The New Valkyrie by Hermester Barrington


As had his Viking ancestors, Dr. Erik Thorwald arose daily, long before sunrise, to subject his body to fire and to ice.  The icy wastes of the North had been the anvil upon which the might of his race had been forged, and so did he honor his heritage by enduring the heat of the sweat lodge, the sting of the nettle, the chill of the icy stream.  Thus did he retain his youthful vigor and strength; therefore were his sinews firm still.

Even so, his bouts with time had left their marks upon his body:  his hair had begun to thin, and no longer could he pin his wrestling opponents without resorting to the Kraken, a secret hold which had been passed from father to son since the time that his forefathers had ruled the seas.  His colleagues had been unable to help him in his quest for youth; even the famed Dr. Voronoff’s monkey gland transplant had not restored his failing body.  He had subsequently sought out any number of supposed miracle workers who had been eager to take his money in exchange for various potions and powders, none of which had had any effect except to make his urine phosphoresce.

He was not one who gave in to the fates, however, and so he had driven his brand-new Model T to this dilapidated cabin at the edge of a pond high in the Catskills.  He had been directed to the place by Circe Platycola, a nurse at his hospital, and a member of what he liked to call his harem; after one of their frequent clandestine assignations, she had told him that her acquaintance Arcella Smith had helped rejuvenate many other men in his condition.  “You used to be so virile, Dr. Thorwald, but now…you just don’t satisfy me as you used to,” she had said.  After holding her down and making damn sure that she was satisfied, he made Circe tell him more about the procedure.  Miss Smith would meet him only on the condition that he come alone, that he deposit ten thousand dollars in her Swiss bank account, and that he tell no one of his plans.  He had laughed off Circe’s suggestion that he pay so much for a procedure about which he knew nothing, but after several other nurses had sung to him of his disappearing virility in mournful, longing tones, he made the necessary arrangements.  Aware of the risk of danger, he was nonetheless certain that he could overcome a female alone, and one or two henchmen, should it come to that.  He was not descended from Vikings for naught!

From the moment that the young woman opened the cabin door, repulsion and attraction wrestled within his soul.  She was well-rounded and alluring, but the sight of a woman disguising herself as a professional by donning a lab coat disgusted him.  “Before this day has ended, I will tame this young hoyden,” he swore.

“Dr. Thorwald?  I am Arcella Smith.  Please come in; may I take your coat?”

Nodding, he unbuttoned his jacket, and Arcella gasped, unable to resist brushing her hands against his brawny chest and shoulders as she slipped off his coat.  “My, you are indeed a fine candidate for this procedure, Dr. Thorwald!”

“Thank you,” he replied, then snorted as he viewed the laboratory.  Velvet drapes blocked out the sun, and an ornate candelabra barely provided sufficient illumination for him to see the red wallpaper, the grand piano, and the hydrotherapy pool bubbling in the center of the room.  Only gradually did he notice the microscopes, chemical apparatus, and medical texts on shelves about the room.  Waving away her offer of a cigar and brandy, he lowered himself into an overstuffed armchair, and asked, “What’s this procedure my nurses told me about?”

She lowered the needle on a Victrola, saying, “I understand that you and Circe listen to Wagner when you play Siegfried and Brünnhilde together.  Do you like ‘The Flying Dutchman’, doctor?”

“The captain of that ship was a fool.  I prefer ‘Ride of the Valkyrie’.”

“Ah,” she answered, lifting the arm from the device.  “I don’t have that piece, though it is one of my favorites, too.  My apologies.  In any case, I hope that you are familiar with the work that has been done over the past few decades to determine whether or not sex is necessary for cellular integrity and population stability?”  Thorwald merely grunted; he had heard of such research, but did not know it well.  “Dr. Calkins is the one who most recently confirmed that populations of single celled organisms which can reproduce by either conjugation, in which the protozoans merge temporarily, or asexually, by division alone, always degenerate after several generations if they are not permitted to reproduce sexually.  Even the most primitive of cells, the lowly amoeba,” she continued, wriggling her fingers and weaving them together as if to imitate merging pseudopodia, “must mate with others of its species to reproduce.  I don’t mean to be blunt, Dr. Thorwald, but it seems that sex is necessary for the survival of most species.  Is that your experience as well?”

Thorwald, distracted by her swaying hips as she strolled about the room, responded by asking about her credentials.

“I was a lab assistant here for many years under my father, a researcher in this field.  His experiments came to naught, but mine have proven successful.  In hopes of continuing my research, I applied to several medical schools, but none would accept me.”  He snorted, and she pouted as she replied, “I hope that my participation in this profession doesn’t make you dislike me, Dr. Thorwald.  Perhaps it would interest you if I were to tell you that I am seeking a co-author with whom to publish my research?  Your name would have to go first, of course, because who could believe that a woman could have discovered the procedure without the guiding hand of a man such as yourself?”

Her face was flushed, her breathing heavy, her bosom rose and fell tantalizingly as she approached him.  He had read enough police stories to know that this was the moment at which any accomplices were likely to strike, and so he looked around.  They were still alone.

She seemed not to notice his concern.  “In any case, what my process does is reverse time for the cell, restore its integrity, and increase its vitality.  When the process is complete, your cells will be able to rejuvenate forever, and you will become immortal.”  So saying, Arcella slipped out of her lab coat, and Thorwald grunted upon seeing her firm young body sheathed in a diaphanous tunic of the sort that the Valkyrie might have worn as they bore his ancestors into Valhalla.  “The process of conjugation does not take place at merely a cellular level, however.  I hope that this part of the procedure does not displease you?”

“Just seeing you in attire proper for a young woman already makes me feel younger and stronger,”  he replied, his voice hoarse.  Still, he did not trust her.  He began to realize that she was little more than a high priced prostitute who would certainly try to blackmail him.  He was not concerned about that; his lawyer could handle her later, and  he intended to take advantage of the situation at hand.

“Let’s get started,” he said, moving toward her.

“Why don’t you come and get me?” she cooed, scurrying around the pool.

After they had run a few laps, Arcella leapt in.  “Ooh, the water’s so nice!” she cried out, splashing him lightly.  Hastily disrobing, Thorwald slipped into the water, but as soon as he moved toward her, Arcella leapt out.  “Come back, wench!” he roared, but she just laughed and slipped her hand behind her back.  When she brought it forward, she was pointing a lady’s pistol at him.

Standing his ground, he said, “I don’t think you have what it takes to shoot me, let alone…is that even a real gun?”  Looking closely, he saw that it was all of one piece, with no possible exit for a bullet; instead, there was merely a tiny pinprick at the end. 

“No, it’s not.  It’s better,”  she said, and as he moved forward, his arm raised to slap or grab her, she pulled the trigger.

A stream of yellowish liquid shot forth from the barrel, splattering his outstretched hand, chin, and neck.  His throaty laugh changed to a girlish scream as his fingers liquefied and ran down his arm, leaving only a skeletal hand.  “You bitch!” he squealed, just before his throat disintegrated.

“I hope that you like the water, because you are going to be living in it—forever!  Each of your cells is rejuvenating, as I promised, but by devolving into its earliest ancestor, the amoeba.  What is unique about these new cells, however, is that they have consciousness—yours, to be precise!”

Watching his body disintegrate, she addressed him, pointlessly—for his ears had turned to slime—”Why would I do this, you ask?  You yourself are witness to my brilliance, yet I was not permitted to enter your sacred temples of knowledge.  Nor are my sisters permitted to enter the courts or the universities, except as servants!  Merely because of our sex, we are excluded.”

As she spoke, his flesh foamed and bubbled; soon a pungent mass of pond scum quivered where once a brave descendent of the Vikings had stood.  “All over the world, my sisters have been have been performing operations just like this one.  Soon male rulers will be rejuvenated out of power.  Devolvers such as this,” she said, brandishing her weapon, “will be available to women everywhere—no one can stop the Eternal Transnational Amazonian Sisterhood of Devolution, for we live and work among you—nurses, secretaries, librarians, concubines.  We will seek you out in your places of power and turn you into harmless little pets!”

True to the spirit of his Viking ancestors, the cells of the newly reborn Thorwald embraced their new life, conjugating, striving to rise upward into human form again, but to no avail.  Dipping an empty beaker into the morass, Arcella continued.  “You may have noticed the pond in front of  the cabin; that’s where this pool drains into.  That’s where most of your cells will live, forever, except those that I keep in my zoo,” she said, motioning to a collection of jars.  Pushing a button on the wall, she watched as the yellow-green water swirled down the drain.

Later that evening, she and her sister Amazons celebrated their recent successes.  As her sisters improvised lyrics to the tune of “The Ride of the Valkyries,” singing “They’ll all be amoebas, with such tiny feelers, no more will they feel ya, no never again!”,  Arcella, watching Thorwald through her microscope, imagined what he must have been thinking as another amoeba, formerly a stockbroker, enfolded him in its embrace.  For a while, the two were one, and then split apart again, revitalized and rejuvenated; each reached out and consumed a paramecium for fortitude, and then each began to divide.  Tomorrow another vain male would appear on her porch, and another seat of power would be emptied of its tyrant, who would henceforth live as happily as his ancestors had all those eons ago.  She thought of Thorwald’s Viking ancestors, and considered that though Valhalla was but a myth, she had helped him discover an eternal life of fighting and feasting.  She doubted that he was grateful, but she knew that women in the future would be pleased that men such as Thorwald would be nothing more than blobs of protoplasm slipping across the bottom of a pond, ruling only the tiniest of kingdoms.  She and her sisters raised their glasses of champagne to salute a world in which no woman need fear the callous embrace of men like Thorwald, while such men, reborn as amoebae, need fear little else.


Hermester Barrington is a retired archivist, a haiku poet, and a deliberately genre-ignorant artist whose ficciones have most recently appeared in KzineFate Magazine, and Mythaxis. He is also the winner of the 2003 Tundra Prize, awarded by the Emily Chesley Reading Circle, for this story. For over four decades, he and his impossibly beautiful wife Fayaway have traveled the round earth’s imagined corners in search of invisible books, bats in flight, and paranormal phenomena.  He is currently writing an ecocritical analysis of the work of American fantasy writer and poet Thomas Burnett Swann. He can be found on Facebook  during neap tides, when Venus or Mercury are not in the same house as Uranus, and alternate Wednesdays.

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