Monday, September 12, 2011

20: Under My Skin

The afternoon sun shone greyly through the grimy window panes of the dilapidated apartment. The other windows were left open to create a mouldy-smelling cross breeze. Thoki was sitting cross-legged on the stained rug examining the seven postcards of the obelisk that Slepnir had given him. The hieroglyphs were faint, the real obelisk being of sedimentary rock and several millennia old. Additionally, the postcards weren’t printed at a resolution where he could read the faded glyphs. Thoki wished he had a powerful magnifying glass to examine them but had to make do with a cracked pair of reading glasses he’d found in a dumpster.

Through squinting eyes, he tried to see through the dots composing the image to the symbols of birds, running water, and plants. He’d then copy the phonetic translation as best as he could onto a sheet of paper and checked them against the other pictures. The multiple images weren’t as helpful as he had hoped. One was shot in such poor lighting that the glyphs were invisible. Of the other postcards, four of them showed the west side. There was one shot of the north side, and the last showed the east and south sides at an angle. It was not ideal, and while he had a very good transcript of the most popular side, the other three were causing him all manner of frustration.

“ARGH!” Thoki cried, flinging the glasses onto the table and jumping to his feet. He massaged his neck and blinked his eyes to get the after-image of print matrix out of his vision.

“This is so stupid!” he shouted, kicking the wall. His foot went completely through the old drywall and left a gaping hole. Out of sheer destructive anger Thoki kicked a few more holes in the wall, a wicked smile creeping across his face as he sent clouds of white plaster into the air and watched the mice and cockroaches scurry to safety. He laughed at their terror and fueled by their terror, he started really laying into the wall, laughing and hooting. He was stopped by the ceiling lamp dropping onto his head. It’s mooring in the flimsy plaster had become cracked and dislodged by Thoki’s rampage.

Thoki picked himself off the floor shaking the broken glass out of his hair and cursing a blue streak.

“Feel better?” asked Lor weakly from his prone position on the couch.

Thoki shot him a dirty look. “Shut up,” he snapped.

“Sorry,” mumbled Lor before drifting off to sleep again.

Thoki felt a stab of guilt as he saw just how badly the giant was doing. Lor hadn’t moved from the couch in over two days. He could barely lift his head to eat the stale food Thoki had scavenged that day. Thoki ran to the 2-gallon jug of sterile water he’d stolen and carefully poured a measure of it into a cracked souvenir mug. He rushed back to Lor and shaking the giant until he stirred, he helped Lor drink.

Slepnir was curled up in a leggy heap on the far side of the living room.

It was obvious to Thoki that Slepnir was only putting up with Lor for Thoki’s sake. The horse had fought enough Jotun to be terrified around the frost giant and try as Thoki might, he couldn’t convince Slepnir that Lor was harmless. Slepnir had instead decided to stay in the corner in a constant state of terror. It had been wearing on the horse for the last few days and he looked exhausted and worn to a frazzle.

Thoki stood on the rotten carpet and surveyed the sleeping giant and his recalcitrant brother. A sudden wave of depression hit him and he ran to the bathroom to spit out the vomit rising in his throat. He caught sight of his haggard face in the mirror. Infrequent meals and sleep had made it lose some of its childish roundness. There were now harsh angles, jutting cheekbones and hollow circles around his eyes. His fair hair was filthy and greasy, making it look more reddish brown than its usual blonde. His cool grey eyes were red-rimmed, making the irises look almost white. Most shockingly, Thoki recognized a different face behind his. It looked like a haggard tired face that been constantly tortured by slow-working poison. He was beginning to see his father Loki lurking under his skin. He backed away from the mirror in shock and the not-Loki in the mirror did the same. He watched as the familiar face broke down in the unfamiliar expression of despair. Large tears rolled down the hollow cheeks, leaving white tracks in the grime and splashing into the sink.

“What the fuck am I doing?” Thoki asked himself. “We’re trapped in this pit while I try to figure out what the key is to an entity that may or may not destroy the universe… I don’t even know why I’m doing this anymore. I was so sure a few months ago… and now… I don’t know.”

The face in the mirror frowned and looked more Loki-ish than ever. It spoke to him in a low whisper. “It’s because you’re trapped in this pit. It’s for all the hardship you’ve suffered and been made to suffer. It’s to show the world that you’re not a doormat anymore. That you’re capable of greater things.”

“Maybe I don’t want that anymore,” Thoki argued. “Maybe what I want is to get a job and a house and a wife and just live my life.”

“In this economy? You got to be joking! Besides that shit is for people with papers and numbers and credit scores — something you’ll never have. Face it. You don’t belong here. You’re just a prisoner here.”

“I don’t have to be. There are people who forge those things. I could get some fake papers and … and then…”

“And then what? You think Eris would want you then? You think she’d be content with a 3 bedroom, 1 ½ bath townhouse? You think she’d be impressed if you had a 9-to-6 job in data entry. You think she’d want… KIDS?”

“Maybe,” said Thoki, but both his warring halves knew it was bullshit. He then brightened up, “Maybe Hnoss—?”

“After you ditched her? I doubt it. Besides, she’s dead now.”

“Is she?”

“Does it matter? You’re never getting Hnoss back, stupid, and Eris doesn’t settle down. Face it. Your only chance of ever getting laid again is if you’re the top dog.”

“It’s not just about getting laid, asshole,” he told himself.
The face in the mirror agreed. “It’s about getting everything else too. Respect, fear, money, power… even love.”

“It won’t get me love,” he sighed.

“It might. Who’s to say?”

“Who’s to say I won’t find it anyway if I were to just forget the whole thing. Maybe Hnoss and Eris aren’t an option, but maybe there’s a nice mortal girl…”

“Who loves tiny men with tiny dicks? Keep dreaming, shorty. Face it. You’re basically fucked in that department. Now if you were rich and powerful….”
“Shut up! Shut up and stop thinking with your penis, dumbass!”

“You’re right. We should be thinking about Isfat instead.”

“WHY? WHY does it matter??” he screamed. “Why do I have to risk my life and the lives of my brother and my friend for something that I don’t even know what it is?!?”

“Because you have to,” he said. “You HAVE to. It’s part of you… it calls to you when you sleep at night. It won’t let you rest. It won’t give you peace until you’ve exhausted every fiber of your being to find it. That’s why.”

The mirror spoke in tandem with him as he said it (as mirrors always do). Both he and the Loki under his skin were in absolute agreement as he said the words. And he knew it was true. It was something beyond his dim comprehension. It sought him. He was powerless against it.

Defeated and twice as depressed as before, he slumped back into the living room and plopped down on the floor before the coffee table. He glanced at the hieroglyphs he’d penciled out and then snatched up the page in a feverish rush. It was like the optical illusion of the old lady. He kept trying to see the young lady’s face but instead kept seeing the old woman. Now at second glance he could see her. The saucy curve of her neck, her eyelashes, her dark hair, she was looking away from him coquettishly laughing at him for not being able to see her before. Everything was clear now. He had been trying to read the glyphs in ancient Egyptian, but it had seemed like gibberish. It was only when he glanced at the phonetic words written in roman letters that he realized the truth. It was a poorly written attempt to mimic words in Ancient Hebrew.

Pulse pounding, he wrote the words again in Hebrew, and came up with this poorly worded phrase,

בראשית היה תוהו.

Thoki reassembled the words properly in his head and heard them again in Anansi’s dark penetrating voice:

“In the beginning, there was void”

Thoki stared at the words. “That bastard, Anansi was giving me a clue… Hebrew text…” Thoki felt an icy pit in his stomach. He was dimly aware of the Hebrew deity that was somehow different from all the other Father gods. He had once thought him akin to Zeus, and Odin and Osiris and all those other big beards in the sky but for some reason He escaped definition. He made Thoki nervous.

“Hey, Lor?” he said.

Lor stirred and mumbled questioningly.

“Where would I find a copy of the Torah?”

“I don’t know,” said Lor.

“Where does one normally keep holy books?” asked Thoki.

“In a place that’s holy… or a place full of books.”

Thoki shuddered at the idea of going into a synagogue. There was only one option left.

“Looks like I’m going to the Library,” he said.

“Just like old times,” said Lor with a smile.