A Weather Gods short story by Melissa Gunn
(c) Melissa Gunn 2023
Freya was bored, and almost glad of it. Boredom meant the roof wasn’t leaking, there were no were-fox cubs demanding to be played with, and she wasn’t particularly hungry. On the other hand, she had maths homework to complete, Mr Fluffbum was asleep, and her friend Aisha was home sick with a cold, and therefore not distracting Freya from her homework. That also meant that she wasn’t available to accompany Freya on a night walk before Samhain. Freya had been looking forward to having a friend to go out with that evening. It’s not much fun wandering the streets by yourself on Halloween. And I’m too old to dress up like the kids do.
She spent another quarter of an hour attempting to be diligent with her maths, then set down her pencil. It rolled off the slightly uneven table and fell to the floor with a clatter. Freya bent down to pick it up, and saw that the lead was broken.
“If that’s not a sign to leave off doing homework, I don’t know what is,” she said aloud. She pushed back her chair and stretched. The outdoors beckoned. It was one of those rare, warm autumn evenings with few clouds, and there was still an hour or so of daylight.
Freya made her way outside. Her mum was gardening, putting broad beans into a strip of earth near the back door. Freya knew better than to offer her help. She still hadn’t overcome her ‘black thumb’ when it came to growing things.
“I’m going for a walk, Mum,” she said.
Danae paused with a trowel in her hand. “Don’t be out past dark,” she said. “We may have a bargain with the were-foxes these days, but there are other things that lurk in the night.”
If only she knew how much night-time walking I do, Freya thought. Not tonight though. She’s probably got a point on all hallows eve. The remnants of all those Celtic beliefs about evil spirits walking aren’t likely to result in positive encounters.
Still, she couldn’t stand to sit at home with her maths any longer. “I’ll be fine, Mum.”
Freya set off uphill, not wanting to go down to the sea. There were too many ghosts, or at least bad memories, down there.
It didn’t take long to leave the town behind. She went up into the hills, keeping a wary eye out for unwanted company, but only birds disturbed the peace. Out of habit she picked up a few edibles from the hedgerows as she walked. It was the right season for cobnuts, the leathery casings easy enough to peel off with fingers before she cracked the nut open with her teeth. Rosehips and crabapples she collected until her pockets were full. Autumn is the best season. There’s food everywhere, and it’s not too cold yet.
She was a long way from home when she noticed the weather turning. Clouds massed on the horizon, and a sudden gust of wind threw her off balance. As she regained her footing, she realised she was no longer alone. The blue-haired Nik paced along the narrow road beside her. Remembering Nik’s violent tendencies the last time they’d met, Freya took a prudent step further away.
“There’s no need to be rude, I just dropped in for a chat,” Nik said indignantly.
“Sorry,” Freya replied hastily. “Um…” She wasn’t sure how to recover the situation.
“”s’OK. I guess I startled you.”
“That’s right,” Freya said with a weak smile. “You’re Lio’s cousin, right?”
“Certainly am. He’ll be along soon by the looks of it,” Nik said with a glance at the darkening sky. “I didn’t think I’d see you out on your own. Thought I’d give you a bit of company meanwhile.”
Freya nodded. She’d come further than she’d meant to. She was nearing one of the new forests that had been planted last century. Moorland rose above her and a small stream trickled from a wide, duck-weed-flecked pond that stretched out in front of the forest. “There’s nothing around, though,” she said.
Nik shook her head slowly, as though in disbelief at Freya’s naivety. “There’s always something around. Bet you didn’t know I was around before I dropped in, did you? ‘Course, I’ve got a bit of a specialty in that area.”
Freya was intrigued. “Really? Why’s that?”
“Harpie ancestry,” Nik said. “It’s not all befouling people’s food. Not even mostly. If you looked up the right info, talked to the right people, you’d know harpies were goddesses of the storm winds. Not some foul thing, the way they’re made out to be.”
“You’re right, I hadn’t heard that,” Freya said. “Why is there such a difference?”
Nik shrugged. “Bad publicity? Misogyny? Who knows.” She seemed to lose interest in the subject. “Anyway, I thought now would be a good time to chat, since you don’t have that cat-girl with you for a change. Also, there’s a faerie-pool just over there, I suggest you don’t go any closer.”
Freya stopped walking. “What’s a faerie-pool, then?” she asked. She’d had plenty of information about water-spirits and deities, Faeries didn’t tend to come into it.
“You could ask her, I guess,” Nik said. She pointed.
A woman clothed in what appeared to be green waterweed was emerging from the weedy pool. The expression on her face was peculiar, a mix of disdain and ingratiating smile. The slightly pointed teeth that the smile revealed detracted a lot from the ingratiating effect.
“That’s not the usual sort of water deity,” Freya said. “And I’m sure that pond wasn’t there last week.” She noticed Nik looking at her. ”What?”
“You know what day it is, don’t you?” Nik said.
“Sure, it’s the thirty-first of October. Aisha and I were supposed to have a movie marathon, but she’s sick.”
“So you’re not completely out of touch. But didn’t you realise that forgotten spirits have another chance of life on Samhain?” Nik glared at the green-clad woman, who was walking slower closer.
“That’s news to me,” Freya said. She took a step or two away from the pond. She really didn’t like the way the woman’s eyes were fixed on her. “So, you’re saying that we’re looking at a faerie?”
“Could be,” Nik said. “Could be just a grindylow in a fancier than usual body.”
“Oh! If she’s a grindylow, I might be able to do something about her,” Freya said. She felt about in her pocket. A few chestnuts got in the way; she tossed them to the ground. Next came a handful of crabapples, yellow and long-stemmed. Finally, she pulled out a small paper packet of salt, saved from some takeaway meal. “Here. Sprinkle it in a circle around us,” Freya told Nik.
“Alright. Or we could just walk away,” Nik said.
“But then what about the next person who comes this way?Or worse, what if she walked after us?” Freya said. She snapped a large teasel seed head off its stalk. “I don’t suppose you sing?” she asked Nik.
I guess I’m on my own then.
Freya met the weed-clad woman’s eyes – they were green, too – and hummed softly. The woman took another step closer. She was almost touching distance away now, and she brought with her a dank smell, somehow both alive and rotting at once. The woman lunged at Freya, mouth open and teeth bared, but hit the salt circle that Nik had poured. Pieces of duckweed flew in all directions. Freya brandished her teasel like a spear, and the woman swayed backwards, then tried to throw herself through the barrier again..
“Feisty, isn’t she?” Nik commented. She stood inside the salt circle, watching as Freya wound greenery around the teasel and waved it at the woman. It didn’t seem to have much effect, so Freya sang instead. She sang of dark grottos and moss-glad rocks, and the woman leered and leaned closer. Freya hastily changed the topic and tone of her voice, and sang instead of sunlit glades and sunrise. It wasn’t long before she was running out of songs and had to start making up words as she went along. But the woman was backing away, sinking lower and lower into the pond as she did so. At last, only her eyes and hair showed above the surface of the pond. She didn’t seem inclined to go any further away. Freya was at a loss.
“Why doesn’t she leave?” she asked aloud.
Nik stared at the pond as though it might yield answers.
“Give her a gift,” she said suddenly.
“A gift? But why? And what?” Freya said.
Nik nudged a chestnut with a toe. “One of those would do, I expect. Give it a go. Faeries like being given things.”
“Still don’t think it’s a faerie,” Freya muttered. But she picked up one of the chestnuts and polished its brown, shiny shell, removing any dirt. “Here, take this,” she called to the pond-woman. She threw the chestnut into the pond, where it landed with a plop and vanished instantly below the duckweed. To her surprise, the pond-woman dived for the chestnut, somehow finding it below the water. She raised it above the pond, dripping weed and water, then waved at Freya before diving below the surface. Freya waited a few minutes, but the woman didn’t reappear.
“So you can take care of yourself after all,” Nik said. “Good to know. I’ll tell Lio he needn’t worry so much.”
The wind gusted violently, blowing the salt crystals into disarray and snapping Freya’s teasel stick. When Freya had brushed her hair out of her eyes again, Nik was gone.
In the centre of the circle, surrounded by crabapples, was a small, wrapped package. Freya bent down and picked it up. It was a small bar of chocolate. Scrawled into the dirt of the oath around the crabapples were the words, ‘happy halloween’.
on’t have that