The wind swirled through the open door, biting against the warmth of the diner. Those closest to the door shivered and glared at the old man as he stood at the threshold for a long moment. He stepped through, just enough so that door swung shut behind him, the bell jangling against the glass.
Steam from endless cups of coffee and bowls of hot soup fogged the windows, muffling the view of the sidewalks outside. The snow was starting to fall faster and harder, reducing visibility, until only the glow of the streetlamps stood out to shine on the falling blanket of white.
He moved into the diner, looking neither right nor left, as he headed toward a dark booth in the corner. There were empty booths on either side of her, the other patrons instinctively avoiding sitting too close to her, even if it meant they shuffled shoulders together at the counter rather than have their own table to themselves.
He sat down, waiting quietly as a waitress hurried over with a menu. “Coffee and soup, please,” he said without touching the menu. “And a tin of sardines, if you have it. Don’t open it – I want to take it with me.”
The waitress nodded without commenting. She had had weirder requests than that. “It’ll be a few minutes. Joe is making a fresh pot of coffee now.”
The old man nodded again, before turning his eye to the old woman sitting across from him. She was both older than she looked, and younger than she portrayed. It was a persona taken on so long ago that the lines between her true self and the part she played had long since blurred and melted together. Still, he couldn’t help but smile at the memories of their meetings in past years. Sometimes violent, sometimes erotic. But always, part of the role they both played.
“Have you come for the story again, old man?” she asked, finally raising her face from her bowl of soup to look at him.
“I have,” he said, “if you will share it with me.”
The old woman sighed, her face relaxing as she exhaled. The lines creasing her face seemed to relax, leaving her skin looking decades younger than it had just seconds before. She cupped her hands around her bowl of soup, looking down at the surface.
“As you wish. I remember the giants, they who existed long before you and your people came to this world. They fed me then, giving me bits and pieces of bread, sometimes a scrap of meat. They sheltered me, and taught me of the nine worlds, of the great tree, of the roots that sink below.
There was only the tree. No sand, no sea. Just the tree and the void. And Ymir. Poor, simple Ymir. The gentlest of them all and yet he was slain, slain and ground up into nothing more than dust.” She paused, looking up. “Dust to dust. Did you know the new priests say that? And they have no fucking idea what it means.”
She was quiet for a moment. “The earth was lifted forth. Bur’s sons did well, casting the moon and sun into the sky. And then you came. You and your tribe, seating yourself to council and deciding what to name the bits and pieces of the world. Like you had any clue,” she muttered. “Children playing at being gods. Naming the stars, naming the moon, and then sitting around playing with your gold. “
“Then come the dwarves. Motsognir, Durin, Nyi and Nithi, Northri and Suthri, Austri and Vestri. Althjof, Dvalin, Nar and Nain, Niping, Dain, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Nori…
“Are you okay, lady?” The waitress stood over them, steaming coffee pot in hand. “You … was that some other kind of language? I mean, we get all kinds of eastern Europeans in here and I haven’t heard that language before.”
“She perfectly fine,” the man said, a bland expression on his face. “Just going through lines for a play. She’s naming the dwarves that are part of the story.”
The waitress’ brows wrinkled. “What, like in Snow White? I don’t remember those names in Snow White.”
“It’s the adult version,” the old woman replied, her lips twitching as she tried not to smile.
“Oh. Well… oh. Do you guys want more coffee?” She didn’t wait for an answer, but simply filled their cups and wandered off again.
The man sighed. “That certainly broke the mood, didn’t it?” he asked, almost to himself. The woman laughed. “We’ve been doing this little song and dance for eons,” he continued. “Maybe it’s a sign that … well, that it’s time to move on. Accept that the prophecy was just a good story to tell once every hundred years or so and let it go.”
A gust of wind hammered at the windows. The snow outside was whipped into a frenzy, while pedestrians grabbed at their coats and hats, startled by the sudden ferocity of the storm.
The woman stared out through the window for a long moment. “But it’s not just a story,” she said softly. “Can’t you feel it? The cold that comes earlier each year, the heat the strikes harsher each summer? We created these fools, gave them sense, gave them a soul and … they have wasted it. Yggdrasil begins to droop and the serpent is starting to stir.”
“I’ve heard that a litter of wolf-pups have been born to the Jotuns.” The Volva looked up at the All-Father, her eyes glittering. “Is there any real need to continue on with the story? We know what is coming.” A wry smile. “After all, I foretold it. You sacrificed your eye to know the truth. The war is coming again, Odin. Fenrir will be loosed, and the serpent will devour the earth.
The grey-haired, one-eyed god bared his teeth at her. “If it comes, then it is time. But do not expect me to throw myself down on the sword simply because I know my destiny is to die by it. What I want to know is how to stop … the false wars. Someone is stirring the pot, someone not connected to the prophecy. How do I stop that, seeress?”
They sat quietly, while the woman’s eyes focused on something unseen in the distance. “There’s a girl,” she said finally. “Find her, find your weapon. Find your chance.”
The wind gusted again, and someone on the other side of the diner screamed as glass shattered. The wind howled inside the building, snow swirling through the broken window. Odin turned back to the Volva, annoyed at the distraction. He stared at the empty seat opposite him, only a dirty coffee mug and a few crumpled dollars remaining.
“So be it, old witch. We’ll see how this game plays out.”
This is my entry for LJ Idol. It's an open topic week, so I decided to share the other bit of writing that's been buzzing around in my head. This is the opening part of a longer story I'll be working on over the next few months. If you like my entry, I would appreciate your vote when the time comes.