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Valhalla

 

The cup comes around. I milk my pricked finger into the ashes. My blood spits on hot embers. I pass the chalice to the woman beside me. The trash fire lights our hollow cheeks, our hungry eyes. Flames dance in every pitch-black pupil.

The cup makes it back around to our Valkyrie. She is thin, like the rest of us. Dirty, like the rest of us. A mother. The only thing that sets her apart is her voice. Hers is strong and clear, a being of its own, merely traveling through her flesh and bone. It’s the kind of voice that carries. The rest of us talk in raspy breaths, or through our noses, and our screams are pinched flat. But not our Valkyrie.

She mixes our blood and ashes into a thick paste and paints a tar black band over her eyelids, across the bridge of her nose. Tonight, she won’t see past this. She won’t see the warehouse walls, the barbed wire fences, the silhouettes of the guards in the floodlights. Tonight, she’ll see only our blood, our ashes, and our rage.

We kiss the top of her head in turns.

Tonight, she is all of us.

I do not see my sisters. We walk together, with city blocks between us. I hear them only because I know what to listen for; a shoe scuff against pavement, a plastic wrapper crushed underfoot. I stop on the stoop of what was once a corner store. The building is in good shape, great for squatters, but nobody squats so close to the warehouse. It’s impossible to sleep with the too bright lights and the loudspeaker declaring every hour of the night.

Our Valkyrie walks out onto the pavement, naked. It was her idea to go naked. Her body glows in the stark spotlight and an amplified voice commands she put up her hands. She complies and walks forward with her arms over her head. A group of women crossing the large parking lot would be gunned down, even a group as small as ours, but a single woman or two—three at most—are welcomed in. Women come back all the time. The only way off of the streets is through the warehouse.

I close my eyes and conjure the smell of my infant daughter. I should be with her. I shouldn’t be here. None of us should be here; not me, not my sisters, and not the women in the warehouse. I exhale. My daughter will never see the hell inside. A small gate opens in the chain link wall and two guards come out to escort our Valkyrie. She lets them lead her, but she has no intention of going inside. My sisters and I, we’ll never go back.

I escaped after my first insemination. Some women get their monthlies for years before they conceive. I didn’t know if mine took or not at the time, but I wasn’t waiting around to find out. If I was pregnant, I’d be transferred to the warehouse. My love helped me escape. He became my daughter’s father. He is half of my heart. He will pass my love to her. This is what I tell myself while I wait. The guards talk over our Valkyrie’s head. In my mind, I reach out for my sisters.

The guards don’t try too hard to stop men and women caught fleeing corporate grounds. They shoot. Sometimes they hit, but if we make it off the parking lot, we are never pursued. There’s no need. We’ll come crawling back, the guards know. These guards mistake our Valkyrie for a failed flight. Her mud dreaded hair reminds them of scabies and lice. They put distance between her and their bodies.

This is when our Valkyrie breaks free.

Oh God, what a terrible scream.

Her cry rips through the city, ricochets off brick and steel. My heart resonates. My sisters feel it too. Even the heartless guards feel it. She’s still howling into the light when the men remember their guns. She crescendos. The stars should be shaken from the sky. Before the first shot is fired, an echo rises from within the warehouse walls. My sisters and I scream over the empty lot, through the hail of gunfire. Our Valkyrie stands with her arms in the air and we run into her shadow wings.

Born in the warehouse—generations of human resources—our mothers nurse us for as long as they can because, once weaned, we’re auctioned off to industry. Our mothers clutch us tight to their breasts, until their arms can’t hold our weight, then we’re ushered on to live or die, corporate doesn’t much care which. We’ll always be in large supply; they’ve made sure of it, and those who escape almost always come back.

But not me. Not my sisters.

We have pulled each other’s teeth, set broken bones, bled together. We survive outside, without their food scraps, without their medicine. We have kept ourselves alive, and we’ve always been ready. Always. We’ve waited for the Siren, the Banshee. We have all been ready; me, my sisters, the women in the warehouse, our Valkyrie.

The men with guns are not ready.

They’re not ready when the malnourished mothers inside attack, tearing the guards apart with fingernails and teeth. Rapid fire pops and everywhere that cry carries on, from the mouths of the mothers, the lungs of their children. The men scream too, as they realize the onslaught has no end.

I jump onto the chain link fence and scramble to the top, reaching for barbed wire. When we breach the gate, if we breach the gate, we’ll free anyone left alive inside, but our prize is not survival. A bullet grazes my shoulder. My mind flies to my daughter, her down soft hair, her ephemeral skin.

In her world, there won’t be a warehouse. We’ve come to rip the fucker down.

Tonight, the gunmen choke on our ashes, drown in our blood. Tonight, they’ll burn in our rage.

 

 

Hell Hath Only Fury

Edited by

SH Cooper & Oli A White

 

Available on Amazon

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