by Andrew Drilon
part 1 of 2
The sun is high. I am spending the afternoon looking for missing friends. It is a secret investigation. No one can see me, not even if I step into the middle of the mezzanine and scream at the top of my lungs. It is part of my magic.
People shuffle in and out of the mezzanine, looking at statues. Some of them walk through me. I pretend that they do not exist. It is not the business of a semigod to interact with mortals. I have more important things to do. Right now, I am looking for missing friends.
There is an imaginary footprint on the ground, and I touch it with a polished finger. I lift the finger up to my nose and smell the imaginary smell. It tastes like lemon. The trail is fresh. He or she was here just moments ago.
“Predictable,” I say to myself. No one hears me. No one realizes how brilliant I am at finding missing friends, knowing with a keen observational mind how they behave. It was probably looking at the statues, envying mortal dreams preserved in stone. It is probably still in this mezzanine, looking for a new friend to make.
I stand up and find myself facing the statue of a horseman. It is a Harbinger of the Apocalypse. All the statues in the mezzanine are about Harbingers of the Apocalypse. People have a morbid fascination with them.
This one is, for the most part, well-sculpted, but I am bothered by the pose. Front legs high in the air, head thrown back in an intense, menacing position, scythe held up ready to cleave rich man and commoner alike. It feels too traditional. I wish its sculptors had more imagination.
I follow the imaginary footsteps. They lead me out of the mezzanine, down into the plaza. Courtiers bow to each other and dance. Bards play music to the gods and semigods. I smile and cross my arms, pretending that everyone can see my beauty. I radiate magic. If they could only see, if they could only see.
There is a sundial at the center of the plaza and it reads three o’clock. I have two more hours before I must return to my official duty as a semigod. This ‘looking for missing friends’ is merely a self-appointed task, one that I perform on day-long night-long breaks. My official duty involves pulling the sun down from the sky during dusk, and pushing it back up at dawn. I have been doing it for thousands of years. It gets tedious.
So I am on my secret investigation. It is a good side job that nobody notices, but I find it poetic and beautiful. Earlier this morning, I chanced upon an old woman in the far side of this city, who dreamt of a goat with eight legs that was her most treasured friend throughout her childhood. It disappeared when she turned seven. She has been dreaming of it for over half a century now.
“Peekli,” she had said, eyes fluttering in her sleep. She seemed so sad. It is important that I find her missing friend before dusk.
The scent of lemon once more. A footprint near the sundial. I walk over, bend down and touch it. A little boy to my right looks in my direction. I look to my left and I see nothing special. I sniff the footprint and I stand up, following its imaginary trail.
The little boy’s gaze follows me. I look at him. He looks back at me. I step closer. He cocks his head to the side, as if to study me. I move closer and wave a hand in front of his face. I ask, “Can you see me?”
“You’re glowing,” he says. He is an unspectacular-looking boy: black hair, pasty face, not unlike the rest of the children in this city. He pokes a finger through my forehead, as if to test if I am there. I step back in disgust. Such insolence!
“You’re pretty,” he says.
“Of course I am,” I say. “I am a semigod. I keep the world from ending.”
He steps toward me, studying my brilliance. I am made from magic. It covers me like a cloth cut from rainbows, like a shroud of impossible stars. I let him look; it is unusual that I encounter a mortal who can see semigods.
“Are you Waterfaller? Or Earthquaker?” He asks me this innocently, but I am a little hurt. At his age, he should be able to tell which semigod I am. The most beautiful, the most wonderful semigod, who keeps the world from ending each day. I cross my arms and try to hide my disappointment. A person as important to the universe as I am should affect a regal nonchalance.
“I am Sunriser,” I say plainly, extending my glow a bit further as I speak. And then I walk off to continue tracing my imaginary trail.
He follows me. “What are you doing?”
I ignore him, searching the marble floor of the plaza for footprints with my radiant, magical eyes. I see where the trail continues and I walk in that direction. The boy follows behind me. “You must be doing something very important.”
I am pleased that he noticed. I decide that I will bless this mortal with insight as to my divine mission. I turn around and bend down to speak into his ear. “I am looking for a missing friend. It is important to an old lady who misses it.”
“Why is her friend missing?”
“Because it left the woman many years ago, when she was still young, like you.”
“Why did her friend leave?”
“I do not know, although I suspect that it was somehow lost, somewhere in this city, now wandering aimlessly and desperately looking for shelter.”
“What if her friend wanted to leave? What if he got bored?”
“Friends do not leave just because they are bored. This one is definitely missing. I am going to find her friend and reunite them once more. It will be a beautiful moment of joy, and after they praise me for my kindness, I shall produce another eminent sunset for all the world to see. And thus, little boy, it is very important that I continue on my divine mission.”
I turn from the boy with majestic grace and walk toward the promenade. Imaginary footsteps lead in the other direction, but I am presently making sure of their origins. Statues of semigods pass me as I walk, and I am certain that the boy is following me.
There is a statue of Sunriser at the center of the promenade: a loving depiction of my male, daylight form, standing tall and masculine with rippling muscles and a perfect, chiseled face. I admire its craftsmanship. The boy stands beside me and looks up at the statue, perhaps trying to compare it with me. There is no comparison. I am beyond perfect.
“Is it okay if I help you?” he asks.
“Only if I deem it so,” I say. “And I do not. You are but a boy, and incapable of understanding the intricacies of my holy endeavors. But I smile upon your offer, as it amuses me that a humble mortal such as yourself would think to aid an all-powerful being such as I.”
I smile at him in my semigod splendor, a halo of coruscating light and magic spinning out from my face. He looks at me with blank eyes, perhaps stunned in awe at my presence.
“Okay,” he says. He looks at the statue one last time, then turns to leave.
I call out to him. “Wait! Where are you going, little boy?”
He looks back at me. “I thought you didn’t want me to help?”
I stand proud, affixing him with the burning, mesmerizing gaze of the gods, the gaze that brings rulers to their knees in worship, the gaze that turns high ladies into slathering trollops bending to the slightest whim of their celestial superiors. “I do not require your aid. But I would appreciate a show of worship.”
“Okay. I will pray to you tonight. Take care.” He smiles and genuflects, then walks away.
My gaze follows him as he walks out of the promenade, but he doesn’t seem to care.
I do not care a whit. There are more important things to be concerned about. Turning, I move to the scent of lemon. Where is that goat?
* * *
I did not find the missing friend before dusk. It took me an hour and a half to pull the sun down from the sky, and afterwards I decided to continue my search by night. It is much more difficult, as I am bolstered by my affinity to the sun, but I am a semigod, and I am more than competent to the task.
“Do anything interesting today?” Moonbeamer asks me as we pass in the changing sky.
“I was aiding an old woman in finding her friend,” I tell her.
“Oh. Lovely.” She says this with a hint of disdain. “Still, the little things do matter.” Her smile is polite and full of stars, and she waves at me as she rises into the night sky.
Save for the boy, Moonbeamer is the only other entity I have spoken to in centuries. We endeavor to keep our conversations short and professional.
“See you in the morning,” I say. I walk off into the city once more, this time in my female form.
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by Andrew Drilon