Dylan

He breaks the water, the cold steel surface of the water, and hauls its unbounded body onto a convenient log.

We are grilling, I think, or maybe walking the dog, her paws thick with mud and her lips white with drool, swaddled in our coats. The rocky slither of the beach is everywhere; this is as full as things get in November. Gulls are everywhere, chasing after the ferries.

He holds it down against the wood, its arms clutching feeble at his arms, already drowning in the air, and coolly punches it to death. He makes eye contact, grins.

What are you doing, we want to know. Why did you do that. What is wrong with you.

Art, he says. For an assignment.

We yell at him. He shrugs.

It’s dead already, he says, who cares. There are tons more of them down there. Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow and get another one. More art, right.

Later he gets threatening calls, he weeps, he pleads ignorance. We forgive, the beach and the water, but we do not forget. Something should change, he says. This shouldn’t happen again.

Yes, we say, this is true. This is all very true.

Empress Josephine

She woke up in the morgue, the mark of the cannula still worn into her upper lip, more clear-headed than she’d been in years. She sat up, just like that, without thinking about it, without having to plan every step carefully. Standing was an equal joy, no shifting her weight out past her knees, no rocking back and forth, no hoping she’d catch the handles of the walker and not fall on her forearms again. Standing! She laughed, the loudest sound she’d made since they moved up from Olympia, the same clear voice she’d heard in her head, then kept laughing, a minute, two, five, just to see how long she could go. She got bored before she had to stop.

There was someone else in the building with her, she could tell, someone warm, so she went looking, luxuriating just to be moving again.

“Oh, shit, you’re alive!” He was young, 22, maybe. College-aged; he looked like her grandson. He made his face look sympathetic. “Come sit down. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Do you remember your name? We’ll find your family. Let me look at your tag.”

She broke his neck easy as standing, then settled down to eat, still laughing. She’d never felt so alive.

Sarcoptes

Sarcoptes is swole to the point of bursting so she lands where’s convenient and digs her way in out of the air. The ground quakes as she digs, and the sun, what she can see of it, goes dark; oh, well.

Later.

Cestoni is born at the end of that tunnel, him and his brothers and sisters. The girls are homebodies, but the boys drive themselves out into the air where they don’t have to be quite so close to each other. The ground quakes where they walk. They build homes for themselves among the roots and stay there until their skin cracks raw.

Later.

Diacinto is pregnant. One of her brothers, probable, or not, it doesn’t matter. She found him, whoever he was, just emerged from his roots, so she pinned him and took what she needed, which wasn’t a name or much talk. She hurries on, one eye cocked to the sky, leery of rain.

The Flat Lands

She wakes weeping in the middle of the day when the lash of the sun touches her. The salt on her face reminds her of home, of cold grey stones by the beach and the smell of kelp soddenly moldering by the waterline. She buries herself further back under the earth and rocks herself to sleep, willing herself to ignore the pain in her back and her hips, the blisters slowly raising on her skin.

Night.

She kills a lizard and sucks its blood, grateful for the water, past grateful for the salt. The meat is almost an afterthought. It has been weeks since she walked past the treeline, past the last scattered grasses, days since she has had anything in her stomach but black bile. She continues eastward, toward the dawn.

Day.

She finds a hill just as the stars begin to fade, throws herself down the slope and digs like a dog. Her nails are stumps at this point, mere memory, and hard as diamonds. She tunnels in, past earth and stones, then breaks through into a cool dark space fragrant with water. The sun grabs for her heel as she pushes inside and she buries it in the cool, welcoming earth to heal.

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.