There were several minutes of hugs from people I didn’t know, but who felt right. Anne hugged me for about thirty seconds, and then backed up, wiping her tears before asking me if I wanted something to drink. I could smell hot cocoa, and coffee, so I asked for both in the same cup. Mom would never let me drink much coffee, but Pops would occasionally pour a little in my cocoa when we thought Mom wasn’t looking. Coffee and cocoa together were great!
The older lady and the young man both hugged me at the same time, and I wrapped an arm around each. I couldn’t say anything, I didn’t know what to say. I was pretty sure the young man must be my son, and the older woman was almost certainly my mother, but I didn’t know them. It felt right, but I just couldn’t speak. The young man was calm and collected, but crying.
The older woman was sniffling heavily and using a handkerchief. After a hug, she took both her hands and cupped my face. “You don’t remember any of us, Zeke?”
“Anne still looks like Anne, but I don’t look at the rest of you and make a connection.” The older woman looked a little hurt. I lifted my right hand against her left where it was against my cheek. “I can tell this is family though, even if faces and names don’t match up like they should. It feels right.” I grinned and dragged the young man in for another hug, and folded the older woman in as well.
The big older man got up and walked around the table to give me a hug that felt like it might break some ribs. He didn’t cry or sound broken up, but said “You’re not supposed to go first, son.” Looking at me, he backed up, and with a speed I wouldn’t have guessed, but shouldn’t have surprised me after how he’d saved his coffee earlier, he reached up and tousled my hair.
I ducked my knees and covered my head with my right hand. “Stop that, Pops.”
The hand was already gone though, and the old man just nodded, said “That’s Zeke” and went back to his seat, and tore off a few more paper towels, beginning to clean pools of leftover spillage on the table. He tossed the towel roll to the young man, who was caught off guard and bobbled it a couple times before getting it under control. “Make yourself useful, Danny. Let’s clean up so your father can sit down with us and have a drink while we wait for our guide.”
After a couple minutes, the table and floor were cleaned, the cups refilled. I had a cup of cocoa with a bit of coffee, and I was starting to tell stories about the cool stuff Coyote and I had done.
Oh, I forgot.
“Sir…” I paused, looking at the younger and older men at the table. “Coyote, Sir, are you still here.”
Coyote poked his head around the corner from the foyer, looking into the dining room. “Yes, Zeke, I’m still here.
“I’m awful sorry, Sir, but I didn’t introduce you earlier in all the excitement. Coyote, meet Anne, my wife, Danny, my son, Edward, my father, and Colleen, my mother.”
I hope I remembered Mom and Pops’ names right.
“I think that’s understandable, Zeke, thank you for the introduction.” Coyote gave a very short bow to the entire room of us.
Anne looked very nervous. “Would you like a drink, Coyote? We have water, cocoa, coffee, beer, and I think Zeke still has a bottle of good whiskey in one of the top cabinets to make coffee with on days when he had to work outside in the cold.”
“I don’t need anything, but I wouldn’t turn down a glass of water to honor the hostess, Mrs. Collins.”
Danny asked quietly. “Coyote, do we need to invite you in, to make it more comfortable for you?”
“Hmm, no. The threshold here barely exists. It is of no concern to me, but thank you for your thoughtfulness, Danny.”
“You’re the one who found my boy?” The older man, Pops, spoke, carefully.
“No, Elder Collins, I did not find your boy. A Valkyrie named Hildr found where he had been hidden. After she found where he was, I forced an entry to allow us to retrieve him.”
“Teamwork then. Thank you, and please thank Hildr as well.” Pops nodded his head, slowly
“If you wish to thank us, all you need to do is turn your thoughts to us every now and then, remember our names, and what we have done for you.”
The older woman looked a little uncomfortable, and Coyote looked towards her. “It need not be a prayer, Madam Collins, just a thank you. You can even pray to another, on my behalf, if you like.”
Anne had retrieved a glass, poured water over a few pieces of ice, and then brought it to Coyote, hesitantly handing it to him. She was clearly in distress as she approached him.
“Anne, he’s not going to hurt you. He’s one of the good guys now.”
Coyote reached out with his left hand, long before he could possibly take the glass from Anne directly. Anne’s face got a funny look for a second, and then she let go of the glass. The glass immediately floated away from her, crossing the gap between them, until Coyote pulled it out of the air and carefully took a drink. It was pretty cool to watch him drink from a glass. He didn’t spill any of it. He stuck his tongue way out, rolled it into a ‘u’ shape, and then poured the water onto his tongue, letting the water roll down his tongue like it was a roof gutter. “Thank you for the hospitality. Don’t worry, Mrs. Collins, despite the teeth, I rarely bite, and have no plans to do so today.”
Anne stuttered a little. “Coy. Coy. Coyote, Ali and Mat. Matty were scary sometimes. I’m so. so. sorry, but you frighten me even mo. more, even though you helped save my husband. Please do not take off. offense.”
I reached out and took Anne’s hand as she slowly backed away from Coyote. She gripped my hand hard enough to hurt as she carefully sat down.
Coyote tilted his head a little bit. “If it makes you feel any better about me, Mrs. Collins, your little temple dog there would be yipping its head off if I intended harm to you, your husband, or your son. It might even have the bravery to attack me. Temple dogs tend to be a wee bit aggressive, bordering on insane, if their charges are threatened.”
A black and white throw rug in the corner of the room, which I had looked past several times and not even realized it was a dog, moved, barked once, and then sniffed in disdain before settling back down to watch us all.
Coyote’s tongue rolled out the side of his mouth, as he glanced at the little furball, clearly amused. After a moment, he looked back towards the table, turning his head from side to side, looking at Anne and Danny. “That doesn’t even count the wards that Ali designed for you. That’s a pretty clever design to work on non-practitioners. I’ll have to compliment him. If I had come intending harm, those wards would have been causing you extreme pain.”
Anne and Danny both nodded slowly, and seemed to relax a little. Anne was still watching him closely.
Coyote’s ears both swiveled towards the front of the house, and he took a deep breath through his nose. “Ah, it begins. We have company. Hildr and Sigrun. It might seem terribly mundane, but I would suggest you all take a little time in the restroom. Asgardians will sometimes do ceremony in minutes, so they can all rush off and turn up a few horns of mead in a feast hall, but sometimes, for reasons I’ve never understood, those same ceremonies take hours, even days. In the longer ceremonies, if anyone leaves, the ceremony stops, and everyone who feels any need to eat, drink, or take care of other minor issues will go and do those things. The ceremony starts again when everyone is ready. Asgardians do not like to be shown up by Midgardians though, so if you all can remain in the ceremony for an extended time, none of the Asgardians will leave. If any of you have to leave for any reason, you should all go as a group, do anything you need to do, and return as a group.”
The front door opened, and a powerful woman’s voice sounded out. “Please tell me this is not the family home of the man we rescued, Coyote. There’s practically no threshold, and if the family bonds are as weak as the threshold, Odin will see the reason for it.”
Coyote shook his head. “Hildr, brash one, this home is no longer where the family resides, it is only a meeting place, at least for now. Come, see the family and judge for yourself, Odin will find no fault with the strongest ties that bind blood.”
Another female voice spoke, in a whisper, but still clearly audible, “I told you that the wife and son lived elsewhere, for their safety.”
Are they acting or something?
Gods should be able to talk to one another without me hearing, right?
Anne’s forehead crinkled a little and she was clearly thinking.
“You two can stop playing games, Mr. & Mrs. Collins have already seen through it.”
A very large woman appeared in the foyer beyond Coyote, and an only slightly smaller woman stepped up closely beside her. Both of them were fair skinned, wide of shoulder, heavy of breast, wide of hip, with long braided hair that seemed to be in a cloth sheathe of some sort. The taller one was very tall; the wings on her helmet occasionally scraped the ceiling, which was clearly irritating her. She removed her helmet and carried it in the crook of her left arm, exposing a somewhat plain face with a nose that had obviously been broken at least once, brilliant blue eyes that never stopped moving, and platinum blonde hair. Her right hand never strayed long away from the sword at her right hip. Her armor was full-body, and appeared to be made of little scales, making it appear like silver fish skin. Between her weight and the weight of the armor she wore, the floorboards complained loudly.
The other woman looked like the first woman’s twin, except a full head shorter and proportionately smaller in every way. There were other differences. The second woman had golden blonde hair, not platinum blonde, and her nose hadn’t been broken. Her armor was the same, but instead of a sword, her belt carried a strap connected to her helmet that hung there. She carried a wrist-thick quarterstaff, shod with metal of some sort. As she stopped moving next to the first woman, she tapped her staff on the ground, carefully.
The little temple dog trotted to where it could see the two newcomers, sniffed the air, huffed a couple times, and then curled up next to the pantry door, where it could again see everyone in the dining room as well as the two women in the foyer.
The larger woman, Hildr, began to speak. “I suppose we’ll get right down to business then. Coyote is right. Relieve yourselves. Take a few minutes. If you have need of medications, bring them. Eir would be more than happy to treat any ailments, but if you collapse in the ceremony, it might be taken as a bad omen. If you require a seat, do not hesitate to ask for one. Again, collapsing during ceremony is not a good idea. Other than that, treat it as a semiformal event. I have been told that in light of the circumstances of one of our guests, formality will be relaxed.” She smiled, and clapped her gauntleted hands lightly, creating a loud jangling metallic sound. “Step to it.”
We all got up. I didn’t know this house at all, so I followed Anne. As I left the room, I heard the smaller woman, Sigrun’s voice. “Coyote, you mean to tell me you really don’t know why Odin’s ceremonies vary so much in length?”
Coyote’s voice answered. “No, I don’t. About the only Asgardians I know well are Loki, because we’ve been at odds from time to time, and Heimdallr, because we find it challenging to practice our abilities against each other. Everyone has been to a few Asgardian ceremonies, of course, but even so, all of the rest of you are either unknowns to me, or barely known. Is this something you want everyone to hear?”
“Now that we aren’t forced to remain aloof and strongly discouraged from interacting with humans by subversion that we never knew existed, there is no harm in giving up a few details here and there about ourselves. You have certainly embraced this ‘information age’ of humans quite readily. Many of us are watching you, and I know you know it. Few of us will want to be quite so… hands on, but we still watch and learn.”
Coyote’s voice was the next one I heard. “OK, I’m hooked. Why are Odin’s ceremonies so long sometimes, and so short at others?”
Sigrun spoke again, I could feel the smile in her voice, even through the walls of the house. “Thor. Thor hates ceremony. The more annoyed Odin is with Thor at any given time, the longer ceremonies will be. If Thor has been in Odin’s good graces, the ceremonies will be short.”
I was apparently not the only one listening in, as I heard Pops laugh, a single short “Ha!”
Hildr’s voice resounded through the house. “Indeed, Elder Collins, from what I can see of you and your son, as fathers, you and Odin probably would agree on many things, despite your occupation as a simple farmer.”
I wasn’t in the bathroom any longer, I was waiting for Anne, like she had asked me to do. I could barely hear Pops’ response. “I don’t know about that, Ma’am, but if I caught your name right, you’re the one who found my boy?”
“I did. It’s normally not my place to find the living, but it happens from time to time when my liege, Odin, tasks me with watching a mortal who then becomes lost. It was a challenging search, and even after I found where he was, I could not find a way into the place. Coyote should be thanked for that feat.”
“Hildr, Coyote told me that remembering you by name for what you did for my boy would be sufficient payment for what you’ve done for me, but I’d hear that from you as well, if you don’t mind.” Pops voice was shaking.
“Having a few voices, glasses, or horns raised in praise to me for helping to save a life as opposed to safely gathering and guiding the dead won’t harm me at all, Elder Collins. There’s honor in both. What Coyote told you is not a trick, if you were thinking it might be.”
Pops started talking in a shaky voice. “I vow that for as long as I have my wits, every time I give thanks for my boy’s life, I will try to remember to thank the both of you by name. I cannot vow for her, but I know my wife. She holds strongly to her Baptist beliefs that we once shared together. I suspect you will figure high in her prayers, as Coyote said she might do. She’ll certainly come out of the restroom mad if I’ve said anything wrong, because I know my voice carries.”
When did Pops lose his faith?
That must have been a hard blow to Mom.
Anne came out of the restroom, finally. “It took your mother and me over thirty years to get you to put the toilet seat down, Zeke. I know you’ve lost some memories, but you need to work on remembering that one, please.”
I didn’t know what to say, other than “Sorry, Anne.” I knew I was blushing.
Anne laughed and pulled me into a hug. “Zeke, I was kidding. I’ll put up with a thousand lifted lids to have you back.” She stopped hugging me and sniffled a little bit. “Even if your memory doesn’t let you be the husband I know, I’ll settle for a childhood friend again. Your parents are young enough to make you an adult again, I think. Your memories might come back with therapy or just with time.”
“Anne, I hope so. When I saw you, I got some memories back for a little while, I remember that, but I can’t remember them now, so the memories are there, hiding in my head. One of the trucks outside made me think I remembered it too, but I don’t think I got any memories from it.”
Anne smiled. “You and that damned old truck. Danny and I have wanted to get you a new truck for so long, but we have been afraid to, because we were afraid the new truck would just be ignored, or you would feel obligated to give up the old one and be annoyed at us.”
“Does the old truck still run good and do everything I need it to?”
Anne laughed. “The exact same argument. I’m not winning that argument with you when you’re a kid either, I see.”
I shrugged. “Mom and Pops raised me right. At least that’s what they always said they were trying to do. Waste is wrong, if you can avoid it.”
Anne looked at me funny. “I can’t argue with that, I guess. I don’t remember you being this adult when you were a kid. I think some of the adult you is coming through, even if your memories aren’t right.” She shook her head. “Did you wash your hands? Have you brushed your teeth today?”
I couldn’t remember.
“I don’t know. I think I washed my hands. Did you hear the water running? I can wash them again.” I stepped into the bathroom turned on the water, grabbed the bar of soap, and started to wash my hands.
Anne looked in the medicine cabinet. “Here we are, your travel toothbrush. Figured you would leave it here.” Anne put the toothbrush on the flat part of the sink next to the faucet and moved some toothpaste next to it. “Zeke! Why is your hand bleeding?”
I looked down. Red in the sink. I guess I was bleeding. “I guess I hurt myself, Anne.” I washed the last of the soap off my hands and reached for a towel, but Anne grabbed my hands before I grabbed the towel.
“Let me see.” Anne turned my hands over, back and forth and squeezed them, finally finding that I was bleeding from a torn edge of a fingernail.
“How did this happen, Zeke? Why didn’t you tell anyone you were hurt?” Anne asked.
“I dunno. I didn’t know I was hurt, Anne. I can’t feel hurt anymore. Coyote says that’s one way my power was shut off.” What else had Coyote said about my power? “I can’t feel scared anymore either. I can still feel things and be happy, but those things don’t make my power work. If I ask him nice, Coyote can heal it. I was hurt really, really bad before, and he fixed it. I got to eat lots of cheeseburgers and milkshakes too, Coyote said I ate over two hundred cheeseburgers to let him heal me!” I did the math in my head. Fifty-two weeks minus summer vacation and winter break, so forty weeks times five days. “That’s a cheeseburger every day at school for a whole year, Anne, and I ate that much in one day! He can’t fix the things the Ahmed guy did in my brain though. That’s what we’re going to see if we can get fixed today, right?”
Anne held up a finger. “One second, Zeke, let me think about all you just said.” A few seconds later, she looked at me sadly. “Yes, Zeke. Sigrun and I already spoke about what sorts of things I might ask for in a boon, on your behalf. Odin doesn’t like doing things by half measures. If I ask him to restore your mind, he’s going to want to do his best to restore everything. This is because you, with everything restored, will be the man who earned the boon Odin offered. You, only partly restored, would not be the man who earned the boon. You might be a better man, or a worse man, but you still wouldn’t be the man Odin offered the boon to. It might even make him mad, if he felt I was asking for you to be partly restored just for my own selfishness, and Sigrun warned me that Odin can be very harsh when he’s mad.”
Anne hugged me, and put her head on my shoulder, and started crying. “Zeke, I know how much you hated your power, but if I don’t ask for you to be fully restored to what you were, Odin may do something terrible. Even if he only partly restores your mind, you may resent me for the changes you would have to make in your life.”
I held Anne against me, putting a little pressure on her back in a loose hug.
What would Pops say?
I have no idea. This is just too weird.
“Anne. When I was a grown up, was I a good man?”
“Yes, Zeke, one of the best, I think, but I’m a bit biased. I loved you. I love you.” Anne sniffled.
“If I was a good man, Anne, ask Odin to make me that man again. If the grown-up-me complains about it, tell him I asked you to do it, because you loved me the way I was.”
Anne stopped moving for a second, and then tightened her hug on me and started shuddering more than before. I held her tighter, and she started to shudder even harder. I started to panic a little.
I said something wrong.
What do I do now?
“Hahahahaha!” Anne gently pushed me away and sniffled, smiling a bit crookedly at me. “I will, Zeke, and I hope the adult you says something, because I want to see his eyes cross when I tell him what you just told me.”