The talks of a celebration were impossible to miss in a social circle that was five nations strong when only four spoke.
"It's Norway's birthday tomorrow!" Denmark and Sweden reiterated all day through multiple venues- text, facebook, e-mail. They even stooped down to reminding Iceland and Finland in person earlier. The party would be small, just like last year, as per Norway's preference. And, also like last year, Iceland entered neck-deep into planning mode… and mud. More mud than anything.
He laid out back in one of his milky blue hot springs, pasted with mineral-infused dirt from face to middle to let the stuff work its magic on his fine features. It's not like he sparkled so brightly without habitual preening and scrubbing. And since his brother survived yet another year, he owed it to Norway to look his best. As he reached that high pinnacle of relaxation, as the sulfur bubbles exploded on his albino skin, as he nearly slid his head under the water his phone interrupted him with some harsh buzzing.
"Mmmmm, hello?" Iceland mumbled.
There was a great deal of shouting on the other end, clear as the air prior to a volcano eruption. "I'm not going tell him… it was your idea to call… no, Sweden! Don't you dare make me talk… Hi, Iceland." Denmark's voice twitched.
"This had better be important. I'm exfoliating." Iceland said.
"Still bitter you don't have me as your star colony? That the Kingdom of Denmark is now just you, a subsistence hunter, and a whaler homophobe? Like I've said before, you just need to get over it and move on." Iceland said.
"I never cared that you left to be honest. But neither herenorthere." Denmark quickly added. "It's about Norway's party tomorrow."
"Yes! While you're on the line, can I borrow some money to buy some fishing gear? I want to head out on a boat and catch him a shark or something later today, whatever I can pull out of the ocean. You know how he loves fish and what's better for him than a really, really big fi-"
"I'm not drunk enough to lend you money. I'm begging you on his behalf to not bring him a present." Denmark said.
"So what you're saying is I should pass you some Brennivìn?" Iceland said.
Denmark continued with well-practiced patience. "Do you know what happened last year, after you left?"
"Sure do!" Iceland sat up a little straighter and batted away a claw rising from the fissure in the earth that scraped at his face. "I checked in on Norway the next day and all that Skittle vodka was gone. I couldn't find him for a week… I didn't think he liked to party so hard. It must be your bad influence."
"That's because Norway made an emergency trip down south for some really awkward talks with Bosnia. Apparently, he'd been missing a hand." Denmark said.
Iceland made some non-committal, perplexed noises so Denmark took the initiative to end the conversation. "No present."
"But I can't show up empty handed." The island nation was crestfallen, but only for a second. "What if I brought something to eat?"
"Like a cake or something? Sure, that sounds pretty harmless. See you tomorrow." Denmark said.
And that's when the little devil that governed most of his actions whispered to Iceland that he had it in him to be a world-class chef. That no one ever argued with cake. That Norway would love him for expressing the awesomeness in the genes they shared.
After all, he'd made food before in the most nominal sense – boiling a sheep head, fermenting shark like fine wine, and not to mention the crisp winter nights he spent admiring the flaming aurora and toasting marshmallows atop a volcano. Baking was just about the same, right?
Iceland pinched his nose and slid beneath the glassy water to reemerge warm, clean, that much prettier, and ready to test his culinary prowess.
He didn't just walk into his kitchen. Plain old walking was for everyone else. He sashayed. He boogied. He worked the tile like it was a disco dance floor. Sparkles trailed him like his reputation as a complete and total badass. He even had one of his adorable yet diabolically evil little demons passaging behind him in time to the music pumping through his master's head. In other words, Iceland had the moves like Jagger.
"Are you ready help me bake, Hòlar? We'll make Norway a coffee cake. You know how he loves coffee." He bent to his pet and lifted it onto the ashy countertop. Hòlar chuffed, growled, and hissed his consent.
"Wimoweh a wimoweh a wimoweh, in the bedroom the master bedroom, John Bobbitt sleeps tonight." Iceland sang as he plucked a cleaver out of its holder and, with a wrist flick, plunged the knife into a solid wood cutting board. "And in the kitchen, the downstairs kitchen Lorena has a knife."
Hòlar, smitten by the song, dragged his tongue across the counter and danced in place with barely contained anticipation. Iceland rustled up an ancient tin brownie pan and a set of nesting bowls with a Dark Matter Demon well… nesting in the smallest one. The island nation held the bowl at arm's length as the thing literally boiled with anger and swirled it around and around and around until it transformed from a bona fide Minion of Hades into a shiny, pulpy, slick mess that was the exact consistency and temperature of melted butter. He then dumped it into the pan to disperse. After all, why bother to grease a pan with anything else when demon flesh was ready at hand?
Iceland regarded his progress thus far with a thoughtful 'hmmmm' and a half-cup of suspicion. "What if…" he mused aloud, giving his cheek a few taps, "what if eating a demon makes them sick?" The creature in the pan bubbled treacherously. "Right! Doesn't it say somewhere in the Bible 'Thou shalt chuggeth the pink medicine to be exorcise all evil' or did I just make that up?"
He dashed from the kitchen and returned just as swiftly with a bottle of bismuth subsalicylate or, in English, Pepto Bismol, dumped the majority of it in the baking pan, and drank the rest himself. "And it'll taste sweet, like candy to balance out the bitterness of the coffee!" He reasoned. "Now what actually goes in a cake?"
Hólar snapped back to life with a froghop as a tiny ball of fire flitted over his head and puffed out just as suddenly. The demonic version of a light bulb, if you will. He smiled a gruesome, wet smile like a rabid but lazy St. Bernard with a sinus infection, and wiggled his way into the upper reaches of Iceland's cupboards. After a few seconds of hardcore sleuthing, Hólar unearthed a rock-hard box of vanilla cake mix, used coffee grounds, and for some reason, some nuts and avalanched the whole shebang right on his master's head. About the nuts: these were not chestnuts, peanuts, or hazelnuts, but actual nuts. Nuts as in nuts and bolts and screws. Hardware. Metal. A little harder to chew.
Iceland shielded his hair. He knew his skull could handle the punishment easily enough, but his hair he just washed. The sparkly nation let the flurry of stuff to the ground. He waved a thank you to his pet, gathered the goods and dumped the contents, sans waxed cardboard and plastic, wholesale into the pan. Including the nuts. Because who doesn't need more iron in their diet?
Then the dark matter demon worked its black magic baking power. Shadowy, wispy tendrils snaked their way through the hodgepodge of what was technically food in its younger days like lava through rock. And Iceland watched with ever widening eyes and smiles as the mix liquefied and marbled and baked on demon power. As time passed the cake turned into a horrorcaffeinerific mess. But wait. Horrorcaffeinerific is not a real adjective. Or even a word, for that matter. The coffee grounds made it look like a block of peat. The nuts made it shine. The cake looked awful.
"Cake or death? How about cake AND death!" Iceland left the black square to cool in the windowsill. The smoke twisted off the surface of the cake like ash from a pyroclastic flow in the shape of a goat's skull.
More to come...