Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Valhalla’s Falling Standards

“Welcome to Valhalla.” The sweet voice said. The door was still closed. Arjun pushed the door but the door didn’t budge.

“Darn it.” Arjun said and pushed it again, harder. The door started to move slowly and finally, Arjun huffed his way into Valhalla — the paradise for heroes. Valhalla was the hall of Odin — a grand party for all the heroes who had fallen in battle. A huge honor and a huge burden, Arjun thought to himself as he entered. After entering, his mind simply went blank.

The whole room was the size of ten football fields and was filled with hundreds of tables with heroes of the lore walking around laughing and eating and having the time of their lives. Maidens of both genders moving around offering drinks and food to everyone while the music was in full blow, playing his favorite songs and filling the whole environment with electricity that he hadn’t felt in 35 years.

“Wow! You must have some gumption to be in a fight at this age.” A man with burly muscles and twirly moustache said to him. He was holding a huge mug filled with mead. He was posing the classical macho look that was allotted to the Norse gods. Arjun was stumped. He opened his mouth but no words came out. In response, he gulped some of the mead that was close to him.

“Hey everybody. This is Arjun. The newest member of Valhalla. Welcome the brave soul.” The man said in a booming voice bringing everyone’s attention to the duo. Arjun slouched a little more to hide himself from the sharp gazes.

“So, Arjun. What did you do while alive?” A woman asked. She had a slender body but the fierceness of her eyes told Arjun that she was a fighter.

“I was an accountant for most of life. Before that, I used to play in a band. For the last few years, I had been retired, hoping to die peacefully.” Arjun said truthfully. In his heart, Arjun didn’t know why he was present here. He had never had a fight in his whole life.

“And then life happened.” A young man smiled at him. Like Arjun, this person also didn’t have a warrior built. In fact, he looked just like a younger version of Arjun himself.

“How did you come here?” Arjun asked before he could stop himself. He hoped that this would give him some sense of reasoning for his presence.

The young man smiled. There was a sadness in his eyes that didn’t match the enthusiasm that this place held. His smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“I know I don’t look like a fighting person. In fact, it was the only fight I was ever in. A girl was being raped and I intervened. Unfortunately, I failed. I couldn’t save her or myself. The last thing I remember is gasping for breath as the two brutes choked me. Then, I was in front of that gate welcoming me to Valhalla.”

“That’s incredible.” Arjun said overwhelmed besides himself. He felt diminished in front of a young man, almost a boy, who gave up his life to save someone else.

“You must have been in a similar situation. You don’t look like a fighter too. No offence!” The young man said. Arjun nodded.

“You shut up Jonah! Look at this man’s eyes. He has seen the world.” A man older than Arjun came up and looked at Jonah with fierce eyes. Arjun was astounded at the fire that was blazing in this old man’s eyes.

“He might have killed more people than half of the people here combined.” Jonah whispered to Arjun and moved away. It was clear that no one messed with this old man.

“Who are you?” Arjun asked gingerly.

“Genghis.” The man said and Arjun’s non-existent heart beat jumped. He had heard of the man who change the world forever and now, that man was standing in front of him. Arjun immediately knew that all the stories about him were true. A hundred questions came to his mind but only one popped up — “Did you really sleep with more than a thousand women?”

Genghis looked at him incredulously and started to laugh. He shook his head with laughter and moved away.

“Don’t worry. Almost everyone asks this question.” A girl, not more than twenty, spoke eyeing the old man. It seemed that the charm of the old man still held, Arjun thought.

“TO ME!” A voice boomed in the whole hall and everyone looked in one direction. Arjun looked at the same place as well. Odin was here. Arjun immediately recognized the eye-patch and Odin’s aura fell on all of the people. Arjun had renewed strength and he felt he could have pushed that door with his little pinky finger.

“Today, we have six new members joining the halls of Valhalla. Watch their bravery, applaud their sacrifice and welcome their courage.” Odin said and the wall behind him exploded into a billion pixels showing off the largest television screen Arjun had ever seen, much bigger than anything he had ever imagined.

“Joyce. Step up girl.” Odin said bringing a thirty year old woman on the stage. She had been a nurse in the midst of a civil war. Arjun saw her protecting children from the strife. Then she picked up a gun and killed almost 10 men before dying. Her sacrifice saved those children and they were rescued. Arjun dabbed his eyes with his hands as the video ended.

“Rahman.” Odin said and a man in beard appeared on the stage. He was short in height and Arjun guessed that this person would be from somewhere in the middle-east — the region of perennial conflict. The video started to show how this man went into the battle knowing he would die. The whole scene turned bloody and Arjun started to feel queasy. He looked away till he heard the loud cheer from rest of them signalling that the video was over.

A couple of people also came and went, making Arjun feel even more confused as to why he was here. One girl had died fighting in a street fight while another guy was a soldier.

“Arjun.” Odin said and Arjun evaporated from his place and found himself standing on the stage besides him. Everyone was looking at him expectantly. The video behind him began.

Arjun was playing with his grandson — Amit. Amit ran from him outside and Arjun ran behind him.

“It’s not safe Amit. Come back.” Arjun shouted. Everyone held their breath expecting a bear to jump in front of Arjun. Arjun knew what was going to happen and his face reddened.

“Tickle war.” Amit said and jumped on Arjun. He started to tickle Arjun and Arjun tried to push him away while laughing.

“No Amit.” Arjun said and started to cough.

“Tickle war.” Amit said again and continued to tickle Arjun wildly.

Suddenly, Arjun clutched his chest and gasped on the screen. On the stage, Arjun realised why he was on this stage and shame engulfed him.

“Tickle war.” Amit said again however, this time a little apprehensive.

“Call your daddy.” Arjun said and pushed Amit away. Amit got scared and ran towards the house.

The video stopped.

Arjun looked at Odin who was looking at him sheepishly, as if saying, that’s it. Arjun looked around and everyone was looking at him with weird expressions on their faces. Arjun looked down, unable to meet their eyes.

“Tickle war. Really!” Arjun whispered to himself incredulously.