Fear and Loathing in Western Sweden

by Rowdy Geirsson

Björn Svensson lurched out of his seat and collapsed on the cold metal floor, the empty flask of Viking firewater clanging hollowly beside him.

This development presented me with an awkward dilemma: attempt to awaken a drunken and potentially ill-tempered Viking, or simply leave matters to fate and just walk away? Odds were he wouldn’t choke to death on his own vomit while sleeping it off, so I grabbed my tape recorder, flipped off the light switch, and started to make my way up towards the deck of his industrial fishing trawler.

But it just didn’t feel right. He had welcomed me into his buoyant abode, generously kept my shot glass full of firewater throughout the evening, and thoroughly indulged my curiosity about the pivotal role that he had once played during the spasm of Nordic hostilities that has since come to be known as the Modern Viking Movement.

The Movement had kicked itself off with a bang in June of 2004 when a crew of renegade Norwegian whalers sacked the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne. As word of their glorious victory spread throughout the Northlands, so did the number of Scandinavians who took up medieval arms and followed their example. These modern Vikings plundered numerous, unsuspecting coastal settlements over the course of the summer, temporarily plunging pockets of the North Atlantic and its constituent land masses into a technologically regressive chaos until a series of monumental defeats finally crushed the phenomenon in the early autumn of the same year.

Few outside the modern Vikings’ very own inner circle even know of their escapades, so I’d taken it upon myself to seek out those honorable men and women who had most heavily influenced the Movement and record their personal stories. As the most prominent—albeit plagiarizing—warrior-poet to go berserk in the last thousand years, Björn Svensson naturally ranked very high on my list. And now that I had finally succeeded in hunting him down and pestering him with annoying questions, I was about to show my appreciation by abandoning him on the cold, hard floor of his boat’s salon.

I turned and looked at the crumpled heap of intoxicated humanity lying motionless in the dark. After a moment’s further hesitation I walked back down and knelt beside the fallen skald.

His breathing was a steady gurgling noise, a snore almost, but not quite and the pale moonlight spilling in through the salon’s portholes cast a silvery sheen upon his gruff face. He looked eerily at peace, his stony heart clearly warmed by the faithful companionship being provided by the always-dependable friend now circulating through his veins. Björn Svensson had never adjusted well to the mundanity of regular, everyday life in the post-modern Viking world.

Like so many others who had subsisted by going a-Viking in the summer of ‘04, Svensson found himself falling on hard times when the neo-medieval, battle-glory-based economy crashed in the autumn. But unlike most of his peers, he had at least forcibly acquired enough booty to be able to put up the down payment on a custom-built trawler. He had then started his own recreational fishing company and through it has managed to make a relatively resplendent living by harvesting herring and charging exorbitant fees to adventurous, well-to-do tourists who wish to temporarily forget the inhumanity of office life by pretending to untangle nets and gut fish for a living instead. Which is all good and well, but it’s got to be difficult to return to the daily grind after having singlehandedly vanquished the Spear-Danes’ monstrous afflictions at the instigation of the gods.

During our earlier conversation he had explained to me that Odin, in the guise of a phallic gallows, had come to him in a dream and revealed, truthfully if somewhat misleadingly, that his destiny lie not in manning the deck at the behest of a cranky captain, but rather in seeking battle glory across the whale-road.

“I believe it was a message from old One-Eyed himself,” Svensson had told me impassively between gulps from his cherished flask. “An agitated gallows making pronouncements for the repeated deployment of the sword storm on the other side of the Kattegat is unlikely to come from Sif or Idun or one of the other goddesses. But the eloquence of its words and the fact that I discovered my own penchant for skaldic verse soon thereafter suggests that Bragi may have played a role as well. And, naturally, its boner-like shape could only have meant that it was a joint effort between the two of them and Frey…hell, even Tyr could have had a hand in it for all I know!”

We laughed heartily at this little joke — because the brave god Tyr only has one hand. It’s a long and ancient story, but he basically got it bitten off by a demonic wolf during a brazen bit of drama that unveiled the true enormity of his gigantic gonads. Like Odin, Tyr has thing for battle and warfare.

Our laughter subsided and I asked, “So, sort of like a symbolic call to cleanse Denmark of its unholy terrors by re-fertilizing it with valor and poetry in a way not seen since the days of the original Vikings?”

“Yes…exactly.” He seemed pleased with my summation, which made me feel somewhat worthy in his presence. “It made for a powerful statement. The gods gave me the impetus and direction that I needed to break out of the ruts of the world and make something of myself on my own terms. I have always hated being subjected to the apathetic whims of those in positions to judge me and belittle my previous accomplishments—I’ve always harbored a particular sensitivity about my swimming abilities, but that is another story entirely. How some of these imbeciles ever manage to make it as far in their ‘careers’”—he made the quotation gesture with both hands as he said that word—“as they have is beyond my understanding, but that is the way the spinners weave the skeins of our lives…”

But that was then and this was now and I was presently reaching my battle-untested hand out to slap his furry face. I hoped he wouldn’t bite it off; I had no desire to go through the rest of my life as an uncourageous, mortal mirror image of Tyr. I much preferred to earn the inebriated gratitude of a morose hero. I held my breath.

“Hhhkkkththwwww!” He gurgled vehemently and I lost my balance, flinching like a maniac and toppling over backwards, slap pathetically undelivered.

I struggled back to an upright position and froze. I was really having doubts about what to do now. That gurgle had obliterated my confidence. Completely obliterated it. The last thing I wanted was a roused and angry Viking on my hands. And even if I did slap him, he might not wake up. Maybe I should just leave him as he was and go.

Or maybe would he appreciate being covered with a blanket? Or would that just get the blanket dirty and then cause him undue irritation upon waking? Why the hell was I even worrying about this?

I got to my feet and went up the stairs.

The illumination wasn’t much better up on deck. The town of Rönnäng’s street lights shimmered only dimly, with the moon’s faint glow casting a desolate and uninviting aura across the buildings along the harbor’s edge while the island of Tjörn spread itself out in complete darkness behind them. The whole nightscape felt foreboding and I couldn’t help but recall the troubling conversation that I had overheard earlier during the 1.5 hour-long bus ride north from Gothenburg that same day.

A local father and son had been discussing Tjörn’s prevailing ailments and according to them, the island is not only full of gangsters, spies, and grizzly bears, but also pestilence, smoke, and—most shockingly of all—even Volvos. As I have always done my utmost to avoid talking to strangers, I didn’t engage them to find out more, but as soon as I heard the word “gangsters” I found myself conjuring up unsolicited visions of segregated, socioeconomically disastrous immigrant slums such as the notorious Rosengård or even the bad parts of Gothenburg’s very own (and for English-speakers, ironically-named) suburb of Angered. I spent the rest of the ride silently hoping that I wasn’t heading straight into a world of abject poverty, rampant unemployment, violent crime, and religious hatred.

Thus it was with great pleasure that when we finally rolled over the bridge to Tjörn I saw that it didn’t possess the appearance of a slum at all—rather than a decaying concrete jungle comprised of tenement housing and burnt-out car carcasses, it’s a green oasis surrounded by rocky outcroppings and the deep blue of the sea. But looks can be deceiving. Angered is reputed to contain some scenic nature reserves of its own within its municipal boundaries, so maybe these views of Tjörn were likewise misleading. Or were my fears just the unsubstantiated byproduct of a senseless world overrun with hysterical frenzy? I wasn’t sure, but I wasn’t about to run the risk of getting accosted by a drug dealer, assassinated by a covert operative, or mauled by either a wild bear or a militant Islamist on my way back to the hostel. The streets were dark and the seed of fearful doubt had dug itself way too deep. The only person I knew who could set the record straight for me was passed out drunk down below.


I went back below decks.

The Viking hadn’t budged and his snoring continued unabated, intermingled with the occasional mumble. I knelt beside him once again in the shadowy darkness and resolved myself once and for all to slap him. I exhaled slowly, calling on Thor for the courage to help see me through this predicament.

It had no effect, so I slapped him again, a little harder. Again, no effect. I tried a few more times, all to no avail. I sat there shaking my head. What to do?

But then he mumbled something: “…jävla lilla sjöjungfrun…”

I leaned in closer to see if he had any other pearls of wisdom to impart.

…den där jävla lilla sjöjungfrun…betalade med livet men jagar efter mig ännu…”

His words suggested that he was suffering from antagonistic dreams about the Little Mermaid. His slurred voice quivered with fear even though she posed no current threat to him, which he knew better than anyone else.

“I sent her down Hel-road in the middle of the summer,” Svensson had told me. “I saw her head roll in Copenhagen’s waves. Well, it was more of a thud really. The waves just kind of washed over it.”

“So you just chopped it off?” I was impressed.

“Yes, with my axe.”

It wasn’t the first time that the fairytale statue had lost her head, but it was the first time that she’d lost it to a genuine Viking. The other beheadings had typically been acts of subversive vandalism. Svensson’s action was more like a public display of berserker rage.

However, thanks to the latest techniques in bronze surgical procedures, the Lille Havfrue was repaired and now gazes longingly out to sea once again, just as she has always done for nearly a century. But with Svensson’s axe having scattered her soul into the underworld beneath the sea foam, I didn’t understand how her present form could be anything other than the hollow shell of a sorrowful existence. And to be totally honest, I hadn’t understood why it had been a threat in the first place.

“I felt something sinister awaken when sailing past her during a prior voyage to Copenhagen,” Svensson had revealed between gulps of firewater. “But little did I know that meant she was going to start projecting her own spiritual damnation into my dreams. The misery of the insomnia she created was unspeakable…and there was no suitable alternative. She was the mother of all monsters and had to die…”

“Did she torment anyone else?” I was curious.

“No… only me. And believe me, I’d much rather dream of an angry boner any day than deal with the misery that she inflicted upon my spirit…she doesn’t bother me anymore, but I still worry that someday she might break loose from Ran’s prison beneath the sea and haunt me for the rest of my days…it is times like those that make me wish I had never heeded the call of the boner in the first place…and when that happens I inevitably start thinking about how the glory days are gone forever…and then I get out the firewater…”

And then shortly after making that proclamation he took his last chug and fell out of his chair and so here I was now, still staring at him in the dark because in all my own goddamned incompetence I didn’t know what the hell to do.

He wasn’t waking up in response to my meager slapping efforts, but his bunk was in the next room over. Perhaps I should just drag him over to it? Why the hell not. I was too much of a coward to leave the boat anyway. I could try to figure out what to do with myself once I was done dealing with the grossly inebriated Norseman.

I bent down, reached up under his arms, and started to drag him backwards across the room. He was a heavy guy and it almost made me feel mighty—like I was tugging a giant’s boulder across a majestic fjord to a colossal mountain rising vertically straight up out of the watery depths below, or something. The illumination provided by the moonlight spilling in through the portholes only contributed to the epic atmosphere of what was in all honesty, a ridiculous mission.

And his beard kept brushing up against my hand, which was off-putting. I admired his beard, but I didn’t really want it to be touching my skin. There were traces of firewater and spittle in it and only Odin’s ravens knew what else.

We had made it about halfway there when he stirred slightly and distraughtly muttered something mostly unintelligible about the dead mermaid again.

…död, död…sjöjungfruns blod har rinnat överallt…hon jagar i mörkret…måste bavara mig själv…

I just about lost my grip but continued onwards. We were almost there now. I could nearly reach out and touch the bunk and its bedding of salvation. I pressed onward, Svensson dragging along the floor behind me like a useless sack of disassembled Ikea furniture.

And then we were there. Just like that, the voyage had ended and the time to scale the summit had arrived.

I propped him up against the base of the bunk, but he slid downwards against it when I let go to reposition my hold on him. I stepped over his body and turned to face him and noticed a mirror mounted on the wall above, casting our dark, absurd reflection right back at us.

I grabbed him under the arms again, and heaved upwards. His head slouched forwards as I continued to push and pull his torso up the bunk’s siding. It flopped backwards again once his shoulders breached the edge of the mattress and his mouth leaked out something that sounded a little more agitated than his previous outbursts, “…var är hon?…hon måste dö…helvete tar henne för alltid!”

I half squatted and braced my feet to nudge the rest of his torso onto the bed. With that over, it was simply a matter of kneeling on the bed myself and dragging his lower half up to join his upper half. I caught another glimpse of our shadowy reflection in the mirror and nearly laughed. I was kneeling over his contorted body like a sadistic serial killer, the blankets were rumpled into total disarray, and his feet and ankles were still dangling over the edge.

I started to crawl backwards when he opened his bloodshot eyes, peering disconcertedly in the direction of a porthole beside my head, then blinked, focused, and looked straight at me. Several tears slid down his cheek to nestle among his blond bristles.

My heart froze, and so did my tongue, as we stared at one another for a brief moment in the dark silence.

Then, still holding my gaze, he spoke one of his infamous skaldic verses:

“The light in the window is a crack in the sky.
A stairway to darkness in the blink of an eye,
A levee of tears to learn she’ll never be coming back,
The man in the dark will bring another attack.
Your mamma told you that you’re not supposed to talk to strangers.
Look in the mirror, tell me—do you think your life’s in danger here…???
No more tears.”*

And then he passed out again. I hesitated, curious to see if he would do anything else worthy of amusement, but he didn’t, so I clambered back down off the bunk. Svensson lay in it disheveled and filthy from his disgraced retreat across the floor, but I was pleased with myself.

I still didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, but I was pleased.

*Lyrics are taken from the 1991 song “No More Tears” by Ozzy Osbourne.

When not moping about, ROWDY GEIRSSON endures the downward spiral of western prominence by occasionally conducting research for his McSweeney’s column, Norse History for Bostonians. Other lamentations of his have appeared at Word Riot and the now deceased Bananafish. He can be hailed online at www.scandinavianaggression.com

2 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in Western Sweden

  1. I love a good Viking story – especially one that manages to feed my linguistic flame and get away with calling Odin ‘Old One-Eyed’! You caught me from the first line, and held my attention all the way through; I particularly liked the blend of intimidation by, and yet pathos for, the fallen skald, with humour that had me snorting. I enjoyed this, very much.

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