• KL Forslund

Two Minutes to Midnight

It turns out that if you stand vigil in your wife’s hospital room for three days, you get a dream sequence. I can’t feel my feet anymore, but something was up when the clock froze at 11:58 PM. My eye honed in on the glowing green digits as the faint light illuminated the room where Rain lay unconscious since the goat attack at the wedding. The blanket covered everything but her peaceful face. A few strands from her loose hair draped across her nose.

I wanted to reach out to brush them aside, but my chosen out of the way spot against the wall opposite her was too far away. Also, as mentioned, my feet don’t work. Even the hand gripping my staff felt detached. I still had my other senses, like the slow beep of the heart monitor, or the musk of tobacco smoke filling the place.

Wait, what?

A glowing ember flared from the dark corner of the room, revealing the craggy face of Edward Wanase, Rain’s grandfather. He shifted and leaned forward, while his one arm drew the pipe out of his mouth. “So, this is where you have led her.”

“You can’t smoke in here.”

“And you can not be here after visiting hours. I guess somebody has privilege.”

“How’d you get here? You’re in Minnesota.”

He took another puff on his pipe. “Well, three days ago you called to tell me you gave my genius granddaughter brain damage. I turned into a crow and flew.”

“Or drove to Minneapolis and bought a plane ticket.”

The old man’s face appeared inches from mine as tobacco breath wafted over me. “Or I am cursed to haunt you.”

I recoiled as best one can when one’s feet became rooted to the ground. When I recovered, he stood by Rain’s bedside, failing to brush the hair off her nose. “What are you?”

“I am the wise stereotype Indian, come to warn you.” He shifted to consider me from a new angle. “Or perhaps I am Sungmanitu, here to trick her soul away from you.”

“I thought Coyote was from the Navajo.”

“Many of the Great Basin or Plains Indians have tales of Coyote. But I had to use the, what do you call it, Google, to find the Lakota word for him.”

“You’re a hallucination that uses search engines?”

Edward appeared in his chair, taking another draw on the pipe before answering. “Well, I never learned my people’s language because the white man sent me to a boarding school when I was a boy.”

“I’m sorry. Should I go back in time and kill them, for you?”

“Yes. Hmm. You mean it. That’s a very white man thing to say. In fact, that is why I’m here.”

“Darn, I don’t have a time machine.”

He kept the pipe in his mouth while he rubbed his chin with his one hand. “No, but I had not thought of time that way before. Changing the past you do not like. Very white of you.”

I tried to move forward, but my feet didn’t work. “Alright, I’m sorry. Can we stop having the same conversation where I offend you and then you insult me? Let’s get to the part of the spirit quest where we save Rain?”

A sadness came over his face.” Alex. If I can call you that. I am not here for Rain. There is nothing you or I can do for her.”

“Then why are you here, spirit?”

A chain rattled as he stood up. It uncoiled like a snake from his lap as it trailed from his wrist to my ankles. “You are on a dark path, and if you do not wake up, it will be too late. I am here for you.”

Thick chain anchored my feet as I tried to shuffle or twitch some life into them. “What is this?”

“Three spirits will haunt you this night, to woke you up, as the young kids say.”

“We’re doing a Christmas Carol? I fell asleep during the Patrick Stewart one man show.”

“Sorry. They made us read it at boarding school. But hey, there is time travel. Whi–No, I will not make that joke.” He raised his arm and gave the great snake of chain a mighty shake, yanking me off my feet and throwing me to the ground. My head struck the floor and a bright light filled my eyes.

***

The brightness resolved into blue sky on a warm summer day as I lay on the grass of my parents’ farm in Minnesota. A little girl with straight black hair and a tan face looked down at me. “Get up, até.”

“Rain?”

She shifted and a shadow slid over the face that might have been a young Rain. Then she smiled. “You can call me the God of Light and Air.”

“Huh?” She giggled and ran off. I rolled over to get up and noticed my staff next to me. Once on my feet, I set out to find her. We’d appeared in the backyard, well, behind the trailer house. Railroad ties interlocked lengthwise and formed a barrier around the yard to keep cows away if they got loose. I walked past the small garden my mother kept, working my way to the front porch where I found the GLA staring. As I approached, I heard crying.

She asked, “Why is he sad?”

I looked at the worn front porch step, where she pointed with her chin. Rain would never point with a finger, so I’d grown used to that. A little blonde boy with bright blue eyes sat on the stair, sobbing like he’d lost his best friend.

I took a step toward him when little Rain shook her head and said, “We cannot affect or touch anything. He cannot see us.”

“When is this? I don’t remember this. Aren’t you supposed to show me happier times?”

“This is your first day of death. It’s important.”

I stepped back to stand with the girl. Fine, let’s watch. The familiar sound of the inner door to the house opening, and the porch creaking, came to my ear. A moment later, my throat caught as a younger version of the man I hadn’t seen in over five years stepped out.

“Son, what’s wrong?”

Pabbi! She’s dead.”

Tears welled up and rolled unbidden as my father sat down next to little me and put a giant arm around his shoulder. My parents died on the way back from chemotherapy in Duluth when they hit a deer. I was detained in Helheim that year, and haven’t seen them since. They sat like that until the tears ended. Father didn’t stop them. I wiped away my own, and asked the obvious question. “How come they’re speaking English?”

“Your Icelandic is rusty, so I translated. Shh! I like this part.”

When the boy’s sobs subsided, Pabbi spoke, “Can you tell me what happened?”

“I–I found her. A baby deer past our mailbox. Somebody hit her with a car.” Little fists formed in helpless indignation.

Pabbi nodded. “Ja, that is bad. Her móður must be heartbroken. We can’t change what happened. But there is something else we can do. Would you like to help me?”

The boy’s tears stilled. “How?”

“Fetch the wheel barrow while I get some things. We’ve got some walking to do.”

I watched the younger me run to the barn, determination blazoned across his face. Memory returned to me. “It’ll be all Lord of the Rings for a while. Can we fast forward?”

Little Rain turned to me and said, “If I could spend a day with my father, I would not rush through it.”

I looked closer at the little girl, who looked like Rain. I’m uncertain where my subconscious came up with this adventure, but maybe the central cast members of my dream borrowed likenesses, rather than the real deal. We had a lot of walking ahead of us. The GLA and I followed father and son while they walked down the long driveway, past the cornfield on the right and the hayfield on the left. Short stalk heights told me we were in mid-June.

The walk continued past our driveway and toward Fennessy’s place. They were the last house on our dirt road. Before we got to the body, I tried to stop the girl, but she dodged me. “Listen, this is kinda gruesome. Are you sure you want to watch?”

“I was born in death.” She shrugged, and said, ”plus, I’ve seen this before. It’s why I selected this memory.”

Okay. It’s nice to see my subconscious is previewing the content to make sure it is suitable for children. Meanwhile, my father and mini-me reached the body. The neck arched back wrong and dried blood pooled from her mouth into the dirt and gravel road. White spots covered the small animal’s side.

Young me broke into tears again, while my father put on a pair of work gloves. Then he held out a smaller pair. “Son. I hear in America, they tell young boys to never cry. They get it wrong. It is fine to shed tears, but sometimes, we must put them away, and make time for them later. I need your help.”

As far as parental advice, it sounded nice. But my giant father could lift the tiny corpse by himself. He wanted participation. Little me wiped the snot off with a forearm and took the gloves. Pabbi positioned himself over the main body and nodded for the boy to take the head. The pair lifted and placed the fawn into the wheelbarrow with care and dignity. Nevermind that the wheelbarrow had pig shit in it earlier.

Then came more walking. I offered to take the little girl’s hand as we crossed the cornfield down the side, but she kept her arms folded around her. Suit yourself. There’d be additional walking, and the ground turned rougher after we crossed the old grove and into the marshy bit to the boneyard.

Ah, the boneyard. Where cows came to die. Or where my father hauled carcasses with a tractor. I’d spent enough time there each summer. One time, I reconstructed a beast. The next, I forged weapons from the bones. As a young farm kid does. But today would be different.

Father and son moved to take the body out of the wheelbarrow. This proceeded fine until the kid tripped over a rib. I reached out to help the boy up, but my hands passed through him. Light and air, indeed. Pabbi waited for his son to right himself and they got the corpse into position.

The child turned to leave, but Father stood, looking at the body. “You should say something, son.”

“Can’t you?”

“You are born for great things, my son. And it starts with small. This is your duty.”

The boy’s shoulders slumped for a moment as a mantle settled before he straightened up and approached the fawn one last time. He knelt in the dirt and laid a gloved hand on her side. “I am sorry this happened to you. You will live in Fólkvangr with others of your kind and none may hurt you. Hail to you, our blessed dead. May peace be between us.”

The two left with no more words while the GLA and I trailed behind them. She broke the silence, “That’s a lot of words for a five-year-old.”

“I dunno. My parents homeschooled me until high school. I think I cribbed part of it from the Sigurdifamal. Besides, aren’t you young?”

“I carry the memories of my forebears. I already attended highschool. Thrice.”

“Sucked,” we both said at the same time.

I looked at the sky as we walked. The evening star appeared as the sun set. “We’re getting to the last part of this quest, and they still need to feed the animals.”

“You don’t miss chores? Fine, let’s watch the stars come out while we skip past the whole walk through Mordor.”

“They’re just going to walk back the way we came with rifles. It’s not that great.”

Before I finished my sentence, the scene had changed. We sat on a log at the edge of the old grove. Far beyond it in the twilight, bits of white lay on the ground ahead of us. Bones.

“So, how does this fit into the Christmas Carol? I thought the past ghost takes Scrooge to a happy memory?”

“Beats me. I’ve never been on a spirit quest before.” She raised her head skyward. ”Wow. Look at all those stars!”

Ja, forgot about them when I left for college and later moved to Houston. Too much light pollution. I should have looked up more when I lived here.”

“Yeah.”

We listened to the frogs, and watched the great arm of the Milky Way reveal itself. Not quite silent, yet quiet. Eventually, father and son slipped through the trees to join us. He unslung a pair of rifles and rested them on the log where the GLA sat. She leapt up when the barrels intersected her body. Her eyes flared for a moment.

Pabbi whispered to my younger self, “The coyotes have grown in number and been harassing our herd. We’re going to take a few, so they won’t be so strong.”

“This is where you learned to kill.”

“Yep. Didn’t much care for the Fennessy’s, but can’t hold them responsible for the death of a fawn.”

She held her hands on her hips in a smaller rendition of the way Rain would. “So you took it out on some coyotes.”

“Were you paying attention? No. You don’t waste resources or opportunities on a farm.”

We watched the pair from my past settle in with the rifles resting over the log and aimed at the boneyard. Faint shadows trailed toward it, tracking opportunity. The child me tapped his father and pointed. He nodded, and the two zeroed in on targets. The coyotes yipped and nipped at each other as they scrabbled for first bites.

A loud double-crack split the night as both guns fired. The coyotes scattered, leaving two of their pack behind. Dark forms lay amidst alabaster remnants. Like a professional, the child ratcheted the slide on his rifle, preparing to stuff another round in before the pack vanished. Pabbi’s arm reached over to stop him. Father shook his head. This was enough.

“So your dad wasted over half a day, just to kill a couple coyotes?” Her voice carried the same native lilt as Rain when she said it.

“I guess. But spending it with me was the point. Listen, here’s the best part.”

The pair walked out to the boneyard to pick up their kill. His voice rang out clear as he began a song.

Þat mælti mín móðir,

at mér skyldi kaupa

fley ok fagrar árar,

fara á brott með víkingum

The world grew dark as they strode away. A steady beat filled my ears, as the GLA held her ground and though I tried to follow, something kept me back. Despite the constraint, my voice joined them for the repeat of the verse. The night took our chorus into blackness as the pulse of the song carried the tune away.

No, wait! I can’t leave yet.

***


The dim green light from the heart monitor cast a ghoulish profile of Rain as she lay in her hospital bed from my vantage point of the chair in the corner. For a moment, this seemed unreal, as more tears ran down. Why didn’t I stop to see my Móðir? Did I waste all that time? I glanced up at the clock on the wall.

12:59 AM

The weight of loss built as pressure behind my eyes. My parents died during the year I spent dead in Helheim. I never said goodbye. Now, when the moment came before me, I’d squandered it. Here Rain lay, and hanging at the threshold, and I’m helpless again. Nothing to do, according to Edward. Nothing came of praying to her ancestors and to Eir. For that, I’d gotten the Dickens treatment. So I’m going to cry. Fokk it.

“Are you ready?”

I raised my head to see Rain standing by the TV past the end of the bed. She stood in the same spot I spent my vigil. She held my staff, even. A double-take confirmed my comatose wife occupied the bed as well.

I sniffled and wiped my nose with the sleeve of my hoodie. “Rain?”

“I am the God of Technology and Algorithms.”

“T&A?”

“Yes, I thought something low-brow might cheer you up.”

I scratched my head, which reminded me that my hair needed washing. “Well, it was punny. I assume you are the ghost of Christmas Present?”

The God wore Rain’s rainbow dress and her hair flowed down, wild and billowing in the unseen wind. She stepped forward to the tray table at the foot of the bed. After raising the pitcher of water, she poured it into the plastic glass. “You stand on a precipice. Stray but a little, and–”

Water splashed as the cup overfilled onto the table. “I’m sorry, this is difficult to do while saying my lines.”

“How about we just get to the Tiny Tim scene. It’s almost midnight.”

She put the pitcher down. “This is going to be all literary, isn’t it?”

“Um, like a jackhammer to the moral compass, yeah.”

“I hated that English class. I never should’ve let you talk me into taking it with you.” Rain, aka GTA, half turned and extended her hand toward my staff, which had remained standing where she left it. It leapt into her grasp and she slammed the butt down. The shockwave knocked me back into my seat.

I blinked. The bar in front of me held three empty shot glasses. Behind it, a full-length mirror showed a guy with medical gauze over his left eye and a twenty gallon cowboy hat like the people who liked honky-tonk bars would wear. The same folks who also liked songs about losing their woman, dog, and/or truck playing while they rode the mechanical bull in the corner behind me.

On the plus side, nobody would sneak up on me thanks to this mirror. Ever since I got back from Helheim, I wore the eyepatch, and someone would always come up on me from that side. I looked down in front of me and discovered a bowl of mixed nuts. Who doesn’t love free nuts? Especially because I hadn’t eaten in three days, and had a few shots already. I grabbed a handful and crammed them into my mouth just as a slap on my back rocked me forward.

“And that’s how I lost my goat to some asshole with a knife in the park. Ain’t that the shit, cowboy?”

I turned to the left. Sonova–It’s the guy from the park, and I have a mouthful of bar nuts. I chewed as fast as I could, but the best idea I had was to spit them out into his eyes and run. Since my mouth was full, he introduced himself. “I’m Jackson, what’s your name?”

“Grmnir?”

He laughed. I chewed. Jackson took a stool beside me. “Barkeep! Beers for me and my friend, here.” The man didn’t waste time before continuing the tirade against the man who got his goat. “Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes animals get loose.”

I nodded with nutgrindage filling both of my cheeks.

“There’s always something going on at that park. And yeah, it’s funny as shit when Billy’d chase people around.”

My head bobbed sagely in acknowledgement. Where’s that beer?

“So last weekend, there’s some kinda wedding going on. Indians and whatevers.”

I almost spat my wad into his face right there.

“Some folks got tangled up in Billy’s horns. And this Rambofucker came out of nowhere. Shirtless and shit. Tackles my goat and slices his throat. Then he lifted him over his head and sprayed everybody with the blood. It was horrible. Covered the poor bride in blood. Just awful.”

My eyes widened as the beers approached, but I think Jackson thought I was in awe, so he continued the embellishment.

“Now I caught up to the guy later. He was butchering Billy and grilling him for dinner like a Discovery channel murder-hobo.”

I grabbed my glass, and he took it as a sign to clink, while the mass of nutmeat waited patiently.

“Now I’m not gonna lie. That monster towered over me like a giant. Crazy. I had to back away. But I tell you if I ever saw that prick on the side of the road, whump ba-dump, speed bump. Ha haa!”

I sort of nodded as I tilted my head back to clear out the over-chewed nuttage as it washed down with beer. Yuck. Why can’t this be a proper drink like mead?

When I came up for air, Jackson had further elaborated on how he’d recognize his foe anywhere because he saw some scars on the guy’s back. I’m sure he’d move on to telling me his devious plan about getting the guy to take off his shirt. Perhaps oil him up or something.

Jackson looked over at the other end of the bar before turning back. “Excuse me cowboy, but I gotta talk to that gentleman over there.”

And like that, he moved on to the next sucker to listen. The barkeep walked over with the tab. Which included the beers.

Fokk that goat fokker.

I reached into my hoodie where I stashed Jackson’s wallet during one of the many times he leaned in too close. He only had a driver’s license and a couple of fives. After memorizing his ID, I dropped the wallet, so it looked like it slipped out where he sat. I might as well use my money, it’s imaginary anyway. At least I still had a couple of twenties left. Our trip to Arizona tapped out what we’d saved for the trip. I hoped it was cheap drink night, but we can’t afford to stay in Arizona much longer. Add that to my list of real world worries.

When I turned to leave, Rain stood there. I wanted to rush forward to hug her, but held myself back. She’s not real, and not even her. Just some made up pantheon in my delusional imagination. The GTA motioned for me to join her, and she grabbed my arm, solid as can be. We walked out together into the cool evening.

Well, it should have been night, but the light intensified and we found ourselves in a hotel suite with open suitcases on the bed. Out the window, I saw the beach and waves in sunlight. Where and when are we?

I glanced back at Rain, who was looking into the open bathroom to our right as Harridas stepped out, naked and half wet as he toweled water off. The sound of a shower from the room emanated from behind him.

“Huh. So that’s what I missed out on.”

I raised my gaze and turned back to Rain. “Excuse me?”

“He asked me out once, but I thought he was too cocky.”

“Yet, you married me.”

Her eyes followed Harridas’ backside. “You back up your words.”

“Okay. So why are we here?”

“You tell me. I’m just following a program.”

I looked around the suite. A quick test proved we were holograms. My hand passed through a suitcase when I tried to move it. While I did that, Harridas unpacked the other suitcase, putting things into the dresser. Who does that? Rain and I kept everything in the suitcase when we traveled. I noticed something shiny with his underwear still in the case. Any moment, he’d put some on, and then I’d see what it was. I called back to Rain, “Would you stop looking at his ass?”

“He’s not real. This is your idealized version of him. Unless you’ve seen him naked.”

After another trip to the dresser, Haridas lifted some underwear, revealing his amulet. Technically, it was a jailbroken Blackberry with a metal shell and chain. He slid on the underwear before grabbing the rest and putting it away with the amulet. Nobody would dig into that, but why wasn’t he wearing it?

The sound of running water stopped. Jenny’s voice called out, “Hey, do you think Rain is going to be alright?”

Harridas closed the drawer before answering. “I’m not sure we should have left.”

“Alex said to go. He’s a little intense, but I’m sure he can handle it.”

“Naw. He’s a lot of fun most of the time.”

Jenny stepped out, also naked. I turned away. “He killed and butchered a goat at our wedding. That look in his eye. Scared me.”

Harridas stepped closer to his wife. “He’s been through some stuff. He kinda died for a while. I’d kill a goat, too, if it was going to hurt you.”

“Well, let’s try to enjoy our honeymoon. We can’t let what happened ruin this for us.”

“Yeah, well, it’s stuck on my mind.”

Jenny moved closer, hands reaching for him. I looked past the couple to Rain. “Can we get out of here? I’d rather some secrets stay unknown to me.

Rain headed toward the door, so I dashed around the couple before the undies came off and we found ourselves in the perfectly normal hotel hallway.

I faced Rain and asked, “So what was the point of all this? It’s off-track from the original story.”

She looked past me, her eyes focused on nothing. I checked behind me, but only found more hallway. Rain raised her hands and began swiping at mid-air. “Hang on, I’m checking for a synopsis. Oh, that’s the Little Tim thing.”

“You’ve got a search engine?”

The GTA tapped her forehead. “Third eye. I can Google, and do the Minority Report interface.”

She meant the movie where they manipulated hologram screens with your hands like the iPhone she got last year. The tech looked amazing for a figment of my imagination. But that didn’t matter. I’m not sure of the underlying metaphor in seeing what three people thought of me. Whatever.

Rain’s focus snapped back to me. “Hey, do you hear a beeping?”

“Um?” I listened. Something faint came to my ears. The pulse emanated from in front of me. I stepped closer to Rain as the beat grew faster. I brought my head down as I approached her.

“Alex, what’s going on?”

The sound pulsated from inside her chest. As I drew near, she appeared stretched, as if reality were pulling her away from me into a blackhole. The beeping became a single tone as I reached for her, arms never quite crossing the event horizon. All light drained into Fenrir’s black maw. The clock had struck midnight when all would be devoured.

***


From the darkness behind me, the opening notes to Beethoven’s Fifth sang out.

“Me-me, me, meeeeeeeee.”

I spun around to see a spotlight on a white haired man with an eyepatch, sitting on a raised throne. He wore an older version of the face I avoided in the mirror and gripped an edgier version of my staff as he stood up and pointed it at me.

The spotlight jumped to me as he sang, “You-you, you, youuuuuuuu.” A faint rumble accompanied him.

“Let me guess, you’re the God of–”

“Rain is dead. Ragnarok approaches. Did you do what you promised me?”

My blood pressure dropped, and a chill came over me as my fingers tingled. “What?”

“Did. You. Do. As. You. Promised?”

“I–”

Ja. No.”

I stumbled, and he stepped forward to catch my arm before I fell. He guided me to the lower step of his dais. “It’s those fokking deadly dwarves. I think this one is Shock. In time, Anger will show up, which is the problem.”

“What?” His accent carried the fullness of Iceland, after I’d practiced for years in high school to sound like everyone else.

“You didn’t think I’d require an accounting? You survive hanging for nine days, you prepare for Ragnarok.”

“But–”

Ja, ja. You know, the record for hanging upside down is thirteen minutes. Ja?”

“How?”

“Time. Wyrd. You make eddies. Lots of fokking forks. Three years to do this wizard thing, and what’ve you got for me? A stick that kills.” He raised his staff to bring the butt near my face and a bladed spearhead built itself from the end.

“Am–”

“Amulets? Those have potential. Had. You’re on the wrong fork. Behold.”

The light level raised to moonlight, revealing an adobe house that I’d not seen before. Behind the throne, a gray wall loomed far back, yet above us. He gestured with his staff. “Don’t mind my Ragnarok. Yours is nigh.”

My body moved, as if on auto-pilot toward the front door. Lock picks appeared in my hand and I knelt on my good knee to work it open.

He grumbled, “You don’t even have a spell for locked doors, yet.”

Once the tumblers released, I eased the door open and tiptoed into the building. As I advanced, He followed, while still standing on the dais as it passed through the collapsing doorframe. “I’ll sit down, this should be educational. Have you figured out why you’re here?”

“Is this my future?”

Ja.”

I headed down a hallway, like a cat burglar. “Is this Dwight Jackson’s home?”

“Correct again. You did your homework.”

“He killed Rain.”

Part of a sheet covered Dwight as he lay sleeping in his boxers. “And you can’t bring yourself to say it, but the knife is in your hand.”

How did that get there? My raised hand trembled as I resisted the moment. “I am not a murderer.”

From his throne, looming next to the foot of the bed, He said, “Then why are we here?”

The rage filled me as I fought to keep my hand raised against the memory of the goat readying to headbutt Rain again after she shielded a child. The goat was being a goat, but his owner gave no concern while my wife lay in a hospital until she died. Nobody would hold Dwight Jackson accountable.

The man who sat on the throne leaned forward. “I need you to not kill this guy.”

I brought my other hand to bear, straining to prevent my murderous destiny. Through gritted teeth, I said, “He killed Rain.”

His hands waved in the air as He tilted his head as if to study something. “Didn’t you say that, already? Yep. Six lines back. You’re looping. Must be Anger Dwarf.”

I glanced at him and saw the towering wall behind him through destroyed walls.

He kept his gaze on me. His electric blue eye piercing and steady. “Nevermind that. Let’s get back to the Christmas Carol.”

“It’s still,” I paused for breath, “November. Why that story?”

“Holiday colonialism. Saint Nick has been appropriating and encroaching for years. Didn’t you notice the store shelves in October?”

My hand slipped and lurched downward half a foot, “I hate that. Argh. I need happy thoughts.”

“Right, what’s the lesson of the story?”

“Don’t be a stingy bastard hoarding your wealth while others suffer and you miss out on friends and family around you.”

He shrugged. “Ufda. I guess that’s not applicable here. You’ve got thirteen bucks in your wallet.”

“Why is it so hard to not kill this man?”

“Ja, that’s it. We saw how young Alex whacked some wolves. And you didn’t seem to care what others think. Heck, you even let Dwight keep his money. But not his life. Not tonight.”

The weight on my arms grew and my biceps, meager as they were, trembled with the effort to hold the blade from its course. Yet, it slid a foot lower toward the sleeping man’s chest. “I don’t want to kill him, why hasn’t this stopped.”

“Because you do. You had weird but good parents. However, your morality isn’t like most folks. You missed out on an important lesson in kindergarten.”

The knife shifted low enough that I tried to put my back into pulling against it, but I couldn’t keep it up forever. The roaring in my ears resolved into definition as the wall behind him loomed closer. It coalesced into a great wave washing over us, driven by Jormungandr, the World Serpent. Not much time remained. I guessed at his riddle. “Um, sharing?”

“Ooh, that’s a good one. No. It’s Christmas. It’s not about presents. It’s not about dying and coming back. Or sacrifice. Well a little. It’s something you suck at.”

I tugged and pulled to keep the blade from its course. “I don’t know!”

His eye remained fixed on mine, steady and relentless. “Let the knife go.”

My shoulders ached as muscles wrenched and tore when the blade edged closer to Jackson’s heart. “No! This is a dream. A bit of indigestion. Some–”

“You haven’t slept or eaten in days. How long have you replayed events, planning not what you owe us, but this moment? Who are you, Alex Rune? A man holding a knife?”

“That’s not–”

He appeared next to me. His hands gentle as they took my shoulders. “Let it go. Forgive.”

I peeled my fingers off the buck knife as it stayed aloft, inches away from piercing Jackson’s heart. My legs wouldn’t hold me, but before I collapsed He scooped me up and set me into the chair in the corner of the hospital room. A steady beep accompanied me as more tears for the goat and what I almost became flowed out until darkness took me.

“Alex.”

I awoke to a whisper of my name. I glanced around the dim of the room as the clock read 6:39 AM. Then I heard it again.

“Alex.”

I looked toward Rain’s bed, to see her head turned toward me, eyes open. Her lips formed the word again.

I fell forward on my knees next to her bed while fumbling for her hand. “Rain,” I croaked. My voice wasn’t so good from a dry mouth and throat.

“Need paper. Pen. Can’t forget what I’ve seen.”

I scrambled to my chair, where my hoody draped over. In a pocket, I found the notepad I kept for ideas. Soon, Rain worked to capture diagrams and pseudocode for the vision she had for a new machine learning system. I returned to my seat, and committed what I’d witnessed to memory, as well. Because I can’t afford to hang on to that which held me back. That’s as close to Christmas as I might get for the Yule season.

By the time Die Hard finished on the hospital television, Rain had filled the tiny notebook and first notebook I’d bought when the gift shop opened. As I dug out the second one to give to her, the stench of pipe smoke hit my nose. I looked over to see Edward Wanase enter the room. Rain smiled at him, before grabbing the notepad from me.

My right knee twinged when I rose to greet him. I motioned to offer my chair. He extended a hand, and said, “You have stood the long watch through the hour of the wolf.” We shook. “Sit.” He guided me to the chair. “I flew from St. Cloud and my arms are tired.” I sat back down with relief as my body tried to catch up. He moved into position by the TV as my wife filled pages with the future. “I will watch her for a spell”


 

Happy Yule and many other holidays this time of year. I hope you enjoyed this trip into Alex Rune’s past and forgive the cliffhanger ending from Red Wedding. Which I hope you also read.

The bit of song came from Egils Saga, by Egill Skallagrímsson, a thousand years old. You might have heard it on the show Vikings. Another bit of public domain borrowing appears in the prayer young Alex gives from the Sigurdifamal found in the Codex Regius section of the Poetic Edda.

We owe a debt to Charles Dickens for the Christmas Carol. T’was a lot of fun, though also several weeks of work.

Special thanks to Google from whom all answers seem to burble. All the italic words mean something, and if I got them wrong, I’ll blame Google, but it was really my fault for trusting it.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a song from one of my favorite singers, Dan Vasc



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERuGkbtdDlw



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