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Authors: Tim Pratt

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Little Gods

BOOK: Little Gods
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Little Gods
by Tim Pratt
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Fantasy

Prime Books
www.prime-books.com

Copyright ©2004 by Tim Pratt

First published by Prime, 2004

 

NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.

INTRODUCTION TO LITTLE GODS

by Michaela Roessner

Tim Pratt was pretty much raised by wolves. Three fierce, intelligent, independent she-wolves.

There. Now I've got your attention.

The fact that they were, respectively, his mother, great-aunt, and great grandmother is almost beside the point—he was the only cub in their pack. In this day and age, it's a tenuous existence for such creatures. Living on the fringes of society, trying to suss out interactions with the predominant free-standing, uppity, techno-primate culture. It takes a lot of savvy, a willingness to warily study in depth those who surround you. Those who represent at one moment potential prey, and the next potential predator.

Is it any wonder that these she-wolves immersed themselves in the contemplation of all that is bizarre, wondrous, and inexplicable in human society? They transferred the voraciousness of the hunt for prey to a voraciousness for reading, for knowledge. Is it any wonder that Tim was raised in dens lined with books? Or that the first novel he read, at the tender age of eight, was that great testament to humanity's cruelty, intolerance, and strangeness, Stephen King's
Carrie
?

It was only a matter of time before Tim waded his way through dens'-worth of King, Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, Card, to finally alight upon the first volume of
The Year's Best Fantasy
. There, lying in wait for him, were Charles de Lint's “Uncle Dobbin's Parrot Fair” and Jonathon Carroll's “Friend's Best Man.” They pounced. He read them. Since then he has been theirs: a writer of the vast panoply of mythos that, though often unseen, permeates contemporary life.

Being raised by wolves might explain why Tim first wrote about other animals as much if not more than about people. His earliest published work was “A Day in the Life of a Spider,” written in third grade. A fourth grade piece featured an alternate dimension full of talking alligators.

He requested and received an electric typewriter from his mother and stepfather. By his mid-teens he was following the journeyman writer's time-honored and hide-toughening apprenticeship of submitting to and getting rejected by genre magazines. Further conditioning exercises were administered by high school teachers who insured Tim that the odds of his succeeding as a writer were about as good as the odds of his someday walking on the moon. One assumes that these former teachers are currently pooling together funds to buy him a nice NASA moonwalk suit.

He attended college at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. There he at last began to enjoy his natural inheritance of “The Luck of the Wolves.” (I know, you thought the phrase was “The Luck of the Irish,” but the original traditional good fortune was bestowed upon things lupine.) A special residential program for freshmen and sophomores called Watauga College recruited him. Watauga offered an interdisciplinary curriculum, drawing in faculty from all over the University's different departments and letting them teach their passions. It gathered together as students artists, writers, actors, dancers, musicians and foreigners. And who could be more foreign than a raised-by-wolves fable writer?

At Watauga he encountered a poetry professor who helped transform his writing. Even more importantly, every few years Orson Scott Card taught a “writers’ book camp” for Watauga during spring break. Tim applied, and was accepted for one of the half-a-dozen slots. During this ten-day intensive he wrote under pressure, was critiqued by peers in the program and by Card, and received enough encouragement to keep going. By his last year in college he'd begun to make sales to some small presses.

In the summer of 1999 he attended the Clarion writing workshop at Michig n State University, which is where I first encountered him. At Clarion a different professional speculative fiction author presides each week over the six-week length of the workshop. The atmosphere is intense. Rather than a traditional teacher/student learning relationship, the focus is more that of established professionals working with potential eventual peers in the field to broaden their horizons and hone their skills. The impression I had of Tim was that he was a naturally gifted storyteller. I had no idea at the time that he'd already paid considerable dues in the form of the gruntwork necessary to become a writer, logging in hundreds of thousands of words as he developed his craft. At Clarion he sharpened his technical proficiency, but more importantly learned about “artistic stuff.” He especially listened when Tim Powers took him to task for writing “silly, gimmicky” stories—that he should be writing stories that mattered to him. After Clarion Tim eventually moved to California, to Santa Cruz. There he lived for a year while working as an office manager for an archetypally California-style business: a wheelchair design/disabled advocacy firm. It was during this time that he met, in Oakland, Pre-Raphaelite beauty and fellow writer, Heather Shaw, to whom he is now engaged. So of course Tim then moved to Oakland, where he currently works as assistant editor for
Locus Magazine
.

So ... what can you expect from this wolfkin?

Like Orpheus, Tim plumbs the dark depths, seeking to retrieve the beloved, transformed. But in Tim's case the beloved isn't a wife, an individual, a single thing. The beloved are those old, old templates of our souls, the archetypes that guide us: the god of choice at the crossroads; the witch; the stolen magical child; the ideal of the superhero; neglected and abandoned deities; the too-clever thief, and, of course, Orpheus himself. Archetypes too often ignored and then lost. Tim's gift is to climb with them out of the abyss of the forgotten, bringing them back into the light and back to life. Who else but a child raised himself in mythos could spin for you these tales of evil bicycles, the sacrifices of broken-hearted monsters, owl dinners, metamorphing secret agents, and a little goddess of cinnamon and brown sugar?

—Michaela Roessner

LITTLE GODS

“I wish I could be a little goddess of cinnamon,” my wife Emily says, closing her eyes and leaning in close to the spices. I'm used to Emily saying things like that, so I don't take any notice, just nod and pick up a bottle of peach nectar off the shelf, slosh it around, wrinkle my nose. I know all the gunk in there is supposed to be fresh natural goodness, but to me it just looks like gunk. Emily says that I deny the truth of natural origins. Emily likes peach nectar, so I put the bottle in the basket.

“A little goddess of cinnamon,” Emily repeats. “Or brown sugar.” She crosses her arms, her silver-and-brass bracelets tinkling together.

“As opposed to a big goddess of cinnamon?” I move on down the aisle with my basket over my arm.

“Little things get little gods,” Emily says. “It's only natural.” She trails after me, running her finger along the shelves, pausing to sniff at the black teas, to open the lid on a jar of sugar-free gumdrops. Emily is always prodding, smelling, caressing—she says that she is experiencing the world.

“So big gods are for big things, then? Like, say, whales?"

Emily sighs behind me. “Big things like ... I don't know ... love."

“How about hate? Jealousy?"

“Sure. But I wouldn't want to be one of those, nothing so big.” She squeals in delight. “Ooh! Chocolate-covered espresso beans!"

“I didn't realize those were in season,” I say dryly, but she isn't paying attention to me, has darted off to get a plastic bag to fill with candied caffeine. She'll be up all night, and she'll keep me up with her. That might be nice. Sometimes she likes to make love all night when she's had a lot of caffeine; other times she gets jittery and talks wistfully of the days when she smoked cigarettes.

Emily dances down the aisle, long skirt swaying, silver bells around the hem jingling. She shakes her bag of espresso beans like a maraca.

“Goddess of chocolate?” I say. “Would you go for that?"

“Sure. But I'd be even more particular. Goddess of dark chocolate. Goddess of Mexican hot chocolate. Goddess of hot fudge on a wooden spoon."

“Those are awfully small gods. It'd take a lot of them to keep the world running."

“Well, sure.” She looks around the otherwise uninhabited aisle in an amusingly furtive way, then opens the plastic bag, removes a bean, and pops it into her mouth. “The big gods—the gods of abstractions and ideals—they're like CEOs, figureheads, upper management. I mean, the goddess of joy may get paid well, but where would her operation be without the god of hot showers, the goddess of hot sex, the avatar of angel food cake? I'd be just as happy to have one of those lower-level positions, one with nice, clearly defined responsibilities, a comprehensible mission."

“I love you,” I say, feeling warm toward her all of a sudden, my Emily with her corkscrew black hair, her squinched-in-thought features, her clothes she's made mostly with her own hands, sewn all over with suns and moons. My flaky angel who reads the stars and knows how to make bread rise, bring flowers to life, tune a mandolin, make my heart beat beautifully along with her own. My Emily, who believes in little gods of tuna casserole and stained glass.

She takes my hand and squeezes it. We go toward the checkout. There is some commotion up front, I can't see what—a crowd milling around, someone talking hurriedly and sharply. I don't pay attention, just push through toward the front, Emily's hand in mine, tugging her along—she can be distracted ten times in ten seconds, and I want very much to get her home, to get into the hot tub with her, to talk about the little gods of kissing-her-belly, rinsing-her-hair, touching-her-face.

When I get to the checkout I see him, just a boy really, not even seventeen. He wears a mask like the Lone Ranger's, but his is just cheap black plastic with a rubber band to hold it on, something picked up from the 99-cent bin at an after-Halloween sale. He has a gun, though, and it jerks all over as he aims it here and there, warning people away from the exits, threatening the cashier, who just stands perfectly still, as if her brains have been scooped out or drained off. Emily doesn't see the boy, the robber-boy; she is looking off to the side at a display of kiwi and passion fruit, oblivious, she can sometimes be so oblivious. “Ooh,” she says, and pulls her hand away from me and starts toward the fruit, moving on a course tangential to the boy-thief, the gun-boy.

“Emily, no,” I say, and she turns toward me with her eyebrows raised, and in turning she bumps into a dump-bin full of suckers and packs of gum, her hip thumping the display hard and making a little candy avalanche. The boy with the gun jerks his arm up, startled by my voice or the movement or the sound of falling candy or perhaps just strung too tightly with the frustration of the motionless cashier who won't goddammit put the money in the bag like he told her. I don't know if the boy means to do it or if it happens by accident but the gun goes off with a crack and a stink (small god of lead, small god of expanding gases) and Emily goes down, goes over, tumbles into the candy display and it falls down with her. She hits the ground in a rain of neatly-wrapped sugar, the little bag of espresso beans falling from her hand, and she doesn't move, and the front of her is all red.

The boy-thief, killer-boy, runs away. Someone screams. Someone says something very calmly about calling an ambulance.

I drop my basket. The bottle of peach nectar tumbles out. It hits near my feet and explodes. Small god of the sound of breaking glass. Small god of small wet fragments.

Two days after Emily's funeral, with her parents finally gone and everything settled except for the pain in my head, I put a chair out on the back deck and sit looking at the birdhouse Emily made last year. A family of jays lived there for a while, but they're gone now, nothing left inside but bits of straw and sticks and string. My chest seems sometimes as empty as that birdhouse, and other times I think I've been filled with something hot and foul and gooey, cough syrup heated on the stove, thickened with molasses or blood.

I have trouble with time and living. Clocks don't make sense. I cry. I'm too hot, or too cold. The covers stultify me, and I can't sleep on my bed (our bed), so I stay in the living room on the couch, with my eyes closed so that I can't see anything, not the watercolors Emily hung on the redwood walls, not the flowers she cut the morning we went to the grocery store, now dying in the vase. Nothing but the inside of my eyes.

It's better outside, with just the natural world pressing around me, rather than the substance of the life Emily and I made together. Emily used to call this house our haven, our safe place, and I thought it would be so always. I never expected it to become a bleak museum of grief.

BOOK: Little Gods
6.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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