Sunday, October 15, 2017

Excerpts of Chapter 1...

The edge of the cliff face jutted out like broken teeth. A long, steep climb, Detective Hank Dolan panted heavily and waved away mosquitoes. Hearing cars on the turnpike, he cursed the morning sun silently wishing he was still in bed. He had received a tip that a body was discovered matching the description of a missing woman. He despised these assignments. They rarely turned out well. Hank closed his eyes and tried to feel the breeze that served as small comfort to the summer heat that would soon be beating down onto them. “It’s supposed to be in this general area.” Gregg said.
A relic from Hank’s better days, Gregg Summers could always be counted on to be there when needed. Round and cheeky, Gregg was the perfect opposite to Hank’s gangly and finch like stature.
Hank stepped into some thorny underbrush and grabbed a tree for support. Contrary to popular belief, not all of New Los Angeles is sprawling buildings, rail lines, and taxi-cabs. Just outside the city is picturesque landscapes and vineyards.New Los Angeles breathes with the seasons. As organic as its people, the city is layered with modernism built on the detritus of the past. Like Jerusalem or Rome, NLA’s history is right underneath all who walk its streets. From above, its symmetry reminds one of an upside down chandelier. Countless lamps and mirrored windows bounce light in all directions. The city sparkles and shines its luster polished in the night sky.
It’s not all ugly just most of it. Hank thought dryly.
He was positioning himself on a plateau overlooking the expanse when Greg called out.
“Dammit! Over here!”
Hank rolled down his sleeves and put on some latex gloves as he maneuvered to where Gregg was staring at his feet and glowering.
Just then the smell hit him. Putrid and wan, Hank felt bile rise in his throat. He shuffled over and together they gazed down at the body. There were lacerations on her back from being cut repeatedly. Her knotted brown hair covered in dirt and wet leaves reminded Hank of Ophelia.
“Do you think it’s her?” Gregg asked.
Hank grimaced and held his breath. “Possibly.”
He knelt down and rolled her to her side Her ghostly, barren eyes had been olive. High cheekbones and pouty lips completed a wiry pretty picture. He gingerly lifted her left arm and sighed. There it was. The identifying tattoo that would make her his mark.
“It’s her.” He mumbled.
Gregg walked to the opposite side and leaned down. “Look at her neck.” He said. Dark purple bruising about an inch thick covered her throat. Splotches of blood and serrated skin indicated rope as the probable cause of death.
Gregg turned to stand then stopped, his eyes narrowing. “What’s in her hand?” Her broken, naked body had been turned in a way that Hank had initially missed the scourge.
“What the hell?” Gregg picked it up and scowled. “She did this to herself?” The rope had been braided into three prongs with wax balls at the ends. Each ball was covered in pieces of glass. Largely a Christian practice, Hank knew that flagellation was used as an extreme way for the devout to feel god’s love.
 Hank nodded. “The wounds on her back and legs, maybe.” Lifting her hand, Hank couldn’t help but notice her knuckles were bone white. “She’s still clutching it.” As he laid her hand back down, he noticed a piece of rope not attached to the scourge.
Hidden underneath her body and surrounded in brush, this rope was thicker and probably used to tow cars. “Wait a minute.” He cradled the back of the woman’s head and lifted it just enough to run his hand in the brush under her. They pulled four feet of frayed rope from under her body.
“Could be a cult. The city is nuts right now with all this talk of gods and goddesses.” Gregg remarked.
Hank had to admit that he brought up a good point. The flagellation alone spoke of Christian obsession. Perhaps she was a religious extremist who fell in with the wrong cult. Hank looked up to see Gregg staring at him. “What is it?”
Gregg cleared his throat. “You don’t think...maybe she was one of them?” Hank looked down at her face. They say the gods and goddesses are all beautiful. As if the fall from grace didn’t mar their physical countenance. And she was beautiful. Stunningly so. “It’s possible.”
Gregg circled back and bent down to examine the tattoo on her ribcage. “So she’s part of a cult and she’s doing this-” He points to her scourge marks. “-and her people, what, sacrifice her or something?”
Hank shook his head. “I don’t think so. It’s more likely a suicide. Plus, if there had been some ritual,  the brush around here would be all flattened.”
He held up the noose then glanced at the broken tree branch resting next to it. “I think she came here to die.” Hank thought back to what his partner had said about the possibility the girl was Descended.
Gregg searching his face nodded. “They’re human now right? They do die.”
Hank’s eyes lingered on her face. He noticed the sharp contours and wondered if she too should be included in the case file of the serial that had been terrorizing New Los Angeles for the past year.
That would make five now. Five bodies.
“I don’t know that they’ll ever be human. But they’re here nevertheless.”

Lilac and lemon.
That’s what Sadie Fuller thought about under the stage lights. This personal mantra had been hers for as long as she could remember. Both an affirmation and source of strength, she’d repeat the phrase whenever she needed to focus.
As she whirled in her dance routine, she let herself go free. Lilac and lemon.
She smiled as sweat and stage makeup trailed down her neck. Forty five minutes earlier, she’d thought that a blue tint would bring out the olive in her eyes. Now she realized that bluish streaks were slightly embarrassing
Modern dance was tricky. It didn’t have the meticulousness of ballet and wasn’t as hard physically, but still required a freshness of originality. Imagination was the key and if there was anything Sadie had in spades, it was a vivid inner world.
When she was little, while all the other kids were watching tv or playing outside, she’d sit quietly for hours making up worlds and friends. Her guardian David would sit next to her and ask what the story was about. Sadie would then plunge into a detailed description of her friends and their world. She always had a mother in the story. And there were brothers and sisters. Their appearances would change based on the story but they were always there.
Now she imagined a full house hanging on her every move. She spun and leapt. Could feel their eyes willing her not to stumble. She soaked it all in.
Lilac and lemon.
As Ravel’s Bolero came to a conclusion, she soared through one more twirl and flopped down on the edge of the stage. She heard one solitary clap in middle fifth row.
“You know, one clap is more insulting than no claps at all.”
From out of the darkness, a voice replied. “I’m trying to be a supportive friend. Maybe if you had the balls to dance for a real audience, I wouldn’t be here on a Saturday.”
Sadie brushed a flyaway out of her eyes. “Eli, you’ve got nothing planned today or any day. Next time, be a dear and give me three claps so I know that you love me.”
“Yeah I’ll get right on that.”
She’d known Eli Fray for the past two years now. Having met at school, the two had become fast friends. And now more often than not, Eli was the dutiful friend to Sadie’s waif.
She leaned back and closed her eyes but could still feel the heat of the stage lighting behind her eyelids. She stretched her back and kicked out her legs as Eli scooted in beside her.
“What’s up?”
He smiled sheepishly. “Oh nothing.”
Sadie frowned. “Out with it. I always know when you’re brooding. You brood really good.”
“I brood good? What does that even mean?”
Sadie smiled.
“Anyways, you going to the show this weekend?”
“Yeah prolly. He promised me backstage passes.”
“What did you have to promise him?”
Sadie glanced at him. “I’m not going to give him any, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m just going to the concert.”
Eli scoffed. “So you say.”
“Damn, Eli! Am I a whore now?”
Eli averted his eyes. “No.”
“That’s right. Besides, I was going to ask you to come pick me up after. Just so he doesn’t have to drop me off. I don’t know if I want him to know where I live.”
“Is he kind of creepy?”
“No. I just don’t like unwanted visitations.”
Eli laughed. “Unwanted visitations. You make him sound like a ghost or alien.”
“Shut up. I’m just going to call a cab”
Eli stretched his feet. “I’ll be out front waiting. Don’t be late.”
She rolled over and opened her eyes to the stage lights. As the glare filled her vision, she inhaled deeply. Lilac and Lemon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

“What are you doing here? In case I wasn’t clear, I don’t feel comfortable with you in my city.”
Apollo sat back, his eyes nearly closed.
“I would have thought being all-knowing would include security cameras.”
Still nothing. Hank smiled and leaned closer. No signs of being beaten or roughed up at all. The officers had been gentle when they took him in. Hank’s long experience on the force made it easier to identify which suspects had been resisting prior to being cuffed. Nothing about Apollo indicated any of the telltales of taking a few kicks to the abdomen or ribs. He wore a clean track suit an tennis shoes.
“So this was you then?” Apollo asked.
“How do you mean?”
The eyes that frowned at him were level, as if Apollo was more disappointed than angry. He glanced around the room.
“All of this.”
Hank nodded his head once. “I had them pick you up after rechecking the tape. Who are your friends Apollo?”
Apollo turned his attention to the one way mirror on the wall. He stared at his own reflection, narrowing his eyes as if unfamiliar with his own face.
Maybe he isn’t. Hank thought.
“It is uncanny how close our faces are to before.”
Or I could be wrong. Hank mused. “How do you mean?”
“Our features are similar. Not exactly right, but pretty close. Isn’t that strange?”
“Do you think that means something? Is somebody the great architect?”
“Did somebody do this to us you mean? Zeus? No, this is beyond him.”
“Maybe not Zeus.”
“Some other? Open warfare would be the result.”
“Perhaps that is why they stay hidden.”
Apollo nodded but didn’t respond. Once again, his eyes drifted to the mirror on the wall. Does he know how many officers are looking back at him right now? The Descendants were a rare commodity. It wasn’t a stretch to assume that this was the first interrogation of one of them.
“What were you doing at the Basement Apollo? Many of my colleagues are saying you were there to make sure you cleaned up the whole mess. Maybe to make sure you didn’t leave anything behind that might identify you. Did you  kill Jesus Christ Apollo?”
“Jesus Christ has killed more gods and goddesses than any other in history…and mortals too for that matter.”
“So you shot him.”
Apollo looked startled. “No, I didn’t shoot him! But I can’t really say I mourn for him either. He wasn’t part of my family.”
“I would think you’re all kin now.”
That wasn’t what Apollo wanted to hear. He turned his nose up as if smelling something spoiled. Hank kept finding himself studying his mannerisms and facial expressions. It was almost like a mask. Their faces were unfamiliar to even themselves, regardless of what the god purported. Every emotion was hard to read. It as as if Apollo’s eyes rested behind a hardened fleshy caricature of the human face. Hank found it repellent.
“You didn’t answer me.”
Apollo took a sip of coffee and stared down at the cup.
“I was doing what you’re doing. Trying to figure it out.”
“Processing the scene?”
“Except you just told me you couldn’t care less who killed him. So-”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to know! I might be next after all.”
Hank paused. “We saw three maybe four other bodies moving about in there as well. They weren’t as dip-shitted as you and steered clear of the cameras. So, who were they?”
“I have no idea.”
Apollo looked sharply at Hank, who had stood up and was leaning against the back wall. He placed his hands behind his back and stared at the god shackled to the desk.
“Do you ever want to get out of that chair? We don’t necessarily have to run you through the usual indictment and litigation process. You’re not technically an American citizen. We can throw you in a hole Apollo, forever and ever. We put ourselves through hell all the time, what do you think we’ll do to you?”
Apollo opened his eyes and was looking at him. For the first time, Hank caught a scent of fear from the god. But there was something else. A raw animosity. Apollo was a lion in a cage that was tired of being prodded. He could erupt into violence before this was over.
“You think I’m lying? Go back an check your tape. I hid form them too. I had no idea who they were so I thought it best to stay hidden.”
Hank knew he was telling the truth. The security monitor had shown no interaction between Apollo and the mysterious shadows. Still, he had hoped Apollo would provide a name or possible description of who they were. In his seat, the god had paused and appeared to be plotting his next move. Hank edged around the chair to make sure that the cuffs were still tightly secured around his hands. Satisfied, he sat back down.
“I know the Tengu came to you.” Apollo said.
For a second, Hank felt as weightless as if he’d fallen backward in his chair. His shock was unmistakable and Apollo picked up on it immediately. “Word get around Officer.”
“Detective.” Hank whispered.
“Whatever. Tell me, do you think the Maharishi-ten is without an agenda? How much did you sell your soul for to the Japanese goddess? Do your fellow officers know of your exploits with her?”
Hank suppressed the urge to smash his fist into Apollo’s face. “Do tell.”
Outside the door, rumblings could be heard. Hank knew what Apollo had said was now rippling through the precinct. He also knew that had been the god’s intent. Hank must be cautious now. How much did the god know? He knew of the Tengu and Japanese gangster goddess. He knew she had hired him and that they had met up. But beyond that, what else was there?
“I don’t know what she wants with you nor do I care but just know, you can’t trust her.”
“I don’t trust her.”
“Her every move is designed to ensure the survival of her lotus.”
At Apollo’s words, Hank felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Lotus?
“And what is that? Lotus?”
“I think you already know Officer. After all, she’s your friend.”
“Tell me how you know she made contact with me.”
“She hasn’t yet. Not really. She came to you through her Tengu courier.”
“And the underground railroad runs deep Officer. This city is has many lines of information. But you’d have to leave the comfort of downtown in order to find it.”
“You mean No Quarter. Are the Descendants living in No Quarter?”
Apollo shook his head. “I couldn’t say.”
Hank studied the god for a moment. “The Maharishi’s lotus?”
Apollo sent his gazer back to the mirrored wall. He scowled at his reflection. “The lotus must stay in fixed positions. She can’t wander all through the night ensuring the prosperity of her enterprises.”
“Her business. Is it drugs Apollo? Is she running narcotics?”
Casually, Apollo sat back in his chair and laid his hands on the table, palms up. When he did not speak, Hank cleared his throat.
This time Apollo didn’t break his silence. Hank almost smiled. While not giving anything detailed, the god had revealed much about the Descendant population in the city. He would have to take another look in No Quarter. If there was anywhere in the city that a murder suspect would try to hide, it would be there. Too bad Hank had worked that slum for the past seven years and knew all the hiding places.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Ariadne and Dionysus...some backstory

"We all hope you have a wonderful life here." The crewman told the slender, fawnlike princess who stared horrified at the desolate island that was quickly growing larger with every passing moment.
"Well, I'll tell you. If he wanted to hide me from the world, this would be the place to do it. I think I'll pass, you can take me back to the labyrinth.
"Can't be done." The crewman choked. His gaze fixed ahead, a twitch below his left eye was the only indication that the woman, was, in fact, staring him down.
He had said it would be a place to themselves. He had said they would make a life together. Well, isn't that what they always said?
"What is this island?"
The crewman swallowed hard. "Dia?"
"Yes, princess."
She fixed the crewman with such a look of disgust that he immediately wished he were below deck.
"I've seen a lot of islands but nothing as empty as this. I'd rather be on the water. Can you arrange that? Where's Theseus?"
Ariadne marched across the deck with an overfull, splashing goblet of wine in one hand and a dinghy oar in the other. The crewman watched her go. They all wished her well, or more accurately, wanted to wish her well. The princess was just difficult. The lady looked as though she would never really be at home anywhere. She walked with purpose but did it like somebody ready to stop and change directions at any moment.
The crew unloaded the ship directly on the beach; telling Ariadne that she'd have to trudge her collection of various size cases up to where she planned to stay. They were short for time and the weather was coming in. Ariadne took the news like a sailor: stoically nodding, she began to curse wildly and hurled a suitcase over her shoulder. She was used to times like these. It had been her thread that allowed the good for nothing out of the labyrinth.
Perhaps she should have taken in with the minotaur? Of course Theseus was handsome. All the girls said so. His brown hair and dark eyes. The way the dimples creased his face every time he smiled. The vacant look he'd given her when she had tried to calmly explain how her thread would lead him out of the maze. Oh yes, he was crafty. But not a hero.  Ariadne had seen more heroism from the crabs she was currently stomping on her way up the beach.
But he had promised to marry her. And she had come along. Truth be told, she knew they weren't a good match. Although they were of comparable age, Theseus was young. Very young. More than one she'd remarked about something just to turn and see his beautiful bewildered face gazing at her blankly. It took Ariadne all of ten minutes to figure out what the gods had exchanged for his good looks. But she remained steadfast, even a little eager. They were to start a life together. Nevermind if it was alone, on an island, out of sight of even the gods. They could make it work.
She placed her dresses on a pile of banana leaves, careful to kick any creature, winged or clawed that came too close. She showered under a waterfall and sat eating a mango. She scanned the area and noticed Theseus still at the beach and staring out at the open sea.
She put her coal black hair up and marched over wearing nothing but an agreeable smile. Ariadne stood in front of him, a hackneyed look of disgust darkened her features.
"What am I doing here?"
"Princess, this is an island called-'
"Princess knows it's an island Theseus. But what am I doing here? I didn't just show you out of a maze to end up barefoot and pregnant on some gods forsaken rock. I swear I'll hang myself if we're to stay here for more than a few days."
"Princess," Theseus stammered.
The crew were all starting to look at them now. A few gawked, her nakedness was something they had all wondered about on those long nights at sea. Theseus turned his head away and she grabbed him by the chin forcing his eyes to her. "Take me out of here right now." She said. "Or tell me what we're doing."
Theseus licked his lips, his mouth opened and closed like a goldfish. He tried to summon the authoritarian tone of a hero or even the amiable voice of a husband but failed at both. What came out was a pitying croak followed by muttering. Ariadne squinted as if he'd just gone all out of focus.
"You don't know do you?" Ariadne said softly. "This better not be something from the pythia."
"The prophetess speaks for Apollo, Princess."
"Yeah, we know. Did she tell you to sail me out here? I swear Theseus, I'll cut-"
"No this wasn't the oracle." He interrupted.
"A few days." Ariadne softly said. She then turned and walked away.
She was awake early the next morning. She put on a blue dress, and walked out to the beach. The view she got was more than a little jarring. Backlit by the rising sun, her husband's ship, indeed the entire fleet, were sailing away.
Ariadne blinked once then looked away. Watching the boats drift farther away was a succinct reminder of how cowardly Theseus did things. It was not enough to abandon her, he had to do it in secret. He was scared. She walked back to camp and sat on a pile of banana leaves. She ate a mango. She slept again for awhile then woke to what she thought was a cat yowling. After a long pause, she walked back to the beach.
Ariadne had no doubt that Theseus was gone. He had meant to sail her to this island and leave her. That had been the plan. He wanted to to be rid of her. That was fine. Perfect.
An hour after Theseus sailed off, Ariadne bend and began to pray to the gods. She got nothing but silence. It was an eerie quiet, even the breeze coming off the ocean had become still. Her ears outstretched, she called out to the gods. Still nothing. Ariadne gritted her teeth, on the verge of screaming. The hot, caked sand under her feet, she switched the prayers for curses and spent the next forty five minutes cursing every god and goddess she could think of, even the unimportant ones.
Again she thought she heard the yowling of a large cat somewhere in the jungle and sprinted out to the surf. She wasn't sure why she thought the ocean would be adequate protection but given the choice of drowning or being torn apart by a jungle cat, she'd take the water. The she saw it. Stepping out of the brush perhaps a hundred paces from where she had slept, a large cat emerged. It looked to be a cheetah. It was hard to be sure. The feline noticed her straight away. Its muzzle rose in the air and sniffed. Ariadne stood up straight, fully prepared to make this cat swim if it thought to make her a meal. But it didn't approach. Nor did it eave. Instead, it ate her breakfast, yawned, and put its head down to sleep.
Ariadne felt this was a personal affront. "Hey!" She called out from the water line. "Shoo!" Digging her nails into her palms, she took a few steps towards the beach then swan dived back to the water when she saw a second cheetah come out of the brush.
She waited patiently, clicking her teeth and now frigid from having her barefeet in the water for hours. She inspected and found them wrinkled as raisins. I can't stand here all night. She thought. She walked up the beach. She planned to find a safe place to sleep then build another camp in the morning. Her plan went awry immediately. The cheetahs got up and followed her down the beach. They're stalking me! / She picked up a rock and hurled it at the pair who were matching her in stride. One of them shrunk away. Ha! See?
She yelled and spat and thrashed around until the second cheetah sauntered off then prepared a camp. She had to trudge back and forth to retrieve her belongings and by sun down was in need of another shower. Ariadne dipped her head underneath the waterfall, letting the cool force of it massage her forehead and scalp. She was stiff from the anxiety of being abandoned, her knees ached and the shadows forming around her as night approached were thick as fog.
Then she heard screaming. Eyes wide, she stared into the darkness. She heard something pop, like a twig breaking and yelped. She thought of the cheetahs and made to build a bigger fire. It would be enormous, large enough that even the gods would see it from on high. Before long, she'd built a blaze that was nearly out of control. She stood in front of it, feeling the heat dry her tresses.
Then she heard something that was so out of place she questioned her own senses. Off in the distance but growing louder was the crashing of cymbals. Ariadne knew the sound from her time in theater and was sure. She craned her neck, stepped a few feet into the darkness of the jungle and listened as the sounds got louder. But there was something else. Tambourines? Yes. She also heard tambourines echoing through the trees. Perhaps the island wasn't abandoned after all. Maybe she could still make it out of here.
Ariadne sat on a large tree that had been blown over during a recent storm. She folded her legs underneath her and ate a mango. Then, to her shock and horror, both cheetahs steps languidly out of the shadows and approached the fire. Ariadne gulped a large piece and looked about her for a large rock or stick.
Each had their eyes on her. The large cats were even larger up close. Each one easily as tall as Ariadne's waist. She rose up on her knees and was reaching for a giant crab when the cymbals and tambourines exploded only feet from her camp. Ariadne screamed and clasped her hands to her ears. She opened her mouth and was drowned out by the whooping and hollers of perhaps two dozen men and women emerging from the trees in a procession.
Ariadne stood with her mouth ajar, mango still stuck to her lips. It dropped and onto the ground. A cheetah came and snatched it up, purring as it curled up just on the edge of camp. Then out of the shadows, a man materialized. He was tall and thin, long brown hair fell into his face as he fought to keep from spilling an abnormally large wine goblet. He stopped, his eyes roaming up and down Ariadne.
"Are you real?" He asked.
"Is that a bucket?" She replied and nodded towards the cup in his hand.
"If it was a bucket, it still wouldn't be large enough." He said, almost too seriously. "Silenus! Come fill my bucket!"
A large bear of a man stepped forward. He began to pour an obscene amount of red wine into the half empty glass. "Boy, if you walk into a tree, we're leaving you."
"Certainly not. Besides, I have found the spirit of the isle to look after me."
Ariadne frowned.
"Isn't that right?" He prodded.
"Dionysus stop." Silenus replied.
Ariadne held out her hand. "Give it to me."
Dionysus handed the goblet over sheepishly. Ariadne took a sip then handed it back to Silenus who handed it then back to Dionysus. The switching hands happened so fast that Dionysus was puzzled to find the cup back in his hand.
"Dionysus, is it?" Ariadne said cooly. "You're named after the god is that it? A name amongst of friends?"
There was no pause. Dionysus said. "Yes, something like that."
As he said this, two woman coiled around his legs and stared up at him adoringly. The wind that had been a slight breeze picked up into gale force winds. The cymbals and tambourines began to clash in crazed dissonant ways. The whoops transformed into shrieking. Ariadne stepped back and covered her ears. She felt a pressure on the base of her skull. It was a compulsion. She wanted to rave. She could feel it in her bones, the sinew of her muscles wanted, or needed to dance. She dug her nails into her palms, resisting the urge to leap and wail. Around her, madness had taken over. There was fighting and fornication. Even the sex was violent, a wild bucking and animal screams.
Then as quick as it came on, the wind died. And so with it the pressure on her skull. She looked around as everybody awoke as if out of trance. She saw them stumbling, offering bewildered apologies and filling their cups with red faces.
"They're ashamed." Ariadne said.
"No, they're not."  Dionysus countered. "They're blessed."
"Blessed in madness? The grace of insanity really isn't grace...or a gift."
Dionysus inclined his head towards the fire. Its crackles sending up steady bursts of light like stars. They rose and winked out while the god stared and Ariadne bit into a mango.
"A signal fire?"
"I assume you have a boat?"
"There's no need for a boat."
Ariadne took a deep breath. She felt the god's eyes on her and suddenly wondered of she was naked again. The god smiled. He leaned in until their foreheads were almost touching. "It wouldn't be out of place here." He whispered.
Ariadne suppressed a smile. "You smell like cheap wine."
Dionysus took a long look at the mortal woman in front of him. Flaxen hair and freckles, hazel eyes and long, sinewy limbs. She would be enormously pretty if not for the scowl that just filled her whole face. She was a half naked walking scowl. Still, the god was perplexed. One, she was alone on a desert island and didn't seem terrified, in truth, she was barely preoccupied with the matter. Two, she wasn't in the least impressed at being approached, rather loudly, by a god. This second matter was really the most pressing. Why wasn't she impressed? Had she met other gods? Was this a regular event for her? She'd even be extraordinarily strong in resisting his compulsory nature. She wasn't immune, he knew. She had wetted her lips while in the heat of him. He knew her appetites had been awakened. But she remained cool. That steely scowl dropping for only an instant.
"What are you doing here?" He asked.
"None of your business."
"You do realize the island is uninhabited?"
"Are you following me? You and your...cats." She inquired.
"It wasn't hard to see you given half the island is on fire." He replied tonelessly.
She turned. For a split second Ariadne was backlit by the flames and Dionysus felt his knees go weak because he saw something else in her. Something he hadn't noticed before. He saw a white light on the surface of her skin, a ripple of heat. She was all but naked and encased in light. And then he knew. He looked out at the water, his unease now apparent.
"What?" She asked.
"Theseus doesn't know. He abandoned you but he doesn't know."
"Doesn't know what?"
"The strangest, most obvious truth."
Something in his voice caused Ariadne to take a step toward him. She caught herself involuntarily and stopped.
"When he turned his back on you, he turned his back on Aphrodite."
He meant to convey indifference, something suggestive of apathy but warmth in his voice betrayed him completely.
"Dionysus, what do you mean?" She asked.
The god perked up at the sound of his name. "He transgressed the goddess, turned his back on her."
"But I'm not-"
"No, but she was with you. Love was with you."
He waited for her to deny it.
"He had other ambitions." She said unevenly.
"I know."
The procession had now circled around and was making its way down the shoreline with Silenus at its head. The booming and pounding of cymbals echoed down the beach and Dionysus grinned from ear to ear. Behind Ariadne's head, a snake had perched on a branch, its flicking tongue at her bare shoulder. Dionysus could see the serpent as it slid past her arm and coiled around her midsection. Perhaps it was his incredulous giggle that brought Ariadne around. She arched forward, her left arm barely missing the serpent as it slithered down the side of her body.
"What is it?" She asked.
Dionysus made his way to her side, trailing a finger down her shoulder and the back of her arm. When she glanced down, Ariadne stood as rigid as one of the palm trees that towered overhead. She looked up and into the eyes of the god, Dionysus thought she looked endless. An enduring fire alone on a beach.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Freya and Set...some backstory.

Goddess Freya was a member of the Vanir tribe of deities and had no mother. At least that's what they said. Her father Njord rarely spoke of the goddess's mother  but when he did it was like he had a pained tooth. Freya or 'Lady' as her name was translated, never really got over the absence and felt it like hunger pains. In the middle of the night she would leave Vanaheim, her home deep in the branches of Yggdrasil and wander. She loved to stare at the fires lit by warriors and listen to their stories. Staying just behind the veil, she'd give her love and attention until inevitably someone would begin prophesize or see visions. They never knew it was young Freya and the seidr she kept trying to harness but couldn't at her young age. The magic just flowed through her like a torrent.
Her brother never seemed to regard their mother as anything but a whisper on the wind. But then, he was much more popular than Freya would ever be. Freyr's name meant 'foremost of the gods' and he certainly was. The god was hated by none. Followed incessantly, his every word was regarded as a blessing. When children, the two would argue but it was always lighthearted and lacked malice.
One night when she was older, her husband Odr crept out of their lodging in the middle of the night and left Freya, alone with their daughter Hnoss. A couple of times before, Odr had tried to leave and she'd blocked the door. Fixing him with that look that even he couldn't resist. Her golden hair down, just covering her bare nipples, hands at her sides so his eyes could see the blonde pubic hair that she carefully trimmed and anointed with oils.
"It's not right for you to keep me here woman."
"Why not?" She'd say. "What other goddesses can give you what I have?"
He knew she referred to the seidr. Her power to weave destiny in any number of ways. It was the magic that made her both exalted and scorned everywhere she went.
So he would stay. For awhile. But unavoidably, the restlessness would again build in him and he'd long to be free. She knew the real reason he wanted to run away. It had nothing to do with herself or Hnoss. Oh, she knew stagnation made him bored and unfulfilled. But this went beyond that. Odr had begun to hate himself. He never ate with enthusiasm anymore, preferring to pick silently at his food like a child, he refused to wash subjecting her to the stink of animal and dirt when he stared listlessly into the hearth.
Odr began to sense her own unease and that only made the gulf between them harder to bridge. She could have gone on, waiting for him to come out of the darkness that he'd entered had she not followed him one night after he'd left on one of his short excursions. Transforming herself into a falcon, the goddess had perched herself aloft on a tree branch overlooking a newly returned hunting party. Odr had been there. Sitting around the fire like a typical man, the god had shared in their storytelling and ate from their hunt. Again, the fire was in his soul, the passion in his heart. As her small eyes darted around the landscape, and she felt the chilly winter winds through her plumes, she knew that Odr was tired of being a god. He longed to have a mortal life. She remembered herself as a child. Staying just out of the firelight while warriors told stories and she weaved seidr. And she understood. How much like her he truly was. And so, perched up in that tree, Freya's heart embraced yet withered to Odr. A part of him she loved insatiably for it was the part most like herself. But another part closed off to him forever because he was unable to see past his own sufferings. A couple of times, he had glanced up to where she was, her falcon head cocked to the side, hard steely claws gripping the tree branch.  He had stared up at her, something like recognition in his weary eyes. But Freya had remained still, an ocean of empathy weaving through the campsite. He must have felt it, intuited her permission to leave because Freya never saw him again. When she returned home, she sat wooden as a statue, great golden tears running down her face. If anybody could have seen, she would have appeared to be a perfect masthead for a ship. Her tears carving riveted canals into the oak. She sat in silence in his chair and stared off into a fire that had burned into embers. The next morning Hnoss had wept uncontrollably. It was the first time in her existence that she'd had to cope with something that her mother couldn't fix. She had known that something had happened to her father, had seen the stony way he looked into the fire, heard the hushed arguments with her mother late at night. This was something she never shared with Freya, not even after Ord had gone. She had known it would happen. Or something similar. But there was more. Hnoss began to, like her mother, see the interlaced lines of light around others. She knew what lines could be plucked or moved to change the fortune of anybody around her. Hnoss did not yet know the word seidr or what destiny was but she understood it. Just like she knew that her mother would soon leave as well. Asked for her perceptions of all these things, the child could never have explained it and that only added to the terrible sense of defeat that she experienced. It was a short time later, when Hnoss was entering adulthood that her mother too stepped out in the chilly winter night and never came back.
Freya left the domicile. The last remnants of light had left the sky. She was happy for the first time in many years. Walking through the snow tundra with her furs and a small pack for provisions, she headed down the icy slope towards the many villages that sprawled on the Nordic landscape. Her mind spoke up. This is it. This is where the seidr has taken you. Alone, no husband, wandering like a beggar. The voice in her mind wanted to chastise, to tell her turn back and go home. Ord would come back eventually. But at the same time, she'd never felt this heart racing sense of adventure. She could barely feel the frozen wind and as she stepped lightly on the snow she doubted it even left a bootprint. A single thought filled her mind: If the seidr could be used for sustenance she could wander her gorgeous land forever. She would tell fortunes in exchange for food and lodging. It was such a simple idea. She knew it would work. How could it not? She had been spinning threads of fate since she was a child. If she used her power for trade , she would receive the most beautiful of life's possessions, the most savory of hens and the ripest of vegetables. Men would clamour for her. They would beg and so too their wives. She'd never be with naught. I can do these things. She thought.
It had not been the first time Freya had considered weaving destiny in her favor. But Ord had forbidden it . "You will spin your own demise. Not all fortunes can be rich and they'll blame you. They will blame you." She heard his voice in her head echoing like a bell. Still she persisted. They will adore their lady. She thought, trudging through the ice. She made it to the first town just before sunset  the following day. Damp and shivering, she approached a band of hunters. much like the ones Ord had sat with all those years ago. If it hadn't been for the grumblings in her stomach and parched tongue she might have skipped this particular lot altogether. She could tell they had been out for many days without much success. There was meat on the fire but it was thin, probably injured. An easy kill. A beggar's kill. Still, a beggar's kill is a belly full. She thought.
There were perhaps a couple hundred people living in this hamlet. A dozen or more modest hut's had been erected somewhat shabbily which implied haste. They were new to the area and had set up in a race with winter. Freya took a seat next to the men and smiled.

 Her face immediately got their attention. Whether from the blue of her eyes or the flush in her cheeks that made her seem like she'd just finished making love, all heads turned to her.
"You're gonna give me a leg of that hen." Freya said.
"Oh, really?"
"And why is that? Because you're going to offer up some leg of my own later tonight?"
The men laughed. Even Freya laughed. She had actually considered the idea but dismissed it on account of exhaustion.
"No, because I'm volva. A practicer of seidr."
She said it simply, as if she'd just told them her name. She half expected a response akin to her telling them she was goddess. Instead, what she got was the opposite.
These men believed in volva. They sat hushed, faces skeptical as to whether she was, in fact, insulting them. But they were weary, perhaps more exhausted than she. Above all else though, they were hopeful. They needed to believe
"I will spin for you in the morrow. And your fortunes will change. You and your families will have food this winter."
The men began to quiver, hopeless skepticism still in their eyes but they took a leg off the smoldering fire and gave it to her. She ate quickly, wiping her mouth with the back of a furred glove. When she finished, she looked up to find them staring at her. Did they suspect? She wondered if her godhood was obvious or perhaps she had accidentally sprouted falcon wings as she ate. But it wasn't that. They wanted the seidr.
So later that night, Freya went into one of the huts and sat down to weave. She did it efficiently, running the thread through her deft fingers, feeling its softness on her palm, the tightness as she weaved it into a new pattern. All the while, she spoke to it aloud, coaxing it to bend to her will. "These men have been gracious. They fed your lady with little they had. Now you will move in their fortune."
She felt the seidr as golden light in her hands. Almost as if she were brushing her own hair. The threads warmed, pulsating under her control.
"Their harvest will be plenty. Their families content. Their fate has shifted, you do this for your lady."
Freya went on like this for perhaps three quarters of an hour. Outside the door, more than a few had propped their heads against the door, listening in on the strange woman who weaved in the middle of the night.
When she finished, she was given a warm bath. Fresh ale in her belly, she sat in a small wicker chair and ran her fingers through her golden locks, untangling any knots that had formed while travelling. Still humming to the seidr, Freya dropped her gown and lay naked on the bed. Her arms outstretched, she drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning the hunting party went back out well before dawn. It was a cold morning, with the hardness of winter just weeks away. They knew that death's ghostly hand (Who is nordic god of death etc...) was destined for much of the young  if food wasn't procured in a hurry. It wasn't something that was stated out loud but mother's held their children a little tighter.
Freya awoke with the sun warming her eyelids. She lay back, her muscles stretched, the aches and pains a memory. She sat up and dressed taking care to put her hair in a braid. She did it slowly as she had the seidr. Her hair felt soft as butter this morning, her skin glowed with youthful vigor. She could almost feel changes in the air. The day was warmer than it had been. Outside the door, she heard chatter as folks went about their daily routine.
Then came the elation. It began with the first glimpse of the hunting party (make this a character, who came back to camp etc...) still hundreds of yards in the distance. Standing out there, overlooking a lush plateau of frosted glades, the men trudged back with their bounty. It was enormous. The men shouldered weeks, maybe months of food. There were rabbits, hens, and deer all knotted together and secured on their backs what couldn't be carried in burlap. One of them smiled (who? his name?) and for a moment she saw Odr. It was quick, perhaps only a second, but Freya glimpsed her beloved and longed again for his embrace. She kicked her heel, threw back the hunt flaps and began to collect her things.
"Where are you going?" One of the women cried.
There was a long pause. There was a soft clicking out in the wood.
"I cannot stay."
She worked her furs on, her voice a quaver. "I need to move on."
Avoiding their eyes, the Lady stepped out into the snow and shuffled off.
This was how the legend of Freya's seidr began to circulate all through the Scandinavian countryside. Tales were spoken around the fire in hushed voices as if imparting a secret. And word travelled fast. Soon, all the land knew of the traveling goddess. She stopped in numerous places, each time weaving for harvest, or conquest, or love. Sometimes the seidr was meant to bring about a marriage, other times death. And each time she was successful.
But not all the time was she welcomed. In many villages she was looked at with grim fear and scorn. Freya knew why. Perhaps it wasn't her place to weave the fortunes of man. But if it wasn't her place then whose was it? Her amorous liaisons didn't help matters either. Amorous liaisons rarely did. Since Odr's abandonment, Freya had been visited by most of the gods on her travels. They would come to her at night.  They would pull her hair out of its braid, they would undress her. Freya loved these moments of rapid breathing and sweaty gasps. She moaned loudly, letting her cries echo into the night. Then one night Loki came to her.
"What are you doing?" He chastised.
"Anything I want." She replied hoarsely.
He looked around her domicile at the gifts that had accumulated in all corners of the room. He stepped over a trio of cats and faced her. "You will have all the gods is that it? Deny none into your bed?"
Freya's eyes wide and expressionless, she lashed out a hand, Loki didn't see it coming and staggered to stay upright. "Careful what you say trickster."  Her tone low and rumbling like a dark cloud that had yet to unleash thunder. He went to the door and looked back, "Odr has disappeared."
"My husband disappeared long ago. I don't know where he is."
"Nobody knows where he is."
Freya paused. Suddenly her stomach felt empty. Her throat dry and sore.
"And your brother as well."
It was Freya's turn to stagger back and into the wall. What did you do trickster? What game have you entered into? You wouldn't come here unless you thought to include me in one of your schemes or you were genuinely afraid. Gods know your sense fear is eschewed. But still.
Freya looked at the angular, pointed face of the god of mischief. His large oval eyes darting from the floor to the walls. He looked like one of her cats trapped in a box. What could possibly make Loki panic aside from maybe Odr himself?
"They are disappearing my Lady. All of them. The gods are vanishing."
She repeated what he said. I don't believe you Loki. This is you Loki. This is another of your games. "Why are you telling me these things?"
He stepped out and disappeared into the night. Not long after he disappeared from Yggdrasil altogether.

The queen clenched her fists. All around her leaves were kicked up in a sudden wind that blew like dust devils through the trees and grasses. "Do you hear me Knonsu!" Isis bellowed. And he had. But something else had as well. Virtually invisible in the dark, a tiny scorpion made its way onto the island of reeds. It labored over hilly mounds, working its tiny legs until it reached a stalk and crawled up. There it stayed. A tiny speck that gazed out with cold, defiant eyes. The scorpion drew closer, moving under the tall reeds towards the infant left unprotected. Easy prey. The scorpion thought. Its inner voice a high squeaking timbre. The child will never grow. No clemency. It was a compulsion. His actions weren't motivated by tedious spite or jealousy. They were something he could not control. So he continued closer and closer until he reached where the child lay.
Outside, his mother continued to pray. Her voice would be heard miles away on this night. It would carry on the wind like peals of thunder. Many would hear the lament, becoming terrified as Isis shook their tiny homes. It all mattered. The little scorpion knew this. This was what had to be done. For his own sake and for the sake of upper Egypt. He could smell the baby now as he entered the crib. Oils and incense marked the royal baby. It won't be long now. The scorpion slowly crawled down into the cradle. Its legs touched the linen that wrapped the boy tight. He burrowed a little deeper and came to bare skin. Ah, the mother is too late. Khonsu failed.The scorpion's tail raised, stinger pointed toward the abdomen. Still expecting to be stricken down, he waited another half second. Then he brought the tail down and pierced the skin of the child Horus. 
Isis shrieked when she heard the cry of her baby. She was thinking about her husband, exactly as she had been thinking of him the night the sarcophagus lid came crashing down with a whoosh. It had been a dark trick, A cruel one. The night had seemed so alive, so utterly perfect. And it had all gone so wrong. 
The hurt cries of her son brought her back around. She held the baby to her chest as his face discolored turning a bluish hue. Her sobs uncontrollable, her whole body was racked with spasms. She shook and swayed like the papyrus reeds outside. Her son had stopped crying. Now, he lay still, small gurgles coming from his throat. Isis bent until her face was on the little boy's chest. She felt him stop  breathing. She heard a gasp emit softly and his eyes fixed on her as he entered the duat. Isis gasped too. As she watched Horus die, her mind became tangled. She felt it all begin to slip, a madness born of trauma. The young mother yanked on her braids, tried to claw her own face. 
"Thoth!" She shrieked. 
At once, he stood before her. His ibis face turned toward the child. He stood close to six feet, a towering inhuman presence. She smelled his oils and felt his breath in her inner ear. 
"He did it!" She cried. "He killed my baby!"
Thoth glanced to the crack where the scorpion had exited the hut. Isis followed his gaze then turned blazing eyes on him. "How could this be? He killed my son just as he killed my husband!"
Thoth bent to the child and Isis got the impression that he was smiling underneath the Ibis visage. She snatched the child away and took an involuntary step backward.Thoth took off the mask and stood erect. A round face with prominent jowls peered down through milky cataract covered eyes. 
"The child will live again. Let him have some time. As we speak, he is with his father. His spirit is in the duat. But he'll come back."
"How will I know?"
"You will know at Heliopolis. Go to the great obelisk. You know which one I mean, yes?"
"Go there. The child will come as a Bennu. Watch the bird. As it perches on the obelisk, Ra's glance will cinder it to ashes. But a new Bennu will rise, and with it the spirit of your child."
This seemed to placate Isis, at least for a moment. But her grief and terror soon gave way to rage. "He must be dealt with. Set cannot rule."
Thoth turned away from her.
"He cannot rule! She said again.
He peered hesitantly at Isis. He then walked out to the trees and stopped. His back to the queen, he marched over a small hill, his sandals kicking up dead leaves. Before long, he had climbed a second then a third hill. Isis watched until he was a dark speck on the jungle floor. She thought it look like a blemish. 
Isis probed ahead with her torch until a gust of stale air threatened to blow out the flame. Slowing, she peered into the cave that by now was as terrifying as the duat itself. She shivered, tiny bumps rising up on her arms. Cautiously, she took a few more steps. She could almost hear singing? Tucking her hair behind her ear, she arched forward like Nuit and strained. Yes. There was singing coming from further in. She took a few more short steps, the cave opened up a little more and she was relieved at the extra space. The singing was still there, a soft melody on the wind. It was a child's song. A song that all mothers taught their young.
Isis turned a sharp corner and emerged into a passage that was lined in light. Torches on both sides of the cave walls acted as beacons to an even larger chamber up ahead. There were small alcoves on either side, the floor cleared it reminded her of a temple.Oh, I see what you're doing here sister. She thought. The passage led into another room which then led to a set of stairs. They were steep, a sharp angle further into the cave complex. As she climbed, her legs grew tired, her breath short. Soon, she came to another gigantic passage that had been cleared away and lit with fire. There were visions painted on the walls. she saw them become animate in the flickers of torch light. She sniffed and smelled incense. 
"Sister? Nephthys can you hear me?"
As she had always practiced, Isis held her breath as she listened into the cave. Slowly exhaling in steady controlled breaths, she turned her head toward the passage entrance. There was no apparent danger here. That didn't mean Set wasn't lurking around a corner waiting for the right moment to strike though. Still, if he were here, It's likely she wouldn't have heard the singing. That had clearly been Anubis which meant his mother was closeby. 
"Nephthys?" She called out. 
"Hush." A voice said from around the corner. Isis scattered the dust with her feet as she lunged forward and threw her arms around her sister. She felt Nephthys gasp and laugh a little. Then little Anubis was there, as tall as his mother's hip and grinning widely. 
"Hello Anubis." She called out. 
Isis moved out of the crevasse and into the larger chamber noting that there were passages leading away from all four directions. A perfect place to flee an attacker if need be. Isis crossed to one of the torches and looked at Nephthys in the light. She hadn't been beaten but dark, baggy circles framed her eyes. Her thin arms and torso also indicated lack of eating. 
"Has he reached out?"
"He has no idea where we are. We fled immediately. But I saw his face, Isis." Her voice cracked. "I saw his face when the sarcophagus closed. He was afraid." 
"I know." The memory shook her again as if she'd just witnessed it. My husband. She thought biting back her tears. 
"And Set?"
"I have no idea."
"He fights to rule. A council is being held in the wake of Osiris' stead."
"I know of it."
"He will usurp the gods and rule Egypt into wasteland. It will be stark and dead."
Nephthys shook her head. "My husband will not rule. Set cannot be allowed to justify his treachery. "
Isis agreed. Leaning forward, she touched Nephthys forehead with her own, shutting her eyes tight. She felt more than heard the incantation as it came into being. Nephthys spoke it softly, as if wary of letting Anubis hear it in completion. Isis ran her fingers through her hair and noticed a change, the air was excited. It sizzled and crackled as if by fire. Isis staggered and reached up to her face. She could tell by the look in Anubis's eyes that the shift had taken place. She felt her eyelids, the sharp angular contours of her jawline, the thin pouty lips of her mouth and knew that they were not hers at all. Nephthys stared forward into her own face and gasped. She turned Anubis around so that he was facing her. The child was bewildered. 
"My Queen, are you alright?"
"Yes." Isis answered. 
She cast the torch once more around Nephthys and smiled. "Thank you." She whispered. 
The moon was as full as a silver coin when Isis reached the ferryman. She wore the headdress that was shaped like a basket. It was Nephthys's favorite and one that she wore often. She felt a tightness in her chest and knew it was nerves. The disguise would work. It must. She thought. But she knew this was just the first step. The real gamble would come later when she approached Set. If she failed then, all would be lost. 
She ran her fingers through the lush green of the sahara, could feel the moisture in the ground even through her sandals. She came to the river, its body strong this time of year. The ferry bucked and bobbed. Isis heard its creaking. Keeping her eyes on the ferryman, she mounted the small barge. The ferryman took her by the arm and pulled her back onto shore. "I cannot take you to the council."
His wiry frame was stronger than Isis suspected and even after he let go, she felt his grip on her arm. She looked into his green eyes and scoffed. "I have not been denied entrance."
"The council began yesterday. Yesterday they established who will rule Egypt."
"The established nothing. And I have something to say on the matter."
"I bet you do."
"I come on behalf of Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis."
The ferryman swept his torch left and right. He stepped forward, checking behind the trees just off shore. 
"She isn't here." Isis said. "The Queen is forbidden to sit in the council, that's why I'm here."
"Nephthys, Set will be beside himself."
"My husband will get over it. The child deserves representation too."
"He will likely kill you."
Her heart thumping in her chest, Isis slipped a hand into her satchel and pulled out a great golden feather. She spoke softly: "Set will not kill me. Take me to the council door ferryman and I will give you this feather as a token of my love and gratitude."
"It is - ostrich?"
"Nephthys I cannot accept it. It is too much."
"It's not and you will."
The ferryman took the golden feather and held it up to the moonlight. He marveled at it as he ran fingers across its golden polish. Isis leaned close. "Shouldn't we be on our way by now?"
The ferryman heard the unspoken plea, the appeal to board. All he could say was: "Come."
Isis boarded the ferry and stared down at the shimmering sheet of water. Her heart uncertain, she willed the gods for enough resolve to see this chicanery through.
When Isis reached the shore, she was unnerved to find no one there to meet her. She spied up and down the shoreline but no attack party was there. The ferryman had been true to his word. She glanced back and held up her left hand. The ferryman responded by bowing low, as if to royalty. Isis swallowed hard as the ferryman floated into the darkness. He took out his ostrich feather and held it close, brushing at the gold as if it were an actual bird feather. Could he have known? Isis clumsily checked her face to make sure the Heka hadn't dissolved. It was there. She was still Nephthys to everybody around her. 
Isis adjusted her headdress and chewed her bottom lip. The worry that surged through her now said that the most dangerous moment was at hand. This increased awareness gave her clarity. A steady push to see it through whatever the cost. Her teeth chattered as she slipped into the temple and was by Set. His lanky arms and dark eyes covered in an exquisite blue robe, his bald head recently oiled and perfumed.
"I would have sent for you on the morrow after the coronation."
"Do you wish me to leave and come back when summoned, my King?"
A cynical look came over Set. When he spoke it was harsh, "I would have expected you to be consoling the widow."
"Of course not." Isis said quickly. "She is the reason I arrived late. Her magic kept me occupied at the ferry or I would have been here yesterday."
Set looked at the body of Nephthys, her thin legs slightly exposed through a slit in the emerald green dress she wore. "Why don't you drink something?"
"Of course." Isis replied sweetly. "Just waiting for my husband to offer me something."
It had worked. Nephthy's heka had disguised her well enough to fool even Set. Isis felt a swelling of confidence and sat a little straighter, haughtier than she had before.She saw Set's eyes on her and shifted so her thigh was exposed to the god. She saw his eyes linger, he wetted his lips. "Come here."
Isis felt a twinge of fear in her stomach. She took two steps forward, her large eyes wide and uncertain. Set was much too close for her to adequately defend herself had he decided to strangle her. Which is surely what would happen if he knew who was behind Nephthys's olive colored eyes. The realization of this also seemed to calm Isis as she felt his hands run up her thighs, across her buttocks, and up her back. Slowly, he untied the knots across her waist and neck and pulled off the gown. Isis stood staring ahead. An inner warning pumped adrenaline into her when she felt his mouth on her breast. She fought the urge to pull away, to run screaming. Set probed her nipple with his tongue, swirling it around and taking it between his teeth.
"Not yet." She gasped. 
Set did not respond. He pulled her close until she straddled him on the chair. He grabbed her by both arms and forced them behind her back. She felt his stiff penis underneath her, and choked back a cry. Isis saw the face of her beloved Osiris. She saw her husband as he was on the day Set betrayed and dismembered him. It was too much. She writhed out of his grasp.
"Wait!" She nearly screamed.
Set frowned. In the abrupt silence, he pushed her off of him. He spat on the ground in front of him. "What is wrong, wife?"
Isis put a finger to her lip. "You must promise me something first."
"Promise you what?"
"Swear to me an oath. Swear to me, under the gods sight, that my son will rule Egypt when he is of age."
Set stared at her, aware of the guile in her voice but unable to ascertain from whence it came.
"Swear it to me." She urged. 
Set smiled. "Very well. Anubis will succeed my rule as Pharaoh." 
Set's vision went out of focus as he pulled Isis close to him. When he looked down at her face, she had the look of a warrior. Her gleam was unmistakable. 
"It must be an oath. Swear an oath in front of the gods."
Set studied Nephthys for a long moment. Beads of sweat formed on the Queen's neck and back.
"Fine." He said. "I swear to the gods that your son will rule Egypt."
Nephthys laughed. It was an unnatural laugh, one that didn't seem to fit, or belong to her. She took a step back, throwing her arms out to their sides. What was she doing? Set frowned. Nephthys kept his attention as she laughed arrogantly, triumphantly.
And then he saw it. Nephthys was encased in blue fire. She raised her head, her green eyes aflame. The heat in the room began to rise. Set backed into the corner, shielding his face from the magical inferno that now whipped around Nephthys. She stood in the funnel, her face began to melt like a wax candle. Set screamed. Nephthys's skin sloughed off, big chunks sliding down like mud. And still she laughed. Set covered his eyes and bent down, unable to look at his wife. He peeked through his hands and terror was quickly replaced by rage. For in the circle, surrounded by the melted remains of his wife, stood Isis.
"Witch!" He shrieked. 
Isis smiled and it was like the tinkling of bells on a sistrum. 
"Traitorous witch!" He bellowed. 
She turned on him, her lip curled, fists clenched in a rage of her own. "Set must keep the oath that he swore!" Isis screamed.
She thought of the scorpion sting, the Bennu that incinerated and was reborn. She thought of her little Horus, his kicking legs and sweet smile. "I am Isis, wife of slain Osiris and goddess of wisdom.Set swore that, my only son, Horus, is the rightful pharaoh! I hold him to his oath!"
The gods laughed at Set's gullibility. Each one nodding to the widowed goddess. 
Set paled. He moved to the door and threw it open. He glanced back once at the goddess, dead eyed and dark, then he burst out and fled. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Stepping into the morgue felt to Sadie like stepping into a refrigerator. She immediately got the chills and shuddered. She knew that the shuddering was only partly caused by the temperature in the room. This is so creepy. She thought.
With Hank beside her she felt somewhat safe but that didn’t stop images of zombies and putrid flesh from entering her thoughts. When they entered the room of corpses, Hank flicked on the light and a series of neon fluorescents came on one by one. A low humming filled the room. Sadie noticed some of the lights flickered and immediately thought of the outdoor mosquito traps that David used to have during the summer months. The sound of that popping used to keep her up at night. Now we’re the fly. She thought dismally.
“Can we get this over with ASAP?” She groaned.
Hank stood at the morgue drawers, his brow furled. “ASAP.” He answered.
He pulled open one of the drawers and grabbed hold of the tray. Slowly, he pulled out the body of Jesus Christ. The body was covered in a shroud. Sadie couldn’t tell whether it was plastic or linen but she wondered vaguely if an imprint would be left on the material.
Hank closed his eyes and frowned. His wan complexion featureless like a mask. He appeared to be either on the verge of being sick or crying. Sadie couldn’t tell which. Did he believe? She thought. Was he one of the true Christians who lost their faith when the gods fell?  She hadn’t seen him wearing a cross but that didn’t mean he wasn’t Christian. Is he mourning his god right now?
Sadie took a step closer and put her head down. Hank stoically pulled back the shroud uncovering the head and shoulders and stepped back. “I know this is hard.” He said as if to himself. “It’ll just be a moment. Is this the man you saw?”
Sadie forced her eyes down, her mind retreating. She focused only on the details of the face. The Sadie that had been at the Basement last week was pulled deep into the recesses of her consciousness. That Sadie was locked safely away in her room. She was asleep and comfortable. This Sadie stared down at the face of a beautiful man. Deep set eyes and cheekbones cut like marble. He appeared to be sleeping and Sadie half expected to see his eyelids flutter. Dark skin and brushed hair made him statuesque. He looked nothing at all like the images found in art through the centuries. To Sadie, he looked more real and a bit mangy.
As she gazed down, memories of that night surfaced like a buoy on a stormy night. She flailed around subject to the whims of the wind and water. Her mind ached when she thought of his face as he fell. The look of surprise and resignation. “That’s him.” She muttered.
As she stood idly wondering how cold that table must feel on the body, she noticed that Hank was no longer beside her. On the other side of the room, he was bent over a pile of papers.
“What are you doing?” She asked. Hank glanced at her distracted. “What? Oh, I’m checking the log. Looking for something.”
She joined him frowning. “What are you looking for?”
He pushed the papers toward her. “An abrasion ring.”
Her eyes widened and she gestured for him to explain. “It’s a black ring burnt onto the body by gunpowder. It tells us whether the weapon was touching the body. In other words,-”
“Whether the shooter was at a distance or fired from point blank range.” Sadie finished.
He nodded. “Yeah. For somebody to get that close that fast, it’s possible it was somebody in his entourage; maybe somebody he knew.”
Sadie shook her head. “Or somebody who’s small and can move fast in crowded areas.”
Sadie stopped. A sudden anger rising within her. As she looked at Hank she could feel her kettle whistling. Her heart racing, she pointed at Hank’s face. “You’re an asshole!” Hank took a step back. “You didn’t need me to identify the body. You brought me here to see my reaction! So I’m a suspect!” She screamed.
Hank reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. “Everybody that was there is a suspect. You can’t blame me for entertaining the possibility.” Her eyes like molten fire, Sadie brushed his hand away from her. “You’re sick.” She said menacingly. “Take me home.”

Neither spoke as they walked outside and into a setting sun. Sadie thumbed the necklace that dangled from her neck. But she would not speak. On the freeway, Hank glanced over at her a few times but didn’t see the bloodshot eyes that stared numbly out the window. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing she felt wounded.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Set awoke with a mouth full of dirt. Lying in the deep cool earth, he wriggled his body like an earthworm, trying to gain purchase. His eyes fluttering, he knew he was buried and tried to close his mouth. Working his fingers, he gripped the moist earth.
How had this happened? Had his brother finally sought recompense? He felt himself breathing and stayed very still. An unfamiliar sensation flooded into him. Yes. He inspected each of the curious attributes his body was exhibiting. He felt debris fall on his chest as he clawed above, towards the sounds.  
He had known Horus to have heka but this was beyond even him. Time and again he had battled his nephew but never seen anything like this. What have you done dear brother? He thought. How clever to inter.
He thought of the dry sheets of sand and his beloved Aur. He thought of home, the cool air and columns ringed in fire and turquoise. Even the pharaoh knew better than to curse his name! How little the living really perceived. Every step they took on kemet was him. I am the black land!
Set rolled onto his shoulder and struck upwards. He could feel cool air above. Under his breath, he began repeating the phrase across his tongue.  Long articulating sounds of K…..M…..T.
It was right that he should be buried. Into the terra was fitting. Set freed a knee and began sifting the dirt near his legs. The sounds now brighter, more urgent. Submerge me in my kemet but I will rise dear brother! He felt a breeze and moved his palms, feeling the morning dew.
Set shivered, balled up his other fist. He made punching motions until both his arms were freed from the ground. His fingers now talons, he struck at the earth in long, raking motions. He could sense the dull sounds that awaited above and fought until his head was exposed. Now and then, he would feel the vibrating echoes of a rat or snake as it sauntered past.
Set climbed from the ground and collapsed on his back. Dirt in his eyes, he rubbed at them. Muddy coughs erupted in his chest and it felt like fire. He saw gravestones around him and knew he was in a place used for mortuary practice. He looked at his own gravestone. A dilapidated slab of stone. It looked ready to crumble at any moment.
He pulled his legs out of the ground, his body lurched, as he climbed to his feet. An avenue lay before him. A series of street lamps elucidated the barren road. Recent rain glistened on the concrete giving it a sheen.
One of the lamps blinked twice then went out.
A portent? His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he looked down at his body. A wiry frame, long arms and legs. He would be suitable for the games in this vessel. Dark skin glossy in the moonlight, the Descendant stared down at his wet clothing caked in dirt and wondered if he had, in fact, died.
But there were no indications that he had passed on. Certainly Anubis would have come to shepherd him to the weighing if he had expired. He heard a dog barking and swallowed hard. His heart pumping, the god waited a few beats.
Something rustled behind him. A man stumbled out of the brush and stopped. They stared at each other for a few seconds. Set considered the man. He wore a dark suit with shiny boots. A bulbous hat rested on his head. He had thin features not unlike himself and a face that quickly gave way to shock or disbelief.
“Hey mister, did you just climb outta that grave right there?”
Set glanced at the disturbed earth. “Just so.”
“Are you dead then?”
That is the question. Set thought.
The man took out a flask from his left inside jacket pocket and handed it to him.
“Are you not having any?” Set asked.
“Mister, you look to need it more than I do.”
Set took a long pull, clearing any remaining dirt from his throat. He considered the man’s query.
“Couldn’t be.”
“You sure?”
“I’ve seen alot of strange shit in this city. Can’t say I ever seen a man crawl up from a new grave though.”
Set stepped back and regarded him. I can’t be the only one. He thought.
“Where are your priests?” He asked.
“Like Catholic?”
“Temple priests. Where is Heka?”
“Who? I don’t know any hecha. I don’t speak spanish. But there are Catholics, Jews, Buddhists all around the city.I’ll show you where they are. Gimme five dollars. I’m a tour guide.Give me five dollars and I’ll take you to hecha.”
Set didn’t respond.
“You sure you ain’t undead?”

He made to leave and that’s when the stone came down cracking into his skull. The man crumpled. Set dragged him behind a tree, when he was sure he hadn’t been detected, he stepped back and put the bulbous hat on his head. It fit perfectly.