User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Torsten, the Viking, was a successful Viking in many respects. He had raided Ireland with Ragnar Forktooth and pillaged the land of the Rus with Olaf, the Bellicose. He lived in a lavish longhouse with his beautiful wife, Hjordis, their robust children, and numerous thralls. He should be happy by all accounts, but he was not. Because every night he was tormented by a horrible recurring nightmare.

Every night, he would dream that he woke up to an alarming beeping sound. But instead of waking up in his beloved longhouse next to his shield maiden Hjordis, he woke up in an unfamiliar nonsensical dwelling composed of tiny cubes. It was dark, every time he woke up in his dream, so he knew it was a very early hour of the morning. The morning always started hazily with him walking about the unfamiliar rooms performing bizarre, incomprehensible tasks. He would don soft, impractical clothes that offered no protection against the cold or enemy arrows. After performing a sequence of inane tasks, he would eventually step out of this house into a world jam-packed with incomprehensible and enormous edifices, apparently constructed by a multitude of mad gods who had gotten terminally drunk. The part that followed was particularly terrifying. A huge beast like a whale with corners approached, galloping frenetically, screeching and groaning. It would suddenly stop its legless trot and open a side of its belly. He found himself walking willingly into the belly of the beast! Not only him, but a multitude of other beings; Beings that looked very much like people except their faces were lifeless, and they avoided speaking or even looking at each other. They just crammed themselves together in the belly of the monster, standing idly or staring intently at outlandish rocks they held in their hands. It was as if life had ended and instead of Valhalla, he was transported down to Hel's realm.

Sometimes Torsten would wake up with a scream as he was being squeezed by these pointless beings. Other times the dream continued bringing him into darker circles of absurdity. For the beast did not consume its passengers but opened its belly again so that the throngs can pour out, in countless numbers, and march with abandon among the illogical, gigantic edifices. He would be marched along with them, enter through a narrow door into one of the million rectangular constructions, and go to a place of incomprehensible torture. His assigned spot in this Hell was something that looked like a very small table, except there was no food on it, and a funnily shaped chair. He would sit on this chair, facing the table alone. There were other people in the vast room, but instead of all joining at one table, each person sat on their own little table. Each table contained strange and unfamiliar apparatuses of no apparent use. Everyone condemned to this place had to spend the whole day sitting on the chair, lightly tapping the useless apparatuses and intensely staring at them. Torsten had seen scribes in the Irish monasteries, intently poring over their scrolls, and their toils somewhat reminded him of them. But unlike the monks, the people here produced no scrolls of beautiful calligraphy, nor sculptures or woodwork. Their pointless toil produced nothing at all and yet so it went on for hour after intolerable hour. Torsten would much rather be a slave working in the salt mines, but for some reason, he felt compelled to sit there, staring and tapping, as if his livelihood depended on it.

The exhaustion that he felt over these long hours was worse than the most intense battles he has fought, and the despair that he derived from this pointless toil was worse than the most humiliating defeats he had suffered. Many hours later, he would stumble out of the building into the darkness, completely drained. He would realize that he never saw the light of day – not even the pale limelight of the Scandinavian winter. He arrived in darkness and he left in darkness. He waited with resignation for the gigantic whale-like beast, who ran without legs, hoping that this time it would devour him for good and end the nightmare. The beast came but the belly opened again and spit him out again, depleted but alive.

For a moment he would taste a fleeting feeling of homecoming, as when he returns from a long expedition and is about to see his family again. In what was not a longhouse, but was probably his home, there would indeed be a family of sorts but there would not be a hero’s welcome. His wife was gloomy, his children indifferent. They would all prefer to stare into their polygonal apparatuses rather than talk to him. There was no smell of roasted meats or salted cod. There were little boxes containing unidentifiable substances that vaguely resembled meat and vegetables but tasted nothing like them. They ate the pathetic fare in stony silence, stonily watching an apparatus that reproduced the sounds and images of people who were not there.

At the conclusion of this debilitating day, Torsten would go to bed, hoping it was his grave, and limblessly collapse. At this point, he would wake up in cold sweat and find himself in the familiar longhouse with his wife Hjordis lying next to him. He would let out a long sigh of relief but the weariness of the dream would stay with him throughout the day.

One of those days, the Jarl of a neighboring town got bored and decided to invade their territory. It was time to march into battle again. The persistent recurring nightmares had enfeebled Torsten but he was still looking forward to a real fight. He sharpened his ax, mended his shield, donned his leather jerkin, had a great repast washed down with plenty of beer, and marched off to fight for his homeland. The meeting of spears was fearsome and much blood was spilled. Torsten was weakened by his nightmares but he fought fiercely and valiantly and received many wounds. Still, he pressed on, filled with battle rage until a spear traversed his torso. Torsten then knew his time had come, and raised his eyes to heaven. Finally, he would reach Valhalla and reap the rewards of a Viking’s life. Odin and the Valkyries were beckoning him! He fell to the earth knowing that the next time he opened his eyes he would behold the glorious Hall of the gods.

Torsten opened his eyes. He was not in Valhalla. He was in the same small room he always was at the beginning of his nightmares, listening to that same alarming beeping sound. He jumped out of bed, crazed with fear and despair. He longed for Valhalla, or at least for his Viking life, with the din of battle, the wailing of the slaves, the roasted meats, and the sweet mead, the unparalleled touch of Hjordis. There was none of that. Just the small dwelling, the indifferent, depressing family, the prospect of a day indistinguishable from all others, traveling in the belly of the crowded beast, sitting at the little table, toiling without any outcome, returning to the same spot in eternal darkness. An indescribable terror seized Torsten as he realized that he was not Torsten, that he was never Torsten, but Tom the accountant. Tom was Torsten in his dreams, but in reality, he was Tom and he would always be Tom until the inevitable hour where he would succumb to the boredom and fatigue and go to his grave without any hope of ever seeing Valhalla.


Donate a little?

Use PayPal to support our efforts:


Genre Poll

Your Favorite Genre?

Sign Up for info from Short-Story.Me!

Stories Tips And Advice