THE BLOOD FENRIR SPILLED
K. J. Pedersen
Copyright © 2014 by K. J. Pedersen
Elisha Christian Bengtsen
MOM BRINGS HOME CHINESE FOOD that evening, around six-thirty, and places the many small white cartons in the center of the dining room table while Missy and I set places.
“You’ll never guess who called this afternoon,” Mom says to my father and takes her seat next to his. “Elizabeth Darwin.”
“Haven’t seen the Darwins since they moved to Chicago.” Dad piles spicy, aromatic Mongolian beef onto his plate. “What did she have to say?”
“She’s in Salt Lake for the next several days on business,” Mom replies. “We met downtown for lunch, to catch up. Michael couldn’t fly out with her, of course. Work. But she brought Emma. Figured a few days away from school so close to graduation wouldn’t hurt. Anyway, I’ve invited them over for dinner tomorrow night.”
“That’s great, Patricia,” Dad says. “What was that dish of mine Liz was always so fond of?”
“The pork roast,” Mom says.
“Right.” He rubs his hands together and I can just picture what he’s imagining—the lean pork, nicely peppered and seasoned with sweet basil, then rolled tightly and bound around brown-sugared apples, spiced with cinnamon, crushed cloves, and cardamom. “I guess I have my work cut out for me tomorrow night, haven’t I?”
Elizabeth Darwin—née Fridriksen—had been Mom’s closest friend in high school (both had attended Spring Creek High themselves twenty-some-odd years ago). They’d also been roommates through much of college. After she married Michael Darwin, they bought a little rambler, a starter home a mile to the north of here, and had only moved a few years back, when Elizabeth was promoted and transferred to Chicago. Their only child, Emma, had been my best friend in elementary school. Well, my best friend next to Jason, anyway.
Mom meets my eyes with a rather maternal look and I know a scolding’s in the works. “Where’s Elijah? I told you to get him, to let him know I brought home take-out.”
“He’s....” I pause. I hadn’t called him to dinner as asked. Hadn’t thought it wise. “He’s still sleeping, Mom.”
A look passes between my mother and father.
“What time did the two of you return home from the party last night?” Dad asks.
“I left around ten,” I say. “Stayed at Brandt’s until midnight.”
I shrug. “I’m not sure.”
Another look crosses between my parents. My father’s lips tighten, pressing into a firm, pale line. He clears his throat. Uh-oh. Elijah’s in trouble. Big trouble.
Around three, while Missy and Dad and Mom were still out and about, I’d gone to check in on him, fearing what might happen if I left his fever to burn. I was determined to get him to the medical clinic if he was still feverish. I found him with the sheet twisted about his waist, his skin a sickly pallor, and his hair damp with sweat and oily. He needed a shower. I discovered, though, when I touched his brow, the fever had broken. While still warm to the touch, I decided the danger had passed and let him sleep.
“So...was there alcohol at Jessica’s party?” Mom asks.
“Not that I know of,” I say. “Besides, I don’t drink—”
“Much,” Missy interjects.
I glare at her, daggers, sharp enough to kill.
A little smirk comes to her lips. “Except when he’s with Matty,” she says. “Of course, when they’re together, drinking is only one of the many extracurricular activities they’re into—”
“Missy! Bitch!” I cry.
“That’s quite enough of that, Elisha,” Mom says. She turns to face Missy. “And you, show your brother some respect.”
“I’ve seen the hickies on the side of Matty’s neck,” Missy says. “It isn’t hard to figure out where they come from.”
I’m sarcastic and condescending and let Missy know just what I think of her with my tone of voice alone. “He’s my boyfriend, so naturally—”
“So naturally I can assume what other parts of his body have hick—”
“Melissa Elizabeth Bengtsen,” my father growls, “go to your room.”
“But it’s true!” Missy protests.
Missy’s barely even had the chance to touch her food and leaves a full plate. “That’s it, Dad, go on an’ shoot the messenger. Right? It’s not my fault he sucks face with another boy,” she growls loudly and disappears upstairs.
Mom and Dad turn to me.
“What?” I ask defensively. “Brandt doesn’t drink. I don’t drink. I mean, I’ve had a few beers in my life, I’ll admit. And as for me and Mattias—”
Mom waves it all away. “I don’t mind if you and your brother join your father and I for a glass of wine with dinner. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest,” she says. “I’m worried about alcohol abuse. I’m worried about drinking and driving. I’m worried about a repeat of what happened last summer, when the police called because Jason had an open Corona in Eric’s car. So, Elisha, I’ll ask you again: Was there alcohol at Jessica’s party last night?”
“Not that I know of,” I tell her, looking her straight in the eye.
Mom and Dad nod together, though warily, and she says, “Fine. Okay. If there was, then I’ll take it as a truth that you were unaware of the fact.”
Then Dad asks, “What time did Elijah come home?”
“I don’t know. Not exactly, anyway,” I lie. “It was after midnight.”
It was way after midnight—like thirteen hours after midnight, I think, looking down at my plate, unwilling to meet my father’s eyes again.
“And yet he’s been upstairs sleeping all day,” Mom says. A moment passes. “Probably exhausted and hung over.”
“I told you,” my father begins, speaking to my mother alone. “Do you see now? See now how wild that boy has become? For him life is one long weekend—one long party—staying out to all hours of the night...alcohol...drugs, no doubt. Weed, I’m sure. Who knows what else—”
“No, listen: Elijah’s walking a very fine line.”
Seeming reluctant to admit it, she says, “I guess you were right, then, and I just didn’t want to see it.”
Obviously, I find myself thinking, but am careful to keep the look on my face neutral.
Mom has always been a little bit partial to Elijah, not that she favors him in such a way that it offends me or makes me feel like she doesn’t love me as much, but it is noticeable.
Then Dad says to me in a very serious tone, “You still have some sway with your brother—he’ll listen to you, at least—so you should let him know, to prepare him beforehand, that there are going to be some major changes around here, and that if he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his senior year grounded to the house, he’d better make some changes of his own.”
THE LIBRARY DOWNSTAIRS REFLECTS MY father’s utilitarian sensibilities, right down to the furniture. A black leather sofa, armchair, and ottoman occupy the space right under the window facing the backyard. They’re comfortable, well-used, and definitely the best place in the house to get any reading done. Opposite them, the expansive glass-shelved bookcases. An L-shaped computer desk sits in a corner on the far side of the room, a drafting table next to that.
Most of my father’s books are references necessary to his research and work, the critical analysis of the Bible as a folk-chronicle, and its place in history. Language texts and histories, modern, medieval, and ancient, line the shelves. Polybius, Tacitus, Livy, Josephus—each have their place. There are copies of the Septuagint and of the Masoretic texts; of the Latin Vulgate; of the original New Testament, written in the common, or Koine, dialect of the Greek-speaking world of the day; all these abound, each filled, every margin, it seems, with my father’s notes, every tiny, carefully written block letter in blue ink. Here, you’ll find the Koran; there, the Vedas. Further yet down the shelf I find what I’m looking for: Scandinavian Folklore and its Pagan Roots.
I find a seat on the sofa, in my favorite spot, right snug in the corner, against the armrest, pull the ottoman toward me with my feet, relax, and open the book.
THE BINDING OF FENRIR
LOKI, who was counted among both the Æsir and Jötnar, among the Gods and Giants, that is, and regarded as a trickster, for he possessed a certain malevolence of spirit, fathered three children by the giantess Angrboða: Jörgmungandr, Hel, and Fenrir.
From the very announcement of their birth, the Gods regarded the brood with trepidation—such fearsome lineage those three had! Such that King Odin would not abide that they should make their home with the Giants in Jötunheim, much less so with the Gods in Asgard, and so, at once, had two of them cast out.
Jörgmungandr was a giant from birth, taking the form of a snake, and said to be so massive from head to tail as to encompass the Earth. For this he was known as Midgardsormr. Odin threw this Serpent of Midgard with all his might out into the Great Sea, which surrounds the Earth, and where he was meant to remain for all time.
Hel, sister of the World-Serpent, fared little better. Appearing alternately as a woman of unsurpassed beauty, but also as a corpse, worm-ridden and hideous, with rotting flesh, sunken cheeks and eye sockets, Hel often bore both traits simultaneously, being as radiant on one side as she was repellent on the other. To Niflheim, “the home of dark fog,” Odin sent Hel, and established her as a ruler of the Nine Worlds, impressing upon her the keep of the dead. There, in her charge, the dead shifted through the gloom and timeless despair of Niflhel.
But where the Gods abhorred two of Loki and Angrboða’s issue, they came to adore, even in their fear, the third, the whelp Fenrir, and took him with them to Asgard. He, known also as Fenrisulfr, wolf of the fens, was particularly dear to Tyr, the God of War, and Arbitrer of Justice. In the great dining hall of the Æsir, Tyr would often hold the pup in his arms, and feed him scraps of meat from the Allfather’s bord. Thus nurtured, Fenrir grew prodigiously, causing the Æsir ever greater alarm. In fact, as the wolf neared maturity, he grew so large that when he opened his maw, it appeared to them he could swallow the heavens whole. They feared he might! For Fenrir had taken to chasing Sól and Máni, in turn, day and night, across the skies, as they bore the sun and moon in their chariots.
Wise Odin possessed the power of Foresight, and what he perceived heightened this sense of dread that prevailed among the Gods. For Odin had divined their fall, prophesying Ragnarök! From the depths of the Great Sea, Fenrir would call up his brother, and Jörgmungandr would take his place once more upon the Earth. Together, the brothers would rise and pronounce war upon the Æsir. In battle, they would bring about the death of the present generation of Gods, laying waste to the world, consigning all to Hel.
Eager to avoid their fall and the end of their Age, or, at least, to forestall it, for they were a fatalistic lot, Odin and the other Gods met in council, and determined that they must deal with Fenrir as they had with his siblings. They decided he must be bound, forever. But how? His strength grew with every day that passed.
A challenge! they decided.
They would test Fenrir’s strength with an invitation to prove his might, and thus herald his fame. So, intrigued, Fenrir came to them. He sniffed at the chain with which they sought to bind him and scoffed. “Yes, indeed, place it about my legs and paws!” And so, with the challenge heartily accepted, the Gods placed the firm links of Leyding about the wolf’s legs and paws, front and back, tightening it so, binding him.
Fenrir struggled a moment, then lifted his front paw, shook it once, and shattered his binding. The pieces of Leyding flew far and wide.
Seeing this, the Gods grew pale with fear.
“Oh! Well done!” Odin told the fen-wolf. “But that was much too easy a test of your strength.”
The King of the Æsir then brought forth a second chain, which was twice as strong. “Shall you shiver this binding, Dromi, as you did Leyding, Fenrir?”
Confident, Fenrir agreed to this second challenge as well. “Certainly, though its links be thicker than a man’s wrists, I shall, Allfather.”
And Dromi did prove to be twice the strength of Leyding. The Gods cheered as the wolf struggled this way and that to free himself. In the end, though it took Fenrir twice as long to throw it off, Dromi yielded to his might as well, its links falling about him.
Seeing that Fenrir could not be bound by iron, the Gods were silenced, their terror realized.
Victorious, his reputation affirmed, his fame assured, Fenrir left them, and was thereafter hailed also by the name Hróðvitnir, which is to say, “Fame-Wolf.”
Then Odin suggested to his fellows that while the wolf might be stronger than iron, he might not yet be equal to the work which the dwarfs wrought at their forges in Svartálfaheim. So, the Gods went into the homeland of the dark elves and their kith and commissioned the dwarfs to forge a binding which Fenrir could not break.
“To accomplish this impossible task,” the dwarfs declared, “we require six impossible things:
“First, the sound of a cat’s footsteps;
“Second, a maiden’s beard;
“Third, the roots of a mountain;
“Fourth, the sinews of a bear;
“Fifth, a fish’s breath;
“Sixth, the spittle of a bird.”
So, the Gods searched the Nine Worlds for these, and when they had finally, with much difficulty, found and gathered them together, they took the six elements to Svartálfaheim. And there the dwarfs fashioned the binding Gleipnir, as they had agreed to.
When Odin summoned Fenrir again—this time to an island on the lake Amsvartnir called Lyngvi—for still another test of his strength, the wolf became wary, wondering why the Gods should always want to bind him. He paced, watching them carefully. “How shall you try to bind me now? With more iron?”
Odin produced the length of cord, Gleipnir.
“A ribbon of silk! Do you mock me?” Fenrir roared.
“Not at all,” Odin said and tugged the cord taut. “See, even I, Lord of Asgard, cannot break this binding!”
“Nor can I, Fenrisulfr.” Thor took hold of the cord, pulling it tight between his fists. “See?” With all his might, he struggled to the snap the cord. “Do you see not, son of Loki?”
Fenrir grew even more cautious. “What enchantment has been woven into the fibers of this ribbon, then?”
But there was no answer to the fen-wolf’s question.
“If I cannot break it,” Fenrir continued, eyeing each of the Gods in turn, “you will set me free, yes?”
“Surely,” Odin replied.
“If this is an honorable test, then give me a sign of your good faith,” Fenrir said. “Place your hand in my mouth, your wrist between my jaws, as an assurance of your fidelity!”
Again, Fenrir received no answer, until Tyr, knowing the challenge was not made in good faith, and lacked honor, stepped forward.
“This is my sword hand, Fenrir. Here it is, offered to you in the spirit of justice,” Tyr said. “Let yourself be bound.”
Fenrir nodded his assent and Tyr placed his right hand in the wolf’s mouth.
And so the Æsir bound Fenrir with Gleipnir.
Yet no matter how Fenrir struggled, the cord would not yield. In fact, the harder he fought to free himself, the tighter Gleipnir became.
Then, seeing that he had been betrayed, that the Gods had no intention of freeing him, Fenrir closed his mighty jaws upon Tyr’s wrist and severed the God’s hand.
The Æsir dragged Fenrir away and further bound him to a stone, rooted deep in the earth. They then thrust a sword through the bottom of his jaw so his maw would be forever closed.
And there, at Lyngvi on Amsvartnir, they left Fenrir.
Bound and in agony, the wolf shed bitter tears of pain and of trust betrayed—tears that became the wellspring of the river Ván.
Fenrir’s sons, the wolf pups Sköll, the treacherous one, and Hati, the hateful one, escaped the Gods, vowing revenge, and took to their father’s sport, chasing the Sun and Moon, until they should at last catch them, drag them from the heavens, and set loose their father again, so he might finally bring about the Twilight of the Gods.
I lean back into the cool leather seat and consider it all for a moment before turning to the index to see if I can find any further references to Fenrir and Tyr, but am interrupted by my dad.
“Hey, Elisha, would you help me in the garage for a little while?” he asks.
“Can it wait? I’m reading.”
“An assignment for school?”
My dad pauses, waits. “C’mon, it’ll take just a little while. I need to reorganize my shop and won’t be able to tomorrow, or for the rest of the week for that matter.”
“Dad,” I complain.
“Tomorrow’s definitely out because I’ll be cooking dinner for our guests,” he says. “Besides, the two of us together will make short work of it.”
I spend the next hour helping Dad rearrange his work area in the garage. I still have plenty of questions though about what Brandt had showed me, what he had said, and it must show because I notice my dad watching me.
“What?” I ask.
“You seem distracted tonight, bud,” Dad says. “Is anything bothering you?”
“No. Not really,” I say.
“Are you having troubles with—”
“I’m fine, Dad. Really.”
“You can talk to me—you know that, right?”
“I know.” The skeptical look on his face bothers me. “I know I can, Dad,” I say. “Seriously.”
“Okay. Don’t get uptight.”
When we’ve finished, it’s bedtime, and nothing has been resolved in my mind at all, other than I now have the basics of the story Brandt had alluded to. Dad thanks me, tells me goodnight. I tell him the same and go up to bed.
Everything will have to wait until I can discuss things with Brandt tomorrow at school, I decide, and settle in under the sheets and comforter.
But I cannot sleep and ponder what I’d read.
ELIJAH’S UP EARLY MONDAY MORNING. I, on the other hand, sleep in. After silencing my alarm for the second time, I peak out the bedroom window. The sky is overcast, but the temperature is perfect. After a quick shower, I tie my hair up in a topknot, dress, and dash downstairs to find Elijah seated already at the kitchen table. He’s in a good mood and I’m hard-pressed to believe he had been so sick the day before; he’s in top form. Teasing our sister mercilessly about her crush on the lead singer from some boy band or another, he revels in this provocation, which only leads Missy to hit his shoulder as hard as she can. He rubs his biceps, laughing, mocking her.
She complains loudly to our mother.
“Okay, Lije,” Mom says. “Enough.”
Elijah deflects it with an innocent, “Just teasing,” and then continues, goading her on.
Missy grumbles something I don’t quite catch. But she’s caught on and simply ignores him.
I sit down at the table and pour myself a bowl of frosted flakes and a glass of orange juice.
Finally, silence. And that gives my mom an opening. “So,” she asks Elijah, “what time did you get home from Jessica’s party Saturday night?”
He looks over to me, hoping for support, I think, then to our parents. “Um...after midnight, I guess.”
“When exactly?” Dad demands.
“I’m not sure.”
“Oh?” Mom says.
“After midnight. That’s all.”
“After midnight, huh?” she says. “I’m beginning to think we need to enforce your midnight curfew retroactively.”
“Right,” Dad says, agreeing with my mother. “You’re grounded.”
“What?” Elijah cries. “That’s completely—”
“Unfair?” Dad finished for him.
“Now,” Dad continues, ignoring my brother’s protest, “how long do you think this grounding should last, Patricia? One week? Two?”
Mom wipes her mouth with the napkin and takes her bowl to the sink. “Two weeks at least, until we get some straight answers.”
“Two weeks?” Elijah’s fuming.
“Until you tell your mother and I exactly what you were up to, that’s where it’ll stand.”
“This will have to wait, Thomas,” she says. “I have a meeting with the principal and other members of the administration this morning. I should leave. Now.”
“Yeah, I should be going, too,” he says. He points his index finger at Elijah, a very clear indication of his mood. “After I get home from work tonight, you and I, we’ll have a little chat.”
BRANDT MISSES CLASSES MONDAY MORNING. Then I wait for him at lunch, ignoring my brother and Jason’s invitation to leave campus with them to go to Valento’s Italian restaurant with their girlfriends for pizza and a heaping basket of garlic cheese bread. Again, Brandt never shows up. After lunch, I ask around; had anyone seen him. Nope. I shoot off a text message. Then another. No reply. By the end of the day, when it’s time to go, I head out to the parking lot and find Dave, Cole and Tad on their boards, skating.
“Hey!” Dave calls and waves me over.
It’s still overcast, cooler than it had been earlier, but still in the mid-70s. It looks like it might rain later.
“Where’s your board?” Dave asks when I join the three of them on the far end of lot.
“Left it at home,” I say. “Jason drove this morning.”
Then Tad shows me his elbow, bleeding, with dirt and bits of gravel in the wound.
“Nice,” I say.
“He’s an idiot,” Cole says.
Tad swipes Cole’s board.
Cole and Dave take off after Tad, threatening his left nut if he doesn’t surrender Cole’s board immediately.
Mattias is quiet throughout, ignoring the others. He’s separated from them a few yards, sitting on the cement walkway, his back against the wall of the C Building, the gym, legs stretched out before him. He has long narrow feet, clad in scuffed black canvas, and this adds to the impression that his legs are impossibly long. He’s wearing a blue- and black-striped hoodie, the hood pulled down over his brow, his chin lowered, a lone plume of dark hair escaping on one side. His board is next to him, wheels to the air
Goddamn, I find myself thinking as I watch him, his sullen expression and easy pose. Damn, he’s hot!
Mattias looks up. “I thought you were going to call yesterday.”
“I was,” I tell him and settle directly across from him on the half-wall, the wall establishing the boundary between the courtyard, the B and C buildings, and this end of the parking lot.
“Uh, Elisha, bro, you didn’t even answer my texts. All day. Not one.”
“Yeah. I guess not. Sorry. It was a weird one.”
“As weird as Saturday night?” he asks.
“Remember? You said you were going to fill me in on the details, what Brandt was up to....”
“Right,” I say.
“More about that ouija board shit you said Brandt showed you?”
“Well—yeah, actually.” I motion him over. “Have you seen Brandt today?”
Mattias sits on the half-wall next to me, his thigh pressed firmly against my own. “No. He wasn’t in gym class.”
This shouldn’t surprise me, not really—unlike his academics, Brandt doesn’t have a great attendance record, missing an average of two days every month—but I feel disturbed by the news. It makes me wonder where he is...if anything is wrong.
“Why?” he asks.
“No reason, I guess.” I shake my head. “Just wanted to ask him a few questions.”
Lanky Cole, with his floppy sandy-colored hair down low over his dark eyes and prominent beak, has successfully retrieved his board from Tad and jogs over to us. He pushes the hair off his face and to the side, smoothing it back behind one ear.
Mattias and I repeat his greeting.
Cole then comes around the half-wall, up behind me, puts his arms around my middle, and rests his chin my shoulder. He doesn’t let go, either, and makes himself comfortable.
“Hey, that’s my boyfriend,” Mattias says.
“Uh-uh, my boyfriend,” Cole answers with all the defiance and impetuousness of a five-year old.
“Come off it, Cole. Go on,” I say. “Get out of here.”
He seems content, leaning against me the way he is, his arms still around my middle, his chin still resting lazily upon my shoulder, and doesn’t say anything.
“Do you mind?” Matty says. “You’re interrupting our conversation.”
“Whatya talkin’ about?”
“None of your business,” he replies in the same disinterested tone of voice.
“Yeah, okay,” Cole says finally. Then he releases me, hops over the half-wall, and lopes toward Dave and Tad, dragging his board behind him.
“What was that all about?” I ask.
“There’s no explaining Cole,” he says.
“No kiddin’,” I reply. “Still, it kinda felt nice.”
“What, you needed a hug?”
I shrug. “You take it where you can find it.”
“Yeah? Well, at least, he didn’t hump your leg.”
We laugh at the memory of the night we’d been to a party at Tad’s house, earlier in the year, around Thanksgiving, and Cole had too much to drink and too little attention from Britney, his girlfriend at the time. “I was drunk,” he’d told Matty later, apologizing for the way he’d been grinding against his thigh on the old couch in the basement.
After a moment, Mattias asks, “So, what happened Saturday night when you got to Brandt’s house?”
“He has this oak disk—”
“The ouija board.”
“Well...I suppose it’s not really an ouija board.”
“Details?” he asks.
“It’s old. And it’s Norwegian. And it has all these runes about its rim.” I pause, finished with the details, and speak my mind: “Honestly, I think he’s just fucking with me.”
“How do you figure?”
“He’s gotta have it hooked up to a battery or something. Every time I touch it, it gives me a shock, and there’s this spark, and this glow about the runes.”
“That’s fucked up.”
“When we started using it the other night, the next thing I knew, the dog was howling.”
“Yup, definitely fucked up.”
“Yeah.” I pause a moment. “Are you familiar with the old stories from Norway?”
“Which stories, Elisha—the myths, of Odin and Thor?”
“No,” I reply. “Of Tyr and Fenrir, actually.”
“Fenrir, the giant wolf, terror of the gods, who bit off Tyr’s hand when the gods tied him up with a bit of magic string?” Mattias kicks at my right foot with his left, absently. Then I return the gesture, bouncing my foot off his. Back and forth it goes as he talks. “His brother was a snake and his sister was death. Yeah, I’m familiar with ’em. Bedtime stories. My dad can be blamed for that.”
“Mythology for your bedtimes stories—seriously, Matty?” I say. “My mom used to read R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps to me when I was a kid.”
“Typical,” Mattias replies, rolling his eyes. “You know what story used to scare the hell out of me when I was little?”
“That Greek one about the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades. Cerberus.” He snarls at me and snaps his teeth three times, all with a grin and a laugh. “Anyway, there’s a Norse legend kind of like that, of a hound that Hel kept at her side called Garmr. Possibly her nephew, one of Fenrir’s sons. Or, alternately another name by which Fenrir was known, for Garmr was called the greatest monster of them all.”
“Sounds like you know a lot about this stuff.”
“Like I said, blame my dad for that,” he says. “God knows I do.”
We both laugh because Mattias and his father are close and have a really good relationship. I can’t imagine him blaming his dad for anything.
After a moment, I ask, “How well do you know Brandt?”
“You know, the usual for being neighbors. I’ve been over to his house a couple of times. Hung out. Played pool in the games room.” He shrugs. “That’s about as well I as I know him. Just well enough to say he seems kind of strange to me.”
“You’ve said that before—that he’s too intense,” I say.
“I don’t know how to put it exactly. He wants something. He’s that type. You can just tell. He’s a user. At least, that’s the impression I get from him.”
“I’ve begun to notice the same thing myself,” I say. “Maybe that’s what Elijah’s sensed all along.”
“There’s something almost....”
“Almost?” I prod.
“Something almost predatory about him,” Mattias says. “To be honest, I don’t really trust him.”
“Because you think he wants into my pants.”
“I don’t know.” He shakes his head. “Maybe I’m just being a jealous bitch.”
“Well, you don’t need to worry about that. We’re together, you and I. And that’s all there is to it,” I tell Mattias. “And Brandt’s straight, so....”
“I get a different vibe from him than ‘straight boy,’” Mattias says. “At the very least, man, he’s curious. And he wants you.”
“Fine. Whatever. Don’t believe me.”
An uncomfortable silence follows.
“Did Brandt ever tell you about his trip to Norway, last year, when he was still going to U. Park?” I ask finally.
“Only that he’d been,” he replies.
“Last Christmas, Brandt’s family went to Norway to look over an archeological dig his father wanted to see. Mr. Lyngdal had been following the news about the discovery carefully. The chance came up to go; he took it.”
“Does this have something to do with that ouija board shit?”
“Sort of, yeah.”
“So, Brandt’s father was going to write a paper about the site for the University’s quarterly journal, and went to this place in Norway called Jørpeland where a ceremonial center had been uncovered by construction workers. He took the whole family with him for their Christmas vacation.
“While there, Brandt bought this oak disk at an antique shop in town: The ouija board thing, or whatever it is. He insists it’s an object associated with the god Tyr, and a remnant of Norwegian paganism. Probably passed down among the region’s denizens for generations.”
“Paganism, huh? No, I get it. In rural areas of Sweden, my dad’s told me, the old beliefs persisted even into the twentieth century, always at the periphery of the locals’ Christian faith and Lutheran upbringing, but there nevertheless. Like the belief in trolls and elves.”
“Right. Same kind of thing in Denmark, my mom’s said. Fear of forest demons, and their elverhøj, burial mounds,” I reply. “The funny thing about all this is that Brandt thinks the disk and the ceremonial site are somehow related.”
“How does he figure?”
“If I understood what he told me correctly, the shrine had been built and dedicated to Fenrir—there were these stelæ—“
“Monuments, like slabs of stone or wood, usually carved.”
“Anyway, the stone monuments had been toppled, and one broken to pieces. It had been carved with the shape of a wolf on it.”
“He thinks so,” I say. “The whole center was pulled down after the Christian church was established in Norway.”
“That was like a thousand years ago.”
I nod. “This is what I’m curious about, had the halls been built and the stelæ erected to honor the wolf, or to stay his wrath?”
Mattias shakes his head. “Don’t know. I’d like to see pictures. Do you think any have been published on the internet?”
“Maybe,” I say. “Brant told me that both the disk and the ruins are of approximately the same age. I wonder, had it been that a thousand-plus years ago there were two rival cults in Jørpeland, one dedicated to Fenrir, and the other to the veneration of Tyr?”
“As I recall from the story, the relationship between Tyr and Fenrir was complex.”
“So maybe there were two cults and they were complementary, or even of an adversarial but symbiotic relationship, each bound to the other as Fenrir was to Tyr?
Mattias purses his lips, nods. “Interesting.”
“I don’t know, though;” I say, “can’t really even begin to speculate. All I know for certain is that with the advent of Christianity in the North, the worship of the Æsir and Jötnar was suppressed, and their shrines were either destroyed completely or ‘cleansed’ and refit for Christian use and worship.
“And that’s what happened in Jørpeland.
“There had been three halls, Brandt said, one great, two smaller, and I’m beginning to wonder if there’s any significance to this. Perhaps the great hall was made for the worship of Fenrir, and the two smaller halls—
“For his sons, Sköll and Hati?”
“Exactly, Matty. Exactly!”
“Very interesting,” he says. “Now I really want to check the net for pics.”
“I wonder, too, if there was any solar and lunar alignment to the site’s layout, as if to symbolize the wolves pursuit of Sól and Máni...?”
“Maybe,” Mattias says. “Or maybe you were right and Brandt’s simply playing games with your mind.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of,” I say. “Problem is, I can’t figure out why he’d fuck with me like that.”
EMMA DARWIN ISN’T THE BRAINY beanpole tomboy she used to be in elementary school. While every bit as smart as she used to be, evidenced by the fact that she has a sold GPA, she’s turned into quite the beauty, too. The long mousy-colored hair that used to be pulled into pig tails has been replaced by a cascade of shiny auburn tresses, which complement her features nicely. The torn-up blue jeans and super heroes T-shirts, gone. Now eighteen, she dresses stylishly, knowing hers is a body to show off. And I find myself thinking that if I wasn’t gay, and had she stayed in Utah, I could see our relationship having developed differently, and that we might even be together.
Almost as if a mirror to my own thoughts, she says, “Well, Lysh, you grew up cute.”
“What?” I say in mock surprise. “‘Grew up’ to be cute? I’ve always been cute. Always.”
“No, she’s one-hundred percent correct there,” Mattias informs me with a devilish grin. “You were an ugly little shit in the fourth grade.”
I turn up my middle finger at him. And he kicks my shin under the patio table. We have the shade umbrella open to deflect the light sprinkle that is finally, after brooding black and gray all day above, falling.
“So,” Emma asks me, still smiling at our antics, “do you have a girlfriend?”
“Um,” I start, “not exactly.”
“Almost eighteen now and you’re still single?”
Mattias butts in. “No, I wouldn’t say that. He’s taken.” Then he reaches across the table and strokes the back of my hand with his thumb.
Emma laughs. “Ah! That explains so much!” She’s sitting next to me on the wood bench and jostles me with her hip. “See, by time we were in the sixth grade, just before moving to Chicago, I was beginning to develop gaydar. And there were a few faint blips around that school I just couldn’t explain.”
I feel myself blush and she smiles at that.
“Matty and I have been together for about a year now,” I say.
“You make a cute couple.”
The blush deepens. “Thanks.”
“How about you? Do you have a boyfriend?” Mattias asks her.
“Oh, yes. Rafael. Absolutely gorgeous. Tall. Broad shoulders. Nice biceps. Nicer chest. Warm brown eyes and full lips. He’s a jock. Baseball. You should see him in uniform.”
“Warm brown eyes, full lips! Tight pants! Stop it already!” Mattias says. “You’ll make it so I can’t stand without embarrassing myself!”
Now it’s my turn to kick his shins under the table.
“All caught up?” Mom asks as she come out from the kitchen onto the patio. She looks up at the sky. “Look to the south. It’ll be coming down hard in a couple of minutes. So, come on in now—dinner is about ready to be served.”
“Pork roast!” Mattias calls and jump up. Obviously my father’s cooking has fans other than Elizabeth Darwin.
Dad is busy carving the meat and loading the slices onto a serving platter, topping it all with those caramelized apples and raisins that spill out into the cooking dish with every cut. Mom sets the platter in the center of the kitchen table, where Elijah and I had earlier placed the extension leaf so we could seat eight. Missy places the mashed potatoes and pork gravy on the table. Elijah, looking long in the face from the scolding he’d been subjected to after school, puts down the salad bowl.
I’m glad Mom had agreed to let me invite Mattias over, too, and I take my seat next to his. He had been Emma’s friend as well, and it’s been a nice opportunity for all of us to catch up.
My mom and Elizabeth dominate the conversation, talking, though, mostly to one another. It’s like watching sisters who have been long separated. (Both of them are quite similar in their attitudes, mannerisms, and looks.) Dad listens politely, adding his thoughts occasionally. Emma, Matty and I talk about school now and about all of our old friends from elementary school. Emma asks about what everyone has been up to, who they’re dating, what their plans are. Missy is left out and looks bored. Elijah broods. He answers Emma’s questions with gruff tones, until she catches on to the fact that he’s in one foul mood.
Mom shoots Elijah a nasty look, which, too, doesn’t go unnoticed.
It rains heavily, the wind driving the heavy droplets against the sliding glass door, but it doesn’t last long, and by time we’ve finished the meal, and dessert has been served—apple pie served a la mode with caramel sauce—the storm has passed. Plate in hand, Elijah excuses himself to his room. Mom, Dad and Elizabeth take their plates and glasses to the living room—Missy joins them—while Emma, my boyfriend, and I return to the patio.
“The seat’s wet,” I tell Emma before she sits.
“Not a big deal,” she says.
Mattias sits next to me this time, shoulder to shoulder.
“What are your plans, after high school?” I ask.
“UCLA,” she says.
“California. I can’t wait.” She leans closer. “Rafael is going with me.”
“It’s serious, then,” I say.
“He’s kind of a traditional Mexican boy,” she says. “I think he wants to get married in the next year or so.”
“So it’s very serious,” Mattias says.
She pulls out her iPhone and brings up a picture of Rafael.
“Hot,” Matty and I say together.
“I think he might be the one,” she says.
“I’m thinking the same thing about Lysh,” Mattias says, placing his arm around my shoulder. He kisses me cheek.
I pull him in closer. “Me, too.”
“Things cool here, then?” she asks. “Are the neighbors cool with the two of you?”
“Some are,” he says. “Some aren’t.”
“My parents have stopped talking to half the people on this street,” I say. “A lot of very not nice rumors have been circulating since Matty and I hooked up last May.”
Then the conversation turns to other things, happier things, and before I know it, Mom and Elizabeth come out onto the patio.
“Em,” Elizabeth says, touching her daughter’s shoulder. “It’s getting close to eleven. We should be going back to the hotel. It’s a school night for the Bengtsens.”
After we see them out—Elizabeth promising to bring Michael with her the next time, later in the summer, when they plan to stay a week with her younger brother and his wife downtown Salt Lake—Mattias steers me aside.
“Would you mind walking me home?” he asks.
“Walking through the woods this evening, I thought I was being followed,” he says. “By a dog on the other side of the creek.”
“So,” I begin, “what you’re saying is that you want me to walk you home and then leave myself open to dog attack on the way back, right?”
“Uh, sorry,” he says, looking sheepish. “I guess I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”
“Look, I know the dark is scary sometimes, but we will not be crossing the river Styx, and Cerberus is not out to get you,” I say, teasing. “Besides, you’d make a small, gamy meal. Better to pass you by for better grinds, like a rabbit. Or a mouse.”
Mattias crosses his arms over his chest. “Fuck you,” he says.
I put him in a headlock.
“Seriously though, Elisha,” he says once he’s succeeded in pushing me away, “I heard something in the trees, rushing about. A dog. Maybe a cougar.”
“Cougars don’t come down this far from the canyon.”
“They’ve been known to.”
“I can get my dad to drive you,” I say.
“No. No. If I get torn apart—”
“Oh, I get it,” I say. “I get what you’re really after.”
“And what might that be?”
“Ya just wanna mess around in the darkened woods like we did the other night.”
He pats my rump. “Can’t fool you, can I?”
To be continued with Chapter Six....
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