Anyplace Else(6)

By: Kim Fielding

“But he says he’s going to be murdered!”

She shrugged. “There are worse things. Do you know about the ao-kuewa?”

Grant shook his head.

“They’re a kind of ghost,” she explained. “Spirits who had no friends when they were alive, and now they wander the islands with no home and no family to worship them. Better to be killed once a year than stuck being ao-kuewa.”

He stared at her. Maybe she’d had some of that special green drink too. Maybe all of this was some elaborate joke played on mainlanders. Finally he sighed. “You can’t help him?”

“Nobody can help him. But I think he’s enjoying his stay here, and he’ll be able to enjoy it some more after he resurrects. I hope you have a good holiday with us too.”

There didn’t seem to be any point in pressing the matter, so Grant nodded and walked away.

THE WEDDING party had chartered a catamaran to take them to a secluded bay where they spent the day snorkeling. Uly smiled at Grant, the bonfire casting dancing shadows on his face. “I’m glad you came with us today. It was fun, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.” The water had been so clear and the fish so numerous that it was like swimming in a giant fish tank. A pod of spinner dolphins showed up to keep them company for twenty minutes or so, getting close enough to the boat to splash Grant as he stood near the rail. He would have called the experience magical, but even dolphins were mundane compared to the previous day’s encounter in the rain forest.

Grant turned to his twin, who held hands with Filip. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a stick-in-the-mud. I really am happy for you guys.”

“We know,” Uly said. “And we also know you’re making an effort for us, and we appreciate it. Hell, just dragging yourself to Hawaii was a big deal.”

“Not exactly painful, though.” Grant waved his arms to indicate the ocean, the soft-sanded beach, the brightly lit bar where the cute waiter bustled around the tables. A band played nearby, deftly giving their covers of classic rock standards a Polynesian twist. “Paradise, right? We could all be battling hypothermia and cabin fever back home, and instead here we are in shorts. We don’t even need this fire to keep warm.”

“But a fire is traditional,” said Filip. “At least it used to be, for my ancestors at this time of year.”

“Your ancestors lived in a considerably colder climate.”

“True.” Filip let go of Uly’s hand, but only so he could fling an arm around Uly’s waist and draw him closer. “But also this is holiday.”

“Duh,” said Uly. “Christmas.”

“No, older holiday.”

“Koleda,” Grant said. They both looked at him in surprise. “It’s Koleda, right?”

A grin split Filip’s face, revealing his slightly crooked teeth. He wasn’t especially good-looking, but Ulysses considered him an excellent catch, and Grant had to agree. “You know of Koleda?” Filip asked.

“Not much. I just heard about it yesterday. It has to do with the solstice, right?”

“Yes. Today it is part of Christmas celebrations, but once it was festival for Veles, god of underworld. It was end of world and beginning of new world.”

“And Hors dies?”

Uly blinked at Grant, but Filip had an odd expression, somehow solemn and astonished and pleased all at once. “Hors dies,” he affirmed. “How do you know this, Grant?”

“I went for a walk yesterday and ran into a god.”

When Uly made a sound of protest, Filip silenced him. “Shh, dragi. Your brother is saying something important.”

“It’s something crazy,” Grant said. Then he rubbed his face. “But he told me these crazy things, and I don’t even know how to explain it. He got under my skin.”

While Uly seemed to be considering whether Grant should be institutionalized, Filip was serious. “I know about Perun. And about Hors and Dazhbog. My people became Christian in eighth century, but this story is older than that, and we tell it every year. I remember standing by fire like this one—but of course air was cold, and Mama bundled us in coats and scarves and hats so the propuh would not kill us. Croatian mamas think cold wind is deadly.”

Uly laughed. “That’s true. When I visited last winter, I was worried she’d freak because her son was engaged to another man. But all she did was insist I never step outside without multiple layers of clothes.”

“And see?” Filip said, laughing and giving Uly’s cheek a quick kiss. “You survived.” Then he returned his attention to Grant. “Every Koleda, we danced and sang and adults gave children sweets. And as we stood by fire, my baka—grandmother—told us of Perun, Hors, and Dazhbog. She said if we listen during night, we might hear Hors and Chernobog fighting.”