My name is Mårten Larsson, and this story is about me. That already tells you a lot about me and the book. For one thing, you know my name (unless I was lying), and you know that I will survive whatever happens, as I am personally telling you about these amazing events (unless I’m somehow dead and writing as a ghost).
How many other options are there? Not many, and my mother didn’t raise me to be a liar. If I told you any lies, at least she’d want to make sure they were believable lies. In other words, she wouldn’t want me to get caught.
Getting caught is what I do best. It is either a natural talent (which means we can blame my family genes) or a well-hewn craft (in which case we can still blame my parents). I am the very kind of person Mother warned me to avoid.
When you visit the government printing office, you can buy whole sheets of dollar bills. Did you ever hear the phrase “queer as a three-dollar bill”? Funny. Ha ha. When my mother visited the place where they print money, she bought me three one-dollar bills as a sheet. My own mother said I was queer as a three-dollar bill.
See the kind of torment I’ve had to work through? I have those bills framed, and you can still see them hanging on my wall. I am queer as a three-dollar bill. Truth doesn’t hurt.
Sticks and stones hurt. Names hurt too.
“Why is there a circle over the A in my name?” I asked Mother.
“You’re Swedish,” Mother said.
“Guys at school think it’s sissy.”
“Good, it’ll make you grow up tough.”
My own mother. I always thought about suing her over that name. Shouldn’t there be some kind of maternal malpractice?
“I’m taking you to court,” I told her once.
“Eat your cereal,” she said.
“I’m gay, you know.”
“I’m not blind,” she said.
“It makes me sensitive.”
“That’s nice, dear. Eat your cereal.”
Nobody ever got my name right. It usually got Americanized into Martin or Marty. If anything, it could be Morton, which is how to say my name in Swedish. An A with a little circle sounds like the O in “yonder.” Why couldn’t they just turn the letter into an O? I have no idea, except that it must have been some kind of plot to get me picked on in school. Can you imagine the grief a kid in Texas gets when his first name has an Å in it? Oh, the pain. The humanity. I am the only guy who grew up in Bible-belt bubba-land with a damn circle over his A.
So little Mårten put up with it, and I grew up tough. I’m scraggly and skinny, but mention that little circle in my name and see me go all hostile on your ass. I used to have this T-shirt: “Warning: I go from 0 to Viking in 10 seconds.”
Rape and pillage are both in my blood. The word “berserker” was a kind of Norse warrior. Yeah, it is also a rock band from Australia, but they didn’t make up the name. The Norse warriors went absolutely nuts when they attacked. They screamed and ran forward, scaring the ever-loving crap out of anyone in their way. I know, it sounds like the band, but this is different. It was like the berserker warriors were in a kind of trance. I know how they felt, and I guarantee it is genetic.
Does Mårten turn the other cheek? Hell, no. I don’t even know how to do that. If you cross me, I’m instant Viking, so stand down.
That whole thing got me more time in detention than I like to remember. Skinny blond kid who’s queer as a three-dollar bill and gives every appearance of being an easy mark for a schoolyard bully or Wall Street sharpie.
Not so much. My nature is more like “ready, shoot, aim.” If you see anything else, it is me trying to play nice. It is me working against my genetic predisposition.
It doesn’t make me a bully. Sure, I would be a good bully, but that is so much extra work. Whatever you have, eventually there is somebody who has more. Bullies either have to pick on hapless punks who can’t defend themselves or eventually become the victim themselves. That is way more complicated than it has to be.
I say, live and let live. If you don’t want that philosophy, I can certainly flip over to die and let die. Not a problem. I’m wired for battle.
My name is Mårten Larsson: true.
This story is about me: true again. You probably could tell that by now.
I’m alive and kicking: only half true. I can kick and enjoy it, but there’s no way you can consider me among the living. It isn’t my fault. It is just the way things have laid down.
When you see the words “I” and “me” in a book, you jump to conclusions about the author. You think the guy is alive and all. It’s logical. It’s also about as incorrect as you can be.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, which in itself is not as simple as it sounds… I mean, how do you really get ahead of yourself? You’d have to be really quick. I’m blindingly fast, but not even I can get ahead of myself. I never get anywhere before myself.
It is all really confusing. Being dead was confusing at first, too, but I will get to that later.
Typical childhood. Well, it was the only childhood I had, so for me it was typical. I graduated from college with a degree in mathematics and immediately enlisted in the military.
What does the Navy do with a college kid with a math degree? They send him to school to learn how to forecast the weather. Of all the bone-headed things I could have done, this was way up there. What in the Sam Hill am I supposed to do with schooling in weather?
There was no such thing as airline companies at the time. Yes, it was a long time ago.
You could not get a job as a television meteorologist because TV had not been invented. Radio had barely been invented, so weather forecasting was sort of a dead end. Being a weather forecaster back then was as useful as having an empty bucket of orange paint.
But hey, we were at war. War needs guys who can look at the clouds and make predictions. It was the “Great War,” the first World War (only we didn’t know to call it “first” back then because nobody knew about the second).
I enlisted in the Navy because they got better food and didn’t have to dig trenches. What’s more, I could be part of the big war effort sitting at a desk and using my overactive mind to predict which way the wind would blow. You really needed to get wind direction nailed, because this was the era of poisonous gas. The Germans used “mustard gas” against their enemies, and everyone needed to know when the wind would be inbound from German lines.
“Larsson?” the lieutenant would bellow. Mother would say he was having a hissy fit.
“West-to-east, sir,” I’d say.
“Thank you, ensign.”
That is about how I spent the entire war. I was in an office, figuring out wind patterns. The Navy had stopped relying on wind power, so ships with sails weren’t much of an issue during the Great War. We had enormous battleships with guns that could turn a whole city block into rubble with one shot. The Navy wisely kept me away from the trigger of that kind of gun. Maybe it was wise. I personally think I could have won the war faster than the idiots in charge. You just load up all your battleships and blow Germany over to Russia and let them freeze or something.
Sometimes I would be asked to guess on a weather pattern at sea, or where some of our blimps might be blown. Pilots of the rinky-dinky two-wing don’t-even-think-about-getting-me-in-one airplanes wanted to know about wind patterns and got completely bent when I was wrong.
They used big balloons, officially called “Type-B limp” airships, or “blimp” for short, to see where the Germans were trying to sneak. It would be bad to have the balloon thingies hit by gale-force winds all of a sudden.
“Larsson?” the lieutenant would yell at me.
“Sorry, sir, freak wind,” I’d say when my forecast failed to match the actual conditions in the air.
“You’ll be up in it next time,” he’d threaten, grinning like a gopher that had found an acre of soft dirt. I know about gophers, but what am I supposed to do about wind?
“No, sir. Won’t happen again.”
And so forth and so on.
When generals and colonels were around, the lieutenant looked embarrassed when they saw me. I was on the line, risking my life with weather maps and pencils, and this guy was embarrassed. If it were peacetime, I probably would have bopped him a few times. But this was war, and my wind forecasts embarrassed him.
I wanted to tell him to suck it up, but he kept me hidden like he might try to hide a crazy aunt in the cellar.
Officially, to all my family and friends back home, I had been killed in action.
Yes, I was killed. The asshole military saw to that. Idiot officers. And I was on the side that won the damn war, so I can’t even imagine what sort of bizarre stuff was going on with the Germans.
Back during the war, Mother had other things to say, and the censors let her entire letter come through without redaction: “Dear Mårten. So glad to hear you are able to get fresh air even in wartime. Eat your cereal. Love, mommy.”
Good old Mommy. I could always count on her to boost my spirits.
So, I was killed in the war. There had been an article in the hometown newspaper about how I died in a prisoner-of-war camp. That part of the story was actually true: I did die as a German prisoner of war. Patience, I will get to that. My death needs a bit of dramatic build-up. Bear with me.
My lieutenant was British and in their army. I don’t know why our navy would put me under a foreign army guy. Oh, and they don’t really have lieutenants (loo-tenant). To the Brits, they are “left-tenants.” You say “left-tenant” this or “left-tenant” that. They had no clue when I asked about their “right-tenants.” No clue whatsoever. And they won the damn war. How do you win a war without a single “right-tenant?” Go figure.
And you can forget about getting a glass of proper Bourbon. They had a thing they called whiskey, but it was Scotch. I don’t care what name you stuck on it. I’d almost have given my right nut for a glass of Kentucky whiskey, but I learned to tolerate their stupid Scotch. Blech. Gin, sure, but I don’t much like gin. Vodka, sometimes, and that was okay.
Tea. You tripped over tea.
“Who do I have to fuck to get a cup of coffee around here?” I asked a bartender in the local pub.
“That would be me,” he said with a wink.
I swear that is exactly how I met Archer, and I think that was his real first name.
“Hi, I’m Archer.”
“Archer,” I said. “Is that a name or a job description?”
Archer giggled, which confirmed what I already suspected. Archer was flaming gay. We didn’t use words like that back then, but they certainly would have fit. Archer was over-the-top gay and even wore make-up. Most of the women back then didn’t wear make-up, so Archer—how do I say this?—stood out.
“Texas?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “but I thought we all sounded the same to you guys.”
“I’ve seen enough of you guys blow through here in the past year to pick up on a dialect or two.”
“Is that all you picked up?” I asked.
“Crabs once, but got that under control,” Archer said.
I looked to see him giggle or grin or something. Nothing. Completely straight-faced (if you could use such a term with Archer).
“Ready for another spot?”
“Hit me,” I said.
“No, you are the soldier, so you should be doing whatever hitting is required.”
“I’m in the Navy, not the Army. Sailors don’t hit. It wrinkles the clothes, you know.”
“We are a half day’s drive from the nearest water, sailor, so you must be on leave.”
“Can’t say,” I said. “Secret. If I find out, I have to shoot myself.”
When I staggered into the office the next day, the “left-tenant” noticed I wasn’t chipper or perky.
“Larsson?” he screamed.
I just looked at him.
“You have no idea, sir.”
The truth of the matter was that I had helped Archer close down his establishment. He was very good at his job, which was getting sailors like me rip-roaring drunk. He took that part of his war effort seriously, and he was able to get me totally out-of-my-friggin’ mind plastered every time I went into his place.
I went there quite a bit, but it was mainly because of Archer’s extracurricular activities. Getting blotso made me forget the damned “left-tenant” and the Germans and the damn blimps, but Archer turned into a close friend. By “close” I mean really close. He was my wartime fuck buddy.
Archer. Ask me how somebody so effeminate on the outside can morph into an absolute animal in bed, and I won’t have a good answer. I don’t put myself down as the husky masculine type, but Archer was a swish. “Girlfriend” this, “honey” that. I once told him if he ever used the word “daaaaarling” around me again, I was going for my gun. But get him into bed, and Archer made it real clear whose legs would be going up. That would be mine, and that was okay by me. Archer tore my uniform off during our first date, so I made sure that I kept him away until I could carefully get undressed for repeat performances. They don’t give you lots of uniforms, you know, and the “left-tenant” was always looking for an excuse to get me up in some friggin’ balloon. I took care of my uniforms, and Archer took care of my drinking and my butt.
He was one of those no-nonsense lovers. The last thing on Archer’s strange British mind was foreplay.
“Hey, Morty,” he might say when I walked into his bar. “Got time for a quick shag?”
That was Archer. Bam-bam and back to pouring booze.
It was weird to me, but there was a war on, so what are you going to do?
Then I never saw him again. He didn’t die. The Germans didn’t bomb the place. I just was around one day and gone the next.
I got shot down in my blimp. I think my wind forecast for that particular day may have been a bit too optimistic on the calm side. There was a huge gust that snapped the tethers that were supposed to keep my floating palace from migrating across enemy lines.
I thought maybe they wouldn’t notice. Maybe the wind would turn like it was supposed to do. The Germans noticed. Huge balloon floating above their position? Yeah, they noticed. All it took was a pop, a single bullet that led to a slow descent into the end of my days as a flying Navy ensign.
I became Mårten Larsson, prisoner-of-fucking-war.
The British lieutenant probably got what he wanted all along. I was in a German lock-up. Sure, we had the Hague Conventions, which were the forerunners of the Geneva Convention. There was supposed to be humane treatment of enemy combatants, but it was still a prisoner-of-war situation. Anyway, I wasn’t the slightest bit combatant until somebody made fun of my first name, which happened with alarming frequency. When I started punching the guards, the Germans forgot all about the Hague Convention and rules.
I ended up down in a big hole with a metal cover for most of the rest of the war. It seemed to be the German equivalent of the “left-tenant” putting me into a blimp. It was punishment.
There was one German guard who would come out at night and unlock the lid of my hole, and he would jump in with me. The German would fuck my friggin’ lights out, which is something I’m fairly sure would not be allowed under either the Hague or Geneva Conventions.
Who the hell cared? I loved it, but I tried to make it seem like I didn’t. The guard probably thought he was brutalizing my ass in some way. He thought he was abusing me and punishing my bad American butt.
One time when I was back in the regular barracks, I punched a guard and broke his nose just so I would get sent back to my hole.
What a war. What a war.
The German guard always wanted to fuck me from behind, doggy style. It isn’t my favorite. Maybe he thought that he wouldn’t be queer if he only did it at night and only did it in a way he couldn’t see my face. If he saw my face, he might be gay.
Truth: if he saw my face, he would instantly know I was enjoying the hell out of the treatment. That was my little secret.
He took longer than Archer but was just as rough. I suppose Germans didn’t know anything for lube other than spit or butter. That’s all the guard ever used. I think it was butter. We never saw anything like butter, but the guards probably had better accommodations than the prisoners.
The guard and I never swapped names or addresses. He didn’t speak English or Swedish, and I didn’t speak German. We only spoke ass and dick to each other, and that seems to translate without any trouble.
What is it with Germans? Every one I’ve fucked has been into all this macho rough stuff. I don’t mind, but I think it is a little weird.
One night when the guard jumped in for his piece of American ass, I felt this sharp pain in my shoulder or neck or something.
The damn guy had bitten me, for crying out loud. Not only did he bite me, but he stood with his mouth over my wound and lapped up all the blood that oozed out.
Weird, but in a good way. Strange, but good. I mean, he had his dick up my ass and his teeth in my neck, and I was getting off on it.
Where’d that come from? The war was taking its toll on me. Back in the States, I would have decked the son of a bitch for that kind of behavior. Fuck my ass, sure. Let me fuck yours, absolutely. But drink my blood and you will end up with some kind of broken bone or cartilage.
He drained so much blood that I passed out and didn’t wake up until the next day. At least, I think it was the next day. It is sort of hard to tell when you are in a hole in the ground and there’s a heavy metal cover blotting out most of the sky.
When the sun went down, the guard was right on time. I reached out to grab him and dislodge something important and painful, but he grabbed me and bent me over faster than I would have thought possible. In most cases, I would have been okay with that. This time, the German had some explaining to do. He owed me an apology, and he….
He bit me again. Fuck that shit.
His dick was up my butt again, and his mouth was lapping up my blood again. This time, I faded to black almost instantly. He didn’t let me recover from the night before.
What was he doing, trying to kill me?
When I woke up, the sun was up. Off in the corner of my hole, I spotted a canteen. The guard had left me water. It was the least the ass-wipe could do, but I couldn’t reach it. I passed out.