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The owl, silvery and bright-eyed, watched from a nearby dead tree as Zeus’ chariot moved on. The foul beast in the road had proved no match for the mighty king of the gods, but yet he had deigned to stop and pay his respects for the fallen creature. Such nobility! But soon, jealous Hera had appeared from the carriage, and Zeus acquiesced to her demands to continue. The owl was quite honored to witness this exchange, for now it could go and tell the others that Zeus was bringing Athena back to Olympus!
“It’s a truck stop.”
Philip Cyrus Donnelly, wealthy founder and owner of Trident Shipping, nodded.
“But why do you want to buy a truck stop?” his accountant asked.
“Are you saying that I can’t afford it?” Philip arched an eyebrow.
“No, sir, it’s just a little…unusual for you. From what I can tell, this place isn’t exactly making money hand over fist.”
“Then I’ll let you in on a little secret, Jenkins. That piece of land has sat there for over a hundred years now, untouched save for a little roadside eatery that sprang up around 1890. A restaurant that grew and expanded into the Midway Trucker’s Paradise that we know of today. But before that it was a holy site for a local tribe of Native Americans. A place where they could go to commune with their gods and the spirits of their ancestors. Because reality is weak there, Jenkins. It’s like a thin piece of cheesecloth where anything can and does slip through. Imagine controlling something like that, Jenkins. Imagine! The people…the creatures!…you’d meet! The power you’d wield!”
“Sir?” The two men stared at each other for a few seconds.
Philip broke into a big smile. “I’m joking! I have reason to believe there’s oil under that truck stop. Find out who owns it and offer them a lot of money.”
The owl flew into the night, its tiny brain whirling with excitement. Athena! Favored daughter of Zeus! Athena! Virgin mother of Erichthonius! Athena! Patron of craftsmen and warriors alike! Athena!
So distracted was the owl that it nearly flew past Olympus, despite its fluorescent glow. It swooped down upon this home to gods and heroes to spread its news. It winged past cherubs and imps flitting ‘round the outskirts of the city. It dove past satyrs and centaurs milling through the marketplace. And as always, it was enchanted by the many inhabitants.
Demeter, bringer of seasons, watching over her hearth and home! The mighty Heracles returning from slaying the hundred-headed Ladon in the garden of the Hesperides! The two-faced Janus, once again scheming and plotting, standing both inside and out!
The owl landed on the roof of one of the many temples and began hooting out to his fellow birds. Soon! Soon! She will be here soon! Make the preparations! Spread the news!
“They refuse to sell, sir.”
Philip C. Donnelly swore under his breath. “At any price?”
“We worked our way up to a price that was much more than the land itself is worth. Perhaps they know about the oil, sir?”
“Not a chance.” Philip rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Give me the details. Who are we dealing with?”
“The property is owned by a company called the Avalon Group. Formed some time in the 60s. From their portfolio, they don’t seem to have a sole business interest. Real estate. Manufacturing. The entertainment industry. They seem to dabble a little in everything. I spoke mainly to man named Ron Oberst.”
Philip exhaled sharply.
“Do you know him, sir?”
“No, but I know his type. Concerned with the environment but as sneaky and sharp as tack on your chair.” Philip straightened his tie and smoothed his white beard. “Looks like I’m going to have to go down there and talk to him myself. Book me a plane and a car.”
Once the owl had broadcast his joyous noise to all who would listen, he took flight once again. He knew that he had to be the one to welcome Athena into the city, so that she would know that she had a very important task at hand.
There was a noise, like a heavy book being dropped on a dusty wooden floor and the owl fell from the sky.
A woman and her companion stood at the edge of the parking lot. Though they stood among the brush, they were both dressed impeccably. She wore a dress of shimmering purple cloth—one could imagine that it was made from thousands of crushed amethysts. It hung from her shoulders on two thin straps and came down to just above her knees. She held two similar-colored high heels in her right hand. Her hair was long and black and her skin was a sickly, yellowish color, though that might have been a trick of the light.
Her companion was much harder to distinguish. He wore a dark suit and a charcoal tie. He might have also been wearing a mask of some kind, though his face might have simply been hid in the shadows of the night. He held a hunting rifle, a thin wisp of smoke trickling from the barrel. He lowered it.
She nodded and began to speak in an imperious tone. “The thing about birds is that they see the mythic patterns that underlie the universe. Jung called it the collective unconscious. A set of stories that repeat themselves over and over again. Most people have no idea that they’re even a part of it, but it effects everything they do. But birds see it all.” She stepped toward the fallen owl. Her companion followed her silently. He became no easier to see. “And yet they are still a part of it. Each species of bird has a different point of view. A raven, for instance, would see us as walking Tarot cards. Major and minor arcana spinning into infinity.” She reached the center of the parking lot where the owl lay, just barely alive. “Now what did this little fellow have to see?”
She gripped the dying bird around its neck, ignoring its attempt to flutter from her grasp. As she brought it up to her face, her mouth opened up much wider than any human being’s ever could, revealing rows upon rows of thin sharp teeth. With a wet crunch, she swallowed the owl whole. After a few minutes, her eyes widened in surprise.
“Oh my, now that is interesting.”
A single brown feather fell from her lips.