Episode One: The Horn: Scene 20

Back room. Pan’s Club. I didn’t want to be in here, I never wanted to be in here. Thea seemed quite comfortable, though, closing the door behind us. Employees only, that door read.

“You don’t think he’s out there?”

“Do you?”

I shook my head. “Nah. Barry’s…well, he’s a straight-edged workaholic. Unless that’s cover.” Which it could be. And it might be that Barry wanted to be in a place like this just as much as I didn’t. Who knew? It wasn’t a question I’d ask him, even if I had…or was willing to admit to…romantic interest.

“There’s other stuff going on here. Look sharp.”

I did wonder why she hadn’t just ditched me. Surely, she couldn’t really want a kid tagging along on what was obviously a dangerous trip. Or maybe she just thought…I was really beginning to think she thought I still had all of my memories. Or should. Or would get them back if she pretended I still had them. But the back room contained three men who rose to their feet as we entered.

“We warned you before. You aren’t welcome here, and neither is your Mini-Me.”

I scowled. I wasn’t that small. Folding my arms again, I watched with an attempt at a glare that may or may not have been pathetic.

Instead of answering him, Thea swung her arm, sending him flying into the wall. “Would anyone else care to argue with our presence? I didn’t think so.”

One of the other men stood up. “What do you want? We told you to stay out of our business.”

“Jane, if you would?”

I didn’t question how she knew my name. I just tugged out the printed picture and moved to practically wave it in the guy’s face.

“That’s just a…”

“Job?” I snarled. “Let him go.”

“Job. And I doubt you could pay us enough…”

This time it wasn’t Thea who swatted the guy. I didn’t realize I was going to do it until I did and had. “Shut up and show us where he is.”

He was rummaging for his gun, so I kicked him in the chest. “Or not.”

Thea smiled a bit. “Ah, you do learn quickly.” She looked at the third guy, but he was scrambling for another door, getting it open and heading through it without closing it. “Let’s go.”

I let her go first, glancing behind me as we went…down the stairs. The basement, and I saw a couple of things I expected, but didn’t really want to see. Velvet-lined dungeons. Expensive private rooms, no doubt. Then through another “Employees only” door and into darkness and dankness.

With what I was sure were cells.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 19

“Found him,” the guy said, then handed me the printed copy of the picture. I folded it and put it in a pocket, grateful for the gesture. Of course, he’d probably kept the digital copy, but it said something. It said that he didn’t feel it was his property. Or that he valued Barry’s privacy.

“Where is he?” Thea asked.

The name grated, it didn’t feel quite right, something akin to memory stirring within me. As if I knew she was using a false name.

“Somewhere he definitely shouldn’t be, if he’s a good kid.”

What, I thought, Crips HQ or something? No, Barry would never willingly involve himself in gangs.

“I’m picking him up in Pan’s Club.”

Thea made a face. “Definitely not a place for good kids. A place for kids who like their fake IDs.”

An adult nightclub, then. And I thought I remembered it as a strip club. Yeah. “Barry would never…he’s just not the type.”

“So, he’s not there of his own choice.” Thea’s tone sounded almost amused. “Let’s go. Do you have a fake ID?”

“…no,” I admitted.

“Should get yourself one. It might come in handy, if you’re going to insist on being sixteen.”

As if it was somehow my choice. “I hate being sixteen,” I grumbled. It wasn’t like I could change it, except the normal way, by waiting for it to be over. And I still had seventeen to go through.

She rolled her eyes. “Come on. I’ll bluff us in.”

I wasn’t looking forward to it. “I’m not sure we’re dressed for it, either.” But I didn’t really have anything that would make me look 21 and like a girl who’d go to a club like that. Well, I wasn’t even sure what a girl who would go to a club like that dressed like anyway. Gay, I supposed. Except I knew just enough to know there was no one thing gay looked like, and enough to sometimes wonder.

“We’ll manage.” She indicated the back of the bike.

Pan’s Club was in northeast, but it was…oh man, it was worse than a strip club. It was the kind of place I thought Thea might have been heading for the first time I’d seen her. Maybe it had even been on her schedule for the evening. It was nowhere I wanted to be, and keeping the blush from my cheeks was taking all of my efforts.

But nobody stopped us as Thea strode in, and through the main room, through a haze of alcohol and fetishwear, and heading right for the back room as if she knew the place.

No. As if she owned it.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 18

Well, actually, we didn’t roar that far…but we were heading definitely further into Southeast than I liked. Especially as she was no darker than me…the converse, in fact. Very pale hair that flew out from beneath the helmet.

“Where are we going?”

“To find a hound.”

I assumed she didn’t mean literally. Hound. Something that would follow a scent, follow, perhaps, the scent of Barry and his parents…if they’d found him, they’d been caught too, whoever had done it.

With, on occasion. For, never. Did that imply she thought she was his equal? But she’d also thought me stupid to ask the question.

She expected me to know who he was. The bike skidded to a halt on the waterfront, and she tugged her helmet off, locked it. “I hate dealing with stuff in cities,” she grumbled.

I hopped off myself, but when I touched the fuel tank I got this odd feeling that the bike was…not quite purring, but leaning into the touch. So, I didn’t ask why. I almost thought I knew why.

I also noticed she was carrying a gun, and I remembered the one I’d acquired…and left in my room, dang it. I should have gone and got it, legal or not, sensible or not. It would have made me feel safer. She strode ahead, though, and after a moment, I caught up…but stayed slightly behind. If she needed to use that gun, I didn’t want to be in her line of fire.

“Hate guns, too.”

Then, she was moving towards…and into…a shoddy looking tenement type building. The outer door wasn’t locked. “Ho!” she called.

“What?” A head poked out. “Oh, it’s you. And what, an apprentice?”

I folded my arms, trying not to be insulted by that. After all, I was probably the right sort of age, but I didn’t like being reminded of it.

“In a way. Got one for ya. Missing kid.”

“Hold on…do you need a picture?” I asked. “Because I have one on my phone.”

“That would help.” The rest of the man emerged. He was overweight and greasy, he smelled faintly of too many fast food burgers. Or maybe he was flipping them.

I pulled up a picture of Barry and, somewhat reluctantly, offered him my phone. Phones were a lifeline, I felt even more vulnerable than when I’d realized I’d forgotten the gun.

The man took it then, to my surprise, hit a few buttons. “I’m sending it to my email. Need it in hard copy.” He handed me my phone back.

The blonde was looking at him with faint…not quite disgust, but something along those lines. I murmured to her as he vanished. “By the way, what’s your name?”

“Call me Thea.”

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 17

By the next day I was wondering if I should be the one who disappeared. If it might be the only way to keep my friends safe.

Barry didn’t show up to school. And, rumor had it, wasn’t at home either. If anyone was going to skip school it wouldn’t be him. He was obsessed with his grades, he was trying to get a scholarship to somewhere good and as far away from DC as possible. I couldn’t really blame him.

As far away from DC as possible, in particular, appealed. At lunch, I sat on my own…Kanesha had her own friends. Or didn’t want to sit with the white girl. I was never quite sure which. Likely, it was a combination of both. The lines didn’t seem as important in the house. Out here, they were, and sometimes I felt very lonely. Yet another reason to leave.

Barry, though. He wouldn’t skip class. He wouldn’t run away. He was the closest thing I had to a friend, and as the day went on, the hair on the back of my neck pricked more and more. Mild concern turned into very real fear. If something had happened to him because of me, I’d kill the ones responsible.

I meant it. I meant it in a very real sense that frightened me, the knowledge I was capable of exactly that welling up within me. That I absolutely could do it and I would – not so much for Barry but because you didn’t mess with the people I cared about.

I thought of Tyr letting the wolf gnaw on his hand. And I skipped the last class of the day. Barry’s home – I knew where he lived. Nobody was there. His parents out looking for him, perhaps.

As I turned away, I saw the blonde woman again. She wasn’t in slut gear any more, she was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. She was looking at the empty house with distinct annoyance. She was dangerous, and this time I walked right over to her.

“He didn’t show up to school. Do you know anything about that?” Belligerent, but I couldn’t help it.

“Do you?” she countered right back, turning a sapphire gaze on me. A gaze meant to intimidate.

“If I did I’d be looking for him, not here.”

The gaze softened. “Ah. A friend.”

“Acquaintance. I don’t have any friends.”

“Good.” She turned to walk along the front of the property. I found myself following, uncertain, but not wanting to back down.

“He didn’t come to school. His parents said he wasn’t at home. I suspect they’re out looking for him.” It’s what I would do, it’s what I was doing, but this was the only place to start.

“Hopefully.” She turned towards me. “You up for this?”

“I don’t know.”

A snort. “Well, come on.”

“Do you work for Mr. Otter?”

She laughed brightly, stepping around the corner…where there was a motorcycle. And two helmets. She tossed one to me. “Never in a million years.” A pause. “Work with, on occasion. For, never.”

I caught the helmet. “Then let’s go.” Trusting a stranger with my life on her word, but it felt like the right thing to do.

To roar off into the evening behind her.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 16

The local library wasn’t much for books on Norse mythology. Instead, I went to the MLK Library, which has just about everything and tons of reading space. I snagged a couple of books then headed up to the teen space, which was full, as usual, but I snagged a corner of a table.

Too late, I realized I still had the romance novel, so I shoved my bag under my seat and kept it closed. I wasn’t about to be seen with it anywhere I might be recognized. This was definitely a somewhere I might be recognized.

Books. The internet might have been faster, but I felt more comfortable, for this, with books. That was something else I hadn’t known how to use, but I’d learned, and some kids weren’t allowed to use the internet.

And maybe things were different wherever I was from. Tyr was the first thing I looked up.

The God of Justice. So determined he’d let Fenrir bite his hand off in order to bind the wolf…but had that been justice? Fenrir hadn’t done anything yet. A prophecy.

Hadn’t done anything yet. At the same time, there was something to said for sacrificing things for what’s right.

Tyr. Odin. Thor. Valkyries. I flicked through it, stopping on chapters that caught my eye, on illustrations.

Odin on his eight-legged steed, Sleipnir. Would eight legs really make a horse faster? I didn’t think so, but this was gods and magic and nothing of reality. It didn’t need to make sense and it did.



“I said your name three times.”

I turned a little. It was Kanesha. “Oh, hi. Sorry. Good book.”

“Norse mythology?”

“Hey, it’s interesting.” It was a shame I couldn’t take a high school test in it. Then I thought of Mr. Otter’s face.

And of Tyr, and thought that it might be far more important than a high school test.

From Kanesha, an unexpected peace offering, “Let’s go get a sandwich?”

That was unusual. Or maybe I’d pressed some button, come across some shared interest. “Okay.”

“There was this weird guy asking after you.”

“Tell him to shove off.”

“I did. He called himself Otter.”

“Oh. Joy. Him. He’s a nutjob,” I informed her. “Ignore him. He’ll go away sooner or later.”

Or would he? If he was bugging my friends…or at least housemates…then I wanted him to disappear. Stat.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 15

For want of a better idea as to clues, I flicked through the novel. It seemed to be just what the cover said. A trashy romance novel, not even a particularly good one. Heroine swooning over hero’s abs, a weak damsel who needed to be rescued. I wasn’t sure who read this crap. Sure as heck not me.

So, what was he saying by leaving it in my bag? That I was acting like that by not doing as he said?

Shaking my head, I put the book back in, intending to return it to its owner when I saw him. Which I knew I would. I wasn’t about to be seen with it at work, and work was nerve wracking, always glancing over my shoulder, trying not to flinch when a customer entered.

They didn’t come back, though, and I had plenty of time to contemplate the horn. I couldn’t buy it…every time I tried it vanished. I could easily break the glass and take it, but I wasn’t going to do that.

I wasn’t a thief. And even if I did get the horn, I wasn’t going to give it to Mr. Otter. Not just because he wanted it. Not to pay for answers. I thought of spilling the entire thing to Bruce, then decided I didn’t want him involved.

There was a woman loitering outside. She looked fair, Scandinavian, but when I spotted her, she moved away. She was wearing pretty hardcore clubbing gear. There were chains involved, chains and black leather, but I had this feeling she hadn’t gone far.

Another of Otter’s friends? Another player in the game? I got off shift and vacated as soon as I could. Yes. She hadn’t gone far at all. Our eyes met.

Blue eyes, clear ones, both of us. Familiarity…at least in general terms. But no memory. Just an odd jolt of I should know this person but I don’t, and I didn’t. Black leather pants, chrome chains across her pockets, corsetry up top. She looked like a slut and moved like a murderess.

She was dangerous, and I ducked my head, turning to hurry away, feeling her eyes on me. Feeling instincts that told me to go to her, go ask her what was going on, fighting them with the logic that said I didn’t want to be involved with the likes of her.

And only her eyes followed me as I headed home…or at least as far as the pawn shop.

A horn marked by Tyr’s rune for justice. A drinking horn, I realized now, not one for sounding. A drinking horn…just that, harmless unless somebody put poison in it. Symbolic. Justice.

Or maybe just Tyr. I knew where I needed to go next time I had a chance.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 14

Nothing, in fact, stopped bullies. I’d learned that before. As I started to head out the gates, I saw Mr. Otter. He was sitting on a bench opposite, peering at me from over the top of a trashy romance novel. What kind of guy reads trashy romance novels in public? Oddly, my first thought was: A dangerous one.

Or maybe not so oddly. Dangerous people don’t care what other people think. He winked. I turned down the sidewalk away from him, although I was contemplating matters. The horn. Maybe it had belonged to me.

Maybe it had belonged to my parents. Maybe they had been into all of this Norse stuff and I’d picked it up from them. It looked too old to be mine.

Or Mr. Otter had planted it. I glanced over my shoulder. He was no longer there, surprise surprise. Probably stalking me. Except that, like Bruce, I hadn’t picked up anything of sexual interest from him, although he seemed sensual for an older man.

Maybe he was gay. Might explain the trashy romance novel. Gay men were always way less afraid to be seen with things like that. Except that didn’t feel right either. I hadn’t recognized him. I just felt as if I should have.

And there he was, leaning against a doorway ahead of me, a sardonic expression on his face. “Got the horn yet?”

“Maybe I don’t want it,” was what came out. “Why don’t you get it yourself?”

“No fun.”

“Because you put it there,” I accused. Obvious. It was his horn and he was using it to try and…what? Trick me into stupidity? Maybe. I wasn’t going to do anything that crazy, but I couldn’t help but be tempted. It had been chosen to tempt me. “What do you want?”

“You’ll find out.”

Infuriating. I made up my mind to dislike him. “Go away. Get out of my life.”

“You don’t really want that.” Something about his tone was at once smooth and grating. I was torn between a desire to trust him and a desire to throw a drink in his face.

“I want answers,” I admitted. “But you don’t seem inclined to give them.”

“Get me the horn, and I’ll start talking,” he promised.

I had a feeling he wasn’t going to keep it. Turning, I walked away. This time, he didn’t teleport or whatever into my path, but my bag felt heavier. When I glanced…dang if he hadn’t stuck his trashy romance novel into it, the top of it sticking out.

What was this man up to?

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 13

Runes. And I didn’t need the little guide that came with them. I kept them hidden, instinct telling me I’d be mocked at best if they were seen. But I recognized all of them. I didn’t try to throw them.

Maybe I was afraid of what would happen. I was starting to not want to know who I was after all, to want a return to ignorance. Maybe I had a reason for losing my memory after all.

Fighting. Runes. No connection between the two, except the rightness of the stones in my hand. I hid them again, heading to school without any thought for math or history or any of that. Of course, I wouldn’t graduate. I had no illusions on that front, but I had to stay in until I was seventeen, the foster care system made that rule. Supposed to help us stay out of trouble.

They wanted us to graduate. I couldn’t. I walked into the classroom with my mind not even properly working in English, full of runes and fear. Geography. At least on this I thought others were more ignorant than me. World geography I seemed to have some grasp of.

Maybe, it finally occurred to me. Maybe I wasn’t even American. But I spoke English. With no accent.

Learned English. Out of books and classrooms. I’d had the thought before. As fair as I was, maybe I was Norwegian or Swedish or something, but none of that felt right. Icelandic? Maybe.

But today I all but slept through class, glassy eyed, causing the teacher to ask me what was wrong.

“Insomnia,” I murmured, not quite the truth, but I knew I looked like I hadn’t slept. That got a flurry of teasing once the bell rang.

“Yeah, right, that’s what kept you up.”

I blushed. “No, what kept me up was the loud party in the next house. Which I wasn’t invited to.” A lie they would never catch me in. Kanesha would support me, given she slept like a log, and the other girls were on the other side of the house and could legitimately say they’d not heard. Acoustics were funny.

“Never are.”

“Eh. It’s college kids. Why would they invite me?” I turned my back on the speakers, pointedly, stalking away. It was about all I could do with people who teased me, and they seemed to think I was an easy target.

I could beat them up, but that wouldn’t be…right. Or, more, it would be descending to their pathetic level. I was above that, so I walked away. It didn’t seem to help.

It didn’t stop them.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 12

I’d met Bruce a couple of months ago in a coffee shop that had, a couple of days later, been damaged by an electric fire. It wasn’t looking good for reopening. So, finding him required the use of the trusty internet.

No, he wasn’t a guy I’d date, and frankly his daughter was hotter…did I say that out loud? Too old. But he supposedly knew something about weird stuff, and something about Norse runes. So he was the go-to guy if I could just track him down. He’d know something about what might be with the horn. Or not. At least he could confirm my odd knowledge about Tyr’s rune and justice. Or deny it and let me know for sure I was going nuts.

He agreed to meet me in Old Town Alexandria, where there was a real, honest-to-goodness magic store. Or, at least, a witchcraft supply store, which amounted to the same thing. I sat on a bench outside, enjoying the heat and contemplating the good ice cream place on the waterfront.

Bruce joined me. A thin, greying man, old enough to be my father or grandfather. He felt like no threat at all, almost as if it wasn’t really a man sitting next to me, but some genderless figure – never mind that I knew he was married and had two daughters. Maybe he was just that old. Or that married.

“Hey. I wanted an opinion on something.” I’d sketched the rune, and showed it to him, as the first thought.

“Tir. Or Tyr’s rune.”

I nodded. “I saw it used as decoration. Was wondering what it meant.” The confirmation, though, elevated my heart rate. I should have been relieved at the evidence I wasn’t insane, but I wasn’t. “No, that’s not true. I thought I knew what it meant.”

“That’s good. You’re remembering something.”

“Runes?” I felt my lips quirk, the gesture not quite voluntary.

“Lots of kids mess with them at some point,” he pointed out. “Because they think they can tell the future. Because they’re pretty. Maybe…” He stood, abruptly. “Let’s go inside.”

I followed him, curious. The interior of the store looked innocent enough. It was lined with books. In the center was a glass case containing some very nice…and presumably quite expensive…jewelry. The more interesting stuff was towards the back. Statues. Incense sticks. Rocks.

Rocks. And some had runes on them. I moved to look at them. Set under glass and on top of velvet pouches.

“Runes,” Bruce said. “Divination runes.”

“I know,” I found myself whispering. But maybe that was all it was. That I’d played with them before, messed with them as so many kids did.

“Maybe you should get some.”

I wanted to argue that I was broke, but I couldn’t. All I could do was stare at the marked rocks.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 11

I knew I shouldn’t be out late at night. But now I felt like tempting fate, or perhaps making it, and I felt as if it didn’t matter. I could win any fight I got into.

Yes, I know that’s a fast way to get shot, but it also proved to be a good way to avoid being molested. As strange as it might sound, people generally don’t mess with you if you look like you’re ready to beat them up. Confidence goes a long way. And I felt it, in a way I hadn’t before.

You might wonder how I’d gone six months without knowing I could fight? I’d been smart enough not to get into any. Until now, and now I was looking for them. Looking for ways to explore exactly what I could do. I stopped outside the pawn shop again, wondering how that ceremonial sword would feel in my hands.

Nah. Nobody used swords these days. I’d just gone to a lot of self defense classes. But I knew in my heart that wasn’t it.

The horn. It was there again, then gone, but I knew now it was just…something to distract me. Maybe something intentionally to drive me crazy, not in the literal mental insanity sense, but in the sense of making me not think straight, want to hurt things. If that was the case, it had succeeded. I sure as heck wanted to hurt things. And didn’t particularly care if they hurt me back.

Tyr’s rune.

Justice. I toyed with the idea of being a vigilante for a moment, but this was the real world. People who tried that kind of thing usually got yelled at by the cops at best, arrested at worst. There were a few who’d gained a sort of local notoriety and were tolerated.

Reals, they called them. Real superheroes. And I toyed with it, because it would be more productive than wandering through Northeast at night half hoping somebody would try to mug me.

Somebody had tried to kill me. That meant I was important in some way I couldn’t remember. Somebody would try again, and I knew who I needed to talk to.

Somebody who might know how to deal with Mr. Otter.