I was standing on a desolate Stockholm street corner in the pouring rain and wondering to myself, “What the fuck just happened?”
Only moments earlier I had been comfortably seated in Ingrid Törnblom’s sleek, modern, and — most significantly — dry office, discussing the story of her unusual life. An entrepreneurial businesswoman, she had been the founder of a short-lived but exclusive sisterhood of warriors that had harried settlements up and down the Baltic coast one summer shortly after the turn of the new millennium. This achievement had made her one of the most prominent figures to raise a sword during the outbreak of twenty-first century medieval violence that had spewed forth from the normally peaceful and passive Scandinavian countries.
The phenomenon had started when a group of Norwegian whalers-turned-Vikings had sacked the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria, looting the local castle’s gift shop before razing it to the ground and returning to their ships. With that single act of Scandinavian aggression, these men had unwittingly set in motion a bizarre sequence of events that upon first glance seemed to be totally out of place in our socially networked, media-sensationalized, and politically bankrupt modern times. Despite spreading rapidly, the phenomenon nonetheless remained localized to Scandinavia, and, in a sense, it actually seemed befitting that citizens from the most progressive nations in the world would also be the first to recognize the hopeless futility inherent in the future of humanity and thus regress to a behavior type and ethics code not seen since the days of Erik Blood-Axe and Egil Skallagrimsson. All in all, the whole thing felt like a Nordic tribute to the film Fight Club, only set to the visual imagery of Middle-Earth and a death-metal soundtrack.
Motivated by my own quarter-life crisis and the associated downward spiral it had inflicted upon my personal well-being, I had taken the only reasonable act of recourse there was: I blew my life savings on a one-way plane ticket to Norway and proceeded to hobo my way across Scandinavia in an effort to interview the individuals who had played the most pivotal roles in this under-reported movement of social upheaval. I had already met with a handful of swarthy characters, and now I was pleased to check Ingrid off my list. Unfortunately, I could not recall whatever details she had confided in me, because much to my own increasingly pervasive chagrin, I had not been paying any attention to what she had said. Instead, I had been distracted by her amazing physique like a dog in heat.
Her hair had shone with the natural blond hue as properly befit her northern nationality, and her eyes had sparkled with a shade of blue so intense that they had pierced my anxiety-ridden heart and reduced me to a lump of general imbecility at first sight. In retrospect, my immediate surrendering of social aptitude, not to mention proper brain functionality, was so complete that I now actually considered it something of a minor personal victory that I’d somehow remembered to record the conversation.
But what contentment I did feel didn’t last long, because I hadn’t brought an umbrella, or better yet, a raincoat, and now the rain was pelting me with all the ferocity of a Bofors 40 millimeter anti-aircraft cannon. It soaked through my clothes and my spirits, and my mood grew as depressingly dark as the Scandinavian sky above.
Lightning flashed and the sonic boom of another giant falling victim to Thor’s wrath jarred me into motion. I began to run down the eerily desolate, pedestrian thoroughfare of Drottninggatan towards Sergels Torg and the underground tunnelbana station located beneath it. I dashed down the stairs and pulled my phone out from the drenched folds of my clothing, hitting the rewind and play buttons on its audio-recording app.
Ingrid’s subtle but perkily accented voice streamed out:
“ . . . so we took those guys as slaves. We figured they could keep the fortress clean and cook for us while we worked on improving our shield wall formations and ship maneuvering skills . . . “
She was referencing the booty that she and her loyal followers had acquired through the threat of physical violence against a group of mid-summer male revelers on the Baltic island of Gotland. Having stormed the beach like a medieval-weaponry-equipped version of the Swedish bikini team, the women had left the dudes in a state of speechless incapacitation. The stunned men were subsequently shackled and led onboard the women’s longship and into a life of contemporary thralldom.
But that is neither here nor there, because what I wanted to know now was why Ingrid had suddenly tossed me out on the street like most employers that I’ve known. I’m used to dealing with dejection and being asked to leave, but I also usually operate under a heightened state of self-awareness that borders on paranoia, so when a boss or human female tells me to get lost, I know full well why, and really, I can’t blame them. With Ingrid, though, it was different. I had no idea why she had told me to suddenly leave, but I knew I hadn’t hit on her with an atrocious pick-up line from a cheesy 80s movie or repeatedly fucked up a simple task such as making a stack of photocopies for her.
But the norns were on my side at this particular moment! My phone had somehow not been ruined in the torrential downpour. Try as they might, the combined forces of Loki and climate change could not destroy my precious electronic gadget.
I reached the bottom of the stairs and made my way towards the wall where I stopped beside a map of the train system. Two Swedes approached the map and gave me furtive, disapproving glances while quietly determining the route of their upcoming underground journey.
I moved further away from the map, feeling highly self-conscious about drawing undue attention from the locals. In a land where conformity rules, you don’t want to be the dripping-wet weirdo in the underground station slouched against the wall next to the system map giving off a sickening odor while listening to a bizarre audio track. Even though — and I believe this to the deepest core of my soul, despite certain plausible theories to the contrary — I didn’t stink, neither did I face any nearby competition in the contest to win the title of freakiest underground loiterer of the day.
On the recording Ingrid’s voice stopped speaking and a short, awkward pause came next, followed by the sound of myself making some sort of incomprehensible gurgle indicative of positive concurrence. I began to hit the fast-forward and play buttons in the hopes of finding the section of interest by trial and error.
The Charioteer must have pitied my misfortune enough to take a break from his thunderous giant-slaying expedition and help me in my current pathetic endeavor, because I succeeded in finding the relevant bit of recording in short order. A phone rang on the playback and Ingrid answered in her native tongue:
“Hej . . . nej . . . vad fan?! Hans kropp ligger var!?! Ursäkta, bara en minut . . . I’m sorry, but I have to take this call, it’s sort of an emergency. But thank you very much for coming. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with your work. I’d appreciate it if you could show yourself out . . . vad har du gjort med kroppen? . . . om myndigheterna ta reda på . . . den upptäcktes i en grovsopscontainer? . . . “
And then there was the sound of a door opening and closing, and the recording ended. It was yet another encounter that had come to an awkward, premature conclusion and as usual I had done as the lady bid, showing myself out, this time straight into the shit show of weather that was now raging outside.
I count proficiency in the Swedish language as one of my numerous shortcomings, so on first pass I was more clueless than a berserker at a peace conference regarding whatever it was that she had said. I cranked up the volume and replayed the section, straining my ears to grasp the fragments of her hastily spoken comments.
And then I realized that she was saying, “What the fuck?!” followed by something obscure about a corpse. The “what the fuck” part sounded kind of sexy, but the dead body part was off-putting. Why would she be talking about a dead body? To my knowledge she and her cohorts had only enslaved their victims, not killed them. I didn’t remember much of our conversation together, but I seriously thought that the closest topic to slaughter that she had discussed with me was about the time when she had sacrificed her dog to Odin. And even then it was only after the dog had already died of old age.
I still hadn’t fully comprehended Ingrid’s comments, so I replayed the recording again. After a few more listens I emerged triumphant over my previous failings and recognized the Swedish words for “authorities” and “dumpster.” So a body had been found in a dumpster?
Just then something flashed, and it wasn’t lightning from Thor’s hammer. Instead, it was a smart phone possessed by a passerby who had just snapped a photo of me from less than ten feet away. Consumed by my internal bewilderment, I hadn’t seen him approach.
It was an awkward moment, and I lacked the mental capacity to react in any manner other than by staring straight back at him, mouth slightly agape, drool forming at my lips while he took another photo. I had increased the volume more than I probably should have during my rapture of attempted translation and had completely disregarded the potential side effects that could arise from the world outside of my own preoccupation. Most likely, he had overheard all of the incriminating-sounding elements of the recording.
Then the station’s lights flickered — ominously, just to add to the atmosphere of defeat — and the man backed away, dialing several numbers and raising the phone to his ear as he did so. “Hallå, polis? Ja, jag har en sak att rapportera . . . “
But it didn’t take a genius or a native speaker to recognize the word “polis” in the man’s clearly articulated but otherwise indecipherable accusation and the next thing I knew the phone was being stuffed back in my pocket, and I was back out in the rain, running down the bleak streets of Stockholm towards the inevitability of my fate.
ROWDY GEIRSSON’s investigative journalism has previously appeared online at Jersey Devil Press and Word Riot and he currently serves as McSweeney’s Norse History for Bostonians correspondent. A long time resident of New England, he is presently skulking among the ancient rock carvings and abandoned factory buildings of Eastern Geatland. Hail him online at www.scandinavianaggression.com.