The dream was different this time.
The recurring elements—the boulder, the babbling brook juxtaposed into the heart of a dead and frozen forest—were there, but the dream had not begun with Linda pleasuring herself. She was sitting upright on the boulder with her head resting on her fist as if she was deep in thought. Before she had time to take stock of these differences, she felt—and saw—two yellow, bony, and inhuman hands with long, ice-blue claws appear on her shoulders. Their touch chilled her soul.
“You must let him have you,” ordered a voice from behind her. Old Scratch’s voice.
She didn’t turn around. “Let who have me?”
“Do not play dumb. The one you call Frank; who else? It is imperative that you allow him to use your body.”
“It is imperative for the culmination of all I have set in motion that the two of you become one flesh.”
“Frank has to make that happen, himself. It’ll be good for him.”
“No. You are too pure, and even from within my prison I can sense that this Frank chap is gaining strength. Waiting could jeopardize everything.”
Linda turned around to tell him how suspicious he sounded. His hat was gone, his hood was down, and she was staring into a face that was very much not human. Parchment-yellow starvation-victim skin was stretched tightly over a wolfish, lantern-jawed skull with luminous blue eyes set deep into the heart of it. Snow-white hair, coming out in patches, grew down to his shoulders. Long, fierce canines protruded from his slightly open mouth. His breath was icy cold, and smelled like raw meat.
Linda woke up.
She was lying in bed. She’d pulled off her pajamas during sleep, and the bedsheets were bunched around her tightly. Glancing at the alarm clock on her nightstand, she saw that it was five thirty in the morning. With a defeated sigh (there was no way she’d be getting back to sleep), she untangled herself from her bedding, sat up, recovered her necklace, and dropped it around her neck. The icy-cold stone felt good against her skin.
Erwin Rommel “Chef” Stronghammer drove his Mitsubishi through the streets of his hometown of Oslo, observing how things had changed in his absence. More shop windows were boarded up, there were fewer cars on the street, and the air was filled with an almost palpable melancholy, but all-in-all things hadn’t changed all that much. The world keeps turning, people go on living, and nothing abides but the land.
He drove by the decrepit arcade and comic book store where he, a young lad of seventeen, had been standing near the Guitar Hero machine and thumbing through a trade paperback copy of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta (which he wasn’t going to buy anyway—too many words he didn’t understand, and far too British, though it told a very good story) when a disturbed-looking man in a business suit had noticed his skinny but muscular physique and inquired, son, have you ever thought about joining the Army?
A disconnected few lines from an old song that his father (a notorious folkie who’d facilitated his own assimilation into Scotch-Irish mountain culture even though he and his wife were both of Scandinavian descent) had taught him ages ago: I buttered me brogues, shook hands wi’ me spade . . . then off to the fair like a dashing young blade . . . then up comes the sergeant, an’ he asks me to list . . . ‘Arra sergeant a gra, stick a bob in me fist . . .
Erwin mumbled another few lines out loud, the Celtic verse sounding not-quite-right in his Southern mountain accent: “When at Balaclava we landed quite sound . . . a’ cold, wet, an’ hungry, we lay on the ground . . . next morning for action the bugle did call . . . an’ we had a hot breakfast o’ powder an’ ball . . .”
He continued down the street, up the ridge, coming after a few minutes to the edge of town and the edge of a long seashell driveway that snaked up to a dilapidated duplex that he immediately recognized as his Aunt Marcy’s home. He parked outside of the house, stepped out of his vehicle, walked up to the house, knocked on the door. He wisely removed the star-and-crescent pin from the front of his beret. A very small woman with long brown hair opened the door. When she recognized the visitor, her face broke out into a big, friendly smile.
“Erwin!”, she said exuberantly, extending her arms to give him a hug, “Oh, we’ve been expecting you!” She turned around and shouted back into the house, “Frank! Erwin’s here!”
A young man—aged from the last time Erwin had seen him, but unmistakably Frank—and a young girl came rushing into the foyer. Erwin’s eyes immediately drifted to the girl. She was slim, with long dyed-black hair, cappuccino-colored skin, teacup-sized breasts, too much makeup, Sex Pistols t-shirt, ragged black jeans so low he could see the straps of her underpants gracing her hips: He felt his trousers begin to shrink.
He ruffled Frank’s hair. “How’s it goin’, little buddy?”
“Good to see you, Erwin,” Frank said.
Erwin turned his gaze back to the girl, snapping his fingers as he searched his memories for a name to match her face to. “Linda, right?”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
He looked her up and down and remarked knowingly, “You’ve grown.”
She gave him a coy smile. “Thanks.”
“Frank,” said Marcy, “will you please show Erwin up to his room?”
Frank nodded. “Sure, Mom.”
Frank led Erwin into the house and up the stairs. As soon as the big Swede was sure they were out of earshot of Marcy and Linda, he turned to Frank and said, “So that Linda chick, she’s a piece of work, ain’t she?”
Frank nodded, a sheepish grin on his face. “She sure is.”
“Are you hittin’ that?”
“In my dreams, maybe.”
“Well, little buddy, you’d best man up and get with the program pretty soon.”
“If you don’t, I just might.”
The two shared a hearty laugh.
After a while, they reached a disused bedroom at the end of a long hallway. Erwin opened the door, headed straight for the bed, and dropped down onto it sleepily in a great cloud of dust. Well shit, he thought, it’s only statutory rape if you get caught. Younger’n her are happy mothers made, dammit.