While we waited for our order to be delivered, Joseph and I sprawled on one of the beds while Mercy sat cross legged on the other, and we took turns quizzing her about the Valkyrie and Norse gods.
“What's Odin like? And does Loki look anything like Tom Hiddleston?” I asked. I like to get the important stuff out first.
Mercy smirked. “Loki is blond and bearded, so... No. And Odin is... funny but serious. And so very wise. You can see the weight of understanding on his shoulders, but he still thinks that puns are hilarious.”
She shook her head with a soft smile on her lips. I could tell she was thinking of some memory of bad word play or something. “He cares so much, but he doesn't really know how to show it. He's like an old-school father who was never taught how a grown man can play with the kids, but he wants to...”
We were silent for a moment, each lost in our thoughts about that.
Joseph spoke up first. “So, Ragnarok is really a thing, right? It's going to happen, just like in the stories?”
“Or just like Keith says?” I added.
Mercy tilted her head to the side. “Sort of like the stories. Things have gotten lost in translation. And Odin didn't tell the whole story, ‘cause he knew there would always be someone trying to start it, or thinking it was happening and trying to stop it, or trying to be a part of it.”
Mercy shook her head “So he gave humans the general run-down and he told the gods what would happen to each of them, but he didn't give all the details about the role Midgard would play.”
She shrugged. “Also, it's more complicated than that. I mean, the Norse gods are real and the creation story that the myths tell for them is completely true.”
I frowned and glanced at Joseph. He had a thoughtful scowl on his face.
“You mean the cow is real?” I asked.
“Yes.” Mercy held up her hand. “But...” she said, waiting until she had our complete attention. “The same is true for the Greek gods.” She paused.
“And the Orisha,” she said, referencing the gods of Yoruba, an African religion, and Santeria, a belief system in the Caribbean similar to Voodoo. “And any other religions or pantheons you can think of, and all the ones that haven't yet been imagined. And several that have been long forgotten.”
My face scrunched up as I tried to follow what Mercy was saying. It wasn't something new for me to hold the belief that all religions were equally valid. Of course, that was easier when there really was no proof that ANY of them were any more real than Santa Claus.
At that point, I realized that, before the night was over, I was going to ask if Santa was real. A part of me felt a sense of defeat about that.
“So,” I said, drawing out the word as I tried to organize my thoughts into some kind of coherence. “What does that mean for science and the big bang theory and all that?”
Mercy nodded. “That is also completely true.”
“But, how?” Joseph asked. “How is that even possible?”
Mercy sighed and looked down at her hands. I could tell she was trying to figure out how to tell us.
I suddenly remembered a few months back when Ella had asked me about some protesters we had driven past on the street. They were across the street from a cemetery holding signs condemning a teenager who had committed suicide after being bullied for being gay. I remembered the feeling of just… understanding so much background about the situation, the social backdrop that had caused it, the complexities and history of the protesters' beliefs... and I had balked at telling her.
Ella had asked why they were holding signs. It had been a simple question, but the answer was anything but simple. I remembered thinking that this was why parents told their kids that babies came from birds or vegetables, and I remembered struggling with my promise to always be truthful with my child.
I pulled my focus back to Mercy, and I sympathized. I drew energy from the memory of love and compassion that my conversation with Ella had brought out. I directed it at Mercy, lifting her energy and encouraging her mind to find the best way to communicate. I held this for several seconds before she raised her head and straightened her shoulders.
She took a deep breath. “You know how a movie works, right? Making a movie isn't just what the people do. It's also the set built by the crew. It's the sounds added later. It's the CGI and the wires and the explosions. It's the stunt people and the makeup people, too. A movie isn't just a camera following people around, right?”
“That's how the world works,” Mercy explained. “What you see – the actors – that’s the science. The gods are all the different crews that work behind the scenes, pushing, pulling, correcting and sometimes adding in a CGI thing – and all of that adds up to the end result.”
“Whoa,” Joseph said. “I kind of understood that.”
Mercy continued. “Each pantheon contributes to the whole thing, but instead of the makeup crew working all together, they are actually gods from everywhere working on the same thing.”
I nodded. “Like art or nature or war?”
Mercy smiled. “Exactly. There will be a Norse god working on this over here, and another working on that over there. So the crew isn't divided by job but by pantheon.”
I glanced at Joseph. “You realize what this means, don't you?”
Joseph raised his eyebrows in question.
“This means life is like that one movie, and you're Jim Carrey.” I grinned, knowing he would understand the reference.
He rolled his eyes at me while I laughed.
“So all these gods - and science, too,” Joseph said. “They all work together but kind of not?”
Mercy nodded. “That's why you have things that are just so complex that it's really hard to figure them out.”
I nudged Joseph. “Like weather and evolution,” I suggested.
I considered this for a minute. “So, pretty much all the stuff that we explain through chaos theory and other really complex mathematics.”
“That would also include human interactions,” said Joseph.
“Human interactions, god interactions,” I said. “Is there much difference, really?”
We looked at each other for a moment, then turned to Mercy.
“Not that I can see,” she said, holding up her hands in a shrugging motion.
“What about the Christian god?” Joseph asked. “Is Yahweh, or Jehovah or whatever, real?”
“I'm not sure,” she said. She caught our skeptical looks. “It's not like we hold conventions or something. We don't all get together and do headcounts. But most of us run into a god from another pantheon once in a while,” she lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “It's just that no one I know has ever seen Jehovah. There's a lot of things that happen that we think he's behind, but we just don't know for sure.”
“Great,” I muttered. “Deity on the down-low. Just what we need to anticipate for a follow-up performance.”
Joseph chuckled and I stuck out my tongue at him.
“Wait a minute,” Joseph said. “If you are a Valkyrie, how do you know how to drive a car? Aren't you supposed to be an ancient warrior or something?”
I thought back to the sight of Mercy wielding her sword. “Definitely a warrior.”
Mercy shook her head. “Driving a car and fighting aren't really mutually exclusive skills,” she pointed out. “Most of what was written down about us is from centuries ago, but we've still been here. We lived through all these technological advances. We've learned to use the 'big mechanical wagons' just fine.”
She paused and grinned. “Although Rade doesn't really have the patience to pick up computer skills very well.”
I exchanged glances with Joseph and considered that idea. If the Valkyrie – and the gods – all stayed involved in the world, just more subtly, they could very easily pick up on any current fashions, lingo or any other trends, and blend in with everyone else. That would explain why they wouldn't be noticed by anyone.
A knock at the door made us all freeze.
Mercy sighed in relief and got up to answer.
“Wait!” I said, remembering.
Mercy paused on her way to the door and Joseph jerked his head around to look at me.
I smiled as innocently as I could. “Is Santa Claus real?”