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Short story: “Old Gods – New Ways”

Today’s short story offering is like my own version of American Gods, in that it is a short tale about old gods coping in a modern world. I focus on just one pantheon though, the one I’m the most familiar with (though for funsies, I won’t give it away here).

***

When the sun had gone down, slipping below the horizon with the ease of a sharp blade sliding into a man’s flesh, that was when they came out.

Once they had been the rulers, the dominant species that walked the earth, but now the humans had taken their place.

Once they had the respect and awe of these lesser creatures, but now they were the ones who lived a life apart, though it was still a life of sorts. At least they could still cling to some form on existence.

 It was worse for those truly dependent on the wilds, the forests, fields, the rivers and the mountains. All those places the humans had exploited quite severely these past hundreds of years. Some of those poor creatures had been chased out of their homes, when the men came with their machines and cut all the old forests down, when they plowed all the fields and began to change the course of the rivers or stop them up altogether.

It was a hard life, hard changes that some of these lesser creatures could not cope with and they slowly slipped out of existence because they were unable to adapt themselves to the new cities that sprung up like mushrooms in damp soil. Not like them, who now found themselves in these man-made forests of concrete, metal and stone, carving a new way of life in the darkness when the men slept.

Though man’s invention of the electric lights made even the dark not as dark as it used to be.

This change, the forced adaptation to life in the cities was hard on them too, they who were used to lives of significantly more comfort. If you have once been worshiped as deities, it is a hard thing to get used to a different life, living in the shadows and in the dark of night, live off the human’s leavings, those who used to be your worshipers. Though they have come to find that leavings can mean more than you might think.

If you can shape shift, then that leaves additional opportunities to exploit.

A few of them had quickly found an older abandoned building to hole up in and call their own. Their limited powers were enough to shroud it in a glamour, which caused the humans to shun it. If someone who had acquired the gift of sight and thus could see it stumbled across it, it was planted into their heads that this place was dangerous and should just be left alone. That it might fall apart on their heads if they tried to enter. They had never had any trespassers. Yet.

This was the place they spent the daylight hours in, their haven, where they slept or prepared for those hours of darkness when the humans were less active. Some limited their time outside even more, to those precious few early morning hours when there were almost no humans out and about, while others had an easier time to mingle with the humans when they prowled the streets during the night.

But at the end of the day, they all made do. They coped.

Though it did sting when they remembered how things used to be. No carriages driven by great steeds. No horses to ride. No great magic to frighten the humans to obedience and worship.

Unsurprising, it was the trickster who had the easiest time to adapt to this new way of life and in some ways he had been the one to coax their shyer members into venturing outside. Though it was uncertain how kind that coaxing really was. If perhaps he just saw it as some fiendish play done just so he could watch those others squirm in the strange new world outside their secret home.

But the trickster was the one who left their abode first every day, after the sun had set and night had wrapped the world in its dark shroud.

Though it was not so dark here, not truly. The electric lights the humans had made for themselves, always blazing into the night meant that there were few places of absolute darkness left and there were no stars in the sky. Though the trickster knew of those few places of darkness that remained to them, for it was there that he plied his trade, acquiring things from the humans he lured away in one form or the other. He often talked about how much easier it was now to remain in one shape all night, yet still find a good selection of different kinds of prey.

The others did not like much how he spoke of the humans, but since they benefited in the end from what he did, they did not complain too much. They might grumble and snort at the trickster’s boasting, at their reliance on him, but not much more, though they told themselves to be vigilant. Who knew when he might turn on them again?

The wise allfather had not suffered as much or found it hard to adapt either. He had been accustomed to wandering the human realm for knowledge even before, but he had been more active at it in his younger days and there was always some getting used to a change at this point in one’s existence. But he did cope, faster than some of the others. He might not explore the same places as the trickster, but he found his own places during the night. His own haunts. He also returned with gifts and other items he’d found in some way in the human world and the others accepted them with less fear and caution.

Once he had come back speaking of the human “internet” and how much information was contained therein. The trickster had returned the next day with a small computer device and the allfather had shared it with those who did not leave their home much.

But there were those who had a harder time, those who missed their gardens with their bounty, the green grasses and trees, who thus preferred the silence and solitude indoors to the world outside. Among them were the sad siblings who’d once been worshiped for their gifts of fertility and love. They would use the computer to find images of the things they missed and would spend hours staring longingly at them.

The trickster had been uncharacteristically kind one time and taken the sister away to a large glass house which had a garden inside. She had had a hard time leaving all that she found in there behind and had almost wanted to stay, before it had been pointed out that come morning it would be full of inquisitive humans and she might not like that much. She had stolen with her a small sapling which she kept in a pot in their house and the others felt there was a warm glow radiating from her room since that day. Truly, some of the old life had been returned to their home with that. The shy one, she who had helped them all remain young and strong through her gifts helped the sister tend the sapling and one day the wife of the allfather reported that the girl had succeeded in making the sapling grow large and even bear apples. Apples again, after all this time. That truly brought them all hope.

The one who had commanded thunder had called for a feast and the trickster had been more than willing to help them find the necessary things to have something that almost resembled a little of how they used to celebrate. The one armed warrior had challenged the one of thunder to a friendly wrestling match and that bit of excitement had made them all forget for a time that the world outside their hidden doors was any different from before. The hangovers the next day did bring things back to them though.

Yet somehow their life continued. Night by night, some of them left and some of them remained inside the stout walls of the house.

The old guardian of the rainbow bridge which had linked all the realms together stood a seemingly eternal vigil on the roof, keeping a close watch on those that left every night, to be certain that they would return. Only when he was sure that all were back safe and sound would he leave his post, but sometimes he stayed for longer still, too keep an eye on the humans which now ruled the world in their stead.

When morning came and all were back they would gather and share all they had experienced during the night. There was news to tell, things to share, new food was brought in to the others and they were all amazed at all the strange new flavors that could be found.

It was a strange life they led now, but it was still a life and even the more conservative of them, those who missed the old ways the most did think that living like this was preferable to not living at all. They had days when they would remember those who had not been able to cope, those who had vanished into nothing as the humans swept across the land with their new inventions which left no room for the old things and the old ways.

Yet, there was still that hope. It was small, perhaps no more than an ember, but there was hope that the humans might realize for themselves that they had gone too far. That they would see all they had done and that they might perhaps retreat some and let them have some of the old back. Return some old places to them that could be brought back to how it used to be.

Hope, yes.

But the wiser among them, like the old bridge guardian or those who had spent more time among the humans suspected that the humans would never see it like that. They had seen that the humans had something inside them which craved more and would not back down until they had it all. Perhaps they would even bring about their own Ragnarok one day.

Maybe it would be then and only then they would have a chance at reclaiming what they had once had.

The trickster, who had both caused and managed to survive more than enough trouble used to flippantly remark that the way the humans were going about things, causing more mischief on their own than he had ever caused (though some of them doubted that), they might not leave much behind if they did end up causing the end of all things. And that they, with their old powers so diminished would not have the ability to bring life back to the barren soil and seas left behind after the ravages of man.

They tried not to listen to the trickster though, because after all…He was the master of lies. Why would he be honest about this?

Only the allfather would remain silent and brooding after the trickster had offered up his opinion on the future. But that’s how it was supposed to be. How it should be. Some things must remain unchanged if they were to survive in this new world.

 

At least until they had their old lives back and they were once more the rulers of this land.

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