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.

ONE Two Three FOUR Five Six

This I know:

Best of my children, brave as they all are brave, clever as they all are clever, but loyal as none other is loyal, save to me.

There is a rottenness at the heart of me, some split rock at the foundation, some root gnawed raw. I am set apart from all others, clever Loki, shifting Loki, Loki who is all things and no one thing. The world is twinned and tripled, split again and again, like tree roots, like snake tongues, and at every branching of the way, there is Loki dancing. From such are monsters and magic born.

Father of monsters, but mother of heroes, so you will be accounted the greatest of horses, my son, born of my flesh, faster than the sun, sure-footed as the wind, master of all paths like your mother Loki. The gods themselves will find you worthy, my son, but only to bear burdens, not counsel. Ah, well. Bear glory and the bridle well: it is more than I have given elsewhere.

Palimpsest

A beautiful boy, drowned in a pool.

That’s the story, anyway: mouth green with cress he drowned, a sailor boy dead in fresh water. His great-thewed lover turned the island out for a month of searching, dawn to dusk, and then left; even love only lasts so long.

The island remembers.

Spring is ending and they run the hills, the trails, the dirt paths, crying a dead name in honor of a dead love. Forced, they say; by tradition if nothing else. Oh, well. In the evening they eat cress, drink new wine.

White driftwood on rocky beaches.

A fisher, caught in his nets, frozen in place; helpful hands descending. That’s the story, anyway. Slipped off the docks, a bad fall stopped just short of the water, arms and legs above the tide line, dark with the sun.

Train tracks.

They drink too much, joylessly, stubbornly, in cars parked outside of town. Plausible deniability, a stupid accident walking home, some high school nonsense. Red rocks and iron and parents who are careful to not search their rooms.

Woodsmoke and gulls.

You circle back to these stories, to these moments, like sea birds over a school of fish. Each time, one spiral higher, one circle wider, and then—

Alternate Reality Game

for Jane

There is no sign on the door and you have to call ahead to get in.

Only the desperate and the despairing find this place, those who spot the number scratched into the dull metal of a phone booth, who hear about it from someone else who has made it to the center. Those who risk the call, not knowing what will be at the other end.

The voice on the phone is warm, but anonymous. It gives an address and a time, and disconnects. Pick up the end of the skein and venture in—there is a monster at the other end who eats children, they say, but some children need to be eaten.

The apartment is warm, but anonymous. Full of women and children and noise; bright colors. It has been partitioned into several soundless cubbies; the door swings open just wide enough to swallow you in. Everyone here is nervous, with half an eye on the door in, the door out.

If you pass—some don’t—you will be grouped with others. Outside there is a van waiting for you, which will take you on. Some of you will have gone through this before, some of you will be here for the first time.

“It’s easy,” one of them will assure you. “They’re very good at this.”

Maybe you will want to forget; some do. Maybe you will stick around, learn their ways, spread your own cautious network. The work will always need to be done.