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.


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.


Springs of Pegae

He holds his breath and dives deep. Deep, and deeper yet; the bottom is meters away, and the light is fading. His lungs claw at his throat, bang heavy against his lips, bubble deep in his brain, but deeper yet.

He reaches bottom, settles uneasily in the murk, and winds weeds around his traitor limbs to quell their insurgent buoyancy. His lungs are in revolt, rioting in the streets; he tears up the cobblestones for barricades, lights fires in all the churches and libraries: there will be nothing left but ash for the revolutionaries.

Deeper still, and the light has gone — he watches stars wheel across the darkness in stubborn pain — and she is there.

“Hylas,” she says, her voice the voice of a woman he knew in childhood. “Where have you been?” He takes breath to reply to her, and settles to the bottom of the pool, unquestioned king at last.


It had been years, a generation almost, since the old ones had departed; some of our youngest daughters had grown curious. Long enough to forget how they hate us, how infuriating the simple act of not needing them could be. They pooh-poohed our warnings who were not alive to remember; what was the worst that could happen?

I remember that sail, white against the horizon, lost in the vapor, how it looked cresting the waves. In the sunlight, it could have been a bird’s wing, a dove beating hard between narrowing cliffs, or an errant plume escaped from Charybdis’s grinning mouth. We all gathered to watch it brave the shoreline, figuring it would be a good story to tell our granddaughters, how we watched the old world try for one last foothold before falling away.


I remember how brave our queen looked, how proud, how glorious the music was beating from the city walls. The gates were opened, the way swept smooth, and she walked up to the palace, her hand light upon the head sailor’s sea-rank arm. We received so few visitors, after all.

It took so little. In a year, less, a handful of seasons, we were scattered to the winds, our shining stones pulled down to the weeds, harpies perched foul and mocking in our concert halls. They had come for conquest, and had no patience for the history of our moment.

What is rare must be fleeting; what is new must be beaten down.