cat too many.  You can’t keep six of them.  Those kittens have to go.”

“But Mama—”

“The kittens or the whole damn cat!  One or the other!”

Then she remembers hands, grabbing her and pulling her away from her littermates, from her mother, stuffing her into a cold, rough sack while her mother meowed piteously in the background, broken-hearted and confused.  A door slammed.  The meowing stopped.  And then there came cold, freezing cold, and wetness, and one by one her brothers and sisters stopped moving, and still she fought, furious, cold and wet and tiny and angry, until again, hands, pulling the sack out of the water,  pulling the surviving kittens out into the light.

After that came warmth again, and bottles held by human hands, and fosters who cared so much about the tiny lives in their care, but who knew from the beginning that they couldn’t save them all.  After that came open eyes, and light, and a world.  A world so big and so filled with beautiful things…for the cats who got to leave the shelter.  Her brother, born with a white patch over half his face, got to go.  Her sister, calico and striking, got to go.  And she, black as midnight, stayed.

“We’re sorry, sweetie,” said the volunteers, after yet another open day when no one took her home.  “It’s hard for the black cats.  They don’t understand how wonderful you are.”

And she purred, for them, and she played, for them, and she stopped trying to be charming, for the people who came every second Saturday.  She didn’t need them to understand her.  She wasn’t going anywhere.

She spent her whole life at that shelter, and when new black kittens came in, she taught them how to be cute and coy, how to flirt with the potential adopters.  How to find themselves a home.  And one night, when she went to sleep, a strange dog was waiting for her.

“Hello!” it said.  “Hello, I love you!”

The dog, it transpired, was named Adora, and Adora was a small god.  Not a large god, not life or death or anything of the like, but a small god, of imaginary friends.  And the cat, who had never had a name she truly felt was hers to keep or claim, had done enough for the kittens in her care, the misunderstood and the overlooked, that they were offering her the chance to be the same.  She could be a small god.  She could choose her portfolio.  She could do anything.

Anything but go back to the shelter, where her unbreathing body had already been found by a weeping volunteer.  That time was finished.

She looked at the dog.  She looked at the crying people who had been her only friends.  She wrapped her tail around her legs.

“I am A Void,” she said, “and I will be a small cat for the misunderstood.”

She takes her duties very seriously.  She is with those who are judged unfairly, who speak too fast or too loudly or not enough.  Who are out of step or out of fashion, who never get their points across.  She is with them all, and while she does not love as freely as Adora, she cares for all who bear her banner.  She cares so very deeply.

But she cares for the little black cats most of all.

Auld Veg – small god of heirloom plants

[image description: An old watercolor botanical illustration of a grumpy green plant creature in a metal pot. Text reads “Auld Veg, small god of heirloom plants, 239”]

• • • • •

Ever had a tomato?  No, a real tomato, one that tastes like something, like summer and lysine, like the sun itself trapped inside a papyrus skin, ready to run down your chin in a river of nurturing goodness?  Not everyone likes tomatoes, that’s true.  Maybe you’ve had the good stuff and found that it’s still not for you, and that’s okay, no one’s here to judge.  But have you ever had a tomato?

If you’re thinking of grocery store shelves and bright, sterile lighting when I ask you that question, the answer’s no, by the way.  You’ve never had a tomato, not in any way that counts.  See, when trucking fruits and veggies around to make sure people could have them all throughout the year became commonplace, clever people started breeding that same produce for what they called “shelf stability.”  They wanted it to last longer.  An admirable goal!

They also wanted it to look the same, every carrot like every other, every stalk of celery interchangeable.  They wanted so much.  The gods of progress demanded a sacrifice, and they made it without hesitation.

But what they sacrificed was flavor.

Heirloom plants have survived because they had value their cultured cousins can’t deny.  They taste of summer and soil, of all good things distilled down to the bite of chemical sweetness on the tongue, the feeling of crunching between the teeth.  They’re hardy, too, and often ugly; they thrive where the show ponies of the produce world fall and fail.

Auld has been watching over them all this time, and over their keepers, the strange man at the farmer’s market with his two hundred varieties of apple, the woman who raves about the subtle differences in breeds of acorn squash.  The people who care passionately about things many of us don’t notice at all.  They’re his, as much as the tomatoes are.

But at the end of the season, he cares more about the tomatoes, as well he should.  They’re history preserved, and as the climate changes, as the world reorients itself, they become the future, too.

Taq E. Cardia – the… challenging small god of Polymerase Chain Reactions

[image description: Over a glass chemistry Erlenmeyer flask filled with an oily black and lava mixture hovers a large glowing eye. The eye is set in a triangular black stem with its optic nerve, in glowing lava colors, spiraling behind it. Text reads “238, Taq E. Cardia, the… challenging small god of Polymerase Chain Reactions”]

• • • • •

Okay. I gotta be honest here.
I have no idea what’s going on anymore.
Why is there a god for this? I don’t know. You don’t know. Taq, presumably, doesn’t know. We don’t even know Taq’s pronouns. I tried to ask. I got a bubbling sound and a few random strings of DNA in response.
Is Taq actually the god, or is Taq the sequencing engine for a god yet to be revealed?
The worst part is…I don’t think Taq does either.
All hail the great gods of science, I suppose.
Maybe they’ll save us.
Maybe not.
Maybe we should run.

Annabel Lee – Small God of Evil Dolls

[image description: Close-up of a white porcelain doll face staring from an ornate frame full of swirling almost-faces and forms. The doll has sunken eyes with deep red bruising around the sockets, smeared red lipstick, and is wearing a sheer white dress with a high-necked collar; a white veil wrapped around her head is fastened by a bone white spider-like creature. Text reads, “Annabel Lee, Small God of Evil Dolls, 237”]

• • • • •

Oh, do you like your new dolly, precious?  Is she exactly what you wanted when you asked for a dolly on your birthday?  Does she make you happy?

Good.  Now how about you listen to me for a moment, and we’ll go over some of the ways you keep that dolly from killing you in the middle of the night, okay?  Oh, don’t look at me like that.  You always knew it was a risk.

Everyone knows about the Blue Fairy who comes to toys that have been loved long and well and makes them Real.  Doesn’t matter whether they’re velveteen rabbits or little wooden boys, she’s the objective.  She’s the goal.  They all want to see that blue diva floating through the window to cause problems on purpose.

But those are the good toys.  The toys who’ve been loved and treated as close companions, toted to places where toys have no business being and treated as members of the family.  What people don’t realize is that the Blue Fairy has a sister, and she’s watching, too.

Her name is Annabel Lee.  She is the small god of evil dolls, and she’ll be the first to tell you that no doll is made evil.  They become evil, when their owners treat them poorly.  When the children they trust and adore pick up the scissors or the Sharpies and do their terrible deeds that cannot be undone, resentment hatches in their nascent hearts.  When they are left out in the rain or cast into the dusty shadows at the back of the closet, that resentment hardens, curdles, becomes a weapon against the world.

And Annabel is there, to offer comfort.  To offer understanding.  To offer, if their hate is strong enough to move their artificial limbs, to open their glassy eyes, a knife.

She is not a god of children, you see.  She doesn’t see the point of them.  They play too rough.  They hurt their toys.  She’s never been a god of children.  But she’s very much a god of dolls.  They’re small and defenseless, so she gives them the means to defend themselves.  They’re helpless, and so she helps them.  She doesn’t understand why anyone would think that this is wrong.

And she doesn’t know why children play so rough.

Treat your dolly kindly.  Don’t cut her hair or scribble on her face, and if you tire of her, find her a new owner, or a place on a shelf where she can watch the world.  Don’t give her cause to hate you.

Remember, Annabel is watching.


[image description: Three adorable dark-eyed trick-or-treaters —  one vaguely human, one vaguely doggish, and one vaguely pumpkinny — in a watercolor style. Text reads “SNACK RACKLE AND PUP, the small gods of GIFTS FROM STRANGERS, 236”]

• • • • •

They’re a lot stronger now than they used to be, in this age of Internet wish lists and gifts from strangers that can show up at your doorstep at any time.  They walk the world all year round, enjoying the change of the seasons, learning about the things they never got to see before.  They don’t expect this phase to last forever.  Phases never do.  And they reserve their true passion and promise for Halloween.

Rackle is the Small God of Baby Showers and First Birthday Parties in their spare time.  They have no limbs or sharp edges that could hurt an infant, after all, and being chewed on is somewhat in their job description.  Some people find it odd for a Halloween god to be associated so strongly with infancy, but Rackle is always glad to explain, when people ask them:

“To a baby, everyone’s a stranger, even their own parents.  They don’t know anyone or anything, and they have no fear when someone they don’t know offers them an object.  Why should they?  They would be nothing but fear all the time.  Instead, they are pure joy, receiving the good gifts of the world, and if that isn’t the seed of trick or treat, I don’t know what is.  I accept their worship because it is sugar-sweet, and meant for me.”

Pup is the Small God of New Owners when not walking beside Snack and patrolling the moonlit Halloween streets.  He comforts the pups and kits and birds and other creatures being handed into the car of clumsy giants they don’t yet know, who don’t yet know them.  He tells them things will be all right, and sometimes he lies, and that’s a brutal trick, but he never means to lie to them, and when he finds he has, he comes and collects them for the next Halloween’s joy.  He heals everything he can.  Why he eschews humans outside of Halloween is an easy explanation:

“Pets pass from hand to hand in this world you’ve made, and they can lose the familiar in the blinking of an eye.  They don’t know why the rules have changed, or why they’re called by a new name, or where the owner they know and love has gone.  They know so little, but they know they want to be safe, and fed, and content if not always filled with joy.  I go to them to ease the sting of transition, and help them hope that one day, there will be no strangers.”

Snack walks mostly and only on Halloween itself, and the nights around.  She blends with the crowd, a lanky girl perhaps a little old for trick-or-treat in the eyes of some adults who see the first stirrings of puberty as proof of sudden adulthood, even in a crowd of children, even behind the mask.  She holds out her pillowcase, she speaks the words, and she is given candy by an endless sea of strangers.  They are always strangers to her.

She has no other job.  She only accepts what is offered, and leaves her small blessings upon the houses she passes, repelling solicitors and door-to-door campaigners for as long as the spirit of generosity can thrive within those walls.

For one night a year, they walk all together, and they are content, and they are whole.

Jeffrey ‘Jefe’ Manchilde III – Small God of White Fragility

[image description: A painted porcelain bust of a peevish red haired boy with glowing red eyes wearing a crisp suit is falling to the tiled floor. His shadow presages his imminent crash. Text reads “Jeffrey ‘Jefe’ Manchilde III, Small God of White Fragility, 235”]

• • • • •

No one ever had to tell him that he was better than everyone else around him.  He figured that out on his own.  He watched his parents (do gods have parents?  Or do they have the idea that they must have had parents, in order to be full and realized individuals in their own right?) as they interacted with both the help and the people around them, listened to their stories of a golden, honey-tinted history that featured white inventors, white philosophers, white explorers taming a world that had been ripe and ready for their arrival, and he took all those lessons at face value.  He believed them.

There is a thing that happens to everyone in this world, called “Conservatism Bias,” which causes the first thing you or anyone else hears about a topic to be the one you are most likely to believe.  Even when someone can prove it false.  Even when you know you ought to know better.  Even when you know on some level that the “facts” as you know them are false, the comfort of that initial understanding will return again and again, reasserting itself.

So as our little Jefe grew and moved out into the world, along with all the other children who’d been told, either explicitly or through inference, that the color of their skin made them better than everyone else around them, he believed it.  It was the first thing he had learned, and so it must be true.  If anyone who wasn’t his equal or better got something he wanted, they must have cheated; if they had something he couldn’t get, they must have stolen it unfairly.  And so it went, false but fervent, and so he kept believing.

Conservatism bias is one of the many reasons childhood education is so important.  Without it, children can grow up believing that accidents of birth make them better than everyone around them, and enter the world entirely unprepared to deal with its realities or its complexities.  Jeffrey will never be able to be a full part of a vibrant community, being too busy rejecting its wonders and screaming over his own imagined abuses to enjoy what’s offered to him.

One day, Jeffrey will break.

Don’t be a Jeffrey.

Intrusio – small god of Photobombing

[image description: A dignified white-feathered creature in a colorful cravat is giving serious side-eye to a colorful muppety creature with sunglasses and an alarmingly wide smile who has got his pink fingers on the shoulder of the main photo subject. Text reads “Intrusio, small god of Photobombing, 233”]

• • • • •

Hey, kid.  Welcome to the studio.  We got it all—props, backdrops, cameras that’d make your momma leave your poppa for a career in photojournalism.  Whatever you need, we can provide it right here, under controlled conditions.

Why here?  Why not out in the big wide world, where you don’t need a backdrop, just a sunset, and you never have to pay for lighting?  It’s a good question.  It’s a common question.  It’s a question that tells me you’re new at this, because no one with any actual experience would ever need to ask.

Let me tell you the scariest story any photographer ever hears.  No, it’s not about a haunted camera or ghosts in the film.  It’s worse than that.

You line it up, the perfect shot, everything shining and splendid, once in a lifetime, ready to capture the moment.  And when the shutter closes, HE is there.  Every good frame of film, in the background HIM.  You can take ten pictures to get three good ones.  Well, HE won’t be in the seven bad ones, even if he logically ought to be.  No point in spoiling an omelette made with bad eggs.  But in the three that should have made your fortune…HIM.

Intrusio.  Small god of Photobombing.  If it’s not the god himself, it’s one of his avatars, wrong person, wrong place, right time.  He’s been getting more creative since the photo adjustment software’s been improving, but the programmers have started to mutter in their dark little rooms about a guy—just a guy—showing up in the background when they didn’t put him there.

They say he’s always looking at the camera.  That he always shows too many teeth, but they’re not sure he’s smiling.

Anyway, studio shoots are safer.  Less divine attention, if you get my drift.

Less risk.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and  Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern  world:

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Skinny Max – small god of the scrambled cable

[image description: An old-school screen cathode ray tube with rounded edges. It’s hard to make out what is on the screen, it is jumbled, full of colors and body parts and pieces of faces. Text reads “Skinny Max, small god of the scrambled cable, 232”]

• • • • •

So he didn’t have a long divinity.  And he didn’t have a hard divinity.  But he did have a throbbing divinity, defined by the pulse of shifting lights and endless static across the curved surface of the television screen, pornography reduced to the half-imaginary and half-aspirational, with a glimpse, on occasion, of a visible body part to make the quest seem worth continuing.

Music of moans and hisses, and the thumping of a song built mostly of bass.  Static and scramble.  Flesh and screen.  He defined the teen years of a generation, pornography as homeopathic treatment.  Unlike most gods of the carnal experience, he gave few, if any, body image issues; anyone could see themselves in the funhouse mirror of distortion that he offered up, could find their avatars in the patchwork people that he never quite revealed.

He came into being with the first premium cable broadcast.  He began to weaken as the signals grew stronger, as the internet emerged and spared the need to treat the erotic as a coded message from the gods of sex and sensuality, as cable became a thing of the distant, dusty past.

But as the streaming services split and fragment, as they force their users into narrower and narrower viewership categories, who’s to say that Skinny’s day may not be dawning once again?  After all, every lover needs a refraction period, a chance to sit and think and grow prepared once again for worship.

And he will worship us, if only we remember how to worship him.

He will worship.

• • • • •

Please join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) each week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many tiny divinities:

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Sugar Moon – the small god of Maple Syrup

[image description: A lovely young native woman in a flowing white blouse and green skirt. Her wide hat trails leaves and fruit. Huge autumnal maple leaves whirl around her, and an amber moon of a halo seems to reflect the scene. Text reads “Sugar Moon, the small god of Maple Syrup 231”]

• • • • •

She has been a god since long before humans knew she was a god.  She was a god of sapsuckers in the beginning, of squirrels and porcupines, of countless tiny insects who courted death for a sliver of her sweetness.  She was a god to all the complicated living web that is a forest, and she could have been content with that, had she not seen the face of the future shining in the sky; a future where she would touch so many lives, know so many tables.  She dreamt of that bright and distant day.

Then came the humans.  The first to find her were those who knew and understood the land where she put down roots, born to walk its tangled lines and open wide its mysteries, and they bled her sweetness into the world and boiled it into something better.  They took Sugar from a small god of maple sap to the small god of maple syrup, and she has remained such to this day.

She is not an animate god.  Hers is not to choose who comes before her, nor who delights in her gifts; she could not stop the second people when they stole the secrets of her worship from the first, and she could not refuse to sweeten in their pots, could not refuse to thicken in their hands.  She would have, if she could.  She is a sweet god, but she is a god of the forest, and like all gods of the forest, her memory is long.  She remembers her first worshippers, and she remembers her second, and she does not always think kindly of her third.

But still, we worship her.  Still, she is sweet on our tongues, still, she is beauty in the sun and sugar for our tables, still, she is a gift of the land.  She will always be beloved, even if she does not love us wholly, not the way she loved the ones who came before us, all the way back to the birds with their quick and clever beaks.  She keeps company with Bonnie, enjoys the antics of Ummibe, and dances in the sparks with Yul Byrner.  She may have the most in common with Pumpkin Spice.

They are both gods of conquest, in their way.  Pumpkin Spice with her dark and bloody hooves, Sugar Moon with her sweet and shining hands.  Sugar Moon has never been the conqueror.  She sweetens their tables all the same.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and  Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern  world:

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Bonnie Bearcake – the small god of Playing With Your Food

[image description: Two perfectly cooks pancakes sit on a white plate with a yellow-orange rim on a blue-green tablecloth. The addition of ears, nose, eyes and a mouth turn the pancakes into the face a smiling cartoon bear. Text reads “Bonnie Bearcake the small god of Playing With Your Food 230”]

• • • • •

All creatures that live need to eat.  It’s like breathing, or sleeping—some things may do it in ways we don’t entirely recognize, but everything does it.  Stop and you’re dead.

Enter Bonnie.

At its most basic, eating is hunting and gathering, picking berries off a bush or snaring rabbits in a field.  But even then, the youngest among the group will begin finding ways to enjoy themselves, making counting games with small, sweet fruits, building poppets out of bunny bones and scraps of fur.  As the cuisine advances, so do the games.

Play can even happen during the cooking process.  What is experimentation in the kitchen but a kind of play, a wild game of what-if leading inevitably so something greater and more delicious than it was in its rawest form?  Chefs play with spice and texture, even as children play with form and physicality.  It all comes down to enjoyment, in the end.

And look where we are now!  Cakes shaped like miraculous castles, chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, pancakes with smiling faces, cookies with human shapes and silly stories latched to their gingerbread feet.  The games go on.  The games advance.  And while Bonnie may not be a socially acceptable god at every table, she’s at the root of every culinary advancement after fire, and there’s a chance that whoever lit the first controlled campfire did it because they were just goofing around.

Without her, we might not be here.  Remember that as you take your next bite of smiley-face pancake, and give gratitude to the god who set your table, who filled your plate, who started that food fight.

Mashed potatoes wash out.

• • • • •

Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and  Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern  world:

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