Ball Lightning, Missing Socks, Drawer Crud and the Protectors of the Hearth

This entry is part 25 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

When I first mentioned that Banter Latte would be coming back, and the myths along with it, I solicited new myth questions on my Tumblr and my Twitter feeds, respectively. And I got a lot of good questions from both sources, which you’ll be seeing crop up hither and yon.

One response I got was from Lisa Jonté, a wonderful writer and artist, who was one of the long-time editors of Girlamatic in its original incarnations (including during the time when I was the abortive editor at Modern Tales). She was also the creator and artist of Arcana Jayne, which was fantastic but is sadly not online any more. She was a regular contributor over at Sequential Tart and she’s a regular columnist at http://mmorpg.com, and if I sound impressed that Jonté submitted a myth request, it’s because I am.

Her request, submitted via by Twitter, was:

Ball lightning, missing socks and whatever the heck that crud is that collects in a drawer full of otherwise clean silverware.

Now, some of you may think that didn’t sound like a myth request. In fact, it sounded like three. But I know better, and of course, so does Jonté — a mythologist of some renown herself. I have to assume she was asking for an old tale to be retold, and was just constrained by the 140 character limit Twitter imposes.

Nevertheless, I understood, and I’m happy to oblige, especially since it harkens back to the story of the Viscountess of the Northwesterlies, and her Dust Wyvern nemeses. After all, there were aspects mentioned in that story that deserved some elaboration.

Small aspects, in fact. Under the bed.

*** *** *** ***

High in the clouds, dust can accumulate, and gradually form into bunnies, which are sweet and adorable and well versed at making decent coffee. However, if the dust is left to accumulate long enough, the bunnies grow and shift and change, forming into long tailed drakes and draconic figures, until finally they have become full sized dust wyverns with lightning stingers for tails, flashing and crackling and laying about. And, as it’s well known, when the Northwesterlies become choked with dust and dust wyverns, sometimes the Viscountess of the Northwesterlies must sometimes climb the steps to the top of the highest tower in her dolomite castle, bearing a flute which she plays, calling forth the winds and the waters to wash it all away in a mighty thunderstorm of cleaning. I’ve been thinking a lot about those in the last several weeks, as we’ve had a large run of thunderous clashes between Viscountess and wyvern — several clashes a week, which makes me suspect there’s negotiations of some sort afoot.

When the dust is properly dispersed down from the clouds to Earth, it is purified and settled. Oh, such dust can still cause allergic reactions, but it’s no longer the stuff that could become a wyvern. Instead, as it settles and accumulates under beds and couches, it becomes the finest of dust bunnies — sleek and kind, friendly and warm, well noted for their connoisseurship of sandwich spreads. These bunnies are not ones who worry overly about being vacuumed up — that too is a part of their journey, and they meet it well — indeed, no dust bunny can ever truly be lost this way — they can only be returned to the essence that would later be reformed as a new dust bunny form elsewhere, usually in the very same house. But long before vacuuming happens, they gather and hide and train, for the dust bunnies have one household task — one only they can perform.

You see, there are spirits of all sorts who help or hinder in a house. You’ve heard of some like brownies or boggarts, of course. But dust bunnies are unique — they begin as beings of the clouds, then settle down through rains, entering into homes where they mix with the dust of the carpets and surfaces and even bits of skin from the humans who live within. When a dust bunny comes together inside a home, they are nearly unique — a being of sky, storm, surface and slough, embodying all those elements into a single, adorable package. And if they cannot become wyverns, they still know the ways of the wyverns and their lightning-sting. Only they do not destroy… they collect, they kindle, and they embody.

They are the Protectors of the Hearth.

Oh, I don’t mean they’re in charge of castle defense or pack Colt revolvers or the like. That’s not their purpose. But there are other dangers — ones humanity cannot stand against. In particular… they guard against Dark Luck.

Dark Luck is born on humid days, when the heat soaks into the streets and roads where mankind lives, whether in small numbers or large. It hisses and creeps, awakening in alleyways by dumpsters or down in the swamplands and the bogs. Where desperation gathers, so does Dark Luck, and its shape and form I cannot describe, for I cannot see it. It isn’t like other spirits, and it’s not some kind of kakodaemon or divine entity. Dark Luck doesn’t work for Tyche of the Wheel, and it doesn’t follow the paths of caprice. It is wholly made in the world, and when it seeps into a house, it is nigh impossible to dispel. It soaks into clothing, into dry goods, into insulation and wiring. It rots from within, causing quiet damage that goes unnoticed until it is too late. It starts electrical fires, or rots away at flour or rice, or leaves the stench of desperation and hopelessness on clothing. Once it is well laid in, only deep cleaning and repair, with bleach and salt in equal measure, can hope to drive it back.

As a side note? Do not use the bleach and salt at the same time or in the same solution. There are various metaphysical reasons for this. And some mild potential for reaction depending on the brand names involved or the like and, well, yeah. Let’s just not go there.

Dark Luck, as you can tell, is an unpleasant thing at best, and a potential tragedy at worst, and the best possible defense against it is not letting it seep into your home in the first place. I’m truly sad that there’s nothing you can actually do to stop it.

But then, you don’t have to. Because there are are the dust bunnies.

Scampering and running, slipping and sliding just out of sight, the dust bunnies form patrols that watch for the unknowable sights of Dark Luck, peering and preparing. And while much of the time their patrol is perfunctory, and the dust bunnies can enjoy their lives and sandwich spreads in peace… when the time comes and danger is high, they must gird themselves and go to war.

Sadly, Dust bunnies don’t actually have… you know… natural weaponry. Well, except histamines, and while I can’t tell you much about the biology of the unknowable Dark Luck, I can tell you they aren’t given to allergies. Dust bunnies do have knowledge of their Wyvern forebears, however. They understand the principles behind taking the raw dinge of clouds and forging them into flashing blades of lightning and spark.

And, as it turns out? You can do pretty much the same thing with lint.

Greyfelt Lopdown looked out over the broad field beyond the suburban house, peering through his field glasses. “They’re coming,” he murmured, and looked to his aide-de-camp Dusttail. “They’re in numbers. Sound the call, and arm for war.”

Dusttail nodded and darted back into the house, slipping through the cracks of the wall and bounding along the crossbeam. She swept in through the back of the cupboards where the vacuum rarely roamed and whispered to her brothers and sisters. They moved then, running out of sight, finding the paths to the laundry rooms and the hampers, digging into the pockets of clothing and along the inner seams of the wash, cleaning the dregs from the drier lint trap and the edges of where it hooks in.

They brought the lint to the ancient forge beneath the easy chair, laying it out, and striking it with bits of metal hoarded and kept against this day. One by one, the blades of lightning flared and burned, and the dust bunnies bore them up, bounding with them out through the gaps to meet the Dark Luck on the field of battle.

Dusttail made it back to where Lopdown waited. “Sir!” she reported. “All is ready!”

“I know,” he said, absently grooming. “The battle is joined.”

“Sir? Sir! I’ll get back down and go out with the third flank!”

“Don’t.”

Dusttail paused. “Don’t?”

Lopdown sounded serious, in between chewing a bit of wood. “We’re being overmatched. We can’t hold the field. Not with our numbers. Not after that last bout of spring cleaning and without the time to reaccumulate and reform.”

“What? Do… do we retreat?”

“Retreat?” Lopdown looked at her. “Abandon the Hearth? Never.”

Dusttail swallowed. She was young — she had been in skirmishes, but never the horrors of full war. “Then we fight to the last?”

“Not this time.” Lopdown looked out. “I need you to reach the Mayor. Tell him our situation. Tell him we need… the ultimate sanction.”

Dusttail’s eyes widened, but she nodded. “I’ll be back with their decision.”

“If the answer is yes, prepare the package first.”

“Yes, sir.”

Dusttail ran back through the house. In the distance, there were rumbles of thunder in the sky — heavy, humid days like this heralded the attacks of Dark Luck, and often those days were matched with the wars between the Viscountess of the Northwesterlies and the primitive precursors of the dust bunny legions. She made her way back in, racing through the walls to the bedroom of the youngest child. From there she ducked out, around, and into the girl’s closet, and made her way to the Mayoral Hall in its back.

The Mayor looked up. He had been conferring with the families of the dust bunnies, discussing their options and the battle. “Eh? Yes, Lieutenant?”

“I come from Lopdown,” Dusttail said. “He says the field is lost.”

The Mayor looked disturbed. “He is sure?”

“Spring cleaning depleted our numbers, sir. We need–”

“I know what he says we need.” The Mayor walked to the back of his office, which was actually an old shoe box. He looked out the cut cardboard window, upon the homes of several younger dust bunnies. Homes that, as it turned out, were made among old forgotten socks and other bits of clothing. “I had hoped we could put these days behind us, but that’s never really realistic, is it Lieutenant?”

“Sir?”

“It can be a terrible thing, young one. Never take the battle lightly. If there were any other way… any other way….”

“I… I know, sir. Sir… time is running out.”

“I’m well aware.” The mayor turned back to Dusttrail. “Tell Lopdown, Lieutenant. Light the sky.”

Dusttrail ran as fast as her dust-patch legs could hop and scamper, running for the forge where the weapons were still being struck. “To me!” she called as she ran through. “Half of you, to the flatware drawer! We need the broadest of soup spoons this day! The rest of you – to the laundry with me!

The first group seized upon a soup spoon — steelware, stainless, pitted but strong. This was no family-dinner-with-the-boss-silverware. This was a spoon used to play drums on the bottoms of pans by three-year olds. This was the spoon that scraped the bottom of the rice-pot for the burned bits. This was the spoon that, laden with peanut butter, perfectly fit its owner’s mouth in one titanic swallow. This was carried up to the porch roof, where the assembly had been laid, and there prepared.

Dusttrail and her team reached the laundry and tore into the clean clothes — only clean would do. They found what they sought. A cute sock for a cute foot — well matched with many shoes, comfortable and warm but breathing well. A well loved sock, at least by its owner, for nothing else would do. Once selected, the dust bunnies surrounded the sock, pulling and folding and shaping it into a sphere — not a perfect one. Oh no. This was no clean, smooth marble of cloth. This was a boulder.

This was a sock of war.

Lopdown watched as his brave legions spread and moved, holding and containing the Dark Luck with their thin numbers. They were valiant, his warriors, but they were simply too few. The wind was strong now, and the rain was coming down.

“Sir!”

He turned at the cry, and looked back at the assembly. The steel spoon, pulled back to fire, laden with its sock payload.

Lopdown turned. He looked at his forces. “Draw back… and UNLEASH HELL!”

And the spoon snapped forward, and the sock flew, and the arts of dust bunny sparked their fullest….

The purest fire filled the sky — lightning and flame, a will o’the wisp of gold/green, leaving a burning echo in its wake, out into the midst of the Dark Luck where it lay, and there exploded like a thousand thunderbolts all at once. It was a legendary explosion of fire and lightning, that would go down in the annals of dust bunny history not only for that house but for houses all over the community, and indeed the world, the trigger of the lightning sock leaving the burnt residue of a type not otherwise known in science or mystery clinging to the bowl of the spoon, even as Dusttrail and Lopdown watched, mute witness to the unholy power that was the last defense of the dust bunnies, wielded at terrible cost in sock and numbers. Oh, the bunnies would return. With time and new dust would come the dust bunnies — the same dust bunnies who fought in the battle, for a dust bunny can but return and be the more joyous for the story they now could tell. But the sock?

The sock would be forever gone.

Songs would be sung of that day.

Well, by the dust bunnies.

Marsha rubbed her temples while her tween daughter screamed down the stairs. “Mom! I can’t find my blue toe-socks!”

“Check the laundry room! I washed them!”

“I did! One’s missing!

“That’s ridiculous! Socks don’t just disappear.” She opened her silverware drawer to get out a spoon for her coffee. She dug under a soup spoon, which had a bit of crap slide out of it. She picked it up — it was some kind of oily crud — food waste? It wasn’t like anything she’d seen. “Mrph.” She tossed it in the sink to be rewashed. “We need to keep this place cleaner.”

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  • Lisa Jonte

    I LOVE THIS SO MUCH.

  • Eric Burns-White

    There are little in the ways of notes for this installment, though I should point people in the direction of Irrational Fears — http://ursulavernon.com/node/19 — which is Ursula Vernon’s definitive tale of dust bunnies, fear and courage. Ursula’s dust bunnies are a different breed than the Protectors of the Hearth, but I have to imagine they’d get along famously over smooth centered sandwiches.

    • P. Ipsum

      This is charming! And I did always wonder if the smooth sandwich spread was a callback to cheese sandwiches of mysterious provenance.

  • PlaidPhantom

    This…is amazing. Bravo.

  • Flatvurm

    “This was a sock of war.”