January 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Immediately after Humbaba ate, the table exploded into an argument. Adramelech, in a slinky, effeminate voice, tried to instill some sort of order while Aya and Mr. Saturday talked over each other. Brimir bashed the table when someone said something he didn’t like, while Humbaba snarled and roared. None of them so much as looked at Amira, who decided to take her leave.
She slipped outside and back to the party. It had barely calmed, and in fact, it seemed even more busy. More and more people filtered in, but Amira detected a different tenor in the sounds of the party. The beginnings of what sounded like desperation rose up to her in the music of the bands, and the rowdiness of the party was beginning to sound more and more like nervousness. They were waiting for something to happen, and no-one seemed to want it to.
Amira could relate. She had no idea of what was going on, but she knew that those…things…back there were far over her head. They seemed like they had Power, and a power that went above and beyond simple political or military power. It was old and went as deep as bone.
“I wonder if he was planning to tell you why you were important…hmm? Or if he was going to leave it as a surprise?”
Amira did jump back then. A little spider, perfectly white against the black of her lace, dropped down and landed on her shoulder. Amira did not deal with spiders. They were principally Patrick’s concern, and he exhibited such concern with the flat of a shoe. She shrieked, just perhaps a touch shrilly, and brushed the spider off her shoulder.
“Hey yo! How’s that to be treating a fellow who dropped by to help the little miss out! Fine decency, that is! Fine it is not!”
“What! Who are you!” Amira shrieked. She balled her hands into fists and stomped around in her heels to try and crush the spider. Instead of a spider, however, she found a black man, completely bald, in a bright white suit relaxing on the ground. He smiled, and his teeth sparkled in the light.
“Who, me? I’m Iktomi, I’m Anansi, I’m Spider, I’m everyone and I’m no-one.” He scampered up to his feet and leaned against the balcony, laying his head cross his knuckles. “See those folk down there? They’re all caught up in the dream. Mr. Saturday makes his dream so fun, so sticky, so nice, that they can’t say no. The more they fight, they more they dream, and the more they dream, the more they dream of him.” The man jerked his head back towards the house.
“Wait, I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” Amira shook her head. “Let’s start with your name. That, I can follow, and then I want you to tell me about why I’m important.”
The man whistled and rubbed a hand over his head. “Oh, you’re quick. That’s good! Thought you might have missed that, but you didn’t! Quick! Quick like Rabbit!” He laughed, a high giddy laugh, and suddenly sobered again. “You want my name? I already told you what people call me, but if you want my real name, well, I don’t give that out for free, but for a kiss…”
He looked up at her expectantly. Amira rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to kiss you.”
“Then no name for you! Call me Man, call me Anansi, call me Spider, call me whatever. I’ll know who you mean!”
“Fine, then, why am I important?”
He smiled again, and leaned back against a pillar. “You’re not in the Book.”
“Excuse me? I have no idea what you mean by that.”
“You’re not in the Book of Life, and you’re not in the Book of the Dead.”
Amira sighed. “That hardly helps. Until a few days ago, I didn’t believe in God, much less the afterlife, and so my education is somewhat lacking. What are these books?”
Spider, because Amira needed to choose something, reached into his pocket and pulled out some dust. He scattered it on the ground and started drawing in it with a finger.
“Now I don’t really mean, I don’t really mean that this is true, but it’s a story, a story, and it comes and goes. See one time long ago, Big God decided that everyone who lives needs to go somewhere when you don’t live no more. So for some, those good ones, He put their name into the Book of Life, and they go live with Him.” His voice dropped to an intimate whisper. “But those, those who don’t believe, who don’t live like good people, who hate and who hurt and who kill, they die. They go in the Book of the Dead, and they come…here.”
Amira’s heart dropped in her chest. “They go to Hell. Forever.”
Spider nodded. “Yep. Yep yep yep.”
Amira couldn’t believe it. She had never believed in Heaven, and one of the reasons was that it was hardly fair. How could a God, that most people agreed was good, allow people who were good but didn’t believe in a bearded Sky-Giant, go to Hell and be punished forever? Most agreed it was all a bit of silly rubbish and ignored everything.
It was hard to ignore, however, when you were at a party in Hell talking to a shape-changing spider. But the unfairness of it rankled! She had lived a good life, or at least she hadn’t lived an evil life! Why did that damn her to Hell forever? Was she really the same as Hitler, or Pol Pot, or those people on the subway that hate everything around them?
She suddenly realized that Patrick wasn’t here. If Patrick wasn’t here, if he wasn’t in Hell, then…
It became too much for her, and she collapsed. Patrick had been raised a Catholic, like all good second-generation Irish people who felt guilty if they didn’t see a man in a dress every week. He lived a good life, like her she thought, but wasn’t particularly religious. If Church happened, it was by accident. But if he wasn’t here, then that had been enough to put him in Heaven. And she didn’t know much about the Christian religion, but there weren’t many precedents of people going from one to the other. Tears dropped from her eyes to splash on her dress.
She was alone. Forever. And it wasn’t fair.
Spider offered her a kerchief, which she took gratefully. She rubbed her eyes, but the tears just forced themselves out. Sobs bubbled in her chest, but she kept them down as little hiccoughs while tears stained her face, hot tears that burned and scalded her cheeks. He awkwardly patted her on the shoulder, but that was the extent of the comfort he could offer.
After a few minutes, Amira was recovered enough to stand. She coughed a few times to clear her throat, and said, “You were saying, Spider?”
“Ahem. Yes. I was. What was I saying? Yes! You! Your name isn’t in the Book of Life.”
“Thank you. You said.”
“But your name isn’t in the Book of the Dead, either! You’re in-between! That doesn’t happen often, that it does not.”
Amira was confused. “But…how? Isn’t God infallible?”
Spider nodded. “He is! But Big God is quiet, and shy, so we don’t see and we don’t know. And everything He does He knows. No mistakes! You were meant to be left out!”
Amira motioned to the flat. “Alright, so I’m important. What does that mean?”
Spider suddenly looked mournful. “Ah. Meaning. Yes. You’re valuable to them. Shiny, sort of. They can use you to go between, go around, go through. These others?” He gestured towards the revellers in the street. “They can’t do what you can. Their power just goes to their patron, makes him strong. Makes him greedy. You? No-one owns your strength, so anyone can. And Mr. Saturday…well, he never met a deal he came off the worse for.”
Thin tendrils of fear walked their way down Amira’s spine. She could put two and two together. “He means to sell me. To them. Like I was a side of beef.”
Spider shrugged and smiled. “Sort of. Yes. No. But that’s close enough. Maybe you won’t fetch a high enough price? Maybe you will. Who knows?”
“How…how can he?”
“Mr. Saturday. He’s very old. Makes me almost look young beside him. He’s old like Father Mountain and Mother Rain. Old. And he has a big court. His people love him and fear him, and that gives him strength down here. Belief matters here. And if you have enough people who believe…” His arm encompassed the throngs again, “then you can make the mountains dance.”
The door banged open and angry yelling came flooding out. Mr. Saturday stormed out with an angry expression on his skull-covered face, but it melted into a smile when he locked eyes with Amira. A small spider climbed through her hair and whispered in her ear.
“Don’t let him know I talked to you, or he’ll be mad. Mad mad mad. Play along for now. Play his game, and you might still win.”
Amira brushed her hair over her ear and cringed when she felt the spider climb behind her earlobe. But she forced out a smile for Mr. Saturday.
“Your friends seem cantankerous, Mr. Saturday. What are they arguing about?”
Mr. Saturday swooped down and kissed her hand. Her heart began to beat faster, despite her reluctance at being touched. “They are always like this, cher, but a soul grows tired of such angry company. I missed you, though you were gone but a little time.”
“He lies. He lies.” Spider whispered in her ear. “See the hunger in his eyes!”
“Come.” He draped his arm around her shoulders and brought her to the balcony. The crowd erupted anew as he waved down to them. Amira now distinctly heard screaming in the crowd. “Hello my maskers! We are having fun! Laissez les bon temps rouler! My krewe, my krewe, where are you?”
The crowd parted around a float, their voices raised to a fever pitch. The float carried a white throne and was poled through the crowd by a crew of skeletons like it was a river boat. A small wooden block and a silver bowl sat in front of the throne. There was an indent in the block, as though one could lay their head on the block.
Amira covered a gasp. “Oh no.”
Mr. Saturday, if he noticed her outburst, ignored her. He leaped over the balcony and landed on the float to wild cheers. He draped himself over the throne, sitting sideways like he was relaxing on a sedan. The throne, to Amira’s horror, was made entirely of human bones. A grinning skull stared out from the top of the chair, and Mr. Saturday lay across thighbones. He drummed his fingers on baby teeth and scratched his back on a jawbone.
“Please, my maskers. It is time to fais do-do, but I must ask now for my favor. It is almost time to hold court, my lovely maskers, so bring me a queen for the night!”
Some in the crowd cheered, but screams broke out in earnest. Mr. Saturday pointed to someone in the crowd, and more cheers exploded.
“Watch. Watch. Watch how he treats his children. He grows hungry. Watch.” Spider murmured.
The naked woman, the Roman, was dragged forward by her escorts. The smiles and giddy laughter were gone, and now a frantic ecstasy was painted on the men’s faces. Terror, terror that was shared by Amira, filled the woman’s eyes. Her heavy breasts jiggled as they threw her down on the block. The soldier held her arms behind her, while the Englishman held her head sideways, her face towards Amira. Their eyes met, and it was all Amira could do not to cry again.
“Watch. Watch. See the crowd? How happy they are it is not them tonight? She has been here many, many years, and every night she was not picked. She watched more men and women die then you met on Earth. So have the crowd. But they are happy it is not them. Not tonight. Some other night. But not tonight.”
Mr. Saturday waved his hand. The soldier pulled out a knife and slit the woman’s throat. Her legs jerked wildly as she went into a spasm, red blood splashing into the bowl. Her eyes never left Amira’s.
When she stopped moving, the skeletons took her. With sharpened fingers of bone, they began flaying the body and throwing the pieces to the revellers, who burst into cheers again. Mr. Saturday accepted the offered cup from the soldier and, nodding to the crowd, drank deeply of it.
Amira could not contain herself and slumped down behind the balcony. She shut her eyes, willing the horrible scene to oblivion. She wished the sounds of bloody flesh being sliced open away, and that the crowd would disappear with it.
She wished she would disappear.
“Don’t cry, young one. Don’t cry.”
“What am I going to do?” She gasped, her voice choking on the words.
“Escape. I am the master of escape. I escaped Brother Death, and Mr. Saturday is no Brother Death. We goin’ climb, Young One. We goin’ climb.”