Asterion’s Canny Jaws

They never taught me to speak, my parents, but I learned in spite: born speaking, without words, my wide head and ungrown horns a mute testimony to human greed, a more than human thirst for the unsatisfying bite of the sea’s salt teeth.

They built this path for me, this maze of words, of obligations, of everything unsaid, demanded blood price from stranger and conquered kingdoms. I could not grow fast enough for my destined vengeance, so I took what ruth I could upon these clean-limbed and wailing youths, stuffed my stomach in the manner of my grandfather’s father.

We are all so much meat, nothing more.

Still: nothing lasts except the tides. Once I met a man, a twist of craft in his fist, and he struck me down, one more bloody heap tumbled to the bottom of this pit. He found his way out, and my long-delayed vengeance, and with that I must be satisfied.

I never asked for life, but in that, at least, I am not alone.

Get Help

a story for Ash

Like this: a blond godling, screaming in horror with all the strength of his leather lungs, and his younger brother, crumpled on the ground. Frigga hits a dead run at the sound of that scream; an eternity of motherhood has taught her the difference between real pain and fake.

“What did you do? Oh my son, what did you do?

Thor weeps: an ugly, blotched mess, his face streaked with remorse. “We were fighting, and he fell, and, and, and, the table, he hit the table, and…”

Frigga wails: a hollowing-out sound of agony, a century’s worth of parenting and love turned inside out, the death knell of an immortal god. (Later, he will remember this sound as he slips a spear of mistletoe into Hodor’s hand; this moment, this mourning.) Loki spasms upright on the ground, weeping apologies, it was a joke, it was all a joke, he’s fine, they’re both fine, it’s fine. She goes white and silent and drives him two fathoms into the rock and leaves him there for a month in her fury. He will remember this slight, as he remembers all slights; they should have made him the God of Memory.

When she pulls him out again, still furious, still wounded, he is contrite and horrified. “You can lie if you have to,” she tells him, one old liar to a new one, “but never to the people you love. Not like that.” Then she crushes him against her breast and all is forgiven.

It was one more piece of good advice that he’d go on to ignore, but never forget.

A House Divided Against Itself

Alexander Hammil has a moment of clarity, when he is red with blood to the waste and when the shrieks of the boy are still echoing off the parlor walls and ringing through the streets, a moment of pure awareness when he recoils in horror. Then he pushes on. The war must still be ended.

He takes the still warm skin from the child’s back and spreads it across the frame, pulls it taut. It lacks the shape of life, but the image is clear, North and South in matrimonial dignity beneath a spreading tree, the work of agonizing hours. He settles himself beneath it and cuts his own throat, quick and clean with a knife.

It will be days before they breach the walls and find him, but Death and History are there before the knife has fallen to his lap, have been there for hours, have always been there, watching.

“So unnecessary,” says History, revolted. “The Union will survive. The Union was always going to survive.”

“Let him have this moment,” Death says. “He tried, poor thing.”

History shudders and turns her eyes away. The Union survives, and Alex and his victim are forgotten, a gory footnote in a gory century, two minor deaths lost amid the noise.

Mating Season

The year has turned once again and the dads have come back to the hills, as they always have, pulled by some mysterious force, some unspeakable compulsion. The journey is long and dangerous, and many dads arrive scarred and bloody from travel: missing eyes, severed hands, skin pulled away from the muscle underneath. One, near his end, is more scar than dad; in the half-light of evening you can watch the ponderous thump of his heart through the parchment of his skin.

“Good team this year,” says one, a young one, scratching an unfamiliar beard. This is his first year, and he is shy, eager, and dry for blood.

“Could go all the way,” agrees the old one, his milky eyes focused on nothing much, the puckered mouth of his wrist searching the air. “If they want it enough.”

The young one edges closer and shivers as that rough stump finds his shoulder. He closes his eyes, and thinks of the coltish daughter waiting at home, the yearling son hiding behind her. “Still, you never know.”

The old one laughs, deep in his hollow chest, and leans in close to the young one, his breath hot against his beard. “No, you know. You know.”

Ahasuerus

Thing is, he’s seen so many ends of days by this point. Empires rise and fall, cities shake to dust, war sweeps a country empty of life, and still he goes on, one day after the next like so many weary footsteps. What else should he do? They burn the atmosphere and he spends a millennium or more choking on ash, squeezing between glaciers a mile high, the last human outside the domes. They dig plague into the soil and he erupts in boils, weeps blood, loses his teeth, keeps walking, who cares.

The oceans rise and he haunts the sunken cities. None of them are familiar, not really, but then all cities look alike after awhile, just a house someone took the roof off of. He’s in, oh, someplace to the north, near where the glaciers split around the mountains, climbing hills in murky water the temperature of spit. There used to be a market here where people shouted at you, a space carved out of the terseness of the rest of the city. “Fresh fish!” Ahasuerus bellows, why not, but all he does is spook an octopus deeper back into the stalls.

Oh, well. Life goes on.