Anyplace Else(4)

By: Kim Fielding

“You’re going to change your name tomorrow?”

“It will change on its own. For the solstice. And I will be quite weak—so I will lose when Chernobog fights me.” Perun sighed. “He will slay me two nights from now.”

Thoroughly confused, Grant squinted at him. “Some guy’s trying to kill you? Have you told the police?”

Perun smiled sadly. His eyes were ancient. “The police cannot help. But do not worry. I will return one day later as Dazhbog, and I shall remain Dazhbog until I become Perun again a few days later.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I know. It is too much. Perhaps we should talk of simpler things. What is your name?”

Grant told him, and then somehow, while eating the rest of the apple—core and all—he also ended up telling him about his stupid job and boring life, about Uly’s upcoming nuptials, about his own terminal case of bachelorhood. Perun listened closely, as if this pathetic recital were the most interesting tale in the world.

“So you are lonely too,” he said when Grant ran out of words.

“I guess so. Yeah, I’m lonely.” Saying it out loud didn’t help.

Perun scooted slightly closer. “It hurts, does it not? Pains one like a wound.”

“I don’t even know you. You don’t have to—”

“Once there was a youth, and he— May I tell you this?”

“Sure.” It probably wouldn’t make sense, but Perun had sat patiently while Grant blabbed.

“Thank you. This youth was lonely. He was yet quite young and lived in a tiny village, but also he was attracted to other men in a time and place when such a thing was not acceptable. He knew he would never have a beloved. This made him very sad.”

“I can imagine.” Grant was lucky. When he and Uly jointly came out of the closet shortly after graduating from college, their parents took the news like troupers and supported them both. Their mom and dad had died young—different kinds of cancer—but they’d left Grant and Uly with the solid certainty of their love.

“Perhaps this youth’s sadness made him ill. He took a terrible fever, burning like fire even though it was the dead of winter and he lived in a frigid place. Not like here.” Perun smiled slightly, and then his face grew serious. “The fever was so hot that it drove him from his little house out into the woods, and there he wandered through the snow until the cold overcame his heat. He collapsed and died in those woods, all alone, and the animals gnawed his bones bare, and his family never found him.”

“That’s terrible!” Grant didn’t care if it was only a story. He could feel the chill biting at him, feel the awful fear of being lost forever. He shivered.

Perun placed a comforting arm around his shoulders. “But the youth had one stroke of great fortune,” Perun said. He smelled good, like Christmas trees. “He died at the winter solstice. It was a holiday—Koleda. The sun dies and will soon be reborn, and the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead become thin and fragile. It is a time when the impossible becomes… a possibility.”

“It’s Koleda now, huh?” Because this afternoon Grant’s life was definitely feeling down-the-rabbit-hole-ish. He blamed the cute waiter.

“It is. Some parts of that festival were later adopted by a new religion and became part of Christmas. But the youth lived in the time of old gods. And one of those gods… well, perhaps he took pity on him. Or perhaps he was simply weary of being a god. It gets tiresome.”

“Like being head of human resources.”

Perun chuckled. “Just like that. This particular god, the one who found the dead youth, he… resigned, I suppose. Handed his position over to the youth. Which was very much better for the youth than being dead, I assure you. Although it did not cure his loneliness. And other gods demanded he pay a price for the honor—demanded he take their place as well.”

A butterfly flitted over and landed on a nearby leaf. It looked like a monarch, but in black-and-white, and it seemed to regard them for a moment before flying away. “So this poor kid had to do the jobs of three gods?” A similar thing had happened to Grant when his company downsized a few years earlier.

“Yes, but not all at once. Most of the time, he was the first god, the god who found him. Perun. But as Koleda neared, he became the second god, Hors, the dying sun. And soon after, Dazhbog, the reborn sun.”

Grant gave Perun a long look. “So this is your story. You were the kid who died, and now….”

“Now I am Perun. Until tomorrow.” He shrugged.