STORY THE ULTIMATE WEIRD

 


Paparazzi jostled for position as the celebrity billionaire and his supermodel daughter arrived by limo at the network’s midtown studio.


Nobody had any idea what their great announcement might be, not even the talk show’s host, so he agreed to meet them as they sat side-by-side in the dressing room. Affecting a casual attitude, he tried pumping them with questions but after a few minutes gave it up as a lost cause. Neither was about to reveal in advance the surprise they’d promised, which caused him some mild embarrassment in front of the hair and wardrobe people.


Nevertheless, an experienced professional, he managed to hold his annoyance in check, fix back his famous grin and renew his determination to go on the offensive from the very outset of the interview.


• • •


“Please welcome fashion meister, hipster gadabout and super ego, the man you either love or hate, the one and only Odin.”


As the house band ramped up, the audience was encouraged to applaud and the camera found its subject striding on set, urbane as ever, with a neat stubble on his chin and his trademark silver hair gleaming under the klieg lights. Tonight, he was dressed in a cream three-piece over a hand-stitched mauve shirt, open at the collar.


The sallow host, who worked under his own single-name pseudonym, Shlock, got up from his desk. No sartorial slouch himself, he was head-to-toe in obsidian black, with a narrow tie in electric turquoise that had the texture of a scaly eel.


Odin accepted Shlock’s outstretched hand, nodded his appreciation to the audience, then folded himself down on to the nearby sofa.


“Gadabout?” he repeated, smiling broadly as the music subsided.


“So how would you describe yourself?”


“These days, I leave that kind of thing to others.”


“Okay... but one word those others often use is ‘wacky’. How do you react to that?”


“I don’t.”


“Doesn’t it get your goat, even a little?”


An easy shrug. “People can say what they like. Somebody once called me ‘phantasmagorical’ and I don’t even know what that means.”


“You still hold to your story?”


“My story? About what? How I grew a multinational empire?”


“Actually, I was referring to the more famous story. You know, the one you so often tell?”


In response comes the familiar Odin smirk. “Yeah? Which story would that be?”


Shlock refused to be distracted by the sarcasm. He was the undisputed champion of his own show and he was the one who would dictate the discourse, the one who would set the agenda.


“Oh, you know, the wacky one,” he replied smoothly. “The one about how you’re from the future, just here to enjoy life in the present as long as it lasts, because it’s all downhill from here on in.”


“Ah, right, that one. You sound like you don’t believe it.”


“Who me?” Shlock appealed to the studio audience, hands out, feigning innocence. “Did I say that?” Then, back to his guest. “No, no... Personally, I believe every word. It’s just that some say...”


“Some say it’s wacky. Yes, I know.”


“Well, you have to admit, it’s a bit out there. Not for people like me, of course. And not for the audience here either. Heaven forbid. No, I’m just talking here about the unbelievers.” Another knowing glance at the camera, deadpan, just to underscore the fact that the mockery was fully intentional.


Odin chose to remain unruffled as Shlock continued his taunt.


“Hey, here’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you. Kind of an existential question.”


“Well, I can’t possibly resist that.”


“Okay, so how come, if you’re back from the future, we’ve never met anyone else like you?” From the studio audience came a wave of applause and Shlock paused to acknowledge it. “I mean if this is such a great time in history and all, why aren’t there hordes of you future-types back here visiting?” More applause, plus some laughter. “What I want to know is how come I never meet people taking pictures, telling me, y’know, we just wanna take a few shots for posterity, seeing how where we come from, it’s so devastated and all.”


The audience was rocking, enjoying it immensely. Roving cameras focused in on some who were up on their feet, whistling and cheering. To them, good ol’ Shlock was saying exactly what they, themselves, would have liked to say if only they had the chance.


Once the hubbub had dissipated, Odin rubbed at his chin stubble, a minor affectation. “Would you like me to answer now?”


“By all means.”


“You haven’t met any others, because there haven’t been any others.”


“Oh, oh, wait a minute... So you’re the first? Is that what you’re telling us? You’re the first one of your time period who ever did this?”


“That’s right.”


“Ah well, of course, that would explain it. And... if I may ask... why you?”


“Why me?”


“Why were you chosen? I mean, I’m sure there must have been thousands lining up. Did you need to get a special visa or something? Or was it like one of those rich guy’s space trips, where you only get to go if you can afford a thousand trillion, or whatever it costs where you come from?”


Odin was prepared to ride it all out. After all, it wasn’t like he hadn’t faced this kind of inquisition before and he’d always found that the best way to respond was just to let it happen. Whenever he got upset or flustered, he lost. “Let me ask you something, if I may?”


“Whoa, I got a whole list of questions from here till Tuesday and you want to ask me something?”


“I think that’s only fair.”


“Sure, what the heck, we always wanna be fair. Hit me with it.”


“Thank you. So my question is, why do you think I open myself up to this ridicule? After all, I lead a pleasant life. I’ve got a boat and a jet and my own private island, and more money than I’ll ever need. So why would I come on here and take all this stuff you’re throwing at me if I wasn’t telling the truth?”


“I don’t know. Because you’re wacky? Sorry, didn’t mean that. I was just using somebody else’s word.”


More laughter from the audience and Odin waited before continuing. “You didn’t answer my question. I mean, I don’t seem wacky. Not in any obvious way. I don’t live like a hermit, I don’t wrap myself in a bubble, I don’t wear tin foil on my head. I simply go to the office, run my business and put together my new collection... which is fabulous by the way. So why, in this one solitary thing, would I be wacky? Tell you what. Let’s just imagine for one moment that I’m telling the truth. Can we do that? Now wouldn’t that be something?”


“It would be something, all right.”


“Well, at least we can agree on that.”


Shlock wasn’t ready to agree on anything, so he decided to change the subject, a tactic he often employed to keep the show moving. “So, back on topic,” he said, sitting forward in his big chair, “what’s your announcement?”


“All right, yes, the announcement. Good idea. How about we get my daughter out here first?”


The audience reacted to the suggestion with a new round of strenuous clapping. In response, Shlock put his hand to his mouth and pretended to yell off-stage. “Hey, kid! Your ol’ man wants you to get out here!”


A superstar in her own right, the young woman strolled on like it was a catwalk, statuesque as ever in a form-fitting gilt halter-neck, a shawl of royal purple and a pair of lace half-gloves, accessorized by several strings of black pearls and an over-abundance of antique rings. Her only piercing was through one eyebrow, quite subtle, and her equally modest tattoo was on her left shoulder blade, spelling out the three Chinese characters for “vampire”, or literally “blood-sucking ghost”.


She blew a sweet kiss to the audience and then, accompanied by more music and a few whistles, she sat down next to her beaming father on the sofa and demurely crossed her legs. They didn’t kiss or even touch, they merely shared a knowing glance, both fully aware of how this interview would conclude.


“Hey there, Freyja,” said Shlock.


“Hey there, yourself.”


“So what do you think of your dad’s story. You believe it?”


“He’s my dad.”


“Which I take to mean yes. So what does that make you? A daughter of the undead, or what?”


“I sense you’re making fun.”


“Who me?”


“Wouldn’t you like to hear our big announcement?”


There was another collective cheer, so Shlock melodramatically threw his hands in the air as if he had no choice in the matter. “I guess we’d all like to hear it,” he replied. “So pray tell, both of you, what’s your big announcement?”


Freyja turned to her father, as if questioning which one of them should do it.


“Don’t look at me,” he said to her, “it’s your news.”


“Okay, here goes… Well, as of today... Wow, this is too much... All right, start again. As of today, I am the new chairman... chairwoman... chair person...”


“Just chair will do,” said her father.


“Right, right... As of today, I am the new chair of Gothyk Style Enterprises. There you go, I finally got through it.”


Shlock did his best but his face reflected the disappointment. In his opinion, the announcement was a dud. In fact, it seemed to him as if he’d been had. In front of his entire broadcast audience, this pair of global celebrities had just used his show as a tacky P.R. vehicle and he was none too pleased about it. “So, you’re the new king-pin,” he said with considerable snark. “Sorry, queen-pin. Sorry, person-pin. Or maybe it’s just pin-head, I dunno.”


“I’ll forgive you for that,” she smiled, “but, yes, it’s true, can you believe it? This morning, my dad signed the whole thing over to me.”


“Is that right? Well, isn’t that just dandy for you.” Shlock swiveled in his chair to face Odin “And what will this mean for dad? You just sail into the sunset on your four hundred foot yacht? Fly out in your forty million dollar jet?”


“No, not at all. I intend to go home.”


“Home, where? Your private island?”


“No, to the future.”


“Ah, so that would be ‘Back to the Future’, I suppose.” Shlock grinned at the retro cultural reference but it went right over the heads of the studio audience and there was hardly a murmur. “Slow night,” he said, attempting to recover. “Okay, moving along. Maybe this is yet another dumb question, of which there seem to be many tonight, but how do you intend to get there, if I might ask? You know, to the future.”


“That’s easy. All I have to do is die, then I’ll be transported back.”


“Ah, of course, silly me. You just have to die. I should’ve known. And how will you achieve that state of flat-line? Will it be suicide, or will your kid here be assisting you?” By this time, all pretense at polite dialogue had fully collapsed.


“In fact,” said Odin quietly, “I plan to do it right here on your show.”


“Say what?”


“Should give you a terrific boost in ratings but that’s okay. You don’t have to thank me, although you might wish to ask my daughter back once in a while. Especially when she has a new line coming out.”


Freyja nodded earnestly but Shlock was clearly about to lose it. All of a sudden, he just burst out laughing. He just couldn’t help himself.


“I’m sorry folks,” he said to the camera. “I don’t know if I can take much more of this. I mean, really.” At this point, he sighed as if in surrender. “All right, all right... They’re telling me we’ve still got a few minutes left. I’ll try to get through it.” He turned back to Odin. “Okay, Mister Gazillionaire, I’ll bite. Tell me how you’re going to die right here on my show. I’m sure they frisked you for weapons before you came on, didn’t they? Didn’t they?” He swiveled his head to call out to his stage crew. “Hey, did we frisk this guy? Somebody? Anybody?”


Odin, too, appeared to be enjoying the performance. “That’s okay, I don’t need a weapon.”


“Why? You just going to wring your own neck?”


“No, I’m going to spontaneously combust.”


“You’re going to do what now?”


“Look, it’s simple. I’ll show you.” Then to his daughter: “Honey, you might wanna clear the area.”


Obligingly, she stood up, took a couple of paces back and that’s when it happened, right there in front of the host, the band, the audience, the producers and a television viewership of some thirteen million.


He didn’t even say goodbye. He simply focused his mind and, without any artificial pyrotechnics, became engulfed in a flickering, lapping inferno of flames with wisps of black smoke rising above the set, an act which melted his flesh, boiled his blood and baked his organs until there was nothing left but a steaming human goulash on the studio floor with one popped eyeball, having somehow escaped its socket, still looking up at the camera.


In the meantime, his daughter just stood there, an elegant hand resting on her hip. Evidently, she’d known exactly what to expect but everyone else was horrified into silence. They couldn’t scream, they couldn’t move and they couldn’t run for the exits. No member of the crew rushed for an extinguisher. In fact, nobody did anything. All eyes were riveted to the scene. Some were even waiting for the magician’s revelation, the sudden and dramatic reappearance from offstage, but the lull just continued both on set and on screen as dead airtime.


In a way, it was almost anti-climactic but the temporary existence of the entity known worldwide as Odin, shmatte meister, hipster gadabout and super ego, was genuinely over.


• • •


The long-distance connection from the end of the universe came through to the Gothyk brand’s global headquarters on an otherwise normal Thursday afternoon.


Newly installed as boss of the enterprise, Freyja was at her desk in her white-painted, art-directed office. All around the room, lying across designer chairs and tacked up on the pristine walls, were print swatches, bits of fabric, hand-drawn sketches and other showy aspects of style and inspiration. The colours were going against trend this season by remaining within the gray spectrum from pale stone to slate, but the theme would be enlivened by startling accents in hues of fluorescent citrus. To get into the spirit, Freyja had taken to wearing sleek, charcoal-toned suits, she’d dyed her hair the hue of blood oranges and complemented it all with pomegranate shade lip gloss, eye liner and nail varnish.


Normally when working, she tried to ignore interruptions whether human or electronic but on this occasion, she was quick to reach out and accept.


“Finally,” she said, as the flat, blurry image came alive. “I was wondering what happened to you.”


Right there in front of her was her father, looking fatigued and ashen-faced. His skin was the texture of sludge and his once gleaming silver hair was like a thatch of dull metal. Behind him, in plain view, she could see the raging fires of Ragnarök lighting up a swirling sky of bronze and crimson but he’d prepared her for what to expect, just like on the show.


“Guess I look like hell, right?” he said, managing a faint grin at his own joke.


“You’ve looked better.”


“Yeah, well, not my fault. A whole ton of trouble getting back, you don’t even wanna know. Had to divert through nine dimensions before I could even emerge, can you believe that? Floating around like a damn gas cloud. Then I found out it wasn’t an accident.”


“What does that mean, ‘it wasn’t an accident’?”


“What do you think it means? It means it was deliberate, that’s what it means. Listen, has anything... unusual... happened?”


“Unusual? Like what?”


“I dunno. Odd people showing up, that kind of thing.”


“Excuse me? In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a fashion house. Everybody’s odd.”


“How about explosions? Any major bomb blasts, mushroom clouds, anything like that?”


“Not that I know of.”


“Okay, good, it hasn’t started yet.”

“What hasn’t started?”


There was a pause as her father considered how to respond.


As she waited, Freyja gazed at a digital frame on her desk that was showing a nostalgic video of her father’s days on Earth. There were the two of them walking the dogs at their island villa, throwing peanuts on the corporate jet, lounging in hammocks on the deck of the boat. Being the daughter of a billionaire definitely had its advantages and she might well have grown into just another pretentious airhead, except for that whole other existence he kept telling her about. Her mother knew the secret, of course, but she died young and he never remarried. He always said he just couldn’t ask anyone else to share the overwhelming burden of his enigma.


“How’s the new line doing?” he asked her out of nowhere.


She turned back to the computer screen. Behind him, the mighty fires of Ragnarök were continuing unabated. “Why should you care any more?”


“Hey, I may not be there but I’m still me. I worked damned hard on that line.”


She shrugged. “It’s doing okay, I suppose... considering.”


“Considering what?”


“You know... manufacturers, distributors, diva designers... usual stuff.”


“Not having fun?”


“I don’t know yet. I mean, I like the fashion part but all the rest... the meetings, the money, the board...”


“Giving you trouble?”


“A bit. Actually, I could use your advice about that. I don’t know whether to...” She paused mid-sentence and shook her head, as if realizing how ridiculous it sounded, to be discussing business when her father was, well, wherever it happened to be. “Look, dad, why are we even talking about this? Are you going to tell me what’s happening or not?”


“To be honest, I wish I knew.”


“Can you stop talking in riddles? Please?”


“All right, so listen. This may seem slightly weird...”


“Slightly weird? How about the ultimate weird?”


“Yeah, fine. Let’s get past that, shall we? This is important. There are others here who are also interested in escaping this... situation.”


“You mean the end of the world?”


“No, not the end of the world. I told you. You have to get it right. This is end of the universe as we know it... or should I say, as you know it... and I’m talking the whole works, everything from quarks to galaxies.”


“Tell me about these others.”


“They’re called valkyries.”


“Valkyries?”


“Yeah, listen, if any show up...”


That’s when the screen went blank. “Dad? Dad! Wait!” she yelled but too late. The image had disappeared, the connection terminated, and she sat back with a sigh in her ergonomic chair. “Tell me about the damn valkyries,” she said to nobody at all.


• • •


The vast penthouse was on the twenty-seventh floor overlooking all of midtown, with wall-to-wall glass revealing a luminescent panorama.


Freyja was in her beige silk bathrobe, just about ready to turn in, when the form appeared in the center of her living room, materializing as a winged and muscular Viking, with dark eyes and blue-black hair like something out of a cheap graphic novel.


“I thought valkyries were supposed to be female,” said Freyja.


“I see you’ve been reading up.”


“Riding a horse.”


“They said you woudn’t like the horse.”


“Well, not in my apartment, no. Horses tend to snort a lot. And poop.”


“That’s true, even ours.”


Freyja stared at her visitor for a long moment, at the metallic armor, the leather armbands, the lace-up boots. “Do you all look like that?”


“Not necessarily. We can look like anything we want. Let me show you.” At this, he/she/it morphed into several familiar figures, from a rumpled Einstein, to a stunning Cleopatra, to a youthful Elvis complete with quiff, before reverting to the original Viking persona.


“Okay,” said Freyja, “let’s assume I’m impressed. Now that you and your altered states are here, what do you want?”


“Well, I was told you might wish to spawn. That’s why I came like this.”


“Spawn?” repeated Freyja, her tone both incredulous and dismissive. “Is that really what you just said?”


“Am I using the right word?”


“Oh, it’s the right word, just the wrong question.”


“I thought you’d be pleased. Isn’t that what your species likes to do?”


“Who told you that? The valkyrie sisterhood? Or should that be brotherhood?”


“Actually, we see ourselves as more of a neighborhood.”


“Okay, so tell your neighborhood that I don’t spawn with strangers, no matter what their chromosome mix. And anyway, aren’t you supposed to be flying over a battlefield or something?”


“Normally, yes. We snatch up the bravest warriors and carry them off to Valhalla,

our talons drenched in their sacred blood.”


“But not today?”


“I’ve been assigned other duties.”


“Like what? You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.”


“I’m getting to that.”


“Well, get to it already. You may have all eternity but I don’t.”


“As a matter of fact, you do.”


“I do?”


“If you want it.”


“Excuse me?”


“It’s yours. We’re giving it to you.”


“How? Why? I mean… What?”


“Which question do you want me to answer?”


“Just tell me what you’re talking about.”


“Your father signed a contract.”


“What kind of contract?”


“He discovered how to travel through time.”


“Right, his methodology, he told me.”


“So in exchange for that, he asked that we give you eternity.”


Freyja nodded. That sounded like her dad, always ready to make a deal. “Eternity, how?” she asked.


“By becoming one of us.”


“A valkyrie? You mean like you?”


“Or not like me. That’s up to you.”


“But it does mean eternity.”


“In that we live forever, yes.”


“That was the agreement?”


“Oh, we offered him other stuff but that’s all he wanted. Eternity for Freyja, he kept saying. I mean, we don’t normally do that. In fact, we’ve never done it. To be honest, we never even thought of it before, asking another entity to become one of us. But then we considered it. Time travel! You have to admit that’s a pretty good offer, so we got our many heads together and said, sure, eternity for Freyja it is.”


“But you’re here. You already time traveled, which means he must have already given it to you.”


“Ah, well, yes. But this is kind of a test drive. You know, to see if it works.”


“Obviously, it does.”


“Obviously… which is why I’m now authorized to complete the exchange.”


“By turning me into a valkyrie?”


“Assuming you agree.”


“Why you? If my dad has the methodology, why didn’t he just come back and do it himself?”


“Because he self-combusted, remember?”


“So he can’t time travel any more?”

“He can’t do much of anything any more. Except just be.”


“Just be what?”


“Just be.”


“You mean, he’s gone?”


“You do have a lot to learn, don’t you?”


“So where is he?”


“He just is.”


“This is ridiculous.”


“To you perhaps.”


“To anyone in their right mind.”


“So what do you say?”


“I have to make a decision right now?”


“If you don’t mind. It’s almost the end of the universe.”


“What’s it like?”


“What’s what like?”


“Being a valkyrie.”


“Oh, pleasant enough, I suppose. A lot better with time travel thrown in.”


“I’ll bet. Means you can escape Ragnarök just by going back in time.”


“Now you’re getting the idea.”


“Would you all die otherwise?”


“Die? No, no, I told you. We can’t die. We live forever. But we would have to give up any further chance of corporeal form.”


“Yeah, my dad mentioned that. ‘Floating around like a damn gas cloud’ was how he described it.”


“Accurate, if not too poetic.”


“Okay, tell me something. Why should I believe anything you say? You show up here, you lay all this on me. How do I know any of it’s true?”


“Because it is.”


“Why? Because you say so? Forgive me for being just a bit cynical.”


“How can I prove it to you?”


“Give me a test drive.”


“I don’t follow.”


“Sure you do. You asked my father for a test drive to see if it works, so now I’m asking you for the same. Turn me into a valkyrie for a while and if I like it, I’ll consider it.”


He/she/it considered the request. “Not exactly what I was expecting but I suppose we could manage that. We can’t give you long though.”


“How long?”


“A millisecond maybe. Maximum.”


“A millisecond?”


“You can be anything you want but only for a millisecond.”


“Okay, so do it. Go ahead. Push the button, wave your wand, or whatever it is you do. Make me a valkyrie for a millisecond.”


“Now?”


“Now.”


“You should probably steady yourself.”


“Just get on with it,” said Freyja, “if you can.”


And that’s when it happened.


The transformation did indeed only last for a millisecond but it seemed far longer as she morphed into various other life forms. In no particular order, she dissolved into a selection of famous humans, including Joan of Arc, Mohandas Gandhi and Marilyn Monroe, a series of zoo animals, including an orang utan, an ostrich and a baby giraffe, plus some assorted plant life, including a Saguaro cactus, a Japanese maple and a prize-winning zucchini.


Then the millisecond was over and she was obliged to revert to ordinary supermodel Freyja in her beige silk bathrobe. “That was interesting,” she said.


“Have you decided?”


“What if I refuse?”


“Then nobody’s happy. Sooner or later you’ll die and we’ll have to drift in perpetuity.”


“And what about my dad?”


“I’m afraid his fate is sealed either way.”


Freyja nodded, beginning to see the overall scheme of things, even if she didn’t understand any of it too well. “I don’t know,” she said eventually. “I mean, my dad said this was weird.”


“What’s weird?”


“Well, this situation. All of it. All of you.”


“Really? You exist here on this dying planet caring only for your fashion and your spawning and your weapons of mass destruction. And you think we’re the ones who are weird?”


• • •


“Hi dad.”


“Hey kid. Glad to see you took the offer.”


“Did I have a choice?”


“Not really.”


“And I was just starting to enjoy being a billionaire.”


“Yeah, bummer. Nice wings, by the way. Cute accessory. ”


“Thanks.”


Freyja did her best to be amused but the smile quickly faded as she glanced around the bleak landscape, at the incessant lightning, the erupting volcanos, the shattering quakes and the vermilion skies that seemed to symbolize the dying embers of civilization. “How long left?” she asked quietly.


“Who knows?”


“And then?”


“And then nothing. Literally.”


“Can’t you get out of this? You must still have some influence.”


“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”


“But you figured out time travel for them.”


“In fact I didn’t figure it out, I created it from scratch.”


“You did? How?”


Her father gave what would have been a world-weary sigh, except there wasn’t much left of the world or anything else. “All right, you want to know, I’ll tell you. Makes no difference now.”


“Okay, but no parables, no zen. Just tell me straight.”


“Fine, fine. So let me ask you this. What name did I choose on Earth?”


“Odin.”


“And that didn’t ring any bells for you?”


“No, why should it?”


“You don’t know who Odin was? I thought you knew your stuff.”


“He was some kind of god, wasn’t he?”


“Not just some kind. He was Lord of Valhalla.”


“Sure, whatever.”


“And you think that was just coincidence?”


“I don’t follow.”


“Me, kid, that was me.”


“You were what? Lord of Valhalla?”


“Until I got impeached.”


“A god can be impeached?”


“Apparently.”


“Why?”


“Jealousy, ambition… Usual stuff.”


“You mean they have politics in Valhalla?”


“Politics everywhere, kiddo. Why should Valhalla be the exception?”


“That’s discouraging.”


“Tell me about it. They said I had the choice to go anywhere, be anything I wanted, long as I left and stayed away.”


“So you chose to be a twenty-first century billionaire?”


“Not immediately. I thought about being an eighteenth century pirate but it seemed like a bit too much violence for my taste. Also the black plague thing was kind of a downer. So that’s when I figured I might as well just relax and enjoy my banishment.”


“I can see how that might be a better option.”


“Except there was one condition. If I ever wanted to quit that life, I’d have to die first.”


“So why did you quit? You could have just stayed, couldn’t you? Just continued as you were.”


“Not really.”


“Why not?”


“Well, for one reason, Earth was about to be destroyed.”


“What? I mean, it was? How?”


“World War III.”


“I didn’t hear anything about that before I left.”


“No, all very sudden. Bombs, radiation, cities melting, oceans evaporating, etcetera. Lots of mayhem, panic, ugly death… Well, you get the idea.”


“So what are you telling me? It’s all gone now?”


“Maybe a few cockroaches left. Not much else.”


“You knew it would happen?”


“Sure. That’s why I had to die, get back here and negotiate a way out for you.”


“As a valkyrie.”


“Sorry, best I could get.”


“Thanks… I think.”


“Cheer up, kid. You’re gonna live forever.”


“Not you though.”


“No, not me.”


“But that’s… that’s just not fair.”


“Ah, the whine of all offspring. Of course it’s not fair. Nothing’s fair. Didn’t life as a human teach you anything?”


It was at that point that the universal energies finally exhausted themselves and all cosmological matter, both light and dark, was vacuumed into the black hole of the ultimate singularity. As the planets, stars and countless galaxies were extinguished, Odin began to laugh at the futility of it all, his sotto voce expanding to a great stentorian roar.


Then with a final wave to his daughter, he just disappeared, fading into his own version of non-existence.


• • •


Freyja was once again in her original form, having time traveled back to her former apartment, the best place she could think of to hide out if only for a short while.


She needed to pause and absorb all that had happened, to consolidate her mental state and settle into this new entity. It was difficult to believe that her dad was gone – her dad, maestro extrordinaire, fixer of all things, but he couldn’t fix this and she would have to face the rest of eternity alone.


Very soon now, thermonuclear waste would devastate the Earth. That’s when her task as a rookie valkyrie would begin and she’d be soaring aloft on her snorting, pooping horse, seeking out the bravest survivors and ferrying them back to eternal rest at Valhalla. It could hardly be compared with hopping over to Milan on her own business jet but at least she’d have the chance, if only during her days off, to travel back in time. She’d be able to go wherever she wanted, be whoever she wished to be, and it was a fascinating prospect to be sure.


Yet even at this early stage, she already knew that any such visit to the past would merely be an exercise in the art of pretend, an elaborate illusion, because that entire history, that complete space-time reality, no longer existed. It left her wondering if perhaps it had all been nothing more than a hoax in the first place, a mere distraction for a gang of bored gods, a practical joke to while away the eons. Or worse, what if it had all been just a random assembly of particles which had inevitably collapsed under the weight of its own improbability? Or worst of all, what if none of it had ever been true and she only seemed alive now thanks to the memory confines of her own cortex?


Catwalks, limousines, talk shows, the new collection… Everything that seemed important, whether serious or frivolous, actual or virtual, was now gone to the extent that even thinking about it served no useful purpose. The saga of history had run its course and this was absolutely,


once and for all,


THE END


• • •


“Hi kid.”


“Dad? You’re back? But how? This is supposed to be a brief tale called ‘The Ultimate Weird’. You can’t just reappear, it’s not in the storyline.”


“Relax, the idiot who wrote this nonsense doesn’t even know I’m here.”