It’s two days to the new year and snowing; that’s the main reason I don’t die. Jay and I had decided to leave a motel early in the morning and I’m considering suggesting we go south as we get into the dark blue van I bought weeks ago. I’m me, and I look human enough. Jay looks human, but he’s not at all even though humans would see a kid of about ten with dark glasses and a white cane. I have the god inside me wrapped up for warmth; Jay is tough enough that the cold doesn’t reach him at all.
So far we’ve been lucky. That’s the first thing that comes through my head when I hear the gunshots puncturing the dice of the van. I’d been doing exorcisms to keep up with ghost-eating and in memory of Dyer, we’d been doing favours for the fae, dealing with Jay’s lack of vision and on top of all that I’ve been working on what being a god-eater means and how to migrate gods in my spare time. Which meant not much at all: it’s on my news years list, underlined twice.
Bullets tore through metal and seats; I’d drawn enough of the god inside me out that warmth is also a hint of dark fur; it’s enough that a couple of bullets bruise my chest but nothing else; Jay is tough, he just yelps in shock as one bullet hits the screen of his tablet – it doesn’t break, since Jay has worked bindings on it so it is really tough.
I grab his head and shove it down even as I duck and pull more of the god inside me out. Claws to rend, fur made of nightmares and childhood terrors, a nose to smell the fear of children. Jay wasn’t afraid so much as shocked; there were six terrified humans behind a ford pickup firing guns into the van, and their fear was death-fear, sharp enough to be a high to the god inside me.
“Keep still,” I snarl at Jay.
“But the bindings that hold the van together are breaking,” he says.
“Fix those.” I figure it should keep him busy and shove open the driver’s door, rolling out to the ground; the god inside me can be fast, as gods under the bed and deep in closets are meant to me. I’m still Charlie and not near as fast: we move, but three bullets still slam into my chest and even with the god as armour the force of them drives me back into the van.
Jay lets out a yelp from the passenger side and is out in a blur, faster than humans can move. “Stop that now!” he yells, even as he jumps back under the force of bullets, looking as if he is annoyed with being shot at more than actually hurt. He marches past me through the snow toward the pickup. “I bought thith coat four days ago. Just four,” holding up the fingers of his right hand, “and you went and ruined it and that’s really mean!”
The people hiding behind the pick-up are still terrified: all men, ranging from thirty to sixty, with the kind of handguns one can buy for home-defence. None of them were opening fire on Jay, though I saw one – the oldest man, closing in on seventy I figured – shake his gun, as if trying to get the safety to unlock. Jay is very good with bindings, after all.
I straighten and walk over slowly; one of the men wets himself in terror, the smell at once sharp and alluring to the god inside me. I let some of it go, enough to try and stop feeling their fear as if it was a bouquet of flowers. I was sore, and risked a glance at the van behind me: it looked as if it had been used a stunt car in an action movie.
He is beside me in a moment, his grin huge and full of pride. “I bound their guns up good and!,” he adds, “they won’t be running away so you can talk to them all mean-like!”
“Like you do with me when I’m trying to act like you!” He sticks out his tongue after that.
I don’t even try to count to ten. “They did just try and kill us. Just – fix the van up, okay? It has holes in it.”
Jay heads back, running his fingers over the van and checking it over: he’s getting better at moving about and sensing only surface bindings of things, enough to function without a cane at times, but the last thing I wanted was him tripping and falling in the snow after managing to terrifying six grown men by virtue of being really annoyed they’d shot up his jacket.
The six men are all trying to untie shoes that Jay had bound to each other and into their sicks so well even kicking the shoes off wasn’t working for the one of them trying to that. Jay had jammed each weapon, but I figure at least one had a knife and I know you didn’t have to be far from someone to reach them with that. So I stop and smile, the god in my eyes a bright flame. I eat gods, but I travelled with a magician long enough to learn how to eat a lot of other things as well.
I turn my gaze on the youngest man and eat his ability to lie to me. He gasps: the feeling of my talent against him must hurt, but I’m in no mood to try and make it not hurt. “Talk,” I growl, putting some of the god into my voice as power. The rest is wholly me.
“You were scaring Maria, and we decided to stop it because he said you were a monster,” he gets out between chattering teeth. Even the old man had turned the colour of a used dishcloth; they’re terrified, and I don’t need the god in me to know that.
I look back: no one has come out of the motel at all, and even for a cheap motel someone would at least be calling the police or we’d be hearing sirens by now. Jay is busy trying to rebind the metal of the van together, whistling to himself and not remotely worried. Trusting me to do the right thing, as if I have any idea what that is. “You have a name?”
“Right, Richard. Who is Maria?”
Nothing; Richard clamps his lips shut at that despite the naked terror in his eyes. I look away from that. “Kiddo?” Jay is beside me in a blur, resting his hands on my arm and I just know he’s going to say I’m it and want to play tag. I put a hand over his mouth, then say: “These people here: what is their strongest binding?”
“Oh,” he says when I remove my hand. “With each other, but probably not in a sex way? A work way? It’s really hard to tell the different with humans sometimes, but they’ve all got bindings to the motel, so they work in it and – and something in it, I think? Maybe a god, or a ghost? Or they did something really bad they don’t want to talk about and are all bound to it!”
“What do you think would qualify as that?” I ask, as much to know as for any other reason.
Jay thinks that over for almost four seconds. “Really bad food.”
I shake my head. “Right. Bind them all to sleep, please. We’re going to visit a god.”
They’re terrified, but one still moves with a knife and then is on the ground a moment later, courtesy of Jay punching him between the legs. “Charlie is my friend,” he says, “and I’m not going to let you hurt her and I can’t see but I can still hit real good because I can bind my fists to parts of you you don’t want bindings too and I bet that includes your eyes and thumbs!”
“Jay. I’m okay.”
“They were going to hurt you!”
“I know. Just make them sleep,” I say carefully, and all six men are asleep in moments. I hold out my left hand and Jay grabs it with his, following beside me to the motel. “Thumbs?”
“You can’t play a lot of games with broken thumbs,” he explains happily. “So that’s a really bad binding to break on someone.”
“Of course it is,” I say after a pause, and head to reception. The receptionist is one of the cleaners, and her nametag does read Maria. She is still, and this close I can feel what she is: the spirit of the motel, the god of this place, made by employees of it not long after it was built a good thirty years ago. Most gods don’t last that long, not with one form or name: she had. Perhaps that was reason enough to fear a god-eater.
“I was never here to harm you,” I say gently.
“I told them,” the god whispers. “I told them I was scared but it is best to leave some monsters alone. They thought they were protecting me. I find it is often easier to make them believe they are helping, to let them feel they have power. I did not think it would go that far,” and she wraps her arms about herself and shudders at that.
I have no idea what my dying would do to gods near me: nothing good, I think. I nod to her. “If they had hurt me, we would be having a different conversation. But we’re not, and it wasn’t your fault.”
“So we can be friends?” Jay puts in. “Because! I don’t want to be friends with people who tried to hurt Charlie but you didn’t,” and he is beside the counter and hugging the god before Maria can react. The god accepts the hug in stunned silence, as much from Jay’s sheer joy at making a new friend as anything else.
“They did try and shoot you too,” I point out.
“Only twice, and not with shotguns.”
“You’ve been shot with shotguns.”
“Just the once,” Jay says, “and I was totally okay after!”
I make a mental note to ask how tough he actually is to the magician the next time we talk. “We do need to go, though. You can work on fixing the van as we drive?”
“I can try,” he says. “It’s going to be hard, but that’s a fun kind of hard.”
“All right.” I look at Maria as Jay bounds out the door to the van to check his bindings over some more. I pretend not to hear a yelp when Jay hits ice and skids on his butt for a few seconds.
“You will not eat me,” the god says, and it is half a plea.
What am I, that gods must do this? I take a deep breath. “No. But I am going to give the motel one star on TripAdvisor.” And I walk out with that; it’s not what the magician would have said, but I think it works well enough.
Jay makes a point of insisting to look me over when I return to the van, poking me gently with his fingers where I was shot before pronouncing that my bindings seem find and working on fixing the van as I drive; it makes for several hours of pleasant silence before I ask if he undid the bindings of the men left in the snow beside the pick-up truck.
He lets out a huge sigh. “Fine. I will.”
“Once we stop for lunch,” he says with a huge and shameless grin.
“You’re trying to bribe me now, are you?”
“I might be! Only I’m not because I’ve already unbound them but you could think I am and I might get more food.”
I smack him upside the head and pull into the nearest fast food place; the van looks dented but nothing more, and I make a mental note to trade it in, let Jay go inside and order food for us and just sit in the van and shake with the memory of bullets until I feel a little better and a whole lot more human for the fear.