It told them what to expect ... but not everything to expect!
|"Dear boy, let an expert relieve your mind," Professor Holmberg said with a boisterous laugh. He gestured expansively with his cigar and his snifter. "The answer is 'Odin'."
Bevins grimaced. "I admit there's a resemblance—"
"Eh, wha'd you say?" interrupted Dr. Klemperer. He shivered, despite the logs that crackled in the faculty room fireplace, and he cupped a gnarled hand to his ear. His one eye flashed under a white, jutting brow.
"I said," Professor Holmberg boomed at him, "it's Odin!"
The physicist's lip curled. "Odin? What's that? Some new fad, like flagpole sitting?"
Randolph leaned forward in his chair. "But how do the two tails come in?" he asked Bevins. He had to raise his voice, for Professor Holmberg was shouting into Dr. Klemperer's face to make himself understood.
"Dogs?" The mathematician glanced at the German shepherds that sprawled on the Persian rug, watching the company with a panting alertness.
The archaeologist, having explained to his colleague who the chief of the Norse gods was, turned back to the two younger men. "I'm more concerned about the unusual number of eyes," he said, and flicked a fat wad of ash into the fire. "Eleven of them!"
"Write it down!" shouted Dr. Klemperer, "so a man can follow!" Professor Holmberg rolled his own eyes as Bevins fumbled for a notepad.
"It was the tails that gave me the clue," the pale, young metaphysician said as he dragged a pencil over the clean, white paper. "Two of them. 'Two of tail, six of head, eleven of eye, and sixteen of leg.' I suppose it could be horses instead of dogs, but the legend predates their reintroduction to North America." He paused. "Of course, if the legend is very old—"
Holmberg sniffed. "And what did the Indians call this fantastic creature?"
"The Hammawihiyo," Bevins said. He showed them the notepad. "The Wise One Who Descends from the Stars."
But it was no monster—no hideous mental abortion—he had sketched. It was nothing more alarming than a doodle of four men and two dogs.
"See?" he explained. "The dogs contribute the tails and eight of the legs. The men contribute the other eight legs. Together there are six individuals, so six heads."
"But there are twelve eyes," Randolph objected. With a faint smile he added, "I didn't need my Nobel Prize to do that calculation."
"One of the men is blind in one eye," Bevins replied with an equally faint smile. Randolph froze.
Then he laughed. "Is that where Odin comes in?" he asked Holmberg. "The original One-Eyed Jack?"
"Indeed. In the Norse riddle that our young philosopher has mistaken for a bit of Algonquin folklore—"
"How," protested Bevins, "did the Algonquin come to know anything of Odin?"
"—with his horse is described in similarly monstrous terms. As for how the Algonquin got hold of the riddle," he continued, sniffing at Bevins, "a missionary was the likely mechanism of transmission." He swallowed the last of his cognac.
"And where are these standing stones?" Randolph asked Bevins. "The ones that—?"
"In a hollow on the other side of those hills." He pointed through a wall and glanced around at the rest of the company.
"Every seventeenth year," he said, "on the night of the first full moon after the spring equinox, the Hammawihiyo falls upon those stones, there to replenish its storehouse of wisdom. Or so said the tribe that used to live in these forests. How they knew, while giving it a respectfully wide berth, isn't explained."
He lit a cigarette and crossed his legs. "Need I tell you gentlemen that tomorrow is the first night in seventeen years to meet those conditions?"
Fortunately, there was a road into the hills so that the company—including the arthritic Dr. Klemperer and the twenty-one-stone Professor Holmberg—only had to hike a few hundred yards over a gentle rise before coming upon a circle of stones standing under the open sky. Randolph grinned at Bevins but said nothing as he patted the haunches of the two shepherds.
Four men and two dogs. Two of tail, six of head, sixteen of leg and—thanks to Klemperer and his eye patch—eleven of eye.
"What do you expect to happen?" he asked Bevins that evening as the orange wash of the sunset faded behind the trees. The older men huddled at the campfire, scowling and murmuring.
"I've no idea," Bevins admitted. "Like as not nothing. The legend is surely only a memory of tribal councils, or meetings of the shamans."
He looked up at the sky. "Still," he continued, "how remarkable would it be if some breach in the cosmos opened over these stones, on these appointed nights, and poured out its knowledge if only the right sort of company had gathered to drink it."
"And it has to be 'wise ones'?"
"Yes. The Hammawihiyo must itself be wise in order to receive the knowledge. You and the others"—Bevins ducked his head deferentially—"surely qualify."
The last of the light faded. The fire crackled. Dr. Klemperer peevishly wondered aloud if it was too late to go home, to a warm bed and a soft pillow.
Then one of the dogs put up its ears. The other raised its head. Both leaped up and growled into the darkness beyond the stones.
Bevins only glanced over as Randolph rose.
Then he stiffened as Randolph gripped him by the shoulder.
"What's got into the beasts?" Holmberg wondered. "A deer?"
Then he cut himself off as, like Bevins, he staggered up to stare into the darkness that enveloped their little island of firelight.
One, two, four, seven, ten ... eleven— Bevins counted the eyes that glimmered at them. So the legend was right.
But of the claws on the sixteen legs ...
And the spikes on the two tails ...
And the very sharp teeth that glittered inside six grinning mouths ...
... the legend had been entirely circumspect.
Prompt: "The Monster of the Prophecy."