Anyplace Else(7)

By: Kim Fielding

“Did you?” asked Grant.

Filip shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe it was only wind.” He didn’t look as though he believed it was the wind; he looked as if he was sure he’d heard the gods. But then, Filip also claimed to be a wizard, so this wasn’t such a stretch.

“I want to stop it,” Grant said softly, shocked at the pain in his own voice.

“You cannot. We are only humans. But you must remember end of story. Dazhbog is born, winter ends, Perun lives.”

Impulsively, Grant grabbed both of them for a quick hug. “You guys are great, but I think I’m going to hit the hay.”

“Yeah, get some rest. The wedding rehearsal’s tomorrow. I wouldn’t want my best man to forget his lines.” Uly winked at him. The ceremony was going to be simple, and as far as Grant could judge, the rehearsal was mostly an excuse to eat a fancy dinner together.

Grant said his good-nights to the rest of the wedding party. He seriously considered taking a walk in the rain forest, but it would be pitch-dark in there, and he was genuinely exhausted. He returned to his room instead and quickly fell asleep. His dreams were filled with forests.

GRANT SPENT most of December 22 wandering up and down the beach. He ventured into the rain forest twice, but both times the path took him swiftly through to the other side. He didn’t see any gods. He didn’t see an oak tree either, just the array of tropical plants he would have ordinarily expected. He had a grueling workout in the resort fitness center, where floor-to-ceiling windows offered expansive views of the Pacific, but then he ate a plate lunch—complete with macaroni salad and two scoops of rice—and that pretty much negated his time on the treadmill.

The rehearsal for the minimalist ceremony went quickly. Uly and Filip beamed at everyone and everything, their joy so transcendent that even Grant’s shriveled heart expanded. Then everyone piled into rented cars and drove to a nearby restaurant, where they gorged on seafood as they watched a stunning sunset. Grant drank nothing but water, yet he felt oddly light-headed, his thoughts as skittery as mice. But he smiled and chatted and had a good time.

Back at the resort, most of the group headed for the bar. “Coming with us?” Uly asked as they stood in the lobby.

Grant hesitated. “I know it’s kind of your bachelor party, but do you mind if I beg off?”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Just been feeling kind of weird. I’ll get some rest before your big day tomorrow.”

Uly stepped closer and dropped his voice. “Filip told me all the details about the god stuff.”

“I promise I’m not losing my mind. At least I don’t think I am.”

“Look, ever since I met Filip, I’ve started believing in all kinds of mythical things. Like true love.” Uly grinned. Until Filip, he’d called himself the most unromantic man on earth. His dating record was even worse than Grant’s, full of hookups and one-night stands. He gave Grant’s arm a squeeze. “You’re not crazy. You’re just having a vacation from your ordinary life, and that’s cool. It’s the right time of year to celebrate the unusual.”

“Happy Koleda,” Grant said, managing a small smile.

“Exactly. Now go get some rest. Tomorrow we’re all gonna party.”

Instead of a standard hotel room, Grant had splurged on one of the resort’s little bungalows. Yes, it was pricey, but the bungalow had a private lanai with beach views, plus an outdoor lava-rock shower. Minneapolis didn’t offer many opportunities for outdoor showering, so Grant decided it was worth the money. He also liked the privacy of the bungalow. It was as if he had his own personal bit of the island.

After saying good night to Uly, Grant went to his bungalow, opened the sliding windows, and lay fully clothed on the bed, watching the ceiling fan rotate slowly. After a while he felt as if the fan were staying still and he was spinning, his body wheeling through space like a constellation. He imagined himself in a remote section of the galaxy, somewhere far from other stars. The idea made him shiver.

When the sounds first reached him, he assumed it was the drone of voices from the bar or perhaps wind rustling the palm fronds outside his windows. The faint noises were nearly smothered by the pounding surf. But he couldn’t ignore them, and after a time, he sat up and tried unsuccessfully to identify them. A glance at the clock told him midnight was approaching, yet he slipped into his shoes and went outside.

He headed directly to the rain forest.

The night was clear but lit only dimly by a crescent moon, so darkness enveloped him as he entered the trees’ canopy. If he’d thought to bring his phone, he could have used the flashlight app. Somehow, though, he kept his footing and found his way, the plants seeming to whisper encouragement as he passed. The scents of the flowering plants were enough to make him giddy. As he walked the sounds grew louder and, finally, he recognized them: breathless shouts in a foreign tongue and the clash of metal against metal. He hurried his pace.