Can you fall to your death if you're already dead? - Chapter One
Yeah, that's me: a Greek demigod hanging from the hand of a Nordic Valkyrie. You're probably wondering how I got in this situation. Honestly, I probably should have seen this coming. My entire life has been one pretty confusing mess. You know, now that I think about it, my dad is the God of Prophecy; he probably should have seen this coming… thanks for the heads-up, Dad!
So--no shit there I was, flailing in mid-air, while this chick roughly my age gripped my wrist. My bow arm, no less. If she cause permanent damage so help me Artemis I’d--
The good news was, I was no stranger to flying. I was usually just a little more in control. I was actually fairly impressed that this chick could fly so well with the full weight of a person off-balancing her. But I guess she had a lot of practice with that. That was cool. I wondered if it’d be too distracting if I asked her what the actual Hades was going on right now. Then I figured if I was too distracting and she dropped me, I could just sprout my own wings and fly myself to safety. So here goes nothing.
“Hey um, lady. Any chance you could like, oh I dunno, tell me what’s up? Other than us, of course. Get it. Because we’re in the air. No, alright. Why are you flying me away from my friends and siblings as they battle to the death to save the world as we know it?”
If she heard me, she didn’t let on. Of course, it was a bit loud, what with the wind whizzing by and who-knows-how-many miles per hour. I was kind of starting to wonder what she’d do if I bit her hand. It hadn’t really occurred to me until now that she might be an enemy monster dragging me away from the battle on purpose. But I wasn’t convinced. I’d had a lot of dealings with monsters and beasts over my confusing and seriously mixed-up life and she really didn’t strike me as anything evil. But I really needed to be helping the rest of the half-bloods back on the ground and the longer I waited, the farther away we got. I figured I had no other choice.
I pulled myself up without much warning and bit down hard on the girl’s finger. She yelled and let go, like any normal person would do. Yay, my master plan worked! I was now falling to my death. Boy, I sure am glad I thought this one through.
But wait, there's more! I closed my eyes, willing the air to stay in my lungs. I was used to flying, NOT to falling--and concentrated on my arms. I willed them to adjust and change and bend to my will and soon enough (you could tell it was soon enough by the fact that I hadn’t gone splat yet) my arms were covered in feathers and bent at an angle that would have made a doctor pass out.
I can just imagine all y’all being like ‘what no way, how’d you do that?’ Well before you go all crazy and start accusing me of being crazy, it's an ability called Biokinesis. It’s actually something a lot of demigods possess but not as many use it the way I do. It allows us to do a lot of things, but one of my favorites is shaping my anatomy and adjusting my molecular structure. Basically, I adapt my physiology at will. You know, so I don’t die. See, totally not crazy at all.
I spread my new wing-arms out to catch the air and it seriously helped slow (but not stop) my descent. I could glide to safety now. However, what I really needed was to stay in mid-air. I concentrated again and now that my life wasn’t in immediate danger, the change came quicker and easier. It wasn’t a visible change, but I could feel more than a hundred pounds suddenly vanish.
I will admit my shallow self occasionally activated this power when I weigh myself in the morning. And then I would stuff my face with chocolate. What were we talking about? Right, my super-awesome powers.
My new hollow bird bones coupled with my awesome arm-wings was my usual flight combo. It wasn’t as flashy or classy as just sprouting new wings on my back, but I hated being confused with an angel so this is what I typically preferred. Once I was stable, I looked around to find my captor. She was nearly two thousand feet above me and starting to recover from her shock. Her wings folded in and she shot toward me like a bullet. I realized dragging me behind her had actually been slowing her down and making her unstable. She was an unbelievably skilled flyer.
I did the only thing any sensible half-blood who’d trained half their life fighting monsters and bad guys would have done. I ran. Or flew, rather. I picked the direction I thought we’d come from and flapped like a maniac, flying as quickly as I could back toward my Camp family.
The chick who’d grabbed me also had wings, and apparently, she was ridiculously faster than I was because she caught up to me in like two seconds. What was that about thinking through my plan? She flew in front of me, trying to block my path, and hovered to a stop. The nice thing about flying is that it is very three-dimensional. I simply flew under her and kept going.
Unfortunately, she was also pretty smart because she figured out my smartass out-maneuvering abilities and this time when she flew in front of me, she predicted my genius escape and moved again to block me. We ended up doing this totally awkward aerial dance of attempted escapes and successful blocks for almost a minute before I gave up. You’d think someone who could sense the future would be a little bit better at 3D rock-paper-scissors.
Finally, I gave up and crossed my arms in my typical sassy pose. “Fine, I give up. What do you wa--” It was right about then that I remembered I needed my arms outstretched to stop myself from falling. Again, I plummeted.
As if nothing at all had happened that could possibly be considered embarrassing, I flapped my arms until I regained the altitude I’d been at before. “As I was saying. What do you want with me?”
“You fought bravely, warrior, and died a noble death with weapon in hand. I was impressed with your skills and your ingenuity on the battlefield, and I have decided you are worthy enough to serve Odin in the afterlife. I am taking you to Valhalla where you will train and learn until Ragnarok arrives.”
“I’m sorry, did you say died? You know what, I don’t even think that's the issue here. Odin, who even is that? Valhalla? Ragnarok? I really think you’ve got the wrong demigod here.”
Her expression was blank and cold. Despite the praise she spoke, she didn’t exactly exude any kind of affection or warmth. “No, I am sure I saw you battling out there. Many fought and died bravely, but you caught my eye in particular because of the crafty way in which you fought. We could use more archers among us.”
“I mean, I’ll admit I’ve got some mad bow skills, but I really think I should be back with my friends, helping them fight. If you didn’t notice, we aren’t exactly winning right now.” I glanced over her head, wondering if I could make a quick getaway above her.
“I am faster than you; you won’t make it.” I hate mind readers… “You cannot go back. You are dead. You cannot help them anymore. You have been chosen to train at Valhalla and there is no other path for you now. You must come with me.”
I had to admit, my arms were getting pretty freaking tired. Even if I did get past her, I doubted I had the stamina to make it all the way back to the battle and still have any ability to help out once I got there. So with great reluctance, I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Fine. Take me to to your leader...”
Yale, Yahtzee Yardley, Yellow, Yoda.
All I knew was that he was a male, yellow lab with a name that started with a Y. We all spent weeks trying to figure out what his name could possibly be. Of course, no one actually guessed it. The two and a half hour drive from our city to the one where the Great Puppy Truck was being delivered was a grueling one - one I didn’t think I would be able to withstand. But eventually we made it, only to have to wait another few hours for the truck to actually arrive. But all the waiting, all the guessing, all the dreaming melted away in this one moment.
Love at first site doesn’t even begin to cover what happens when you look into the eyes of the puppy you are bound to for the next year. This puppy with a destiny far greater than he or I could truly grasp was under my care and I had to do everything right by him. It was a huge task, but I was ready to take his life and his future in my hands.
My beautiful little eight week old Yeti was a puppy bred at the Guide Dogs for the Blind facility in California. It was his destiny to grow up and guide a blind partner through their day, granting them the independence and freedom to live without restrictions. It was a big destiny, but one I knew my little baby would be able to handle. He had a heart purer than gold and even when he pooped in his kennel on the way home, I knew he would make a great partner for anyone.
I won’t lie and say that the first few months weren’t tough. I had never had a puppy of my own and I wasn’t completely prepared for the potty cries every three hours through the night. Or the insane amount of food he would eat or how he never seemed to get enough water to drink. But beyond all of that, I certainly was not prepared for how quickly he would grow up.
Training started right away. It was basic things to begin with, of course. I taught him how to play and to understand that biting was not ok and that when I told him That’s Enough, it was time to let go of the toy and pay attention to me. I taught him to Sit and Stay while I got his food ready and when it was Okay to finally go eat. The bigger and older he got, the more advanced his training became. He learned to Go To Bed on his special rug and to stand in exactly the correct place on my left side. He learned that wearing his vest meant he was a working pup and that it wasn’t ok to say hello to other people or dogs. He learned to love and to play. He learned what snow was and the ocean – he really did love that giant body of water – and he learned that he had a huge purpose in life.
Guide Dogs for the Blind is an organization that utilizes Puppy Raisers from nine states on the west coast. These states are broken down into smaller regions where groups of Puppy Raisers work together to raise multiple dogs. Each dog is primarily raised by one or two people but the group can also trade dogs around so they can get exposed to different situations. You don’t have a cat but your pup needs to be exposed to one? Let’s swap so she can come meet my kittens. I don’t have a doorbell in my apartment but your house does? Why don’t you take him for a day and have lots of visitors. It is an amazing opportunity that allows the dogs to be exposed to every possible thing they might come across once they start working.
The amazing thing about service animals is the compassion they are able to show their human counterparts and this wouldn’t be possible without everything they are taught as puppies. Yeti and I were fortunate that our state allows Puppies in Training to receive the same legal benefits as Working Guides which allowed us to go shopping together, see films, and attend concerts and sports games. Desensitizing the puppies to these exotic noises and smells and venues was part of our training so that when he finally became a Working Guide, he would be able to focus all of his attention on the job at paw. And I, of course, was more than happy to take my Yeti-bear everywhere I could.
But as I am sure you can guess, all of these puppies come with a return date. It is our job as a Puppy Raiser to teach and nourish these puppies until they are ready to return to the Guide Dogs campus. It is at the amazing facility that they learn the true essence of being a Guide and are able to be partnered with a human. Most dogs go back between twelve and fifteen months and honestly, this deadline was much farther away then I wanted to allow myself to be concerned with. That made it all the more painful and shocking.
He was eight months when they took him away. With little warning and zero chance for me to change how I’d been raising him, the leaders of our puppy group deemed me unworthy of him. They took him from me with four months early and the only chance I had to say goodbye was a group meeting a few days earlier. I held him and cuddled with him and worked with him for the two hours of the meeting before promptly being shooed from the house. I never saw him again.
I was prepared to give him back after a year with him. I was happy to let him go; to return to the school with a mission in mind and to watch him do amazing things. I was excited to see him partnered and to give him away on stage like a parent at a wedding. But I was denied every opportunity. He was transferred to another raiser but stayed within our local puppy group. I watched him grow up through Facebook pictures and stories but I didn’t attend another group meeting while he was here in town. He flew back to California without me. He went through evaluations without me and the final decision on what would happen to him when he was Career Changed was made without me. The people that surrounded us for six months cut me out – refused to acknowledge my work or my love. No one remembers what I did for him.
But I know in my heart that he remembers me.
“It’s ok, I’m here. I’m not going to leave you. I will protect you. Forever.” The reassurances that spilled from his lips as he held me close was what I needed to hear. I know there was no way I could be hurt - not while I was cradled in his arms. Not while he was near me. But there was still a nagging feeling deep inside my soul that something wasn’t right. Something was different than before. In all my life I had known only one truth and today, that truth had been shattered into a million lies.
They say the world can be a dangerous place and that was something I had spent my entire life experiencing. From my earliest memories, I could recall the monsters. The shadows that followed me during the day and the bumps that followed me in the night. My father did his best to protect me from them; he had fought them his entire life and he helped bring me into this world knowing I would have to fight them too. He taught me to defend myself. He taught me to survive. But what he didn’t teach me was why.
Years into my life and I had never thought to ask what it was that we ran from or why it was that we fought. It had been my entire life. My only truth. And I knew that it didn’t matter why we did what we did, we had to hunt the monsters that preyed on the unsuspecting humanity. My mother had learned the answers to those questions but at the cost of her life. And so, with a sword in hand and the wind at our backs we battled.
And it all came down to this. We chased the biggest beast back to its den in the woods. This creature had had an affinity with me since the day I’d been born. It stalked me when I was alone and it watched me when I was with my family. And in return, I had become obsessed with it. My father trained me for my first solo mission and I knew that I would either return to him with the pelt of the monster or I wouldn’t return at all. At the mouth of the cave I said my goodbye and I stepped into the darkness.
The only warmth I felt was from the leather sword-grip in my palm. I knew no fear - only the calming reassurance of a task that needed doing. I had no questions, no doubts. Step after step took me deeper into the cavern until it opened into a stone room so large I realized I had been in a tunnel. The sword fell from my hand and my mouth hung open as the scene before me processed through my eyes.
My mother lay asleep, curled against a wall of scales so large it had taken me a minute to realize it was moving. Across from her was the beast that had stalked me in the night, his fiery eyes boring into me. “I have been waiting for you.” The growl came not from the creature but from within my own mind. Despite that, my mother stirred in her slumber and blinked the weariness out of her eyes. I thought for sure she was here as a captive, an unwilling slave bound by these demons and tasked to do their bidding. But as she stood and stepped toward me I could so no bonds. She did not speak but only watched as I turned my attention back to the thing before me.
Sharp teeth partnered with sharp claws could only mean that the monster before me was created to kill. And yet the voice in my head was one I knew could deal me no harm. “You have been deceived, my child.” My body took a step in retreat but my soul willed it to advance instead. My mind screamed to run while my heart begged to stay. I was paralyzed with uncertainty.
Until the beast before me took a step toward me and I collapsed to the ground, unable to continue in the war my body was fighting against itself. “I don’t...understand.” The words were spoken as if by someone else. I did not recognize my own voice. It did not feel as though I had spoken.
The space between myself and the monster was lessened as the beast stalked toward me. This was how I was going to meet my end - at the claws of the creature my father had specifically prepared me to kill. I could feel it coming toward me, although my gaze was locked on my mother and the scaly monster that stood behind her. I closed my eyes and prayed a silent goodbye.
And then my world fell apart. “It’s ok, I’m here. I’m not going to leave you. I will protect you. Forever.”
The air vibrated, electricity filled the very existence of the night sky as flashes of yellow and white lit up the canopy of darkness. Droplets of water fell to the earth, hitting - daintily at first - upon the cool pavement and asphalt of the man-made landscape. As the minutes passed, the water became more violent and fell at gravities discretion with more volume and more force. The wind picked up now, starting to toss and throw the rain at angles it was not used to falling. While most of the humans were asleep in their beds, other animals ran for cover. Birds tried to flock to safety but found themselves unable to navigate the cold winds. Stray dogs huddled under parked vehicles, testing their own survival instincts and debating weather or not to share their space or keep it for their own.
It seemed as though the relentless and persistent attack would not let up. And yet, as quickly as the phenomena occurred, Mother Nature released the bonds of fear she had so easily grasped. The storm subsided and the world was left with only small rivers in their gutters to inform those sleeping of what had transpired that night.