“The stadium is cursed and it’s leaking out into the neighborhood,” Alderman Seamus Sheedy was in a state of high anxiety as he walked through his neighborhood with the man in a black suit. “The neighborhood associations are seizing on it. The press can’t be far behind. Think of the property values. Think of the votes. This is a disaster and you need to stop it.”
“Curses don’t usually leak,” replied Mister Lewis. “These things have rules that must be followed. You should probably start at the beginning.”
Mister Lewis had the official title of “Physics Consultant.” The title was a something of an in-joke. His real job was to clean up messes that resulted from unnatural incidents that sprung from outside the laws of physics. Curses fell broadly under that purview and he’d been summoned on a referral.
“It goes back maybe 70 years,” explained the Alderman. “The team wouldn’t let a guy into the stadium because he had his pet goat with him. And he put a curse on the stadium. And they never got out of the playoffs since. But this year, they’re really good and the curse is leaking out.”
“OK. Back up. This wasn’t a service goat, just a pet?”
“I don’t think they had service goats back then, so I guess it was a pet.”
“This curse. Was it on the stadium, the team or the owner?”
“It’s just a curse,” Alderman Sheedy’s voice rose an octave. “But it’s always in the stadium. Everybody knows that.”
“Okay,” Mister Lewis rolled his eyes. “What can you tell me about the man who placed the curse?”
“He was a Greek.”
“That’s it. It was a long time ago and he’s dead now. But the team can’t hardly get ahead.”
“That sounds more like an urban legend than a curse,” Mister Lewis said with a note of mild irritation in his voice. “What makes you so sure this is a real thing?”
“Right there’s why I’m so sure,” Alderman Sheedy pointed up the block to two visibly drunk young men, both of whom had unzipped their flies and were pissing on the lawn in front of an apartment building. “You just watch what happens.”
Alderman Sheedy waved his arms wildly as he quickened his pace and stomped towards the buzzed bros.
“Stop that,” screeched Alderman Sheedy. “This is not New York. We do not tolerate public urination here.”
The buzzed bros ignored him and kept their streams steady.
“See,” Alderman Sheedy turned to Mister Lewis. “Tell me this isn’t unnatural.”
“A couple of drunk ignoring you is hardly,” Mister Lewis began.
“It’s completely unnatural,” Alderman Sheedy interrupted. “I’m Alderman, my father was Alderman and his father was Alderman. This disrespect for bloodlines is unnatural! Keep watching.”
So Mister Lewis kept watching and a curious thing happened. The heads of the buzzed bros started to ever so slightly glow.
“It’s starting,” whispered the Alderman.
The glow grew brighter and the flickering image of a goat’s head danced where the drunk’s head should have been.
“Stand back and get ready to run,” growled Mister Lewis as he stepped in front of the Alderman.
The buzzed bros with goat heads glanced toward Mister Lewis, then at each other. They slowly zipped up, then turned to face their accusers. As Mister Lewis reached his hand into the inner pocket of his suitcoat, the pair bolted into the street.
It was a food truck that hit them, though it was hard to make out the “Gyros A Go Go” logo on the hood with all the blood spatter. The two drunk bros lay dead in the street. While their bodies were mangled, their heads were once more human.
The police station wasn’t far and a detail showed up to the scene quicker than might be expected, although having an Alderman as a witness didn’t slow the response time any. It was agreed not to mention the goat heads to the police. After all, the food truck driver wasn’t entirely sure what she’d seen. Having an Alderman as a witness was also very handy for ensuring Mister Lewis was not officially there at the time of the... accident.
“Hello little cousin,” spoke a woman so old her actual age was an afterthought. Alderman Sheedy had not heard her approach and he jumped a little at the sound of her voice. “I see the rabble has been at it again. I’m used to these hooligans making a mess of the neighborhood, but not a mess in the middle of the street. Someone needs to hose it down before the blood settles in.”
“As soon as the police finish up, Mrs. Gudrun,” the Alderman stammered. “We’ll get the bodies moved and the blood cleaned up. It will all be gone before the odor sets in.”
Alderman Sheedy shrank back a little. He’d caught the gaze of the wizened old men who stood behind Gudrun, flanking her like a military escort. It was not the sort of gaze that made one think of tolerance and respect.
“Oh, we’re used to those drunks leaving odors behind,” Mrs. Gudrun snarled. “It’s easier to wash the contents of their stomachs off the pavement than it is to wash it off of my lawn. The only difference I see this time is it’s exploding out their stomach wall instead of erupting from their mouth. Weak men overcome by weak drink.”
Mister Lewis managed to keep it to only a faint smile as Alderman Sheedy started a full-fledged cringe.
“This used to be a nice neighborhood before baseball took it over,” Mrs. Gudrun began to preach with the bile usually reserved for a closeted preacher lecturing about purity. “Now it’s loud hooligans who can’t hold their liquor. They water our lawns with their salted streams. They fall down like those two and block traffic. This has to stop. No more baseball.”
“You know I can’t do that,” the Alderman was halfway to a whisper. “There’s a large tax base that comes with the stadium and the taverns. It’s an entertainment district. There have always been beer vendors in the stands and bars around the ballpark.”
“Some of us remember when it was quiet,” barked Mrs. Gudrun. “No more renovation. No more construction. Your night games and bright lights were bad enough, we don’t need more congestion around here. They threatened to build a new park in the suburbs. Send them on their way.”
“The city is in no position to turn away taxable revenue...”
“Then let these ne’er do wells watch the other stick ball team on the other side of the city where someone else can be disturbed. The people have spoken.”
With that, Mrs. Gudrun cocked her chin in the air and pivoted 180 degrees. Her escorts each shot Alderman Sheedy a death glare before similarly pivoting to show their backs and the three slunk off like pouting jungle cats deprived of their meal.
“God. Damn. NIMBY’s,” Alderman Sheedy muttered under his breath.
“This curse is inflaming a very touchy political situation.”
Alderman Sheedy sat in his office with Mister Lewis. He’d broken out in a sweat after his close encounter of the geriatric kind and it had only grown worse.
“There’s been a lot of fighting over that baseball stadium, even before the curse made things crazier. The owners are doing a lot of construction on the place. Lots of redevelopment. If they didn’t get the permits, it’s like Mrs. Gudrun said. They were going to move to the suburbs and start from scratch where the land was cheaper.”
“That’s not exactly unusual in this day and age,” commented Mister Lewis.
“It’s not that complicated,” Alderman Sheedy attempted to explain. “The city’s running a budget deficit. We get an amusement tax on every ticket to a game. We get a beer tax on every beer sold. We’ve got a food tax on every hot dog and peanut. We get the same tax in every bar that’s sprung up around the neighborhood. We used to make a mint off parking tickets until that idiot mayor sold the city’s parking concession, but we can still issue traffic tickets galore. All the better if they’re tickets to suburbanites. We’re going to build a new hotel. More tax from outsiders. We just can’t leave all that tax money on the table while the city’s in the hole.
“More importantly, I own a lot of property around here and development keeps my property value up and the rent I can charge up. I’m paying you because I’m not going to lose property value over a curse and I’m not losing the next election over it, either.”
“So the primary goal is more about alleviating the political situation than dispelling any curse,” asked Mister Lewis.
“That’s... complicated,” Alderman Sheedy rubbed his temples, the copious sweat substituting for massage oil. “There’s a couple things going on. Mrs. Gudrun – the lady that was yelling at me about the bodies? She’s in charge of the Ice Year Neighborhood Partners. It’s a sort of neighborhood association. The worst Not In My Back Yard group you’ve ever seen. You think it’s bad when somebody moves next door to a bar and complains there’s a bar next door? That ballpark’s well over a hundred years old and they act like it’s new to the neighborhood.
“The thing is, they’re senior citizens and they’re the most regular voters there are. And more people listen to them than you’d think. They’re taking advantage of curse breaking free of the stadium for another push to get rid of the ballpark. That can’t happen and I don’t want them coming after me if it doesn’t.”
“Then let’s back up a little,” suggested Mister Lewis. “Explain to me what you mean by the curse breaking free of the stadium.”
“Right,” said Alderman Sheedy. “So ever since the curse was placed on the stadium back in the forties, nothing ever goes right for the team. Either the team’s terrible or something incredibly stupid happens to them before they can get to the World Series. They lose a game because a ball rolls between the outfielder’s legs – straight out of a Three Stooges movie – or a fan interferes with a home run ball. That was the curse. No matter what, they just can’t make it to the Series.
“So this year, it actually looks like their year. Since, you know, they’re wanting to expand the ballpark and teams always seem to come back when it’s time for construction. But this time it really looks like their year. More people are showing interest in the team than ever before. More money is being spent in the neighborhood than ever before. And the curse is so mad at all this, it’s left the ballpark and is getting revenge on the fans.”
“I don’t think curses can get mad,” Mister Lewis sighed. “The manifestation of the curse... it was like what we just saw? The goat avatars over their heads and effectively suicidal actions?”
“Those were the first direct deaths,” replied Alderman Sheedy. “It started slowly. More drunk and disorderly behavior. More public urination and throwing up. Maybe a few more fights with visiting fans. Nothing that unusual, just a little more of it. And it’s not like we want to discourage spending money around here. That’s all part of the experience.
“So eventually we notice it’s a little rowdier this year. After all, the team’s winning for a change. So we put a few more cops on duty. And when we did that instead of showing the curse respect, that’s when the goats started showing up. The same kind of behavior, but worse. A lot more volume when they toss their cookies on the street. A brawl instead of just shoving. Buzzkill on top of damages. And that’s let the Ice Year Neighborhood Partners get some traction with evicting the ballpark.”
“She called you cousin, is there family business involved,” asked Mister Lewis.
“No,” groaned Alderman Sheedy. “She calls all the public servants ‘little cousin.’ She seems to think we owe her something. Those NIMBY’s are just weird and entitled. You need to take away what they can complain about.”
“So, in theory, it would also be acceptable to push this curse back into the ballpark. Assuming that it’s experiencing some sort of scope creep associated with the team’s performance.”
“I suppose,” Alderman Sheedy wrinkled his brow. “As long as nobody dies inside the ballpark, I really don’t care. Somebody dying during a game would be bad for business. And as long as those goat heads stop appearing, nobody’s going to think a certain amount of bad behavior is out of the ordinary. But the Santa Stagger is next week...”
“You can’t mean...” horror crept its way onto the face of Mister Lewis.
“That’s right. 2,000 overgrown frat brats in Santa costumes blind drunk before they go on a 17 bar pub crawl. It’s the worst weekend of the year. All by itself, Santa Stagger is worse than the curse. If the curse seizes on to it... it could be the Great Fire all over again. And that’s not the worse part.”
“How do you figure that?”
“As alderman, I get to be an agent of record for the Ward’s insurance policies. We have that kind of a full scale riot, there’s going to be claims. It’ll blow my loss ratio and I won’t get my low losses bonus. I will not have a 70 year old curse costing me money!”
“If you’re right and this is a Greek curse we’re dealing with,” Mister Lewis spoke as he and the Alderman circled around the ballpark heading towards the largest concentration of bars in its shadow. “Then this is most likely some form of vaskania. It’s more generically referred to as an ‘Evil Eye.’ If this is what’s going on, that’s simple enough to dispel. “
“So it will be over tonight,” pleaded Alderman Sheedy.
“If it’s what you think it is,” replied Mister Lewis. “The Evil Eye can be spawned through envy and rage. That’s somewhat consistent with how you think the curse started. The rest of it, though... it’s just not consistent. Could the gravitas of public attention running counter to the curse’s goal be causing it to evolve in unusual ways? I don’t know. We need a test subject. If you’d briefed me before I arrived, I could have tried exorcising any Eye from those lawn irrigators and perhaps they wouldn’t have jumped in front of that truck.”
The alderman did not reply and the two continued their way around the stadium. When they reached the opposite corner of the block, the strip of bars the next block over was starting to percolate and a small crowd was staggering from saloon to saloon with intent. They crossed the block and entered into the buzzed throng.
“How frequently does this occur,” asked Mister Lewis.
“Too frequently,” said Alderman Sheedy. “But we’ll know pretty fast. None of this is subtle.”
So they kept moving. The afternoon was fading, but the crowd wasn’t. Twice around the block and by then, everyone was looking towards the northern sky. It started with a noise. An impossibly deep voice screaming “meh” boomed out of the sky with the last syllable trailing off in a jagged trilling. Then came a point of light, growing larger as it grew nearer until it turned into two shimmering goats pulling a chariot.
“Um, that’s a new one,” muttered Alderman Sheedy.
When the chariot was practically overhead, the reins attaching the goats to the chariot fell off and the goats shot into the crowd like they were arrows fired from a bow. When they hit the crowd, the goats disappeared.
A few seconds later there was a scream. The sort of bellowing you might expect to hear from a warrior charging into battle. The crowd parted a bit as a chair flew through the air, revealing a man with the build of an out of shape linebacker swinging fists at anything around him. Where his head should have been was the flickering visage of a goat.
Shortly after that, the scene repeated itself further down the block. A slightly more fit man with a flickering goat for a head was picking people up and tossing them.
“It always has to be hard way,” Mister Lewis grumbled as he stomped over to the first goat headed man. He stared into the goat eyes, raised his arms and spoke.
”Ο Κύριος ο Θεός μας, ο βασιλιάς των ηλικιών, παντοδύναμος και ισχυρό, που δημιουργούν και να αλλάξει τα πάντα με τη θέλησή σας και μόνο? που άλλαξε σε δροσιά τις φλόγες του φούρνου στη Βαβυλώνα, που είχε θερμανθεί επτά φορές περισσότερο από το συνηθισμένο, και διατηρούνται με ασφάλεια τα τρία ιερά νέους σας? η γιατρός και θεραπευτής των ψυχών μας? η ασφάλεια εκείνων που ελπίζουν σε σένα? σας προσευχηθούν και να παρακαλώ σας: Αφαιρέστε, το αυτοκίνητο και να εξορίσει κάθε διαβολική δραστηριότητα, κάθε σατανική επίθεση και κάθε οικόπεδο, το κακό περιέργεια και τη ζημία, και το κακό μάτι πονηρά και πονηρών ανθρώπων από τον υπηρέτη σου? και αν προκλήθηκε από την ομορφιά ή την ανδρεία, ή ευτυχία, ή ζήλια και φθόνο, ή το κακό μάτι, το κάνετε μόνοι σας, O Λόρδος που αγαπούν την ανθρωπότητα, απλώσει κραταιό χέρι σας και ισχυρό και ευγενή χέρι σας, να κοιτάξει κάτω από αυτό πλάσμα σας και να παρακολουθήσετε πάνω του, και να τον στείλει έναν άγγελο ειρήνης, μια πανίσχυρη φύλακας της ψυχής και του σώματος, που θα επιπλήξει και εξορίσει από τον κάθε πονηρό σκοπό, κάθε ξόρκι και το κακό μάτι των καταστροφικών και ζηλιάρης άνδρες? έτσι ώστε, φρουρείται από σας, ικέτης σας μπορεί να σας τραγουδήσω με ευχαριστία: Ο Κύριος είναι βοηθός μου, και δεν θα πρέπει να φοβόμαστε? τι μπορεί να κάνει ο άνθρωπος για μένα; Και πάλι: Θα φοβόμαστε κανένα κακό, γιατί είσαι μαζί μου.”
The goat head tilted. A look something like puzzlement flashing across its eyes. Then its teeth gnashed and it lumbered towards Mister Lewis.
“It’s not a Greek curse,” Mister Lewis frowned as he spoke to Alderman Sheedy. “Fortunately, I have an equalizer. You might want to back up.”
As the goat-headed man charged him, Mister Lewis brought his knee up into its groin. The eyes of the goat rolled back and it howled. Then separation occurred. The goat head blinked and shot back into the sky towards the chariot, which still floated above. A goat appeared in front of the floating chariot, once more tethered to it by a rein. The head of the man whose body the goat had been riding was now visible again, collapsed to the ground.
“Why, brah, why,” the man groaned as his writhed on the sidewalk.
Mister Lewis repeated the process on the second man with a goat head. The same results followed. When the second goat appeared in the sky, attached by reins to the chariot, the goats began to start moving. The chariot turned in a circle behind the goats and they flew away in the direction they came from. Strangely, the second goat appeared to be walking with a limp.
“Did you magic them,” squeaked Alderman Sheedy, clinging closely to Mister Lewis.
“No, the prayer against the Evil Eye didn’t even register,” said Mister Lewis. “On the other hand, nobody likes getting kicked in the balls. It doesn’t work if an entity has settled in, but it’s a helluva shock to the system if they haven’t. We’re not dealing with a Greek curse, though. And what I just saw cannot possibly exist.”
“Whatever it was, we can’t have berserkers tearing up the entertainment district,” Alderman Sheedy was close to hyperventilating.
“Berserkers,” mused Mister Lewis. “Yes. That would fit with the chariot. Except they’re all long dead.”
Alderman Sheedy opened his mouth to ask a question, but the words never made it out.
“More disturbances, little cousin,” Mrs. Gudrun and her flankers had returned. “This all has to go. Shut down these ale halls. Banish the stick ball. These masterless thralls will tear each other apart and riot if things stay unchecked.”
“Masterless thralls,” stammered Alderman Sheedy, clearly confused.
“Slaves without masters,” answered Mrs. Gudrun. “They do not own their land. They are like slaves to their wages and choose our neighborhood for their disruptions. It will only get worse. End this now, little cousin.”
And once more, she turned and left. But this time her flankers’ death glare fell on Mister Lewis, not Alderman Sheedy.
“Thralls,” repeated Mister Lewis. “That’s not a good sign.”
“No respect for rental,” Alderman Lewis had a rant bubbling up. “They don’t like people who rent. Well, I rent out plenty of apartments and I don’t need fear mongering driving down the price of rent. Just because Ice Year owns their condos...”
“Yes, Ice Year Neighborhood Partners. It’s the name of their association.”
“I think it’s supposed to be pronounced Aesir,” Mister Lewis raised an eyebrow. “How can a Viking cult call down magic when their gods are dead?”
Two hours later, Mister Lewis returned to Alderman Sheedy’s office.
“Put this on your wrist,” said Mister Lewis as he handed the Alderman a rope bracelet with a very worn metal charm shaped vaguely like a charm hanging from it.
“What is it?”
“Thor’s hammer,” replied Mister Lewis. “Or at least an amulet that represents the protection of Thor and his hammer. At one time, it definitely would have been protection against Thor’s wrath.”
“At one time?”
“Yes. There’s a lot that’s not right here and that’s part of it. The chariot and goats? That’s consistent with Thor’s chariot. The goats are named Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. That translates roughly to ‘teeth-barer’ and ‘teeth grinder.’ One of those goats had a limp, which is something the god Loki caused to happen to annoy Thor, but that’s another story.
“Then you’ve the possessed people acting like berserkers while a war god’s pets are on them.”
“I thought Thor was the god of thunder,” interrupted Alderman Sheedy.
“He was,” answered Mister Lewis. “But he’s an Aesir, and all the Aesir were war gods, first and foremost. Which brings us back to your friend Mrs. Gudrun. Her ‘Ice Year’ club is pronounced almost identically and she’s going on about thralls. Thralls are what the Vikings called their slaves. If it weren’t for all this business about a Greek curse, I’d almost say she was throwing it in your face.”
“Why would Vikings hate baseball,” asked Alderman Sheedy.
“A better question is how,” said Mister Lewis. “The Viking gods are dead. Thor is dead. Ragnarok – the twilight of the gods – was real. It happened centuries ago.”
“You mean like the Thor movies?”
“Well, sort of. But without all the Star Wars influences, lasers and spaceships. There weren’t any dark elves invading, it was Loki betraying the Aesir to the giants. Loki’s father was giant and he ultimately took his father’s side. The two sides wiped each other out. It was a real blood bath. But there’s no Thor for them to call on.”
“Is it... Thor’s ghost?”
“I’d like to say that’s not possible, but very little of what we’ve seen makes any sense. Magic is not random. Now put on your amulet. You’re going to go visit your Mrs. Gudrun, away from the prying ears of the public and accessible collateral damage. We’ll try and figure out what exactly is happening here and if we’re lucky, the amulet will work.”
“Little cousin,” Mrs. Gudrun, smiled for a change as she opened the door. “You’ve finally come for a family chat. Do come in.”
Alderman Sheedy and Mister Lewis entered as they were bid to. They were ushered through the hallway into a massive and ornate parlor room with a twelve foot ceiling. The place was furnished in what looked like 19th century furniture. Furniture that was expensive when it was made, but much more expensive now. The Ice Year Neighborhood Partners were well-heeled, indeed.
“Is this man your thrall,” Mrs. Gudrun gestured to Mister Lewis.
“I am a free man,” Mister Lewis had a slight edge to his voice.
“That’s not really necessary,” Alderman Sheedy attempted to interject but was cut off.
“We will conduct family business in the traditional way,” Mrs. Gudrun said not unlike a disappointed school teacher. “A jarl should present his men for introduction and present them for what they are. How much has the blood thinned in you? Now, little ‘free man,’ do you own property or just work for your jarl?”
“It’s all in order, my chieftain,” Mister Lewis put a bit of emphasis on “chieftain” and shot Alderman Sheedy a look to play along. “I own property elsewhere. I serve at Jarl Sheedy’s pleasure.”
“Very well,” said Mrs. Gudrun as she turned to address Alderman Sheedy. “We have tired of your delaying tactics. They were old when your great grandfather used them and they have not aged well. That stick ball stadium grows more annoying by the day. These children that swarm around it cannot hold their liquor or their fluids. The noise they make. The very sight of them. We have had our fill and we will tolerate them no more.”
“Now look,” Alderman Sheedy finally had a topic where he thought he might have a leg to stand on. “That team stands a good chance of going all the way this year. That’s good for business and you’re going to have to get used to that.”
“That team is going nowhere,” Mrs. Gudrun’s tone dropped an octave. “How many times in the last century have we seen to it they went nowhere in the most soul crushing way possible? I can’t fathom why these fools keep coming back. They are not wanted here.”
“They have to spend their money somewhere,” the sweat was starting to bead up on Alderman Sheedy’s temple again. “Better they spend it in my Ward. Things will stay as they are.”
Alderman Sheedy swallowed hard and watched as Mrs. Gudrun’s face became flush and her breathing deepened.
“Putting yourself above family, little cousin,” hissed Mrs. Gudrun. “Perhaps you need reminding where your blood comes from.”
Her posture straightened. The color of her hair darkened from white to a deep orangish-red and it started growing like a bramble bush. The rest of her was growing, too. In a few seconds, she was eight feet tall with long, pointy fingers and an even more disproportionally long nose.
“Your blood is weak,” Mrs. Gudrun whispered into Alderman Sheedy’s ear. “But not all of your blood is mortal. You would do well to remember your family or we shall find another little cousin to replace you as jarl of this Ward?”
She gestured behind her and where her usual flanking companions of elderly men stood, now towered two giants standing ten feet tall, wearing Nordic armor and looking strangely like Idris Elba. The giants took two steps forward.
Alderman Sheedy let out a whimper and reflexively threw his arms in front of his face, causing the amulet of Thor to pop out of his sleeve and dangle in front of him. The giants stopped and stared.
“You’re wearing... the hammer of... Thor,” Mrs. Gudrun stammered.
“You can’t touch me,” shouted Alderman Sheedy, peeking out between his arms.
“We need to leave,” said Mister Lewis as he grabbed Alderman Sheedy by the back of his collar.
“You idiots,” Mrs. Gudrun broke out laughing. “Thor has been dead for ages. He holds no power in this realm. You really don’t know who your family is or you’d realize how sacrilegious it is to wear that thing. Halvard – ride his servant.”
One of the Idris Elba lookalike giants was consumed by a glowing light, which shrank and settled into the form of a goat, just like from the chariot before. The goat flew through the air at Mister Lewis, but instead of a goat’s head replacing his, the goat bounced off and the giant reappeared sprawled on the floor.
“Doesn’t work on my kind,” muttered Mister Lewis. “Time to go, Alderman.”
“Oh little cousin,” Mrs. Gudrun looked sad. “You hired a man to practice magic for you? A man? I will never understand this age. Some things are just not right. Give the ‘free man’ physical restraints.”
Another gigantic Idris Elba ducked its head and entered through the parlor door, blocking the exit. He picked Mister Lewis up with two hands, while Alderman Sheedy fell over and curled up into a ball.
“Ground the magician with iron,” ordered Mrs. Gudrun.
Mister Lewis was shoved into a high-backed chair and an iron pipe was bent around his chest and the back of the chair, effectively binding him in place.
“A history lesson little cousin,” Mrs. Gudrun leant over the whimpering form of Alderman Sheedy. “Lightning has always struck the leaves and brought fire. In doing so it brought our father and your great great grandfather. Nearly 150 years ago our father, lord of wildfire, let the lightning strike the leaves in this tired city. As it burned, he sowed his seeds widely. We are of the first generation. We settled here and we stayed. Why do you think this city’s jarls are so close? Why do you think your elections hand down titles from father to son? You are of the wildfire, little cousin. The fifth generation of the divine ruling class.”
“But, but,” Alderman Sheedy struggled to form words. “Thor brings the lightning and you said he was dead.”
“Are you an apostate as well,” Mrs. Gudrun slapped him.
“The lightning,” Mister Lewis spoke quietly. “Was from the giant Fárbauti of the Jötunn. The leaves were Laufey of the wooded isle. When the lightning struck the leaves, Loki was born. But Loki died with Thor during Ragnarök.”
“What do your eyes see,” asked Mrs. Gudrun.
“Giants who change their form.”
“And your eyes do not lie,” said Mrs. Gudrun. “Not unless we want them to. Were you expecting Loki’s children to be wolves and serpents? We were all born to human mothers, not giantesses.”
“I wasn’t expecting Loki’s children to be wearing the form of Idris Elba,” replied Mister Lewis.
“Stringer Bell was a role model until his betrayal,” retorted Mrs. Gudrun. “And there is virtue to be found in the act of betrayal. Not all entertainments are frivolous.”
“Idris Elba is a king among peasants,” said his outsized lookalikes in unison.
“Now hold on a minute,” Alderman Sheedy was beginning to catch up with the situation. “You mean to tell me you were all living here before the stadium was built?”
“Since 1879,” said Mrs. Gudrun. “Are you finally waking up to reality? We want our peace and quiet back.”
“Oh my god,” shrieked Alderman Sheedy. “You really are NIMBYs from hell!”
“Technically,” said Mrs. Gudrun. “Hel is our sister and we don’t plan on visiting her. You, however, might be visiting her soon if you don’t start living up to the accommodations your side of the family pledged and you have conveniently forgotten about.”
“If I’m a giant,” Alderman Sheedy ventured a question. “Why can’t I turn into somebody else like they can? Are you holding out on me?”
“This just isn’t going to work,” Mrs. Gudrun sighed. “I’ll have some children of my own and arrange for them to be elected jarl or alderman or whatever they’re calling it these days.”
Mrs. Gudrun’s form shrank and her features melted into those of Alderman Sheedy.
“You’re very replaceable, little cousin,” her voice was now the same as the Alderman.
She snapped her fingers and the giant she’d addressed as Halvard also morphed into a doppelganger of Alderman Sheedy.
“This is what will happen. Next weekend, your cousins will visit the Santa Stagger, much as they visited the ale houses today, but without your little magician to coddle the drunks. There will be a glorious battle. There will be blood. There will be death. And then I will appear in your form and start the overdue process of evicting that ridiculous stick ball team.
“Halvard and I will take turns playing your part until my own children are ready. Their blood will not be as diluted as yours. It should only take eight years or so before they’re sufficiently grown to replace the likes of you. But for now, I think I’ll eat you. I suspect I’ll only taste mortal. Does anyone care for a wager?”
The Alderman Sheedy that used to be Mrs. Gudrun opened her mouth wide... and kept opening it. When her mouth was a gaping hole with a two foot radius, her teeth extruded into sharp points. Then she stepped forward towards the original Alderman Sheedy, who was frozen in shock on the floor, saliva dripping as she moved forward.
“Adjudication,” hissed Mister Lewis.
“What,” the Alderman Sheedy that used to be Mrs. Gudrun retracted her mouth and turned.
“This is a family dispute. On behalf of my client, I demand adjudication by the head of the family. It is the custom.”
“I am the head of the family in this city,” said the Alderman Sheedy that used to be Mrs. Gudrun. “This is my adjudication. I shall give you yours when I’m done eating.”
“You are not the family’s eldest,” said Mister Lewis. “I demand adjudication from the true head of the family. It is his right.”
The Alderman Sheedy that used to be Mrs. Gudrun paused for a moment and then reverted to her guise as an elderly woman.
“Very well. We shall summon Father.”
Lightning flashed, which was a little strange to be happening inside a house. Where the lightning had struck the floor, a circle of fire burned. Inside that circle of fire was a giant. A much larger giant than the ones already in the parlor, his shoulders were hunched as he leaned over to avoid putting his head through the ceiling. That head was topped with flowing red hair. An unusually thick red beard covered most of his face and dropped to mid-chest. Red and yellow flames danced where his eyebrows should be and matched twinkle in his eyes. He wore a massive fur coat, skinny jeans, yellow hi-top sneakers and a plain white t-shirt with “I Am Not A Hipster” written across it in bold black letters. Loki, the last of the Norse Gods, was exactly what his t-shirt said he wasn’t.
“Hello children,” said Loki. “Why I don’t I make myself more comfortable?”
He shrank down to seven feet and took off his coat.
“That’s better,” he continued. “Now, did you have some mayhem in mind? It’s been a very slow week and hearing some shrieks would be such a relief.”
“My little cousin’s magician demanded adjudication, father,” Mrs. Gudrun nodded her head toward Mister Lewis. “My little cousin has forgotten his family duties.”
“Technically, he’s your nephew,” said Loki. He ignored Alderman Sheedy and approached Mister Lewis, still bound to a chair with an iron bar. “Hello. I’m Loki. God of wildfire. God of tricksters. God of so very many things. How is it you come to speak for one of my children?”
“I thought Heimdall gutted you at Bifrost during Ragnarok,” said Mister Lewis. “How is it you’re still here?”
“He did,” replied Loki. “And it hurt. But giants are very hard to kill. An expert like you should know that.”
Loki paused, noticing some of the giants still wearing the form of Idris Elba.
“Why do you appear to me as Heimdall from that ridiculous Thor movie,” Loki growled. “That’s very disrespectful. I prefer to remember the burning of Asgard, not the pain in my gut.”
“Idris Elba’s been in other movies,” muttered one of the giants, shifting back to his natural giant form.
“Now, where were we,” continued Loki. “Oh, yes. How is it you come to speak for one of my children?”
“I don’t think he’s in any condition to speak for himself right now,” said Mister Lewis, glancing at Alderman Sheedy sitting slack jawed on the floor. “I was retained to help him with the curse of the goat, but I can see this is a family squabble and I appeal to you in your role as god of self-interest.”
“You say self-interest as though it were a bad thing,” Loki wore a mock frown. “But what is family for if not self-interest? Pray continue.”
“Your... other children have been threatening my client’s livelihood and the value of his property. They wish to remove the baseball stadium from the neighborhood, which will cause...”
“Oh, that curse of the goat,” interrupted Loki. “These mortal fools actually believed that? Oh, I love this town. They’re so gullible. Curse of the goat... I just like getting their hopes up and dashing them. You did know I’m also the god of schadenfreude, didn’t you?”
“He broke his covenant,” interrupted Mrs. Gudrun. “When you sired the political class, it was agreed when their descendants inherited their offices that the first generations’ wishes be attended to. The blood grows thin. This wretch is not the first offender, but he is the worst.”
“You have a point,” admitted Loki. “The blood is running a bit thin these days. I’ve never seen so many of my children getting arrested. I mean if you can’t con a crowd that thinks a goat is keeping their team from winning, who can you con? They’ll pretty much believe anything.”
“We did not want that wretched stadium in the first place,” Mrs. Gudrun ranted on. “The crowds have somehow managed to get more obnoxious and they’re threatening to have another World Series. We could crush them again, but it’s time to just remove the root of the problem. Send the team to the suburbs. The little cousin frets about taxes and his property value. I don’t think quieting the neighborhood will do anything but enhance the price. We need more like minds, not blackout drunks.”
“Now hold on a minute,” Loki arched a flaming eyebrow. “Maybe you were trying to quiet the neighborhood, but I was sabotaging the team to mess with the fans. It’s hard to cause so much distress with one act. Something like the ball rolling between the outfielder’s legs doesn’t just crush their own fans, it brings the ridicule of all the other cities. It’s almost perfect. The only other thing that’s come close was selling the parking ticket operation to one of my shell companies. Every time I raise rates I can hear a scream that’s more tormented that the last.”
Loki was also the god of assholes.
“You can bedevil them out in the suburbs,” sighed Mrs. Gudrun. “We are trying to stick to the terms of our original agreement. I swear, Father, sometimes I forget you’re older than me. May I please now eat this thin-blooded failure of a cousin?”
“I suppose,” said Loki. “I don’t think it will be nearly as much fun with boring suburbanites. Maybe I can get one of the players to marry a swinger again. That seems more suburban and the fist fights in the dugout are always amusing, plus it takes them forever to rebuild.”
“You need to stop letting her undermine your authority,” interjected Mister Lewis. “You really don’t know what she’s been up to in the name of Thor.”
“Explain,” the flames of Loki’s eyebrows thickened as he squinted.
“She’s been making public displays of magic using the trappings of Thor,” said Mister Lewis. “It’s one thing to use the image of goat around that stadium to scare off tourists. It’s an entirely another to have Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr appear in the sky above the stadium pulling a chariot. That’s a good way to get Thor some new worshipers.”
“Daughter,” said Loki. “We’ve talked about public displays of magic. Not cool. Pumping up my dearly departed ‘brother?’ Also not cool. Bad enough he’s got movies. Weird things happen when people start to believe and I don’t need to deal with that.”
“Oh, please,” grunted Mrs. Gudrun. “Like anyone will believe that collection of drunks saw a phantom goat. Strictly a scare tactic to thin the herd.”
“It seems like my client is the only one interested in preserving the way you want things run,” said Mister Lewis.
Alderman Sheedy sat up and nodded his head.
“So many of my children wanting to preserve something,” said Loki. “I think my children got old and settled into the banality of centuries past. Where is the fun in turning in early? When did they forget the joy of watching a train wreck? And let’s be clear, your precious neighborhood has the best social train wrecks on Friday night.
“Still, it’s just apples and oranges,” Loki shrugged his shoulders. “We’re going have to have a talk about public displays of magic, but that’s all because somebody didn’t keep his end of a covenant. And I guess somebody’s going to find out if he tastes good with ketchup. Rules is rules.”
“And I suppose it’s also OK with you, she’s decided the blood’s too thin and is planning to repopulate the herd with children of her own,” asked Mister Lewis.
Loki paused for a moment, then he turned and stared intently at Mrs. Gudrun. He frowned and shook his head.
“But that’s okay,” said Mister Lewis. “She’s just trying to be like her old man. Oh, maybe it was an adopted family, but her old man still decided they were in his way and burned them down. It’s probably just in the blood. Her blood is thicker than my client’s, correct?”
“Point,” said Loki.
For two minutes Loki said nothing. He just stared at Mrs. Gudrun.
“Can’t have it,” Loki finally said.
He snapped his fingers and a flame erupted from the floor and enveloped Mrs. Gudrun. She burned quickly and as her ashes fell he swept his arm toward the next giant, as though he was asking for the next dance. The flame danced to the next giant and then to the next until parlor was strewn with ash and scattered flames. It only took a few minutes.
When it was over, Loki turned back to Mister Lewis.
“You earned your money,” Loki said. “That was not fun. Necessary, but not fun. Your client owes you a bonus. Do you get bonuses in your line of work, magician?”
“Sometimes,” replied Mister Lewis.
“Let’s get a better look at you child,” Loki grabbed Alderman Sheedy by the chin and gazed into his eyes. “Remind me, who was your daddy?”
“Horace Sheedy,” squeaked Alderman Sheedy.
“Horace was one of mine,” said Loki. “Great, great grandson. Or was that great, great, great? It doesn’t really matter. I started the Sheedy’s... the divine Sheedy’s, that is... shortly after I started the Great Fire and burnt down half the city. Fires are a lot of fun. Great cover if you need to explain people disappearing and new ones arriving. Records get lost. People get distracted. And the chaos is good for the soul.
“Here’s the thing, though. My blood isn’t mortal. I can see my blood in my children. It gets too thin, I have to look kinda hard, but I can still see it. Horace might have thought you were his son, but you’re not. You’re one hundred percent mortal. It’s not so uncommon. Eyes wander, although I’d think one of my children would know what went on in his own house. Thin blood, I suppose. That does explain the... misunderstanding.”
Loki stood up and snapped his fingers again. A circle of flame sprang up around Alderman Sheedy.
“On the other hand, it just wouldn’t be right if you walked away,” said Loki. “You not being blood and all.”
The circle collapsed and Alderman Sheedy fell to ash.
“Don’t look so glum,” Loki said to Mister Lewis. “You saved your client from the clutches of my daughter. It’s a bit beyond you to know who’s my bloodline and who isn’t. Not your responsibility unless... no, you’re much too young to be his real father.
“Still you really did do me a service. I am the god of self-interest after all. Having my children growing ambitions after 150 years of proper servility simply won’t do. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great they grew up to be like their old man, but I know better than to let that flower come to bloom.”
Loki stood up and walked towards the door. Before exiting he turned back towards Mister Lewis.
“Since my not-grandson can’t tip you out for superior service, I’ll give you a tip for him. That chair is older than this house and if you fall backwards, it will break and you can at least walk around. I probably shouldn’t leave anything behind but ash. Fire in the hole.”
Fires shot up along the walls as Loki exited the parlor. Sure enough, Loki was right. Mister Lewis tipped the chair over backwards and when it hit the floor, it broke apart. The iron pipe was still holding the back of the chair to him, and the pipe was definitely warming up, but he could walk.
As he staggered to his feet, Loki stuck his head back into the doorway to the parlor.
“By the way, magician... my not grandson did pay you in advance, right?”
Loki’s head disappeared, but his laughter didn’t. Mister Lewis ran through the parlor door, but Loki had vanished. Spirited away in a much older sense of the phrase. Mister Lewis fled the building, which was burning up at an unnaturally quick pace. As he tried to wiggle the iron bar off himself, Mister Lewis finally processed Loki’s last words. No, Alderman Sheedy had not paid him in advance. In fact, once he’d arrived, things had progressed too quickly for a retainer to be exchanged. With his client dead, Mister Lewis could only draw one conclusion: the god of assholes owed him money.
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