Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone

Fletcher began to suspect his husband was cheating on him when Brady started to come home late at night, smelling of smoke and tasting of another man.  Fletcher would embrace Brady at night, and he could smell the scent on him.  Brady worked as a banker downtown, while Fletcher worked in a small bookstore in a brand new shopping center, where he worked more normal eight hour days with only the occasional evening.

The shopping center itself was made from glass and steel, a cathedral to the Big Box stores and brands.  The bookstore was different–it was small and tucked away behind the escalators, with piles of books stacked on top of each other on the floor and on the shelves.  There were no windows and the owner kept the lights dim, contrasting it sharply with the brightly-lit mall outside.

The shopping center had its own temple with shrines dedicated to each of the thirteen gods.  Fletcher went one day after work in order to ask Toskagee for guidance, but the line to pray before the shrine was long because it was the week before Valentine’s Day.  The temple was a glass atrium; the cold winter sun shone through the roof and walls, and small birds fluttered between the trees.  The shrines were surrounded by bright plants and offerings.

All of theme except for Tekamthi.  Her shrine was sparse and empty, set off to the side.  A small fire burned in a copper pot, flanked on both sides by small piles of bones.  Few people ever sought Tekamthi’s blessings because no one wanted war or death.  Fletcher frowned, and despite himself, he stepped out of line and walked over to her shrine.  He looked up at the statue carved from glassy black obsidian; her wings were spread behind her and she held her Kentucky rifle above her head.  He felt something strange in his gut, as if someone was tying it into a knot.

Fletcher turned away from the statue and left the temple.

#

Fletcher was organizing boxes of old books in the back when he found a strange title, The Love of Blood by someone named Orlando Hull.  The cover was some black, pink and white abstract design, and he didn’t recognize the title or the author.  It wasn’t a large book (perhaps a hundred pages at most), and Fletcher felt the urge to read it.  He took it home that night.  Brady hadn’t called, but Fletcher wasn’t surprised anymore when Brady didn’t come home on time.

The Love of Blood was a spell book, covering spells for both Tekamthi and Toskagee, the goddess of war and the goddess of love–it was an interesting combination, but it made sense to Fletcher.  Scorned lovers often became violent, looking for retribution.  Fletcher wasn’t sure that’s what he wanted.  He just wanted his husband back.  He had trouble remembering the last time the two of them had had a proper conversation.

Brady came back late at night, but had fallen asleep on the couch, which surprised Fletcher.  “I didn’t hear you come in,” he said.

“I didn’t want to wake you,” Brady said.

“I would have been fine with that,” Fletcher said.  “We haven’t had a lot time to talk lately.”

“I’m sorry.  Work’s been crazy.”

“I love you.”

“I’ll see you tonight,” Brady said before leaving for the day.

Fletcher put away Brady’s clothes before going to work.  He didn’t like the way the clothes smelled, but there was nothing he could do about it now.  At lunch, he visited the temple again; instead of getting in line to see Toskagee, he sat in front of Tekamthi’s shrine with a copy of The Love of Blood in his lap.  He felt the same twisting feeling in his gut; it was a cold, icy grip that was holding onto him, but this time, he didn’t run.

He was actually beginning to like looking at the shrine.

#

Fletcher tried to schedule a date night for the two of them on Friday, but Brady had to cancel.  Work, he said.  On a Friday night?  That was the final straw.  Fletcher ordered Chinese delivery, and stared at The Love of Blood all night.  Fletcher licked his lips and wiped his palms on his pants.  He just wanted his husband back.

Fletcher wasn’t scheduled to work on Saturday, but he went to the shopping center.  It was warm for a February, and the air conditioner inside the mall was working overtime.  The lines to see Toskagee had grown during the weekend, but Fletcher ignored them.  He sat in front of the statue, pressed his hands together and prayed.  He just wanted his husband back, so he dropped the fetish into the fire.  He’d made it from blood, hair and scraps of clothes.  It caught fire and disappeared into the flame.

#

There was a woman waiting for Fletcher when he returned home.  She was lying on a living room sofa, reading Orlando Hull’s The Love of Blood.  She had pale skin and long, pale red hair, and when she looked at him, he froze.  Her eyes were red irises on black sclera with diamond-shaped pupils.  She was a goddess in red robes and black armor.  It took Fletcher a moment to identify her as Onthaneequay, the daughter of Tekamthi and Toskagee and the goddess of scorned lovers.

“Don’t look so surprised,” Onthaneequay said, standing up.  “You were the one who called me here.”

“What did you do?” Fletcher asked.  He was surprised at how abrupt he was with a goddess.

“The question, is,” Onthaneequay folded her hands in front of her, “what did you do?”

Fletcher was shaking and he felt his knees go week.  Onthaneequay remained where she was standing, a small smile on her face.  There was a tapping on the window and Onthaneequay walked over to open it.  A small creature came in, a grotesque mane of feathers the size of a cat.

The phone began to ring.  “I just wanted my husband back.”

“You should answer that,” Onthaneequay said.  The creature climbed onto her shoulder and pecked at her ear.

“I never wanted this.”

The phone continued to ring.

“Answer the phone,” Onthaneequay said.

Fletcher picked up the phone.  “Hello…yes, this is me…oh, where…are you sure…I, I don’t know…I can…thank you.”

“Well?” Onthaneequay asked as Fletcher hung up the phone.

“Brady…Brady died.  Car accident.”  He looked up at Onthaneequay, his fists clenched in rage.  “I never asked for this.  I didn’t want this.”

“My mothers may have created humans, but I don’t think we’ll ever truly understand our creations.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Onthaneequay shrugged and turned to leave.  She stopped and looked over his shoulder at him.  “He wasn’t being unfaithful.”

Fletcher stared at her.  “Wh-wh-what?”

“He was working late for overtime pay.”

“But…why?  What for?”

“I only know what I know.”

Onthaneequay left through the back door.  Fletcher collapsed and began to sob.

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