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It was a cold and desperate night. A night for chilled and desperate people. A frigid November wind gusted in and out of the corners of Division St. Lampposts swayed as the wind's savage claws raked them. Their dim artificial light swept down upon the cars churning up grey brown slush in the roads and also upon the occasional haphazard pedestrian. One in particular head couched low against the wind, and hands in her pockets, oblivious to the man that followed her.
The moon hung bright and gibbous in the clear night sky. Stars winked chilly down upon the Earth. Their gaze was unmarred but for the occasional wan and emaciated cloud, which was chased hurriedly away by the anger of the moon and the spite of the stars. The cold light of the firmament echoed that of the lowly buzzing street lamps and the only illumination with any warmth in it on this night was that which came out of the squalid apartment windows all along Division street.
High up on the fourth floor of one of those old apartments Tameka Walsh's lights were off. Anton had finally dropped off to sleep in his crib a few minutes ago and Tameka had shut off the brazen lights to give her eyes a rest from the pounding headache that throbbed behind them. She sat crooked in the corner of her worn couch rubbing her temples. The sound of a police siren rushing by outside brought a renewed sting to her head. She fumbled at the end table for her purse and the little bottle of aspirin which had sadly become a constant acoutrement to it's contents. After fumbling for a moment she felt the plastic of the container chilly in her hand and she withdrew it. There was a fumbling sound in the dark, a muted pop, and a loud, "Shit!," as the sound of pills being dropped found it's way into the scene. Another curse began to form in the quiet of the apartment, but Tameka remembered that she musn't wake Anton or his bawling would send this headache into new heights of agony.
Tameka tried to lean back and put her feet up on the coffee table. There was a hollow rattle and the sound of a small amount of liquid splashing. 'Fuck,' thought Tameka, 'I've told Charlotte a hundred times about leaving half filled soda cans on the coffee table.' It was no matter. Despite her babysitter's perpetual littering yet another stain would make no difference to this 1960 russet and yellow threaded shag carpet. Tameka had figured the last tenant to have owned a lot of cats or something and at first she'd tried to get all the marks out but nothing had worked. In the end she resigned herself to the affordable rent and marked it up on the ever deepening backtally of life. She hoped her check would clear in time to make sure she could pay Charlotte on time this week.
Life had not been what most would consider kind to Tameka. Childhood had been rough in a rough neighborhood with an impoverished family and too many mouths to feed. Mother had died only two years after she'd run off to live with James, and James had run off only two weeks after Tameka had told him she was pregnant. All she had left in this life beyond a handful of siblings she didn't really like was Anton, her baby. He was the sole thing that made it all worth fighting for. She'd worked tirelessly for months to get a job that would support them both and when she got it she'd held it. Her budget had been cut to the brink so she could keep Anton by herself and keep him healthy.
Tameka sat up slowly, lowered her eyelids, and turned on a light. She squinted behind closed eyes at the stab of the sudden glow. Waiting a moment for the throb to ebb she looked about noting the white dots here and there which marked the aspirin she had spilled. One of them was already partially dissolving in the puddle of spilled soda which was steadily joining the malaise of stains in the carpet. Tameka sighed, and placing a hand on her head made her way to the kitchen for some paper towels.
She froze. What the hell was that scratching sound by her door? She hadn't seen a rat in the building for months. She'd thrown so much hell at the super about it that he'd been forced to call an exterminator. She god damned well wouldn't have rats near Anton. But there was that sound again. A scratching. A low metallic scratching.
Tameka hazarded a few steps closer to the door and bent down. The beam of the hall light shown like razor line under her door, broken in two places, two shadows, two feet standing outside her door. 'Oh God!,' thought Tameka, 'someone's trying to get in!' The scratching grew slightly more earnest now as whomever was trying to get in feared that the occupant of the apartment might already know of their intent. Tameka had no phone; she coulnd't afford one. So those bright blue and red lights that pulled you over for traffic violations would not be speeding to her rescue anytime soon.
"Oh no you ain't gonna get us," whispered Tameka determinedly as she dashed fleetly and quietly into the kitchen division of the small apartment. As she ran, she raised her voice high, "Hello police," she said loudly into the air, "Yes I think there's someone trying to break into my apartment.," She grabbed a seven inch carving knife and a rolling pin out of one of the drawers. "You'll be here in minutes?Good!" Running back out of the kitchen now, her head sending out lances of pain. Quickly, quietly. The doorknob rattled now, the intruder was not leaving, and the proclamation into the air had given whoever it was added impetus to their task. Tameka dashed into Anton's room just as the door began to lurch open.
Tameka heard the catch to the heroic door chain making it's last desperate attempt to keep the invader out. There was a sharp cracking sound followed by a thump as the door chain was pulled out by the intruder's blow and the door whanged hard against the doorjam. Footsteps on carpeting; someone was inside. Tameka crouched low in Anton's room behind the door. Whoever the hell this was could take what they liked, but if they came near this lioness's cub they would sleep in Hel tonight.
Anton's door was open a few inches. Miraculously he was still asleep. Tameka glued her eyes to the mere slit of vision at the jointed end of the door. She saw him from the side as he turned to face her room at the other end of the living room. She saw the mottled gun held tight in his quavering hand. His filthy brown sweatshirt had it's hood pulled up and his face was hidden from view. With a quick but unsteady movement, the invader opened her bedroom door and fumbled for the lightswitch. Tameka's thoughts raced though her throbbing head, given enhanced speed by the adrenaline now courseing though her. Could she run out the door? Now, while his back was turned? No, Anton would be defenseless. Could she grab him too and make it? Yes!... maybe.. No, quickly, quickly. But then the invader turned, his gun swiveling to cover the doorway to Anton's room. With uncertain steps he started foreward.
Tameka's hands clenched; the knife in her left, the rolling pin in her right. The door right in front of her. She stepped back.
"Bitch I know you're in here." came a hoarse cracked voice from the living room, "just give me your fucking stash and I'll go away."
'Stash?!' but Tameka was clean, she had to be for Anton; always would be for Anton.
Paces, coming nearer, a tap on the door in fron of her. The gun? The door began to slowly swing open into Anton's darked room. A quarter open,.. half open... three quarters... Dim light from the living room invaded the sactuary. The plaintant eyes of a menagerie of stuffed animals gazed in horror at the intruder. It was wrong. It was not to be. And the Lioness knew it.
"Rrrrrrraaaah!," Tameka slammed herself into the opening door, feeling resistance as she hit the body behind it. There was a shout of surprise and the sound of staggering footsteps as Tameka slid out low from behind the door. The intruder was stepping back, reeling almost drunkenly, his pistol wavering wildy and unpredictably in front of her.
A sound rose from Tameka's throat. It was not a scream, not a shout, not a yelp. Something deep, primal, a Warcry, and at the utterance of that sound, all that is unseen took notice. Tameka rushed furiously forward with the primordial bellow of her intent still echoing on the air. There was no hesitation, no fear, only purpose. Then there was thunder. A crack.., close range..., muzzle flash..., a burning acrid smell. Tameka felt like she had been punched in the chest with a wrecking ball. Her advance was halted as the barrel of the gun jolted upward, smoking. Her inertia had been reversed. Her whole torso was being forced back by the inexorable laws of physics, but in contrary to those laws, the force that should have knocked her back and off her feet was inexplicably halted. Tameka, had she been able to fully register the thought, had felt hands on her back, arresting her movement, warm hands, keeping her up, on her feet, able to act.
Anton's frightened scream pierced the air as Tameka's rolling pin arced around her right side catching her attacker full in the face, teeth and blood sprayed as the force of the blow moved him to the left, his back now facing the fourth floor windows. His gun was coming up to bear from the darting chaos of his flailing arms. She slammed into his front, the smell of long unwashed clothes. Her knife rose up from her waist and buried itself in his armpit. A red moistness warmed her left hand and slickened her grip on the knife. Tameka's eyes were fire, her mind was a razor. Her thoughts were blank save for a single undeniable maternal imperative, 'Protect her son.'
The attacker's feet were backpedalling. Tameka's were staggering foreward all the while closer and closer to the cold windows. The gun barked twice more and Tameka felt a burning sensation creeping out from her stomach and a weakening feeling from her chest. Her imperative continued unabated. The knife was embedded and doing it's work. The rolling pin flailed at her right side and she found she did not have strength enough in her arm to raise it. It was all she could do to keep staggering forward, pushing the intruder back. Back toward the windows. She couldn't breathe. Her vision was becoming splotchy and blurry as she pushed. She managed to take stock of where her head was positioned in this frantic running tackle. Her teeth bit into the invader's dirty throat and her soul gorged on purpose.
There was a crash, a thump, a halt, and a gurgling scream fading away into the cold rushing wind. It ended with a loud banging crunch from below. Tameka's vision went completely blurry and then faded into a hazy black light. She didn't remember what happened next.
Sirens. Anton crying. Footsteps, many many footsteps. The chirp of radios. The flash of cameras. Strange people. White people. Voices... many many voices
"...ot three times..." "...ike a tiger..." "...e's safe..." "...ead down below..." "...ext of kin..." "...et her out of here..." "...ocial worker..." "...ept him safe..." "You got him lady... You got him..."
Tameka was sitting on her couch in her apartment. All the lights were out but it didn't matter. She knew where everything was in a strange sense of preternatural awareness. Her headache was gone.
It was cold in the apartment. The November wind whistled in though the broken window singing a broken treble melody. She stood up to go check on Anton but stopped. She knew he wasn't there. He'd been taken away. Taken somewhere where he could be safe. It was good. It was too cold in here for him now. She noticed that there was yellow tape over the broken window... and blood on the fragments of glass. That man.... No, that intruder, that breaker of home's ease, that violator of the hearth. He'd fallen.
Tameka walked out of her apartment, down the stairs and out into the cold night. Figures walked by... shadows... ghosts. They stopped from time to time and stared at the scene. The yellow tape and the red stain frozen on the sidewalk. Voices babbled unintelligibly half a world away. Tameka tried to think. She sat down on the curb, her arms crossed on her knees in front of her. No steam wafted from her breath.
There was brightening in front of her. A sudden luminescance that brought back the memory of her headache. A man was walking toward her, not indistinct like the other shadow figures, but clear and sharp edged. His skin was bronzed and middle eastern. He wore a simple robe of alabaster color and wore a kindly expression as he approached her.
"Are you ready for rest and peace daughter?" he asked in a smooth and gentle voice.
Tears began to form at the edge of Tameka's eyes, "Yes!," she said with a half sob. All the years of hardship felt weighty around her shoulders. The losses, the setbacks, the struggle for a good life, all were a weight she had borne that now seemed incomprehensibly heavy. He reached out his hand towatd her and she reached out to him. Their fingers almost touched... but she halted suddenly. "But what about Anton?"
"You may watch him from my house whenever you wish," said the kindly man.
"But what if he needs help? What if he needs guidance?," Tameka implored with her eyes and her voice.
"Daughter," said the kindly man, "he is on his own path now. You must trust the course." Tameka looked dubious. "You will see my child. And when you reach my house you can speak of all that has ocurred with the one who brought it about and find true peace with this chain of events."
Tameka's had recoiled. "The man who killed me and orphaned my son resides in your house?!" said Tameka increduously.
The bronze skinned man took on a parental look and explained, "He has repented my daughter. He confessed all to me and begged forgiveness. I searched his heart and found him to be truely sorry for all he has done. Thus I have no constraint to bar him from my door. His regret is his punishment."
Tameka stared at the man bearing an expression of hurt and shock. There was a long pause. And then from behind them a horse snorted. Tameka turned to look. As sure as the sound fortold, there was a horse some distance behind her; a mammoth brown beast with steam curling from it's nostrils in the cold air. Mounted on the back of the horse was a woman. She was tall, fair skinned, armed and armored. At her side was a spear, the butt of it locked beside her foot at the horse's stirrup. A sword hung in a scabbard off her hip and a shield was strapped to her back. The armor was of a grey silvery metal, probably simple but sturdy steel, and it bore the marks of battle upon it. A dents and the scratches left by turned blades in countless fights ranging from massed melees to the smallest challenge. She dismounted with casual grace and began to walk over to Tameka, who in turn looked to the kindly bronzed man to say something, but found that he had withdrawn some ways for the sake of courtesy so that Tameka and the newcomer could speak alone as he had had the opportunity to do.
"You must be the one I was sent for," said the warrior woman in a bold clarion tone, yet with a hint of a gutteral roar well masked in the timbre.
"I..." Tameka began but came up short. "Who are you?"
"My name in your tongue is 'Raging,' and I am of the Valkyrie. I was called here by your action and your valor to offer you a place in our Hall."
"Your hall?" asked Tameka, "I thought there was only... you know... Heaven and Hell."
"There are many halls," answered the Valkyrie, "Each one of them as valid as the next. You may choose which to go to. Or choose none and remain here for as long as you wish. The great power of humanity is that of choice."
Tameka stared unblinkingly at the warrior woman who simply gazed back, unoffering, unchoosing, unjudging. "What can I expect in your hall?"
"We will teach you to fight," said the Valkyrie," and teach you to do it so well that you could repeat tonight's episode against a dozen such attackers without taking a wound. There is feasting, merriment, and company as well as a new world to explore over the rainbow."
"Do I have to forgive anyone or find any kind of peace?," asked Tameka
"Not if you don't want to," answered the Valkyrie simply.
Tameka sat down again and thought for a long time. Both the warrior woman and the bronzed man waited nearby. The kindly man in the alabaster robe wore his gentle smile and the Valkyrie simply sat irresolutely astride her great warhorse.
After a time Tameka stood up, "I think," she began," that right now I'd really just like some time alone and I'd like the both of you to just go away."
The gentle man in the robe maintained his smile, "Of course my daughter. If ever you wish to enter my house, simply enter a church and I will be there." And with that he was gone.
The Valkyrie walked he horse up to Tameka who stepped back suspiciously. The Valkyrie leaned down a polished blowing horn in her hand. "If ever you wish to see me again simply blow this." No sooner had she taken the horn when the warrior woman turned and with a flurry of hoofbeats and the hot sparks of iron horseshoes striking pavement, she was gone.
Tameka walked the world between for a while. She went to see Anton and make sure he was safe. She met a few others wandering in between though most moved on. She even attended her funeral. All the while she thought about those two profferants she met on the night she died. There was still so much to do and she still could not believe that the man who had killed her, the intruder, the invader, was allowed into the gentle man's house. All because he was sorry. Tameka was sure there was a house for him, but that it was not a pleasant one.
One day the clarion call of a horn rang out from the world between and hoofbeats answered. The Valkyrie arrived to see
Tameka standing in a grassy field, mortal shadows walking around her.
"I have a question for you before I decide anything," said Tameka.
"Ask," said the Valkyrie simply.
"Will I be permitted to come from your hall to see and help Anton whenever I wish?"
The Valkyrie's face took on a puzzled expression, "Why wouldn't you be? You're his kin and family. His ancestor."
Tameka smiled at this and taking a small measure of delight that the very nature of the question had confused the warrior woman. She extended her hand. The Valkyrie reached down and clasped her to draw her up into the saddle with her. It was a calloused hand but a warm one. Warm hands... like the feeling of someone holding you up. Tameka's eyes went wide.
"Was it you who...?," she began.
"Well," said the Valkyrie with a smile, "I damn well wasn't going to let him just kill you without giving you the chance to avenge yourself and protect your child."
Below from a church steeple the gentle man with the bronze skin watched the mounted pair gallop across the rainbow bridge. He smiled, for he had much love in his heart. And knowing that Tameka had made a choice that would make her happy, even though she had not elected to come with him, pleased him just as well.
© Matthias Wilson
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