It was still dark by the time we reached the station I had picked out but the night sky was slowly inching towards morning. The crisp air of the new day filled my lungs as I opened the car door. My legs and hands ached from driving all night. I hadn’t realised how stressed I was till I stopped, it was fading but an edge of adrenalin sat on my heart as I flexed my sore muscles. I opened the passenger’s door and told my guest to swing her legs around. I crouched down and put her injured leg across my knee. Slowly I peeled back the bandages and pulling my knife from its hidden pouch, sliced her jeans up to the wound to give better access. It looked messy but I could see that it was a clean through and through shot, almost a flesh wound. She’d need stitches when we got back to the hotel but for now she’d be fine.
I asked her to pass me the whiskey. I undid the lid and took a long swig before dumping the rest over her wound. She didn’t even flinch, just watched me work with abstract curiosity on her face. The wound now clear of blood I pulled the first aid kit from under the seat and cleaned the wound properly with saline before wrapping another bandage around her calf. I pulled the cloth tight and pinned it off.
‘There, good as new.’ I said lightly smoothing out the wrapping. Her jeans were ruined and flapped uselessly in the morning breeze. Thankfully they were black and the blood didn’t show up that much. As long as no one looked too hard it could pass for some weird fashion trend. Ripped jeans for Millennials or something.
Looking up at her from my kneeling position, I’d be lying if I said it did nothing for me. My stomach flipped a little as she looked back at me, her wide eyes drinking everything in as if for the first time. For a moment our gaze met and we looked into each others eyes, I could feel myself being drawn into her and had to look away. Awkwardly I stood up, letting her leg fall from my knee.
‘Come on. You’ll be good to go for a while. We’ve got a train to catch.’ I said motioning her out of the car. I remembered to grab my hat from the back seat before ditching the gun and spare clip into the nearest bin. Didn’t want to be picked up by an over zealous conductor before we made it back into the city. I lead the woman onto the platform and purchased two tickets to London and we sat and waited silently for the train to arrive.
She still hadn’t said anything by the time the train turned up and we boarded. We sat opposite each other in the little pod of seats facing inwards in pairs of two. As I watched her a peculiar feeling grew in me, it was like I’d known her all my life yet I’ve been searching for her without even knowing it. I didn’t even know her name, although the hotel manager did say it was Helen but I assumed that was an alias. Not that I needed to know her name at all, but I could feel myself growing weirdly attached to her. This strange mixture of comfort and longing pulled at me the longer we were together. It wasn’t unlike a feeling I had come across before. A very unique feeling that you’d never forget after the first time you experience it. She sat opposite me, looking out the window watching the dawning countryside flash by. The wash of orange light flowing softly over the fields and meadows.
‘You’re her, aren’t you?’ I asked. I lent closer towards her, whispering quietly. ‘You’re Hel.’
She looked over at me, surprise and accusation flashed on her face before falling into quiet acceptance. Her head bowed a little.
‘Yes.’ She reluctantly agreed. I knew it as soon as I felt that uniquely god like presence that radiated across her skin. Strangely the goddess of death had the same feeling that the goddess of love, Aphrodite, radiated. All be it at a much lower level, Aphrodite really turned up the lust aspect to eleven, which was not always the nicest feeling to be around. If my Norse law had been up to scratch the hair would have been a big giveaway, unfortunately it took a lot longer for my brain to put the pieces together. The goddess Hel was said to be half black and half white, rumours also said her entire lower half was rotting flesh but from what I had seen, that wasn’t the case.
‘Nice to meet you, goddess. I’m James Carol.’ I said leaning back into the thick leather seat, looking thoughtfully out the window. This brought up more questions than it actually answered. Obviously the man who employed me wasn’t an agent of Hel, why would she be after herself? I’m guessing one of the other gods was yet again using me to their own ends. The biggest question by far though was what she was doing here in the mortal realm? I gave her a moment to see if she’d volunteer any of her story but it seemed like she wasn’t going to be as forth coming as I’d have liked. I switched seats to be beside her so I didn’t have to yell my questions across the gap.
‘If it’s any consolation, I’m sorry I shot you.’ I said trying to put on my best remorseful looking face. She saw right through it though.
‘No, you’re not.’ She said staring out into the blurred landscape. I smiled.
‘You got me there.’ I said. ‘Probably would have done it again to be honest.’ We sat silently for a while, if not for her radiating aura it would have been awkward. Probably was a little for her but I was very comfortable in the silence. Cosy even. After a minute I tried the conversation again. ‘Thank you for not smiting me, I guess.’
She turned all her attention onto me. The slightly pink stained hair draping down over her right eye. I resisted the urge to sweep it back behind her ear. I was thankful though when she did it herself. ‘Couldn’t have if I wanted to, and believe me, I wanted to.’ Her eyes full of wishful thinking and regret. I looked back at her curiously.
‘What do you mean couldn’t? You’re one of the main death gods.’ I asked. It was a well established fact that a god’s power came from the belief of their worshipers, and no matter who you are you believe in death. You might not accept it but you sure as hel believe in it. The raw power this woman must have would be unfathomable. She shuffled uncomfortably in her seat.
‘My powers are…somewhat limited out here.’ She admitted quietly.
I studied her. This close I could feel the power bubbling under her skin, and despite her petite looks you could tell this was a woman who knew how to wield it. She fidgeted again and pretended to look out the window, but continued with her story at my insistence.
‘After I was cast down by the All Father, my power in Niefielheilm grew, so much so that I could rival his own strength and beyond. It was limited though. Once I left the realm of mists my powers vanished. Here on the mortal plain, I’m no more powerful than one of you.’ She scoffed at the thought. I reminded her that she still had the aura and the eyes but this just made her sulk even more. ‘Fancy tricks, nothing more. I can’t even heal this stupid wound. In my own world I could have torn you apart, strip by agonising strip while you looked on at yourself screaming in pain.’ She shook her head. ‘Don’t think I wont remember this later, by the way.’
I shuddered at the thought. I’d made enemies of more than a few gods that so far I had managed to avoid or escape, but how does one escape death herself? I could always become a warrior and die a hero’s death, waiting in the halls of Valhalla to fight in Ragnarok. Maybe I needed a new set of deities to align myself with, the Greeks and Norse were right out. Possibly the Shinto or Egyptian gods could offer some solace? I thought about it momentarily but dismissed the idea. The Egyptians were known for their disregard for mortals and the Shinto gods were too numerous to enter favourably with. Plus, knowing me I’d slip up and end up annoying someone I shouldn’t and I’d be back in the same mess again. I looked at the powerless goddess sitting next to me. Not much more powerful than some of the demigods I knew, less powerful in some cases. The question needed to be asked.
‘Why did you come here then, knowing you’d be stripped of your power? Did you really want to see Stonehenge that badly?’ I thought I saw the tiniest of smiles crack across the otherwise straight face of hers, but it might have just been the movement of the train. While I waited for her to answer we sat in silence. The rhythmic clacking of the speeding train filling the awkward void between us.
‘I’m looking for someone.’ She eventually said, turning to look at me. ‘Just as you were looking for me, I’m looking for someone who escaped from under my nose.’ She scowled at the thought. I was suddenly confused. I say suddenly but I’m always in some form of mild confusion one way or another, life just happens to be like that for me. This confusion stemmed from the fact that I was hired to find the woman who escaped from Hel, and now I find that it was Hel herself I was chasing. Who in turn was chasing the real escapee. My head hurt more than it usually did at this revelation.
‘If you’re chasing the real escapee, why am I chasing you then?’ It was mostly a rhetorical question as the answer came to me as I asked it. Obviously someone from the rest of the pantheon didn’t want Hel to find the missing escapee. A lover, family member, or enemy? Knowing how the gods were it could easily be all three. ‘Actually a more important question, who are you chasing?’ I asked.
‘Baldr, son of Woden.’ She said flatly. I whistled which caused her to look more annoyed than usual. Baldr. Odin’s son, loved by all, died by his brother’s hand when he speared him with mistletoe. To be fair, he was tricked into it by Loki but death is death and she claimed her prize. Not even the All Father, Odin, could get his son out of her realm. Although to Hel’s credit she did give him a chance, asking for literally everything in the world to weep for the loss of the golden boy and he would be returned. But once again Loki put a spanner in the works and ever since Baldr has sat beside her in the halls of the underworld.
‘How absolutely stupid of me!’ I suddenly exclaimed. I may have even slapped my forehead in my shock. ‘The white place setting was empty! How did I miss that one?’ They do say hindsight is twenty-twenty, mine needs glasses sometimes. Hel looked at me curiously. I explained myself.
‘I think I went to your hall a few days back, very nice by the way, I love all the black.’ She didn’t smile at the joke so I continued. ’Yeah, anyway, it was empty obviously because you were up here but I saw a pure white place setting that almost glowed. I didn’t even realise that someone, namely Baldr, was supposed to be there. Hel, I didn’t even realise that you were missing. Guess the whole being dead thing makes you stop thinking clearly.’ At least I hope it was the dying and that I wasn’t just losing my edge.
‘You were in my hall?’ She said, her eyes glowing slightly as her face slipped from curiosity to anger. I held up my hands in mock protest.
‘Hey, I didn’t want to be there, believe me! I’m lucky that thing came in and pulled me out otherwise we wouldn’t be having this lovely conversation.’ The glowing in her eyes grew brighter till all that remained was two illuminated red orbs staring at me. I could feel my heart beating faster and faster till I swear it was going to burst inside my chest. I struggled to breathe under the strain. She was pushing the limits of her reduced powers but it was enough.
‘Who pulled you out of my domain?’ She growled in that deep, otherworldly tone. Her voice echoed and bounced painfully around my head. ‘Nobody enters or leaves my world without my permission. Speak mortal. Condemn yourself further and I may show mercy.’ I gripped my pounding chest as I struggled to pull air into my lungs. I looked up, her face was a blaze of red, her eyes lost deep beneath the glow.
‘I…I don’t know.’ I wheezed. ‘It was, some sort of black creature. Grabbed me and flew up out of there. Left claw marks on my back.’ My breath was coming in gasps as I fell off the seat. I reached a stray hand out to her and my head collapsed into her lap. I’m not quite sure what happened but suddenly I could breath again and my heart stopped trying to leave via my rib cage. As my head cleared I was overcome with a sudden feeling of déjà vu. I coughed and heaved as I struggled to my knees. I lent on the goddess for support, forgetting who she was for a moment and resting my head in her lap. I felt her go tense and I suddenly remembered where I was and whom I was resting on. I made my winded apologies and pulled myself up onto the opposite seat.
‘Look, I’m sorry for entering and leaving your domain without your express written permission or whatever.’ I managed to spit out after a few moments. While I often practised arrogance and stupidity when dealing with the gods I thought it best to go the pious route with the possible ruler of my future. ‘I honestly didn’t do it on purpose.’ Which is true, the longer I could avoid being in her domain the happier I was going to be. Relatively speaking of course. She seemed to have calmed down slightly, her eyes were still red but they weren’t glowing which I took to be a good sign. I rubbed my chest absently trying to relax the strained muscles of my heart. ‘Look,’ I said after a while. ‘Something is obviously going on here. Baldr escapes from you, which shouldn’t have been able to happen, clearly. Then you go off to look for him and I’m sent on your trail to stop you. I’m thinking we’ve both been set-up to take a huge fall.’
She looked at me. Any anger had slipped from her face and it was back to the standard goddess look of indifference I was accustomed to. I guess it was hard to be shocked when you were all powerful. For a moment I saw her for the woman she was sitting across from me. Her hair slightly messed from the journey, her black lipstick still perfect despite everything. I must have been staring for too long as she looked away suddenly. I coughed awkwardly like a school boy who got caught eyeing the teacher in class.
London was soon approaching and I was getting the feeling that brining her back to the hotel might not be the best idea in the world any more. I swore under my breath. I was going to ditch yet another well paid gig to help someone out, wasn’t I? I sated my mind’s love of money by offering it the eternal gratitude of the goddess of death. I still would have preferred the money but I figured that I’d most likely be cashing in her favour sooner rather than later anyway.
‘Ok.’ I said, leaning forward, trying not to get distracted by the mixed feelings of fear, strange lust, and pain swirling around my head. ‘The plan was to take you back to the hotel and hand you over to whomever hired me, wash my hands and be done with the whole thing.’ She looked at me curiously. ‘That was before I knew who you were though. Now that’s all cleared up I’ve decided to fire my client.’
She looked at me. Her face unreadable. ‘That’s a good thing.’ I prompted. Still she looked blankly at me. I let out a slightly frustrated sigh. Sometimes you needed to spell things out for gods. ‘You’re going to be my new client. I’ll help you find your missing Baldr, you two go back to your realm all is well again and you reward my kind nature however you wish.’ I smiled at the last part, hoping she’d pick up on the subtly. Again we sat silently looking at each other across the carriage. ‘Well?’ I prompted after it became obvious she wasn’t going to respond.
‘Well what?’ She asked, genuinely confused. I threw up my hands and lent back into the seat.
‘You gods will be the death of me.’ I looked at the black clad woman. ‘Literally. Just say yes and we’ll get off this train and find somewhere safe to hide out while I start helping you look for your boy.’
‘…Yes.’ she said eventually after eyeing me suspiciously.
‘About time.’ I said getting up. ‘Come on, the train stops up ahead. We can get off there before we hit London proper.’ I grabbed her hand and lead her down the carriage. Leading around the goddess of death like a lost sheep was a new one for the books. I lead her to the door just as the train was slowing down to enter the station. I gently pushed her in front of me as the doors slid open and she stepped onto the platform. I followed close behind, taking a quick look around the platform. No cops or men in black waiting for us, should be ok. The station was mostly empty after the train departed behind us, bound for London. Once again taking her hand we made our way through the small platform and out into the town.
Header image by Aleksey Ihnatov from Pixabay.