Chapter 9: Questionable identities
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Bixby
My cry echoes through Larz’s tunnels, hangs in the air for the longest moment.
Larz looks concerned. “I thought you knew.”
“Knew what? I mean, know what?”
“That you’re not entirely human.”
“You’re wrong.” You cannot be right.
Larz shakes his head. “Daphne, I’m a troll. I eat people. They are my regular sustenance. I know what they taste like, I know what they look like, I know what they smell like. The only reason I didn’t eat you the first time we met was because I could tell you were contaminated with something that was not human.” He shakes his head and smiles at me. “And after we became friends, it would have been bad manners, as well.”
I don’t know what to think. Oh, wait. “You must be talking about the goddess part I get from my mother.”
Shaking his head, Larz replies, “Your mother’s people are just another variety of humans when it comes to how your flesh tastes to me. No, there is something distinctly nonhuman in your blood, in your flesh.”
This does not make any sense. “How could I be partly inhuman? What did my mother do, have sex with a monster?”
Larz laughs at that. “Let me explain the birds and the bees to you, Daphne. First lesson: trolls and humans have not only had sex with each other, but have had viable offspring. It is rare, I admit, but that’s only because the post-coital cuddling usually ends with the troll eating the human.”
“I’m not part-troll.” I state that as if it were a certainty, and immediately worry if Larz is going to contradict me.
“No, you’re not. But we’re not the only humanoid race out there, and not the only one that can reproduce with humans. Given how much shorter you are than most of your mother’s people, my guess would be that your father was a dwarf or dwarf-hybrid. But I admit that’s a guess. For all I know, you’re part-Gorgon and part-demon. I’m not really an expert on the subject.”
So it could be true. I try to think about it, and the next thing I know I’m crying.
Larz waits me out. Once I’ve wiped my eyes and nose, he leans forward and in a sad voice says, “This news upsets you. Why?”
I hesitate. Why does it bother me? I don’t know. Well, yes, I do, sort of. Maybe if I put it into words, I can straighten it out in my head. “I used to be happy being human. I mean, I was a demigoddess by birth but that didn’t matter. My Mum’s people decided they didn’t want anything to do with me, and I was fine with that. But now they want to dictate my life, starting with who I marry. Whom I marry, I mean.” I try to smile for Larz.
He encourages me. “Go on.”
“Well, there are some indications that seem to show I might be a goddess by birth after all. And I got to thinking I could use that, it would give me more of a say. They wouldn’t be able to treat me like an unwanted thing. I guess I started to believe it, used it as a crutch when I had to go on a date with the suitors the Council selected for me.”
“Nothing wrong with a little wishful thinking. I think I resemble Cary Grant, you know.”
I have to smile even as I feel tears gathering in my eyes again. “If I squint, Larz, if I squint.” I take a moment to recapture my thoughts. “But now you’re telling me I’m at least partly inhuman. You know what sort of ranking that gives me among the gods? None. Zip. Nil. I am worthless. I am nothing.” I yank out my handkerchief. I need it.
Larz waits me out, and then he simply says, “You are still Daphne Vane.”
“Yeah, but so what? No one cares about Daphne Vane.” And now I am blubbering. I can’t stop myself crying. It takes me several minutes before I can clear my face off again and look at Larz without feeling embarrassed.
Larz changes the subject. “Now that you know I didn’t eat you when we first met because you’re not entirely human, do you think any the less of me?’
“Of course not.”
“Well, then.” Larz sees that I don’t get it, so he adds, “Apply the same lesson to yourself, Daphne.”
Wait! “But that’s dif—.” Hmmm, maybe it isn’t.
Larz sees I’m thinking and smiles. I look at him, big grin on his face, about 100 sharp teeth in view, and have to laugh.
“Good,” he replies. “You can still laugh. Go home, Daphne. Think about it. You can turn almost anything to an advantage if you play your cards right. Although I’m no Pollyanna. I admit sometimes as a practical matter things don’t always work out.”
Larz walks me out to an entrance that opens on the parkland between Memorial Drive and the river. Rather than go back into Harvard Square and catch the subway, I decide to walk along the river for a bit. It’s a nice evening, a slight breeze keeping the heat from becoming oppressive.
I’m walking for a bit when I notice there is someone walking right beside me, on my left. I turn to look at her. And I come to a dead stop. It’s me.
The woman I’m looking at is me. But she isn’t. She’s much taller, blond hair, a figure much like Mum’s, and dressed way more fashionably. But it’s me, somehow. It’s like . . .
“I’m what Daphne Vane should have been, if she’d been done right,” the woman finishes my thought for me.
“Who the hell are you?” I ask.
“Daphne Vane, of course. I’m the real thing. You’re the cheap, defective version.” She smiles. It’s not a good smile; she likes that she’s hurting me. “I’m what Mum wanted me to be, a proper goddess, prettier, more powerful, smarter, and a lot less foolish than you. I’m also more superficial, but, hey, who cares? That’s one of the great things about being superficial!”
I do not know what this thing really is, but I am going to find out. I look directly into her eyes and let her see what mine really look like.
Wow, her eyes have such gorgeous colors.
She commands me. “You really are stupid, aren’t you? I told you I was more powerful than you. Now get down on your knees and beg my forgiveness.” So of course I do.
Her control over me wears off. I pull back from kissing her foot and stand up as fast as I can. I step back away from her and try not to look in her face.
“Obsequious little animal, aren’t you?” she says to me. “I didn’t even ask you to kiss my foot and you went ahead and did it anyhow. Good thing you didn’t let your mother’s tomcat screw you. He’d have been the loser.”
Well, if mind control won’t work, how about simple physical violence? I step in and take a swing at her. She catches my arm, throws me off balance, and hurls me through the air until I land flat on the ground.
I just lie there. My face is still a bit bruised from being struck by Vesta Fox. Probably my entire back side is now bruised as well.
Once I feel like trying again to beat the crap out of my semi-doppelganger, I get up. But she’s no longer anywhere in sight.
I feel like I need a drink. But my clothes are a mess, and I hate to think what I look like. So instead of hitting a bar, I just go home. I get myself a drink. I soak in the tub. I feel every bruise on my back. And I wonder just what my life is turning into.