As part of recent updates at SFWA we recently revamped the Nebula Recommended Reading list to show up in alphabetical order. It’s a stopgap measure until the website gets re-designed, and to my mind has some of the same problems as presenting by order of number of recommendations. In musing that over, I mentioned to webmaster Jeremy Tolbert that I looked forward to the new school of aardvarkpunk we were inspiring. A half hour later this story appeared in my head.
This is a Patreon story, published thanks to the generous support of my patrons on there; they get access to the Chez Rambo Discord server, additional sponsor-only snippets and stories, plus sneak peeks at new drafts, discounts on Rambo Academy for Wayward Writer classes, and a chance to win my monthly giveaway. If you’d like to support indie publishing plus get stories, sign up to support me there!
Aardvark Says Moo
“Aardvark says moo,” says the clown, handing over the balloon animal.
My overly precocious kid squints her eyes. “No they don’t.” She folds her arms. No eight year old should be that definite about anything. Whatever happened to the idea of childish sense of wonder?
“I was being whimsical,” the clown explains. “Do you understand what that word means, little girl?”
Now he’s gone and done it. I could have warned him, but no one had consulted me since moment one of this interaction. The kid went up, the clown looked at her and started twisting a pink balloon around, and then he had to start being all whimsical.
“Whimsy,” my child says, “is playfully quaint or fanciful. A talking aardvark impersonating a cow is just dumb.”
At this point, a supernatural element enters my story. You may think it’d be something subtle, maybe the sort of knife edged was-it-real-or-not stratagem that Henry James could employ, but the fact of the matter was that it was a Valkyrie, walking up to look us over.
Maybe a woman dressed like a Valkyrie, you’re thinking. A costume party might have occurred to you, maybe, which means you’re going off on a total tangent, so lemme say this. Kid’s birthday party. Bouncy castle, hot dogs, cake. The only costume was the clown’s, and it wasn’t a particularly inspired one.
The Valkyrie moreover is real. Realer than real. Like a black hole of realness that made everything around her look like faded plastic. Her armor is made of golden scales. She smells like ozone and honey and looks like an angry supermodel with no makeup. She says, “Kyle Holiday, I have foretold that you die in the line of duty tonight but I will take you to Valhalla.”
“I’m pretty sure there’s been some mistake,” the clown says. “That’s my name, but I’m not going to die.”
“No one thinks they’re going to die,” the Valkyrie says significantly.
“Hang on,” my kid says. “This is my best friend’s birthday party and no one should die at it. She’s delicate. She’ll be traumatized for years. Take it elsewhere. What’s he supposed to die of, anyway?”
The Valkyrie listens to the air for a moment. “Peanut allergy.”
“I’m allergic to peanuts,” clown Kyle says cautiously, “but that’s why I don’t eat anything at these gigs.”
The Valkyrie shrugs.
“No, I mean it,” my kid says. “No one’s dying.” She grabs a napkin from the table and holds it out to the clown. “Maybe you breathe in some peanut particles. Tie this over your nose and face. Then get out. Better a flaky clown than a dead one.”
The Valkyrie says, “Who are you, to interfere with a hero’s death?”
“One, my name is Anna Louise Mayhew,” my kid says, her chin pointed at the Valkyrie, “and two, he’s at a kid’s birthday party.”
This Valkyrie listens to the air some more. This time it takes longer, and she gets a funny look on her face halfway through.
“Well,” she says, when she finally returns her attention to us, “he dies while working. There’s not that many clearly defined hero’s deaths around any more, but he faces down countless children.”
“And delights them,” she adds as an afterthought. She reaches out and tweaks the napkin off the clown’s face. “You don’t need that. You’ll like Valhalla.” She looks at my kid. “You’re Anna Louise Mayhew, huh?”
Something about the way she says it makes me step up and say, “Anna, why don’t you walk your friend to the gate?” I fold my arms, look the Valkyrie over. She’s about twice my size, could snap me like a twig, but she seems relaxed about it all. I say, “How do you know her name?”
“I take her, later on,” the Valkyrie said. “We always future-remember the important ones.”
I’m torn between pride and horror. “What? When?”
“Relax,” the Valkyrie says. She takes a piece of cake and it’s somehow reassuring, makes her seem a little less real and more like someone in a costume. “Not till long after you’re dead. They coax her out of retirement for it. She wins and saves humanity.”
I don’t really want to know anything more than that. I say, “So you’ll forgive her saving the clown?”
“It’s kinda pathetic, taking a clown to Valhalla,” she says. “Sometimes someone screws up the paperwork. This might be one of those times.”
Anna comes back and stands looking at the Valkyrie. I can’t tell if it’s fear or admiration or something else. I imagine her as a little old lady, facing down some unguessable enemy, that same solemn expression. The Valkyrie wanders off and vanishes into sparks that travel up into the sky. No one else seems to notice.
These sorts of things happen around my kid a lot, I’ve noticed. I say, “You were kinda hard on that clown about the moo thing.”
“Well, maybe,” she says. “I don’t like whimsy, though. Aardvark goes moo, how twee is that?”
I bet that Valkyrie’s looking forward to seeing her again.