by Patrick Scalisi
I didn’t mean to cause the end of the world. I suppose it’s just in my nature.
Plus, it wasn’t entirely my fault.
My roommate was such an asshole. If I didn’t need the cash, I would have kicked him out a long time ago. All his friends were always there, lording over the place as if they were gods, smoking, drinking, stinking up my apartment as if it were a crack den.
I got home around two last night after working second shift at the Gladsheim Diner. Odin was already there, half in the bag with his girlfriend Frigg. I think they were incapable of living their lives sober.
“I asked you not to smoke in here,” I said as I watched the two of them roll a new joint. I tried to make my voice sound as weary as possible: not difficult, considering I had just worked a ten-hour shift.
“Relax, Loki,” Odin said, not looking up from the delicate task of stuffing and rolling, stuffing and rolling. “Have a hit. Have a beer for Christ sakes. You’re too wound up.”
“Too wound up,” Frigg agreed as she took the joint, unrolled it, and began the process again herself.
I ignored them, dumped my bag on the empty end of the couch and went to my room. I thought about some of my stuff that had gone missing in the last few weeks, and I kept meaning to install a lock.
Who has time for that?
Adding it to my list of priorities, I opened the door and heard manic yowls that came from the chest at the foot of my bed. I threw it open and found Fenrir bound hand and foot with a bit of string, her cries and meows now deafening.
“What the hell—?”
Frigg appeared at the door faster than I would have thought possible, given her lack of brain cells. “Cat kept climbing over everything,” she said. “Scattered the pot twice. Thing bit Tyr’s hand after you left.”
“Where’s your head?” I shouted. “You can do that to a cat!”
Frigg rolled her eyes and returned to the couch. “You’d think it was your kid or something.”
I stepped back into the living room, Fenrir nuzzled in the crook of my arm. “Odin, come on man.”
Odin was trying to get the joint started now, the end burning like a red star fallen to Earth. Between puffs he said, “It’s just a cat. It’s fine.”
Talking to them was useless. I headed to bed.
I slept late and spent the following morning in Laugardalur Park. There was a particular tree I liked to read under, provided the weather is warm enough. The sign post said it was a “Yggdrasill Ash.” Never heard of it before, but I never claimed to be a tree expert.
Even here I could find no peace.
Three pages into my book, something began falling on my lap. Seeds and acorns were dropping like hail, missiles lodging in the spine of my book and in my hair. There were giggles from up in the branches, and a boy’s voice admonished, “Be careful!”
“Come down from there,” I said.
No sooner had I given the command than two children — twins from the look of them — dropped to the ground.
“We’re sorry,” the boy said.
“Didn’t mean to bother you,” added the girl.
Seeing how young they were stole some of my anger; they were just kids.
“What are your names?” I asked, brushing the seeds from my book and placing it on the ground.
“I’m Lif,” said the boy, who gave a little bow.
“And I’m Lifthrasir,” said the girl, who curtsied.
“Lif, Lifthrasir, where are your parents?” I asked.
“You’re not going to tell on us?” said the girl with a look of horror on her face.
“We’re sorry,” repeated the boy. “It’s our favorite spot to play.”
“It’s no problem,” I answered. “I’d just like to be alone.”
“As long as you promise not to tell,” said Lifthrasir.
“Of course,” I replied.
Lif winked, then ran from the tree in a wavy line. His sister followed, both shouting in delight and already playing a new game.
I returned to reading the last book I would ever read.
* * *
The party was already in full swing when I got back to my apartment. Odin had taken advantage of my absence to invite all his acquaintances — and everyone he didn’t know — to a spontaneous blow out. It was Wednesday night, after all. Why the hell not?
The floor was already sticky with spilled beer, and the air was filled with a haze of marijuana and cigarette smoke. People were packed against the door; I could barely get inside.
“Odin?” was all I could manage when I saw the assembly.
“Hey,” he said with a certain lack of enthusiasm. “Wanted to have a few people over. That’s cool, right?”
“This isn’t a few people,” I said. “This place isn’t a night club.”
He repeated his mantra that I should “relax,” then ignored me completely. I would have punched him if I could have gotten in three blows before his friends intervened. Instead, I kicked the corner of the couch and stormed into the kitchen. Another man passed me on the way in, grabbed my shoulder and forced something into my hand.
“Hold this for a minute,” he said. “I gotta piss.”
I looked down as he moved off. I was holding a baggie of white powder — cocaine. The realization made me feel as if I was holding a lump of shit, of feces dripping between my fingers and soiling my very being. The rage bubbled in my throat and emerged as a kind of whimper. I walked to the sink with revenge in mind. Expensive stuff? Too bad, ‘cause now it’s down the drain.
I was halfway through dumping the bag when something on the stove caught my eye: Mistletoe-brand baking powder.
My plan took a U-turn.
I grabbed the box and refilled the baggie. To the untrained eye, it was a perfect ruse. I couldn’t wait to see the results.
Shouts from the living room interrupted my reverie. The man I had passed earlier returned to the kitchen, buttoning his pants as he did so.
“Gimme the bag,” he said. “Balder’s here. He’ll want a hit.”
I tossed the bag in a gentle arc. The man looked horrified but caught it easily. He shot me a glace that was mixed with terror and sardonic humor, and then turned to the living room.
I stood in the doorway to watch.
Balder sat on the couch next to Odin, the two exchanging handshakes, petty news, bullshit. Balder was the handsome stereotype of a northern man: fair skin that reddened under too much sun; blond hair, parted and combed as if just tended by a stylist; and a heavy build that spoke of either manual labor or many hours spent at the gym. Balder was a man who got what he wanted because he was pretty, because he had just stepped out of some music video into the real world.
The man with the coke was almost done spreading the lines now. He had a mirrored tray and was cutting a slope of white powder into fat, even lines. When one didn’t meet his exacting standards, he would redistribute the drug with a straight razor, tap, tap, tapping the powder into a new arrow of death.
“Would you care to do the honors?” Balder asked, his voice more cultured than the usual rabble that found its way into my apartment.
“Guests first,” Odin replied.
Balder took the proffered straw and leaned over the leftmost line of cocaine. To me, the sound of it entering his nostril was as loud as an earthquake.
The reaction was instantaneous.
Balder howled, threw back his head and began clawing at his nose. Odin and the others stood in concern, watching as blood and foam began to pour from both nostrils.
I thought about coming home late last night, about all the times I had caught Odin smoking in my apartment, about Fenrir tied and bound in my chest. I let out a snicker that seemingly echoed throughout the room.
Balder was dying now.
Odin whirled, pointed a finger caked with powder and tar in my direction, and said simply, “You.”
The others seemed to understand, as if they all shared some psychic link. The first was upon me faster than I could react, holding my hands behind my back as another charged me from the front. I braced for a blow to my chest or stomach, but something instead collided with my head.
That was all.
* * *
There was blood on my neck, dry, crusted, itchy. I lifted my arm to scratch at it, but my limbs felt like lead. I was afraid to open my eyes. The events of the previous night came rushing back. Was Balder dead? What the hell had I been thinking?
The light coming through the window was gray. I couldn’t tell if it was day or night, or how long I had been asleep. A virulent ache surrounded my skull, emanating from the back of my head and tunneling through my brain to the back of my eyeballs.
I opened my eyes completely.
By some miracle, I was in my room, on my bed. Some of the blood from my head had seeped onto the comforter. How much would it cost to dry clean? I sat up, head throbbing, and waited for my equilibrium to return. I remembered reading somewhere that lacerations to the scalp would appear much worse than they actually were because head wounds tend to bleed a lot. Still, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that I was sporting a mild concussion.
I stood and moved to the door. It was barred from the other side.
I jarred the knob violently, then threw my shoulder against it. The pain in my head was momentarily replaced by fury. I don’t know how many blows it took, but the jamb finally splintered. I fell through the door, my chest striking a chair that had been lodged up against the knob. The anger was gone again, and the pain was back.
I lifted my eyes from the sticky floor. I wish I hadn’t.
The living room looked like a crime scene. Broken glass littered the floor, along with puddles of beer and—
I began retching when I realized that blood stained nearly every surface. There was an especially large spot on the couch where Balder had been sitting. Somehow, the remaining lines of cocaine were undisturbed.
My chest hurt. I needed to get out of there.
I stumbled out the front door and into the hall. There was glass and blood there as well. Whatever had happened was larger than Balder’s overdose. Indeed, it looked as if a battle had taken place while I was still unconscious.
I rushed down the stairs and into the street. It was still impossible to determine the time of day. I say this because the sky was blank — not cloudless or overcast, simply blank. Where the sun would ride its chariot-path across the sky, there was now, nothing — just an emptiness that filled the dome over my head.
The streets were vacant, too. The city’s main thoroughfares never wanted for activity — even in the dead of night. Now, there were no cars or pedestrians, no shouts or even talking people, not even the flutter of pigeons that would nest on the larger buildings.
Frantic, I ran to Laugardalur Park. The footpaths and bike trails were empty. Thousands of people would gather on the park’s many acres each day when it teemed with life.
I sat at the base of my Yggdrasill Ash to consider what had happened. Every scenario, every possibility escaped me.
Seeds began falling on my head.
They felt like raindrops of hope.
“Hello?” I said, my voice cracking.
“There’s someone down there,” said one voice.
“We should see who it is,” said another.
Two faces poked from among the branches: Lif and Lifthrasir, the twins I had met the previous day.
“It’s the man from yesterday,” said Lif.
“Hello again,” said Lifthrasir. I imagine she would have curtsied again if she were standing on the ground.
“What’s going on?” I demanded. “Are you safe? Were are your parents now?”
“Everyone’s gone,” said Lif. “Ragnarok is here.”
“Where has everyone gone?” I asked, ignoring the second, unintelligible part of the boy’s statement.
“Balder’s dead,” said Lifthrasir. “His death has broken the bonds that hold together the nine worlds.”
“His friends were very upset,” Lif continued. “Everyone was sad, except for you.”
“Odin and his friends can go to hell!” I shouted. “They brought it on themselves!”
“I told you,” said Lifthrasir. “No remorse at all.”
“In any case,” Lif cut in, “everyone has gathered at Vigrid, where the final battle will take place.”
“I don’t understand,” I pleaded.
“We’re hiding here until it’s over,” said Lifthrasir, whose face began to retreat again among the branches. “Maybe we’ll see you again, then.”
She disappeared. Lif looked to where his sister’s face had vanished and began withdrawing himself.
“Thank you for not telling on us,” he said. “If you want to go to Vigrid, the journey is long. Head north until you cross the rainbow bridge, then look for the field that stretches one-hundred-twenty leagues in all directions. Pack enough food for the trip.”
The boy’s face disappeared as well. I shouted for him to return, shouted until my voice was hoarse and my throat burned with thirst. It was no use. I never saw the children again.
* * *
And now I am ready to begin my journey. I don’t know what will happen there; I don’t know what has happened here.
Like I said, I didn’t mean to cause the end of the world.
It’s just in my nature.
* * *
Patrick Scalisi is a young magazine editor and aspiring author from Connecticut. He has published fiction in several magazines, including The Willows, Twisted Dreams and Space Westerns, among others. When he’s not writing, Pat enjoys watching way too many movies than are good for him, reading more books than he has shelves for and listening to music (his tastes range from classical to classic and modern rock). You can visit Pat at is website, www.patrickscalisi.com.