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Authors: Tanya Huff

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February Thaw

BOOK: February Thaw
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February Thaw
and other stories of contemporary fantasy
by Tanya Huff

Copyright © 2011 by Tanya Huff

Cover design by Jenn Reese at Tiger Bright Studios

Published as an ebook original by Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

ISBN 978-1-936535-56-9

Contents

1.
February Thaw

-first published in Olympus
,
edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Bruce D. Arthurs, DAW Books, Inc., 1998; collected in
What Ho, Magic!
Meisha Merlin 1999

2.
Burning Bright

-first published in
Earth, Air, Fire, Water
edited by Margaret Weiss, DAW Books, Inc. 1999; collected in
Relative Magic,
Meisha Merlin, 2003

3.
When the Student is Ready

-first published in
Apprentice Fantastic
, edited by Russell Davis and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW Books Inc., 2002; collected in
Relative Magic,
Meisha Merlin, 2003

4.
Jack

-first published in
Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City,
edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, DAW Books Inc., 2004; collected in
Finding Magic,
ISFiC Press 2007

5.
Symbols are a Percussion Instrument

-first published in
Tarot Fantastic
edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Lawrence Schimel, DAW Books Inc., 1997; collected in
What Ho, Magic
, Meisha Merlin, 1999

6.
Shing Li'ung

-first published in
Dragon Fantastic
edited by Rosalind M. Greenberg and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW Books Inc., 1992; collected in
What Ho, Magic
, Meisha Merlin, 1999

7.
A Midsummer Night's Dream Team

-first published in
Elf Fantastic
edited by Martin H. Greenberg, DAW Books, Inc., 1997; collected in
What Ho, Magic
, Meisha Merlin, 1999

Cover design by Jenn Reese at Tiger Bright Studios (
www.tigerbrightstudios.com
)

February Thaw
was chosen to be the cover story for this 2nd e-collection because
Symbols are a Percussion Instrument
was just too long. Sometimes it's art. Sometimes it's craft. Sometimes, it rains. (Bonus points if you recognize what I'm quoting here.)

 

As I recall, the editor of
Olympus
wanted stories where we wrote the ancient gods living in a modern world. I'd already done exactly that in
Summon the Keeper
, but was willing to rise to the challenge of doing it again. Differently. The great thing about the ancient gods is that once you've done the research and accepted all the mythic information as fact, you realize that the Power and the Presence are just window dressing; they're really nothing more than a highly dysfunctional family.

February Thaw

Scuffing across the rec room floor in a pair of well-worn fuzzy slippers, Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest, pulled open the door to her small wine cellar, took a bottle of wine from the rack and held it up to the light. A Tignanello, 1990; lovely vintage. Most of the family didn't think much of Dionysus but she rather liked him. Not only did he do very nice things with the grapes she provided, but, in his other guise as God of Theatrical Arts, he saw to it that she got complimentary tickets to all the big shows.

She'd seen
Cats
a dozen times before the novelty had worn off.

Tucking the bottle under her arm, she scuffed back to her chair and settled into the overstuffed cushions with a satisfied sigh. One thumb popped the cork – there were perks to being an immortal goddess after all – and a moment later she settled back with a glass of wine in one hand, the television remote in the other.

Demeter loved winter. Not so much because she had nothing to do after the rush of planting, tending, and harvesting, but because her house was her own again. She could eat what she wanted, she could drink what she wanted, she could wear what she wanted, and, most importantly, she could watch what she wanted. During the winter, she wore stretchy fabrics and watched absolutely nothing with socially redeeming value.

"I admit it," she announced to the fat, disinterested tabby sprawled in the middle of a braided rug. "I was an overprotective mother. Well, what do you expect? I was a single, working mom. He was never around. Still..." She took a long, contented swallow of the wine and turned on the first of the afternoon's talk shows. "...if I had it to do over, I'd give them a nice set of salad bowls and my blessing."

"Mom?"

Having just taken another drink, Demeter choked.

"Mom? Where are you?" Fashionably high heels ringing against the worn carpeting on the stairs, Persephone descended into the rec room to find her mother dabbing at the stains on her turquoise track suit with one hand and trying to fish a tissue out of the box with the other. "Mother! Honestly!" She shoved a tissue into Demeter's searching fingers. "It's the middle of the afternoon!"

Wiping at the wine dribbling out her nose, the goddess glared up at her only daughter. "What," she demanded, "are you doing here? There's two more months until spring."

"Two more months?" Persephone repeated, volume rising with every word. "Two more months? I couldn't stay with that man two more minutes!"

While she had every intention of being supportive, Demeter couldn't help looking a little wistfully toward the muted television as she asked, "What did he do?"

"What didn't he do?" Throwing herself down on the sofa, Persephone ran a slender hand through corn-silk blonde hair. "He leaves his socks and underwear on the floor, he never gets any exercise..."

Just why the Lord of the Underworld, who was not only slender bordering on downright skinny but also an immortal god, needed to exercise, Demeter had no idea.

"...he spends all his time playing poker with Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Aeacus, and he lets that stupid dog up on the furniture."

"Sephie, these don't sound like reasons for you to leave a god you've been married to for millennia. In fact, they sound an awful lot like the things you complain about every spring." She leaned forward and patted her daughter's knee with one plump hand, trying to sound more sympathetic than she felt. "What's the real reason you're here when you shouldn't be?"

In the silence between question and answer, the cat wisely got up and left the room.

"We had a fight."

"What about?"

"Pomegranates."

"What, again?"

"This was a different fight." Persephone's face crumpled. "Hades doesn't love me anymore!"

Picking up the box of tissues, Demeter moved to the sofa beside the weeping goddess. "Of course, he loves you, sweetie."

"No, he used to but now he doesn't." She blew her nose vigorously. "And I'm never going back to him."

"Never?" Demeter repeated. She reached for her wine.

Outside the cozy, country cottage, the snow – currently, the goddess' preferred symbolism of her time off – began to melt.

 

*

 

"Is that what you're having for breakfast?"

Demeter sighed and paused, fork halfway to her mouth. "What's wrong with my breakfast?"

"Eggs, sausages, and home-fries? Not to mention toast and beans? Mom, you've got enough bad fats in front of you to kill you, and trust me, I know what can kill you." Before Demeter could secure it, the plate was whisked away. "I'll make you some whole grain porridge, just like I do in the summer. No saturated fats, plenty of fruits and vegetables; we'll get that extra weight off you in no time."

"Sephie, I'm the goddess of the harvest, I'm supposed to be ample. And trust me, dear, you can't get ample on fruits and vegetables."

Persephone shot her a glittering smile. "Isn't that a bit of a contradiction?"

"I've learned to live with it."

A sheet of snow slid off the steeply raked roof and landed on the burlap wrapped foundation plantings, crushing them under the wet weight.

 

*

 

Demeter stared into her whole wheat pita stuffed with alfalfa sprouts, humus and god knew what else because the goddess certainly didn't. "I wonder what Hades is eating right now."

"I don't care."

"Probably something greasy and bad for him."

"I know what you're trying to do, Mom, and I appreciate it, but my marriage can not be saved." Persephone bit the top three inches off a raw carrot with more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary. "After we eat, I've got a new low-impact aerobic workout that I want you to try."

"Sephie, I usually rest in the winter."

"If you mean you usually spend the winter in front of the television, well, that's not resting."

"It's not?"

"It's vegetating. And you won't have to do it this winter because I'm here. Think of it, we'll have such fun. Just like we do in the summer."

"Oh, I'm thinking of it,sweetie..."

Out in the garden, a confused iris stuck its head above ground.

 

*

 

"I'm going for a walk, Mom. Do you want to come?"

"No, dear. I thought I'd..." Demeter racked her brain for something that her daughter couldn't object to. "...chop up some vegetables for a salad."

Persephone sniffed disapprovingly. "How can you stand being stuck inside on such a beautiful day? You're not like this in the summer."

"It's not summer, Sephie."

"Hades and I walk all over the Underworld in the winter: through the Asphodel Fields, along the Styx, and back home to Erebus by way of the Lethe. We walk..." The second sniff was much moister. "...and we talk and then, later, we curl up in front of the fire."

Encouraged by the longing in Persephone's voice, Demeter dared to suggest that her husband probably missed her very much.

"Good."

"Maybe you should just talk to him."

"No."

"But..."

"You don't understand, Mother."

Demeter smiled tightly. "That's because you haven't told me anything, dear. If I knew what the fight was about, maybe I could help."

"It's between Hades and me, Mother." Throwing an elegant sweater over slender shoulders, Persephone opened the back door. "I'm going for my walk now."

"Put on a coat, Sephie."

"I don't need one."

Glancing over at the calendar, Demeter sighed.

 

*

 

A few days later, standing in the kitchen making a cup of tea while Persephone went through her winter wardrobe and got rid of everything comfortable -- as Queen of the Underworld, she favoured haute couture – Demeter stared out the window at the bare lawn and wondered what she should try next. Nothing she'd said so far had made any difference; although she cried herself to sleep every night, Persephone was not going back to her husband and that was that.

"There's a robin on your lawn."

Sighing deeply, the goddess dumped an extra spoonful of sugar in her cup and turned to face the man sitting at her kitchen table. "I figured it would only be a matter of time before you showed up."

Zeus squared massive shoulders and laid both hands flat on the table top. "Spring seems to be early this year."

"No shit. What was your first clue?" The head of the pantheon was still an impressive looking god and certainly well suited to populating Olympus, but in Demeter's opinion, he'd never been that bright.

"In fact, spring appears to have arrived two months early."

And he had a way of making pompous pronouncements that really ticked her off. "Persephone's had a fight with her husband and come home."

"I can not allow the seasons to be messed up in this manner." Folding his arms, Zeus leaned back in the chair, grey eyes stormy. "Send her back."

"It's not that easy..."

"Why not?" he demanded. "You're her mother."

Demeter smiled and stood. "You're her father. You send her back." Pitching her voice to carry to the second floor, she headed for the rec room, ignoring Zeus' panicked protests. "Persephone! Your father wants to talk to you!"

She kept the volume on the television turned low so she could listen to the ebb and flow of the argument. It seemed to be mostly ebb. A very short time later, quick, angry footsteps headed upstairs and slow, defeated ones headed down.

"Well?" she asked.

"She said, no." Zeus dropped onto the recliner and dug both hands into the luxuriant curls of his beard.

"She said, no?" Demeter repeated with heavy sarcasm. "The Father of Heaven unsuccessful with a woman?"

"She cried, Demi. What could I do?"

"Did you ask her what was wrong?"

He looked indignant. "You told me they had a fight."

Demeter sighed. "Did you ask her what the fight was about?"

"What difference does that make?" His full lips moved into what was perilously close to a pout. "She has to go back and I told her so."

In spite of his many opportunities for practise, Zeus had never been, by any stretch of the imagination, a good father. More of a realist than most of the pantheon, Demeter recognized that they were all in part responsible for that. He'd been the youngest in a wildly dysfunctional family and they'd all indulged him. She'd been just as bad as the rest of their siblings, but she'd long ago stopped indulging him where their daughter was concerned. "Well," she said dryly, "that was stupid, wasn't it?"

All things considered, he took it rather well. Thunder rumbled in the distance but nothing in the immediate area got destroyed.

"Demi, it can't be spring yet. When it's this early, it screws everything up."

"Zeus." She leaned forward. She would've patted his leg except that he took physical contact as an invitation and this was not the time for fertility rites. "I know."

"What are we going to do now?" he sighed.

Demeter grabbed her favourite lamp as it blew by on the gust of his exhalation and placed it on the floor by her chair. "We?"

Heaving himself up onto his feet, the ruler of Olympus had grace enough to look sheepish. "Deal with it, would you, Demi?"

She sighed in turn. "Don't I always?"

Having sloughed off responsibility once again, Zeus grew more cheerful and his step lightened as he headed for the stairs. "You should visit Olympus more often. We miss you."

"No, you don't. Whenever I'm there, Hera and I fight then you go off and do one of those swan, shower of gold, quail things and we all know how that ends up – Hera blames me since she can't seem to blame you, I get ticked off and crops fail over half of the southern hemisphere. Better I just stay here."

He threw her a brilliant smile. "I miss you."

"No, you don't." In spite of everything, she couldn't help adding, "But it's sweet of you to say so."

At the bottom of the stairs, he paused and half turned back to face her as another thought occurred to him. "Oh, by the way, what's Iacchus up to these days?"

"How should I know, I'm only his mother." Her son was a great deal like his father. "If you see him, tell him to call."

 

*

 

"Sephie, what are you doing?"

Persephone rubbed at a smudge of dirt on one peaches and cream cheek and looked up at her mother, her other hand continuing to vehemently, almost violently, poke seeds into the ground. "Planting radishes."

"Now?"

"We've got the year off to an early start." She frowned, suddenly noticing the jacket and boots. "Where are you going?"

"Eleusis," lied the goddess. "For the Mysteries."

"Now?"

"You've got the year off to an early start," Demeter reminded her. "We've had to make a few changes because of it." The Eleusinian Mysteries had always been a convenient way to ditch a grown, and often disapproving, daughter for more, as it were, fruitful company. Being Mysteries, they never had to be explained. Patting Persephone fondly on one shoulder, she continued down the garden path. "I won't be long."

 

*

 

"Evenin' yer Ladyship." Boat at the dock, Charon rested on his oar as Demeter approached. "Haven't seen you in these parts since the wedding."

"I try not to interfere in the lives of my children." She glanced down at a full load of the dead. "Do you have room for one more?"

BOOK: February Thaw
8.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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