Our voices are old.
We came when the land was new. We were silent then, waiting in the souls and minds of the people. As they looked for meaning, we spoke. We named that which was unnamable. We gave meaning to the stars and the moon and the sun and the sky. All that was, we gave name and purpose. Our voices grew so loud, we could no longer stay. We left the land then, and we went to many places. A great hall, a mountaintop, the river, the desert, and the corners of the universe itself. We went to all of them, and still our voices echoed throughout the land.
But another voice came.
He spoke so loudly that a word covered entire lands. His voice echoed across our halls and our mountaintops, and they became silent. His words drowned out our names, and his teachings took away our meanings. We felt ourselves grow mute, watched our names and our stories fall into the ages. A few of us remained, our voices too loud to drown out. More of us shrank away to nothing, becoming specks in the winds of time. Some of us endured on the written and spoken word, barely heard. Some still stayed in the lands they had known, daring the new voice to knock them down, to destroy the last of their power.
Most of us left.
We watched our people leave for new homes, and we followed, thinking perhaps, in a new land, our voices would be heard again. But the echo of the other voice had already fallen upon that land, and we found no sustenance there. Most of us returned home, forced to be content with memory and the written word. Yet a few of us still held power in the new land. Not enough to drown out the new voice, but enough to sweeten it. So he made us a bargain.
We are quiet now.
We stand among the people and their voices speak over us now. We work among them, maintaining the world, though not as we once did. Our names rarely fall from their lips, save the lucky ones still spoken proudly. We are louder then others that have left, yet we are not heard. Still, we do not forget. We remember our words and our songs. We remember the tasks that even now define us. We remember the names that are no longer spoken as they once were.
For we are silent.
But we are still gods.
“Ideas are more difficult to kill then people.”
- Neil Gaiman
“Old Gods do new jobs.”
- Terry Pratchett
Six AM was the real witching hour.
In three years on the job, Jane Alexander had learned that much. She’d learned other things too- the proper pressure of a tourniquet, how to hold an epileptic still with your knee and get a syringe ready with your hands, and how to load every body type imaginable onto a stretcher. Not to mention how to drive through New York traffic at sixty miles an hour with someone dying in the back. All of that and a hundred more things she knew, but six AM was a secret truth. Everyone always thought that three AM was the real weird time - everything felt unnatural, your heart pounded, and your mind was troubled. Maybe it was true, but they hadn’t been there at six. Jane stood on the outside of the garage and saw the nighttime world fading away. The sun was creeping up out of the gray, touching the buildings full of people still asleep, an hour away from getting up for their normal jobs. The light was dim and weak, still trying to push through the night. It was almost like being inside a mixer of oil and water; two opposites trying to mix but never succeeding. Even after all these years, it was disorienting as hell.
Jane blinked, trying to shake the feeling of dizziness. It was just the way the world was after all. Soon, the sun would be over everything, and it would seem normal again. She had to get ready for all the insanity that was going to bring. She walked past the ambulance, and into the small women’s room, where the sink was waiting. She turned the cold faucet on full, and splashed the water into her face. Her skin stung with the cold, but it gave her something to focus on besides the hour. She grabbed a towel and wiped her face off, pausing to glance in the mirror. A caramel skinned face, framed by high cheekbones and long black hair surrounding e it, stared back at her. It was a tired face, but it looked good enough to face what was out there today. Besides, it’s not like anyone else was going to be aware enough to notice.
Jane rolled her eyes, tied her hair back, and left the bathroom, to see her partner waiting outside. As always, he held a cup of steaming coffee in his hand, which he passed to her with his usual smile. Jane took it without thought. It was how their shifts always went; no matter what, he was here at the crack of dawn, with hot coffee for her, and a beaming attitude to fuel him as they worked. Jane was more than satisfied with just the coffee. But until it hit, the attitude she could skip.
Jane sipped, as Martin Johnson went about checking the ambulance with that almost boyish glee, until he glanced outside and like always, stopped to glare out at the dawn. He did it every time they worked this shift, but it still had the power to draw Jane from her coffee, if only for a few seconds, to glance at him. As the early light shone on him, his blond hair seemed to glisten, his smile glitter. His uniform even seemed cleaner and there was air of such confidence and happiness about him.
It was… captivating.
But as always, Jane tore herself away and focused on the matter at hand. Taking a final sip of the coffee, (which always had that sweet, almost honey-like taste that only Martin seemed able to find), she went over to Martin and tapped him on the shoulder.
“You finished prepping already?” she asked.
“Oh! Sorry,” Martin said, turning back to the ambulance. Popping open the doors, he climbed into the back, doing the usual maintenance- checking supplies, that the bolts and clips were still in place, and that the inside was as sterile as possible. He didn’t need to; Jane had worked with Martin the whole year with their division, and she never had a single problem with anything. With Martin working, there wasn’t as much as a piece of gauze out of place, just everything perfectly situated and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Jane never understood how he did it all, but it made these early shifts a lot easier.
“I always feel so alive at these shifts,” Martin said, as Jane sat on the back of the ambulance bumper. “Seeing the light come over everything, watching the world wake up,”
“It makes me glad to be alive,” Jane finished. Martin stopped, and glanced over at her.
“Well, I see you’ve finally got enough coffee to attempt humor,“ he said. “I was actually going to say that it makes me joyful to be alive. See?”
“And it’s worn off again.”
“Martin, if I ever figure out what you put in this coffee and get it full time, I promise never to make a joke about you again,” Jane said. “By the way, did you check for the new double woven straps?”
“They’re supposed to be even stronger then what we use now. You did get the memo, right? If we leave without these blue straps, it could be a serious infraction.”
Martin’s face fell slightly, the joy mixing with worry and fear about Jane’s words. Jane waited for a few seconds, and then let a grin spread across her own face. Martin saw it and rolled his eyes.
“All this time, and you haven’t learned when I’m joking, cheese boy,” Jane said with a laugh. “You’re not exactly shattering Midwestern stereotypes, are you?”
“No better then you’re doing with Northeastern ones, bagel girl,” Martin said back, though with good humor. “It’s not my fault I come from good manners.”
“And gullibility,” Jane said. “One year together and you still can’t read a joke.”
“One year, and you still grunt when I bring you coffee. They do teach ‘thank you,’ here, don’t they?”
Jane snorted, but nodded in agreement. “Fine, thanks for the coffee. Do they also teach you that whole ‘greet the sun’ thing you do?”
“I told you, I was brought up that way,” Martin answered, as he moved to sit by her. “Back home in Minnesota, I’d get up at dawn every day to help with the farm.”
“Right. Johnson Farms- makers of the finest cheese outside Wisconsin.”
“Oh, much better,” Martin said. “We had goats and cows. You haven’t lived until you’ve milked a goat and curdled it into cheese yourself.”
“How on earth have you survived in the city this long?”
“I’m good at adapting. Besides, the sun comes up everywhere.”
“Still never got why you left it to come to the city. Most people in this job talk about losing somebody or being in an accident that got them here. And they’re natives. You never talk about that, just the farm. Why not take over the place from your dad down the line or some…”
Jane stopped then, as Martin had looked away briefly. The joy had stagnated on his face, becoming wistful and almost melancholy. For a second, Jane wondered if she had said the wrong thing. Then he started to speak and his voice sound normal, if not bursting with happiness.
“We… lost the farm a long time ago. I tried to hold on but things went bad for everyone. There were new people moving in and… I guess they didn’t care for us very much. I saw… a lot of people lose everything when the farms started to go. Their homes, their families, everything they had. Some of them… some of them couldn’t take it. I tried to help but… it was too much. So I left, and I looked for something new.”
“So… you became an EMT?”
“It’s good work that helps people in need. And where do people need help more than the big city?”
“And you think everyone deserves it?”
“It’s what I have faith in.”
Jane went quiet and sipped her coffee. Martin asked, “Did I say something wrong?”
Jane just shook her head, and said, “Just be careful how loud you say that around here. There are a lot of people in the city that look to take everything for their own table. Faith doesn’t do a thing for them, or the people they take from.”
“Sometimes, faith is the reason they take.”
Jane started to ask what that meant, but suddenly, the radio in the ambulance crackled. Jane groaned but made her way to the front and grabbed it. As she went over with dispatch, Martin watched her. No matter what, she was always the first to grab the radio when word came down. Jane might not admit it, but ‘just helping’ was a big part of why she did this too. Even if she couldn’t believe that yet, he knew that someday…
“Sorry, what is it?”
“Downtown. Store owner collapsed while opening his shop. Apparently fell through his door opening it. Hold on!”
Martin quickly sat down and strapped in, as Jane started the engine and hit the siren. The ambulance burst out of the garage, speeding towards the streets and into the traffic. Jane expertly dodged and weaved through the cars, the sirens blaring their urgent cry as she moved them closer. Martin almost grinned as he watched her, as he briefly thought of the old days, riding with his brother, before Yahweh, God of the Christians, had eliminated his worship from the homeland. Those had been dark times, when his home had been destroyed, his family ended, and only himself left behind, with no other option but to bargain with those who had been the cause of his pain. Martin had found purpose again, but he still clung to the old memories, to remind himself of what he had meant, and who he had been.
Those rides had been one of his fondest memories, not only of his old life, but of the brother he had loved so dearly. Even now, with all the stories he had told the others from the thousands of years he’d spent on Earth, the tales of those rides were still his favorite.
Still, he preferred riding with Jane.
They arrived twenty-five minutes later in front of a bodega down Broadway. There was already a crowd gathered in front of it, glaring at the broken glass door, the blood dripping from the shards. The crowd had managed to remove the old owner, a Hispanic man, bald and wrinkled, from the door and lay him flat, as a woman of equal age knelt by him, holding his hand and sobbing as he grimaced in pain.
Martin popped through the ambulance back doors as Jane put the car in park. He began to pull out the gurney, as Jane went around to the couple. Kneeling down, she took a closer look at the old man. His shirt and apron were stained with blood, but it didn’t seem to be flowing. Jane deftly opened his shirt and looked at his chest. There were some punctures in his chest from the glass, but nothing too serious. Apparently he had gotten lucky with his landing. But it didn’t explain why he was moaning in pain and clutching his stomach.
“Miss, what happened? Has your husband had any problems recently?” Jane asked.
The old woman answered in a rapid fire burst of Spanish, punctuated by breaks and cries. Jane tried to grab a few words, but Spanish had always slipped by her. Luckily, a man in a business suit stepped up.
“She says he’s been having pains and fever since yesterday,” the man translated. “He tried to work through it, but it got really bad and he collapsed through the door.”
“OK, tell her the bleeding’s not serious, and we’ll get him to the hospital. We don’t have enough room, so she’ll have to get a ride to St. James on 23rd,” Jane said, as Martin came over with the gurney. The two of them moved to opposite ends, as business suit gently took the wife away and spoke to her in Spanish. As she listened, Martin and Jane carefully lifted up the old man and put his on the gurney, making sure to strap him in as tightly as possible.
“Stomach pain. Don’t suppose he has kidney stones,” Martin said, as they started to get the old man inside the ambulance.
“Even those wouldn’t be this bad, “Jane said. “Come on, we need to get going.”
Martin nodded, but as Jane went around to the front, he stepped over to the still crying wife. Taking her hands, he said, “He’ll be fine, old mother. You have my word.” The old woman looked up at him, her tears stopping as Martin smiled at her. He patted her hands, and then ran back to the ambulance, closing the back doors as they sped away. Once they were in motion, he turned to examine the old man. He was clutching his stomach and moaning in pain. Martin started to get a monitor hooked up, but the moans changed into a strangled cry. Martin whipped around at the sound of it.
The old man began to twist on the gurney, trying to hold his side, his body straining and sweating with the effort. Martin could see the pain and terror in the old man’s eyes. He was feeling a deeper pain, something that was building inside of him. The wife had mentioned a day of pain, a day the old man had ignored. That could mean a hundred problems, or more. But Martin had an idea.
Martin’s hand probed over the man’s side, feeling for the signs he hadn’t been able to look for while they were loading him away. He pressed a spot and the old man howled in pain, even though the touch had been gentle. Martin knew what it meant almost instantly. The old man had been walking on an inflamed appendix and now it was almost ready to burst.
“He needs an ER, stat!” Martin called out.
“Hang on!” Jane yelled back.
Jane pressed on the accelerator, as the ambulance weaved even faster through the traffic. The back began to sway, and Martin held on as tightly as he could. He managed to angle himself near the old man, even as Jane hit a serious of bumps, causing the old man to moan even more. Martin heard a rattling sound at the second bump and looked towards it. The heavy bag of traction splints was coming loose; their speed and the bumps were enough to undo even Martin’s meticulous work. As another bump hit, the restraints loosened further, moving closer to landing on the old man and doing even more damage.
Martin couldn’t reach the straps, but he managed to change his angle so that he was standing over the old man. The ambulance hit a final bump, causing the final restraint to come loose. The traction splints swung free towards the old man and Martin. They came close, but as they moved within inches of Martin’s back, they halted in mid air, and then fell to the floor.
“We’re gonna make it!” Jane called out from the front. “Stabilize him as much you can!”
Martin nodded, but the old man’s moans said he didn’t have long. His appendix could explode at any second, spilling poisons and disease throughout his body. Even without the bumps, the jostling of the ambulance was only going to speed up the process. There was only one option left. Martin looked over, saw Jane firmly gripping the wheel and refusing to look away. Nodding, he turned back to the old man and laid his hands upon his stomach. Ignoring the groan of pain, Martin began to whisper to himself, the words no longer English, but of an older, colder, and yet richer tongue.
“Eins dögun er endurfæddur, svo skuluð þér. Með dögun vera nýtt.”
Light began to emanate from under Martin’s hands. It glowed between his hands, lighting them like newly broken sunlight. The old man’s body continued to hitch, but then began to slow, the breathing returning to normal, as he let out a sigh of almost blissful relief. The light faded away from Martin’s hands, and he pulled them away, revealing a stomach that was no longer tight and was covered in cool sweat. Martin breathed a sigh himself, and then worked to secure the splints as the hospital came into view.
When they examined the old man, they would only find the cuts and injuries from the fall and the glass. He would speak of the pain, and they would find nothing wrong. Instead, they would find an appendix so healthy it would seem almost new. The old man would go home after a few days, pay his deductible and get on with his life. He would never know what Martin had done for him. Martin would though, and know he could still have meaning even if his home and family were gone. It was not as it had been, when even his merest step on the Earth was greeted with praise and celebration. His reward was his own satisfaction, and reaffirmation of his purpose. It was far quieter, but it was the best he could do under Yahweh. Besides, if he needed to tell his deeds, he always had his new pantheon to tell it at. Martin smiled briefly. Only a day and night to go.
What a thing it would be.