I was doing my job early Saturday morning, driving along rural gravel roads and delivering newspapers to news-hungry customers while they slept.
It was a misty-drizzly morning. The overcast sky ensured that the dawn would be late. I mulled over in my mind what would happen if the sun were to disappear down a black hole, or just wink out and not rise at all. How would humanity cope? Of course there would eventually be mass famine, once we were deprived of sunlight and the taken-for-granted boon of photosynthesis. Maybe a few bands of humans would survive for a while, burning the dead trees and coal in order to keep warm on a frozen earth. Surely reproduction would come to a halt, once it became clear that humanity’s reign on this planet was coming to a chilly close.
Somber thoughts indeed! I scanned the eastern horizon for a glimmer of the dawn I hoped would come.
Suddenly I heard a faint humming sound in the cab of the truck. What could it be? I looked over to the passenger side of the bench seat and saw a disturbance in the air, a peculiar purple-hued rippling.
The figure of a wizened old woman clad in black robes appeared, perched upon a stack of fresh newspapers and cackling to herself. Oh, what now? Couldn’t I finish my route in peace without these anomalous intrusions?
“So who might you be?”, I asked with tones of resignation evident in my voice.
“Hi, Larry! I’m Atropos. I’m sure you have heard of me. Those barbarous northerners call me a Norn.”
“Okay… so to what do I owe the pleasure of your acquaintance?”
“Oh, I was chatting with Eos the other day. She says that you lack credibility these days and are also tolerant of godly intrusions.”
“Well, I guess that’s true.”
I glanced more closely at her face, all spider-webbed with wrinkles and sprouting clumps of hairs in odd places. I had a question for the aged deity:
“I’m aware that you share an eye with the other two Fates. What the hell is that in your empty eye-socket?”
“Ha! That’s my little buddy, an Etruscan Shrew. She gets a cozy little cavern in which to curl up and sleep, and I get a furry barrier against chilling breezes.”
I was a bit taken aback, but I could understand her reasoning. I continued:
“So you are the wielder of the ‘abhorred shears’, I guess, eventually cutting every human’s thread. Can I see them?”
“Oh, surely, Larry! Take a look!”
The ancient goddess withdrew a pair of scissors from a fold of her cloak. I said:
“But those are just Fiskars scissors! What happened to the fabled bronze shears?”
“They just got so worn down that even Vulcan couldn’t fix them anymore. Snip, snip, snip! I’ve done a lot of cutting during the past eons, and these Fiskars scissors are so sharp and efficient!”
The old goddess chuckled with a glee that I found to be rather unsettling. She peered at me and said:
“I’ll show you something that you might find shocking, if you like. Are you game?”
I sighed. A revelation from the Fate who terminates us all couldn’t be good!
“Well, okay. What do you have to show me?”
The crone gestured, and a strand of something which glowed pale blue appeared between her fingers. The edges of the cord-like strand weren’t well defined, fuzzily fading into the dark background. A slow bulging pulse periodically traveled along its length.
“Do you know what this is, Larry?”
I was almost afraid to ask.
“Oh, just tell me, Atropos!”
“This is the strand of your own life! Watch while the scissors approach…”
Slowly the plastic-handled scissors opened over the frail cord.
“Atropos, cut that out! Why are you toying with me?!”
Perhaps a bad choice of words…
Atropos chuckled and darted me a merry glance.
“Don’t worry, Larry! Just teasing! You have a fair amount of time left! You’ve been given a bonus by the Powers That Be, as several other deities want to meet you. Now I have to leave; I have an apprentice to train. You humans have so many awful conflicts that I can barely keep up these days!”
The old woman faded away. I have to admit that I waxed pensive during the remainder of the route!