This One Time, 102

This one time the moon was bobbing along in the sky like a child’s balloon on a string. In fact, I could feel the string tugging me upward as I started to stumble now and then as I ran through the woods. Was the string the same as tidal forces? All I know is that when the moon was completely obscured by branches or a swift-moving puff of cloud, it felt like I was falling, but when I could see a glimpse I had an easier time keeping my feet under me.

That didn’t make sense. It wasn’t the moon’s light that sucked at the earth like a lollipop. I knew this. I was sure it would come back to me.

I had no idea who or what had carved this trail through the forest, however. I didn’t see too many hack-marks like from machetes or hatchets, but for all I knew, the place flooded on a regular basis and river-fish cut down the undergrowth with sharpened fins supplied by the long-suffering mercies of Darwin. Or maybe smaller trees were felled by thundering herds of sloths on their annual migrations. Or maybe it was sloths that were felled by growing trees as the trees shuffled around, pushing and shoving and trying to choke off one another’s sunlight.

Was that something they taught in school? It didn’t seem like it. It was more of a school thing to show where sloths hung on the tree of mammalian kinship as opposed to actual living wood, all Latin incantations of classification and where to put the commas when you’re trying to compare and contrast Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Flannery O’Connor. It’s arbitrary. What kids get out of school is twelve years of common experience. You may as well make them analyze twelve years of episodes of Friends and Frasier. The Bible or Greek and Latin and Hebrew classics. Or set theory and differential calculus and orbital mechanics. It hardly matters what the curriculum is, but each time you change it, you splinter one generation from the next.

In the forest, humans were outnumbered by any other category of living things by factors of tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions. They were individually outnumbered by jaguars and dengue fever and old dead gods that all run on anguish and blood taken directly from a beating heart.

Not too far behind me on the trail I was inexpertly hoofing along was at least one of the three. Maybe two. For all of my good grades in math back in school, it was hard to count too much higher than zero under these circumstances. The number of death.

I was confused and confounded by everything I had seen, compounded by everyone I had recently been, in series and in combination. The forest stank of rot. The acid air stripped the flavor out of the exhausted dirt, out of the bark and leaves and lianas, and flung it into the fog I was trying to breathe. The air was boiling with spores and microbes feasting on the dissolving living things. The air was green with dying life and brown with living death. In my multiple state I hoped, dearly hoped, that I outnumbered death and was strong enough to compete with all the excess life in the air.

In those circumstances it’s important to keep running. You know. In case it’s just a jaguar.

As it turns out, I was partly right. It moved onto the path ahead of me. Apparently it had been flanking me through the trees to the left.

It stood upright, on hind legs like a statue that had been standing there forever. Every time it shifted, it was still an item of permanence and had always been that way. It had no scale for judging its size, ruling such things out of bounds. In my memories it was a little more than chest high, and its head was the head of a badly taxidermied spotted cat, smashed sideways by hundreds of years of death and deathly rigor, permanently snarling. Or smiling. In a jaguar it all means the same thing.

It had always been addressing me. It said, “Use your addled whim to tear a hole from here to the sun.”

I replied, “You … you can’t just … go?”

“What is in your pocket?” it asked.

“I don’t know. It’s metal. I think it used to be a knife.”

“Why do you carry it?”

“I don’t know. I use it to touch things that are too hot.”

It was always nodding. It said, “I have made a knife, and thus you are here. Tear a hole from here to the sun.”

“Now?” I asked.

“Whenever,” it said. “It is always now.”

I put on the oven mitt I had picked up thousands of miles ago and took hold of my blackened and twisted ribbon of metal and cut a hole. I expected to be blasted away by light and heat, but it was just a mild white hole in the air. The jaguar god was going through the hole, was always going through the hole. It said, “This journey will still take time. Thus you have the space of a quarter of an hour to find an afterlife in which to make yourself comfortable.”

So I took off running until I fell down a hole in the ground where I was trapped for a few weeks, living on grubs and a nasty underground trickle of a stream until I could make my leg carry weight again.


April 12, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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