EXCERPT: Vamp Camp

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from Chapter One

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from Chapter One

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.

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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.

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