FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: The fate of Helga and Wolfgang

Two weeks ago, in one of client Joe McGee’s guest posts on dialogue, he used the following bits of dialogue, as different examples of what dialogue can accomplish:

“Honey, it’s a boy,” said Helga.Helga

“I’m so happy, I could raid a village,” Wolfgang said.

“Good, because we need milk.”

***

“Are you serious?” said Helga.

“Completely serious.”

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“I’m serious,” said Wolfgang, “I drank all the milk…and ate their cows.”

***

“Wolfgang?”

“Busy!” He planted his axe in the giant’s foot.

“That’s no excuse,” said Helga.

“No excuse? I’m fighting a giant!”

“And I’m nursing a baby.”

“But-“

“Milk. Now,” said Helga, slamming the shutters closed.

***

“So…” said the giant. He looked down at the axe in his foot. “Here we are.”

“Here. We. Are,” said Wolfgang. He smiled up at the massive creature. “Don’t suppose you’d like to help me with my axe? It appears to be stuck.”

“In my foot,” said the giant.

Wolfgang nodded. “Yep.”

“Not particularly,” the giant said. “I’d much rather squash you.”

“Understandable.”

Wolfgang

“Wolfgang” by Joe McGee

But wait! What? That’s it!? What about Wolfgang? What about his axe? What about Helga and that baby? Will Wolfgang get the milk or will the giant squash him? I need to know!

So, that’s NOT it, my friends… YOU are challenged to pen the ending to Joe’s story. Be funny, be epic, be gritty, or romantic. Whatever you do, be creative. The story is yours!

Here are the rules to this FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE (and here, there be PRIZES):

1. You have 1 week to post your entry. The contest closes at 7am on May 1.

2. 650 word max.

3. Only 1 entry per person

4. Please post your entry as a comment to this challenge

5. The judges will be looking for creativity, good dialogue (this did start as a dialogue post after all), and a compelling/satisfying ending to the tale.

6. The judge’s panel consists of: Joe McGee, R.L. Saunders, and M-E Girard. They tell me they cannot be bought, bribed, or otherwise coerced… but wait! Is that bacon? Bacon wrapped in cheese? Joe, step away from the bacon…

8. A first place prize and a runner up will be awarded, with first place winning a first page critique of your manuscript by me and the runner up getting a book on the craft of writing (I’ll make sure it’s something you don’t already have).

9. The winner & runner up will be announced on Wednesday, May 8.

So, have at it! Let’s see what you come up with. The fate of the milk, axe, and our Vikings is in your hands. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

**If you are one of my clients you can enter for fun but you are not eligible to win one of the prizes.

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13 responses to “FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: The fate of Helga and Wolfgang

  1. Pingback: Treat for Fiction Writers: Nurture Your Work in Progress; Nurture Yourself | The Blabbermouth - Linda P. Epstein

  2. “But…”

    “But what?” asked Wolfgang.

    The giant smiled, revealing teeth the size of large sheep. “I have a proposition for you.”

    Wolfgang scratched at his beard. “Prop-a-huh?”

    “Proposition. A proposal. A plan. An offer.”

    “Um…of course. And what might your…prop-a-thingy be?”

    The giant bent down and pinched the sides of Wolfgang’s head between one huge hairy thumb and a forefinger. “I don’t pop your head like a boil, and you fetch milk for my baby too.”

    Now, Wolfgang didn’t care all that much for the giant’s prop-a-whatever-it-was. But as his helmet crumpled under the giant’s ever-tightening, two-fingered grip, he decided he might not be in a favorable negotiating position. “Sure. Milk. Your baby,” he said. “No problem.”

    The giant released Wolfgang’s head, and Wolfgang staggered a moment, his ears ringing. He then thought as quickly as a Viking could who had nearly had his head popped. He pointed to the giant’s foot. “Of course, I’ll need my axe.”

    The giant frowned and squinted at Wolfgang. “What does an axe have to do with milk?”

    “Good question, my friend,” Wolfgang replied. He leaned casually against the stone wall surrounding his longhouse. “I don’t suppose it’s necessary. I mean…my baby will be fine.” He shrugged. “Though I’d hate to risk a giant baby drinking uncut milk.”

    The giant’s frown deepened.

    Wolfgang cupped his chin in his hand and tapped a finger against his nose. “I don’t suppose the scarring would be permanent….”

    “Scarring?”

    “Never mind,” Wolfgang said. He turned toward the road. “I’ll just—”

    “Wait!” The giant yanked the axe from his foot and thrust it toward Wolfgang. “Take it. No uncut milk!”

    “You’re sure?” Wolfgang asked. “If it’s too much trouble, I—”

    “Take. It.”

    Wolfgang sighed. “Okay, if you insist.” He plucked the axe from the giant’s fingers. “But you also know I’ll need ear hair, right?”

    The giant tugged at his ear. “I don’t—”

    “You’d let cut milk be hairless?”

    “But—”

    “Why I never…” Wolfgang gaped at the giant and shook his head. “In all my years of milk delivery, I—”

    “Here!” cried the giant. The ground trembled as he flopped onto the road, his head thumping down beside Wolfgang. Dust billowed into the air. The giant cocked his head so Wolfgang could peer into his ear. “Take.”

    Hair sprung from the giant’s ear like the quills of a frightened porcupine. Globs of reddish-orange earwax clung to the hair, and puss oozed from underneath a scab the size of a well-fed badger.

    Wolfgang hefted his axe. “Ear hair removal can hurt.”

    The giant pounded his fist on the ground, toppling three nearby saplings and causing one side of Wolfgang’s longhouse to sag. “I. Want. Cut. Hairy. Milk.”

    “Fine, fine,” said Wolfgang. “No need to worry. Just wanted to warn you. But if it feels like I’m ramming my axe through your brain, please don’t—”

    “HAIRY MILK!”

    Wolfgang needed no further invitation. He charged, plunging his axe into the giant’s ear.

    The giant bellowed, his whole body quivering. But he didn’t raise his head from the road. “HAIRY! MILK!”

    “Almost have it,” Wolfgang said. He charged again, his axe bursting through the eardrum and gouging into the giant’s brain.

    The giant shuddered once. Twice. Then lay still.

    Wolfgang laughed and tugged out his axe, using his sleeve to wipe clumps of brain and blood and earwax from its blade. “Hairy milk…,” he muttered. “Stupid giant.”

    Suddenly, something smashed against the back of Wolfgang’s helmet, knocking him to the ground. He rolled onto his back and looked up.

    “Milk,” Helga said, dropping a wooden bucket at Wolfgang’s feet. She crinkled her nose and sniffed then hoisted her own axe onto her shoulder. Little Sven gazed down from his sling on Helga’s back. “And if you darken my doorway without bathing, you’ll be footless.”

    Wolfgang heaved himself up from the road and sighed.

    He hated bathing.

  3. Greg

    “I know you don’t feel like being squashed, though,” the giant dumbly stated. “No, not today. Yesterday would have been nice, you know, would’ve gotten me away from Helga and her nagging. But not today. Today I have to get milk.” Wolfgang said. “Let’s make a deal,” he suggested. “I take this ax out of your foot, and we go to the village together. I can’t pay for the milk, so maybe you could, you know, do your thing? Go on a rampage, terrorize some people. And while everyone’s running away from being eaten, I’ll sneak some milk from the farmer’s stand. How does that sound to you?” He hoped the giant was dumb enough to fall for it. “I guess it sounds okay,” the giant replied. “Just one thing though,” he said. “I’m a vegetarian. I don’t think I can eat all those village people,” he admitted. “You’re, you’re what?” Wolfgang stammered. “A vegetarian? Really. Wow. That makes you the first vegetarian giant I’ve ever met,” he said stunned. “I know. I’m one of very few of my kind,” the giant said. “I was only coming here to ask for directions to the market so I can get some fresh vegetables for my soup. And then you stabbed me with your axe,” he frowned. “I hope you’re aware that it hurt,” the giant pouted. “I figured it must hurt a bit,” Wolfgang admitted. “Here,” he pulled out the axe. “Better?” “Much,” the giant replied. “Let’s go get you some milk.”
    ***
    Wolfgang watched the giant run into town, crushing fences and smashing carts as he went. Wolfgang ran past everyone, heading straight for the farmer’s stand. He snatched up a couple bottles of milk and made a dash for the baker’s. He had to duck to avoid a flaming cart of hay. He grabbed a loaf of bread and ran towards where he last saw the giant. Now came the hard part: he had to kill him. He was known as one of the best warriors, and he couldn’t let his reputation suffer, especially not because of a bottle of milk. When he saw him, though, he stopped in his tracks. The giant was sitting on the ground, surrounded by the townspeople. He was crying, while being comforted by the women. “I just don’t know how to tell them,” he sniffled, blowing into a bale of hay. “I don’t know how my parents will react when they find out I’m a vegetarian,” he sobbed even louder. Wolfgang heard murmurs of encouragement from the women, and even a few of the men in the crowd. This day just kept getting weirder and weirder.
    ***
    “Honey, I’m back!” Wolfgang shouted as he walked in. “I got the milk, and I was even able to grab a loaf of bread.” “Thanks Wolfgang,” Helga greeted him. “So where’s our baby boy? Is he ready for his milk now?” Wolfgang asked. “Actually, while you were gone, Helen stopped over with some milk, and it turns out he’s not a big fan of it. Sorry babe,” Helga shrugged. “But at least you got a loaf of bread. So how did you do it this time?” she asked. “You’re not gonna believe it, but it was a vegetarian,” Wolfgang answered, ripping into the bread. “Another one? Wow, that makes a total of seven. I didn’t know there were that many of them. So, where’s its head? It’ll go good with the soup I’m making,” Helga inquired. “That’s the thing; this one was actually sad about it. He was going on about his parents not accepting him or something like that. I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t kill him. Maybe next time.” “Okay, but it would have made a nice addition to the soup. What a shame. I guess I’ll just have to use the suicidal troll you caught the other day.”

  4. The giant lifted his beefy foot (the one without the axe in it), and Wolfgang pulled out his knife.
    The knife left very little impact on the giant’s tough foot as Wolfgang was squished flat.
    “You!” said Helga, snapping the shudders open.
    “Yes?” asked the giant.
    “You just left me without a husband, and I am nursing a colicky baby. I am in no mood to have to deal with you too.”
    “Deal with me?” the giant asked in great confusion.
    “If you do not get me milk within the next hour, you will be the one sitting up all night with a squalling baby. We’ll see how you like it,” she said, slamming the shudders shut with extra umph.
    “Yes, ma’am,” the giant said, and he went off to find a village that Wolfgang had not raided.
    ***
    Helga smiled her brightest smile up at the giant as she took the big bottle of milk from him. It was the same smile Helga had used on Wolfgang, years ago.
    The giant blinked.
    Baby Wolfgang gurgled and grinned and reached one tiny hand out to the giant.
    The giant blushed.
    “You, giant,” Helga said.
    “Yes?”
    “What’s your name?”
    No one had ever asked the giant that before. Of course, no one had ever demanded milk from him either. “It’s Erik, ma’am.”
    “Well, Erik, thank you for the milk. That worthless husband of mine drank all of the milk from his last raid.”
    “Er, I’m sorry about all that,” Erik said with a vague wave in the direction of Helga’s squished husband.
    Helga murmured down at baby Wolfgang and tickled his chin as she got his bottle ready. “About what?” she asked.
    “Squishing your husband.”
    Helga shrugged. “The man kept forgetting the milk and would never take his bloody shoes off at the door. Do you have any idea how hard blood stains are to clean up?”
    “Why, yes, actually.”
    “Thought you might. You don’t seem like the worthless type.”
    “Still, though.”
    “Nonsense. We have you now.”
    “You do?”
    “You weren’t going to abandon a widow and her baby were you?” Helga asked, hand on her hip.
    “Er. No?”
    “Thought not.”
    “So . . . are you moving in with me?”
    “Of course not! That would be highly inappropriate. I’m a mourning widow.”
    “Okkkaaayyyy.”
    “You’re moving here.”
    And so Erik made a giant longhouse for himself next to Helga’s much smaller longhouse.
    Erik kept away the other raiding Vikings and always brought home milk for baby Wolfgang. And sometimes Helga was rather hard to take, but little Wolfgang was made it all worthwhile. Erik loved him like a son.

  5. “Understandable?” The giant’s, well, giant eyebrows went up on his enormous forehead. “You’re not even going to fight back? Maybe thrust your elbow into my ankle? That does sting more than you’d think it would.” He gave Wolfgang an encouraging smile.
    “Well, when you compare body weight alone, I mean, there’s really no comparison. Seems like it would be a waste of my energy.”
    “Right, right.” The giant blew out a quick breath, creating a sound very much like a gathering storm. “I suppose we should get on with it, then.” He lifted his foot above Wolfgang’s head. It hovered for a moment before he said, “Um, could you do me a favor? Could you maybe lift your fists a bit, so it at least looks like you’re resisting?”
    “Why on Valhalla do you need me to do that?”
    “There’s a giants’ code, you see, and if I kill you without so much as a ‘You’ll never take me alive,’ I mean, there’s more than just my pride at stake. I could get fined.”
    “You’re joking.”
    “So, if you could just, maybe even just glare at me, that’d probably do it.”
    Wolfgang tried out his best aggressive face, but all he could think of was Helga, the baby, and the last words she spoke to him before slamming the shutters in his face, and the only expression he could conjure was one of complete and utter sorrow.
    “Aw,” the giant lowered his leg and crouched down, resting his enormous arm across his gargantuan knee. “Come on, man. What’s up?”
    Wolfgang looked away.
    “Big scary viking like you. Must have slaughtered hundreds of my kind in your day.”
    Wolfgang shrugged. “I guess,” he mumbled.
    “So, what’s it take to make you pout like that?”
    “Look, can we just get this over with, please?”
    “Not until you tell me.”
    They stared at each other for a good long moment. “My wife needs milk,” said Wolfgang.
    The giant laughed so hard, mountains shook and birds flew out of their nests. “You’d let me squash you before you’d get a jug of milk?”
    “Well…” It did sound awfully silly, now that the giant was saying it out loud. “It’s not just the milk. Lately it’s all, ‘Wolfgang, we need milk.’ ‘Wolfgang, the baby needs changing.’ ‘Wolfgang, the kitchen has rats again.’ She needs all these things from me, but never just me.” Wolfgang’s whole body seized up then, at this sudden realization.
    “Wow,” the giant said, shaking his head and nearly causing a solar eclipse in the process. “And I thought I was your biggest problem.”
    “I’ve never been able to open up like that before.”
    “Don’t worry about it.” The giant stood back up and lifted his foot once more, feeling, for the first time in his life, a sense of satisfaction that he’d been able to help someone instead of just squashing them with his foot. And he was too busy giving himself a healthy portion of self-congratulations to notice Wolfgang pull the axe from his other foot and throw it into his neck.
    The giant, as predicted, fell to the ground, creating a small earthquake. Once Wolfgang recovered, he stood up, dusted himself off, and walked back to the house.
    Helga was bouncing the baby on her knee as he walked in. “Did you get the milk?” she asked.
    He didn’t answer. Instead, he walked straight up to her and gave her a kiss rivaled only by the one he gave her on their wedding night.
    “I love you,” he said as their lips parted, and he made sure they were the truest words he ever spoke.
    Her cheeks went pink. “I love you too,” she said, wiping a stray bit of giant blood off his forehead. “But,” and she smiled then, a smile that could produce honey, “we still really need milk.”

  6. The giant shifted his weight onto his uninjured foot. “You really shouldn’t give up so easily.”
    “What does it matter?” said Wolfgang, “It’s always going to be a life of constant peril and short milk supply.”
    “That may be,” said the giant. “But it’s your peril to face and your milk to get. Without you, someone else has to do it.”
    “But all efforts are for naught when your best milking axe is stuck in a giant’s toe, and it never seems to work that well anyway.”
    The giant considered this carefully. “I’m starting to see what the problem is.”
    ***
    “Sweetness of my tart, I have terrific news. The giant has offered me an apprenticeship.”
    Helga started. “You’re kidding.”
    “Not at all. He’s going to teach me real milking, and from what he’s said, I don’t think I even have to pull my axe from his toe.”
    Helga swaddled the baby and placed him on the stove. “Honey, you do know that giant cows are…different than ours, don’t you?”
    “I don’t know that at all. But I’m so happy I could raid a mammoth nest.”
    Helga clapped a hand to her forehead. “Then I suppose there’s no stopping you.”
    ***
    “That…looks infected,” said Wolfgang, his eyes very round.”
    “Not to worry,” said the giant. “I had an arrow in my pinky finger for so long I eventually forgot it was there.” The giant shrugged. “Turned out the pinky had fallen off.”
    Wolfgang grinned. “Heh heh. Problem solved.”
    “I was joking,” said the giant. “And this is exactly what I was talking about. Sometimes there is a solution that is better than the first one that comes to mind.”
    Wolfgang screwed his eyes up, displaying that the concept was indeed new to him. “Multiple solutions?”
    “I call it quantum diagnostics. Now let me introduce you to our first cow.”
    The cow’s name was Olgathor.
    “Now let me introduce you to our second cow,” said the giant. “Her name is Megasweet, and she’s been with our family for many, many years. Now go on. Everything we talked about. Give it a try.“
    Wolfgang approached and the cow adjusted her stance.
    “Should the cow really be standing on two legs like that?” said Wolfgang. “And what’s with the hooves on her hips.?”
    “Megasweet has a bit of an attitude. But don’t worry. It won’t interfere with her doing her job.”
    “Okay…” Wolfgang stepped forward and climbed the ladder he was instructed to bring. “Ugh. I really don’t want to describe what these things feel like.”
    “I wouldn’t.”
    “Oh great, she’s tapping her foot now.”
    “Megasweet, be patient!” scolded the giant. “It’s his first time.”
    “There. How’s that.?”
    “It’s…purple,” said the giant. “I think you made her blush.”
    “I really didn’t mean to.”
    “Wait a second.” The giant leaned down to Megasweet and put his ear to her. “Oh. Really? Ok.”
    “What did she say?”
    “She says you have a respectable touch. You can come back Tuesdays and Saturdays days for milk if you need to.” The giant scratched his head. “Maybe you could teach me this some time.”

  7. “The thing is, I’ve been looking for a man who can swing an axe. Have you ever considered becoming a gardener?”

    “A gardener? That’s no life for a Viking.”

    “Is it better than getting stepped on by a giant?”

    “Good point.”

    The giant daintily pulled the axe out of his foot and held it out to Wolfgang. “I planted beans this year and they’ve absolutely taken over the garden. I’ve put a little fence around the ones I want to keep – chop down the rest.”

    “With my axe?” Wolfgang said, frowning.

    The giant shrugged. “Giant. Giant beans. So, do we have a deal?”

    “What do I get?”

    “Besides not being stepped on?” the giant asked. “How about all the beans you can eat.”

    “I don’t need beans, I need milk.”

    “I’m sure a great trader and warrior like you can figure something out.”

    Muttering under his breath, Wolfgang walked into the giant’s garden and began to chop away at the thick vines. As the afternoon drew to a close he pushed the vines onto the giant’s compost pile and then loaded the beans onto a sledge, which he pulled down the dusty road towards the market.

    Halfway there he passed a crossroads where a young man was coming from the opposite direction, leading a cow. He waved at the man and hurried over to him. “Hey, lad, you headed to the market?” he asked.

    The young man nodded. “I need to sell old Bessie, here,” he said. “It’s very sad, you see –“

    “Yes, yes, tragic, I’m sure,” Wolfgang said. “Listen – er –”

    “Jack.”

    “Ah. Good – I’m Wolfgang. Listen, Jack, I just happen to be in need of a cow. She does give milk, doesn’t she?”

    “Oh, yes. Best in all the –“

    “Fine. How about I save you a trip to the market and trade you these… magic beans for your cow?”

    “Magic beans? Magic how?”

    “Just look at the size of them! You think beans grow that big if they’re not magic?”

    “I suppose you’re right,” Jack said, scratching his head.

    “It’s a deal, then?”

    Jack looked at the sun hanging low in the sky. “I suppose,” he said.

    “Good man,” Wolfgang said, and reached out to shake Jack’s hand. “I’ll throw in the sledge for free,” he said, and began to lead the cow back to his house.

    #

    “Honey, I got the milk,” Wolfgang said as he stepped inside. “What’s that smell?”

    “Sorry,” Helga said. “It’s the baby. He’s been doing that ever since I fed him those beans.”

    “The beans from the giant’s garden?” Wolfgang asked. He stooped down and grunted with effort as he picked up the baby. “Is it just me, or is he heavier than he was this morning?”

    “Wouldn’t surprise me,” Helga said. She wrinkled her nose and opened the shutters, taking a deep breath of the air coming in the window. “He just loves those beans.”

    “Woo goo,” the baby said. The seams on his jumper stretched and then tore as he grabbed one of the horns on Wolfgang’s helmet and then hit Wolfgang with it.

    “Honey, are you all right with the baby for awhile? I need to go see the smith,” Wolfgang said.

    “Why?”

    Wolfgang put the baby down and smiled. “We’re going to need a bigger axe.”

  8. Wolfgang tried once more, but the axe wouldn’t budge.
    “Alright, now what?” He looked up at the giant.
    “Now I squish you.” The giant reached towards him, massive finger and thumb poised in the classic bug squashing form.
    Wolfgang did the only thing he could think of, he bit the giants thumb.
    “Ow. Owie owie ow.” The giant howled in pain, large glistening tears rolled down his cheeks. “You bit my thumb.”
    “You have no reaction to my axe stuck in your toe and yet biting your thumb causes you pain?”
    “But, you bit my thumb.” The giant brandished the digit at Wolfgang, almost squashing him in the process. “Who knows what diseases you dirty Vikings carry. I’m going have to get a shot now. I hate needles.”
    “I don’t suppose you’ll lie down and allow me to hack you to pieces, would you? It would save you a trip to the doctors. I would be doing you a favour.”
    “No, I will not. I’m going to squash you like the hairy, stinky bug…”
    “Boys?” Helga called.
    “Not now dear, can’t you see I’m negotiating this behemoth’s surrender?” Wolfgang waved a dismissing hand in Helga’s direction.
    “My surrender?” The giant bellowed, the volume of his voice shaking the ground.
    “Yes, indeed. Now if you lie about here… and hold your head thusly.” Wolfgang craned his head back in example.
    “Why you stupid Viking, I’m going pound you something fierce.”
    “Wolfgang, dearest, could you come here a moment.” Helga adjusted the bawling child in the sling she wore and motioned the two closer. “You too, mister giant.”
    Wolfgang and the giant replied in unison.
    “Yes dear.”
    “Yessum, missus?”
    Once they were close enough, the giant’s face looming large, Helga’s arms flashed out like lightening. She grabbed Wolfgang’s earlobe between finger and thumb with one hand while the other grabbed a fistful of the giant’s earlobe causing the two to grimace in pain.
    “I’m only going to ask this one more time.” Her words hissed out like steam from a kettle, “The baby needs milk.” She paused and glared at both the giant and Wolfgang, “Right now!”
    With Helga’s scream still echoing in their ears, the giant and Wolfgang scrambled through the mud to a nearby barn. The giant ripped the roof off and reached inside, plucking out a cow.
    Wolfgang fetched a pail and waited. The giant squeezed the cow.
    “You dundering idiot,” Wolfgang sputtered as he wiped the gore from his face, “That’s not how you milk a cow. Let me show you.”
    Several hours and a whole herd of cows later, they had a bucket of milk.
    “You know, we make a pretty good team, giant. Give me five.” Wolfgang held up his hand
    ***
    Helga and the giant lived happily ever after.
    Well at least according to Helga.

  9. Caitlin

    Wolfgang stared at the giant.
    The giant stared back at Wolfgang.
    Wolfgang rubbed his hands together. “Let me just try again.”
    “If you insist.”
    Wolfgang spat on his hands and gripped the axe handle tightly. The giant pulled a pair of tiny spectacles and a book out of his dingy vest’s pocket. Wolfgang stared up at him, mouth agape, the axe forgotten.
    “What are you doing?” he asked.
    The giant blinked. “I’m reading. What’s it look like?”
    “Giants don’t read.”
    “How would you know? You’re too busy putting axes in our feet to talk about anything else. Could be there’s lots of things giants do besides squashing half-wits like you.”
    “Oh yeah? Like what?”
    The giant sniffed and raised his eyebrows. “You wouldn’t be interested.”
    “Try me! What are you reading?”
    The giant sighed and took his glasses off (carefully, with two hands). “It’s a treatise—”
    “A what?”
    “…a treatise.”
    Wolfgang looked at him blankly.
    “A, um, formal paper? A systematic examination of a topic?”
    Nothing.
    “Well, anyway, it’s about the role of mythology in a civilization’s psychological development.”
    Wolfgang blinked. He frowned. He grabbed the axe again and yanked. The giant rolled his eyes and went back to his book.
    Meanwhile, Helga wrapped little Ansgard in a tight swaddle and strapped the babe onto her chest. She picked up her halbard and left their hut. She walked unnoticed right past her husband and his prey.
    She cooed to Ansgard while she walked. “I think Daddy got his survival instinct wires a bit crossed, yes he did! He thinks the axe is more important than his progeny, doesn’t he, precious? Yes he does!”
    Ansgard rolled his bleary eyes.
    Back at the battle, Wolfgang freed his axe with a single great jerk and a whoop of triumph. He raised the axe high above him in a solid two-handed grip and grinned at his foe.
    “Ha ha! Alright, that’s more like it! Let us continue, giant!”
    “In a bit.”
    “What? No, now!”
    “At the end of this chapter. Just be a mo’.”
    Wolfgang groaned. He sat down on a rock and waited. That was no good; his body raged with adrenaline and he could not sit still. He got up and practiced some new forms with his axe instead. This took several minutes, so when he was finished Wolfgang turned to face the giant again with his axe held high.
    The giant was still reading.
    “Oh, come on!”
    The giant twitched and looked down.
    “Oh! Damn, I’m sorry! I started the next chapter! It’ll just take a second, hold on.”
    Wolfgang whirled around, his axe swinging wildly. He stopped when his axe was blocked by a halbard. He followed the hand on the other weapon up the wielder’s arm until he recognized his own wife.
    “Helga! What are you…nevermind. Can you believe this prat? He won’t fight until he finishes—”
    Helga raised her halbard and brought it down squarely on Wolfgang’s (un-helmeted, she always warned him about that) head. He fell unconscious to the ground.
    “Looks like you weren’t so busy after all.”
    She tucked her halbard under her arm with the skein of milk and walked back to the hut.

  10. The giant stared at his foot. “See, this is what I hate about the Iron age. This wouldn’t have happened back in the stone age.”
    “That’s progress,” Wolfgang said, wrestling with the axe. “Can’t hold technology back.”
    “Oddly, I’m struggling to view the burial of your axe in my bunion as in any way progressive. If I wasn’t a strict vegetarian I’d have you half chewed by now.”
    “Vegetarian?” Wolfgang sat, anchored both feet against the giant’s boot, and put all his weight on the haft of the axe. “That must be inconvenient in a hunter gatherer milieu.” The axe gave a little. Wolfgang worked the handle back and forward vigorously. “Is it an ethical choice?”
    “It’s the blessed flavour. Can’t stomach Viking. Too rancid. Must be all the raping and pillaging. Gharsh! Careful with that axe you perishing savage. You’ll have my toe off.”
    The giant leaned forward and picked Wolfgang up between his forefinger and thumb.
    “Don’t suppose you’d accept an apology? If I’d known you were vegetarian I’d never have cleaved you.”
    “I don’t mind that. I’ve been cleaved before. You lot are obsessed with it. Can’t walk a half-mile round here without some hot-head sticking something sharp into you. What I objects to is your attitude. You think we’re all thick as planks.”
    Wolfgang shrugged. “You have to admit, your educational standards aren’t high.”
    “How would you know? You’re illiterate ain’t you? Can’t even count higher than two.”
    “That’s a common misconception. Actually, we have a highly developed runic alphabet, and a sophisticated measuring system that embraces abstract phenomena like the empty set.”
    The giant laid Wolfgang on the ground, gently placed his good foot over him, and leaned over to pick the loosened axe from his other foot.
    “Now then. Shall we resume? This time without the cleaving.”
    He lifted his foot. “Oh dear,” he said. He poked a forefinger into the mud, searching for the submerged Viking. Finding a leg, he gently pulled him free, and laid him in his palm.
    “Ere you. Giant. What you done with my Wolfgang?” said Helga.
    “Seems like I’ve squished him,” he said. “Sorry.”
    “Don’t be. He was useless. Always prattling on about narrative and normative social theories. Wanted to be a professor, bloody fool. Won’t be a university around here for another 500 years at least. I should’ve listened to mother. She told me not to marry a foreigner. ‘Nothing good’ll come of mixing good Viking blood with Goth’, she said.”
    “What do you want me to do with him?” the giant said.
    “Eat him if you like. Can’t waste good protein. Not in a subsistence-mode society like ours.”
    “I can’t eat him. I’m a vegetarian.”
    “Give him ‘ere then. I’ll eat him.”
    The giant laid Wolfgang’s body on the ground at Helga’s feet.
    “I didn’t know Vikings were cannibals.”
    “We’re not, but I’ll make an exception in Wolfgang’s case. You don’t happen to have any milk about you, do you?”
    “Not on me, no.”
    “Only it’s the baby see?”
    The giant squatted on his haunches and leaned close to the infant Helga was nursing in her arms. A smile spread over his face. “They’re sweet when they’re little ain’t they?”
    Helga took a backward step and turned her back to the giant, shielding the baby. “No they ain’t. They’re just as sour as the grown-ups.”
    “Aww, I didn’t mean that. I’ve been a veggie hundreds of years now. I’m not turning carnivore for a morsel like that. I just meant he’s cute. Anyway, you can’t feed him cow’s milk. Their little bellies can’t take it.”
    “No milk?”
    “No. Nor any meat, eggs or cheese.”
    There was a moment’s silence between them while they both contemplated the sleeping child.”
    “What you going to call him?” The giant reached out and chucked the child under its chin with the very tip of his little finger.
    “Vegan,” Helga answered.

  11. “You could let go of the axe and run,” the giant suggested.
    “I hadn’t considered that,” Wolfgang admitted.
    “I wouldn’t think any less of you if you did.”
    “Nah,” Wolfgang said with a shrug. “A worse fate awaits me if I return without milk. Make it quick?”
    “Certainly,” the giant said. He raised his mighty fist in the air, but paused before he delivered the crushing blow. “You have a little one at home?”
    “I have.”
    “We could trade,” the giant offered. “I’ll give you milk if you give me the baby.”
    “Why the baby?” Wolfgang asked.
    “That’s what giants do. We snatch human babies. I’ve never given it much thought.”
    “That doesn’t solve my problem. I won’t need the milk if you take my baby.”
    The shutters flew open.
    “Squash him already,” Helga shouted.
    “Nice lady,” the giant said.
    “I should have listened to my mother. Never marry a Viking from Jersey.”
    “I heard that,” Helga hollered from inside. She followed it up with some indecipherable muttering.
    “You’ve given me a headache,” the giant grumbled. He extracted the axe from his foot.
    Helga ran from the house with the baby cradled in one arm.
    “Gimme that axe,” she demanded.
    The giant hesitated long enough to elicit a string of curses from Helga.
    “What did I tell you?” Wolfgang’s remark earned him a powerful slap upside the head from his wife.
    The giant chuckled and handed her the axe.
    “I like your woman,” he said, turning his massive frame to leave. “I squash you another day.”
    * * *
    “Thanks, babe.”
    Helga glared at him. “Milk?”
    “The baby’s sleeping,” Wolfgang said, running his fingers through Helga’s wild locks. “You know what it does to me when you’re angry. Can the milk wait?”
    “Oh, Wolfie.” She dropped the axe and hauled Wolfgang into the house by his beard. “Our baby needs a father. Don’t come back again without the milk.”

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