Back in late 2020, a local author approached us with a proposal to publish her Metal themed short story. We here at Metal-Rules like to encourage metallic creativity so we are pleased to present this unique story for your reading pleasure. Try to pick out all the Metal references! Enjoy!
SONG DREAMS PART 2
N. C. Krueger
No-Name wandered, not knowing where he went. The mountains grew taller and blacker, and he realized he was in the dark lands, where the song-dreams he knew rarely went.
Night fell. Gnarled, bare trees bent in the wind, clawing at the black sky with wails like living things. In their shadowed roots he saw skull-like faces staring, with hollow eyes and grinning jaws. The storm whirled, covering the moon and stars. The sky flooded with blood. Above him loomed a mountain made of crystal.
He wandered on. Shrieks rode in on the wind—monsters, demons, killers, who knew? He saw blasphemous things carved in the mountainsides, and dead bodies, torn and gutted, on the roadside, and voices whispering from the black mountains, dead by dawn, dead by dawn—
He ran. The storm whirled, the shrieks grew louder. He slipped in pools of blood and tripped over broken skulls; this was no place, no place for a Universal Soldier! He was made for fighting men, not demons, monsters, Death itself!—grinning like a jeweled Aztec skull on high.
And then it began to snow. The clouds split, and there was the moon! But not the comforting nightlight he knew—this was a cold moon, an evil moon, forcing its skeleton fingers into his very thoughts. The snow swirled. The mountains were ice. And then he saw nothing but the snow—this then, was the void of white he had seen. This, then, was the world, that meant anything, and so meant nothing. He wanted to weep but his tears froze in his eyes.
Kill, said the moon. Die.
No, said something inside him, but what did that matter? He wasn’t anything. The moon told him there was a razor blade in his pocket.
Die. And then another voice, higher and even more empty: Fall, fall, into infinite obscurity …
“No,” he said, forcing the word to take shape in the blankness. “No …”
Even if it was true, he didn’t want it to be. At least there was that.
Day eventually came in that place, but it was even darker than the night, for there was no moon, and the sun was black. He had come past even the death-lands, he now saw, and all was shadow. The snow-storm had blown past, but his breath still showed in the icy air. He noticed, distantly, that he was now in a German uniform with a Mosin Nagant in his hands.
He saw, also, that one of the nearby mountains looked different than the others. He couldn’t quite pin down what it was, but there was something—a different shape, or shade of black, perhaps. He went to the feet of this looming monolith, curious.
At its base, there sat a fool. Or, at least No-Name thought he must be, for he wore a fool’s hat—but he was weeping, head in hands, and from the three peaks of his hat to his cloven-hoofed feet he was covered in gold that shone like fire.
“Who are you?” said No-Name.
“A Jester Arrayed in Burning Trojan Gold,” said the fool, “For the sake of He whose name I hold.” He looked up, wiped his eyes. “Who are you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Climb,” said the fool. “To the depths of heaven …” He lolled his head back, staring up at the mountain, and a spasm went through his body.
“I don’t know,” said No-Name. “I’ve had bad luck with mountains—”
“Aurora!” the fool cried out suddenly. “Helios Divinitas!”
He must be mad, thought No-Name. The world has driven him insane.
“I’m not mad,” said the fool, snapping his head up. “I’m a Fool, a Jester. We’re the only sane men, you know.”
No-Name shivered. The Jester’s eyes were like emeralds, shining behind a mask of gold. “You really think, then …” He looked to the mountain.
“I know,” said the fool. “As much as you can know anything.”
The soldier squared his shoulders. The worst thing that could happen, he realized, was for him to go wandering all over the world, looking for something that wasn’t there. And that was better than a life of beer and gold, or, letting the Moon have its way.
And as he went clamoring up the mountain, he heard the Jester crying behind him: “War God! Norma Mysterium…”
The mountain was higher than any he had ever climbed, higher even than any one he had seen. It was higher than the Silver Mountain, higher than the Crystal Mountain, higher than the jagged snowy peaks now dwarfed into hills as he ascended. It had not looked so high from the ground. He wondered that he could even breathe.
The darkness was profound. The black sun, the roiling clouds, were now below him; above him spread a blackness like nothing he had seen—no wait, he had! In that moment when he was falling from the Stairway, the black, black space where the spaceship drifted. But where were the stars?
Then, a deeper darkness!—It poured in upon his brain, and he knew, somehow, it was not an evil darkness. But oh, was it painful. It hurt like fire. It hurt like desperate questions never answered. It hurt like a cry for help from an abandoned soldier in a trench full of mud. It hurt like the tears of people who wondered why their God was silent.
He heard a voice, and it was like roaring: “Enter the golden ladder! Climb towards the mountain peak! There be light! There thou shalt be crowned with the noble crown of reason!”
Up, up, up. The darkness broke; a deeper darkness still! It was darkness from before any thought had been conceived, before the dawn of time, before In The Beginning. He spun in it, hearing that voice: “Embraced by the darkest of light! Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritus Sanctum …”
He had no words, he was lifted up, changed …
And then he was in a place he had never seen the like of before. It was something like a tent, packed with living, flesh-and-blood bodies, and a pounding, roaring music. A man stood on the stage, black and white paint dripping down his face. The realization hit him like a thunderbolt. The Outerworlds.
His spirit, or whatever had come here, in this strange vision, floated back through the roiling, fist-pumping crowd. He felt himself shrinking.
He ended up, somehow, on the knee of an enormous man. Well, perhaps he was not so enormous—but No-Name was only an inch tall. He looked up and saw a great, smiling, bread-like face, shining, it seemed, with a warm light like the sun. The man’s eyes nearly hidden by his puffed cheeks, and his tangled, white hair was long and wild.
“Hello, there,” said the enormous man.
“Hello,” said No-Name. “Am I in the Outerworlds?”
“Most definitely,” said the man. “The year is 2006, A. D., and you’re at the Cornerstone Festival. How do you like it?”
“I feel like I’m in heaven,” said No-Name.
“Not quite,” said the man with a kind laugh.
“Sir,” said No-Name timidly. “Is this my song?”
“This is the Darkness’ song,” said the man.
“But—” No-Name grasped for words. “But isn’t the Darkness real?”
“Oh, yes; it most certainly is.” The man’s face lit up even more than it already was, if that was possible. He looked down at the little spirit on his knee. “Perhaps you’d like to hear your song?”
“Oh, yes,” said the soldier.
The man touched the Universal Soldier’s forehead with the tip of his great finger. No-Name felt himself float up again. Then he smelled the smell of beer and cheap cigarettes. And there, before his eyes, was a man in sunglasses and a black cowboy hat, a tattoo of an ace of spades on his arm. And No-Name knew, somehow, that this was a man as lost as he, rootless, aimless, without identity. His voice sounded like gravel rolling over nails, but, oh, there it was—the Song:
“Death or glory … death or glory …march forever in the sound and fury …death or glory …death or glory …blood and iron, it’s the same old story …”
And as the man in the cowboy hat spoke the words, No-Name became solider, clearer. He saw himself walking forth from the man’s mouth, in concerts, on streets, into microphones that tamped him down and clamped him into black discs where he dwelled dormant like a dream, until other men touched him with their magic needles and made him rise up like conjured spirit before their brains. He walked through their minds; he walked through their hearts. And each moment he became more solid, more true. His story was one of blood and despair, but he walked beyond it, walked far, far, beyond the boundaries marked out for him, just like Lupus Dei, the Wolf of God, had. He persevered as soldiers do. He faced the despair, shot it with cannons, muskets, rifles, and the point of his sword. Death or glory; it was true! That was his Name. He had not faltered. He had forgotten, but he had not let go.
And then there was the enormous man in the tent again, smiling upon his ghostly form. “So? Who are you?” he said.
“Sir,” said the soldier, his voice trembling. “Are you the God of the Outerworlds?”
“Oh, no,” said the man. “I’m just one of his friends. You can call me Bob.”
“Bob,” said the Universal Soldier, the tears coming into his eyes. “Does He care about us—the song-dreams, you know? Even though we aren’t real.”
The man’s face began to blur, like a reflection on shaken water. “Most certainly,” he said. And then, like an afterthought: “But Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you.”
The Outerworlds faded into the pungent smell of smoke and brimstone, and the scream of sawblade wheels. The soldier came to himself, standing there on the mountainside, but there below him the trees were afire, and the black stones melting in the heat! And the Painkiller roared across the sky on the Metal Monster, wheels squealing as he landed on the mountainside.
“Soldier!” he called, in his resounding, robotic voice. “There’s trouble.”
“What is it?” said No-Name, coughing in the smoke.
“Censorship!” said the Painkiller. His one human eye flashed with anger.
“Oh, bother that.” He remembered the werewolf. “Rights are a gift from God. Not a thing to be grabbed for.”
“Bother that. The world’s on fire!” said the Painkiller, and grabbed the soldier with his mechanical hand, and swung him onto his motorcycle. They rode across the sky, the fire exploding below them. “We’ve got to get everyone out—got to get something to put it out.”
“Painkiller,” said No-Name. “I don’t think we can stop it.”
“We’ve got to try!”
The fire surged up from below. The mountain of crystal burst into a million pieces, and the Stargazer’s tower turned to ash. The soldier felt flames licking his body, heard the creaking as the Metal Monster’s wheels began to melt, and then all was heat, white as the inside of the sun.
Death or glory…death or glory…
It was burning, burning, burning, burning like gold on the bowed and laughing head of a fool, or like a cross in the hands of an undead creature.
Death or glory…death or glory…
Death, he thought. He wondered what it meant. Perhaps it was just this fire, or perhaps you were changed, transfigured in the fire like gold in a furnace, into something better and different.
Death or glory…death or glory…
Perhaps there wasn’t an or. Or perhaps, when God loved you, it didn’t matter which.
There was a commotion outside Joe Hegel‘s door. A crowd gathering, pointing at something. Oh, brother. He put out his cigarette and went outside.
Joe started, reeled back. Standing in the street, brushing the dust off his hat, was a man in uniform. But not the uniform of the patrolmen—it looked like a uniform from a thousand, maybe two thousand years ago. He looked as bewildered as the people around him, who were staring at him, and at one another.
“Some crazy,” he muttered, and was about to go back inside. But then he looked at the man again—something like recognition stirred. Where did he know this person?
Seized by an impulse, he ran out through the crowd. “Sorry, excuse me—hey, this here’s my cousin, he’s a little eccentric, is all—” He grabbed the soldier’s arm.
“You don’t have a cousin, Joe!” someone said, puzzled.
“Brother-in-law’s second, er—” He pulled the soldier through the crowd, ignoring their confused protests, brought him into the house, and slammed the door. “Whew!” He looked at the soldier. “Sorry about that. They’d be calling the police on you in a second.”
The soldier just looked at him, bemused.
“Why do I know you?” said Joe. “It’s the strangest thing. It’s like …”
The soldier walked about the room, as if in a dream. His eyes scanned the posters, a look in them like he was trying to remember something. He was pulled, inexorably, it seemed, to an Ace of Spades poster on the wall. He reached out a finger and touched Lemmy Kilmister’s face. The man in the black cowboy hat, who had spoken him into existence.
“Hey, maybe it was a concert,” said Joe, musing. “You a Motorhead fan?”
The soldier’s face cleared. He looked at Joe, eyes full of a light like the inside of a star. “In a way,” he said, and laughed.
And somewhere, on that same day, someone heard the scream of sawblade wheels as a half-man, half-android landed his flaming motorcycle and looked with flashing eyes on the new world, and somewhere, too, a real Simo Häyhä walked forth into a real Finland with tears in his eyes.
Who Are the Song-Dreams?
Death or Glory – Motorhead
Suomen Susi (The Finnish Wolf) – Achren
To Hell and Back – Sabaton
The Trooper – Iron Maiden
Stargazer – Rainbow
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Man on the Silver Mountain – Rainbow
In the Court of Jarisleif – Turisas
Painkiller – Judas Priest
Swedish Pagans – Sabaton
Shores in Flames – Bathory
To Holmgard and Beyond – Turisas
Warriors of the World – Manowar
Wheels of Fire – Manowar
Armata Strigoi – Powerwolf
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Iron Maiden
Nightcrawler – Judas Priest
Widowmaker – W. A. S. P.
I Like Lycanthropy – Blaster the Rocket Man
Warriors of the Son – Saint
Into the Void – Black Sabbath
Star Pilot – Saint
Bomber – Motorhead
Lupus Dei – Powerwolf
Left Hand Path – Entombed
Raining Blood – Slayer
Crystal Mountain – Death
Dead by Dawn – Deicide
Hail Huitzilopochtli – Blue Hummingbird on the Left
Freezing Moon – Mayhem
Into Infinite Obscurity – Dissection
A Jester Arrayed in Burning Gold – A Hill to Die Upon
The Chant of Mighty Offspring – A Hill to Die Upon
Heka Primus (Ordo Norma Mysterium) – A Hill to Die Upon
Divine Darkness – Crimson Moonlight
Metal Meltdown – Judas Priest