Astray Lang Syne

January 2, 2019

 

“Can’t you at least put on a coat?” asked the Reverend Archer Kent. It was the usual question whenever he found himself strolling through the park with Yuki-Onna—especially in the evening snow, where her pale, spectral figure glittered against the drifts. “I’m cold just looking at you.”

 

She laughed softly in reply, her blue silk kimono flitting gently in the nightly wind. “Alas,” she said, “such is the curse of being a snow-ghost.”

 

“Besides,” she added playfully, “maybe I’m the one getting hot—looking at you, hm?”

 

The innuendo flew by Archer like a baseball. Or maybe it just bounced off his triple layer of sweaters. Either way, the pair continued walking.

 

“So,” Yuki began, “how many people are coming to this ‘Winter Gala’ of yours?”

 

“People?” Archer responded. “Well, very few people, per se, but there should be at least a few dozen attendees.”

 

“Oh of course, excuse me—attendees. Mr. Technical.”

 

“Hey, the last thing I want to do is offend some creature-from-another-realm that doesn’t take well to being labeled as even remotely human.”

 

“Fair enough.”

 

“Which reminds me—I hope I covered all the accommodations.”

 

“Archer, I’m sure you’re fine. You know most of us will deal with what we’re given.”

 

“And I know that, but I mean the big stuff. Like spectral napkins.”

 

“Of all the—what? Spectral napkins? What, so I don’t get spectral cupcake on my kimono?”

 

“THEY WERE A PAIN TO GET, YUKI. Do you know how many haunted houses I had to walk through before I found one that had decent silverware? I don’t know how more ghosts don’t pass on—the state those places are in. The moment I realized my manor was dilapidated, I would immediately head for the other side.”

 

“You’re ridiculous Archer.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

The pair continued their winter stroll, ambling through the moonlit park at a careless pace—tall black lamps gently illuminating the cobbled path, throwing their light off of the glimmering snow.

 

“Oh,” began Yuki, breaking the silence, “I forgot to mention—the Moon Rabbit said he could come.”

 

“Oh good!” replied Archer.

 

“He’s bringing Mochi.”

 

“Even better. Plus, we’re in the pavilion, which is open enough that he should be able to participate. Hm. Maybe he could even shine some extra light on the inukshuk.”

 

“The what?”

 

“The inukshuk! It’s a big column of stone, used by northern spirits for navigation. I have an Ijiraq that wants to come, but they tend to provoke… forgetfulness… when it comes to one’s location—attendees are going to wander off. Unless there’s an inukshuk nearby.”

 

“Well, that is very thoughtful of you indeed.”

 

“Tell me about it. It’s uniquely beautiful, but it was a pain to make—working with all that stone? I tried to hire a golem, but it wouldn’t listen to me, so then I had to talk to a friend of mine who’s a Rabbi, and, well, I’ll spare the details. Point is—it’s done. And nobody is wandering off.”

 

“At least, not anybody that doesn’t want to…”

 

“Wait,” Archer asked, “why would anyone want to wander off?”

 

 

The snow maiden sighed.

 

***

 

Later

 

***

 

As far as familiars go, Hellhounds are discouraged for several reasons. For one, they’re downright inconvenient to take care of. At 300 pounds, the average Hellhound requires constant feeding, religious exercise, and—for the longer-haired varieties—at least daily grooming. Picture a Great Dane mixed with a pit bull—some Clydesdale thrown in for good measure. And it spits fire. And comes with a deep distaste for anything remotely connected to the heavenly spheres—so keep away from angels, cherubs, doves, celestials, and anything smelling too strongly of white gardenia.

 

It’s basically a walking cleric-eater.

 

So that one should not only tolerate, but actually take a liking to the Reverend Archer Kent was nothing short of a small miracle.

 

Not that those were unfamiliar to Archer. And for that he was grateful. Standing outside, surrounded by whiteout blizzard snow, knee-deep in park drifts, dressed in nothing but his collar and completely lost, Archer was quite appreciative of his shoulder-high, demon canine companion. For Hellhounds are nothing if not two things:

 

1. Loyal.

 

2. Warm.

 

And so it was that the unlikely duo meandered about, lost in a blizzard. Warm. But lost.

 

Yes, contrary to all preparation, Archer had wandered off.

 

Which was a shame—it was a truly fine party. At least, what he remembered of it. How did he get out here anyways?

 

Darn Ijiraq.

 

“Well Pepper,” Archer said to the Hellhound, which he had just now named (after food, of course), “it’s official—I have no idea where we are, how we got here, or how we get back. It’s a park for goodness sake—you’d think we’d hit a path or the road or even a tree somewhere. But no. Nothing.”

 

At which Archer stopped and looked at the Hellhound. “So tell me, what do we do?”

 

Pepper stared back blankly, before lying down in a nearby snowbank, melting it.

 

Archer went and sat with the hound, whose fur was warm and thick. He nestled in it as he watched the snow swirl about.

 

“What do you think Pepper?” he said to the hound, already falling asleep, “you think St. Anthony is watching?”

 

The hound stayed quiet.

 

“I mean,” said Archer, continuing, “I like to think St. Anthony is always watching. Just a little bit at least, you know? After all, who among us isn’t a little bit lost all the time? Not physically, of course, just, you know, in life. What is it we’re doing here?”

 

The hound shook, jostling Archer.

 

“Oh fine, I suppose you have a point. I’ll stop pontificating.”

 

Archer laid back into the Hellhound’s fur.

 

Time passed.

 

“Well we can’t just stay here Pepper!” Archer said, after a while. “We have to do something!”

 

To which, as if on cue, Archer heard footsteps in the snow.

 

“Pippi!” called a deep, earth-shaking voice. Like the moon-rabbit’s voice, in a way—celestial—though this voice was imbued with infinitely more gravitas, severity.

 

“PIPPI!” it called again.

 

The hellhound’s ears perked, and it sat up rapidly. The sudden lack of support left Archer falling backwards into the warm earth, and the hellhound dashed toward the voice, nearly trampling Archer in the process.

 

“Pippi! There you are! Good girl! Did you get lost in the snow? Hm? And did this nice stranger help you? He did! Oh yes he did!”

 

A brief shuffling, and the Hellhound bounded back through the whiteout and into view. The voice—the owner— followed, slowly revealing itself through the blizzard.

 

The figure, which was at least nine feet tall, took the shape of a strong, tanned man, with the head of a jackal, wearing nothing but a white linen shendyt and elaborate chains of gold and turquoise jewelry. It looked at Archer with shining red eyes that pierced the darkness—a perfect compliment to the enormous hellhound that now stood by its side.

 

Anubis.

 

“Greetings!” said the god, warmly extending its hand. “I’m Anubis. Thanks for finding my hound. And you are?”

 

“Um,” said Archer, extending his hand in response. “Archer—Archer Kent.”

 

“Archer? THE Archer? The Reverend Archer Kent?” the pair shook hands—Anubis with a jostling level of strength.

 

“That’s me,” responded Archer, his hand jerking up and down.

 

“Ha! Well this IS exciting! I’ve heard so much about you! Great party by the way. Say, I don’t mean to be rude, but, can I ask you a question? Are you human?”

 

“Um, as far as I’m aware.”

 

“Hm,” said Anubis, striking a thoughtful pose. “That IS interesting. You know you’re the first human I’ve met whose lifeline I couldn’t read?”

 

“I… thanks?” Archer said. He began to shiver slightly, at which the hellhound moved to rejoin him. “So, Pippi, huh?” Archer said, petting the enormous hound.

 

“That’s right! She’s a troublemaker, but sweet where it counts.”

 

“That’s the truth. Funny—I’d been calling her ‘Pepper.’”

 

“Same thing, actually.”

 

“What?”

 

Piper, Pipe—both adequate old Egyptian for ‘Pepper.’ So, same basic thing.”

 

“Huh. Who knew.”

 

For a moment, they stood in the blizzard, Archer petting the hellhound, and Anubis standing patiently nearby.

 

“So, not to be awkward, but—you coming back to the party?”

 

“Hm? Oh! Yeah… about that…”

 

“Chattin’ with the Ijiraq, were you?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“Hey, no worries—I’m a psychopomp! It’s my job to guide souls. I’ll get you out.”

 

“Really!?”

 

And, as if on command, the snow dissipated, and the sky was clear. Which was actually more embarrassing than relieving for Archer—as it turned out, he had been wandering around less than 20 feet from the pavilion, now packed with guests, all of whom simultaneously turned and cheered.

 

It’s good to be loved.

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