Written by Sara Codair / Artwork by Holly Eddy
Berserker

























Mina’s fist is a missile, launching from the mud as soon as her arm wriggles free from the man’s crushing grip. She
slams it into his jaw with enough force to crack bone.

His blue eyes widen. He grunts and raises his fist, intending to pummel the fight out of her, but she twists. The
muddy earth sucks his hand in. Mina is no longer pinned beneath him. She is staring down at him with blood
dripping out of her nose.

She kicks.

His ribs crack.

She stomps.

His face is flattened and bloodied.

Her nails dig into his neck as she hoists him from the ground. The earth releases him with sick slurp. Mina slams
him against a tree. He falls with a dull thud and doesn’t move.

Her heart races as she backs away from the still heap. The otherworldly battle madness fades. She’s cold,
nauseous and dizzy. The trail stretches out before her—a windy path. The gnarly trees are closing in, making it
tighter. Somewhere far away, she hears squirrels chattering and children’s laughter bouncing through the air.

She allows herself one shiver then runs as hard as she can, letting the burn of lactic acid singe the cold sweats
before they overwhelm her. The trees become blurs. She doesn’t slow until they’re replaced with neat rows of new-
construction homes.

She nearly trips over her white gate, stumbles up the steps and crashes into the door. As soon as it opens, arms
reach out, pull her in, and wrap her up in a warm blanket.

“Are you okay? Did you get him?” whispers Joey as he walks her over to the couch.

Mina nods; her throat is too tight to let out anything but sobs.

Joey sits down beside her, holding her head against his chest. “You did a good thing.”

“I killed a man,” she says.

“You killed monster, Mina, not a man. You have gift.”

Mina shakes her head. “I’m cursed.”

“I love you.” Joey kisses her head.

She doesn’t say it back. He doesn’t know what it’s like to feel the night call, to feel fear of prey followed by the
compulsion to kill.

Joey holds her until her sobs quiet then tries to talk to her about her day, about the normal part, where she got
up, forced herself to sit at the front desk and play receptionist for the small Swiscaskit Police Department. She can’t
focus on the words. All she hears is the heavy breathing and gurgling death of her victim.

~ * ~

When Mina wakes the next morning, Joey has already retreated to work. She finds her mother sitting on the edge
of her bed with a steaming mug. She regrets giving Mother a key.

“It gets easier,” says Mother, leaning forward and tucking Mina’s hair behind her ear.

“The day killing becomes easy is the day I die.”

“Wilhelmina,” scolds Mother. “Don’t say such horrible things.”

Mina rolls over and buries herself in blankets. Their heavy weight makes her feel safe and warm, shielded from the
cruel world and the monster it wants her to be. She hopes if she hides long enough, Mother will give up and leave.

“I called the station and told them you won’t be in. Sergeant Michelson emailed something for you to see.”

Mina grunts. Being a killer is bad enough. Being endorsed by the police when they should be arresting her only
makes it worse.

Mother pulls the blankets off Mina, hauls her out of bed and plops a tablet on her lap. The first page displays a mug
shot of the man she killed. Below it is a list of the rapes and murders he’s wanted for. Police had nearly caught him
three times. Officers died in each attempt.

“He was the monster, not you,” says Mother. “The world is a safer place without him.”

Mina stares at her mother, taking in her spider web hair, the canyons around her mouth, deep scars and crooked
nose. Then she stares into her mother’s eyes. They are the color of a winter sky right before a storm buries the
earth in snow, but they no longer have the bite of steel Mina feared as a child.

“But what happens when the world needs to be protected from me?” she asks.

Mother smiles. The expression causes years to melt away from her weathered face. “Hopefully, by then, your
daughter will be old enough to take your burden, just as you took mine.”

“I’m not having kids,” growls Mina.

“It’s a little late for that,” laughs Mother. “When was your last period?”

Mina stares. Her stomach twists into knots as she counts the days and realizes it should have come last week.

Mother’s smile grows as she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a pregnancy test. “The power changes your
body chemistry. The increased tolerance for pain also increases your tolerance for drugs, including birth control.”

“Why didn’t you warn me?”

Mother grins. Mina grabs the box and flees to the bathroom. Her body shakes as she pees on the stick. Guilt and
fear wash over her as she sees the results. She’s still staring at it when her mother breaks the lock and plucks it
from her hand. “It’s about time you made an heir.”

“I can’t,” whispers Mina, wondering if it is better to end the pregnancy than bring a cursed child into the world.

“Of course you can.” Mother puts her hands on Mina’s shoulders and looks right into her eyes. “Picture the little
child growing inside of you. Picture her growing into a beautiful teenager. Imagine that teenager meeting a man like
the one you just killed. Envision the things he would do to her.”

Mother’s deliberate words seep deep into Mina’s consciousness. An image forms in her head: A girl with her green
eyes and sandy hair is alone, behind a restaurant, where the man is waiting for her. She smiles. He’s a regular
customer. She trusts him, assumes he forgot something inside. Then his meaty hands are on her throat.

“Wilhelmina!” Mother’s voice calls Mina back to reality. “Tell me the world doesn’t need people like you.”

Mina opens her mouth to argue, but no words come out.

~ * ~

Mina spends the morning researching abortions. She doesn’t eat. Her head spins, and she fears any food that
enters her stomach will be promptly expelled. She doesn’t know if this is the aftermath of her powers or the
beginning of morning sickness. She starts a load of laundry. Mops half the floor. Empties the junk draw. Weeds a
section of garden and sweeps the curb. In the moments when she stops thinking and lets her mind get silent, she
can feel something inside her, slowing growing as it absorbs life, blood and power.

She doesn’t want to be pregnant. Her curse is a big enough burden. How can she care for another human being?
How can she pass her burden onto an innocent baby?

The Internet doesn’t help. There is plenty of information about abortion procedures, about a woman’s right to
choose and the difference between a fetus and a baby. However, there are also pro-life websites preaching that life
starts at conception, and that abortion is murder.

She wants to dismiss the beginnings of life stirring in her womb as anxiety and paranoia, but she is no ordinary
woman. She bears the Berserker Curse placed upon her ancestors by an ancient goddess. While that makes it
easier for Mina to dismiss the Christian arguments, it makes it impossible for her to deny the reality of what she
feels. The seed in her is alive, but she can choose whether or not it will grow.

~ * ~

Her last hopes for an abortion wither like impatiens planted in full-sun when Joey returns home.

“I’m pregnant,” she blurts before he even takes his coat off.

His blank frown transforms into a smile that cuts through her despair like the summer sun burning off fog as it
rises out of the ocean. He kisses her, lifts her in his arms and spins her around like a fairy tale princess.

“She might be cursed, like me,” whispers Mina when Joey finally puts her down.

He cups her face in his hands. “
If it is a girl, she will be a hero like you.”

Mina remains silent; she has no doubts about the gender of the child growing inside her.

~ * ~

Over the next seven months, Mina’s belly grows into the shape of a bullfrog’s inflated throat. Her back aches, her
ankles throb and her body weakens. Her stomach is a bloated tick, and she wants it gone.

When she wakes up at midnight on Wednesday, she is actually glad to feel the pull of power snaking around her
body. It reinforces her spine, sooths her ankles and fuels her will. The thought of what is to come makes her
queasy, but Mina welcomes the relief from mundane pregnancy. By the time she is dressed and out the door, the
power has erased all her self-doubt. Her mind is focused on one thing: Find her target and eliminate him.

She is hardly aware of her surroundings as she speeds down the dark highway. Her hands grip the wheel and her
feet press on the pedal, but a force more ancient and powerful than her own mind is in control. Mina is no longer a
person. She is tool for dealing death to evil men.

After an hour of driving, the car pulls over on a particularly deserted stretch of road. Swaddled in her blanket of
magic, Mina emerges from the car and opens the hood so it looks like she is stranded. Deep inside, her conscious is
riling, appalled by the way she is using her pregnant body to lure her victim into the trap.

She hears the grumbling of an engine. A surge of power from the curse crushes her conscious. The man is hardly
out of his car by the time her hands are around his tree-trunk neck, squeezing. His black eyes widen. They look
familiar, but the curse doesn’t let Mina think much. Thick, dark fingers curl around her wrists and peel them off the
throat.

The man’s fist hits her gut, but she feels no pain.

She kicks him in groin.

She punches him in the face.

He swings at her, but she blocks, and proceeds to pummel him with her sharp knuckles.

He falls unconscious.

She wraps her hands around his throat and squeezes until it collapses and he dies.

The curse departs with his spirit, guiding it to whatever Hell the Norse goddess believed in, leaving Mina weak,
queasy, and alone with a corpse.

She backs away from the victim, but this time, she is too far to run home. The weight of her unborn child makes it
impossible for her to walk. Her head spins and her limbs shake. Before she gets back to her car, she is on the
ground, heaving up the vegetable stir-fry Joey had cooked her for dinner.  She sends Mother a text message then
passes out.

~ * ~

The next morning, Mina wakes to the scolding sound of Mother’s voice. Joey is already gone. The curtains are
drawn, and a glaring beam of sunlight is filling the room. Mother is standing beside the bed, glowering at Mina.

“You need to learn to control it,” says Mother.

Mina yawns and tried to hide under the blankets.

Mother rips them away, exposing Mina to the morning. “You are nothing more than a tool. The curse takes control
whenever it pleases, and it puts a strain both your body and soul. You need to be using it. Not the other way
around.”

“But I don’t want to be a killer,” protest Mina, shielding her face from the light.

“You have no choice.” Mother grabs Mina by the shoulders and hoists her out of bed. “And you need to get
dressed now, or else we will be late for your appointment with Dr. Jewels.”

“I’ll cancel. Dr. Jewels is a good friend. She’ll understand.” Mina struggles to break free from Mother so she can go
back to sleep.

“You will do no such thing.” Mother forces Mina over to the shower and turns the water on. Mina is too tired to
fight, so she strips and gets in.

~ * ~

Dr. Jewels has large masculine shoulders, but wears the clothing of a woman. Her face has been surgically altered to
look more feminine, but Mina remembers the blockier version from high school. At times, Mina has been envious
because the trans-woman is strong and powerful without the aid of a curse. She saves lives instead of taking them.
Dr. Jewels is the hero Mina wishes she were, so she is surprised to see Dr. Jewels’ face is swollen with bruises and
her leg is covered in a plaster cast.

“What happened?” asked Mina.

Dr. Jewels smiles weakly and sits down beside Mina. “Do you remember my step-brother, Marty?”

Mina tilts her head. “I never met him, but I remember you talking about him. Didn’t he get locked up young?”

“He got out this week. Beat me up, claiming I’m an abomination, defiling the body God gave me. He threatened to
kill me if I didn’t stop my transition.”

“That’s horrible,” says Mina, feeling alive for the first time since last night. “You won’t let him stop you, right?”

Dr. Jewels shakes her head. “Karma is a bitch. Last night, he was murdered. Beaten to death in his car.”

Mina’s stomach churns and her baby kicks. She barely makes it to the trash before she throws up the corn muffin
Mother made her eat on the way to the doctors.

“Is the morning sickness still bad?” asks Dr. Jewels.

“Yes,” lies Mina. “I wish it would go away.”

Dr. Jewels helps her clean up, takes her vitals and begins the ultra sound. The fetus is starting to look more like a
human than a parasite. It has a head, arms, legs, and even a distinct face. Mina thinks most women would start
feeling love and attachment at this point in their pregnancy, but Mina is just nauseous.

“Do the police know who killed you brother?” asks Mina abruptly.

Dr. Jewels pauses. “No, but I’d like to thank whoever did.”

“You’re not angry?”

“I should be,” says Dr. Jewels with eyes fixated on the ultra sound machine’s screen. “But I’m not. The world is a
better place without that bigoted bastard in it. I hope he’s burning in Hell.”

Mina doesn’t doubt he is, and feels her burden lighten just enough to ask her mother to take her out to lunch
when the appointment ends. She eats half a loaf of bread and a bowl of tomato soup, managing to hold them both
down afterwards.

~ * ~

The next time the Mina feels the curse is the moment her water breaks. She panics as the power surges through
her, unsure how she is supposed to hunt when she is in labor. Energy and strength fortify her body and dull her
pain, but for the first time, the supernatural strength isn’t accompanied by the urge to hunt and kill.

“It’s helping me,” she says as Joey loads her into the car.

“What is?” He buckles her seatbelt.

“The curse. It’s making me strong and dulling the pain.”

He smiles. “That’s because it’s a gift, Mina, not a curse at all.”

He closes the door. She leans her head against the cool grass, thinking this time, she might just agree with him.

~ * ~

Mina stares at the shriveled creature crying in the cradle. She knows she should pick it up and feed it, but she is
frozen where she stands. She thought she would feel better once the baby was out of her. She doesn’t. She aches
between her legs. Exhaustion makes her head sway like rockweed at high tide. When she nurses the baby, its like
her life force is pouring out through her breast. She wishes she could escape to work and let Joey stay home with
the squealing sucker.

“How’s my little Lorelei?” Coos Mother as she walks into the room.

“Lorelei,” whispers Mina. “Beautiful and tragic.”

Mother brushes past Mina, picks up the screaming two-week-old Lorelei and sniffs. “She needs to be changed.”

Mina remains still, like a heron on the edge of a pond, watching for fish. Mother changes little Lorelei then turns to
Mina. “Antidepressants won’t work any better than your birth control did. If you want to kick your post-partum,
you’re going need my help.”

“And how can you help?” hisses Mina.

“You forget I have been through this too. Go for a run. A long one. I’ll care for Lorelei.”

“I hurt,” says Mina.

“Good,” says Mother. “That means you can still heal. Now go!”

Mina backs out of the room slowly, picking up speed as she goes down the stairs. She jogs out the door, and by
the time her bare feet hit the curb, she is sprinting. Her muscles scream. She welcomes the pain. She lets it
consume her until she can’t think at all. She just feels the burn of her muscles, pavement scraping skin of off her
bare feet, and the curse, whispering in the back of her mind, easing the pain just enough for her to keep running.

She runs until her legs give out. She hits the ground hard, tearing her knee open on the pavement. Blood tickles as
it trickles down her leg. Her skin stings. She smiles, feeling like something bad is flowing out with her blood. She
wishes it was the curse, but she knows better. She can feel it twined through her nervous system.

Opening her eyes, she takes in her surroundings: a narrow path of crumbling black top winds through a tunnel of
trees. Her chest heaves and tears stream down her cheeks. Nine months ago, she lay in this exact spot, punched a
rapist in the face, escaped his grip and murdered him.

She thinks the place should look dark with gnarly, dead trees and no living creatures, but dark is the last word she
would use to describe this oasis. The tree trunks are warm brown, like coffee with just the right amount of cream.
A vibrant canopy of green hangs overhead, housing a soprano ensemble of songbirds. Sunlight filters through the
leaves and warms her skin. A chipmunk darts out on the path, sniffs her bloody toes then retreats to the bushes
on the other side.

Mina takes deep breaths as she stands up. Wet earth, rhododendron and wild raspberries mask the smell of the
city. Stepping off the path, she curls her toes in cool soil. If the curse can prevent drugs from working and ease
labor pains, then it must be able to prevent infections in flesh wounds.

~ * ~

Mina and Mother make a deal. Mother will care for Lorelei as long as Mina is training her body and mind to use the
family legacy. Mother shows up at 9 a.m. sharp, just fifteen minutes after Joey leaves for work. Mina runs until her
body gives out. She is mindful and meditative while she sprints, waiting for the moment when something other
than her own energy fuels her feet and whispers directions through her synapses.

When she feels this intrusion, she breaths slow, stops thinking and searches. She finds the place it comes from
and builds a mental dam against the curse.

After her running meditation, Mina studies the half-legible diaries of her ancestors. No one remembers when the
curse started, and they’ve recorded their successes and failures at control in a manner reminiscent of high school
lab reports. The records are imperfect, but they offer hope. It’s been decades since anyone was able to maintain
enough control to keep their victims alive, but back in the early 1900’s, Mina’s great-great-grandmother succeeded
in doing just that.

When her rest is over and the baby naps, Mina spars with Mother, practicing different forms of martial arts. Being
mindful of the curse is only half the battle. If Mina wants to subdue her victims without killing them, she needs to
be able to take them down without more than a trickle of the ancient power.

By the time Mother leaves, Mina is exhausted. She crashes on the couch, cherishing the fleeting moments she has
alone with her daughter, just lying together before Joey gets home to cook dinner.

~ * ~

After six months of training, the puppet strings are no longer part of Mina, but are held by her. She isn’t a
marionette strung along by a forgotten Goddess, but a participant in a psychic tug-of-war.

~ * ~

The next time Mina feels the pull of power, it is not night, but afternoon. Mina, Lorelei and Mother are strolling
through downtown Swiscaskit, laughing at the tourists waiting in a ridiculous line for lobster rolls.

A woman breaks out of the line, frantically shouting:

“Julia?”

“Where are you Julia?”

“Does anyone see my baby? Julia where are you!”

Mina’s eyes meet Mother’s for a moment. Mother takes the baby from Mina’s arms and casually strolls over to a
bench. Mina takes a deep breath, imaging a dam gradually opening, allowing only a trickle of power to flow through,
just enough to fortify her limbs and tell her where she needs to go.

Mina is like whale allowing the tug of the magnetic polls to guide its migration. She rushes past the line of tourist,
busts through a crowd gathered around a lobster boat and charges down the rocky slope leading to the salty river.
Shells and dried seaweed crunch beneath her feet. Each breath is accompanied by the sent of rotting mussels and
decomposing kelp.

She charges under piers, leaps over large rocks and whips around bends until she sees a wiry man hoist a bundle
of pink tulle and red curls into a row boat. Mina opens the mental dam wider. Power surges through, pushing her
towards the tender. She arrives just as the man has casts off the shore.

In one swift motion, she bends down, grabs a rock and leaps into the boat. The man only has time to gape before
she brings it down on his face.

The girl screams.

The man crumples into a heap.

The curse urges Mina to bash his skull to bloody bits.

Mina slams the mental dam shut, opting instead to bind the man’s hands with the pram’s ropes before rowing back
to shore. She is dizzy when she lifts the crying child into the arms of Sergeant Michelson, but she manages to
stagger out of the boat with minimal assistance from a bystander and plops down on a flat rock.

Michelson passes the confused girl to her crying mother and proceeds to exam the dinghy’s contents. He cuffs the
man who is just regaining consciousness, reads him his rights and hauls him to his feet.

Mina watches chaos unfold from her rock. More police cruisers arrive with the ambulances, sending officers and
EMT’s scurrying down the rocks like rodents. They examine the little girl and haul the suspect off to the county jail.

Sergeant Michelson takes statements from witnesses, each recounting a grander version of how Mina rescued the
girl. By the time he gets to Mina, he looks just as tired as her.

“You left the bastard alive,” he plops down on the rock beside her.

“I’m learning control. Do you need a statement?”

“You remember enough?”

Mina nods, and begins a brief description of her chase, leaving out the parts she knows he can’t put into his police
report. He takes careful notes, pats her on the back, and leaves.

“You saved my girl,” says the victim’s mother as she and her daughter sit in the spot Michelson just vacated.
“Thank you so much!”

“Are you a super hero?” asks girl who appears unharmed. She is much calmer now that she is with her mother.

Mina’s opens her mouth to tell the girl she is the villain, not the hero, but no sound comes out. She’s done bad
things in the past, but she is in control now. She doesn’t have to kill again.

“Mommy said Daddy wanted to hurt me,” continues the girl. Her eyes and cheeks are still stained red from tears,
but they are full with five-year-old feistiness.  

“I can’t thank you enough,” adds the mother. She drops her voice to whisper. “Her father is a sick man. The things
he wants to do keep me up at night. You’re like a guardian angel, sent at just the right moment.”

Mina doesn’t feel like an angel, but she can’t deny having done something right. A dangerous man is off the
streets, and he is facing justice, not death. A foreign tension slides into Mina cheeks as her lips curve upwards. It’s
a strange thing, smiling, but not as strange as the sound that bubbles up from Mina’s belly and pours out her
mouth.

“Why are you laughing?” The girl gawks at Mina with her head tilted and eyebrows raised.

“I never thought of myself as a hero,” says Mina. “But I guess I am one now.”

“You certainly are,” says Mother finally reaching the scene. “But your baby is hungry, and I don’t have a bottle.”

“Duty calls.” Still laughing, Mina takes the baby, adjusts her shirt and holds Lorelei to her breast. A few people give
her funny looks, but Mina doesn’t care. She is a heroic mother, graced with the power of an ancient goddess.

THE LORELEI SIGNAL
Sara Codair lives in a world of words: she writes fiction whenever she
has a free moment, teaches writing at a community college and is
known to binge read fantasy novels. When she manages to pry
herself away from the words, she can often be found hiking,
swimming, gardening or telling people to save the bees. Find her
online at
https://saracodair.com/.