Valkyries Don't Wear Vintage

Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
A veterinarian accepts her Valkyrie heritage to save mythological animals.
First 10 Pages

Premonitions of death were annoying. Rosa always felt she needed to do something about them.

Inside the tinted windows of the white BMW, five guys horsed around as they waited for the light to change. When Rosa looked at them, she felt a sinking sensation and knew they would be dead in half an hour.

Stefan must have guessed what she was thinking. “Just leave it.”

Rosa chewed her lower lip. Stefan had died long before Rosa was born, so he probably thought that death was no big deal. Neither of them knew what happened to most people after they died. She also had no idea why Stefan’s ghost had stuck around, instead of vanishing like everyone else. Rosa did know most people didn’t want to die. She decided she had to give the boys a chance.

She approached the BMW and mimed rolling down the window. The five boys in the car were in their mid-twenties. She wished they could see Stefan’s ghost, like she could. Stefan looked about their age, but taller and more muscular. These guys would probably respect him more than they would Rosa.

At least the driver was willing to talk. “Hey, what’s up.” He was a tanned blonde in a collared shirt. He looked like the kind of guy who started brawls in expensive pubs.

Rosa hated this part. “Just drive carefully, okay? I have a bad feeling.”

The driver raised his eyebrows. “Oo, like a premonition?” He made a spooky face, wiggling his fingers.

The boy in the passenger seat mimed blowing a kiss. “Want to come along to make sure we’re all right?”

Ugh, Rosa thought. She had yet to find a boy who talked to her like an equal, the way Stefan did. She supposed Stefan was technically fifty years older than these guys were, but she suspected that he had been a gentleman even when he had been alive. She wished for the umpteenth time that Stefan weren’t dead. Of course, if he were alive and able to talk to anyone, there was a chance he might not choose to hang out with her.

Rosa ignored the passenger-seat boy. “Just watch out.”

“Sure, sweetheart.” The driver revved the engine.

In the back of the BMW, one of the boys muttered something about a “crazy New Age chick.”

Rosa continued crossing the street. She didn’t look New Agey. Her fitted cream vintage dress was decorated with red flowers that matched her red horn-rim glasses. She wore her shiny black hair in a neat French twist.

She watched the car out of the corner of her eye as it sped away. Should she have done more? The boys were jerks, but so were a lot of guys that age. They still didn’t deserve to die.

According to the feeling in her stomach, they had about twenty minutes left to live. Since Rosa had started her internship at South Street Veterinary Clinic a few months ago, she had fine-tuned her ability to predict when a death would occur. Each time before an animal died at the clinic, she felt the plummeting sensation in her stomach. Soon afterwards, a ghost emerged from the animal’s body and disappeared in a whirlwind. When Rosa watched her step-grandfather Filip die in the hospital, the same thing happened to him. She didn’t know why she could predict deaths or see ghosts, but she had learned to trust her senses.

Rosa decided to check the news later for reports of a car crash. In the meantime, she needed to catch a bus home so she could eat dinner before her veterinary work.

“Meet you at the vet?” Stefan asked. He couldn’t go with her on the bus. When he tried to get into any kind of vehicle, his body passed right through it. He could walk on the ground or climb stairs, but for some reason, cars and buses didn’t support him. Besides, he had no real reason to go home with Rosa. He didn’t need to eat, like she did.

Rosa nodded. “Library again?” She always spoke quietly to Stefan when other people were around. It was embarrassing when people thought she was talking to herself.

“Yeah. I hope the boat renovation guy is there.” Stefan spent a lot of time reading over people’s shoulders while they researched on the library computers. Stefan couldn’t touch a keyboard or open a book by himself, so he wandered around the library until he found a patron looking at something interesting. He liked it when the same people continued their research day after day. Stefan’s current favorite was a man who visited several times a week to read about boat repair. Before Stefan died, he had been working on a fishing boat and saving money for a boat of his own. Now, he would never ride on a boat again, but he hadn’t lost interest in the topic. He vicariously enjoyed the boat-repair guy’s progress renovating a run-down yacht and making it seaworthy again.

“Have fun,” Rosa said.

Stefan strode off. He passed through a mall security cop going the other way.

Rosa smelled basil and oregano before she reached the door of their second-floor apartment. Marco was cooking, which meant they had company. She tried to remember the name of her father’s latest girlfriend. Megan? Marion? It wasn’t Maria, because her father never dated other Italians. Most likely, he figured they wouldn’t be sufficiently impressed by his Italian cooking.

The girlfriend, whatever she was called, perched on a barstool in the kitchen watching Marco cook. Meredith, that was her name, Rosa remembered. Marco wore his apron with the map of Tuscany, as if that would make his cooking more authentic. He shifted around three pots on the stove. Meredith was swirling a glass of red wine and complaining about someone at work.

Rosa didn’t try to catch Marco’s attention as she slipped past to go to her room. Marco didn’t like to be interrupted when he was trying to impress a girlfriend. Rosa felt a moment of regret every time she passed him without speaking, but honestly, they didn’t have much to say to each other. Marco hadn’t even wanted to be a father.

Rosa’s mother hadn’t wanted her either, so Rosa had been dumped on Marco’s doorstep soon after she was born. Marco wouldn’t talk about Rosa’s mother, no matter how much Rosa prodded. Maybe he didn’t even know which girlfriend had given birth to her. Rosa didn’t know if Marco had taken a paternity test, but she had no doubt he was her biological father. She shared his Roman nose, straight black hair, and tendency to gain weight.

In her room, she lifted her spotted python out of his tank. “Hello, Cappy.” Other than Stefan, the python was her best friend. Capellini, or Cappy for short, was a better companion than Stefan in some ways, because she could touch him and he never talked back. “No mouse yet,” she told him, as he flicked his tongue at her fingers. It was a few days before he was due to be fed, but she could tell he was starting to think about his next meal.

Cappy might not be ready to feed, but he was eager to explore. He slowly unspooled himself from her arm and extended his head towards the ground. Soon only the tail end of his body still gripped her arm. He sniffed at the floor, assessing whether it was safe to drop himself down all the way.

“Not today.” Rosa grabbed him before he could slip off her arm. She put him back in his tank. Usually, she would spend more time with the snake, but right now, she needed to help her grandmother Giulia get to dinner.

Rosa found the old woman staring out the window as usual. Every morning, Rosa put out bird seed on the deck outside for the magpies so that Giulia had something to watch. The old woman refused to have a TV. City birds were generally considered filthy, noisy pests. However, Marco didn’t care about the mess and Giulia couldn’t hear well enough to mind the noise, so Rosa kept feeding the magpies.

“Nonna,” Rosa said loudly. “Marco is making dinner.”

Giulia raised her head. “Alfonso?” That was the name of her first husband. Much of the time, Giulia didn’t seem to understand that he had died long ago.

“Marco,” Rosa insisted.

Giulia frowned. However, she didn’t resist when Rosa helped her to her walker. Once the old woman had a grip on the handles, she moved steadily. She knew the way to the kitchen and back.

Rosa kept pace with her. It wasn’t right that Giulia spent so much time in the apartment, she thought. Rosa took her grandmother to church every Sunday despite having no religious beliefs herself. They went for shorter walks throughout the week. Marco never took her anywhere. Rosa thought this was ungrateful of him. Giulia had brought Marco from Italy and supported him, sometimes entirely on her own when she was between husbands. Giulia had never divorced, as a dutiful Catholic, but she had managed to outlive two more husbands after Alfonso passed away.

Rosa saw a flicker of discomfort in Marco’s expression as she helped Giulia through the kitchen to the dining table. Rosa supposed that a twenty-year-old daughter and an elderly mother didn’t mesh with Marco’s idea of a romantic evening. Meredith spun around on her bar stool. She frowned.

“And this is my lovely mother,” Marco put on a cheerful voice. He waltzed over to Giulia and planted a kiss on her cheek. “And my lovely daughter,” he added, without the kiss.

“We’ve met,” Meredith said. She had been introduced to Rosa once before. She looked Rose up and down. She didn’t seem any more impressed than she had been the first time.

Under Meredith’s scrutiny, Rosa was intensely aware of her own hips and thighs. She probably weighed half again as much as Meredith. At least Meredith had bad teeth, she thought vindictively, then felt ashamed. “How’s the wine?” she asked.

Meredith thawed a little. “A decent Chianti.”

“Let me get you a glass,” Marco said to Rosa. He might not be the most diligent father, but at least he didn’t care that she hadn’t reached the legal drinking age.

Rosa set the table as Marco brought over the dishes he had prepared. She had to admit that Marco was a decent cook. Even Giulia ate everything with apparent enjoyment. Rosa wasn’t sure how much of the conversation the old woman could follow, but she hoped for Giulia’s sake that she was missing most of it. Marco was talking up his own skills as a chef and trying to be as Italian as he possibly could. His voice assumed a lilting intonation, littered with words like delizioso and stupendo.

Finally Rosa couldn’t stand it anymore. “You’re laying it on a bit thick,” she told him. To Meredith, she added, “He moved here when he was four. I don’t think he even remembers the Old Country.”

Giulia chuckled. Maybe she understood more than she let on. “Hai ragione,” she said to Rosa, and patted her hand. Giulia seemed confused a lot of the time, but she didn’t have any illusions about her son.

Marco paled for a second, but quickly found his stride again. “Luckily mamma mia raised me in the traditional ways.” He raised his glass.

Giulia raised hers too, still smiling.

Rosa wished that her grandmother had been healthier while she was growing up. Maybe Giulia could have taken the place of Rosa’s absent mother. But Giulia had been old for as long as Rosa could remember. A few years ago, Giulia had walked with less difficulty, but otherwise she hadn’t changed in all the years that Rosa had known her. It was hard to imagine Giulia had once been young and deeply in love with Marco’s father, if her ongoing talk about “Alfonso” was any indication.

Rosa checked her phone. It was twenty minutes until she needed to leave, but she was more than ready to go. She wiped her mouth and thanked Marco for the meal. “It was delicious,” she said truthfully. “You can leave the washing up for me.” She knew he would anyway, so she might as well act generous about it. “Help Nonna back to her room when she’s ready, please.”

“Naturalmente,” Marco said. “Arrivederci.”

The South Street Veterinary Clinic was a forty-minute walk from Marco’s apartment, but Rosa had plenty of time. She only took a bus when she was running late. When she was halfway to the clinic, she checked the time on her phone. She had an email from the DNA analysis company. Her heart fluttered. Since Marco wouldn’t talk about her mother, she had decided to take matters into her own hands. If her mother’s other relatives had sent in DNA samples, she might find out whether her mother was alive. She might learn her mother’s name.

She fumbled as she keyed in the code to unlock her phone. When she clicked on the email, the message didn’t make sense. It said the company had been unable to process her sample due to contamination from non-human DNA. Her credit card had been refunded. That couldn’t be right, she thought. Rosa worked at a vet’s clinic, so she knew better than most people how to take a clean sample.

“There goes that lead,” she muttered. Giulia didn’t remember Rosa’s mother. Marco wouldn’t talk about her. Marco’s friends, when they were drunk enough to answer Rosa’s questions, didn’t think that Marco had dated anyone special before she was born.

In Rosa’s heart, she knew that her mother had been another Meredith, another fling, another brief episode in Marco’s long history of refusing to commit to anything. Rosa was the first person he had been forced to make a commitment to, whether he liked it or not. That was the reason he resented her existence.

Rosa felt her eyes watering, but wiped the moisture away. She needed to save enough money to move out of Marco’s apartment, that was all. Rosa knew what she wanted from life: a career helping animals, a boyfriend, and another pet snake. She didn’t think that was too much to ask. Once she had her own place, she would manage everything just fine.

Stefan sat in the veterinary clinic’s waiting area playing with the resident cat, Grey. He hissed and wiggled a finger while the cat watched intently. “Hello,” Stefan greeted Rosa without looking up.

Like Rosa, cats could see ghosts. As Rosa watched Stefan play with Grey, she felt guilty for indulging in self-pity about her absent mother and distant father. How could she be lonely when she could talk to anyone on the planet? Stefan only had Rosa, and they couldn’t even touch. Sometimes they pretended to hug, but their arms went right through each other’s bodies. If Stefan had been physical, Rosa would have liked to run her hand over his strong jaw, maybe smooth back his white-blond hair. As it was, she had no right to think about her friend romantically. In the first place, it wouldn’t be fair to him. He couldn’t talk to anyone else. Hitting on him would be like a jailer seducing a prisoner. In the second place, he didn’t have a body. Though Rosa didn’t want a purely physical relationship, she did want someone she could touch. No, she needed to find a living boyfriend.

Grey pounced on Stefan’s finger. The cat’s claws went right through Stefan’s hand.

The woman at the reception desk laughed. “I love how cats attack imaginary prey.” She was a new intern at the practice, a mousy-haired woman named Janey.

Rosa smiled sadly. “He lightens the mood. Busy day?”

Janey shook her head. “It would have been easy, except Priya never showed. Stella had to take her appointments.”

“How odd.”

Priya was never late. She worked hard and expected the same of her assistants. Rosa had been ready for a busy evening.

“I’ll just do prep for tomorrow, then?” Rosa asked.

Janey shrugged. It wasn’t her job to coordinate interns like Rosa.

Rosa pushed through the “Staff Only” door. She pulled a scrub top over her dress, then went to check on the overnight boarders. They were taking care of a striped kitten, which ought to make Stefan happy. He would have someone new to talk to. Rosa checked the bandage on the kitten’s broken leg.

Rosa was changing the animals’ water bowls when Priya came in.

“What a nightmare.” The steel-haired Indian woman shook her head. “Two hours stuck in traffic! I could have walked here quicker.”

Rosa thought she might know the source of that problem. “Where was that?”

“Continental Boulevard outside the city. Horrible accident – I saw the mess when I finally drove past.”

Rosa wanted to ask whether it involved a white BMW, but restrained herself. “Multi-car?” she asked instead.

“No, it just hit a guardrail and flipped.”

At least the car hadn’t killed anyone else. Rosa pushed down a sense of guilt. What more could she have done? The boys hadn’t wanted to listen. She was staring despondently into space when Stefan walked in through the wall. She blinked in surprise.

“Made you look,” Stefan teased. “Hello there,” he greeted the kitten. He poked a hand through the bars of its cage and tried to get its attention.

Rosa wanted to warn him to play gently, because of the kitten’s hurt leg, but she had learned not to talk to him when anyone else was watching. She spoke to Priya instead. “Janey said the clinic wasn’t busy, and Stella was able to stay late.”

Priya looked at the wall clock. “I’m in time for the last appointment. I’ll send Stella home.” She instructed Rosa to sort out food and medications for the overnight patients, then left through one of the doors leading to an examination room.