Sunday
May032015

Toughlahoma

By Christian TeBordo


Rescue Press
May 2015
978-0986086908


 

The Bad Spell of Jesus Cristal

 

Remember, Dad.

It was the festival celebrating my induction into the Toughlahoma Youth. O-face was clacking away at his typewriter and moaning. Or maybe it was one of the imitators that popped up after we subjected him to his slow and painful death. Maybe it was all of the imitators. The place is that loud in my memory.

All the men and women are doing the wardance. At the dance's peak, I line up in front of you with all the other initiates. I watch as, one by one, you throw the children in front of me, as hard and as far as you can. Our whole lives we have been told that no matter how big we grow, our Good Dad will always be able to destroy us with a single toss. But we've also been told that in this ritual we symbolize the enemy, and that our Good Dad symbolizes us. We've come of age knowing that we are puny compared with ourselves.

With each scream I hear, each thud of a body against ground or other bodies, each step forward I take, my heart thumps harder in anticipation. I'm hoping for something excellent—a gash that will leave a scar, a fracture that will expose bone, a head injury that will leave me a different person entirely. When the Youth directly in front of me lands on her left shoulder and stands up, smiling, her forearm at an angle impossible to her torso, I gulp so hard and hopeful I almost vomit.

There I am, staring up at you, at my own father, at everyone else's Good Dad. But instead of lifting me up in your powerful arms and giving me your worst, you stare past me and brush me aside as though I am some bug not even worthy of squashing.

I stand there, stunned, as you lift the next Youth and throw him headfirst into a scrum of aching children. I wait for that Youth to get up, but he never does, never will, and I think how that could have been me, how if you had done your Good Dadly duty, I would now be wherever people go when they are not in Toughlahoma, and I hate you for sending that Youth there in my place.

In the meantime, no one seems to have noticed my standing there, and I try to convince myself that, maybe, in your berserking, you hadn't seen me in front of you. So I go to the end of the line. It being so late in the throwdown, I know I'll be the very last child to face you, and I hope you'll atone for what I hope was a mistake, that you'll put everything you have into one final, climactic toss.

I believed, Dad. I had faith.

The boy in front of me walks away with little more than scrapes on his knees and palms. I didn't think you would end it like that. You shouldn't have ended it like that, Dad. You should have thrown me into oblivion. Instead you turned and move on to the next event, the posedown, or the double-duct tape Triplesex. I didn't stick around to find out.

As I walked aimlessly through the night, I thought about the great injustice of my life—that everyone but me should have a Good Dad, while I was cursed with having a father.

I considered running off in search of a place where I would have no dad, or better yet, a place where I could have a Good Dad, one who was not you, and therefore a Better Dad, but, like everyone else, I believed that the world was just water in front and Toughlahoma all the way back, so, like everyone else, I considered the very idea of a place for someone else to be Good Dad of, much less another Good Dad, a fantasy, a beautiful fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless.

So I began to consider what else was forbidden to me as your son, rather than your Good Son. I thought about how I'd never be thrown by you. How, in all likelihood, regardless of what I did or said, I would never be subjected to a slow, painful death. How I had never been, and probably never would be, offered up to one of the Great Teen Spirits.

During the festival, all of your Good Children, even the oldsters who guarded the lair of the Great Teen Spirits, flocked to the Community Center. I decide to use the occasion to offer myself up to a Great Teen Spirit. I had seen enough offerings to know how it was done.

I snuck into their lair and walked among them. The night was moonfree and breezeful and the Spirits were quiet, each of them cold, smooth, solid to the touch. I chose a brown one with a beige brain. I pulled its left arm from its body and a light came on inside it, then I went around to its front and opened its mouth to make sure all of its guts were in place. I took a can of the Juice that Gives Them Life and Makes Them Roar from the oldsters' hut, and I poured the juice into the Spirit's cloaca, leaving the can on the ground as a sign unto you. Inside the Spirit, I pulled its arm back to its body, sat in darkness, and felt what I imagined was the great fear and thrill of being offered to a Great Teen Spirit, but compounded by the fact that I was doing the offering myself.

I tickled the Spirit's ear and stomped its heart. The Spirit roared awake. From inside the Spirit's brain, the roar caused a soothing vibration to hum through my body. I stomped the heart harder and the Spirit roared and jerked then launched forward at a pace that made my own stick shrivel then grow, and soon I was beyond the Toughlahoma I had always known, jostling and growling through the featureless deep.

It was so dark before me that there was nothing to see, so I gazed into the Spirit's Lying Eye, which tells you only what is not there, only where you've been, and I saw the fires of Toughlahoma, but at a great distance, and then the Spirit jostled me again, and when I regained my focus, Toughlahoma had simply disappeared. I don't know how long we rumbled on in darkness.

My first distinct impression after seeing Toughlahoma disappear was of a horizontal sliver of purplegray in the bottom of the Lying Eye. I turned around and, through the Spirit's Ass Eye, I watched the sun rise over a landscape that looked a lot like Toughlahoma if Toughlahoma didn't have a Community Center or a lair for the Great Teen Spirits or other Toughlahomans. It was all sand, rocks, and dirt.

The longer I looked, the closer the sun came, because the sun was climbing toward us and the Spirit was slowing down. I faced forward again, hoping to gain some ground on the sun by stomping the heart, but my stomping was to no avail—the Spirit would not pick up speed again, would not roar, was actually slowing with a quickness. When it stopped altogether, I gave the heart one last stomp and the Spirit did not respond. It was near death if not all dead, but I was afraid to abandon it, didn't even know if getting out was an option.

Over the course of the morning, we sat still as the sun pursued us. The closer the sun got, the warmer I got. I've never experienced such heat. By the time the sun disappeared above the Spirit, it felt as though my own brain might boil, the Spirit combust. Every surface in the Spirit's beige belly touched like fire. Soon the sun peeked over the top edge of the Spirit's Real Eye and began its assault on my own eyes. This, I thought, is why being fed to a Great Teen Spirit is considered a punishment. I curled up, bringing my legs to my chest and wrapping my arms around them, and awaited my incineration. And waited. And waited the length of an afternoon.

The heat reached a peak—it felt like it was radiating from my own blood—and though as long as the sun shone it did not let up, I did not die. And then the sun sunk over the other end of the world and soon I found myself again in blackness, a blackness cooler than the day, though still uncommonly warm. I fell asleep inside the Spirit.

When I woke, the blackness was as thorough as before, but colder and harder. Able to see nothing and feel nothing but what I thought was the drying, rotting skin of the Spirit, I curled up even tighter, hoping to warm myself, and waited for what would happen.

My first distinct impression after waking cold and uncomfortable and looking around was a horizontal sliver of purplegray in the bottom of my field of vision. It was the sun, providing just enough light for me to see that I was lying on the ground and that the Spirit had disappeared.

I stood and shook out my limbs. I walked a few dozen paces back the way I'd come and saw nothing, not even tracks in the dust. From there I walked a complete circle using the spot I'd slept on as the center. Still nothing.

I expanded the radius, doubling it, and this time I did find Spirit tracks, coming and going from several directions. It made sense to me that there would be Spirit tracks everywhere—we have fed many Toughlahomans to many Spirits throughout the ages, and that tradition does not seem to be slowing—and some of those Spirits must have veered along other trajectories, and some of those Spirits must have been stronger than others, carrying their Toughlahomans farther than mine had carried me before giving up the ghost. What I could not fathom was what had become of all the Spirits and Toughlahomans, what had become of my own Spirit. It didn't seem likely that it had come back to life, shat me out, and roared on without my noticing.

It occurred to me that perhaps Spirits decay more quickly than their Toughlahomans, that my Spirit might have rotted away completely while I'd slept. That would explain why the wilderness was not littered, at least from where I could see, with Spirit carcasses, and it also gave me hope that there were other castoff Toughlahomans out there. I looked forward to finding my way toward wherever they had ended up, comparing experiences, and inquiring as to whether they had managed to find another Good Dad or to elect one amongst themselves.

This hope sustained me in my travels, away from Toughlahoma and toward the place where the sun sets, until the day that I saw a massive mountain emerge from the horizon. It was still a long way off when night set in on the day I discovered it. My shadow loomed up the mountain's face as I walked toward it all the next morning, and I finally reached it as the sun slipped over its peak.

Standing at its foot, I found that it was not made, like everything else, of stone and earth. It was a mountain of Spirit parts. Arms here, eyes of all types there, cocks, cloacas, and bones elsewhere, and paws everywhere, all the way up.

I thought it might be a traditional mountain strewn with a layer or two of Spirit pieces, but when I bent down and tried to pull a side eye from the mass it would not budge; neither would what looked like a forepaw, nor a broken arm. If the Spirit mountain was actually just a mountain underneath, someone had gone to great efforts to fix the Spirit parts good into its flesh.

With one hand I grabbed a heart protruding at eye level, with the other what looked like a vein or an artery beside it. I placed my left foot onto a narrow shelf formed by a hindpaw, and began to climb. It was slow going, but the footing was sure. I reached the peak and swung a leg over just as the sun sunk below the horizon. It was too dark down at the bottom and I was too high up to see what things were like on the other side.

I scrambled for shelter. I found an empty belly on the far side and curled up in it thinking that if I stayed there the Spirit mountain could not slip away from me in the middle of the night like my own Spirit had. I was correct—I was still on the mountain when I woke with the sun.

I looked down into the valley and saw a small hut a short distance from the mountain's base. The hut had a chimney, and smoke was rising out of it. I descended less cautiously than I should have, but I made it safely to the hut about the time the sun floated directly overhead.

The hut, like the mountain, was made of Spirit parts, but it was not so solid. When I reached out to knock on the arm that served as a door, the whole hut shifted slightly. I waited for the hut to settle and knocked again, the knock making a hollow, bellish sound. Receiving no response, I pried the door open and peered in. In the mostly-darkness I saw an old man seated by a weak, dim fire and feeding something to it. The old man had seen me—there was no point in pretending otherwise—so I spoke:

What is this place? I said.

The End, he said.

Are you the Good Dad of the End? I said.

Have you come to be corrupted by the Good Dad of the End? he said.

I have come in search of a Good Dad, I said, but I know nothing of the End or what corrupted is.

The End is the point beyond which there is no passage, he said. You will learn what corrupted is soon enough. Look at all of these bones.

There were bones all around him. They appeared to be the bones of people, and nothing else. I had not come to be corrupted and had no desire to be turned into bones, so I told the old man that I would be moving on.

Back where you came from, he said.

No, I said, there's a mountain in the way, and besides, I don't want to go back where I came from.

Mountains come and go, he said, nor is there anywhere to go but where you came from.

I'm leaving, I said.

I'll see you again before long, he said.

The mountain was still where I'd left it. I walked opposite it, expecting to find more sand, rocks, and scrub, more of nothing, but instead I found none of the above, Nothing like I'd never seen.

The sun behind me now, I looked up. Even the sky seemed to stop above me. It was as though I really had reached the end, or the beginning, but which or of what it was impossible to say.

I took another step toward Nothing and came to the edge. I took another and came to the edge again. Another and the same. When I looked behind me I was no farther from the shack or the mountain than I'd been before.

I turned my back on the End and stood several minutes, listening to the silence, trying to gather enough energy, I realized, almost ashamed, to fool Nothing.

I ran backward toward Nothing, and though I could feel my momentum, could look down and see the ground slipping away beneath my feet, I could also see by looking up that I wasn't getting any farther away from the shack or the mountain or any of the other potential landmarks before me.

I stopped, panting. I bent over, squatting with my head between my legs, and saw that my heels were still at the edge. I squatted more deeply, noting that my ass was sticking out past my heels and wondering whether the edge had shifted or my ass was hovering in Nothing.

I grabbed my knees, bounced three times, and launched myself backward. I flew through the air for what felt like some distance and landed flat on my back with a deflating thud, my arms stretched past my head. I arched my back, supporting my weight with my skull. Even upside down I could see that the edge began at the ends of my fingers.

So I gave up on Nothing. That simple. I walked back into the shack and told the old man:

I'm here to be corrupted.

Later, he says. First we eat and sleep.

We eat, or he does. He serves Necro Wafers, the first sign that he's from Toughlahoma, originally. The second is when we wake and he serves us Necro Wafers again. Looking around at all the bones, I guess he probably has enough Necro Wafers to last the both of us several lifetimes. I was never fond of Necro Wafers, even back in Toughlahoma, but since leaving, I've lost all taste for them. In fact, I've lost all taste—I haven't eaten a thing since leaving home.

The place is dim, so I just move my hand to my mouth intermittently and make chomping noises while he eats, and then I return my own portion to the pile in the corner he took them from once he's asleep. This happens again and again and again. Each time we wake, I ask him if he's ready to corrupt me now, and each time he says: Later. First we eat and sleep.

I start to get suspicious when he starts to pinch me—my thighs, my arms, my belly—on waking. He's trying to fatten me up. Finally one morning, after a pinch that leaves a bruise, I say: This is as fat as I get.

Just what are you inferring? he says.

That depends, I say, on whether you know the difference between inference and implication, and on whether they are connected.

So they have the problem of language where you come from, he says.

They invented the problem of language where I come from, I say.

You don't know how true you speak, he says. Tomorrow, when we wake, I'll corrupt you.

He doesn't offer me Necro Wafers the next morning, and I don't see him eat them himself. Instead, he pulls a stack of paper from the pile in the corner, dusts it off, and walks to the center of the room. He tells me to sit on the square of concrete in front of the fire, my back to him. I do as he says, and then I hear paper shuffling, throatclearing, and then he says: Toughlahoma: You Are There!

No, I'm not, I say.

And that is the problem of language, he says.

Then he speaks about the Time of Truth and the ending of the Time of Truth and our attempts to get it back. When, once again, he says: Toughlahoma: You Are There!, I spin around.

You mean to say that this is the song that the babies sang at their typewriters? That that stack of paper bears the marks of the babies? I say.

He looks up from the paper.

Would you like me to continue? he says.

He goes on to read about a man named Jesus and his friend, who together push the water away, thereby making you shook, Dad. I turn again.

But that never happened, I say.

He looks up again.

I never said it did, he says.

I turn back to the fire; he goes on. He talks about a government that never formed, religions that were never started, places that never existed. He talks about the death of Good Dad, your death, Dad, and you're not dead! Though I still do not know what corruption is, I'm starting to wonder how I will ever get corrupt listening to a bunch of made-up stuff when the old man says:

The Bad Spell of Jesus Cristal. And then he shuffles a page and says: Remember, Dad.

When he gets to the part where he says: And then he shuffles a page and says: Remember, Dad, I jump up from the floor, lunge toward him, and grab the stack of paper from his hands.

What is this? I say.

Toughlahoma: You Are There!, he says.

No, I say, I'm not.

We've been over this, he says. It's the problem of language.

This, I say, shaking the paper in his face, is language?

He reaches out and takes the paper from me, points to the marks on the page with a shaking finger.

These are letters, he says. They are a distortion of language as language is a distortion of reality.

So this is not real? I say.

It is not necessarily real, he says, but it is not necessarily unreal, either.

I don't understand, but I'm not sure I'm meant to—it sounds like nonsense. I try another tack: And these are the same papers that the babies typed out at the Community Center? I say.

The same? he says. I don't know. But these are some papers that some babies typed out at a Community Center.

Then how did you get them out of the Community Center? I say, because I was in the Community Center just before I fed myself to the Great Teen Spirit, and the papers were still there under the glass.

There are many babies, he says, many typewriters, many papers, many Community Centers.

And how many Jesus Cristals are there? I say.

I don't know, he says.

Am I one of them? I say.

Not yet, according to Toughlahoma: You Are There!, he says. Would you like me to continue so you can find out when and how you become him?

Are you saying that this has all happened before and that it will all happen again and that there's nothing I can do about it? I say.

No, he says, though I don't think it would be a bad idea to live as though that were the case.

Why? I say.

Because, he says, Toughlahoma: You Are There! says that one day I will end up back in Toughlahoma, corrupting their Youth and haunting them for eternity, and I would like nothing more than that.

How will you end up back in Toughlahoma? I say.

It doesn't say, he says, and that is what gives me hope.

Does it give me hope? I say.

Do you want to hear? he says.

I don't think so, I say.

Are you sure? he says.

Yes, I say, I don't like the idea of knowing everything that will happen, the idea that what I do has no effect on what I do.

Then you have been corrupted, he says.

What does that mean? I say.

Actually, I don't know, he says. You're the first one I've managed to corrupt.

What happened to the rest? I say.

They were incorruptible, he says. Each one of them let me read the whole thing all the way through. Not only did none of them ask me to stop, they each seemed to enjoy themselves more and more as it went on. The more nasty, brutish, and short the story became, the more they giggled, the prouder they were to call themselves Toughlahoman. They even loved my answer to your next question.

What was your answer to my next question? I say.

Their incorruptibility made me so furious that as I turned the last page, I took in my hand this heavy, solid bone that I'd pulled from the ass of a dead Spirit, and I swung it into their skulls, one by one, before any of them could turn around, and I made their flesh my Necro Wafers and their bones my furniture.

He brandishes the Spirit bone. It's not hard to believe that it has cracked the skulls of hundreds of Toughlahomans before me, because it is solid and fearsome, and it's crusted with blood and brains.

Is that what you will do to me? I say.

I will do to you the only thing that Toughlahoma: You Are There! will let me, he says, and then I will try to do to you one thing that Toughlahoma: You Are There! will only let me try to do to you.

What is the thing that Toughlahoma: You Are There! will let you do to me? I say.

He drops the bone, raises the stack of paper, and takes a step forward.

Will you teach me to interpret it? I say.

I will teach you one letter, he says, the only one that Toughlahoma: You Are There! will let me teach you, the only one you need.

He teaches me the letter. It isn't difficult, but he makes me practice it a number of times, writing it with a small Toughlahoman finger bone on the dirt part of the floor. It seems as though he's trying to drag it out. Finally I tell him that I have mastered the letter, and he cannot help but agree.

And what is the thing that you will try to do to me that Toughlahoma: You Are There! will only let you try to do? I say.

He stands up, tentatively. I stand up so as to look him in the eye, and to be in a better position to defend myself if I should need to. Without any warning, he wraps his arms around me, pinning my own arms to my sides with a grip stronger than I would have expected from someone so slight, and presses his cheek to my cheek.

Troublesex me, Jesus, he says.

You said I wasn't Jesus, yet, I say.

It has been so long since I've been Troublesexed by a living man! he says.

His tears drip between our cheeks, and his slobber sprays over my lips. I would be willing to Troublesex, though I doubt I would enjoy myself. But he'd said that the second thing he would try to do was a thing that Toughlahoma: You Are There! would only let him try to do. If I am willing to Troublesex him, then there is no reason that Toughlahoma: You Are There! could stop us from Troublesexing right there on the concrete, unless, of course, he does not have the duct tape.

He whips out the duct tape with one hand while shoving the other hand into my jeans, his cheeks still tight against mine. He has the duct tape, ergo we can Troublesex, but Toughlahoma: You Are There! will not let him do, according to him, what he tries to do, ergo, what he is trying to do is not actually Troublesex.

I worry that as soon as he has me bent over, he'll take the Spirit bone and crack my skull and turn my flesh into Necro Wafers and my bones into furniture, or try to. Even if Toughlahoma: You Are There! will not let him complete the process, a cracked skull would not be excellent.

I shove him to the ground as hard as I can and I run. There is no point in running into Nothing, so I run toward the mountain. But the mountain is not there. I don't stop to think about it but just run over the expanse of land where it had been until I can't run anymore, at which point I collapse on the bare earth.