Eating Sacred Cows
Fandom: Anansi Boys/???
Disclaimer: Neil owns Charlie, another media conglomerate owns the putative goddess.
Summary: Take your gods out to the all-you-can-eat buffet and see what happens.
Gods are always hungry. Take one out to an all-you-can-eat buffet sometime; somehow, you’ll end up paying and watching as plate after plate disappears into their maws, as if it’s an offering. Which it is, in a way, but in a secretive, desperate sort of way that embarrasses the god and the supplicant, but can’t be helped. It’s worse than taking one’s older relatives, really, and gods aren’t the least bit ashamed of asking for more.
“There are two sorts of gods — created gods and creator gods,” the calm but starving woman sitting across from Charlie explains. She is pretty but unremarkable on first glance. Reddish-brown hair, a piercing gaze, a lovely smile. A librarian, someone’s mother, a nice person who’s been around the block and takes no shit but isn’t rude about it.
Only Charlie can feel something darker hovering in the air, like a shadow that can’t be looked at directly. The old stink of blood and charnel, and power so great that if the hungry woman blew too hard, a hurricane might start around the restaurant.
“And what kind are you?” Charlie asks politely.
“That would be telling,” the goddess says, licking honey off the baklava she’s taken from the dessert trays. “Your father was much more charming when he wanted something. He understood…excuse me…the charms of indirect speech.”
His father indeed. Compé Anansi at his most dreadful was a hundred times less terrifying than the goddess who is now biting into strawberries and shivering with delight. Charlie is sure that any moment now, a waiter will come by and offer to refill her glass of extremely expensive wine, too.
“Let me get that for you,” a waiter says, right on cue. “It’s on the house, ma’am.”
“Thank you,” she answers with a smile. Her teeth are very even and white, but Charlie knows. They could rend flesh without thinking. “You’re a sweet boy.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” the waiter says, hustling to get another glass of blood-red wine, an unknowing but apparently sincere offering to the goddess.
“Well, aren’t you smooth?” Charlie says, after a moment of unpleasant silence. “My father would have sweet-talked him, or more likely her, a fine sweet gal with nice tits and soft hair into a nice smooth beer, as thick as soup, but you just smile and the world trembles to get you the best wine. I suppose I didn’t best know your abilities, ma’am.”
It’s sheer bullshit that sounds like a bad imitation of his father and Charlie and his dinner guest know it, but for the life of him, Charlie has no idea what you say to a woman who might well have created the fucking universe.
“Who knows the abilities of any god?” the woman says as the waiter hands her her libation and bows, hands together, thankful for the privilege of serving her. “Death gods, for example, get a nasty rap. Life starts and ends in blood. Mother goddesses are reviled for being too close to…oh, gods, what do they call it?”
She furrows her brow and for a moment, Charlie can almost see a hundred of her aspects, including a decaying skeleton, gleaming steel, a beating heart…but then she smiles and the curtain drops.
“I took a Lacanian seminar from the man himself,” she says. “This would be before your time, of course. He called it the Real, as I recall. Gods are the first line of defense against the real, but the old ones, we ancient old ones, are too close to the Real, the brutality at the core of each breath and heartbeat.”
She sips at her wine and another smile crosses her face. “When I was first reborn, I almost drowned,” she says, and Charlie feels the shiver all the way down his spine. “A hundred thousand lives have passed since then, but I remember the feel of the fluid around me, and the knowledge of what I was. What my own people had made me. What I had made myself.”
Charlie can hear something buzzing in his head, the sound of engines humming, the sound of thick liquid, beer as thick as soup, maybe, or something not so pleasant, sloshing. The first gasped breath, worse than an infant’s offended cry.
A woman’s voice, agonized and heartbroken.
“There are so many ways to make a god,” Charlie’s guest says, dragging her fingertip through whipped cream and licking it off lazily. “The easiest is blood. The blood of child, taken in sacrifice, offered at the moment of death…”
Charlie can’t move. And he knows he is being told things human beings should not know, but he can see it as clearly as he can see their dinner, a dying woman seizing on the table, blood as red as the lips telling this story…
A finger, shaky and pointing at the man who did it. “You…”
“But there are more,” the woman’s voice continues, and Charlie is starting to think they are the only two who can hear it. Everyone else sees a younger black man treating to a nice white lady to dinner, and smile if they notice at all. He can hear his heart beat, and he wishes his tongue weren’t bone-dry. “Acclaim — when the tribe’s leader bows and proclaims you the source of divine will, when men beg your blessing, the power starts to accumulate. Sometimes it’s in the blood, or in destiny…heroes can find themselves semi-divine with the right journey…but the power starts to accumulate. And then you don’t die. Or you come back…”
The scream again, a sound so raw that Charlie can still feel the pain as it reverberates against his face, ten thousand years old. Twenty. More.
If he listens to it much longer, he will go mad.
How could anyone bear that? Knowing that they were the death and salvation of their whole people? Billions of lives and deaths, all breathing down one neck…
“Please,” he manages to mumble.
“Oh,” she says suddenly, blinking, and Charlie’s drenched in sweat, but he can move again. “I’m sorry. I don’t always know my own strength. And you were listening so nicely.”
“It was a powerful telling,” Charlie says, trying to recover his own thoughts. Trying to look at the ancient old one directly. And for a moment she looks so sad, lost beyond anyone’s comprehension. “Do you want some more wine, ma’am?”
“No, that’s plenty. Cakes and ale, that would be good,” she says vaguely, as if the performance has sucked the goddess right out of her, and she’s a middle-aged woman who is so lonely she importunes young men to ask her to dinner to hold it at bay. “I liked him. Met him once, when I was hovering around Elizabeth’s court, when he was young. He asked me to dance, and I whispered something in his ear that made him shiver.”
Charlie does shiver, hearing a whisper as if he’d been the one to dance. What, will these hands ne’er be clean?
“You’re a nice boy. Your father should be proud of you,” she says, reaching over and patting his hand. “You’ve got more to you than you think.”
“Thank you,” he says, suddenly a thousand kinds of cold.
She finishes the glass of wine, and despite her musing, there are neither cakes nor ale for them. Instead she gets up, nods good-bye, and leaves him with the check, the way only gods can.
Charlie spends the rest of the evening walking the city streets, completely unable to feel warm, despite it being a balmy summer night.
And realizes, with a start, as he stumbles to his bed, he never even heard her name.