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Gods Old and Dark
Heyr Thorrson, pounding roofing nails into shingles on the hottest August afternoon Wisconsin had seen in ten years, suddenly smelled spring in the air. He slid his hammer into his tool belt, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply.
The scent that he caught this time wasn't spring, but it had the same feel to it. Newness, and life, and goodness -- but fragile. Fragile.
"Hmmm," he said. And, "Well. By damn."
He yelled to his fellow roofer, "Hey, Lars, I'm on break." Lars, sweating and shirtless and looking like he'd been run through a wringer, just grunted. Heyr took the time to go down the ladder, though it would have been easier just to jump. He kept breathing deeply, making sure all the time that this wasn't just his imagination, just wishful thinking, because jobs were hard enough to come by anymore and he didn't want to do anything stupid.
The smell was still in his nose when he went to the foreman, who gave him a little smile when he walked up and said, "You could have the decency to pretend to be as exhausted as the rest of us. Doesn't this heat bother you?"
Heyr shrugged. Extremes of weather had never bothered him. "Just lucky," he said. And then, one more quick breath. Still there. "I hate to do this to you in the middle of a job, Colly, but I've got someplace I need to be."
Colly shrugged. "Don't worry about it. You never miss a day, never ask for time off. You need to go someplace this afternoon, go ahead."
"I don't mean this afternoon. I mean I have to leave now. I quit."
Colly, whose real name was something so dreadful that Heyr hadnever heard him or anyone else use it, held his hands out wide and stared at the development springing out of dirt. "We got this house and fifteen more just like it. You know you got a job until this is done, and for anything else I get when this project is finished. You're my best guy. You quit, I'm going to have to hire three other people to replace you. You can't just walk out on me like this, man. In the middle of the day. In the middle of a roof ... Jesus wept, your nail box is still up there, and half a flat of shingles."
"Told you when I signed on I'd stay as long as I could. Well -- this is as long as I could."
Colly looked at him, exasperated. "You said that six years ago. I figured by now you'd made up your mind."
"Doesn't have anything to do with me," Heyr said. "I like you, liked working with you. You treated me right, and the rest of your men, too, and I appreciate it. I just got my call. Have to go now. Right now." He turned and left.
Colly was yelling after him, but Heyr walked across the site, climbed into his white pickup truck, and pulled out. He had a cell phone in the truck. Soon as he was out on the street, he picked up the phone and hit "1" on the quick dial.
He heard two rings. Then a voice one degree too sexy for professional use said, "First National Savings and Loan, Nancy Soderlund speaking. How may I help you?"
Heyr had his window rolled down. He took another deep breath. Yep, it was still there. "Have to go, Nancy," he said.
There was a moment's silence, in which Heyr had time to wish he'd stuck to his guns about keeping his relationships uncomplicated.
"I'm not sure. I just have to go."
Another silence. "Well ... for how long?"
Make it clean, he told himself. Make it quick.
"This is what I told you about when we moved in together, Nancy -- that one day I was going to have to leave."
A very, very long silence followed this announcement, while she tried to figure out what he was talking about. Then, in the silence, she screamed into his ear, "That was FOUR YEARS ago!"
"I know." He was going to have to let her get this out of her system. Let her yell at him. If things were different, he'd go home one last time and let her scream at him in person and punch him and maybe break things and throw them at him, but he didn't have the time. What he smelled was pure live magic, too fragile and too tentative to be left untended. He needed to track it down fast, before someone else got to it first and destroyed the source. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry? You're sorry? I have put four years of my life into us, into taking care of you and loving you and ... We don't even fight much, you son of a bitch, and now you're telling me that you're leaving me, and I get no warning? What, am I supposed to just go away now and pretend you never existed? Find someplace new to live, and someone else to love, and act like the last four years never happened?"
"You don't have to go anywhere," he said. He stopped the truck at an intersection, closed his eyes, and sniffed. Trying to get a sense of the direction of the smell's origin. East, he thought. East, and maybe south, too, though at the moment east was strongest.
"I don't? How do you figure that? I'm living in your house, unless you forgot."
"It's your house," he said. "I bought it for you. It's all in your name, and paid for. I didn't want you to not have anything when I had to go."
Suddenly she was crying. "What happened? Did you kill somebody? Have you been in hiding? Have the police or something tracked you down?"
"Nancy, I just have to go. I didn't do anything wrong, but I knew eventually I was going to find what I was looking for, and when I found it, I was going to have to leave."Gods Old and Dark. Copyright © by Holly Lisle. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.