I tried not to dwell too much on the unceremonious dumping I just received. I was a fool to think that the gods would be anything but pompous, arrogant, and self serving. They were done with me and what I could offer them so it’s a ‘thank you very much, and here’s the door.’ Without the thank you. I internalised the frustration and headed automatically for the half finished bottle of whiskey next to my bed, half noticing the pile of unopened mail that had built up behind the door in my absence. I could tell from a distance they were mostly bills and collection notices. Nothing that couldn’t wait a few more weeks.
Taking up the bottle and a spare glass I opened up the large window overlooking the fire escape and climbed out onto it. The sounds and smell of the city hit me full on. I didn’t realise how much I had missed this place, that strangely comforting feeling that deep down I was a part of this city and it was a part of me. I settled in and toasted to the dark alleys, crowded streets and dirty sky. The people I owe money to and the goons who would inevitably come knocking at my door to collect. The clients who always flaked, and the cheques that never cleared. Gods how I hated this city, and myself.
After knocking back a more than a few glasses I could begin appreciate the intricate nature of the case without resenting it too much. The setup by Loki, tricking his own daughter into thinking Baldr had escaped. I still wasn’t even sure how he did that but I could guess that it wasn’t an easy task, some powerful trickster magic no doubt. Credit where credit was due I guess. In retrospect I should have known that the cultist who hired me wasn’t who he said he was, but my common sense goes out the window when you wave a fat cheque and expense account under my nose. And that’s the problem really.
I sighed as my multitude of problems presented themselves to me. It all starts with money; the lack of, need of, want of, and loss of. It all goes downhill from there really. The depressive thoughts indicated that the alcohol had started to cloud my head a lot quicker than it usually did. In fact, I realised too late that I might actually be quite drunk. It was a very rare occasion when I could be called ‘drunk’. High functioning alcoholic, yes. Frequently not so high functioning but never room spinning, fall down drunk. I put the glass next to me and focused on the sensation. My body had felt a little different since I came back from Hel the second time, but I didn’t have the time to study it. Sitting out on the fire escape I began to notice all my longtime aches and pains, or more accurately, the lack of.
It could have been the effects of the whiskey but my right shoulder no longer hurt where I took a bullet two years ago. The dull ache that was constantly in my lower back was gone and my kneecaps no longer felt like they were going to slide ten feet to the side when I stood on them. I would have said it was a side effect of coming back from the underworld but I didn’t feel this good the first time it happened. The booze effected my mind more than I thought, the answer was obviously really; Baldr’s healing touch. That happy bastard had completely healed me, made me a new man. If I looked after myself from here on out, eating right, exercising, avoiding booze and cigars I’d probably live an extra twenty or thirty years.
‘Bastard.’ I said out-loud, taking a sip from the glass beside me.
Years of planning down the drain. A man can’t even drink himself into an early grave in this world anymore without the gods intervening. I thought I had an acceptable out. A way through the misery and constant struggle, it was something to look forward to, a goal. I didn’t mean it really, not literally at least. I knew I was destroying my body but it had become habit, something that I would just shrug at and say ‘oh well, what can you do?’ and move on. Now I had to make a conscious choice, keep my old habits and destroy this perfectly healthy body or turn a new leaf, start fresh and embrace life. Coupled with the several death experiences I had encountered this case it made me feel guilty for even contemplating going back to my self destroying ways.
So far this case has given me: a healthy body and the associated guilt that comes with it; the wrath of Loki, and a possible boon of the queen of the underworld. Reflecting back, I’ve had worse results from a job but none so complex. At least I did get a down payment at the beginning, that said I used most of it on expenses and the rest was safely in my luggage…in that rental car I ditched. I exhaled sharply before standing up. The whiskey had given me a slight wobble as I tried to navigate my way through the window and back inside. I left the bottle behind and headed for my bed. It was time to sleep in some time zone I had recently been in and I was suddenly struck with exhaustion. As I collapsed fully clothed on the old single bed, I hoped that the morning would bring me something, anything. I needed to have something to look forward to at least. Sleep dug its claws in deep and soon I was swimming in the blackness of dream, hazy from the newfound drunkenness.
I couldn’t tell how long I’d been asleep, it certainly wasn’t as much as I had wanted. My head and body ached and I felt horrible. Surely this wasn’t a hangover? I moaned quietly as I rolled over covering my eyes from the seeping light. If I ever saw that Baldr again I’d certainly give him a piece of my mind, what right does he have subjecting me to a body that gets hangovers. None. Bastard I both thought and mumbled. My voice feeling strange and horse to my sore and tired ears.
‘Bastard.’ I said louder as I opened my eyes to the dull but harsh light.
My bed had moved slightly during my brief sleep. In fact, it had moved worlds and changed significantly. The pathetic standard issue bachelor sleeping apparatus had been swapped for an excessively large black wooden model. It dripped in black from the pure silk sheets to the polished headboard. In the semi awake state I was in it took a while to adjust. It felt too real to be a dream but too bizarre to be reality. As my eyes adjusted to being open I took notice of the room. My apartment was no longer around me instead I found myself in a room just as, if not bigger than my entire apartment. The continuing black decor and dull orange lighting on the wall caused me to groan out loud. I hoped this was a social call and that I hadn’t given myself alcohol poisoning by accident.
I slid out of the incredibly perfect sheets to find myself naked. This could either be really good or very bad, I thought to myself as I hunted around for my clothes. Luckily there was a brand new suit waiting on the chair in the corner, the room’s only other piece of furniture. I dressed and found myself entirely black from head to toe. The matt black, skull cufflinks were a nice touch as was the new fedora and slim black tie. I felt like a Rockafella dressed like this but I wasn’t one to look a gift suit in the mouth.
I loosened the tie and left the top button undone before slinging the jacket over my shoulder and headed out the door. The dark decor started to play havoc with my eyes as all the walls blended together and only the slightly different shades of black showed me where the doors were located down the long corridor. When lost I always go straight ahead, I figure I’ll get somewhere if not where I need to go then where I need to be. Admiring the odd grey scale paintings that dotted the corridors I eventually found myself in front of a rather mediocre door.
I turned the black metal handle and pushed it open with ease. The hall I entered was full of noise as hundreds of people sat around long bench tables eating and drinking merrily. They yelled and called for more mead as black cloaked servers rushed to fill their plates and cups. I smiled at the chaos. Now this was living. I orientated myself and realised I was at the rear of Hel’s impressive hall of the dead. The throne was imposingly to my right where she sat watching over her people and domain. I walked casually towards her, deftly avoiding running into the rushed waitstaff.
I noticed the white glow of Baldr quickly as he juxtaposed the rest of the hall brilliantly. His back was facing me as he sat smiling and talking merrily with the other souls at his table. The faint sound of his voice and laughter rose up above the heavy sounds of the room. I couldn’t help but smile at him. He was still a bastard though. As I neared Hel she turned her head slightly and acknowledged me with a regal nod. A second look to a near by server brought a rush of activity as they brought out and prepared a seat next to her. It wasn’t a throne of black skulls but it was the next best thing.
She offered me the seat with a silent wave and I bowed humbly, accepting. Instantly I was offered plates of steaming hot food and a horn brimming over with the sweetest mead I had ever smelt. I looked up at Hel and she smiled and nodded. I hungrily grabbed what I hoped was a large chicken leg and a bowl of stew. A small table was placed in front of me and I ate and drank with the rest of the dead. Hel leaned down and spoke as I inhaled the succulent roast chicken and washed it back with the elixir of the gods.
‘I wanted to thank you properly for your help, James.’ She said, her voice deep and rough but still with an air of femininity. Looking up at her I could now see the pure power she wielded. Up in the mortal realm she was a pale impression of this solid, imposing goddess. Her perfect black and white hair swept down her ash white skin highlighting a pair of sensuous and deadly black lips. She had a permanent red glow about her eyes that made me both want and fear her. I was suddenly aware of how I must look, chicken leg in my mouth and mead horn in my hand.
I put the drink and food down and looked for somewhere to clean my hands. Without even asking a server appeared with a hand wash and towel. Never let it be said that the Norse were without manners. I cleaned myself up and said thank you as they wandered off as quickly as they had appeared. I turned to Hel slightly bemused by the unexpected touch of high class she entertained. I smiled and told her the pleasure was all mine.
‘You are a special man, James Carol.’ She said looking out over the crowd of feasters. ‘All these souls have at some point proven themselves as heroes or better. Not everyone who comes here is week and feeble, you know. Just because these mortals didn’t die on the battle grounds doesn’t make them any less worthy of my respect. Odin has his own agenda, his war he prepares for. His army is made of dead warriors, while mine is made of the wisest minds and strongest hearts.’ She looked proud of her collection of Odin’s rejects. I didn’t have the heart to argue that they couldn’t all be that good but while I wasn’t humanity’s favourite champion it wasn’t in me to hate for the sake of it.
‘I brought you here to show you what awaits, when you finally leave.’ She continued. ‘You’ll dine in my hall every night, never wanting. You will be royalty in Hel, James. This is how I will repay you.’ She smiled and my heart couldn’t help but skip a beat.
‘Firstly, my queen.’ I was unsure on how to address her in this domain but played it safe, it seemed to be the right choice. ‘I am humbled by your offer and feel unworthy of your attentions. It will be an honour to spend an eternal afterlife in your presence. For that I thank you.’ She seemed pleased, her dark, black lips curving into a smile that radiated across her face.
‘Secondly, I wanted to thank the god Baldr for his contribution. This healed body of mine is more than I could ask for. It only saddens me that it means I may take a little longer to get back here, if I’m lucky. No offence.’ I bowed and she nodded, understanding.
‘Baldr is a wonderful soul and is one of the reasons why I have learnt to embrace all who come through my realm. My father has a lot to answer for but I am glad he sent Odin’s son to me. And in another way I’m glad he sent you to me as well.’ I recognised the look in her bright eyes and instantly knew the real reason she brought me to the underworld.
so much as a nod from their queen, a server came and cleared my table. Hel rose slowly from her throne and I saw for the first time that she was wearing a matching black suit, complete with tie. I must have been staring because she struck a small pose, hand on her hip and she gave me a rough look. ‘You’re not the only one who can make a suit look good, James.’
No one even looked up as she walked past me and we headed back towards the way I had come. I was still a little unsure on what exactly was going on, it’s not every lifetime you get propositioned by a goddess, twice. She paused at the doorway and threw me a come hither look. Now, that I understood. I got up and followed her as she disappeared down the long dark corridor, blending almost perfectly with the darkness within. The mead had given me a slightly heady mind, but nothing like the whiskey I had earlier. I felt free and light, almost happy. Death does crazy things to us all.
As I entered the bedchamber I was suddenly thrown against the wall and Hel’s lips were locked in mine. I struggled involuntary for a second before giving in. She ran her hands over my body; even through the dress shirt I could feel the coolness of her touch. I slid off her jacket and grabbed the back of her head as we kissed, pushing her into me. We moved away from the wall slightly and she slammed me back in place. The pain from my head hitting the wall quickly melted into the pleasure of her lips. Her hands grabbed at my clothes, pulling at them in frustration. She threw my jacket away and ripped my shirt out from my trousers. I liked this powerful Hel.
As she started biting at my neck I could hear her small growls of delight as she sunk her teeth into my soft flesh. I gave in when she began kissing my ear, nibbling playfully with the occasional bite to remind me who was in charge. Before passion over took my rational mind I had to ask her a question. Breathlessly I spoke. ‘Hey, did you kill me again?’ I could feel her soft lips on my neck as she smiled devilishly.
‘Little bit.’ She said, her lips curled into a beautiful, yet evil grin. Before I had a chance to respond I was being thrown effortlessly across the room. I landed hard on the bed, silently thanking the gods that I was already dead and hopefully couldn’t suffer any hugely debilitating injuries. Hopefully. She stalked at me from across the room, shedding her business attire along the way. I started to pull at my own clothing but she stretched out and put a foot on my chest.
‘Leave the tie on.’ She said as her eyes glowed with the fire and passion of a hungry god. I swallowed hard and managed a smile.
‘Yes m’amm.’ It was the last thing I said that night before I awoke in my own bed, alive and exhausted, but content. I take it all back. Having a boon from the goddess was worth more than money could ever buy.
Header image by Aleksey Ihnatov from Pixabay.