“When the mind of our world will explode, determined and resigned, no longer trying to make amends for the horrors it’s seen, then the sky will fill with debris; it will fill with the longships in which we depart. No forgiveness is asked for. No forgiveness is given. The itching dog doesn’t forgive its fleas; the biting lice don’t forgive the claws that pry them loose. The All-father apportions no blame. The twilight had to come. The twilight is embracing us and we embrace it back. Soon all our homes will be nothing, our hearts will be rubble. And no escape can be found. Even Valhalla crashes down around us. Go and prepare. We shall meet our fate together today, as one.”
The old priest turned his back on the congregation that hung on his words, his dry throat choked with sobs and his bleary eyes watering. He limped back inside his church and slammed shut the creaky door. The village’s death sentence had been passed. It pained him like the constant stab of arthritis pained him. But it was his duty to read the signs, his duty to pronounce on behalf of all. And it could not be unsaid. The pronouncement was a living thing, as much as he who spoke it.
Black clouds rolled overhead, menacing and stern. Mjolnir clanged forlornly in the distance, sending down vague sparks. The end times loomed. The wind whipped wildly around the huddled congregation, tugging at their limbs like the greedy licking of famished wolves. Cowering, the people shuffled off, shielding their eyes from the gale and from any sighting of the dismal fate that hurtled in their direction. They headed back indoors, their rattling cabins swallowing them up but offering only the barest shelter from the storm and no shelter whatsoever from the doom to come.
Only one figure remained unmoving, steadfast before the mound from which that fateful sermon had been delivered. Freya stood straight and still, not huddling beneath the scorn the elements tossed down, nor shielding her eyes with her hands; instead her chapped hands wrapped around her bloated belly, shielding it with their warmth. Kicking inside her, her soon-to-be first-born delivered arguments of its own about Ragnarök.
Glancing over her shoulder, Freya saw her husband at the threshold of their cabin, beckoning her inside, hurriedly: they had to prepare for the annihilation to come. Freya waved him to go inside and strode off in the opposite direction. The howling blackness of the storm shrouded the whole village now and no one saw her go. There were questions that only the old priest could answer; assurances only he could give, if anyone. So, that was where her business lay, not at home just yet, tidying their trinkets into neat bundles for the long journey into the abyss. No, if the end of the world wanted her, it could find her soon enough even if she strayed from her rightful address.
Without announcing herself at the door, without asking permission, Freya entered the old priest’s church like a bold thief. Then her boldness left her. “How d’ye know?” she pleaded, her voice croaking and suddenly small.
Startled from his preparations with the sacred branch and chalice, the old priest turned on her, sharply. “Know child? Know what? This is no time for riddles. I have sacraments to prepare. The judgement this day will see passed on our village depends on the blessings I can bring down on us in these last hours. Be gone.”
“How d’ye know the end times are arrived? How d’ye know the gods are done with us?”
“Look to the sky, will you! Hear the roar.”
“I see the storm, aye. I hear the gale. And yet…”
“And yet? Od’s blood, woman, speak up!”
“I saw storms before, many storms. Not as wild as this, not as fierce, maybe. But many storms all the same. Few of us ever needed to die in those storms. Now you say we all must die. Why is this storm so different?”
“It’s different, don’t I know it is? Don’t I feel it in my bones?”
“Is that it?” Freya nodded. “I feel something very different in my bones.”
No sacraments were said that day. The last day of all days passed by the village and left it unscathed. While, smothered under a mountain of blankets, unseen, the old priest coughed himself to death. The world’s mind was untroubled by the loss. The All-father drank mead. And grateful worms fattened-up on the scrawny skin and bones that were tipped by the congregation into another little grave. Soon after, Freya gave birth.
This piece of flash fiction was written in response to the Photo Challenge #30 at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the photo at the top of this post, copyright John Alunan.