(Canon: Boedromion 14) The Growing God

This continues the main Hitherby storyline.

The grangler’s an old ghost. He’s a god of holding on.

His hands are claws, like this—like withered bone with leathery tendons holding it together, cold, damp, and very sure.

He’s the third god to approach Elm Hill in quite some time.

He’s the first that isn’t friendly.

Ahead of him, behind him, all around him dead birds are rising from their graves. They are tearing forth from the rotting earth. They are rising towards the sky.

That’s the sign of the grangler.

“I should never,” the grangler says, “have let her go.”

It is May 28, 2004.

On May 28 in history, an eclipse ended Kuras’ great-grandfather’s war. The Pope married James IV. Scotland and England signed their treaty of everlasting peace. The Chrysler building opened. Liril buried a god in a box—a dead and broken god—and hid it under Elm Hill. An earthquake killed Neftegorsk. Mount Cameroon erupted. People all over the world were born and died.

On May 28, 2004, a shadow lays across the sea; and because he is following that shadow, Truth Daniels is not lost.

He’s thirsty.

It’s been four days since he’s found water. It’s been eight days since the last real bit of land. He’s got legs tight as knots.

He’s really thirsty.

But he’s not lost, because he’s following something, and you can’t be lost when you’re doing that.

“We are following the shadow on the sea,” says Deva.

“Yes,” Truth says.

“We have followed it for eight thirsty days,” says Deva.

“Yes,” says Truth ruefully.

“We should stop following this shadow,” says Deva. “It is not working well for us.”

Truth laughs.

“If we don’t suffer,” he says, “how will we grow?”

Deva considers that.

“Water weight,” he says.

The woman is on the deck now. She has her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun. She says, “I don’t want to be taller.”

Truth frowns.

“You could reach higher up in the rigging,” he points out. “Or, if there were a very low star—”

“When I was a little girl,” says the woman, “I wanted to be taller, but I didn’t want to suffer. Now I’m suffering but I’m as tall as I want to be.”

Her tone changes.

“Truth, where are we going?”

“I’m not lost,” says Truth, defensively.

“It’s hard to be lost when there’s a trail to follow.”

Truth frowns. She’s anticipated his next statement, so now he can’t make it.

“It’s like this,” he says. “I think we’re getting closer to a really horrible place.”

The woman raises an eyebrow. Truth can’t see this, but he knows her well enough to guess.

“With anthropophagy,” Truth clarifies.

“Ah,” says the woman.

So she goes and helps with the rigging, and Deva works the wheel.

She’s not the kind of woman who can just ignore the chance to go somewhere where people might get eaten.

A deadwind rises to fill their sails. It drives them eastwards, towards Elm Hill.

In the facility at Elm Hill, Liril screams.

Micah is bloody and battered. He looks just awful. Haggard, really. But he’s still alert enough to stagger in the direction of the scream.

Liril, Micah, and Tainted John arrived at Elm Hill three days ago.

They were ready to fight, then.

Micah, in particular, was feeling actively enthused, back then, about killing humans and gods until the facility at Elm Hill was nothing but an empty charnel house.

He stood outside the gates of the facility, practically shaking with weariness, and he said, “Okay. Do we get to do it now? Do we get to kill them now? Because this running thing? It’s hard.”

Liril looked at him and her lips were sealed tightly. She walked to the gate. She pushed it open.

The facility was dark.

Everywhere they went in it, it was dark.

And after a while, Liril said, “No.”

It was a plaintive noise.

“They’re all gone and I don’t know where,” she said. “So no killing.”

Then she made the tragic face that all little girls make, when they don’t get the chance to kill.

And three days passed in the darkness while Micah got wearier and the blood that he’d shed getting her there grew cold and gelatinous on his face and arms.

It felt cold and gelatinous even after he found water and washed it off.

His whole body has chills now. But there is still enough in him to run when he hears her scream.

He finds her in the basement in a little crawlspace cradling a dead bird.

There’s a discarded box nearby.

It looks really gross inside, like there’s been a bird buried in it for years.

So Micah figures that she found the box in the crawlspace, and took out the bird, and that’s why she screamed; but he can’t figure out why she’s holding it.

So he looks at the bird. He looks at Tainted John. Tainted John just grins.

“Huh?” says Micah, decisively.

Liril looks up at him.

“I buried it,” Liril says. “I declared the box a time capsule and I buried it. So that it would get younger and younger until it wasn’t dead any more. But I think I did not understand how time capsules worked.”

“Oh,” says Micah.

He looks at the bird again.

“I remember that,” he says. “Sort of.”

The bird is sticky and smelly but it’s really pretty amazing that it’s still around at all.

“The problem isn’t with you,” rasps Tainted John. “It’s with time.”

Micah hesitates.

“Can I fix it?” he says.

He holds out his hands. Liril, gently, reluctantly, passes him the bird.

“What do I do?” Micah asks.

But Liril shakes her head. She crawls out. She stands up. She shakes her head again. She looks sad.

“No,” she says. “It’s okay. You don’t have to do anything.”

The bird has four wings and a really long tail. And maybe a bit more in the way of liver than it should.

It’s twitching, ever so slightly, in his hands.

Here is some of the geography that surrounds them.

To the south there is the road. It curves west and runs through a valley before connecting onto the interstate. That is the direction from which Tina will approach.

To the north and west there is a cliff.

There should not be a cliff. The Elm Hill facility is on level ground in the middle of the city; but there is a cliff, and beyond it the still white waters of the sea.

The ground falls away amidst the graves of children and the swaying elm, down a steep black rocky slope, into the sea.

And the facility at Elm Hill casts its shadow out across the waves.

“Birds,” says Deva.

He takes Truth’s hand and he points it towards the birds.

Truth smiles.

“Good,” he says.

There are birds. There are hundreds of them. They are flying out over the sea.

“They think we might have food,” says Truth.

“They’re dead,” says Deva.

He’s wrinkling his nose. Deva has a bad history with birds, and reanimated ghost birds that smell of ancient graves just aren’t his favorite kind.

“Oh,” says Truth. “Then they might think that we are food.”

“Heh,” says Deva.

The grangler lopes towards the facility at Elm Hill.

Melanie is not that far behind him. She’s discussing things with Vincent.

“It’s the logical place,” she says.

“Is it?”

“We can’t stay at Central,” she says. “But the Elm Hill facility still has most of what we need.”

“No kids,” says Vincent.

“Yet,” says Melanie.

“I meant that as an injunction, not an observation.”

Melanie blinks. Then she laughs.

“Well,” she says. “Let’s start with a temporary operating headquarters and see where things go from there.”

“Death and ruin,” proposes the grangler.

Melanie snorts.

“Nine days of death and ruin, then possibly some sort of delicious cereal,” the grangler says.

It is pleased. It has a fey feeling. It likes fey feelings.

“Git,” says Melanie.

So the grangler lopes off ahead, through the facility gates.

And behind them there are others; walking down the road from the various places where they parked their cars, and some are on two feet, some on four, and others ride the wind.

Down in the basement, in Micah’s hands, the bird-thing is stirring. Micah makes a horrified noise. He lets go of the bird. It’s still stinking. It’s still dead. But it’s stirring, rising, breathing, flying.

It’s whirling around the hall, still smelling of decay.

“Oh my God,” says Micah.

“Hi,” says Liril, to the bird, in a soft pleased voice.

But the bird does not hear her. It is whirling around. It is flying past them. It is flying up the stairs and away.

“What kind of god was it?” Micah asks.

“A growing god,” says Liril.

And it is gone.

The grangler is there when it emerges from the building’s broken door. The bird is raven-sized now, where it was sparrow-sized before. It barely squeezes through the gap in the door; and on the other side, the grangler is waiting. The grangler catches it in his clawed dead hands.

“You’re no good bird,” he says.

The four-winged bird chirps desultorily.

“You’re from someone I let go,” he says. “But no one’s here to make me let you go now.”

The bird twists and shudders in his grip.

The grangler looks behind him. Melanie is not too far away. So he skulks off. He skulks to the cliff. He skulks behind the trees, where he may curl around the bird that is his prize.

He slavers.

“I will eat you slowly,” he says.

The bird is larger now. It’s bucking and twisting in his hands. It has two spare wings to beat at his face with. But the grangler holds tight.

“Wake up,” he says, and certain other words, so that it can appreciate what he’s going to do.

And its mind stumbles back to it from the grave, and Liril’s growing god, killed more than a decade before, wakes to the eyes of an enemy.

And it cannot break free.

There is a ship, the Anna Maria, sailing distantly through the sea.

On it, Deva is frowning, and saying, “You can’t drink the water of a dead bird.”

But Truth is laughing at him, and saying, “Deva, even dead birds mean land and land means water.”

And on the land, above, the grangler is feeling a certain mild concern; because the bird is nearly his size now, and it has two wings for flight, and there is no one there to make him let it go.

Flood

The antelope race beside the Ark.

The waters are glassy, sometimes, when the rain slows down. They are rich in color. The hoofprints of the antelope are like the dents of great raindrops.

The antelope have wide feet and a powerful light foot technique. For seventeen days they keep their balance on the water. Yet slowly, as the days pass, they sink deeper and deeper into the shining waters until at last they drown.

“There’s no room for the hippos,” Ham says. “We’ll have to eat them.”

“No eating the hippos,” says Noah.

“But Dad!”

Noah considers. “There are those birds,” he says, “that fly into your urethra when you’re peeing and nest inside your crotch. We could eat them.”

Ham considers that.

“Okay,” he says.

The seven-limbed howlers struggle upwards from the cities below. They flail. They howl. They reach the surface and fill their great and terrible lungs with air. Then they sink, again, slowly, pathetically, and hoard their energy for the next long breath.

The eagles circle tiredly in the sky above.

Shem and Ham descend into the Ark.

The deeper they go into the Ark, the more tightly crowded the animals become. It is the nature of the construction of the Ark that any number of animals can be packed within it; near the bottom, Shem believes, the density of packed animals becomes asymptotically infinite. But they do not need to go that far.

“Good sheep,” says Shem, passing a sheep.

“Good cow,” says Ham, passing the cows.

“Good crocodi—BAD crocodile!” says Shem. Shem brandishes his broom at the crocodile. It reluctantly turns away and snaps its mouth closed. It slithers deeper, slithers down, its long green body vanishing under a cluster of chickens, wrens, doves, owls, game hens, and wildebeests, and it is gone.

“Good hippo,” says Ham, grudgingly, as they pass.

The urethra birds are not very far down. They are good at gaming the ecosystem for maximum advantage. But it does not save them now.

“Bawk!” proclaims one urethra bird, startled, as Ham grabs it around the neck.

“Ch-caa!” declares the other, in some distress, as Shem seizes it in turn.

The axe descends.

“It’s natural selection,” says Noah, as he chews on a leg. “Those that do not please me, die. Evolutionary pressure driven by the seething core of the Ark will inevitably create a new generation of animals better suited to the exigencies of my desires.”

Days and nights pass.

In the third and fourth weeks, great clusters of ostriches swim by.

The ostriches are not happy with the rain. United, they are strong. Solitary, they are weak. But the rain and flood tries their solidarity.

One by one, ostriches commit social errors.

One by one, the clusters drive them out.

The stragglers are easy prey for the sharks, the icthyocampi, and the cold.

“I wonder if Mr. Sills is still alive,” Shem says.

“He’s got to have drowned by now,” Noah argues.

“I know some of them were trying to build cities in the deep,” Shem says.

Ham walks out and stares down at the water.

“It’s weird,” says Ham. “To imagine all the people we knew, down there.”

“Freaky,” Japheth agrees.

“Cold and blue and drowning.”

“It’s because God didn’t like them,” says Shem. “I mean, as much as he liked us.”

The sheep goes, “Baa.”

“Animal on deck!” says Noah.

They quickly hurry the sheep back into the hold.

“Can we eat the sheep?” Ham asks.

“No,” says Noah. “Sheep are good animals. That’s why it made it all the way up.”

“The hippos?”

“No eating the hippos.”

“But Dad!”

Noah considers. “Isn’t there some kind of animal that lives mostly on the brains of dead people?”

“Worms?”

Noah shakes his head. “Besides those.”

“Cranium beavers?”

“Yeah,” says Noah. “Those. We can eat those.”

Ham and Japheth descend.

The deeper they go into the Ark, the more tightly crowded the animals become. It is the nature of the construction of the Ark that any number of animals can be packed within it; near the bottom, Japheth suspects, the animals are unable to survive in solid form but instead revert to their natural plasmic state.

“It’s hot as God’s spankings down here,” says Ham.

“Shh!”

“What?”

“No blasphemy. We’re on the Ark.

There is a creaking, clunking noise, as the sea serpents of God beat warningly upon the vessel’s side.

“Right,” says Ham, sweating. He looks sideways. “Good oryx.”

By the eighteenth sub-basement of the Ark, Ham and Japheth are forced to carve their way through the animals to make room for their passage. Thus dies the bulwark buffalo, the crowball, and the cave goat. Thus dies the ghoul, spoken of in legend, and the icy blue beast in whose image the Slurpee was made. Thus dies the elephant and the fungal turtle.

“Here,” says Japheth.

The cranium beaver skulks defensively behind its dam of skulls, but this primitive instinct cannot save it from the knives of Noah’s heirs.

“Good sheep,” says Japheth, on the way back up.

“Baa,” insists the sheep.

It’s so adorable that even Ham has to scruffle the sheep behind its ears.

The rhinoceri have gone feral, long, and lean. In the distance, as the sons of Noah eat, they watch the primal battle between rhinoceros herd and megalodon, under a sky full of storms. The waves of that battle rock the ship, and the sinuous shapes of the rhinoceri lash and shimmer and in the sea.

“They’re winning,” says Naamah, in some surprise.

“There’s just a chance,” says Noah, in satisfaction, “that the megalodons’ll be another casualty of this rain.”

“I’ll tell the others,” says Japheth.

So he goes to the speaking tubes and calls down into the depths of the ship, “Let the rhinoceros be informed that their kind still live, under the sea.”

And up comes the honking, and the bleating, and the wailing, and the howling, and the hissing, and the chirping, and the long pleased snore of the happy shipboard rhinoceri.

“That means we could eat them,” says Ham. “I mean, the ones we have here.”

“No eating the rhinos,” says Noah.

“Fine,” sulks Ham, crunching on a barbecued cranium beaver leg.

The last of the scissor-beaked night terrors drowns that day.

“Look!” cries Ham, one silvery morning.

“What?”

“Elephants! The elephants didn’t die out after all!”

Noah rubs his chin. “There’s no reason we can’t take another female on board to replace the one you carved through.”

“Right on!”

Shem and Ham operate the elephant crane to retrieve a backup elephant from atop Ayers Rock.

“Baa,” the sheep remarks, conversationally, as it watches.

“Animal on deck!” says Noah.

Naamah and Japheth hurry the sheep back into the hold.

Days and nights pass.

“I can see them far below,” says Japheth, later that night. “All the people I ever hated.”

“Are they trying to tame sea horses?”

“They’re dead, Dad. They’re moving in great drifts through the night.”

“Baa,” mourns the sheep.

“Animal on—”

Noah laughs a little and stops halfway through the sentence.

“Oh, let it be, I guess,” he says.

The sheep looks down into the water, at the hills and dales of Scotland-under-the-Waves.

Flick!

A fish-tailed sheep skims to the surface of the sea.

For a long moment, the land-sheep and the sea-sheep look into one another’s eyes.

Flick!

The moment is gone; and the two sheep go, in their respective elements, below.

In such manner as this: running, swimming, struggling, serving, seething, mourning, and loving does the world survive the rain.

Nightmare of the Rustling

It is night. Micah and Liril are sleeping. Tainted John is laying down.

There is a rustling.

Micah is instantly awake.

There is a further rustling. Something is scurrying and slithering in the pine needles. It is evil.

Micah is on his feet. He is looking towards it.

It is great and serpentine and slithery. It is pale moonlight colors, blue and cold. It has a terrible maw. It has black feathers on its head and raven eyes. It is just the sort of thing that one finds making rustling noises in the forest.

“Once upon a time,” the creature whispers, and its voice is moon and stars and wind, “a runaway child broke his leg here. So he died. And I grew inside him. And then I came out. And now I must kill runaway children to lay my eggs in them.”

Micah looks at Tainted John. Tainted John does not seem to have noticed the rustling or the creature’s speech.

The creature’s head sways back and forth in the air. Then it arcs viciously towards Micah. Micah moves to meet it, then stops, his hands splayed in the air, as if against an invisible wall. The creature stops too.

“There’s a glass door,” Micah bluffs. “Bump! If you attack, you’ll hit your head on it!”

The creature hesitates. “Open it,” it says.

“There’s no handle!”

The creature eyes him narrowly. It has bumped into glass doors before. They are one of its natural enemies. But the air is undisturbed.

“I do not believe you,” it whispers.

“I wouldn’t let her sleep out here defenseless,” Micah bluffs.

And if this works, we cannot know.

Sacrifice (3 of 4)

Tina wakes up.

“Thysiazo is dead,” she realizes.

She stretches. She looks at her clock. She sits up and puts her legs over the side of the bed. She puts her feet in a pair of bunny slippers. She stands and stretches again. She pads over to the mirror.

“A mother should never have to bury her child,” she says to her image in the mirror. “I will have him cremated.”

She walks out into the main room. She knocks on Iphigenia’s door. Iphigenia opens it.

“Mom?” Iphigenia asks.

“Burn Thysiazo’s body,” Tina says.

“Mo-om,” Iphigenia protests.

Tina gives her a glare. So there is heat and there is light and in the basement of the house Thysiazo ignites.

“Did I ever tell you,” says Tina, “that when I was young, I went to school, and they taught me of your kind?”

Iphigenia brightens. She has never been to school. “Was it like Harry Potter?” she asks.

“No,” Tina says, flatly.

“Or Grease?”

Iphigenia has had a sheltered upbringing. It does not entirely surprise Tina that Iphigenia’s image of school involves singing wizards with slicked-back hair.

“I called the ways of your kind dark arts, and I lusted to kill everyone born of the soul. Eventually they threw me out and threatened legal action if I should ever seek to return.”

“Oh.”

“I was right,” says Tina crisply. “And they were wrong. They had no answer to that, so for all their blustering they could not control me.”

“What happened?”

“They paid for my home education,” Tina says, “and for my college.”

Tina takes off her pajamas and dresses herself. She puts on her coat. She walks down to the basement. There is blood on the walls. Some of it is fresh.

“Do you know what did this?” she asks Iphigenia.

“Something Micah brought?”

“He did not comport himself well,” says Tina. “I should have hurt him more badly.”

“It smells of ghoul.”

Tina looks up. “Does it?”

“Yes.”

“And Liril,” says Iphigenia.

“Ah.”

Tina goes to the phone. She picks it up. It is dead. “We will have to follow her,” she says. Tina goes to the car. She gets in. It will not start. She gets out. She starts to walk. The wind rises. Soon she is struggling. She stops, and stands still, and the wind fades.

“I am blocked,” she says.

“We could leave her,” says Iphigenia. “I’m really kind of busy being the sun.”

The image of Tina in Iphigenia’s eyes seems to pulse. Iphigenia sees, with a certain mad clarity, how thin a line separates her from Micah in Tina’s eyes.

“I mean, if we had some other way to cut her off,” Iphigenia corrects.

“We need an oracle,” Tina says. She turns. She marches back into the house. She goes down to the oracle’s room. The oracle is a crouched and maddened thing surmounted by a large eye. Tina keeps it chained to a radiator. “Tell me how to catch her and confront her,” Tina says.

“You won’t,” says the oracle.

She kicks it. It is a measured blow.

“I knew you would do that,” says the oracle.

Tina raises a penciled eyebrow.

“I can’t help being contrary,” says the oracle. “So I’d rather you didn’t kill me.”

Tina kicks the oracle again.

“The wind’s changed,” says the oracle. “So if you want to catch her, you’ll have to give up what you love the most.”

“Why that?”

“Because you can’t change the course of events by doing what you want to do anyway,” says the oracle. “If you could, then it wouldn’t be the course of events; it’d be a byway.”

“I could cut off a finger,” says Tina. “I don’t want to do that; it would disrupt the flow of things.”

“That would probably help, if you were a yakuza.”

“I’m not.”

“You could join,” Iphigenia suggests.

Tina does not have to look at Iphigenia. The set of her shoulders is a withering glare.

“In what fashion will giving up what I love allow me to pursue her?” Tina asks.

“It will let you move freely through the wind.”

“Burn him, Iphigenia.”

The oracle sighs. “I liked the radiator,” it says. “It was nicer than death.”

There is a light rising in the oracle’s vision, a sun-shaped disc burning, and its fires spread through the oracle’s soul and the oracle is gone.

“And now yourself.”

“Mother?”

Iphigenia is sweating. She is not simply standing next to Tina. She is in the sky, commanding the horses of the sun, and they are pulling harder than is their wont.

“I would rather have lost a finger,” Tina says. “So you have that, at least.”

The heat is too much. There is nothing to breathe that does not burn Iphigenia’s lungs.

“It’s stupid,” says Iphigenia. “Why should my death matter?”

“Because while I love you,” says Tina, “I am something that the enemy may comprehend.”

“It’s not a sacrifice if it’s someone else!”

But there is a wind and a flame and Iphigenia is gone.

Sunday (2 of 2)

It’s Sunday, the 18th of April, 2004.

Micah comes home. The sun swelters overhead. All the lights in the house are on. The front door isn’t locked. He goes to the room he shares with Liril, but she’s not there. So he knocks on the door of his mother’s room; and she opens it; and her eyes are haunted.

“Liril?” he asks.

“In the basement,” she says. “Locked in. With what’s left of John.”

He takes a step back. The toes of his left foot wiggle in his shoe. He wants to run to his sister. But he hasn’t a key.

“Why?”

“She put out his eyes,” Micah’s mother says. “She changed him into something inhuman. Some sort of ghoul.”

“And you locked her in with him?

Micah’s voice rises at the end of the sentence. He’s trembling.

“What was I supposed to do?” Her tone drops soft. “I can’t punish her. I can’t call the police. I can’t call him. But I can’t let her leave. Not either of them. Not now.”

Micah’s tongue works in his mouth for a moment. He can’t find words. Then he says, softly, “It’s all right. We’re going to go. It’s not your problem any more.”

She bites her lip. She’s thinking. Then she gestures him out towards the living room. She pours two glasses of water and waves him towards the couch. He’s not happy, but he sits.

“She’s okay,” his mother says. “I saw him. He’s tame.” She passes him one of the glasses of water. She drains half of her own. “Micah,” she says quietly, “it’s exactly my problem.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know if you know the price that I paid so that I could have you,” she says. “And I guess it doesn’t matter much if you do. But I’m responsible. You have to stay here. You have to grow up as normal children. Both of you. And you have to be broken.”

Micah looks at his glass. “Liril hasn’t really explained much,” he admits.

“If I let you go,” she says, “the monster will know. He’ll know that I still have something in me that resists him. He’ll know that I let her go. That I didn’t hurt her and I didn’t stop her and I just let her go. Then I’ll lose the last bit of me and he’ll find you both anyway.”

He looks up at her. He takes a long moment. Then he sighs. “I need her,” he says. “She’s the one who knows what to do.”

Her smile is thin and sallow. “I don’t want you to know what to do,” she says. “If you did, you’d leave me with nothing but dust.”

“Mom—”

“I know that she made you to fight things for her,” she says. “And right now I’m the enemy.”

Micah looks down. “True,” he admits.

“I’m going to sacrifice you to the monster,” she says. “It’s the only thing that works. If I give you to him, then I can let Liril go, and he’ll make you answer for her freedom. He won’t hurt you. Not the same way he’d hurt her or me. You’re not a person.”

“You want me to cooperate,” Micah says.

“Yes.” She shrugs a little. “I would have drugged the water or something, but I don’t have any drugs. So I have to ask, instead.”

“I can’t,” he says.

Her eyes narrow.

“I have to save you,” he explains, hesitantly. “Because it’s what Liril would do.”

She stands. Her face is cold. “You are nothing to me,” she says. “I loved you. I tried. But you are expendable, Micah.”

“You have to come with me to the basement,” he says. “You have to let her out.”

“No.”

“Listen,” Micah says. “You know what he did to her.”

Her eyes flicker. “Yes.”

“And you,” he says.

“Yes.”

“And your mother, or maybe your father, or both.”

“Yes.”

“Back all the generations, of your line and his.”

“We are a people of salt,” she says.

“Salt,” he says. He’s confused. He wasn’t expecting those words.

“There were dozens,” she says. “Hundreds. Of us. And they all died, save two. And so Lot’s wife looked back; and seeing it, cried; and her tears did not stop; and in the end, there was nothing left of her but salt drying in the sun. And since that time, we have been hunted, and we have been a people of salt.”

“You can’t cry yourself to death,” Micah says.

“You couldn’t,” his mother says. “I don’t think. But I could. I could answer two hundred generations with my tears.”

“I can’t pity you,” he says. “You’re selling out your children.”

“That’s not the point,” she says. “In all that time, it never got better. Do you understand? I’ll hang on to a little. I’ll teach her a little. That’s all I can do. I can’t save you. I can’t really save her. You have to be pragmatic. You have to live in the world you’ve got.”

“I’ll go,” he says.

“What?”

“I’ll go to him.”

“And what will you say?”

“I will say, ‘Should you know not justice?'”

She looks at him oddly.

Micah shrugs. “Micah 3,” he says. “‘Should you know not justice? You who hate good and love evil; who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones; who eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin and break their bones in pieces; who chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot?’ It always makes me think of him.”

“Oh.”

He looks a little embarrassed. “If there was a Bible chapter with your name, you’d have learnt it too.”

“That’s true.” She looks at him quietly, then stands. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m going to call him now, though.”

He rises. He steps forward. There’s a flash of fear on her face, but he only hugs her fiercely.

“I’ll be okay,” he says.

She’s starting to cry.

The sun is high, and the birds are singing, and the town is quiet under the heat. The horses are stabled, and the cars in their garages, and the lurkunder is waiting in silence and peace. The spider of the sky weaves its delicate web. The river god flirts with the woman of the reeds. There’s a phone ringing, far and distant away; and in Micah’s house, the basement is empty, for there is no mortal lock nor shackle that can still hold Tainted John.