from Chapter One
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.
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.