Landing in Houston should be the last leg in my odyssey. My neck hurt from staring out the window at the grey clouds with my good eye. It beat folks looking at me to see the other one. Or they’d wonder what happened to most of my teeth. I’d go through another round of ugly looks before I’d finally get home to see Rain. Would she even want to? She couldn’t come to see me when the embassy got me to Germany. I got it, she couldn’t afford the expense and time away from the company she built while I was dead in Helheim for a year.
Keeping my head down, my cane and I worked through the crowds to get out of the terminal. I’d lost everything in Afghanistan so the only baggage I had was in my head. Because of my dual citizenship, Iceland gave me some cash and papers when the US denied my existence. I’m sure I’ll have to pay them back some day, but there should be enough for a cab home. How much do those even cost these days?
I stopped and turned back toward the voice. The whole departure area stopped. Everyone looked at me and what I’d lost. Not at the one armed Native American with a long white ponytail standing a few feet behind me while holding a sign with my name. Edward Wanase. His name. Not the one on the sign. My wife’s grandfather. He’s not a fan of me. And this is who she sent to collect me. Another omen of a storm ahead.
Besides everybody knowing who I am now, how’d he even recognize me? I don’t look like me anymore. Even my hair turned white, so there’s not much left of my face to recognize. After my experience, I’m not even sure if I am me. But there he was, closing the distance between us like a hunter finishing off his prey. He stopped before me as he tucked the sign into the armpit of his stump. His gaze scanned over me, from my lost and found shoes to the scraggly white hair on my head as I had nowhere to turn to hide. My head ached from the light and blur from the ruin of my left eye as the signals tried to reconcile with my right. Get it over with old man. Say something about another of my shortcomings.
He walked past me and headed toward the doors leading to the departures pick-up and parking area. People made way as he passed, and I had no choice but to limp behind in the old warrior’s wake. He served in Vietnam. Killed quite a few people by hand with his blade, before a grenade slowed him down. The aura of not messing with him was strong. I suppose I envied his power of being taken seriously. As opposed to people just being afraid of me. Which I imagine a younger version of myself thinking that would be cool. But it sucked.
We reached the outdoors and sweltering humidity of Houston’s early summer. The air reeked of swamp, exhaust, and something tainted. My grip on my cane tightened as my senses kicked into overdrive. The beating in my chest thundered in my ears as my vision tinted red. Edward stopped to check and said, “You wait here. I’ll get the car.” He must have thought I was winded.
He walked off with his confident stride and people and cars made way for him to the parking lot across the street. I stood where I stopped, five feet shy of the doors, and the berth around me grew wider. Eyes stole glances at the monster in the airport while my senses took in everything. A man whose wallet peaked out from his back pocket as he climbed into an SUV. A woman struggled with too many little hands and not enough big ones to handle the luggage. Cries of joy as an old woman reunited with her daughter. The odor of cinder and tar from Hel’s custodian grew stronger.
Despite the cordon of fear around me, a sun-reddened man crossed my embiggened sphere of personal space while dragging his girlfriend by the arm. He pushed her against the pillar to my right where he thought no one could see. A cherry red ember hung from his lips via the short dick stick cigarette in is mouth. “Listen you slut. You don’t talk to other fucking men.” His free hand reached for his cigarette as it flared red, and he plunged it into her upper arm. And that was it.
She winced with practiced silence as her skin burned, and my left eye flared with a berserker’s rage. I don’t remember closing the ten-foot gap between us. But I do remember my cane taking out his knee from behind. Pulling it clear before it became trapped, I speared it into his floating rib as a nearly toothless roar of fury thundered. His arms came up to protect himself and soon we were playing tug and twist with my aluminum cane. Then it bent. A few more twists and yanks and we both had jagged weapons to play with.
Valhalla beckoned to me as I screamed my war cry and lunged to finish this kvenhatari. An immovable object halted my less-than-unstoppable force. Namely I weighed a hundred pounds soaking wet now, and adrenaline could only do so much. A dark-skinned hand gripped my wrist holding the safe end of my cane which led to a police uniform and solidly built Hispanic police officer with a buzz-cut. My foe seized the moment to leap to his feet and get a good stabbing on me when he, too, halted, though this time it was a pistol readied at his face level. This police officer could multi-task.
“Sirs, you both need to drop it.”
I blinked. Where was I? An airport. And not killing the Man in Black. Most of the fire emptied out of me, but I kept a good glare going for the asshole in front of me. A double tink of German engineered half-cane echoed in the less noisy departure area. He shrunk back. Whether it was from the Glock in his face or me, who could tell. The officer kept talking, “I saw what happened, but this gentleman,” he raised my trapped hand, “interceded faster. Do you have a ride sir?”
He continued, “Good. Step over there to wait for them. See the VA for a new cane.”
“I didn’t serve.”
He smiled and shrugged as he released my hand. “Fooled me.” Then he turned to the smoking shithead, “As for you, that’s assault, and we don’t need her to press charges. You’re under arrest.” The officer backed the man toward the wall to do the standard cop show routine, but I did catch the name on his badge. Deputy Hermanos.
While reacquainting myself with the present, I took my required steps, albeit gingerly now that my right kneed reminded me how messed up it was. Life resumed and I turned to face the cars and they putted through to pick up passengers In short order, Edward pulled up in his rusty old ’69 Buick Wildcat. Skit, he had this car back when Rain and I were in college. It still ran, and probably couldn’t pass emissions testing, but exempted because it qualified to be a classic.
When I lowered myself into the front passenger seat, he asked, “Where’d your cane go?”
“I’m going to need a bigger stick.”
He grunted, which is what passed for most of our few, infrequent conversations over the years. The car pulled out in as smooth a fashion as a thirty-five-year-old car could handle on the potholed airport roads. The dark sky loomed overhead as the adrenaline crash hit me and the crapitude of my nature sunk in. Then Edward broke the silence with one of his rare short stories meant to instill confidence in my insufficiency as a suitable husband to his Lakota offspring.
“My daughter married a man from another tribe. She met him in the Cities.”
The sky darkened a bit more. “I knew he was hurting her. But she said it was fine.”
“I should have taken my knife to him, but I had thrown it away. So instead I prayed.”
Those clouds couldn’t be any darker now.
“The answer came when he drove home drunk with my daughter, with my wife and our grandchildren in the back seat, but only my grandchildren came home.”
And there it was, the absolute darkness fitting of the hole they kept me in and the things I had to do to survive that cost me my eye, and the bargains I made to escape.
“Your parents died a few months back in a car crash. Deer.”
Thunder rumbled from above and the torrent dropped down and from my mouth. “Hvað annað er hægt að taka Norn frá mér. Móðir Faðir? Þeir klæddust mig, börðu mig og skildu mig eftir með ekkert nema eiðana sem ég lagði til að snúa aftur. Og nú er ég bara þetta hálf-mannlega hlutur reiði og hefndar sem enginn þolir sjónina. Enginn kom fyrir mig, svo ég fórnaði sjálfum mér. Augað mitt. Dauði og blóðsúthellingar lágu fyrir aftan mig og nú fyrir mér. Nafn Óðins er of þungt. Ef konan mín óttast mig, komdu með hnífinn þinn. Þetta er allt sem er eftir af mér.”
The Buick pulled over to the side of Greens Road as nothing could be seen but walls of rain pounding the roof of the car and road into submission. We sat in the deafening silence of white noise, with not even a classic grunt to acknowledge what I’d said. I didn’t feel better. Besides, we don’t speak each other’s language anyway.
Eventually, as all storms in Houston do, the aquatic bitstream subsided. Edward released another classic line, “The rain has cleared the way,” and we resumed our journey on roads made slick by decades of oil droplets and brought to vigor again. Still, the Wildcat managed and eventually we made it to Camelot Park, our subdivision. The home I’d left to save our mortgage still stood, but would my marriage?
Edward’s low-riding car thunked over the lip of my driveway to pull up beside our old Geo Metro. That part hadn’t changed. In front of the two-story house, I glimpsed Rain sitting in one of our more faded plastic chairs under the porch roof. Two native men stood before her. One beat a drum and the other kind of danced. I don’t know if this was a ritual to banish me or something. Given what happened at the airport, that’s a good idea. I miss my wife with everything I gave up to be here, but she can’t see me like this.
I climbed out of the car with my knee sending a spike of pain to remind me it’s also not alright. Doing the best I could, I hobbled around the car door and worked my way to the porch. I angled the left side of my face to the street, and Edward, so she’d only see my good, clear, blue eye. Then my knee gave out, and I stumbled.
Arms made strong by secret burdens, gripped me, and held me fast against the pull of gravity and despair. My wife stood tall before me, albeit, still a tad shorter than me. Her long black hair pulled tight into a braid and draped forward over her shoulder. A hint of crow’s feet led to the same dark bottomless wells that were here eyes. Eyes that scanned and analyzed every pixel of me.
“You came back.”
“I came back wrong,” I croaked. My voice parched from a year without rain.
“You came back to me.”
I turned my head so she wouldn’t see as she buried her face against my chin and chest. Once again, the drumming sound carried the falling streams away. Not one for prolonged contact, she drew back a step, as I kept my worst eye away. She grabbed my chin and scrutinized.
“I would see all of you as you are, husband.”
“I am not what I once was.”
The sun came out from behind a cloud, stabbing me right in the badly scarred retina lens thingy. My headache came back. I held up a hand to block it as I winced.
Rain said “You are what you became.” She brought a hand up to my face to shield my wounded eye. “You’ll need an eye patch.”
The drumming and singing stopped. Rain introduced her cousins. Benjamin Tallbird and Crow Just Crow. The duo were showing Rain a song from their still forming band Rezonance. Edward had asked them to help make the thirteen-hundred-mile trip from St Cloud in Minnesota. We all went inside because it’s fokking hot in Houston and they talked about times back home and I didn’t talk about times in Helheim being dead. That was good. I didn’t enjoy that when the “State Department” grilled me in the hospital back in Germany. So not talking felt kinda nice. I could see how that appealed to Edward.
Much later, Rain and her cousins were cleaning up in the kitchen, while I sat in another plastic chair that replaced the expensive recliner we’d gotten on sale from Mattress Mack back when our jobs and Dynegy and Enron existed. Edward came in from the backyard where he’d smoked his pipe. The scent felt different from what I’d experienced earlier. No painful memory tied to the sweet aroma of natural leaf tobacco. Just in time before the usual classic quick tale of inadequacy from Edward. He stopped by my chair for a moment to pinch off another turd of nostalgia.
“When I returned home from Vietnam. There was no one there to greet me.” I cocked my head to look him straight on. How’s this one going to end? I waited for the punchline. Something about me not having any friends or family. But he’d wandered off to the kitchen while I sat in my comfy chair, amidst the sounds dishes being put away. From my throne, I could see much was lost from before. But some remained.
I was home.
I’m writing this year’s Alex Rune Thanksgiving story from the tale end of a multi-week business trip. Heck, these very words are forming in an airplane as I finally get to come home just before the holiday. It’s a rewrite of a draft I started a few years back and lost when I decided to finish it this week. The gist is the same, but I remember having a powerful Alex Rune monologue full of his despair in the best Icelandic Google Translate I’d ever gotten. This is not that monologue. It’s just a tribute. For those who speak the language, I’m sorry. Alex Rune’s grasp of it from his childhood is about as good as Google Translate.
You can find more Alex Rune stories at