The lamp was on in the living room and Grandma was sitting with the dog beneath her. I was thinking about what Grandpa said in the hospital and couldn’t sleep:

“When I died,” Grandpa said, “I was sitting with my back against a tree. I heard drumming, shouting, metal clashing, shields thudding. I looked up and saw Valhalla through the tangled arches of tree limbs. I climbed through the branches and I saw this battle. I thought of home and I hesitated. I could have entered. I put my foot down to leave the tree top behind and I woke up in the hospital.”


Grandma kept braided locks of Grandpa’s hair from their wedding night:

“You know, Grandpa was a kickboxer and this was his warrior braid. He said when he married the woman of his dreams he was going to cut his braid. Grandpa cut his braid at our wedding ceremony,” she said. “You want to know more about your peculiar Grandpa. Why he had DNR tattooed over his heart. Maybe he was carried away, but he felt, depending on how he died, he would go to Valhalla. Maybe he did. The EMT did not take the DNR tattoo seriously when Grandpa died in the ambulance. Grandpa was resuscitated and he was upset about it. He retired undefeated as a kickboxer. Being resuscitated, he felt, was his first defeat.”


Grandpa lived for three miserable days before he died again. He was not resuscitated a second time.

“I couldn’t make the climb up into the ambulance,” Grandma said. “I had to follow in my car. I forgot to tell them he didn’t want to be brought back. It breaks my heart that he believed being resuscitated kept him from Valhalla.”

“Maybe it did,” I said. “But he beat death once. That’s pretty Viking.”

“Do you remember Grandpa’s coach?” she said. “He was old when you were a kid but he came to a few cookouts. He used to say ‘If happiness is a journey then death is just a destination.’”

“Do we believe in Valhalla?” I said.

“Yes and no,” Grandma said. “I don’t believe, really. But you were there. You saw how much he believed.”

“Did he believe before he was sick?”

“No,” Grandma said. “Since he was sick, he started to lean into this warrior-religion stuff, but as long as I’ve known him, he was a lapsed Catholic.”

“How could Grandpa be happy beating on people?”

“Like death, the violence was just where the thing ended,” Grandma said. “Your grandpa loved the training, the starving, the heat, the cold, the purpose. I know his least favorite part was the violence.”

“Then why Valhalla?” I said.

“Sometime in his training, before he met me, he lapsed. He didn’t believe that soldiers, fighters, were innocent. He thought they needed their own place to go.”

“I feel like I’m never going to know him.”

“If the man he was fighting ever lost consciousness, Grandpa wouldn’t celebrate. He’d grab and lift their feet to get the blood back to their head.”


About the Author

Michael Hammerle teaches creative writing and composition at a college and university. He holds an MFA from the University of Arkansas, Monticello, and a BA in English from the University of Florida. He is the founder of Middle House Review. His work has been published in The Best Small Fictions, Split Lip Magazine, Tendon at Johns Hopkins, Michigan State University Short Edition, Foothill Poetry Journal, New World Writing, Louisiana Literature, and elsewhere. His first book, Zero Is a Number, will be published by Finishing Line Press in November 2023. He lives and writes in North Florida. www.mikehammerle.com


Photo by Nonokas Mota on Unsplash