Read The Woken Gods Online

Authors: Gwenda Bond

Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Adventure, #Romance

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BOOK: The Woken Gods
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My hand touches a wrapped bundle. I pull it out and lay it on my lap. The cloth is a worn-soft Ramones T-shirt that I have never seen before. I like it, but no clue there. I unfold the fabric and gasp.

Though I was expecting money, I wasn’t expecting this much. Several stacks of hundreds and fifties and twenties spill out. In the middle of them, there’s a plastic ID card with my picture. I squint to read the name on it. Amelia Jones. Amelia is from Ohio, and two years older than me. There is also a note, disappointingly short, written in Dad’s handwriting:
If you’re reading this, it better mean I’m no longer here. This is not party money and a fake ID for no reason. It’s too late for me to explain now, but you probably know some of the truth already. There are other things you can’t know. Shouldn’t know. Please, leave the city. Go far. Be as careful as you can. Know that we love you. Dad
.

Only after some unknown amount of time has passed do I realize that I’m rocking back and forth over the contents of the T-shirt. It feels as if someone has reached into my chest and squeezed my heart until there should be nothing left, but instead my heart is so full it
hurts
.

I get up and stagger like I’m drunk. Bracing one hand on the desk, I fix on Mom’s smiling face in the picture frame, a captive piece of the past, and wait until my breathing evens out. I can get through this. I can deal. I have to.

“Kyra?” Ben calls from downstairs.

“Be out in a minute.”

I put the cash and the ID in my backpack, though I have no plans to be Amelia Jones anytime soon. Not on my own.

Legba told me where Dad is. I just have to figure out how to get to him.

The driver lets us out in front of Tam’s single-story white clapboard. The neighborhood is nowhere near as swanky as mine and Bree’s Capitol Hill. A skinny TV tower is rigged to the roof, its thin rusted metal poles joined at crooked angles that branch into a receiver at the top. It’s like a – slightly – more modern version of a weather vane, only trapping broadcast signals instead of gauging wind currents. Most stations use old-school transmitters, since they’re more reliable here.

Ben tips the driver, making a joke about the “in God we trust” phrase still being on the bill. The driver laughs, and the horses clip-clop the carriage away.

Tam unlocks the door and we go inside, stopping in the alcove. “I’d really love a shower,” I say, rubbing a gritty arm.

Bree has been subdued since we left my place, and we didn’t bother with hers. I tossed some clothes she’d left at my house in with my stuff. But she shakes her head. “I’ll fight you to the death to go first.”

I hold up my hands. “It’s all you.”

“I’m last then.” Tam rolls his eyes. “Come on, I’ll get you towels.”

Ben clears his throat. “Tam, you’ll sleep out here on the couch tonight. The girls can take your bed. Understood?”

Tam says, “Duh.”

I can see he’s embarrassed. Maybe his dad doesn’t know we’re not on again, off again, but only off. “Towels,” I prompt.

“Right this way,” he says.

“Going to catch the news. I’ll be right out here,” Ben reminds us.


Dad
,” Tam says.

Ben goes into the living room and flips on the TV. I hear Bree’s Mom’s voice emerge. She’s on screen, anchoring a report.

We make our way back to Tam’s room, which looks the same as ever. Map of the world on the wall with Skeptics chapters marked by stars. A bookcase filled with reference and school stuff. An ancient poster with a guy and a lady on it that says “The Truth Is Out There” he took from his dad’s office.

I toss my backpack down and flop onto his bed without even considering that it might turn out awkward. I need to not be on my feet anymore. He has a little bathroom and shower of his own, and he shakes his head at me, goes to get Bree her towel. I turn on my side and dig out a long T-shirt from my backpack, toss it to him to give her when he starts to come back in.

He does, then closes the door. The shower starts up nearly immediately.

And Tam and I are alone. He walks around to the other side of the bed and sits back against the headboard. I flip around to face him, staying on my side. “I need to tell you guys some things, but we should wait for Bree,” I say, nervous and wanting to buy time.

Looking at him in such close quarters is like staring my own failures in the face. But he has something on his mind. “You really had no idea about your dad?”

I sit up, even though I’d rather close my eyes and sleep forever. It’s the same whenever I think about Dad, all his lies, what comes next…

“I don’t know why you find it so hard to believe. Do you really think I wouldn’t have told you?” I try to drag a hand through my hair and find it’s too stiff with sandy residue. “I guess I wouldn’t have been allowed to, but that would have been the only reason.”

“Would it?” On Tam, the grime manages to be attractive. Like it’s the next big fashion. His eyes flash. “Are you sure you didn’t go out with me just to get to your dad? If he
was
Society, that’d be even more rebel points, wouldn’t it?”

At least some of my anger is because he’s not completely wrong. Dad hated that we went out. I liked that. “Look, don’t use my crappy relationship with my dad. Not right now. Please.”

“I’m sorry.” He reaches down and takes my hand in his. He cradles it and is quiet. I don’t take it back, because this whole mini-truce between us feels fragile. He lifts his hand and touches my cheek, gentle. He slides it down until he cups my chin. “You’re going to make it through this. And so’s your dad.”

I want to lighten the moment. “Where’s the doom and gloom Tam I know?” He doesn’t smile. “I’m going to need your help, Tam. I know I have no right to ask…”

Tam leans in closer. “You’re not alone. You’ve got me and Bree. We’re not going to abandon you.”

“I know. But I think it’s going to come down to me getting to Dad.”

“Then I’m not worried.”

His eyes hold mine, and for a breath I worry he’s going to kiss me. Then he
is
kissing me. His lips are soft, his hand sliding to the back of my neck. It’s comfortable, like I’ve gone back in time. This part of us was always easy. But it isn’t fair to him.

I push back. “I’m sorry. But nothing’s changed.” Everything else, maybe, but not us. “You deserve someone else…”

He lifts his hand from my neck. We look at each other, faces still close.

“I’m sorry about that,” he says. Then, “I should be honest with you.”

I scoot back against the headboard to put some space between us. “What do you mean?”

The shower stops and we both look at the door. Bree will be out any minute.

“When I told you… you know…” he says, and I fill in silently,
I love you
. He said it and I froze. I broke up with him the next day. “…it wasn’t true. Not yet. You weren’t in this as much as I was and I could tell. So it was a test. I wanted to see if you’d lose it. I know it wasn’t fair.”

When Tam said those three words to me I couldn’t imagine saying them back to him. I couldn’t imagine saying them to
anyone
. I panicked just thinking about being
in
love with someone, having to worry about losing them too. I can’t be that girl, that starry-eyed girl who falls in love. Anyone I ever love will leave.

The stacks of cash hidden two feet away confirm it as the truth. No one I love will
ever
stay.

“You didn’t break my heart,” he says. “You could’ve though.”

I am beyond glad I didn’t. Because I
do
care about Tam, which means we can only be… “Friends, though?”

“Friends. Definitely.”

The bathroom door swings open, the T-shirt nearly hitting Bree’s knees because she’s so tiny. She raises her eyebrows at us, a silent question about whether she’s interrupting.

“Good,” I say to Tam, and I mean it. I need all the friends I have to get through this. “Legba told me Dad’s at Enki House. I have to get in there tomorrow, without anyone knowing.
Including
your dad. Cash is not an issue. Possible?”

Their expressions of shock almost make me laugh. Almost.

CHAPTER SIX

The next morning, the three of us skip school and hire a commercial carriage to take us over to S Street, as close as it will go to the Houses of the Gods (of the gods who live here, anyway). We lurk behind a boarded up mansion at the back edge of the huge overgrown gardens and park, waiting. Right in front of us is the tall stone fence marking the border to the back edge of the property claimed for the Houses. But there are no guards, not back here.

Going in the front loghouse way was out of the question, but Tam had come up with an alternative by the time I was done showering. Bree handed me a photocopied sheet he’d gotten from his dad’s study with the solstice week schedule of blessings. “Not revelers, please not revelers,” I’d said when I understood, but Bree and Tam insisted it was the best idea. I had to agree they were right.

Blessings are a shadow tradition, not done out in the open. No one’s sure exactly what they are, and if or how they work. But at the big seasonal shifts, they’re popular with tourists and acolytes and people desperate for a divine encounter for whatever reasons of their own. A lost job, a sick kid, a broken heart. You wouldn’t want your name registered on a log if you showed up at a House to get one, and so in the week before each solstice or equinox, revelers gather and climb the back fences to visit the trickster of the day.

We’re lucky. Today they’re heading to Enki House. The plan is to blend right in and hope for the best.

I’m not used to doing either of those things.

“You really think this isn’t a trap?” Tam asks. “Legba usually stays out of the gods’ games with each other.”

“It’s all I’ve got,” I counter. “I need to find Dad, and Legba said to try Enki House.”

Tam sits against the brick wall. His boots and jeans and T-shirt are the usual, but, like us, he’s sporting elaborate face paint. Our cheeks and foreheads are covered with shining suns, random dots and swirls and bone shapes. A pretty smart disguise.

The paint isn’t
so
bad. I forget it’s there, but I can’t say the same for the leftover solstice junk jewelry Bree and I are wearing. A strand of black plastic skulls hangs around my neck, over the random Ramones T-shirt from Dad. Bree has on an outrageously tacky snake motif necklace done in a hot green shade. Tam was able to beg off the jewelry, but he has extra paint swirling across his forearms and hands to make up the difference.

We look like goofy tourists playing with divine fire. That’s the point.

I’m serious when I tell them: “You guys don’t have to come in. After yesterday, you really shouldn’t. I can meet you after.”

Bree shakes her head. “I already told you, no. No, no, no. It’s not that I’m looking forward to seeing gods up close again, but you said that Mehen tried to take you. Someone needs to be there.”

“To report me missing like my dad, you mean? But you won’t be able to if you’re with me.”

She says, “K. We’re going to get through this. You are not disappearing. And neither are we.”

I pretend to be convinced. “Sure, and if we don’t make it, then there’s a Big Bad Relic for everyone to worry about. It still doesn’t make sense to me why Dad would have taken it. Operative or not. No one wants gods stalking the skies and streets doing whatever they feel like.”

“Someone probably does,” Tam says, ever the conspiracy-lover.

Bree twists the snake necklace in her hand and frowns at him. “I sure don’t.”

“If your dad’s at Enki House, he’ll be explaining it to you soon enough.” Tam climbs to his feet, pointing. “Here they come. We’re on.”

The quietest bunch of revelers I’ve seen, thanks to no drumming, shamble along the street toward the wall. The lack of noise is probably a nod to the semi-secrecy of this tradition. A guard back here’s all it would take to kill it. So they climb over the wall, get blessed, and then leave, as silently as possible.

Tam hesitates for a second. “Look, guys, I told you I’ve heard stories about blessings. This is probably going to get intense.”

Bree is not happy. “You’re telling us this now, because?”

“Because there’s no time to get into the rumors and freak you guys out more,” Tam says.

He’s right. I don’t know about Bree, but I’d rather be in the dark. I take off to join the pack of revelers, waving. “Wait up!” I call.

A middle-aged woman in an impractical-for-climbing-over-walls flowing dress beams at us. Her flushed cheeks round into apples as she welcomes us. “Stragglers,” she says, “you’re just in time. Don’t want to miss today’s blessing.”

By the time I reach her, Tam and Bree catch up with me. I don’t point out to her that we were here waiting, not late. There are about ten people total, a ragtag assemblage. Most look like the typical worshipful hippies – our face paint blends right in – but there are a few with a harder edge. I’d expected more, in numbers and character. Then again, even though the Houses are technically open, most humans avoid them. Other gods visit only when they have to. From all reports, it’s just the chief trickster of each House and a handful of others from their pantheons who got relocated to D.C.

Most gods stay where they woke. And most humans are smart enough not to go visiting.

Tam makes a scoop of his hands to help us over the ten-foot wall. “Here goes nothing,” I say, stepping in first. I fit my fingers and then the toes of my boot into the grooves between stones, copying the reveler to my left. When I reach the top, the view steals my breath.

I’ve seen pictures, but they’re flat, static, easily faked. Seeing this for real is something else. Like stepping out of our world – or it will be once I land on the other side.

This area used to be a sprawling park beside a private estate with formal English gardens, before it got annexed and transformed. Now the whole place
feels
strangely ageless, out of time. It’s hard to imagine it ever having been different, and even harder to accept that it exists in its current state.

BOOK: The Woken Gods
7.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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