The Odin Incident

Whether viewed as a threat or a promise, I’m following through from my last blog and giving you all an excerpt of the fantasy novel I’ve been revising lately. The novel fits very nicely into the ‘young adult/fantasy/Norse mythology/apocalyptic/love story’ genre.

Several drafts earlier, the few people I could get to read it, liked the last third of the story, where all the plot developments began to come together. So, in this latest draft, I attempted several things – more character development, discernible conflict earlier in the story and a more linear approach to the telling. It also takes existing Norse mythology and turns it on its head – not that you have to know anything about Norse mythology to enjoy the book.

Unfortunately, importing from word strips some of the formatting, and that will make the Huginn & Muninn characters a little harder to follow. In the MS, they are identified with separate fonts and anything said by them – to and from the main character – does not use quotation marks.

Despite the technical issues, I’m hoping the excerpt will interest readers from the outset and I’ll let you decide if I’ve succeeded.

Epilogue – Huginn and Muninn

Muninn, how can you still be depressed?  After thousands of years waiting, we’ve finally located two possible candidates!

            Hmm?  Well… I’ve been thinking about how long it’s been since we melded with a worthy host.  

I trust you’re not including our last disaster.

Oh yes, here we go again!  Let’s just throw that in my face one more time!  Yes! I insisted, AND I didn’t listen, AND you let me choose.  My fault!  How many times do I have to apologize?  For The Tree’s sake, Huginn, it was over five thousand years ago!

Well, we do bear some responsibility for the results.  

Who could possibly know that he’d be thrown out of Asgard and we’d all end up stuck in this forsaken world with no way back?  I can’t accept the blame for everything.

No WE can’t, and it’s me that should be apologizing.  I went along with the choice, despite my reservations.

It was a disaster, all around.  We’re supposed to help our hosts bring progress and peace to their world, not inflict ruinous ideas into a primitive culture.

And then the added insult!  He finally dies and we discover that none of the natives have sufficiently developed psyches to accept a meld.  And here I thought you’d be excited that we finally found two that can hear us.

But there’s something odd about them.  They can’t be native.  Their psychesmay be sufficiently developed but their auras are like nothing I’ve ever seen.  After thedamage we’ve done already, I’m not sure I’m ready to make another wrong choice.  Infact, I feel like we should stop the whole process and bury ourselves in ice for the next ten millennia.

Muninn!  That’s terrible!  We do have a purpose.  We two Ravings have been here since the beginning of the nine worlds.  We’ve helped the Aesir bring Asgard to a high point of development.  Let’s not forget that we HAVE had some wonderful hosts over the eons.  Ones who helped raise the level of civilization in substantial ways.  Asgard could have easily remained a savage world without us.  But we can’t guess right every time.  You can’t let a few bad choices get you down.

Choosing a host was a lot easier when we started.  If we misjudged somebody’s character, at least you could count on them dying in half a century and we’d be free to choose again.  By the time we made our great mistake, the average Aesir life span was over five hundred flaming years!  He might have been our worst mistake, but there were others.  Do you remember Kalon?  

How could I forget?  Such amazing potential that went nowhere – no drive, no ambition and completely drug addled by the time he died.  There’s nothing living sharing an incoherent mind.

Exactly! Admit it Huginn!  After four hundred and fifty years with that dud, even you were hoping he’d wander off a cliff.

All right, we’re not perfect.  We make mistakes… but we still have a purpose under The Tree – we are nothing without a host.  Entwined together – a transitory wisp of pure but useless energy.  So enough pessimism!  We’ve finally got a choice of candidates right here on Midgard!  Do you like the boy or the girl?

            How about YOU make the choice this time?  I will not interfere.

            Really?  You’ve always taken the lead before.  I’m not a match for your fabulous memory and great emotional empathy.  I’ve always felt you’re the only one that can choose a good host. 

How can you SAY THAT?  You are the one with peerless logic and we both agree my last choice was a disaster.  No, no, no!  I will not choose.  I must insist, absolutely, that you choose this time.  Whatever you choose, I will say NOT A WORD!  I will be silent!  I will leave it to you – I will remain a wallflower! 

Very well… I thought perhaps we’d approach the boy when he’s old enough. 

Yes, the boy – interesting choice.  It might not be great in Asgard… 

 Oh yes!  And there we go again!  Why not the boy?  In fact, it sounds like you really want to choose, like you always do. 

No! No! I’m Sorry! So Sorry!  It wasn’t meant as a criticism.  I was just remembering that Asgard is an equalized matriarchal society.  But you are quite right!  Midgard hasn’t abandoned its love of patriarchal domination, so your logic is undeniable.  Of course he’s awfully young…  

Are you going to keep sniping?  Are you going to find more problems until I choose the girl?

No, no!  I’m a Raving of my word.  The boy it is!  I’m trusting you.  I was just wondering when we should ask him.

            I would be inclined to choose the girl, but didn’t you feel the strange energy in the place she’s staying?  There is something not right about that place.  Some power is there that I can’t figure out.

            No wonder you prefer the boy.  Now that you mention it, I do feel a hub of energy there.  You’re right – it’s best to be cautious.  See!  No wonder I let you make the choice this time.

***

Chapter One – Adam

            Darkness.  Always darkness, and then pain.  Screaming and more pain, all around him.  Life expires; life starts.  And then the monster arrives.  Huge.  Claws.  Fierce yellow eyes.  He feels himself lifted and taken away.  Something is left behind and he can’t remember what.  His memory since his birth is complete, perfect in fact, except for the period between the monster’s arrival and the face of the mother peering down at him.  Why can’t he remember?  He remembers everything.  Something happened during that time.

*

“We are always greatly appreciative to those who are willing to undertake responsibility for a baby, Mrs. Ross, especially one that’s had such a difficult start in life.  I know I mentioned that he might be a little slower in developing than is the norm.”  

“Oh, Bob!  Look at those beautiful blue eyes.”

“Yup, nice eyes.  His nose and ears are kind of big, aren’t they?”

“He’s just a baby Bob, give him time to develop.  Well Dr. Aquilla, Mr. Ross and I felt lucky finding the advertisement for this clinic when we did.  We’ve been so busy helping with disaster relief that the possibility of helping a baby, orphaned on Armageddon Thursday, just struck both of us the right thing to do.  The timing couldn’t be better, especially since we only recently found we are unable to have one of our own.”  

            “It’s a very noble sentiment, Mrs. Ross.  The magnitude of the disaster left thousands of newly orphaned children.  They all need help, love, reassurance, hope, a home and a future.  The need is intense right now.  We’ve done your background check and you passed the home visitation with flying colors.  But, I don’t want to rush you; it’s a very big decision.  Adopting any baby is life changing.  I know I’ve already mentioned that he had a very traumatic birth.  It may turn out that he’s just fine, but we’re not sure at this point if his early trauma will have an effect.  There is the possibility he might be slow in developing.”

The soothing voice continued.  “Children with special needs are not everyone’s choice for adoption.  You and Mrs. Ross are two rather special people.  If it turns out he needs extra love and care, I have confidence that you two will be able to overcome any difficulties.  And we’d like to bolster that confidence.  Our agency has unique sources of funding that you can draw on.  We take our responsibilities very seriously.  Should you decide to adopt, we’ve included a rather special clause in your contract.  Because the nature of his development won’t be known for a while, the clinic is offering full and free medical and paramedical services until he reaches his twenty-first birthday.”

The Mr. Ross voice responded.  “So if it turns out he is slow and requires special services, your agency will pay the bills?”

“Yes.  In fact we’ll pay any medical expenses until he’s twenty-one, whether it turns out he needs more help or even if he has no problems.”

            “That’s extremely generous.”

            “Our agency puts the welfare of our new families first.”

            “What do you think, Marjorie?”

            “Such beautiful blue eyes… Oh look, Bob!  He’s taken my finger in his little hand and won’t let go!   I think he wants us.”

“Well, if you’re ready, all that’s required is some paperwork and he can go home with you.”

She has a kindly face and he can see it light up when he takes her finger and won’t let go.  She carries him outside and opens a door.  She ignores the basket on the seat and holds him on her lap as they leave.  The mother is looking at him constantly as he feels motion and hears the sound – like a quiet steady roar.  When the mother lifts him he sees outside with everything rushing past them.  

“Have you given any thought to a name?”

“I thought Milford.”  

No!  Please, not that!

“After your father.  You’re missing him.”

“He’s only been gone a year.”

“How about Daniel?”  

No.  It’s better, but I don’t like that one either.

“After your father.  He was a fine man.  It’s a pity our baby will never meet his grandparents.  Don’t you like Milford?”  

“Milford is a fine name, just a little unusual today.”

It’s awful!

“Do you like Adam?”  

Yes, I like the sound of that one.

“Your baby brother that died.  It’s a lovely way to remember him – as long as it doesn’t bring back sad memories.”

“How about we combine them all and call him Milford Adam Daniel?”  

No! No! No!

“A lovely idea.”

She is looking down at him with a smile.  “Hello, Milford.”  

He decides he won’t answer to that.

“Do you think Milford II sounds too pretentious?”

“It sounds like one of those missiles they hide in silos around the prairies.”

He hears her laugh.  “You’re right.  Daddy is right, isn’t he, my little coochie-coo?”  He feels her finger stroking his cheek.  

What is a coochie-coo?

“Here we are, Milford.  This is your new home.”

*

He works at strengthening his legs.  Even so, he spends almost a year being lifted onto the floor or back into the little pen with bars where he sleeps.  The mother takes him everywhere she goes.  He listens and observes everything.  He forgets nothing.  It is not yet time to speak.  Finally his legs are capable, but he doesn’t use them except at night, after the mother has checked in on him for the last time before morning. 

The mother and the father sleep so much!  Why would anyone need more than two hours?  The mother can see he’s always awake, but she puts him in the little pen anyway.  He lies still until they leave, then he gets up on his legs.  He loves when he can see the stars out the window.  They have more interesting patterns than the silly little balls hanging above his crib.  He knows how to open the latches that hold the bars.  He could get down if he wanted but he’s afraid of what’s under the bed.  He’s seen them lurking there during the day.  The mother sweeps them away once a week, but they soon return.  They look fluffy and inconsequential but he is not sure about them.  He cannot figure out why they keep returning.  He doesn’t want them there.

When he sleeps there’s a good chance the monster will return.  It will lurch towards him with claws unsheathed and he will awaken, wet all over.  The little bars keep him from falling out.  He will lie back and wait for the mother to make her last nightly visit.  She might return if he cried, but she’s never had to come back.  He’s spent more than two years not saying a word.  It’s better to watch and absorb everything he sees and hears.  The mother is still reading him the same simple books over and over.  She labors over everything, with her finger underlining each word.  It is too bad she is so slow.  He hopes that she will eventually figure out the story and find something better to read with him.  

            “Goodness Milford, look at all the dust bunnies under your bed.  I must have forgotten to vacuum under there last week.  Truly, I think we’d all be buried in dust if I didn’t keep on top of it.”  He’s on the floor and watches the bunnies being sucked up.  He decides they’re not harmful after all.  It is a relief.  He is getting much too bored at night.

            He’s had a good sleep – he awakens without having the monster appear.  He is thirsty.  He decides that tonight he will explore on his own.  He opens the latches and the bars of the cage drop down.  He puts his legs over the edge and hops onto the floor.  He is just able to reach the door handle, a lever style that he can pull.  He walks to the top of the stairs and decides it is safer to go down on all fours backwards, one step at a time.  At the bottom he goes into the kitchen and turns on the light.  He pushes a chair over to the sink and climbs on.  He can’t reach the tap!  He climbs down and heads to the living room.  He can just reach the switch if he stretches on his toes.  He turns on the light and sees the father’s book lying on the couch.  Yes, it’s a little more complex than the one where the odd looking creature decides whether he wants to eat green eggs.  He can hear footsteps coming down the stairs and hears the whispers.

            “Burglars don’t turn on the lights.”  It is the father’s voice.

            “They might if they didn’t know we were here.”

            He looks up and sees a head peeking around the corner.  It disappears.  “Oh, Marj!  It’s Milford.  He’s pretending to read my book.”  Another face peers around the corner.  

            “It’s so cute!”  They both come into the living room.

He owes them an explanation and looks up with a sad eyed expression.  “I was thirsty but I can’t reach the tap in the sink.”

**

            “Up to that night, he hadn’t spoken a single word.  He was still looking at everything around him with that weird, almost intense look of his.  From the start he’s never needed much sleep, but I think we mentioned that on our previous visit.  It was strange.  All our friends said their babies would cry half the night and need constant attention.  We’d put Milford in his crib and he’d watch us as we turned off the light.  When we checked on him during the night, he would always be awake and watch us come in.  When we got him up in the morning he was already awake and waiting.  He never cried and he still hadn’t said a single word.  Marj was reading to him constantly since his adoption, hoping it would help.  Then, out of the blue, a whole sentence.  Not only that but he was able to tell me everything he read in my book.  It wasn’t a children’s book!  What does it mean?”  

            He recognized Dr. Aquila’s office from before – when he’d been adopted and a follow up visit several months later.  

            “You know that we had some worries his progress may have been impeded by his unfortunate birth.”   He watched them both nod.  “Well it seems those fears have been greatly unfounded.  From what you’ve just described, I now think that you’re dealing with a child who is extremely gifted.  It’s not without precedent.  John Stuart Mill began learning Greek at the age of three.  He read histories and studied Latin seriously by age eight.” He saw odd looks from both the parents.  “Another case I recall had a similar pathology to Milford in delayed speech.  It was as if the child chose not to speak until it could do so perfectly.  Of course this kind of gift can be almost as challenging as raising a child with developmental problems.  I’ll recommend some books for you to read.”

            “Before we go, I want to ask about one more thing.”  It was the mother again.

            “Yes, of course.  What is it?”

            “Milford has also started talking to himself.  When I first heard him, I didn’t know what to think.  I asked him who he was talking to and do know what he said?”

            “No, but perhaps you could tell me.”  

            “He said he had two friends that dropped in and asked if they could live with him.  He said they were called… let me think… something like Hugbin and Munchkin or… Hatching and… I can’t remember.  In any case, he said they called themselves ‘Ravings’ and they’d chosen him because of his aura.  His ‘aura’?  I’m sure I don’t know what that means.  And I thought at first he meant ravens, like birds, but he insisted that wasn’t right.  He said they sounded like birds sitting on his shoulders and talking into his ears, but they were inside.  He said he liked talking to them because they weren’t stupid.  He says they can’t be heard by anyone but him.  He says they discuss many interesting things together.  He said he was sorry for disturbing me.  He said he’d try to remember to talk with them just in his head.”  Her voice sounded stressed.  “But…well…Ravings?  It’s been very worrisome.”

            He heard Dr. Aquila laugh.  “I can assure you Mrs. Ross, many children have imaginary friends they like to talk with.  It doesn’t surprise me at all given Milford’s traumatic start in life.  Gifted children often have trouble making friends their own ages. 

“That’s true.  He absolutely ignores any of the children we meet when I visit my friends.”

            I’m sure you noticed that this Hugbin and…”

“Munchkin – I think.”

“Thank you – Munchkin chose him.  It’s important to his self-esteem that somebody wants to be his friend, especially as he already sees himself as being different from your friends’ children.  He’ll likely outgrow them, perhaps when he goes to school and especially when he finds some real friends.  I imagine it will happen sooner than later.”

            “Thank you Dr. Aquila, you’ve taken quite a load off my mind.”

*

            Huginn, did you feel the aura?  This Doctor is not what he appears to be.

            You are better at auras than me Muninn.  I did feel a strange pulsing energy radiating from him.  I suspect he can shape shift.

            That would account for it.  There’s something odd going on here.  We’d best be watchful, for all our sakes.

            What are you two talking about?  

**

School sounded interesting until he saw the other children.  Fourteen of them and they were all stupid!  The mother accompanied him on the first day and tried to warn the teacher.  She sounded very proud when she said he was gifted.  He saw the look from the teacher.  Miss Grant smiled but her eyes went sideways.  Miss Grant had a sticky nametag ready for every child.  It said Milford, and she put it on his chest.  As soon as the mother left, he took it off and threw it in the wastebasket.  He was not going to let people call him that name.

Muninn had been right about bringing his own books to read.  There were lots of books in the room, but they were all for stupid people.  Huginn had suggested he might want to learn Latin and he’d brought a copy of an old text he’d found at home that belonged to his father.  The only things he liked about the classroom were the low tables and chairs designed for his size.  He sat down and noticed the other children gravitate to small areas set up for different kinds of infantile play.  Good, they could do their stupid stuff and wouldn’t bother him.  He sat and opened his Latin grammar.  

One glance per page was all he needed to read and memorize a page before he flipped to the next.  Even at that rate, the book was quite thick and it still might take him twenty minutes to read the whole thing.  After that he could try making up a story in Latin.  He was absorbed in his reading and didn’t notice Miss Grant had been watching him from behind.  

“What are you reading, Milford?”

“I don’t like the name Milford.  Would you please call me Adam?”

“Isn’t that your name?”

“It’s one of them, but I like my middle name better.”

He could see the baffled look.  “Well Adam, that book you have must have some wonderful pictures in it.”  

“No pictures Miss, it’s a book of Latin grammar.  Huginn says Latin is the key to learning many languages.  Muninn says when I’ve learned Latin, I’ll be able to read histories like Suetonius in the original language and it’s very amusing.  Of course Muninn already speaks every language and he’s a great help, but I thought it would be good to work on it for myself.”

He’d once seen a picture of a fish flopping on the floor of a boat.  Miss Grant looked a little like that for a moment.  “Perhaps you’d like to come with me at lunch hour and meet our principal?”

“I would be pleased to accompany you.”

“Excuse me Mil… Adam.”  He saw her hurry over to where the one called Kenny was throwing watercolor paints at the girl with the ponytail named Claire.  His Latin grammar was more interesting than that.

**

 He’d gone with Miss Grant at lunchtime.  She brought him to the office but asked him to sit outside.  She was gone some time before she came back with an older woman, lean, well-dressed and exuding efficiency rather than warmth.  “Adam, this is Ms. Frederickson, the principal.”  He saw a look of annoyance in the principal’s face at the introduction and wondered why she already disliked him.

“So, Milford, Miss Grant has told me a little about you and I’ve given your parents a call.  I thought it would be nice to have a chat together after school.”

“That’s fine.  But please call me Adam.”  He saw the annoyed look once again.

*

After lunch he started a book on the history of England.  He was half way through when he was interrupted by Miss Grant.  “I don’t understand, Milford.  If you want to make friends, you have to make some effort.”

He tried to keep the annoyance from his face.  “Adam.”

She sighed.  “Adam, you shouldn’t just sit and read all day.”  

“Why not?”

“Well, it’s good to get to know others, especially children your own age.”

“But they’re all so stupid.”

She gave him a stern look.  “We don’t call people names in this class.  It’s not polite and it’s not nice.  We all have different strengths and everyone should make allowances for those differences.  It’s wonderful that you are so advanced in your… academics, but there’s more to life than knowing facts and figures.  You’ve got to get along with people.”  

Her tone of voice wasn’t angry but he felt hurt.  He felt a tear trickle down his face.  “I’m only telling you this for your own good, Milford…  Adam.”

He nodded.  “I didn’t think you got scolded for telling the truth at school.”

She sighed and shook her head.  He saw her go help Amy with her shoelaces.  Then she intervened when Kenny started pushing Ralph away from the play blocks.  Then she helped Elsa pick out a picture book to read.  She picked up the Dr. Seuss ‘Green Eggs and Ham’.  He had been so relieved when his mother gave up reading it to him.  All the while he thought about his scolding.  It wasn’t fair.  It wasn’t his fault they were so stupid.  Obviously school was a place for stupid people and nobody wanted you to tell the truth.  It took some time before he returned to his history book.

**

They were all in Ms. Fredrickson’s office.  Miss Grant was there.  Even the father had come with the mother.  

“Mr. and Mrs. Ross, thank you for coming in on such short notice.  Miss Grant was telling me a little about Milford’s first day in class.  Apparently he read three or four books including a Latin grammar and she found he’d memorized and understood all of them.”

“I did mention to Miss Grant that Milford was gifted.”

“In my experience, Mrs. Ross, gifted would be an inadequate way to describe a five year old who can teach themselves Latin from a book.  A child prodigy or genius might be more apt.  The difficulty is…  I don’t think our school has much to offer Milford.  He is already doing academic work far beyond most students in university.  Have you thought about sending him to one of the special schools for the gifted?  There’s one in the city and I’m sure with his aptitude, they’d welcome him with open arms.”

“Mr. Ross and I did look into it.  But we had other things to consider.  When we adopted him as a baby, we were told he’d already experienced a horrible trauma.  He didn’t say a single word for over two years.  My husband’s business is here in town and we can’t afford to close up and move into the city.  Milford’s much too young to be sent to a boarding school and we both think he needs the stability of home.  Besides, I can’t help thinking that Milford needs to develop some social skills.”

 “I can appreciate your concern.  Unfortunately, children like Milford have little in common with normal children.  Miss Grant tells me he already doesn’t want to play with his classmates because he says they’re… too stupid.  You do understand that, as children get older, they get less… tolerant of their peers who are… different?” 

“What do you mean?” asked Mrs. Ross.

“Well, in my experience schools always have a cross section of personalities.  Every school will have a few bullies, despite our best efforts to stop that kind of behavior.  The bullies usually pick on the ones who are different and you can expect some very rough years ahead.   Milford is still…

With Muninn and Huginn encouraging him, he finally spoke up.  “Please don’t call me Milford.”  Everyone stopped at the interruption and looked at him.

“But that’s your name, dear.” Mrs. Ross was the first to respond.

“I don’t like it.  Please use Adam, that’s my middle name.”

Mrs. Ross looked flustered.

“But Milford…” 

Mrs. Ross stopped when he stood and turned his back to her.

“O.K. …Adam.” Mr. Ross intervened and he turned around, smiled at the father and sat down again.  “Could you tell us why the sudden need for a name change?”

“It isn’t sudden, I’ve been thinking about it for some time.  I don’t like the name Milford and I do like the name Adam.  Aren’t there lots of people that go by their middle names?”

“Umm, yes, I suppose so – at least there are some.”

“Good.  Then I’d like everyone to use my middle name, please.”

“But Milford was your grandfather’s name.”  Mrs. Ross sounded anxious.

“And my other grandfather’s name was Daniel.  Adam was your dead brother’s name.  But then you combined them all into Milford Adam Daniel.  Didn’t you realize that when you put the acronym together for them, I become MAD Ross?”

He heard Ms. Fredrickson try to stifle a laugh that came out as a snort.  “My apologies,” she said to the Rosses who were looking at each other in a rather horrified and bewildered way.  “Perhaps we can meet again at a later date and finish our discussion.  It sounds like your family needs a little time to… talk.”  She smiled as she led the group to the door.  

**

            “A new high speed laptop?  It must have cost a fortune!”

            “Happy birthday, Adam.”  Mrs. Ross looked at Adam’s face; entranced with the gift they’d given him.  “We wanted to find something special for your birthday and you mentioned you needed something better than the one at the school.”  Mrs. Ross was beaming at the success of the present.

            “Besides,” Mr. Ross added, “you’re not the easiest person to buy presents for.”

            “This is wonderful!  I can’t thank you enough.”  He gave them both a big hug.

            Go on and ask.

            “Did you make the angel food cake with chocolate icing?  I’m six today!”

            Both the Rosses laughed.  “I couldn’t forget that.  But for dinner, right?”

            “Oh,” Mr. Ross said, “This came for you in the mail.”  He handed Adam the large flat package.  “Go ahead and open it.”

            When Adam finished taking the wrapping off, he saw the title of the book: ‘The Children’s Guide to Norse Mythology.’  He knew he must be polite so he said, “What a nice thought, even if it is written for children.”

            “Who is it from?” his mother asked.

Adam looked at the return address on the envelope.  “It looks like it came from Dr. Aquila’s office.”  He smiled and said, “Did you know that aquila is the Latin name for an eagle?”  

“No, I certainly didn’t,” said Mr. Ross, not really sounding too interested. 

“Bald eagles have white hair and yellow eyes, a lot like Dr. Aquila.  Isn’t it interesting that his name means eagle?”

“Well, that is interesting.  He does have white hair but I don’t think humans can have yellow eyes, Adam.”

The father was correct.  He had read that.  Perhaps that was what Huginn and Muninn were talking about on their last visit to his office.  If he wasn’t human, what was he?

He saw the parents looking at each other with wry smiles.  He supposed they were both used to having him tell them all sorts of facts he’d read about or commenting on odd things he’d seen.  They were probably smiling at each other because they thought he’d got something wrong.  He found it a pity they never remembered much of anything he told them or even noticed Dr. Aquila’s odd eye color.  The father interrupted his thoughts.  “If we’re ever asked to play one of those trivia and knowledge games, we’ll want you to be on our team.”  Adam smiled at the compliment. “Actually, you’d probably make a whole team by yourself.”

Adam felt a glow after that remark and picked a card out of the front of the book.  “There’s a card that says: ‘This may have some interest in the future, Regards, Dr. Aquila.’  But the book has more pictures than text.  You’d think he’d send me one that was more for adults.”

“Never-the-less, dear, you must write and thank him.”

“O.K. mom, I’ll do that right after cake… I mean dinner.”  Adam headed to his room to put the book away.  “I’ll read it after dinner.”

As he left he heard the mother say, “Thank goodness he’s normal in some ways.”

**

            Adam began reading the book just before bedtime.  Normally he would read by passing his hand over a page and then flipping to the next page.  The page flip usually took longer than reading.  Everything he read once was automatically memorized.  Getting through this book turned out to be much harder than usual.  It wasn’t because of anything difficult in the book, except perhaps for the many full-page color illustrations that were wonderfully done and worth stopping to admire.  The problem was putting up with constant interruptions from Huginn and Muninn. 

It started out well.  He loved the idea of an indescribably huge tree called the Yggdrasil that connected nine different worlds, including Earth, although it was called Midgard in the myths.  There were the descriptions of Asgard and Vanaheim, the home worlds of the gods.  He enjoyed the rivalry between the two sets of gods and was thrilled at the thought of walking on a rainbow called Bifrost into Asgard.  Then there were the fights between the gods and their enemies, the giants of Jotunheim.  He could imagine the clash of swords in battle and the brave warriors rushing out to meet their foes.  And there was the greatest warrior of them all – the god, Odin.  

            Hahahahahahahahah!

            Really Muninn!  You shouldn’t be laughing at Adam’s book.  It’s obvious that he likes it, even if the stories are ridiculous. 

            What’s wrong with you Muninn?  This isn’t a funny book.  And what exactly is ridiculous about the story?

            Should we tell him?

            To what purpose?  Lots of tales are sheer nonsense and he obviously loves the stories.  Besides, it will no doubt provide us with some amusement.  

            Good point.  Go ahead, Adam.

            Yes please, do keep going.  It’s very entertaining!

            Odin!  To be like Odin!  There was a resurrection myth where Odin was hung from a tree for nine days before coming back to life.  Adam didn’t think he’d like to be faced with that, but he would have given anything to go with Odin and scale the peak called Hlidskjalf to stare into the entire cosmos.  From this high vantage point you could watch anything, and everything, happening in the whole universe.  

Sure, as long as he didn’t drink too much mead while there.  You know the rhyme  – ‘’Odin and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of mead – Odin fell down and lost his crown while Jill kept drinking thereafter!’

Hahahahahah!  Good one, Muninn!  I told you’d it would be a laugh fest!

You two are being very annoying.  Let’s see… Odin and the other gods of Asgard, called Aesir, met under the boughs of the mighty Yggdrasil to hold their councils of war.  

A whole once, I think!

Some war…  I thought it was a drinking council.

Adam ploughed on, despite Huginn and Muninn’s constant interruptions.  Odin, sometimes called Wotan, was the most powerful of the gods and resided in a palace called Valhalla where he entertained the bravest of fallen warriors, carried to the sacred hall of Valhalla by Valkyries, winged warrior women.  In Valhalla, they would drink and be entertained by Odin himself!

I don’t know about the bravest warriors, but Odin’s followers could certainly be entertained with enough drink to make them fall down.

Wonderful what a few thousand years can do for a story.   Of course our dearly departed’s friend was a masterful storyteller.  And who doesn’t want to bend the truth a little if it means you come out looking better.

But taking those goofs and making them gods!  That’s stretching the truth pretty severely, even for Odin’s group.

“Would you two be quiet, I can’t concentrate!”  Adam was finding his inner voices rather annoying and he was really enthralled with the stories.  When silence was restored for a time, Adam came to a part where Odin gave the power of speech to two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who would fly all over the world to bring him news.  

            Oh Odin, dear, the number nine chariot is leaving for Memphis and Abydos on platform nine in five minutes – all aboard!

            Hahahahah!  Good one Huginn!

            A thought crossed Adam’s mind.  Are you two the same ravens that sat on Odin’s shoulder and did his bidding?

We’ve always been Ravings, not ravens.

I don’t think you answered my question.

Good catch, my little friend.  Let’s just say that we never sit on anyone’s shoulders.

That still doesn’t answer my question.  Were you actually there with the great god himself or not?

The great god?  Did I hear that right?

Be reasonable, Muninn.   Adam has nothing to go on but the myths of Asgard as created by Odin’s henchman here on Midgard.  Of course he’d be thrilled at our connection.  You would be too, in his place.

Adam flipped the page reluctantly.  He couldn’t figure out why Huginn and Muninn were being so critical and he finally insisted that they stop.  He waited a few more minutes in silence and then continued with his usual method of reading.  

He fell in love with Freya.  She was an enchanting goddess that might have been Aesir or Vanir – nobody knew.  She was described as a lover of men and she brought fallen warriors to her own hall, called Folkvang.  Freya was also the one who brought magic into Asgard.  

It’s so curious, Huginn.  I was always surprised that Freya was even included in these fanciful tales of Asgard.  I thought if he did mention her, she would come off pretty frightfully.

Well, let’s remember that it was Loki who created the tales.  He certainly wouldn’t mind including her, if only as a jab at his leader.  He was much smarter than Odin and the only independent one of the group.  As you recall, Odin was persuaded to include a magical Freya that gave him an excuse as to why she got the better of him.   Then there are those hints that she’s not a true Aesir – possibly even a half-breed.  Very clever of him, I thought. 

Adam was annoyed at yet more interruptions but continued reading about Loki.  He wasn’t sure he liked him.  Loki seemed rather untrustworthy and made a lot of mischief. 

So how do you account for Loki’s portrayal as a nasty trickster?

Yes, a harder one to fathom.  We know Loki wasn’t the same after his wife left him.  He cared less about everything and maybe the portrayal was based on what he thought of himself at that point.

I still don’t know what you two are talking about, so will you please be quiet?

They said yes, but seemed unable to resist a few more snide comments.  Despite all the negative commentary, Adam finished the book and loved it.  The color pictures were awesome!  For reasons he couldn’t understand, the stories also had an attraction for him that satisfied some inner need.  He read the book constantly in his mind.   The few times he actually opened the book, he did just to admire the beautiful illustrations – he would love to be able to paint like that.  The only annoying part for Adam was putting up with Huginn and Muninn, who continued to make endless fun of Odin.  Perhaps they really weren’t the ravens in the story.

**

            School was finished and Adam was walking home across the fields.  He noticed the four boys following just behind him as they had done on many occasions.  It was Kenny, from his class, and three older boys he hung out with, all of them looking for trouble.  They started with comments about Adam’s inadequacies in sports, moved on to his big ears and nose and then began comparing him unfavorably to a number of animals and insects.  They could be quite merciless when mocking him.  Adam decided to walk faster but they kept up.  He had long ago started dreading his treks to school and home. 

            This might be a good time to run, Adam.

            “Hey, wonderboy – in a hurry?”  “Look at him trying to run.”  “He’s like a monkey with a broken leg.”  “Hey genius, can you run any faster?”  “Poor wonderboy – sitting on his ass all day in the library.  No wonder he runs like that.”  “Great job in gym today, genius!”  “Hey Kenny, I thought you told us he’s fucking useless at everything.  I bet he’s great at shitting his pants.”  “Yeah, look at his face.  He’s about to crap himself right now.”  Not only did they easily keep up with him, he saw them close around and block his way.

             He didn’t see who tripped him.  He fell heavily onto the ground.  He felt pain in his nose.  He felt someone grab his legs and someone else at his wrists.  They started pulling in both directions so he couldn’t move.  The stretching got painful.  Then a foot came down on the back of his head and started grinding his face in the dirt.  “Eat up genius.”

“Come on, Kenny, did you bring it?”

The foot was removed from the back of his head, to be replaced by someone grabbing his hair and pulling his head sideways out of the dirt.  He saw the thin bag and smelled it before it was smeared over his face.  “There you go, shit face – genius that!” 

“Shit face!  Shit face!  Shit face…” He didn’t want to move even when he heard the awful words and laughter recede into the distance.  

Adam, we can’t do anything about the physical realm, but we can help you avoid them in future.

Yes, you can send one of us out to check that they’re not around before you go anywhere.

Adam sat up and found his nose was still bleeding.  He wiped his hand across his face and then rubbed the tears and blobs of shit onto the ground.  The blood was staining his torn shirt.

Put your head down and squeeze your nose until it stops.  You’ve got a bad cut on your forehead so use your other hand to keep that closed until you get home.

He did as Huginn suggested and waited.  His breathing finally became more normal and his heart stopped racing.  Is that like in the book when Odin sent his ravens out to spy for him?

Yes, like that.  Only one of us can leave you at a time but either of us can pick up an aura and find anyone you want in an instant, anywhere in the world.  You just have to ask one of us to check before you leave school.  If they are anywhere near, we can tell you in seconds.  Then you could stay at school or call home for a ride.

O.K.  He got up and started walking home.  He was weighed down by what the mother would say.  Would she think it was his fault because he was so different and everybody hated him?

*

“Adam, what happened?”  The mother led him to the bathroom and ran a bath.   She looked very angry as she helped him take his shirt off.  There was a lot of blood on it.  “That’s quite a scrape you have on your forehead.  Now you have a bath and I’ll get you some clean clothes.  Wash the scrape carefully and I’ll get some antiseptic.”  

He sat in the tub and rubbed his face like he’d never get it clean again.  He heard her knock and the door opened enough for him to see her arm drop the clothes inside.  “Let me know when you’re dressed.  I’ve got some antiseptic for that scrape.”  When he was washed and changed she came in with a bottle of iodine.  “That’s odd.  You did have a scrape, didn’t you?”  He looked in the mirror and saw his forehead was smooth and clear.  There wasn’t a trace of a scrape anywhere on his skin. 

She shook her head and put the bottle of iodine down.  Then she kissed him on the forehead and said, “O.K. Now tell me what happened.”

*

“I talked to Ms. Frederickson this afternoon.”  The whole family was sitting around the oak table in the kitchen.  “She did warn us he might be bullied.”

“Well I never imagined this kind of thing!  It’s disgusting!  It was dog shit, Bob – all over his face!  And Adam even thought he might be to blame!  Did you call the police?”

“I did and they noted it.”  He shook his head.  “Kenny and his friends all denied everything and nobody else saw it.  Ms. Frederickson is sure they did it, but there’s nothing she can do in the circumstances.”

  “Well that’s no help at all.  What are we going to do – homeschool him?”

“We could, but Ms. Frederickson had another suggestion.  She’s talked to the high school principal and he’s agreed that Adam could work in the library there.  It will be several years before Kenny and his friends leave elementary school.  In the meantime the students at the high school are more likely to ignore someone Adam’s size.  The school has labs and a small weight room.  He can sit in for some labs if he wants and they will assign him a senior student who can supervise some weight training with him.  That way he will meet his P.E. requirement without going to any more classes.  And let’s face it, he could also benefit from some body building.”

“But what about socializing?  We chose to keep him in school so he would learn some social skills and perhaps even find a friend.”

“Well, that certainly isn’t happening.  He’s just too different.  He’s got nothing in common with children anywhere near his age.  Marj, I have an idea that might help that problem, but Adam will have to agree.”

He squirmed a bit in his seat, wondering what the father had in mind.  “Adam, I’d like you to come to the store with me on Saturdays and work there.  I’ll teach you about tools, hardware and anything else you need in a building supply business.”  He gave Adam a very serious look.  “When you’ve learned enough, you’ll help customers.  Keeping customers happy is how a business keeps going.  My building supply store is what pays for everything we have.”  Adam was thinking about all the stupid people he would be forced to meet there.  “So this is a really important job.  It means you have to be polite to everyone.  It means you will have to look like you care about people.  It especially means you can’t tell them they’re stupid – even if they are.”  

            “Could I stay at home during the week?”

“If working in the high school library doesn’t work out, we’ll consider it, but that would be up to your mother.  Now, will you come to work and be friendly with people?”

“I’ll try.”

“Trying is nice, but I want you to commit to actually doing it.”

Adam sighed.  “O.K.”

             The father looked relieved.  “One more thing.  I want you to start self-defense training.  You need to know how to protect yourself.  I have a friend who knows an instructor in martial arts.  Apparently he’s some bug wig in the sport.  He flits off to the orient every year to adjudicate high level candidates.  He is willing to accept you into his Monday afternoon class.”  

            “Does he do Kung-Fu or Karate?”  He’d read about those.

            “Kind of like that.  This one is called Taekwondo and it originally came from Korea.”  He turned to his wife.  “Mondays are usually pretty light and Fred is willing to look after the store while I’m gone.”

            “Does it involve fighting?”  Adam immediately thought of his book about Asgard.  He began to imagine himself with a sword in hand, joining Odin to do battle against the giants or, even better, cutting the heads off Kenny and his friends.

            “No one wants you to hurt anyone, son.  How about you look it up on your computer?”  Adam’s look brightened at the thought of something else he could read.

            “O.K.”

**

            “Are you Mr. Wu?”  A nod confirmed the identity.  Mr. Wu was not much taller than Adam and his black hair was close cropped.   Adam was impressed by the way Mr. Wu radiated power and confidence without saying a word.  “I’m Bob Ross and this is my son Adam.  We talked on the phone.”

            “Ah, yes, you are George’s friend.  Your son will begin today.  I have two others starting today as well.  You may sit over there,” he said waving to some chairs parked along the gym wall, “or come back in two hours.” 

            “Adam, there’s a few things I could pick up while I’m in town.  Would you mind if I came back to get you?”

            “Sure.”  He looked across at the other two.

            Huginn!  It’s her!

            Very interesting!

            Who’s her?

            The girl.  We’ve come across her before.  She has an aura like yours.

            Adam had no chance to ask further as Mr. Wu signaled the three newcomers to a mat.  Facing the three he began, “It is considered porite to bow when you meet your teacher,” said Mr. Wu, “like this.” He demonstrated what he wanted and looked at them.  They all bowed.  Mr. Wu then said, “You must call me Sahyun when you are here or doing Taekwondo.  Remember this – every time.”  

            The three were in a row and had been told to get into a crouched position with their knees slightly bent, their arms held against their bodies to the elbows and their forearms at a ninety degree angle ending in fists.  Adam thought they’d been in this position an awfully long time and his muscles were beginning to cramp and scream at him.  His eyes flicked over at the girl.  She wasn’t moving and he wasn’t going to let her last longer than he did.  He gritted his teeth and held the position.  A little while later the older boy shook his head and stood up and wiggled his leg.  He saw Mr. Wu look at him sternly.  He shrugged his shoulders and left the gym.  He heard him mutter, “What a bunch of crap!” on his way out.  

            A few long minutes later Mr. Wu came back.  “You may stand now.  Where is Rarry?”  Adam noticed he had difficulty sounding the letter ‘L’, which came out sounding like ‘R’.  

The girl bowed and said, “He went home, Sahyun.”  

“Ahhh, very good.  Why you not go home?”

“You told us to stay here.”

“Excellent.  You two welcome to my studio.  Please come and sit here and watch.”  He brought them both over to where he had been teaching four other students while they had been stuck in their crouching position.  He motioned for them to sit on the floor beside a mat.  Adam noticed that Mr. Wu had a black belt holding the top of his dobok together, as did one of the students now bowing.  Mr. Wu’s belt looked fancier somehow.   He knew from his bit of research that the colors meant something.  His belt was kind of grey, like the one on the girl.  She looked every bit as silly in her dobok as he did.

They watched as Mr. Wu explained something to the student with the black belt and then demonstrated a series of movements in slow motion.  Then he beckoned another student to come forward.  The two students bowed and began a routine.  Adam watched in awe as the black belt responded, using the same motions that had been demonstrated earlier, but at what seemed like lightning speed to him.

Adam saw the girl looking at him.  Was it his imagination or was she thinking about how she’d demolish him?  There was something strange about the girl and Muninn said her aura was like his.  He was quite fascinated by her and couldn’t decide why.  He thought she looked very attractive, for a girl. On the other hand, the shark-like looks she kept throwing his way filled him with foreboding.  

He decided to ignore the girl and concentrate his mind on the geometry of the moves he’d just seen and compare them to Mr. Wu’s instructions.  Applying principles of motion, physics and anatomy to the maneuvers, he analyzed how the result was accomplished.  He concluded that he would have to work harder on his muscle development but that he would be capable of performing such maneuvers in the future.

They bowed at Mr. Wu and smiled at each other when they left.  Mr. Ross was at the door and they went outside.  When he got in their truck, Adam saw a small, chubby faced man with wispy whiskers greet the girl.  He watched as they walked off down the street together.

**

            “So, how did it go?” He didn’t usually answer his parents in more than monosyllables.  It made things easier for him in the long run.

            “Good.”

            “What did you do?”

            “Mostly just held a crouch position – for a very long time.  My legs are still sore.  I think it was some kind of test.”

            “And you passed?”

            “I couldn’t let the girl see me fail.  I don’t think she likes me.”

“What girl is that?”  He thought for a second before adding, “You mean the one your age that started today?”

            “Yes.  She calls herself Evie.  I asked if it was short for Evelyn and she scowled at me and said nobody but her Aunt calls her that name.  Then she said she was looking forward to flattening me when we are allowed to spar.”

            Mr. Ross looked sympathetic and nodded.  “And is she?”  There was no answer as he settled back on the straight prairie road and pushed the truck up to seventy mph. 

They were only five minutes away from home when Adam brought Mr. Ross out of his driving reverie.  The voice in the darkening twilight was determined.  “No.”

**

            Adam was sitting on the living room couch with his laptop in front of him.  Normally his concentration was so focused that he rarely heard anything else going on in the house.  But he heard his name and became alert to his surroundings.  The father and mother were talking about him in the kitchen.  They were making no effort to keep quiet and he could hear every word.  He didn’t feel bad about listening in.  It was good to know what they were thinking in case they decided they wanted him to do something stupid, like forcing him to go to that birthday party.  

The mother had just asked how it was working out at the store.  “Astonishing.  I can’t even comprehend how he does it.  The first day I showed him around the store.  Since then he can tell anybody where anything is located.  But that’s not even the best part.  A week later a customer came in asking me how to fix a 6×6” post that had partially rotted at the bottom.  It was holding up a bearing beam and he was wondering if it could be repaired rather than removing the whole post.  I was still thinking about it when Adam outlined what he should do, rented him the equipment for holding up the beam, sold him a dremel with a whole set of cutters and was able to tell him how the tool worked.  I couldn’t give better advice, but how did he know?  He’s never built anything or used a dremel in his life.”

            “Well dear, you remember he fixed your computer when he was seven.”

            “Yes, I remember…  You’ll also be pleased to know he’s been very polite with customers – he hasn’t called anyone stupid.”

“That’s a relief.  You know Millie still isn’t talking to me after that birthday party.  She was standing right next to me when Adam said, in a rather loud voice, that he’d rather skip the cake than stay any longer with all those stupid children.  I was mortified!”

“You probably shouldn’t have forced him to go.  He’s just not like anyone his own age.  He’d probably handle a cocktail party better.”  

He heard her laugh.  “I’m sure Millie will get over it, eventually.  And you’re right Bob.  He is so different from any child we’ve ever known. How many ten year olds vacuum their bedroom floor every day?  He told me he had to control the dust bunny population.  I almost thought he was serious.  Do you know it’s been several years since I’ve had to clean his room?  It’s sad.  It’s like he’ll never have a real childhood.”  

“Sad, and just plain spooky how much he knows.  It sometimes makes me wonder if our son came from outer space.”

            “Does that make us Mr. and Mrs. Kent?”  He could hear them both laughing and couldn’t understand what they found so humorous.  

“You’re smiling, Adam!  I don’t see that too often.  Did you find something funny?”  The mother had finally come out of the kitchen just as Muninn finished telling him about cocktail parties, comic books, Superman and the Earth parents who adopted him.  “Just something I read on the computer.”

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