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~ Heathen Stories and New Myths ~

 

The False Friend

The boy slunk erratically towards the bus stop in the haze of the late evening. His paces on the cracked sidewalk took the slow tone of one who has somewhere to be but feels themselves too important to care when they arrive. Streetlamps just turning on glinted in his droopy eyes which swaggered with his swaying head as earphone cables pumped heavy metal music in tempest screams into his ears. His mouth worked soundlessly to copy the blaring lyrics slamming into his eardrums as his head jerked up and down when enthusiastic crescendos were achieved.

Further up the street a dog was pawing quizzically at a trash bag left out for collection and it raised its shaggy dark brown head to appraise this lanky stranger to its domain. The dog sniffed at the night air and which was wafting down the street, assessing the quality of the invader along with the afterglow of the asphalt which had been baking not a few hours before and pulled back his ears with distrust.

The boy shuffled on his way, oblivious to the world save for the first sensations of the evening chill which had begun to seep uncomfortably into the holes in his jeans and ragged t-shirt. He wished he had thought ahead to bring one of his several jackets, maybe the faded denim one with the valknot on the right breast and half peeled off logo of that band he liked on the back. That was his favorite, though he realized that it too had many holes in it. But that didn’t matter, he liked the way the holes made him look; rugged, traveled, someone you didn’t mess with because he might have a knife or something. The boy smiled. A knife. It would be so cool to have a knife. When those dicks in school picked on him he could like, pull it out and wave it around and then they’d know to get the hell away, because he’d stab them. So cool. The boy made a few stabbing motions as he imagined how cool it would be to stick his knife into a few choice tormentors. He imagined the shocked faces he would see and how good it would feel to hurt people. His favorite part of the song was coming up. His lackluster pace slowed even further as his mind’s eye took him to a music stage in the middle of a packed outdoor theater. He saw the swarming crowds of ravenous fans as he raised his fist and delivered the bellowed lyric into the quiet night in that high airy whisper which sounds like a scream when you hear it in your mind.

“Odiiiinnnn…,” the boy hissingly throated into the deepening shadows.

“RAWRF!,” barked the dog in a loud snarling reproach which reverberated off the very night and began to growl hatefully mere feet from the unknowing child’s knees.

The boy’s eyes went wide as twin moons with shock as his fantasy world was violently ripped away by the dog who, finding the stink of this shuffling loiterer as offensive as his whispers made its anger known. The boy stumbled back from the growling beast, the pendants on his neck violently clinking as he reeled back into the road.

Five stumbling steps saw him safe, and he took two more as he remembered that it was an angry dog that had broken his reverie. His baffled brain shot his gaze in every direction to find the hazard and he involuntarily locked eyes with the beast. The beast’s predator stare met the fearful dopey gaze of prey.
“N-nice dog…” the boy lied as he hunched a little lower and extended his right hand in a warding gesture. He never heard the words as his music was still blaring a cacophony into his ears but he thought it was the right thing to say. Maybe he should throw some food so the dog would chase it. Maybe he should shout for help. Maybe he should back further away. Solutions tried to race their way across the boy’s vision but found themselves blocked by the beast’s implacable stare. So there the youth stood, hand outstretched and “Nice dog,” unheard but tumbling repeatedly out of his mouth.

The boy’s endless loop of indecision was broken when he realized that half of his outstretched arm was growing brighter by the instant as the other half of it was growing unnaturally darker. His head turned to see the twin eyes glowing bright in the darkness. The radiator teeth opened wide for him and the sound of claws screeching on the pavement drowned out the screaming voice of the singer in the boy’s ear’s.

“ALL THE WAY TO NIEFLHEIIIIIII…!” was the last thing the boy heard before the sound of screeching tires, and the bellowing car horn overpowered his senses. He blinked and saw that he was still standing in the road. The sounds of a thundering vehicle faded behind him and he twisted his head to see the receding twin red lights of the truck blazing in the dark. He glanced about in the now quite silent night and caught the figure of the dog, quite pale, loping away up the road. The boy ran his hands up and down his torso, checking for damage or other signs of being run over by a truck in the flickering lamplight but found none. He noted that his music was no longer downing out reality and he looked down to see his ipod and headphones between his legs in the street. He picked it up, noting as he did so that he could hear nothing coming from the ear pieces. Frigging truck made him break his ipod.

“Asshole!,” the boy shouted, raising a thin middle finger raucously in the direction the truck had vanished in. Well, he’d just have to take the ipod back to the store his mom had bought it from and say that it had just stopped working. They’d have to get him a new one then. It didn’t look too badly beat up he thought. He pocketed the gadget with a huff.

The boy let out a long breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and glanced down at his hands which he hadn’t realized were still shaking. “Fuckin A,” he observed to no one in particular.

After a few more shuddering breaths the boy resumed his journey towards the bus stop. His mind, no longer downing in crashing sound, malingered over the startling events which had just happened.
‘Stupid dog. If that frigging mutt hadn’t gotten in his face he never would have been in the road to begin with. I wonder how much frigging booze that asshole who was driving had drunk. Maybe he was talking on a goddamned cell phone at the wheel. That must have been it. Frigging cell phone drunk ass truck driver almost killed me. Maybe it was some chick at the wheel, sucking at driving. Stupid dog. Maybe it’ll go up a few streets and cross over so that stupid drunk chick can run over it with her frigging truck.

He pulled the ipod out again but the screen stayed blank when he tried to turn it on. He tried to give it a few daring thumps but it remained unresponsive. The night was growing rapidly colder and thin bands of mist began to swirl about in the street.

The boy liked mist. It was a reminder of everything that was dark and cool in the world, though in seeing it now he began to feel a bit uneasy. He reached into his other pocket for his cell phone as the minutes without seeing the glowing song filled screen of his ipod made him hunger unwittingly to see a glowing electronic face. The phone however, remained dark.

“Figures,” said the boy. His stupid sister was always unplugging the charger so she could turn on her reading light in the den.

It got colder, darker, and more misty as the boy walked on. He started to feel the first knawing pangs of hunger settling into his guts as he looked ahead to see the bus stop looming darkly out of the mist before him. The street light above it seemed to have burned out or not come on in the dusk so it was hard to make out the solitary figure who sat on the thin bench below the rain cover.
‘Dammit,’ the boy thought, ‘It’s probably some crazy old fart who’s gonna try to get me to rub his shoulders or something. Lotsa weirdoes out.’

The boy slowed his pace to give him time to assess the person he might be forced to speak a few words to while waiting for the bus to arrive. Whoever it was they didn’t appear to be too tall, and they didn’t appear to be too bulky. He approached further. They had long hair, what looked like a narrowish face, and breasts. The boy felt himself relax; it was a chick, and the boy immediately wondered if maybe she was hot.
The boy’s stride lengthened into a bad impression of a carefree stroll and his arms went up in a fake stretch with the obvious attempt to smooth out the unkempt wisps of his hair which had never been combed today. He wondered if she would recognize the band on his t-shirt or ask about his cool pendants. He hoped she was hot for every step closer to the bus stop he took he was less disappointed.

The darkness made the woman’s features hard to pick out but her hair was dark and her face narrow. She seemed to be wearing some kind of light tight fitting sweater which made the boy’s gaze snap down involuntarily to her breasts but he made sure to snap his eyes back up in case she was looking at him. She was looking at him. How could she not be? There seemed to be nothing else but the two of them out in this mist filled night. The boy smiled awkwardly, like he had gotten the steps of how to smile mixed up but still arrived there in the end. The woman did not smile, she just looked at him, her gaze sweeping up and down quickly, taking his measure before looking away.

‘Crap,’ thought the boy as she turned her head away from him. A long period of sexual frustration rose like gorge to briefly attack the back of his throat and he almost stumbled for a moment in his all too carefree walk. He stopped about six feet from the woman and examined her more closely with a sidelong glance carefully swept as to not meet her eyes. She was pretty the boy decided, in a strange way. It was the kind of pretty that came of a well made creature. It was not the lustful agony of the singers and nymphs but the redoubtable beauty of someone whose features will remain on even into the eldest of their years. He noted that she, at least, seemed prepared for the cold weather as her legs were completely covered with some kind of blanket which he had taken to be a dress. He stared into the mist for a moment as he processed what he had seen and then made another probing glance. She was looking at him again when his eyes swept over her and he decided that for her good looks he did not care for her eyes. They were too deep and saw too much. It made him feel young, too young, like the child he was trying to tell the world so hard that he was no longer. He guessed she was in her late twenties and even though he wanted to keep his mouth shut and will the bus to arrive his rising libido, excited by the adrenaline which had recently surged through his veins, goaded his mind into racing through all the options for small talk which could lead on to something more.

“Nice night…” he tremulously hazarded in a mumble.

“What? “ said the woman in a voice that flowed like black silk.

“I said nice night,” offered the boy a bit louder.

The woman swept her gaze around at the chill mist and darkness poorly illuminated by the street lamps. “I suppose.”

The boy bit his lip.

A brief silence that felt like an eternity to the boy followed when he suddenly heard an electronic skwak and a static hiss from his pocket from his pocket.

“(crackle)…EL … ULES THE FALLEN! (hiss) … IN TH … MISTS OF… LHIIIEEMMMMM!” gurped the ipod as the boy hurriedly withdrew it. The woman seemed amused.

With a fierce hope he tapped the device’s controls as the small screen flickered for a last second and then went black. “Dammit.” He sighed, replacing the music player.

“What happened to it?” came the black velvet voice of the woman.

The boy blinked, unsure of his ears and alarmed by the fact that the woman with the starless eyes was speaking to him. But she was cute, and so his mind quickly reviewed all the things he knew women wanted of men. It took him a moment before he turned towards her and answered.

“It was busted… in a fight.” She nodded in a manner that made him go on. ‘I was down… at the mini mart and there was this kid David.” The name of one of his foremost tormentors sprang to mind. “He was there with some of his friends and I came by. And David doesn’t like me because of some stuff that happened at school. So…” he paused, wondering just where he was going with this,”... he starts just yelling at me and coming over. He starts getting all in my face and stuff. And I’m like ‘Just back off man,’ but he keeps yelling at me and his friends start laughing.” He paused again to collect his thoughts. Ok laughing friends, David, a fight. “And so I was about to walk away but then he starts ripping on my mom. Saying that she’s like a slut and my sister’s a whore so I went back over to him to like, you know, scare him. And then he just shoves me for no reason so I shove him back and say he better not call my mom a slut again. And so he says ‘She’s a total slut. What are you gonna do about it. And that’s when I totally decked him.” He mimed the throwing of a clumsy right hook as he spoke and then looked down at the woman to receive a due smile and look of appreciation, but found only a blank face looking back at him. He swallowed and decided he’d better make the rest good. “So David goes down and then two of his friends jump me at once but I got one with a knee” the boy raised his knee sharply to indicate a strike between the legs. “And the other I,” he faltered, remembering that the music player had to get damaged in his farce. “He kicked me here.” He pointed to the pocket that the broken player was in. “But then I uppercutted him.” The boy mimed a left hook. “And then he went all down and I left.” He paused. “So I don’t think they’ll be calling my mom or sister names again.” He didn’t want to look at the woman again just yet. “I study boxing and martial arts.” He could almost sense her eyes on him. He felt a lump in his heart and his lips moved of their own free will. “It’s part of my religion.”

“Your religion?” a woman asked.

“Yeah. I believe in like, the old gods. You know, before Christianity,” the boy muttered. He liked to tell everyone at school about his beliefs. They made him different and special there, not like those other kids; the ones who didn’t like metal music and were either preppies, jocks, emo’s, or some other clique. But this was different. He didn’t think he really wanted to talk about religion with a stranger at the bus stop, with this stranger at the bus stop.”

“Which old gods do you believe in?,” flowed the woman’s voice.

“I believe in… like the old Norse gods. You know like Thor, Odin, Loki, and Baldar, and Himdul.’

The woman shuddered ever so slightly and the boy after a second was not sure if it had even been a shudder. “Ah, those gods. Yes I am familiar with them. I actually took a course on them in college.”

The boy brightened. He had something in common with this woman, maybe…

“Did you like it?,” he asked, his face over brimming.

“Oh yes it was very good. I found a few of the stories quite interesting.” Something that might have been enthusiasm was carried on the woman’s words, enough to make the boy know that this was the in that would draw a smile from this cute chick.

“I’ve been totally studying it a lot at home.” The boy’s confidence rose. “My favorite story is when Thor and Odin go fishing for that big ass snake and they like catch it but it eats the hook and so they have to row back to shore.” He chanced a direct look at the woman and saw her nod. “And I also like the one where Loki’s got his kids right, and everyone’s all ‘they’re too dangerous and stuff’ so he puts the snake under a rock, he throws Fenris into the sea, and he kicks that creepy daughter out of Asgrad.”
“Asgard,” said the woman.

“What?”

“I think the place that the gods lived was called Asgard.”

“Oh. Well I got the books but I like, skim them, so I can learn. They’re kinda long in some places. I’m mostly interested in the battles and the Vikings and stuff.” The relaxed a bit. He had an in. His eyes dropped down to the woman’s breasts again.

“So how does that work as a religion?” The boy’s eyes snapped up to see that she was looking at him with those impossibly deep eyes and his cheeks flushed red with embarrassment.

“Oh um, well. Like how?”

“You said that you study boxing and martial arts for your religion. How does that work?”

“Well it’s like a warrior thing. You gotta be strong.”

“And do you do anything else.”

“Well I like music.” He blinked and realized just how unrelated his answer was to the question. “Like Norse music. Bands that sing about the gods and all that.”

“Do you write any songs yourself.”

“No I’m not good with words and stuff. I just like listen and study. Like runes.”

“Runes?” The woman’s voice was like a chess master playing a game against an eight year old.

“Yeah they were like the symbols of the Norse faith before all the christians came and oppressed us.” The boy fumbled with his pendants before producing one with the rune Sigel stamped onto its battered surface. “This one is the rune of strength and it’s used for power in magic.”

“So you believe in magic?”

“Oh yeah. I’m studying it in my books. There were all sorts of things that used to be done in the old days.”

“What kinds of things?”

“Well they had these guys who came into battle and were like so freaked out that no one could kill them. But they killed anyone who tried to fight them. Berserkers. I think they used some trance thing. But like I said I’m studying it all and that’s what I believe.

The mist was all around them now. Streetlamps fought a losing battle with the gloom. There was a faint smell of something dead in the air that made the boy wrinkle his nose suddenly and wonder where it was coming from. Far away he thought he heard a siren wail into the night.

“Have you ever considered,” asked the woman’s velvet voice, “what it would be like if your gods didn’t want you?”

“I… what?,” asked the boy, unsure of what he had heard.

The woman turned her head to gaze out into the mists. “Well, can you imagine if someone said they were with a group of gods and thought themselves a part of their world but simply was not? You said you study what you believe but I wonder what it would be like if you had someone who really had no idea what the stories that made up the backbone of their belief really said or got them wrong.”

The boy wasn’t sure what to make of her words. But he thought about it for a moment, a pensive look crossing his face. “That would totally suck.” He admitted. “But then again it’s not like gods get to choose who follows them you know? Like they can’t just kick someone out because they’re a douche or something.”

“I suppose it would depend on the gods,” pondered the woman as she shifted a bit in her seat. “but the Norse gods were pretty willful. I could almost see them kicking someone out. Maybe, if they had a follower who brought absolutely nothing to them and soiled the very things they stand for just by being near them they might just shut their eyes and ears to that one.”

“Yeah,” murmured the boy who, losing interest, was taking advantage of the fact that the woman was no longer looking at him to get a long stare at her breasts. The smell of decay was getting stronger.

“I can’t imagine that gods ask for much more than the understanding of friendship between humans and themselves but if someone wasn’t even able to give that they might cast them out. They might just tell them that they don’t want them.; that they were tired of their pretending, their false friendship and the dishonor that was being shown them.

“Uh huh,” said the boy still looking towards the woman’s breasts while she gazed into the now nearly impenetrable mists surrounding the bus stop.

There was another skwak from the ipod in the boy’s pocket and his hand dove for it immediately. He pulled it out quickly, but the earpieces still on full volume remained stuck in the pocket.

“(hiss) …AST THEM OUUUT!!! (skwak) … ALSE FRIEN… (hiss) OWN PATH …LSEWHEREEEE!”
The earpieces snagged, disconnected and sent the gadget spinning into the thick mist.

“Crap!,” shouted the boy as he stepped over to where the ipod disappeared into the mist and stared downward. There was an almost wet rustling sound behind him and he heard the velvet night speak.

“Well I’m not going to wait for this one any longer. Have a pleasant trip I think I’ll make my own way home. I might be here some other time if you come well around but I don’t think we’ll meet again.”
“What?” The boy stood up his music player the only thing on his mind. “Oh yeah, good…” He looked around but there was no one there. “…night.”

“Shit.” He whispered quietly in case the woman’s hearing was good. Well she was way too old for him anyway and her chest was too flat.

Then the smell hit him. It smelled of something dead. Rotting flesh, coming from the bust stop. ‘Damn,’ the boy thought. ‘She must have been hiding a dead cat under her blanket or something. Ugh. What a sick bitch.’

The boy pulled his t-shirt up over his nose and eagerly resumed the search for his music player, anxious to be away from the smell. Then he noticed it. A faint glow just behind his ankles. Not wanting to take the time to turn around the boy bent full over, reaching back behind his feet to clutch at the flickering light coming from his music player. His hands closed around it just as the light winked off and even as his fingers began to tighten he felt his pendants slide off his neck and fall into the mist. There was no sound of them hitting the sidewalk.

“God Damnit!,” cursed the boy as he leaned up and thrust his other hand into the place where the pendants should have been. He felt only cracked concrete and chill water vapor grasping at his hand.

“Hey!” A deep male voice called out.

The boy stood up, alarmed, as he looked about for the source of the voice. He saw the silhouette of a man framed against the swirling mist. He seemed to have on some sort of wide hat and had what looked like a staff.

“Yeah,” said the boy apprehensively, grimacing as the smell continued to assault his nostrils.

“You waiting for the bus?,” growled the shade.

The boy paused, more than a little frightened but unwilling to let a mugger know he was easy prey. “Maybe”

“The bus isn’t coming. The last one already left. You’ll have to make your own way home,” intoned the half bear voice.

The boy’s mind balked. It was a damn long walk. This might be some practical joke and he still had to get his pendants. “How do you know? Who are you?,” inquired the boy.

The boy could almost feel a wave of bitter disappointment wash over him from the surrounding vapor. He watched as the silhouette moved the staff to take it in both hands so that it was at a diagonal to the figure. One of the streetlamps flickered brightly and for a second the boy saw that the staff actually had a broad head that ended in a sharp point. “Transit Authority,” rolled the ursine voice, “go away. Get out.”

Mists swirled as the boy ran. He sprinted far away from the terrible one in the fog. He ran back the way he had come, back towards the dog, back towards the truck, trying desperately to reach the dawn he had left behind when the shadows grew long.

While behind him a figure lowered a spear and spoke.

“Maybe one day you will learn and reach this place by a proper road.”

© Matthias Wilson

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