There’s a tale folks tell in these parts, where the dark water of what used to be known as the Pacific meets the steel stumps and gnarls of what used to be Lesser Los Angeles, of the days when the Jen lived among the men and women of the earth.
The Enemy is dead now, or so they say; though there’s some of those left what still claim you can espy Her if you look close through the spaces between the night hills or gaze too long at your own reflection in the cold, still rivers of New Canada. It’s the eyes you see first, they say, and the eyes you see last, before She takes you.
Before the coming of the Enemy, there was the Jen. She sat astride the narrow world and held life and light in her perfectly manicured hands. For lunch she favored big leafy salads and sensible portions and plenty of water. Always, always there was water. The people loved her and their children grew strong and straight and tall. The land heaved forth all things good and wholesome with every spring, and death was a stranger to the people of the Jen.
And there was the Man, too, the Man who was Jen’s. He was given to her by all the laws of the living and the dead, of flesh and of bone, of the land and of the sea, although where he came from, nobody knew. The curve of the sun was in his eye. The Man and the Jen wandered the hills and the fields, slaying beasts and raising battlements and felling giants and sowing grain with the sound of their laughter.
Then came the Enemy. Green of eye, clear of limb, strong of jaw, breathing death on all sides. Jolie, they named her, and Angelina. She was a thousand feet tall. She engendered monsters. She came for the Man – the Man who by all rights of Earth and the gods was the Man of the Jen –
and She took him.
She took him and bound him with a thousand enchantments, bound him in bands of iron and of gold, of paper and of silver, of heartstring and of bone, bound him fast and bound him tight so that he could not move. She took him to distant lands, never pausing to rest, always moving, always running, for the soil itself cried out at Her betrayal. Then the Jen’s heart was sore, and she did betake herself to a couch on the river’s banks, saying, never again shall I rise until the Man finds me.
Thus did the black days begin, and they were long. Brass-taloned harpies came shrieking out from the hills. Water ran slowly and strangely. At night the rivers ran away from the sea. The hazel and birch trees sickened and withered away from blight. Animals died wide-eyed and panting in the heat. And still the Jen waited.
Then the word came, slowly at first, that Her magicks were weakening, that Her powers had left her. Every day there was a new report that the Man had woken to himself and broken his bands of iron and gold, paper and silver, heartstring and bone. Word there was plenty, and yet the Man still did not come.
The Jen sickened and grew paler for every day that the Man did not come, and the opening weekend of We the Millers was lackluster. All eyes were on her as she languished. The land bore no fruit. And the women of the land went forth from their hearths and thresholds and said to each other, Let us bestir ourselves and find the Man that was taken, and bring him to our Jen, that we might see her smile and the land bloom once more before we perish from this life.
The women went forth and streamed over the high places of the land, searching, always searching, for Her and for the Man who was taken. The Enemy knew of their coming and fled, but the hills and the forests and the plains closed themselves to Her. The trees would give Her no shade and the rivers no sanctuary. The women at last came to the valley where the Enemy hid and for the first time She knew fear.
The Man woke. The Enemy watched. The women waited.
Take him to the Jen, one of the older women said, and some of the youngest moved to claim him. He shivered and blinked. He smiled and raised his golden head.
The Enemy screamed high and long, like a mare in heat, with a thousand black and splitting tongues, but the women were upon her by then, and their combined strength was great and terrible.
She screamed one last, terrible scream, and then was still.
That’s how the story goes, around here. And the days are long now, and the nights are peaceful, most of the time.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.