Among her many names, the one that remains is Eater of Dirt. The rest have been cast off, but one name is enough to sustain her. The filth-goddess knows the flavor of fairy footsteps, the crumble of dead magic and the taste of tiny living jewels with wings that crunch in her teeth. Men may fling her holy name about as an insult, but they don’t know how sweet and savory and fulsome on the tongue dirt can be.
She was once a goddess of purification and lust with stone temples and glistening priestesses in cloaks painstakingly sewn of feathers and beetles. Young men gazed at the walls that encircled her rites and yearned for the barest syllable of knowledge to pass from those red-stained mouths to theirs. Any one of those boys would leap to her pleasure, and did, and she tasted their youth and fears when she grew bored with supping on the death of trees, of monsters, of orchids.
Time grinds temples to gravel. Fires wash trees to ash. There are no more fairies and monsters to dine on. She learns the taste of oil-slick and lead. Women forge handles out of words and grasp and sort and judge concepts as they once did weapons or fruit. Humans become too self-aware to worship any being too like themselves. The gods are trimmed: The hands and eyes and scepters cut away, anything that will hold a handle.
The Eater of Dirt persists, minus her earlobes, her feathered headdress, her girdle of insects. So much waste. Long after the Sky and the Warring Twins and the Judge perish, she tastes their trimmed-off attributes in a tea of autumn leaves or a confetti of salt-washed shells.
New gods are forged with vague shapes, wrapped in contradictions and paradoxes to confound the handles. They have the illusion of permanence in their first blush of adolescence.
New cults reap and sew inedible fetishes for their new gods. More than she can digest, and not filling in the slightest. The plastic confetti and weeds of propylene stick in her gums and she despairs.
She squats beside tiny worshipers, sometimes a rabbit, sometimes an iguana. They bend their knees and open their mouths to the Eater of Dirt. Together they savor histories digested, civilizations mulched.
She will outlast because humans still kneel to her. Still reach soft, plump fingers like worms into her repast and lift it to slick wet tongues.
“No, that’s dirt, baby!”
True worship is compulsion, and the compulsion persists, to taste the world. Like the compulsion to attach words, to kill and mourn magic in the same breath.
“Should we call the doctor?”
“She’ll be fine. All children eat dirt.”
The tiny priestess laughs, her teeth delicately lined in grains of darkness. She revels in the fulsome earth and her prayer is sustaining.
Humanity will forget the goddess, but never forget the banquet: soft and grit, fresh and old. She is in their tongues and teeth and throats and in the urge forever to open, to taste, to savor. And so she will survive, and eat the new gods, returning all to earth when its time comes.