There are many questions that humans have for a keeper of stories, but a common one is, “Why is it that only the old legends hold magic in their depths?”

It’s a fair question. Modern day stories involving the influence of the gods and goddesses are perhaps the most difficult for me to collect and hold dear. I suspect it is for this reason that they are also my favorite. It requires a great deal of travel to find these stories, but there are those who still believe and I think it wise that they do. Of course, I may be biased, as I have had many the opportunity to see what might be the effects of these gods and goddesses.

Though their names may change, their songs, in my experience, often remain similar. Athena may be called Minerva, but she is still tactically clever. After all, what’s in a name? Of course, there are other changes. In some versions, different gods have different siblings. Different deities have different trinities and dualities and pieces of a whole. It matters little to me and my nature, as I must confess to being enamored with all of them.

But I have a personal favorite to share, a tale of the trickster and his beautiful sister, who is best described as the goddess of soul mates and everlasting love.

Now, this story describes soul mates as a phenomenon the sister may “gift” to humans in sparing amounts. The reason for this has much to do with complications of free will and the natural chaos and order of the universe, but it holds no bearing for our story’s purposes. Let us just say that the soul mates must be born where they may come in contact, they will always come in contact, and they will instantly recognize their compatibility. There are other rules, but I should like to keep the legend simple, as very few stories benefit from being caught in their technical details. For our purposes, these are the important ideas and the sister goddess can watch her joyful results in her scrying bowl. As you can imagine, she is a happy creature and a fun loving entity. She does not lie and she is as sweet as her magic.

Of course, her brother, the trickster, has a different sense of humor. The story has it that he approached his sister in her glittering cave, his jackal’s face alive with mischief when he did.

His sister was wary, for she knew her brother quite well, but she was fond of manners and she would not turn her family away. “Dear brother,” she said, “to what do I owe the joy of your visit?”

Her brother’s grin widened. “I was just thinking that it has been quite a while since we had a wager. I’d like to make one with you.”

The sister sighed, for she knew better than to refuse. The trickster god was a god of a strange sort, you see. He was both just… and deceitful in his justice. Humans who were too greedy or too arrogant often found themselves afflicted by his humorous punishments. But the sister knew that if her brother was turning bored with this pastime of his, then he might well try to venture outside of his jurisdiction. She did not want unfair punishment given to humans and she certainly did not want her brother wounded by his own folly if he trespassed in another god’s domain. He was clever, yes, but he did have a bad habit of being a bit rash.

“You have lost every one of them before, dear brother, but it is has been a while, I suppose. To what do you propose?”

He grinned. “I’ve been thinking for a long time of ways to thwart your magic. Surely your soul mates can’t withstand everything?”

“If you kill them, they are reborn for another chance until they may live out their lives together,” the sister replied softly.

“Yes, I’m aware. I mean other things. My bet is that I can break the next two you bond.”

The sister rolled her eyes, for she had lived a very long time with her pure form of magic and knew well what little could stop true love. As another story once noted, even death cannot sway that magic. “If you lose this time, I demand double your incarceration time in return. For every other wager, I have commanded you back to your domain for 300 years. This time, you will leave me in peace for 600.”

The jackal god cackled. “If I win, I get to have sway in your domain for 600.”

“No.” The sister shuddered at the mere thought of the trickster god in the realm of attraction. There were reasons why jinn could not grant wishes for love, after all. “Not my domain.” She hesitated, then softly suggested, “I will offer another reward for your winning, instead. I offer a soul mate for you if I lose.”

The sister wasn’t certain how this offer would be received but it seemed to be a clever offer, indeed, when the trickster brother fell silent. It also served to give the sister a bit of a sad insight. Her brother was not a bad god, despite his mischievous ways. He did, at least, try to keep his deceit as a strangely honest kind and he did try to keep his fallbacks befitting of the deserving.

He was not a god to deserve such loneliness as his pause suggested. “I would like that,” he said quietly.

The sister nodded, still thoughtful over the agreement, and together, she and her brother decided the terms of their contest. It was rather simple, really, as the sister had learned that simplicity was best when dealing with the god of tricks. The more details were added, the more loopholes he could find, but this was so straightforward that she couldn’t see a way for him to be overly clever about it.

The goddess of soul mates would choose any two unborn humans she wished. She could touch upon their lives gifts of beauty and grace to her heart’s content, while the trickster god was permitted but a single touch on their lives. The sister began to weave her magic on the children and she told her brother what she was doing as she was doing it, certain he would protest some of it.

For instance, she touched the girl with her own beauty and, as you might imagine, the goddess of the heart’s mate was a beautiful creature indeed. Her golden hair was within the possibility of the unborn girl’s genetics, so the sister gave her that, watching her brother for any dismay. He only snickered in his jackal’s way and bade her to continue all she liked.

So she did. She made the boy handsome, made their voices melodic, made them graceful, made them intelligent. At the end of it, she thought she might have created a couple more perfect than she’d ever created before and could see no way at all that the jackal god of tricks might thwart these two. They would be envied by any who saw them, surely!

The brother grinned wickedly and he was not so kind to tell the sister what he did. He merely worked his magic on first the unborn boy and then the unborn girl, while the sister watched to make sure he didn’t try to affect them again. But he didn’t and her confusion increased. “But what could you have possibly done?”

The brother waved before he snickered playfully again. “Oh, you won’t have to wait long to find out. I’ll leave you be, as we have years before they find each other due to your magic.”

The sister stared into her scrying waters, bemused and with a strange feeling of discomfort. She had lived with her brother too long to not be wary when he seemed so certain and yet, try as she may, she could find no answer to what he had done. She watched the bowl as both pregnancies were perfectly healthy and went wonderfully.

But the brother had spoken true. She did not have to wait long at all to learn what he had done. Indeed, his magic was quite obvious as soon as the soul mates were born. The sister cried out in dismay when she learned, disheartened and unhappy and, for the first time, quite unsure that her magic would succeed.

You see, the brother gave one blindness.

And the other, he gave deafness.

At first, the sister goddess thought there may have been a little hope. The blind one was blind from birth, but the one with deafness seemed unaffected by the trickster god’s magic, at first. Alas, this was not the case and it happened that the brother’s magic merely took a few years to have its hold. By the age of six, it had taken full effect. The sister goddess watched helplessly as the children were raised, waiting for the day that they would find their other half, and certain that it could only lead to pain in some way, but there was nothing she could do once it was set into motion. She watched as they grew up in wonderful houses, watched as they found their ways through school, watched as they learned friendships and sorrows. And she waited for a little over 18 years for that day where they had their first moment…

May the goddesses of song guide my pen and tell the tale through me.


II. Something Like A Seeing Eye Dog


What always struck me as an entertaining phenomenon is that a person with vision will be the one to give you the worst possible account on what he imagines blindness is like. On the other hand, if you ask someone born blind, they’ll often tell you that they didn’t even understand the concept of their missing an entire sense for a good first five or six years of their lives. By then, they’d already adapted to feeling and hearing their way through the world.

Of course, that being said, there was one thought that made me wonder about vision as a boy. I was listening to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Collections on an audiobook my mother had gotten me and Aragorn told the hobbits the story of Beren and Luthien Tinuviel on their way to Rivendell. You see, it’s a story about a mortal man who falls in love at first sight with an elf. What’s even more delightful about the story is that at the end it talks about Aragorn’s expression and it says, “His eyes shone, and his face was rich and deep.” Later, you would learn that, by that time in the story, Aragorn had already fallen in his own love at first sight with the Lady Arwen.

The concept fascinated me. What must that be like, to see the one and know, instantly, that they were yours? I couldn’t fathom the thought and I thought it was the most magical thing ever conceived. Of course, that may have been influenced by the text I was reading at the time.

~David Layton, from The Sightless Memoirs

To no one’s surprise, my mother was the person in my life who had the most problems with my trying on campus college classes and living away from home for the first time. It took a full semester of purely online classes before anyone was able to convince her. Eventually, it was my father who had to intervene by saying, “The campus is only 30 minutes away and he can’t take every class online. Let him try it. If it’s too much, then we work something else out. Besides, he’s only taking one class on campus to begin with and Miles is taking it with him.”

That was, apparently, the thing that managed to soothe my mother. Miles Hendrickson. Other people had a Seeing Eye dog and I had a Miles.

“Mate, your mom is driving me insane. I don’t know how many more polite ways I can think of to tell her that you’re blind and not a fucking idiot. It’s like she thinks you’re just going to willingly step out in front of the first car you hear.”

I laughed where we were in my room. Miles’ voice always had this sense of playful taunting at everything. We found each other in grade school, when my life was a lot more confusing. People treated me differently and I think that’s what really made it the worst growing up, not that I blame them for it. They could see quite clearly that I was different, but I, on the other hand, was still trying to figure out how the hell I even was different. “I’m actually proud of her for this. After she cried like a baby when they dropped Jessie off for the first time at college, I honestly thought I never stood a prayer of a chance at this. Okay, which science credit are we taking?”

Miles and I had a favorite pastime that we discovered in high school. Chess. We made our own modified chess board where the squares were marked with slightly raised lines to form a grid and the letters A through H were across the bottom in worn Braille, while the numbers 1 through 8 went up the side. I felt the pieces as I remembered their position, feeling my knight, as my pieces were marked with a button glued on them.

“Zoology can’t be that bad without vision, right? Your sister said she had to do this coloring book. All you’d have to do is scribble over a toucan with a lot of different colors and they’d have to pass you, wouldn’t they?”

“Okay, but hear me out. I’m just spitballing, but maybe we should choose a class I can make some effort in.”

“Why on earth would we do that? What’s the point of being you if you can’t abuse accommodations some?”

I moved my piece and the way we had Miles play was that he would speak a piece name and then a designation. For instance, he would say something like, “Bishop to F4.” And then I could feel the movement from the previous square and trace it to get my bearings as I needed. After so long playing with him, though, I rarely even needed the board. It was just for fun to have it and feel it. “Okay, okay, I’m not saying we can’t find one to abuse a little. But let’s meet in the middle, right? So, if I were going to be totally responsible, I would say, ‘Let’s take Physics, Miles.'”

“No, God, please. Please, don’t do that to me, mate. I’ll take back every blind joke I’ve ever made and I’ll never buy you another Viewmaster as long as I live.”

“You didn’t let me finish! I like my Viewmaster collection. It’s getting a glass case one day, with Braille designations for each different slide thing. And no, see then, I wouldn’t be abusing it hardly at all, right? But I could say Biology…”

Miles’ voice jumped up in his humor and I grinned. “Oh, that’s brilliant. Animal kingdom lists for the serious days, but those microscope days, on the other hand.”

Miles and I had based our friendship on the fact that he never treated me any differently or with any less humor than he’d treat anyone. One time, he landed us both in detention during dissection day in middle school because he waited for our teacher to pass behind us and promptly said, “David, mate, you want a turn with the scalpel? I’d trust you as a surgeon with as steady as your hands are reading Braille.” We quickly learned all kinds of things we could get away with since I was blind and God, the list was beautiful. Of course, there was a trade, as there were also some things I couldn’t away with as a kid. Sneaking out of the house on my own was pretty terrible.

People often make the assumption that because I couldn’t see, my life was this separate entity from anyone else’s, but the fact was that the phrase “boys will be boys” still applied. That being said, there were definitely some differences. “Okay, which professor’s name looks the most promising to look up first? If they’re anything like that one online instructor last semester, I’ll go with the Physics before I suffer that again, Miles.”

“That’s fair enough. That one was awful. Okay, this one looks promising. Professor Schafer.” For instance, Miles and I had learned freaking quickly that I had to look up my teachers and I had to email them before the semester start to make them aware that hey, they had a blind kid in their class because they’d genuinely have no idea otherwise. It took me one bad experience in an online class, of all things, to realize that there were some limitations. There weren’t many, but they did happen. I started out not saying anything to my instructors because I thought it wouldn’t matter in an online environment or that they would already know. I learned the naïveté in that logic when I ran into my first proctored exam and the poor proctor lab instructor was at a little bit of a loss and the class instructor turned irate. In the end, Miles and I had to cheat in that one class. It was a frustration that I would learn to live with, that people weren’t always as adaptable as I had learned to be.

But for the most part, people weren’t bad. They were just people. Professor Schafer’s class was something that I would look back on and marvel at because it taught me more than just Biology. Schafer was a wonderful person. Weeks later, as classes drew nearer and my mother eventually helped me move into my college apartment with Miles, I would email Schafer while my software read her replies to me and she wasn’t just helpful. She asked curious questions during the exchange, making sure that I could learn like anyone else. The path that led to Schafer’s Bio I class was one that I would always look back on with more than a little fondness.

I ended up in that class and at that college because I wanted a career in software and IT and I could try to claim that the reason for this was something selfless, like an interest in ADA applications, but that’d be a total lie. The truth was that in high school I learned that some days, being blind felt like my personal Goliath, but others, it made me feel a little like Matt Murdock. Back in grade school, people thought I was some kind of wizard because I could keystroke command my way through writing an entire paper. People would have me keystroke command indentation and marvel at the fact that I didn’t need to see, so I ended up in coding because it made the Matt Murdock days easily outweigh the Goliath days.

I was a lucky guy, really. I could tell you all about the bad times, but the truth was I had parents who made sure I never wanted anything. One time, they got me a color reader for Christmas, even though I didn’t know a thing about colors. I held it up to a shirt to hear it say, “Sky blue,” and then marveled when I felt the inside of the shirt sleeve for the button I used to indicate the color blue. I had Miles, who treated me like I was anyone else and who was enough of an idiot that he made every day amusing.

Leading up to that class was its own form of joy, too. Even the build up just felt like something that would start my life down this new path. In her nerves, my mother made sure I had everything I could ever need for that semester. My refreshable Braille display was brand new, she got me a new laptop and we set everything up for it together along with my dad, who knew these things comforted her. Miles, on the other hand, got me a microscope kit for my birthday, collapsing into cackles of laughter when he said, “I thought it might help for the class.” I heard my mother throw something at him, but she loved Miles more and more with every passing antic that made me laugh.