Olivia had ridden down this path a thousand times, there would be points that even the bird calls appeared when they were supposed to. It gave her a sense of place. That there was somewhere certain in this world that she might call her own. Back at the farm, she had to watch her dad move a little slower, getting up in the middle of the night and guiding him back to his bed, too big for him now, before he pissed by the front door again.
She had to endure snide, through gritted teeth visits from her sister, who had married an accountant in Carson City, and seemed it to view it as the final act of separation from her earnest, corn-fed relatives. Olivia could not stand the nails on a blackboard accent that she affected and her husband, Thirwell, had a furtive air to him that she could never warm to. She could not have told you her nephew’s names if you had put a gun to her head, which was just fine with her.
She liked life at the farm, even though it would have been nice to have a girl to share a bed with, someone who smelled nice and made pies. She wasn’t the sort who’d know how to go about finding one, but she still dreamed about it with a wistful, hopeless anticipation that ached like indigestion.
When she turned the last corner back to home, she saw the bridge. The gulch had been considered a waste of government funds to cross, not when twenty miles up the road, they had the railways in there now, which meant it saved people a bunch of money. Olivia had been amused by the idea that there were places in the world that men came up short against. It was to her shock and dismay that someone had decided to poke a small hole in her ideas, which she wasn’t that sure she liked all that much.
It extended into mist, carved from wood with an attention to detail that made her take the horse a little closer. It was polished, old wood, oak most probably and it gleamed like a million years of polish had been lovingly massaged into it. What took her eye next were the carvings, black shapes and patterns that she found difficult to look at straight on because they would set off a humming sensation in her head that made her straight want to puke up her eggs and coffee.
If she turned her head though and looked at them askance, she could make out the shapes of the carvings without too much effort. She had practice at doing that, going to the church dances, in the only good dress she had, feeling like a mule wearing a tie and trying not to stare at Betsy Currows. Olivia’s furtiveness saved her life, in more ways than one.
She got off the horse and tethered it to the rocks. She patted it on it’s flanks and took the rifle off the back of the saddle, slid in a couple of rounds and checked everything was good with it. If something’s not where it’s supposed to be, she thought, then having a gun to hand wouldn’t the stupidest thing a gal ever did.
She felt the rumbling, before it reached her ears, travelling through the bridge and deep into the ground it had been set into. She took a step back, shouldered the rifle and took in a deep breath.
‘Ho, well met brave maiden.’
The voice caroused through the mist like a fat man at a wedding reception, low and amused and through the mist, Olivia saw the outline of the man’s head, too tall to be living outside of a sideshow and shoulders wider than a seed bull. He looked down at her with a benign amusement, stroking his thick, white beard with slow, deliberate motions to indicate his contemplation. On his right hip rested a curved horn, inlaid with ornate patterns of gold and heavily studded with precious gems that burned in the sunlight.
‘What the hell are you?’ Olivia said.
He laughed and threw back his head.
‘I was about to ask you the same question. I am Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost and you are?’
Olivia lowered the rifle. If she had shot him, she figured she’d just end up making him mad, judging by his size and the plated armour that he wore.
‘About fit to think I’ve gone mad. But the name’s Olivia.’
He grinned, showing teeth the size of dinner plates and as he leaned over, Olivia saw up his nostrils. The whole thing began to make her feel quite giddy.
‘Olivia, word has gotten to me that you’re quite good with that weapon.’
She frowned and backed up a little, ready to bring the rifle up to bear if she needed it. Not that it would do any good, but as in so many things, it’s the thought that counts. She would need to hit him in the eye, she knew that because there was a part of her brain that understood entire schools of thought on the capabilities of a rifle or a handgun and the best places to aim. It was why, when times were hard on the farm, she could go out into the woods for days and hunt enough meat to see them through. On the whole, she preferred the farm though, less trouble on the feet.
‘I can aim at something and hit it, but most folks can, if they’ve a mind to.’
He laughed again and stepped off the bridge, shimmering until he was little more than a foot taller than her. He smelled of barley and autumn leaves, combined with old leather and spices.
‘What, if I say to you, that there’s a chance that one of those shots might help a lot of people out, and if you came with me, right this minute, you could be the gal to fire it?’
Olivia adjusted the brim of her hat. The sun had shifted behind him, and his solidity suggested that whoever he was, he was solid and he smelled like a man should.
‘How many people are we talking?’
Heimdall winked at her as he leaned forwards.
‘All of them.’
TO BE CONTINUED.