Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku. Image source: University of California Libraries.

1. 

Wicked Impulses

A double-steepled, bronze-bricked Gothic at the cross of Warren and Dartmouth, Blessed Savior has been on that corner for more than a hundred years. Through World Wars and Great Depressions, terror scares and countless recessions—through an American Century of money and blood and misbegotten love—Blessed Savior has been there. Or, rather, it’s been here, hawking its wares, doing its do.

Spires climbing into the black satin night, searching for whatever it is spires have always been searching for, the church has taken its age gracefully, façade barely featuring the slower, deeper decay, the architectural osteoporosis lurking beneath its skin. Working that corner—rain or shine, snow or sleet—Blessed Savior has always reminded me a little of a pusher standing his beat, selling the same lies he bought himself once upon a time.

You think that’s wrong, right? Bad? Evil? But you can’t blame the pusher for his lies. Even though he knows they’re lies, on some level he still believes them. Because he’s not just a pusher. He’s an addict, too. That’s the thing. No matter how bad life gets, we cling to what we have. What Blessed Savior has is God, Jesus, the Trinity. And what I have is you. Even though you don’t think I exist.

*

I take the steps two at a time. Sure, they’re iced-over, badly; but they don’t bother me. I’ve still got talents, skills, fucking bona fides. Not that I’d measure up to what you’ve programmed yourselves to think of as a god. None of us would.

Between your comic book heroes barging across the big screens and your American gods clogging up the little ones, you’ve tricked yourselves into believing we don’t exist, that we can’t possibly be real. We’re creatures of special effect and satirical comedy, phantoms of the narrative ether, nothing more. We’re no ghosts, though; not at all, not us. At this point we’re very much flesh and blood, more like you than we’ve ever been. More like you than you could possibly imagine.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I care if you ignore me. Loki’s here if you want him, and if you don’t, you don’t. Odin on the other hand… well, he’s pissed, has been ever since… forever, really. Don’t let the PR fool you. One-Eye’s never been good or noble, just, or honorable. All-father? I mean, I’m his son. I should know, shouldn’t I?

Hanging from some magic tree to gain the Mead of Poetry, to bring wisdom to mankind? Sitting in far Valhalla granting boons to the most valorous of warriors? Magic spears and Mimir’s head? Sorcerous ravens and preternatural wolves? Eight-legged fucking horses? I mean, seriously…

But isn’t that what you’d expect of real evil? Not some obvious, cartoon devil twirling his moustache and muttering “drat,” but a vision of light, a pretense of good and nobility when the truth is the absolute opposite. When Odin is the real reason for all our troubles, yours and mine. If he hadn’t gone meddling in your lives way back when, if he hadn’t cast me out of Asgard time and time and time again, what a wonderful world this would be.

*

Minty linoleum floors and walls of lemon-yellow cinderblock, Blessed Savior’s basement is a decorator’s acid trip gone to shit. Dazzling fluorescents loom overhead, emitting a low-grade buzz, like giant bug traps waiting to go zippety-zap. Citrus perfumes and boozehound colognes linger from the Americans Against Tyranny meeting that broke an hour ago. I know these guys, these AAT’s. They’re hell on two legs, Odin’s own.

They meet just before my 9 p.m. AA meetings, Tuesdays in Cambridge. And that group is even worse than this one. Hooting about the taxes they don’t pay, and the welfare other people shouldn’t get, howling about their inalienable rights to Social Security, Medicare, and a Christian America.

Something about being in the People’s Republic of Taxachusetts, maybe, that makes the right-wingers veer even farther right. That’s how it is, though. Back in the deep past, back in Valhalla, I always felt a little queasy, a little like I was out of my element. And I was. But even I didn’t realize quite how bad the old man had gotten until Adolf came along…

*

A paper cup of coffee in my left hand, a red, plastic stir in my right, I watch the pebbles of un-dissolved creamer bob and weave across the caramel-colored whirlpool I’ve just raised to life. Forget about reality for a second, forget about everything you’ve ever known, and this cup of coffee could almost be magic. The way the liquid becomes a tiny vortex, the way it beckons, seems to promise eternal sleep, it’s almost enough to make you dive right in…

I set down the stir, bring the cup to my lips and sip. The coffee tastes like it always does at these basement shindigs, the same as it did at the Gambler’s Anonymous meeting I just left in Brookline. Mildly toxic and burnt, Blessed Savior’s coffee tastes of irony dulled by repetition. It tastes of America.

“All right, Gustav, why don’t you kick us off?” says our facilitator, Ted, as he turns to me. Ted’s my boy, by the way, my latest in a long line of reclamation projects. Of course, he has no idea who I really am. That would completely spoil the fun.

“Happy to, Ted. My name is Gustav, and I’m a sexaholic,” I offer with all the shyness I can muster.

“Hello, Gustav,” they respond as one.

“Hi.” I cut my gaze as though about to divulge something I’d rather not. “I had a situation this week.”

“Yes,” say various audience members. Others nod, smile, and/or avert their gazes. All, I’ve learned, standard responses at twelve-steppers. We’re embarrassed to know the truth about each other, that much is true. But we’re even more embarrassed to know it about ourselves.

“I was on my stepfather’s compound, and I started having urges,” I continue.

“What brought on these urges, as you call them?” Ted asks.

“It was the valks.”

“What’s that, a new dick pill?” offers a guy in a white oxford. The sleeves of his once-immaculately-starched, now-immaculately-wrinkled shirt rolled up, jacket and tie dispensed with somewhere between work and Blessed Savior’s basement, he looks distressed, even vexed. He looks like a politician surveying a disaster site he’s about to get blamed for. “Like bicockatrix?”

Ted cuts in, “No, no, no… Come on, gang, it’s an indigenous tribe, like the aborigines, but… but from Europe.” He looks to me for confirmation.

I don’t correct Ted even though he’s wrong. How could I? I’m the one who dished him this aboriginal fib a few weeks back.

“Valkyries?” he asked at the intake. “You mean like Wagner? Those operas?”

I laughed. “Nah. Totally different spelling. And we usually just call them valks. It’s easier. It may sound like a v but it’s really something more like an fsth when it’s spelled.”

“That doesn’t…”

“In their language,” I added authoritatively, “Trust me, Ted, I’m just trying to make this as easy as possible.”

He nodded and, of course, bought it. Yeah, I know I’m a Dickens, but what can I say? I may not be “evil” anymore, I may be unapologetically good, but I still have a few tricks up my sleeves. Fore- and first-most, I am indeed one hell of a liar.

“Somewhere in the Carpathians,” Ted adds confidently. “No value judgments here, Gustav, but you’ve talked about these valks before. Does it occur to you that this isn’t just a simple indiscretion, that it’s more like an abuse of power?”

“They don’t work for me.”

“They work for your stepfather, though. You can’t get around the fact that you’re having sex with the help.”

“What are they? Maids, cooks, charwomen?” asks the politician.

“Charwomen?”

He raises his palms, nods noncommittally.

“They’re imported… I mean, guest workers… Like I said. Low cost of labor. Economic decision.”

“You mean like slaves?”

“Slaves? God, no, they’re like, they’re…more like nannies,” I add, smiling wide and white as punctuation.

“And you turn them out?” asks a woman with a buzz cut. Dressed in a red plaid shirt and a black, polythene vest, she looks like so many of you do these days. Woodsy and cityish all at once, she looks as if she can’t decide whether to blow up a tree or hug one.

“He’s a pimp,” says the politician, smiling now, an understanding finally reached.

“No, I told you, I don’t turn anyone out. I just had a threesome. If anyone’s a pimp it’s my stepfather.”

“Sounds like control is one of your issues,” says the politician.

“Dealing with authority figures,” offers the woman.

“Wicked impulses,” adds someone else.

“Envy,” says Ted, grouping the barrage of accusations into one manageable charge.

There’s a hush, as though maybe Ted has crossed a line, but the group isn’t quite sure what line it is he crossed. What Ted said doesn’t bother me, mind you. How could it? He’s responding to pure fabrication. But it seems accusing a fellow groupie of one of the seven deadly sins may have rubbed a few people the wrong way. (Which, obviously, implies a fair amount of guilt circulating through our little group.)

The silence is broken by a woman’s voice. “If you ask me, your stepfather sounds like an asshole.” The voice is smooth, light even. But the tone is matter of fact. “Asshole” somehow winds up sounding like it has a long z in the middle, almost like a lullaby.

I turn to three o’clock and the voice’s owner. A stunning, reed-thin redhead, she wears knee-high boots and jeans just this side of melodramatic. Long, straight hair, eyes of frosty midnight, breasts I can only guess at by the heave of her fuzzy lavender sweater… She looks like she could be in the industry, and I’m not talking about clean energy. Honestly, she looks like a Valkyriea real one, I mean, not the semi-invented version that have so recently run amok. That’s not all of it with the redhead, though. I get this feeling looking at her, this feeling of progressive déjà vu, as though I’ve seen her many times before even though I’m sure I haven’t. Yes, I realize that makes no sense. Still, I get this feeling.

“It’s not like you forced them to do anything, right?” she continues.

“Of course not.”

“So?”

“Exactly. Thank you.”

“All right, all right,” says Ted, busting in. “That’s a good start, Gustav. Sunshine, why don’t we move on to you?”

“Sure, Ted.” She surveys the crowd. “My name is Sunshine, and I’m a sexaholic.”

“Hi, Sunshine,” they say.

“Hi, Sunshine,” I whisper, a second too late. She’s beautiful, yes. And now she’s smiling, smiling at me.

You wouldn’t think I’d still be attracted to you guys after all the millennia, all these millions of couplings. There’s just something about the human form, male and female both—the combination of energy and fragility, frailty and optimism—that I can’t get over; something about a pretty girl or boy that can still turn my head and heart to mush. I’m smitten with you guys, always have been.

“Why don’t you give us a little backstory, Sunshine?”

“Well, I used to be a therapist.”

Politician: “Massage?”

Sunshine: “Sex.”

Gulps all around.

“And?” someone asks.

“And I got busted for fucking my patients.”

More gulps.

“What do you do now?” the politician asks.

“I dance.”

“Dance as in tap?” I ask.

“Dance as in strip,” she says.

“Where?”

“The Genetic Impossibility.”

*

After the meeting breaks, I’m eyeing Sunshine, still trying to figure out who she is and where I know her from. I mean, it’s not The Genetic Impossibility. Support groups, my writing workshop, the other odds and ends… I scan my life in my mind, searching for the connection, looking for Sunshine. But I guess I lose focus, start to drift. Anyway, before I know it Sunshine’s up on me, lovely, electric, and standing way too close.

“Look, let’s not play any games,” she says.

“I’m sorry?”

“I need…” She slits her eyes, scans the room, a spy at a meet making sure she hasn’t been tailed.

“Yes?”

“I need…” More eye-slitting and side-glancing. More spy at meet-making-tail-checking.

Yes?”

“I need to talk to you.”

“What about? Ted’s sponsoring you himself, isn’t he?”

She glances at Ted, who waves a little too gregariously. Oh, poor Ted. He needs more help than I could have possibly imagined. I’m getting it done, though, don’t worry. Ted’s my latest and greatest, and I shall not fail him.

“Umm, sure, but it’s not about that.”

“Well, what?”

“I know who you are.”

“Yeah, I know who you are, too. Don’t worry, though, it’s cool. Outside these doors, mum’s the word.”

“I mean it… Trickster,” she whispers.

“Ehh?” I grunt in subhuman double-take. I remind myself of that misogynistic chimp-impersonator from Home Improvement. Honestly, it’s embarrassing. I’m not sure how that guy, whatever his name is, has managed to spend his entire adult life doing that chimp sound and making money at it.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I’m lying through my teeth at this point, doing a pretty good job of it at that. Sure, I may not be a full-on god anymore but there are a few things I’m still good at—deception, disguise, mischief, intrigue… But not evil, not anymore, no sir-ree.

“Look, I have to talk to you about something.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. The fate of the world could depend on it.”

“Fate of the world? That sounds like a pretty tall order for a guy who can’t even control himself around the help.”

She nods, but only slightly. She squints.

“Can’t help you, though. I’m just an average dude.”

“I’m serious,” she says, gazing at me intently, searching my eyes. She looks… Well, she looks serious, and by serious what I mean is crazy.

“Fine, I’ll see what I can do,” I lie, scanning for exits.

“I’m serious,” she adds again.

“Yeah, I think we established that.”

“I’ll be at the Irish place a couple blocks back toward Boylston.”

“Which one?”

“The one you go to almost every night, McMurtry’s.”

“How did…?”

“I told you, I’m a Norn.” She glares at me. “So, you’d better show.”

2.

Bending Fate

Owned by a Ukrainian with ties to the Russian mob, managed by a Polish ex-bodybuilder named Israel, McMurtry’s is your typical slice of Americana: a place where languages, religions, and races collide; money acting as expert simultaneous interpreter. It’s the sort of place where once you’re a regular (which I am), they’ll let you do pretty much whatever the fuck you want (which I do). I go there to write and drink (mostly to write). Oh, who am I kidding? I go there mostly to drink.

I stroll in about twenty minutes after that discussion at Blessed Savior. Sure, I’m game. This Sunshine chick has something, and I need to know exactly what it is. Is she a full-on Norn?  It’s possible. Not likely, but possible. When the Norns left, they said they’d be back, but only once; only when it was time for Ragnarok. And like I said before, none of us are in any shape to put on a legitimate apocalypse at this point.

Still, it’s technically possible Sunshine’s who she says she is. I need more details to be sure. Either way, the fact that she thinks I’m the Norse god, Loki, is a bit troubling. Primarily because I am the Norse god, Loki, and that’s not something I’ve been looking to feature here on Earth. I’ve been trying to blend in, not subjugate the masses. I told you: I’m not what you think, not the horn-helmed lunatic popularized in comic books, film, and even the basic, half-baked mythology Odin’s been pushing since he could get anyone to listen. I’m good. I’m here to help.

The place is dark (as usual), a weak, molasses hue fallen across the entire scene. The scents of spilled beer, illicit cigarettes, and fried cod permeate the place—stale and sugary, smoky and sulfurous, burnt and oily. To tell you the truth, it smells a little like Valhalla in the old days. A frowning Sunshine waves me over.

“Some place,” she offers.

“You picked it.”

“I was starting to think you wouldn’t show.”

“Then this must be a pleasant surprise.” I plant myself in the captain’s chair across from her. Its frame squawks in something like protest.

“You want one?” she asks.

“A pleasant surprise?”

“A drink.” She nods toward the flute on the table in front of her. Half full of a pale, gold liquid, bubbles bunch at the bottom of the glass. Every now and then one shakes free from the group, floats upward for a few milliseconds and explodes.

“What is that?”

“Champagne spritzer.”

“Cham-what?” I cut my gaze. “They actually let you order that shit?”

McMurtry’s is no joke: a Jameson’s and Guinness joint all the way. Still, I guess if you look like Sunshine you can get whatever you want wherever you go. I should know that already, though, shouldn’t I? Come to think of it, so should you.

“Meaning?”

“Nothing,” I say, nodding to the bartender Yuri, mouthing ‘usual.’” Let’s get back to the reason you brought me here.”

“I already told you, Loki. I know who you are. That’s why I brought you here.”

“Fine, I’m not disputing that my name may or may not be Loki. It’s the rest of this tale I’ve got a real problem with. For example, you say you’re a Norn?”

She nods.

“Who or what is a Norn?”

Sunshine’s lids drop just a little. Her baby blues focus as in epiphany. “Oh, I see… This is all a veneer.”

“This place?” I ask, looking around. “A veneer of what, shit?”

“Not this. You. Trying to fly under the radar until you’re ready to start your war and destroy the planet?  How can you be so callous, so cruel?  There are billions of souls at stake.”  She looks down, continues speaking in a softer voice, “There’s no hope. They’re all evil now.”

“You realize you’re talking to the table, right?”

“I’m not talking to the table.”

“No, I’m pretty sure that’s a table.”

“I am speaking to my mistress.”

“Mistress?”

“Fate.”

“All right let’s not go getting all metaphorical here.”

“What am I supposed to do with this?” She shakes her head, gaze still directed downward. “Why couldn’t we just stay with the plants?”

“Plants?”

“Oh, now he wants to talk?”

When I don’t respond, she continues. No surprise there. That’s the way these planned revelations usually work, isn’t it?

“We wandered after we left Asgard, moved from plane to plane, looking for a spot in the space-time continuum where we might make a difference, where we could serve Fate again.”

“And did you?”

“Sure, after a few centuries.”

“Really.”

“Yeah, we were aimless at first, depressed, dispossessed.”

“Depressed? I’d say escaping One-Eye was the smartest thing you ever did.”

“It’s not as easy as you’re making it sound. What do you think it’s like playing twenty-ninth fiddle in a religion only to see it go belly-up?”

“You could have stayed.”

“No, we couldn’t. It was obvious Odin was taking the whole thing down the tubes. It would have been a waste of time to stick around.”

“Why’d you even come back? We lost our powers when Hitler killed himself. We’re probably not even capable of a decent Ragnarok at this point.”

“I’m getting to that.”

I glance over at Yuri, catch his eye, and mouth “double.”

“We wandered a long time, finally wound up in this pocket dimension that… y’know, felt right. A place we thought we could be happy, make ourselves useful.”

“Pocket dimension?”

“Like a parallel dimension, just smaller.”

“If you say so.”

“It was dreamy there, low stress. The entire dimension was populated by sentient, bisexual plants.”

“The plants you were talking about?”

“Right. They were like, ‘Do whatever. Just don’t hurt anyone.’”

“But what did they want in return?”

“Nothing.”

“Seriously?”

“They just let us hang out. Said we could stay as long as we wanted.”

“So, why leave?”

“No idea.”

“You don’t know why you left?”

“I thought things were going great, then all of a sudden one day my sisters disappeared… Poof!”

“Poof?”

“Poof!”

“So they’re dead?”

“I didn’t say dead. I said, ‘Poof!’ They disappeared. You know, into the cosmos,” she says, waving her hands as though preparing to break into some serious kung fu. “I had no choice but to follow.”

“We always have a choice.”

“Ha. Maybe you do, Trickster. You’re a unitarily integral being. I’m one of three, though. I have to be on the same plane of existence as my sisters. That’s that. If I don’t go willingly I’ll be drawn and being drawn really fucking hurts.”

“Yeah, yeah, Odin’s got something like that on me.”

“He can draw you?”

“Not draw, command, thrice a century. But if you’re a Norn, you’d already know this.”

“I guess I forgot. It’s been a while.”

I shrug, wishing I could order another-nother drink.

“Command you to do what?” she continues.

“Command me to go see him.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“When did all that start?”

“First time he launched me from Asgard. Said he wanted to be sure he could keep an eye on me. No pun intended.”

“So you understand?”

I wonder where my drink is.

Sunshine keeps going, “And that’s why I came back here, to Midgard.”

“They call it Earth now.”

“What sort of a name is that?”

“I don’t know. It’s just what they call it. If you go around saying ‘Midgard-this’ and ‘Jotunheim-that’ somebody’s going to rat you out to Homeland Security.”

She squints. “Don’t,” she says.

“Don’t what?”

“I know what you’re going to ask, so don’t ask it.”

“How could you?”

“Because I do.”

“OK, what was it?”

“You were going to ask, ‘What does this have to do with me?’”

“Fine.”

“And I’m getting to that, so cool your jets.”

Jenni, the waitress, arrives with my Jameson. Yuri must have picked up on my situation. The thing’s a triple, maybe even a quadruple, amber liquid sloshing over the edge of the glass. I slurp at the rim, bring the contents to a reasonable level before setting down the glass. Sunshine brings the flute to her lips and drains it.

“You want another?” Jenni asks.

Sunshine shakes her head. “I shouldn’t. Champagne gives me headaches.”

Jenni smirks, heads for another table.

Sunshine continues, “My sisters are with Odin.”

“Well, if you know where your sisters are, why don’t you just rejoin them? I mean, that seems to be what you want if you ask me.”

“You don’t understand. I ran away.”

“What about unitary integrity?”

“I said I had to be in the same dimension, not the same room. And I had to.”

“Had to what?”

“Run away.”

“Why?”

“He wants us to help him bend fate, to get you your powers back.”

“Me?”

“Not just you. All of you.”

“All of who?”

“All of the gods.”

“But the only way he could possibly do that would be… Oh, no way.”

“Yes, way.”

“But that would change history.”

“Exactly. And changing history would change the present.”

“And the future.”

She nods. “Yeah, well, that’s the most obvious part; but sure.”

“So, what is it you want from me?”

“Odin’s going to invite you to a meeting on neutral ground. He wants to involve you in his plan. He wants you to help him.”

“Help him do what?”

“Find me, among other things.”

“Fat chance of that.”

“Of what, finding me? I’m right here.”

“No, of him asking me for help. More than that, even thinking I’d go along. After the history, we’ve had… you’ve got to be kidding. Not even Odin could be arrogant enough to think I’d do it.”

“Look, Loki, I’m telling you the way it is. He’s probably already contacted you. He has to figure out where I am. That’s essential to his plan.”

“And what exactly is his plan?”

“I’m not sure what all of it is. That’s the other part of what you need to figure out.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?”

“Get yourself invited to Germany, New Valhalla. See if you can find my sisters and convince them not to help Odin. If you can’t do that, at least figure out what Odin’s planning so we can do something about it.”

“Honestly, I don’t understand why you can’t do any of this stuff yourself.”

“Because I’m not positive yet.”

“Like so much of what you say, that makes no sense.”

“I told you I’m one portion of a three-part being. If I was sure of what my sisters wanted—if I was in contact with them and they expressed their wishes—I’d have to go along. Majority rules.”

“So, if you come back in contact with your sisters, you’ll no longer have free will?”

“Close enough.”

“I have to think about this. This is all… I don’t know. You guys roll out of here a thousand years ago, now you’re back with some kooky story about changing fate.”

“Bending fate.”

“Same difference.”

“We told you we’d be back. You remember, don’t you?”

“Yes, I remember. But I like being human. Close to human, at least.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It’s like what you said about Plantworld or the Arboreal Dimension or whatever it’s called. It’s relaxing. All that cosmic destiny, gotta-do-this-gotta-do-that stuff is a bad trip. You know that.”

“Fine, you can have a little time.”

“Thank you.”

“And you might as well contact the giants. You’ll probably need their help.”

“Yeah, well… Hey, wait, how’d you know about the giants?”

She nods and opens her purse, pulls out a piece of paper and a pen, scribbles for a few seconds, then hands it to me.

“What is this?”

I look down. “Tonight, midnight,” is written on the paper.

“I’ll call you tonight at midnight.”

“Yes, I can see that. Why didn’t you just say it?”

“I don’t want you to forget.” She rises.

I take a slug of my Jameson.

“Start thinking now,” she says, staring down at me.

“Why?”

“You don’t have long. Odin’s probably going to want to see you right away.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. You have to decide.”

“And where are you going, off to dance at The Genetic Impossibility?”

“Are you kidding?”

“No. Why?”

“I’m a Norn, not some pole-spinning bimbo.”

“But?”

“Oh, don’t be absurd. That was just part of my cover.”

With that, Sunshine crosses the room and leaves, a gentle breeze in her wake. I catch Yuri’s eye.

“Another?” he asks.

“Just a check.”

*

The sidewalks are nearly empty by the time I leave, the streets clear but for the lazy, late-night parade of cabbies and cops, the odd whoosh and whirl of civilian glass and chrome that accompanies them. With the reduced foot and car traffic the city seems lonely, peaceful maybe, deceptively so.

Illusory or not, this is why I like the city at night. It seems pristine in a way, shiny lights freely reflected in the black glaze that covers its streets. So quiet maybe it makes me think of my family, of what I’ve lost, of what I keep losing again and again.

Don’t let anyone tell you that being on the outs with your family, even your foster family, is a good time. For most people, most humans at least, family is the last thing you can count on, the last thing you can possibly lose. I mean, I still have Hel and the giants, but I miss Odin and all the rest of them. It’s true. What can I say?

Don’t get me wrong. I know it can’t be better. I’ve come to terms with the separation, the fact that this can’t be fixed. But you still think about it. Even as a god, or whatever I am, how could you not?

*

Eleven-thirty by the time I get back to Chateau Loki. I find the giants already there, racked-out on my living room sectional watching TV. Their stubby, blue-jeaned legs and pudgy, work-booted feet up on the coffee table, the guys are drinking martinis (Bombay Sapphire) and smoking cigars (Don Carlos #4s). They look like a pair of construction workers who just won the lottery.

(A word on the giants before we go any further. They’re not. Giants, I mean, not anymore.  Sure, I still call them “the giants” out of deference—those guys were kings once upon a time, they’re owed some respect—but when they fell they changed. We all did, but the giants got it worse than most. They shrunk…a lot, so much that they became, well…little people. You know, dwarves.)

“Loki,” I hear, in near chorus.

Fenrir perks his head up, peers over the back of the couch. Sighting me, he rushes up for a quick game of sniff and slobber, collar jangling as he moves.

“I see you let yourselves in,” I say, giving Fen a couple pats and moving toward the sofa. “Do I even need to ask whether you used your keys?”

Rueful smiles from the pair of them.

“You guys realize every time you do that there’s a chance someone will see you, that they’ll call the cops?”

“Yeah, but then you’d just get us sprung.”

“Oh?”

“Or we’d get ourselves sprung. Same difference.”

Not that I care per se. It’s good for the giants to keep their skills fresh. After all, you never know what’s going to happen and when. That was true when I was a god, and it’s true now that I’m semi- or demi- or whatever-I-am.

I plunk myself down in the couch’s big middle section. Fen follows, settles in next to me. As he does, I realize what the giants have been watching, and I want to get up, walk back out the door, and keep going until I hit, oh, Tahiti or so.

That’s right: It’s MSNBC International. The Germanic babble submerged beneath simultaneous interpretation and studio talking heads can mean only one thing: Wolfgang Bruder, bellicose right-wing poster boy and wannabe Chancellor is at it again.

“What’s the Neo-Fuhrer on about today?”

“What’s he ever on about? Immigrants,” Surtur replies.

“Stealing jobs from Germans,” Thyrm adds.

“Doesn’t hate ‘them’.”

“Just wants ‘them’ to leave.”

“So, the usual assholery? Just turn him off, can you?”

“Sure,” Surt says, grabbing the remote, tapping Power with something approaching ceremony. “We’ve just been waiting for you to get home anyways.”

“Guys, I’m tired. I’m not up for a night out.”

Thyrm smiles. “Ha, no, it’s not that. You’re never gonna believe who called.”

“A Norn?”

“A whatsit?”

“Never mind.”

“OK—”

“Shh,” Surt says, hitting the remote’s message button. I’m starting to worry. “Let him listen for himself. Go ahead, Loki. Listen, listen.”

“How about one of those for me?” I ask, nodding at Thyrm as the messages cue up.

“Which?” Thyrm asks, gaze sliding from cigar to martini.

“Right,” I reply.

Which is when I hear this, “Loki, son, how’ve you been?” It’s Odin, and he’s loaded, slurring liberally.

“Son?” Thyrm chuckles as he hands me a drink.

Caught in mid-puff, Surt coughs, pulls the Fuentes from his lips. “How long’s it been since he called you that?” he barks between hacks.

“I know, right?” I drain the glass, hand it back to Thyrm. “Another, barkeep.”

“Coming up.”

I take a Fuentes from the humidor in the center of the table, guillotine the tip, toss it in the tray.

“Wait, though, it gets even better.” This is Thyrm.

“We need to meet,” Odin adds, sniffling a little near the end.

“We?”

“Just wait,” says Thyrm as he reaches over to pat Fen’s flank.

“By we, I mean the whole family: Frigga, Thor, Heimdall, Baldur…”

“Baldur,” Surtur says, practically spitting this time. “That prancing prick’s got a lot of nerve showing his face.”

“Least he didn’t mention Tyr.”

Fen raises his snout, grumbles. Thyrm pats him again. Fen relaxes, drops his chin back onto the sofa.

From here Odin descends quickly and only quasi-comprehensibly into a tearful, maudlin state. There’s talk of Valkyries, blood oaths, and maybe even a reindeer or something. None of us are sure what all he’s saying, but it’s easy enough to tell when it’s over. Once he hits click so do I.

“He’s a mess,” Thyrm offers.

“More or less,” I reply.

Surt: “So, what’re you gonna do?”

“What should I do?”

I already know, of course. I want to see what they say, though. A good leader always tests his subordinates. He always develops succession plans. Old One-Eye taught me that the hard way.

“You have to go see him obviously.”

“Obviously. But I haven’t given you guys the kicker yet.”

“Kicker?”

There’s a knock at the door.

“Right. And unless I miss my guess, that’ll be her right now.”

Kurt Baumeister

Kurt Baumeister has written for Salon, Electric Literature, The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and others. Now a contributing editor with The Weeklings, Baumeister’s Review Microbrew column is published by The Nervous Breakdown. His debut novel, a satirical thriller entitled Pax Americana, was published by Stalking Horse Press in early 2017. He is currently at work on a novel, The Book of Loki, and a hybrid collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry entitled Superman, the Seven Gods of Death, and the Need for Clean, Romantic Poetry. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.kurtbaumeister.com.

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