by William VanDenBerg
She lifted my car above her head with one arm. A gang of trolls blocked the expressway. They caroused and drank tar from an asphalt truck. Lightning burst from her free hand and she zapped the trolls to powder. She put my car down and asked if I was alright. I said yes and extended my hand in gratitude. Her palm felt like a nine-volt battery wrapped in satin. I considered asking the name of her lotion. I was experiencing some dryness at the time.
Her name was Hildr. It meant battle.
I saw her a week later in a grocery store scowling over a melon. I reintroduced myself and taught her how to pick them: Tap and listen for a hollow sound, then smell the top for freshness. She referred to me as Tom the Handshaker, then, weeks later, as Tom the Melonsmeller.
She offered me a ride home from the supermarket. I told her it was no trouble to walk. Please, she said. I insist. She strapped my sacks of groceries to either side of her armor. She flew with me in her arms. When we landed, the words “further contact” slanted out of my mouth. Before she said yes, she laughed like a bent spoon.
She had an apartment in Valhalla but quickly stored some things at my place: a winged helm, a toothbrush, replacement plates of steel.
At first I kissed her too hard. Our lips flattened between our teeth. I overcompensated. Please, she said. I’m not looking for a Viking—I’m full up on Vikings.
Later, when she took off her armor, I marveled at her body. Not a scar. I gulped. She was thousands of years old, deathless. The only traces of her age were two gray streaks in her red hair. Her pupils seemed to drop out. Her irises were as gray as her hair, nearly white.
She worked normal hours. She carried warriors to Valhalla, repelled Freyjan incursions, delivered barrels of mead to the honored dead. Often I’d come home late from my shitty I.T. job and find her with her feet on the sofa, helmet perched on a floor lamp, eating cereal from one of my bowls.
The first months were awesome and basic. We talked, ate, slept, fooled around. I taught her about brunch. As I fell asleep, she told me stories about the world before humans, about the great forest, the unpolluted seas, the empty blue sky.
After a few months, she was called into battle. Freyja had invaded Des Moines, was moving south to Kansas City. Hildr said she’d only be gone a few weeks. She was good at her work.
At night, as I failed to sleep, I imagined her at battle. I saw her bent back—she ducked a sweeping mace. Then she shot forward and thrust into a troll, his green blood spilling up her wrist. A winged serpent raked its claws along her back and scraped off her helm. Her hair, knotted and filthy, spilled out. She leapt into the air, trailed the serpent, sliced it from belly to neck. She reached one hand in and pulled out the creature’s heart, let its body waft into the fray below.
I’m ashamed to say—I wasn’t that concerned for her well-being. Her absence was more like a weight, a little more added each day. As I pictured the bodies rising higher and higher, I became irritable. I lost sleep and weight. I argued with coworkers about printer settings and network permissions. The nearest word for it was jealousy.
When I woke, the shower was running. Her armor lay in a pile by the door. I went in hoping to surprise her.
I peaked my head around the shower curtain. She was scraping the dried viscera off her arms, a caked layer of gore. Wrapped around her left wrist was a coarse black hair. Somehow I remember that. I said sorry three times and fled the bathroom with my palms out.
Our conversations reduced to halting things. She accused me of withdrawing. I used the word emasculated occasionally. She explained that I’d missed the point. “Missed” being the key—she used the past tense.
A lonely week passed. One morning I heard a note slide under my door. It read:
If you look long enough at the pattern, it forms into smaller and smaller shapes. You get lost in it. What I’m saying is that I want out. Time affords this luxury. I’m doing my best. Time is an agent of focus. When I look at you, I see a blank want. I am merely expressing that want. It is or should be, by its very nature, uncomplicated. I’ve stood at the roots of the worldtree. I’ve seen the bridge crack and been optimistic at that sight. There’s a sound the roots make, and it sounds like singing. When I listen harder, the sound is like a horn. I can’t express my own smallness. It might help if you tried. But, again, the benefit of time. If you feel like you’re missing something, you’re probably right. We both have settings for ourselves, low arcs to follow. You’ll want a crown from time to time—just don’t. Listen. I am sorry for some of the things I had control over. I am not sorry for so much more.
When I see lightning flash. When I see a blur in the sky. When I hear thunder without rain. I must admit I still look for her.
William VanDenBerg is the author of Lake of Earth (Caketrain Press, 2013) and Apostle Islands (Solar Luxuriance, 2013). Recent work has appeared in The Collagist, Spork, and The Fanzine. He lives with his wife in Denver.