I have spent my life in idle longing, without saying a word, in the presence of those whom I loved most.
He writhed in his sleep, too warm within the sheets but not hot enough to warrant moving. He was dreaming. He rarely had dreams. They disturbed his rest and he hated them.
It was in the second floor bathroom, but not like the bathroom on the second floor. The hallway was different, the connecting rooms different. His mind’s eye panned, cinematic-like, around the room. Newspapers screaming in 300-font about trees littered the floor. The tub was filled with blood and cotton balls. The faucets were spraying water all over the place. In the midst of the chaos was Toki, who spoke with his thoughts and explained that something was broken and needed to be fixed but he didn’t know how.
The world skewed. The water turned into diamonds. Then Toki took his clothes off and danced in the gems that were now raining in slow-motion from the ceiling. It was arousing. He wanted Toki, and went to him with hot desire. Limbs spread and wrapped around him, held him warm and close. He nudged his hips into Toki’s but his cock was trapped in his pants and his fly wouldn’t come open. He slipped to the floor with him, grinding desperately with frustration and wanting Toki so bad that he could feel his own erection burning through the other side of the dream.
Skwisgaar was semi-awake now, eyes still closed, half rolling in bed as his hips continued their slow gyrations, loins aching with need. Then he lay still and opened his eyes to behold the familiar ceiling of his bedroom. He stared without blinking, and the foggy realization that he’d just had a dream about grinding his bandmate filled him with sick worry.
He was sweating, yet the sheets were thin and he always kept it at 67 in his room. It was colder now that the snow had come, and outside the faint pre-dawn glow of pale light on ice reminded Skwisgaar that it was December. Again.
“Deck the halls with rotting bodies-”
A blast of gut-wrenching guitars followed.
“Tis the season to be jolly-”
Junjunjunjunnn, me-meedly meedly meee.
“Don we now our steel armor-”
Another murderous rhythm line substituted the happy “fa la las”.
“Grab your axe and join the slaughter.”
Jun junjun jun JAA jun-meedly meedly mee…
Nathan was lounging by himself in the jacuzzi, enjoying Dethklok’s latest album release, “Christmas in Mordland”, featuring such memorable hits as Violent Night, Satan’s Claws Are Coming For You, Frosty the Psycho, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder, and who could forget Grandma Got Dismembered by Bing Crosby. Though most of the band were atheists, nihilists or both, they all agreed that it had been a good financial move.
“We will make Christmas metal,” Nathan himself growled at the release party earlier that month. “Have yourself a BLACK AND BRUTAL CHRIST-MESS.” In one hour of its release, the album became the top-grossing holiday CD of all time.
It was about 5 am, and none save one had actually gone to bed yet. A beer rested on the floor beside Nathan and a small hardback was wedged between the fingers of one beefy hand. Its cover read “The Illustrated Guide to Serial Killer Crime Scenes by Mort A. Pandanzlemeizer”. It was how he unwound before bedtime. Nathan looked almost fatherly with his reading glasses on, but it would still be a while before he found himself into a Norman Rockwell painting.
Skwisgaar trudged into the scene, dressed in a black Mordhaus robe and skull loafers (yes, you read correctly), his hair in disarray and dark circles under his eyes. He stood at the edge of the jacuzzi for a while in silence. Nathan ignored him. Then the Swede walked into the water, dressed as he was, and sat down. His robe puffed around him like a bubbling mozzarella pizza. Nathan’s attention was broken from his book and he peered expressionlessly over the rim of his glasses.
“You know you’re not supposed to wear clothes in the tub, dickbrain.”
Skwisgaar didn’t move or say anything. Just stared straight ahead like his mind was on vacation. Nathan had nothing more to add and went back to his book. He’d just gotten to the Frankford Slasher and there were several high-quality photographs never before seen by the public, including the horrif-
“I hads a dream dat I fuckeds your boyfriend.”
A heavy, awkward silence followed.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Nathan grunted lowly.
“But he’s yours.”
“Yeah. He is.”
“So you’s are going to kill me nows, right?”
“Not over a dream. I could find a better reason to. Huh huh. You probably. I mean yeah, you probably have dreams about fuckin people all the time, you ho bag.”
“I don’ts. I just.” His sentence dead-ended.
“Ahm. I don’ts…you sees, it don’ts. It.”
Heavy sigh. “Skwisgaar. If you don’t have anything real to say then shut up and go away.”
“But. But Nat’an, what ifs dere’s more to dis dan-”
“SKWISGAAR. FUCK. OFF. Thank you.”
And the conversation was brought to a close. Skwisgaar remained in the jacuzzi for a few stunned moments before lifting his drenched person from the water and squishing off into the hallway. After a moment’s deliberation, he decided to go to the kitchen and get some coffee.
Twin snickers echoed in the dim kitchen.
“Okay. Alright. Okay. M’good.”
“Go aheads, Murderface. We listen now.”
Pickles giggled, which started Toki up again, which made Murderface snarl, “SCHUT UP, DAMMIT! I CAN’T CONSHENTRATE.”
“We sorry,” Toki said, wiping away a tear.
“I’m gonna blesh you two fuckin assh-tardsh wif the gift of mushik-”
“Ken I get a side-order ‘a earplugs?”
Toki and Pickles fell over each other laughing. Pot does that to people.
The three bandmates sat at the large island counter top in the main kitchen. A slew of empty chip bags, lollipop sticks, pickle jars, candy bar wrappers, beer bottles, beer cans, liquor bottles, and about a dozen roaches (not the insect kind) littered the counter, telling the history of a long night spent in each other’s hazardous company. Murderface was drunkenly perched on a stool with his acoustic sitting in his lap, waiting for the hyenas to shut the fuck up so he could get on with his performance. Once the mongrels had settled he cleared his throat, hocked a wad of phlegm onto the floor, and strummed a C major chord that led into a surprisingly pleasant tune.
Murderface closed his eyes and rasped, “Viiii-olent night, gorrr-ry night
Aaaall is wronnng, noooothing’sh right…”
Skwisgaar walked into the kitchen and paused for a moment, wondering if he had the capacity to withstand this type of shit this early in the morning.
“Frommmm the corrrrpshesh dishmemmbered, defiled
Reeeeeksh the shtench of decay for a mile…”
Skwisgaar’s eyes settled on Toki, sitting beside Pickles and leaning on his shoulder, the both of them grinning dreamily in that characteristic, mellow glaze that said all that needed to be known. Against his better judgment, the Swede slid into the stool beside Murderface and tried to go deaf as best he could.
“Raaake the boooodiesh in heeeee-EEEEAPSH.”
God that high note.
“Ray-aake the bodiesh in heeeeapsh.”
The final chord was strummed, and all was quiet. Then Pickles said seriously, “That’s the best song in the whole world.”
“I conjure,” Toki echoed. “You sings like Paparazzi, Murderface.”
The bassist sighed melodramatically—almost sadly—as he said, “Yeahp, well, it’sh a curshe, really, you know, not many people can shing like me-”
“Thank gods for dat,” Skwisgaar muttered.
“Oh hey Skwisgaar!” Toki cried, and they all looked at him as if he’d appeared from thin air.
“What’re ya doin up this early fer? I thought’cha intivid, vintitid, invidet. Had those Russians over.”
“Russhiansh?” Murderface slurred.
“Tch. Yeah. Sofya, Yeva n’ Lexia, the Holy Trinity ‘a foreign porn.” Pickles raised his eyes to the ceiling and, like any good Catholic, muttered a perverse prayer in Latin.
Stars shined in Toki’s eyes. “Dems goyles…”
“Titsh to die for.”
“Lucky Skwiss. Got ta havva sleepoverski. Heh. Fuckski Partyski.”
Everyone chuckled knowingly except Skwisgaar, who decided that nobody present was in any condition to make coffee for him, so he got up to go find Jean-Pierre.
“Hey, where you goin?”
He didn’t answer.
“Weirdo,” Toki said, puzzled. “Whatever.”
Murderface raised his guitar again. “Thish one goesh out to all you loversh…you know who you are.”
Skwisgaar could hear Murderface gargling out Adeste Fellatio and was grateful to have left, though he felt somehow injured inside. Nobody had even noticed his dripping clothes. Of course not, they were all toasted. And right now Skwisgaar was thinking he’d like some rum in his coffee, 60-40. He descended down the winding stone stairwell, loafers still squishing out watery footprints with each step, and at last entered the real kitchen where all of the magic called cooking happened. Pots and pans hung on the wall. Libraries of carving knives graced every surface. An ancient oven large enough to bake an ox in sat in the corner. An open, roaring fire lit the room with a reddish glow, and Skwisgaar drew up to the hearth. The heat felt good on his cold wet skin.
Behind his shoulder Jean-Pierre came staggering out of the epically humongous pantry and saw the lean, wilted figure backlit by the fire. “Mwuh…Master Skwisgaar,” he murmured in his drooly slur. “Eet is not good for Master to be here like zees. You are…gleh…so-oaked.”
Skwisgaar barely heard the disfigured Mordhaus chef—his thoughts were elsewhere. It wasn’t until he felt something touch his shoulders that he snapped out of his moody reverie. He turned his head and saw Jean-Pierre sink from his tip-toed position; a small tablecloth draped loosely around him. For a moment Skwisgaar was so touched that he didn’t know what to say.
“Come, my lord,” Jean-Pierre grunted, limping away. “I make you somezing hot to drink.”
Skwisgaar sat at a table usually reserved for food preparation and waited wordlessly. The aroma of coffee perfumed the air with its rich scent, and his mind wandered to the events that took place earlier that night, with the girls. They put out well enough and had enjoyed what he had to offer, but by the end of the night Skwisgaar knew they were only actors. They put out for a camera and pretended to look like they enjoyed it for 50 takes in a row. They were professionals the same way Skwisgaar was. Only he did it for real.
Somehow that didn’t make him feel any better. A big piece of him had gone missing in the last few weeks. Probably the holidays. Stupid fucking Christ-mess.
Wonder what Mom’s doing. Oh right. Don’t care.
Nathan had gotten a package this week with a Florida postmark. A sweater and a fruitcake that had more years on it than Katherine Hepburn. Nate had promptly burned the sweater and given the fruitcake to Toki, who ate the entire thing and two cherry-flavored Alka-Seltzers, said it was delicious, and actually wrote Mrs. Explosion a thank you card. Nathan purposely gave him the wrong address, and somewhere in Denver a puzzled orthodontist got a free autograph from Toki Wartooth.
Huh. Wonder what Toki’s parents are up to? …never mind.
Murderface was happy to have actually been given some solo space on the Christmas album. The only problem now was getting him to shut up. He’d been giving private performances to anyone he could catch off guard ever since the album had gone to the label. Now he was just way too cocky for his own good. Nathan had threatened him with extermination if he didn’t stop parading about his “unbearably natural talent”. Dickhead.
But Pickles seemed to be the happiest about the Christmas season. His shipment from Jack’s International Liquor Emporium should be here in a few days. Over 600 gallons of spiced holiday rum to be delivered in a tanker truck. Pickles had done the math and calculated that if he drank 22.22222 gallons a day he could finish every last drop by News Year’s. He seemed quite happy at the prospect of being shitfaced the whole month. “I fuckin hate Christmas,” he’d muttered. “I don’t wanna remember a goddamn thing about it.”
And Skwisgaar…Skwisgaar was still trying to find some way to fuck himself into feeling happy. Suicides always went up during the holidays, and with good reason—it was a shitty, lonely time of the year if you had nobody who cared about you. Yeah, there was the band, but when did they ever give a damn about each other? Oh right. About the time the lead singer started banging the rhythm guitarist. They claimed it was nothing serious, but a little over a year later everybody knew it wasn’t.
It sucked. It sucked for Skwisgaar. He felt like he’d lost an enemy. An enemy that was kind of like a friend.
I’ve always hated you, Skwisgaar.
He put his hands over his face and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palm.
Ah, miliy moy, I lof you, Skwisgaar.
Ya lublu tebya, Komrad Skwisgaar.
Da, Skwisgaar, we lof you.
Actors. Nothing more than pretty outsides, false masks of youth and beauty, and none of the insides that he was looking for. No blood, no muscle, no guts. Paint and plastic, hollow on the inside. Cut them in half and there was nothing there. Had he expected to find something? He had to be stupid to think so. Dumber than a fucking sack of rocks.
Either that or hopeful, which was more depressing because it meant that he was naïve as hell.
But he didn’t have the courage to ask if they cared. He knew they didn’t because he didn’t care about them. He had finished with them and sent them off, and then fallen asleep thinking about a snowy Danzig forest and a promise that stretched from this world to the next. And then came the dreams.
Skwisgaar lowered his hands. Jean-Pierre pushed a large mug of coffee in front of him. “Cream or shhhlshugar, Master?”
“Very good, my lord.”
Mordhaus was running on a skeleton staff—pardon the pun—this holiday season, not because Dethklok were caring employers but because they’d been fruitlessly promising a two-week vacation for the past five years and as a result employees were dropping left and right from executive overload. Ofdensen had told his boys that unless they wanted to re-hire a brand new staff of thousands by the next quarter, they ought to give them a vacation. The band reluctantly agreed. Now the only Mordhaus staff consisted of cooks and guards. The groundskeepers and the housekeepers and the barkeepers had all gone home, which meant that if Dethklok needed some bushes whacked or sheets washed or cocktails mixed, they were on their own. It’d be just like the old days Before They Were Big, roughin’ it. It’d be fun. Besides, Pickles had a built-in Beerdar. He could find a pint blindfolded in the Mojave without using a forked stick. If worse came to worst they could always count on Pickles. And they were used to living in their own filth, no biggie there. Murderface once went a month without washing his feet and hardly anybody died. Two weeks on their own would be a piece of cake.
Unfortunately, this minimal staffing also meant that if anything in the way of holiday decorations was to be done, it was going to have to be done by the band. Toward the late afternoon of that same day, about the time everybody had woken up and after they’d eaten breakfast (steak medium-rare and eggs over easy for Nathan; Bud and Pop-Tarts for Pickles; gnocchi and herring for Toki; beans and franks for Murderface; and a cream cheese bagel for Skwisgaar) it was decided, mostly by Nathan, that they would go out and find an Antichristmas tree. Naturally everyone started bitching and moaning. Nathan snarled that he didn’t wanna do it either, but if they didn’t do it now then it would never get done and they would all regret it when Christmas rolled around and they didn’t have a tree of their own, covered in black lights, pentacles, fallen angels and blood icicles. They grudgingly agreed.
Around sunset five speeding Dethmobiles cut through the pristine white snow and off into the Mordland forest. Ofdensen had been wary of letting them go off without supervision, and had installed GPS tracking devices in each of their snowmobiles. After what happened in Danzig they could never be too careful these days.
The yard wolves were attracted by the noise and escorted their masters, yipping and snarling, into the woods. They almost looked playful with their long tongues lolling out and their puppy-like eagerness, but the band had seen what they’d done to Twinkletits and knew better than to slow down. After a while the pack tired and dropped back, disappearing into the snowy twilight shadows of the forest.
Toki led the way, whooping and hollering as he slalomed recklessly between trees. His dethmobile was painted to look like a WWII bomber plane, complete with glossy military grey paint and a shark-tooth grin on the nose. Nathan’s vehicle had the fiery band logo on the front. Murderface’s was solid black and had his Planet Piss trademark on it. Pickles’ was neon purple and had orange hotrod flames going down the sides. It was too gay for even Elton John to wrap his legs around, but it complimented Pickles quite well. Skwisgaar’s snowmobile was completely white except for the front, where a burst of red in a distinctly liquid pattern made it look as if he had just mowed somebody down. Everyone agreed that it was very classy.
Over their headsets Nathan’s tinny voice came through: “Somebody keep an eye on Toki. I think that fruitcake might still be running its course.”
Pickles: “Looks like that fruitcake’s jest a little too excited about gettin’ a tree.”
Nathan: “Seriously. Kid’s gonna get himself lost and I don’t wanna be out here all fuckin night looking for him.”
Murderface: “I’ve gotta take a pee-pee break. I’ll catch up wif you shuckersh later.”
Nathan: “Toki’s gone outta radio range. Keep an eye on him for me, wouldja.”
Skwisgaar: “Alrights, alrights.”
He hit the throttle and chased after Toki, but everything was not alright. He didn’t get a chance to continue burdening himself with intense, brain-wracking thoughts as keeping up with Toki proved to be more of a challenge than he had anticipated. The idiot had vanished completely and it was only by the tracks of the snow-bomber and the faint hooting that Skwisgaar was even able to locate him. The others quickly fell far behind as Skwisgaar was forced to maneuver difficult paths, and after a while he started to get the ominous feeling that if he wiped out right now and hurt himself it might be a long time before anybody found him.
By the time he was starting to get angry he buzzed into a small clearing and slowed down. Toki had shut off his dethmobile and was examining a copse of firs with a decisive manner. Skwisgaar drew up alongside and cut the engine. The silence of the forest was eerie.
“What’s up, dildos?”
Toki pursed his lips, causing his mustache to jut forward humorously. “I think that one.”
“That one.” Toki went to his snowmobile and popped open the storage compartment, removing a medium-sized hatchet.
“Oh. Yous founded a tree, ah?”
“Yeah, that one there. Is perfect. Gets out your chopping-knives and helps me, Skwisgaar.”
Skwisgaar looked at the tree Toki had selected and let out a single bark of scornful laughter, breath misting in a telltale cloud. “Idiot. Dat’s too big.”
“Maybe for you,” Toki dared, “but is right for me.”
The Swede remained a moment on his snowmobile before muttering under his breath, “Fucking selvesfish little brat,” pulling off his headset and getting the hatchet out of his vehicle’s compartment. Toki had already taken a couple swings at the tree’s thick trunk by the time Skwisgaar trudged up. “How we’s gonna do dis.”
“Is easy, I chops at one end and you chops the other, and we meets in de middle.”
“…dat sounds real dangers-us.”
“Fine. You can goes sits on de sides-of-line with all de crybabies and I’ll do de man’s works-”
“Fuck yous, Toki.” Skwisgaar took a swing, irritated by his falling for Toki’s fine art of manipulation. But he was smiling a little, because Toki was smiling at him when he had said that. All in good fun. An enemy that was kind of a friend.
Skwisgaar wasn’t really built to use an axe that wasn’t musical, so his side of the tree was hacked away pretty shittily while Toki’s side was clean and almost halfway through after a few minutes. As they went wordlessly about their task, Skwisgaar listened to the echoes of steel against wood ring into the still forest around them, felt the clumps of snow patter down on his shoulders and wool hat. He became distracted and looked at the trees. Trees and trees, so many trees. He looked at Toki, brow furrowed in concentration, mouth pulled down into a firm expression of exertion and determination. He breathed hard and steady, breath condensing in the cold air, the sound of it sending a little tingle through Skwisgaar’s belly. A little bit of wet brown hair around his face had fallen free from his ski hat and dangled loosely over his lumpy coat. His cheeks were a warm red and he looked like he was working up a sweat. Skwisgaar wondered what he was like in bed.
Just then an ear-shattering clang of metal on metal brought Skwisgaar from his daydream with a pounding heart. Then came the sickening sound of wood splintering; a shadow descended upon him, crushing him into the ground and turning the inside of his head black.
The first sensation was that of being deathly freezing cold, so cold it hurt. Biting pinpricks of icy pain sticking him all over. His bones felt frozen, his flesh like cold beef hanging in a meat locker. He couldn’t feel some things, like his fingers. Maybe they were gone. Then the scent of pine sap registered, pungent and spicy. Sharp needles pricked his face and bark dust rained into his eyes. He couldn’t move arms or legs. It had fallen on him. He was trapped. Pinned under the tree, he knew. He heard a voice nearby but he couldn’t understand the words. They sounded heated, desperate. They stuttered and choked and stopped in odd places. In another few moments Skwisgaar was almost fully awake, listening to Toki’s grief-stricken sobs and curses for the fucking tree that had squished his friend to death.
And all Skwisgaar could think of at that moment, despite the pain and the fear and the cold and confusion, was his dream last night. Newspapers on the bathroom floor. Newspapers about trees. He could see the headlines now: SKWISGAAR SKWIGELF KILLED BY FALLING TREE. SWEDE’S HALLS DECKED BY CHRISTMAS FIR. DETHKLOK GUITARIST’S HUMILIATING DEATH. TALLER-THAN-A-TREE DIES BY TREE. SERVETA SKWIGELF INHERITS FORTUNE. TREE-BURNING RIOTS IN STREETS HONOR GUITARIST’S UNTIMELY DEATH.
No. Not yet. He had so much to live for…right? He had so much to accomplish, so much to see…right?
It was in that moment, trapped under a goddamn Christmas tree, that Skwisgaar realized the truth. He had nothing to live for anymore. He had gone as far as he could ever go in life, achieved a level of fame that eclipsed any Hollywood celebrity’s, and now he had nothing to look forward to but old age and death. It would be better if he just died now. The world didn’t need him anymore. He’d made his mark, and now it was time to disappear. The world wouldn’t miss him. Not a bit. It was a revelation so profound that it sickened him to the core.
“Oh gods no,” he moaned, breaking down into tears of utter hopelessness and despair. “No no n-”
“Skwisgaar…? SKWISGAAR!? IS YOU ALIFES!? OH FUCK, SKWISGAAR! WHERE’S YOU!?”
And then there was light. Skwisgaar closed his eyes and felt the crushing weight of the branches disappear; when he cracked open one wet eye he beheld Toki standing a few paces away, lifting the 15-foot fir tree completely up above his head and chucking it to the side like a flimsy piece of firewood.
This heroically touching moment was brought to you by pure adrenaline.
Toki was gasping for breath, eyes wide and bloodshot from crying. He stared at Skwisgaar like he was a ghost. “Skwisgaar!” he exclaimed, and took a few steps before falling at the Swede’s side. “I fucking thoughts you died,” he spoke with a raw voice. “I thoughts I killeds you.”
Skwisgaar lay in the flattened snow and tree debris, hair splayed out around his head, trembling from the melted ice that had seeped into his clothes. The trunk had missed him by ten inches. His hatchet had missed him by two. He gazed up at Toki hovering above him and felt those horrible feelings of worthlessness slip away.
He nearly smiled. “I thoughts you killeds me too, dildos.”
“I didn’t.” He touched Skwisgaar’s forehead. “You not broken, is you?”
Nod. “Okay. I gonna calls de others.” Toki yanked his cell phone out of his coat pocket, decorative spikes ripping a couple nice holes in the down lining, and took off his gloves with his teeth so that he could mash the buttons.
Skwisgaar watch Toki’s motions with blurry interest, dizzy and sleepy. “You saveds my live, Toki,” he murmured distantly.
“You woulda dones de sames for me.”
Yes, Skwisgaar thought, I would have. But it wasn’t that life I was talking about.
“Nathan?” Toki spoke into his cell. “Hey, I gots good news and bad news.” Pause. “We gots de Anti-crits-moss tree.” Pause. “It lands-ded on Skwisgaar.” Pause. “No, he alife.” Pause. Tinny laughter could be heard emanating from the cell. Another pause. Toki’s eyes settled on Skwisgaar’s. “He look okay. Say he hurts.” Pause. “Okay.” Pause. “Okay.” Long pause. “Okay. Bye.” Beep.
Toki shoved the phone back in his pocket and reached for Skwisgaar’s arms. “You gonna ice to deaths if you stay down there in de snow. Come on, stands up.”
The Swede found his feet after a while. Nothing had been broken but he hurt like hell all over. Toki limped Skwisgaar over to his bomber-snowmobile and sat him on the back, then mounted the vehicle and started it up. Skwisgaar wrapped his weak arms around Toki’s waist and rested his head on his back. They started on their way, the Norwegian resisting the urge to zip around trees in favor of a surprisingly mature manner of driving.
“They gonna come gets de tree,” he explained over the rumble of the snowmobile. “Nathan will calls Ofdensen’s, gets de co-oro-detonates froms your dethmobile. Pickle say he gonna tows it back.”
Skwisgaar honestly didn’t give a fuck about the tree or his snowmobile or anything else. Toki was taking him back home and everything was going to be alright from now on. Toki had given Skwisgaar his life back. He never knew the gravity of that rescue, how much it meant to the Swede. How it had changed the way he felt about his enemy-like-a-friend. And hopefully, Skwisgaar thought, it would stay that way.
“Go to de lefts a little. It’s is still leanings,” Skwisgaar dictated, sitting on the couch and watching the rest of the band grunt and groan as they hefted the Antichristmas tree into an upright position. “Yah, okay. Dat looks good.”
Pickles secured the mangled trunk into its holder, said “A’ight!”, and everyone released a grateful sigh before launching into bitchings and grumblings.
Ofdensen stood behind the couch, observing with his arms crossed over the front of his business suit and red peppermint tie. “That’s a, uh…very large tree, boys. May I ask how you got it indoors?”
“No,” the boys answered in unison.
“Ah. Very well.” Ofdensen put a hand on the blond’s shoulder. “Skwisgaar. Are you feeling better now?”
“Yah. I aching alls over but…yah. I’m good.”
“Hands okay? Arms, shoulders?”
“All’s fine, yah.”
“I still think it would be wise to have x-rays taken of y-”
“Ah come on, I’s not deads or anythings, or, you know,” Skwisgaar pfffted, shrugging the hand off his shoulder, “in a hospital’s wheeling-chairs. You is not my wifes either, so stop wis de nags. Huh.”
Ofdensen made an annoyed expression. “Fine.” He raised his eyes to the rest of the band. “I’ve got some end-of-the-quarter paperwork to-”
“Yeah yeah yeah, go do it already and don’t tell ush about it.”
“Yeah,” Nathan grunted. “We don’t care. Really. We don’t.”
“…okay. Then I assume you can find the ‘anti-Christmas’ ornaments on your own. And the lights. And the barbed wire wreaths. And the eight plastic reindeer pulling Satan’s hearse that Murderface ordered last year-”
Nathan facepalmed. “Alright. God. Fuckin LORD you’re a dick. Where is it?”
“Ground floor storage closets C and D.”
“The ones beside the garage?”
“No, the ones beside the hangar.”
“The jet hangar or the copter hangar?”
“Jet hanger. Closets C and D. May I now go and take care of your employer’s quarterly tax and wage reports?”
Nathan made a face. “Ew. Yeah. Go right ahead. Have fun.”
Ofdensen bade good day to all and departed, leaving Dethklok to decorate Mordhaus as they saw fit. Which we all know was Horrible Mistake Number One. Skwisgaar was the only one who had any sense of interior design at all, and he was basically stranded on the couch beside the fireplace with a bottle of scotch, wearing two sweaters and longjohns under his jeans and forbidden to go outdoors for the rest of the day.
So the four other bandmates cracked their knuckles, hocked loogies and adjusted their balls before stomping out the door in their big heavy boots while Skwisgaar swallowed four aspirin, pulled a flannel blanket over himself and went horizontal on the couch until late next morning, when the sound of Murderface falling off the roof with a scream woke him up.
Just another holiday casualty. A casualty because in an hour Murderface was keeping Skwisgaar company on the couch, and the Swede would rather suck his mom’s dangling dog-tits before being that close to Murderface’s bare feet. He was not gentle in departing, either. He showered before returning to his room and getting dressed: black jeans and the charcoal-grey sweater he’d worn the day before. The sweater was still good judging by its odor, hadn’t passed its expiration date yet.
As he pulled the sweater over his head and shook his damp hair free from the collar, he happened to hear a commotion outside his window. Hopping from one foot to the other as he yanked on his socks, he bounced over to the glass to see what was up.
The yard wolves, five or six of them, had surrounded somebody down there in the snow and were taking shots at him one wolf at a time. The person was shouting, cursing, lunging away from the beasts and making a lot of noise. It could only be Toki.
Skwisgaar ran to get his boots.
Two and a half minutes later Skwisgaar came charging out of Mordhaus in Toki’s direction, coat hanging off one shoulder and one glove missing, swinging a log poker like a drunken golfer and screaming at the top of his lungs. Toki and all six wolves turned to stare at the crazy bastard for a few moments before the predators turned their attention back to their prey.
“HOLDS ON, TOKI!” Skwisgaar ranted, stabbing the poker in the air like a sword. “I SAFES YOU from de wol…” He slowed to a stop and lowered his weapon, panting for breath in the cold air. Utterly ignored, he saw what he had failed to see from his window.
“Gimme that back!” Toki threw himself at one of the wolves, which darted away playfully. A large sausage was in its mouth, apparently stolen from the x-rated snowman Toki was building. Toki went belly-down in the snow and two wolves jumped on top of him, pulling on his thick coat in gestures of obnoxious puppy-play. Toki turned on the two and sent them rocketing off with delighted barks as he pursued them as far as he could crawl. A third wolf sprang over him like a lamb, and a fourth used the back of his head for traction, sending him face first into the snow.
Skwisgaar stepped forward slowly, unable to believe that he was witnessing Toki—dumbass Toki Wartooth, King of the Dildos—playing with those vicious fucking land sharks. The game was innocent enough but puppies played rough, and those wolves had teeth that Toki didn’t; thick spatters of bright red blood were strewn over the churned-up snow. He saw that the right arm of Toki’s coat was torn. Pink skin flashed here and there through the tear, flesh smeared a violent red.
The Norwegian turned to look. He seemed surprised. “What, Skwisgaar?”
“Toki…” He pointed with the poker to the snow. “De bloods. You is hurt.”
Toki looked down at his arm as if he hadn’t realized it. “Oh.”
“Idiot, you coulds have hurteds your’s hand.” He stomped forward, peeved but somehow relieved, swiping at the yard wolves and sending them sprinting off across the snow banks with their prize. He kneeled down in front of Toki. “Lets me sees it.”
Toki held out his right arm and let Skwisgaar look at it for a few moments.
“Dey fucking bited you alls up,” he muttered, casting an irritated look into Toki’s eyes. “Stupid littles kid, makes fucking man-of-snows wis a sausage when dere’s yard’s-wolfs all arounds—pffft! You’s shoulds know betters dan dat, you dummy.”
“Hey I was just havings fun!”
“Yous shoulds think a little bit first. Dis arm-” Skwisgaar gave Toki’s wounded limb a shake. “-is imports-tant. We needs it like yous needs Pickle hands or my hands.”
“Is just a scratch.”
“It’s is just NOT. You’s gonna gets fucking Arabies froms playing wis wolfs. Get ups now. We’s going to de infirmirary.”
“Don’ts be selvesfish, Toki! You almost kills me yester’s day and today’s you gonna kills yourselves, ah? I don’ts think so. Hurry up, and don’ts bleed all over me.”
Toki glowered in silence but allowed his bandmate to lead him back into Mordhaus. They immediately went into the nearest basthrohmnse on the first floor and Skwisgaar ordered Toki to remove his coat.
It was a lot worse than they thought. Blood drenched Toki’s torn sweatshirt and Skwisgaar told him to get rid of that too and come stand near the sink, where he turned on the water and tried to rinse off some of the blood. It was awkward trying to get Toki’s arm underneath the faucet so they went to the bathtub and kneeled down on the rug, and Skwisgaar took the removable showerhead and hosed the wound. Toki closed his watering eyes tight and bit his bottom lip. He didn’t make a sound. Blood ran down the drain a diluted dark pink, and Skwisgaar had a very weird feeling of déjà vu.
After a while he turned off the water and said, “Stay dere,” while he got up and rummaged through the cabinets for something to stop the bleeding. All he could find was Q-tips and cotton balls.
“Hurries, Skwisgaar,” Toki said anxiously, gripping his arm at the elbow and watching fresh dark blood begin to drip down into the white tub.
“Okay,” the blond murmured, returning to the tub and ripping open a fresh bag of cotton balls. He grabbed a handful and pressed them to the wound. The cotton effectively soaked up the blood. Skwisgaar packed more and more on, some falling into the tub where they saturated any liquid that had dripped there. Skwisgaar had just about slapped enough cotton on there to slow the bleeding when The Dream came back to him. The one from the night before. The one with Toki, the trees, and
the tub filled with bloody cotton balls.
He slowly gazed up at Toki, mouth slightly open. The look on his face must have worried Toki because he asked, “You okay, Skwisgaar?”
Their faces were so very close. He could see Toki’s individual eyelashes and the wavering line of his mustache and he could smell Toki’s skin and blood and hair, and then Skwisgaar fell into a pair of blue eyes, got lost, and was never found again.
“…uh. Yah. I is okay. Ahm.” He ripped a towel off a nearby rack and wrapped it around Toki’s arm. “Come on, you’s needing surgeries.”
a few hours later
Toki gingerly poked at the gruesome line of stitches holding closed the 5-inch laceration on his forearm. The Saint En’s doctor was spewing out a list of how Toki should take care of his wound while he lightly wrapped the new stitches with a thin gauze.
“-don’t stretch them, don’t pull them, don’t pick at them, be sure to wash the area with antimicrobial soap three times a day, change the wrappings twice a day, avoid soaking it in anything but-”
Skwisgaar approached the examining table with a cigarette between his lips and nudged the doctor out of the way. “Yah yah, we all knows, moof overs, I can do dis better.”
“You know there’s no smoking in here.”
Skwisgaar made a point of exhaling a cloud in the doctor’s face. “Dere is now.”
The doctor gave up with an angry sigh. “Alright. FINE. Fine. Do what you want. I leave my patient in your expert care, Mr. Skwigelf. Good day to you both.” And then he promptly left the room.
“I tolds you so,” Skwisgaar muttered to Toki, securing the ends of the gauze strip with electrical tape. If it was good enough for amp wires it was good enough for bandages, that was his logic.
“Yeah yeah, big deals,” Toki replied. “So what. Is all fine. My hand is not hurted too much badly, see?” He flexed his right hand and wiggled his fingers. “All fine. You worries too much I think, Skwisgaar.”
“So whats if I worries. You’s a guy to worries abouts. Doing stupid things alls de times. Dey shoulds keep you in a locks-up pen. One day you’s gonna gets your hands smashed or cutted off cos you’s doing somethings dumb, and den we are gonna haffs to fires you and gets a new guitars-player, and dat’ll be BYE BYE.”
“Yeah right. You wish. Nathan won’t sends me away.”
“Maybe ifs he gets tires of fucking you he will.”
“We not just fuck-friends,” Toki said darkly.
Skwisgaar grinned sarcastically. “Oh whats? He loves you den? Hah.”
“No. Is not like that. We has de anti-love.”
“You wouldn’t understands. You never cares about anyones before.”
Now it was Skwisgaar’s turn to look insulted. “Why you says dat, ah? Just because I gets laids more dan yous, you think I don’ts cares about anyones? Dat I is incap. Incaspable. Incap…not ables to’s?”
“YEAH. That what I thinks.”
“Well you’s are WRONG, dildos.”
“Okay then! Name one peoples you cares about.”
The Swede balked, caught off guard. The name was in his mouth. He felt it sitting there, burning his tongue and palate. If he opened his lips it would come roaring out, and the shit would hit the copter blades. He knew silence meant losing the argument, but he would rather lose that than lose something a lot more important.
Toki smiled triumphantly when no reply was offered. “Ha. I knews it. You don’t cares about anyone.”
“I do too bastard,” Skwisgaar protested softly. “I do buts I…can’ts…” He trailed off. Toki was quiet. You could sense his cockiness disappearing like frost at sunrise, replaced by something more sympathetic. And when Skwisgaar looked up at him, Toki knew that he had hurt his bandmate somehow. Hurt him deep, down in some place he had never seen before or known was there, a vulnerable place now exposed between them.
“Skwisgaar,” he said quietly. “Did I breaks something?”
“No,” he answered. “No, you’s just makes me sick. You hippos-crit.”
“You tells me I’s too non-carings to understands you, when you is too non-carings to understands me.”
A light flickered behind Toki’s dark pupils. It might have been understanding, or maybe he was faking it. Skwisgaar didn’t know. He just wanted the conversation to end. It was getting too dangerous for him.
“I sorry,” Toki murmured. “I was too fast judgings you, Skwisgaar.”
“Yah, well, don’ts be.”
“What’s should I be then?”
Skwisgaar stood up and flicked his cigarette to the floor, crushing it under his heel and exhaling. “Invisible” he wanted to say, but he said nothing. He turned around and bumped through the door, leaving Toki sitting on the examining table with a hurt, curious expression creasing his brow.