Edith

The city was raw as a scraped knee when the strangers came, pleading to be let in. They were trouble, innocent trouble, and I told him so: safer to camp in the hills overlooking the plain, and I told them so, but he knew what was right and took them in regardless. Here where we live piled one upon the other there was no hope of privacy, and nowhere to run. “You risk their lives with this kindness,” I said, “and ours.” But he took them in regardless.

Salt, he said, bring them salt, and I brought what we had, enough for the four of us in our humility but not for honored guests. Bring more, he said; have faith, he said; the Lord will provide, he said. “There is no more salt,” I said. “You see it all there before you,” I said. Go you and find some, he said, so full of generosity, so what could I do but go and beg from our neighbors? And thus the secret spread, as I knew it must.

The rest you know: the city swarmed up like a kicked anthill, and he offered us over to their jaws, to no avail and no credit. We fled for our lives, into the hills overlooking the plain, for safety, for safety. “I told you so,” I said. Don’t look back, he said; doom comes in remembering.

A Bell Ringing In A Soundproof Booth

got away from him. Even that moment of anticlimax does not, cannot, exist. The hill starts to fall away into the sky, he starts to hope, in spite of himself, that this time is different, that he’s finally worked enough, strived enough, that he’s beaten them, that he’s won, and then—

There is no gap, no irritated, weary trudge down the hill. Too chaotic by far, that, too much chance for the boulder to build up speed, to escape. So, instead: he is merely mid-stride, lungs and legs already half-jelly, shoulder and neck pressed against the uneven surface of the rock, at the bottom of the hill, looking up, that half-moment of triumph still ringing in his ears.

He can’t be sure that he has done this before, that this isn’t the first time he’s set himself against the hill, the boulder, the gods. Time is slippery, here; the light never changes, the asphodel never crumples beneath him, the boulder never wears a track into the hip of the hillside. Memory is clear, clear and perfect, and the sentence laid upon him as fresh as yesterday.

Let him be perfectly clear: the boulder never

Epicycles

Even though he knows what’s coming, Paris thrills to put the apple into Aphrodite’s outstretched hand for the millionth time. His soul shivers with the contact, and he grins moonishly in her immobile face. Hera and Athena depart, muttering darkly, as they always do. “You have chosen well,” his goddess murmurs.

Hector takes up his arms again, and laughs joyously at his onrushing death and degradation. He is at the shore of Acheron before his cast off body has completed its first and latest round. “You again!” barks Cerberus. “How do you keep getting out?”

Alexander Hammil is a tongue of flame, speaking lies and misleading truths to a Florentine and his Mantuan guide. He speaks of borrowed cunning, and the daring blasphemy that saw him sail in his dotage to the shores of the cleansing mount. “Thank you, wise Odysseus,” mocks the Florentine, and passes on as he has before. But Odysseus is gone to farther shores, and found a different end beneath the stranger stars.

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.