Spring was in the air on a late spring afternoon as Melody strolled down the sidewalk after school on her way to her friend’s house. The raven-haired thirteen-year-old bounced with excitement at the thought of the afternoon. Brigida, a twenty-seven-year-old woman, had promised to take Melody up into her attic if she agreed to help clean it.
Most teens wouldn’t get excited at an offer like this, however, these offers didn’t usually come from mystical figures. Brigida was a modern-day Valkyrie. She’d ride out on her silver motorcycle in a white leather jacket and a matching helmet to collect the souls of people who she deemed had died honorable deaths. She’d bring them to her home where she’d help them move on into the afterlife.
Melody thought Brigida was the coolest, especially since the older woman had taken the teen under her wing and began teaching her about magic. Thus, the idea of ogling all of the strange treasures that might lurk in the attic intrigued Melody, and so she agreed without much cajoling from Brigida.
When Melody arrived, Brigida wasn’t home. That didn’t stop Melody from letting herself in. Having been meeting for several months, the teen understood that the older woman was off working and would be home soon. In the meantime, Melody headed to the kitchen to grab a snack. She avoided the valkyrie’s packs of dried seaweed because no matter how much the woman insisted, melody refused to grow accustomed to the taste of seawater. She made herself a sandwich, poured a glass of lemonade, and then went and sat on the front steps of the old house. As she ate, she tossed some bits of bread to a few of the ravens that liked to hang out around the house. They cawed gratefully at her before flying back to the tree.
Soon enough, the roar of Brigida’s motorcycle echoed down the road before the woman pulled into her garage with an older woman riding on the back. The garage door rolled shut and Melody waited outside until Brigida came to get her. Even after so many months of being around the woman, she still wasn’t comfortable with seeing or talking to the souls of the dead. She preferred to stay out of the house until things had been taken care of.
After a few minutes, Brigida came out onto the steps and ruffled the teen’s hair before sitting down with her own meal. “Heya, kiddo. How was school?”
Melody told Brigida about the surprise math test and how she was sure she failed, how she has to write a book report on a story of her choosing, and how her new friends were doing. Brigida listened intently as she ate. When the girl had finished her story, Brigida rose to her feet and dusted herself off.
“All right, let’s get started.” Brigida lead inside and up the stairs, tying her blonde hair up into a ponytail with a teal hairband as she did. Melody hurried after her, bubbling with excitement.
When they reached the top of the final set of stairs, the room was pitch black until Brigida flipped a light switch and a few hanging bulbs illuminated the large room with angled ceilings. Melody let out a long whistle as she studied the attic. Dust drifted through the air and cobwebs hung from the ceiling, dangling down onto rows of boxes, old furniture, and paintings.
Brigida grimaced. “Yikes, it’s worse than I thought.”
Melody’s eyes took in all of the chaos as they adjusted to the dim light. It looked like the place hadn’t been touched in years. “When was the last time you were up here?”
Brigida worked her way across the room to a shuttered octagonal window. “It’s been a few years,” she grunted as she pulled the window open, letting in more light and some much needed fresh air.
Melody spotted a similar window on the opposite end of the room and wove through the stacks of forgotten items to open it. “How many years is a few?” She asked. With a grunt, she managed to pry her window open and look out over the front yard and the rest of the neighborhood. Upon spotting her, one of the ravens flew up and perched in the opening. She stroked the bird’s chest as she took in the room once more.
Boxes and trunks lay scattered across the room. Some were more recent and made of cardboard, others were much older, as evidence by their wooden composition and the detailed carvings on them. Some sat in stacks on the floor and reached up to the ceiling. Others rested on pieces of furniture.
Near the stairwell where they came up, sat a large wooden table. Stacks and stacks of papers and books were perched precariously on the table. They wobbled with each slight gust of wind.
Brigida made her way back to the table, scratching her head. “At least five years.” Her arms shot out to catch one of the stacks before it fell over. “Probably more.” She proceeded to clear off a spot on the bench that ran along one of the longer edges of the table.
“Let’s start here,” Brigida said, indicating the table. Melody joined her on the bench and began sorting through the papers and books.
Melody skimmed over the first few pages. “What are all of these?”
Focused on the task of sorting the papers into a few different piles, Brigida didn’t look up as she responded. “They’re logs of the people my family has helped move on.” She held up a paper that had a photo of the woman she’d arrived with earlier. “Most of the individual papers are from me because I’m really bad about coming up here and putting it all in a book. We’re going to sort the papers by date so I can bind them into a book.”
“And the books?”
With care, Brigida pulled a book out from beneath a stack of papers. “This one is my mother’s.” She set it in her lap and then leaned over to point across the table at another book. “And that one is my grandmother’s. Each book belongs to one of my ancestors going back all the way to Freya.”
Melody lifted one of the books with care and flipped through a few of the yellowed pages. Unlike the newer papers that had all been printed from a computer, the older books were handwritten and had sketches of all of the people the valkyrie had helped. She also noted that no matter how many pages she turned, the end of the book didn’t get any closer, making it an infinitely large volume of souls who’d moved on to the next life.
Realizing that she’d never reach the end, Melody closed the book with care and set it to the side. “Why keep all of this information?” There was so much information in a single book that no person could ever feasibly read through all of it.
“So they aren’t forgotten. As closely as we walk the line between life and death, we still don’t know a lot about what happens after life. We know there is a place for people to go. Even the beings that talk back to us don’t have a full grasp of what is going on there. So, we do our best to keep their memories alive to ensure a long and happy afterlife.”
“I thought you said that the dead can’t talk once they move on.”
Brigida shrugged. “Most can’t. Only really powerful beings can talk back, like Hestia. I talked to her a lot, but then one day she was just gone.” Brigida sighed and her face scrunched up. “I was informed she’d moved on by a black panther.”
“Moved on to where?”
“No idea. Believe me, I’ve asked.”
The pair continued to work for a while, slowly but surely sorting through all of the papers. After sorting through dozens and dozens of papers, Melody was quickly becoming bored with the paper sorting extravaganza. Her eyes kept drifting to the boxes and boxes that filled the room, each undoubtedly holding all kinds of cool and mystical artifacts
“You really need to do this more often.”
Brigida recoiled from the comment and swung around to face her young companion. “Hey, we all have our dislikes. Personally, I hate clerical work and avoid it as much as possible. Kind of like how you hate math. Don’t harp on me for my dislikes and I won’t harp on you for yours, thank you very much.”
Before anything more could be said, Brigida’s eyes drifted to her bracelet, which had begun to glow. The piece of jewelry had several moonstones mounted into silver. Each stone had a different Viking rune on it that would occasionally glow. While Brigida had yet to give Melody a full explanation, the younger girl knew that the bracelet was how the valkyrie knew when and where to go to collect someone.
Brigida set the papers on her lap down. “I need to take off for a bit.”
“Okay.” This didn’t bother Melody. She’d gotten used to Brigida taking off at random times. Likewise, Brigida had gotten used to leaving the teen alone in her house. She knew the girl wouldn’t do anything to cause trouble, but she still worried from time to time. Some of the objects in her house weren’t exactly safe. Case and point her armory of family weapons in the garage. That was just the house. The attic held all sorts of things, many of which were better left alone.
Brigida rose from her seat and started to head down the stairs, but stopped on the top step. “Not that I don’t trust you, but be careful up here, okay? Don’t touch anything that looks dangerous. Especially that spear.” She pointed to a golden spear hanging from the rafters.
Melody looked at the spear with a frown. It did look pretty cool. “You’re no fun.” She said with a pout, turning to meet the woman’s blue gaze.
“I’m serious, some of the stuff up here is really dangerous. Don’t touch anything that has runes on it, okay? Those usually have spells to keep people out.”
Melody picked up on the seriousness in the usually lighthearted woman’s voice and the almost zealous nature of the request. This was not a warning she should ignore and as such, she nodded dutifully.
“I’ll be back as fast as I can.”
“I’ll be here, doing your clerical work.” She stuck her tongue out for added measure, a move that the older woman mirrored before departing with a smile. The roar of her bike engine racing away down the road entered through the window a minute or so later.
Wanting a break from sitting and sorting through the papers Melody rose and strolled through the aisles of boxes. Unfortunately for her curiosity, most everything she saw did have Viking runes on it, so she had to steer clear of the objects.
She did stumble on what appeared to be a cloth-covered chair. Curious, she pulled away the cover to reveal a stunning, wooden chair with intricate carvings that looked like nothing she’d ever seen before. It obviously hadn’t come from a store or any place that mass-produced things. No, that chair had been hand-carved, and given what Melody knew of Brigida’s heritage, she guessed it was very, very old.
In the seat of the chair resided a plain white shoebox tied up with some twine. Unlike the other boxes in the room, there were no runes to be seen, so Melody decided to take a peek. She picked up the box, sat in the chair, and held her new find on her lap.
She loosened the knot keeping twine together and removed it from the box. With care, she lifted off the lid and discovered several photographs of a slightly younger Brigida and a man she didn’t know. In the topmost picture, the man stood on the edge of a cliff overlooking a sunlit sea. His light brown hair blew in the wind as he tried to keep his red ball cap on his head with one hand. Meanwhile, his other arm reached out for the camera as his brown eyes sparkled with mirth.
Wanting to know more, Melody pulled out another picture to study. The pictures that captured her attention the most were the ones of just him as he looked into the camera, or Melody guessed, the person behind the camera. She could only assume it was Brigida taking those photos, and in all of them, the man’s face held immeasurable amounts of love. Each of the single shots of him held her attention for a long time.
She recognized him, there was a picture of him and Brigida downstairs, but Brigida had never said anything about him. Melody had always been too shy to ask about him, but now she felt differently. There was something there between the two. When they were both in the pictures, most of the time they were looking at each other and not the camera. Melody couldn’t find a single photo where one wasn’t gazing at the other.
“What happened to them?” Melody asked herself.
A raven cawed in the open window, answering her question in a language she didn’t understand. Perhaps that was the most infuriating part. Melody knew that the ravens could talk. She’d seen Brigida have full-fledged conversations with them.
“Did they break up?” She asked, hoping that she’d be able to magically understand the raven.
It responded, but as usual, she didn’t understand it. Before she could try again, she heard Brigida’s motorcycle returning. Melody’s mind raced as she tried to determine what to do. Her first instinct was to close the box and say nothing about it, but she knew that was the wrong thing to do. Plus there was the fact that the raven would probably tell Brigida anyway. Besides, she didn’t want to lie to the valkyrie. She liked the fact that they could talk about things so openly. Brigida had even mentioned that she enjoyed having someone to talk to about work. Shew hadn’t been able to do that in a long time.
So, Melody decided to be upfront about it and just ask her. A few minutes later, Brigida came up the stairs with a new piece of paper. She set it on the table in one of the stacks they’d been working on.
She hadn’t even sat down when Melody mustered up the courage to ask her question. “Who is this?” She stood and held up one of the pictures for Brigida to see. “You have a picture of him downstairs too.”
The woman stiffened at the sight of the box and didn’t move. She didn’t even blink. She’d stashed it up in the attic what felt like a lifetime ago.
Melody suddenly got the feeling that even though she managed to find a box without any runes on it, she’d managed to find the most dangerous thing in the room. She hadn’t factored in the simple idea that Brigida didn’t want her snooping through her personal belongings. She should have closed the box the minute she saw the contents. She knew in her heart that this was a watershed moment for their relationship. Finding the box and snooping through it would change everything.
She didn’t want things to change and immediately began to try and fix whatever it was she’d broken. “Brigida, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
Brigida gained the remorseful girl's attention by clearing her throat. “It’s all right, Melody. I’m not mad, it’s just, I haven’t thought about Owen in a long time.”
Melody wanted to ask what happened to him since he clearly wasn’t around anymore, but she could tell that her friend was hurting. The teen got the impression that whatever happened, hadn’t been good and she didn’t want to cause any more pain, so she returned the picture to its resting place and handed the shoebox over.
Silence reigned over the pair. Melody held her hands behind her back, trying to figure out what to say. She wanted to apologize more for snooping despite Brigida saying it was fine. Brigida was lost in thought, staring blankly at the shoebox in her hands.
Her shoulders slumped as she sniffled, and Melody began to panic. She hadn’t meant to mess up this bad. When Brigida looked up with tears in her eyes, the teen was at a loss as to what she should do.
Words of regret poured from Melody’s mouth as she tried to repair the friendship she feared she’d ruined forever, her own voice beginning to shake. “Brigida, I’m so, so sorry. I shouldn’t have looked in the box. I should have just stayed at the table and kept working instead of stooping around.
The next thing she knew, the box was on the floor and she was wrapped in the woman’s warm embrace. Brigida stroked the girl's hair as she tried to soothe her. “No, no. I just, I haven’t talked about him in a long time,” she pulled away from the girl and the two met each other’s gazes through tear-stained eyes. Brigida smiled at Melody, who slowly reciprocated. “And the thing is… I really want to talk about him, if you’ll listen.”
Melody nodded silently as she wiped at her eyes. Brigida’s smile grew, and together the two went downstairs where they sat on the couch and Melody learned all about Owen.