The Secret Griefs of Wild, Unknown Men (20)

20.

The sky was a deep, forgiving blue, and the river tiptoed along in subtle silence, as the sun began its labored climb into the sky. The crows were almost mute, save for one, who choked momentarily on a piece of blood-soaked straw. A fog, as thick the river below, slowly trickled over the landscape, coating all it touched in opaque obscurity. The sun, as if obeying an order, rested just above the horizon and peered over the land with invisible eyes, which searched for something small and agile.

 A man in a small white car slept on a thin, winding road in the northern wood. In the West, a small black bear finally managed to muster up the courage to bat down a large bee hive in order to lick at the contents inside. The disturbed insects inside stung at his hide with such fury that the bear believed that a tiny thunderstorm had descended upon his bottom and ran to find cover with a mouth full of honey. In the East, across the river, a cloud rolled over and went back to sleep as an old ghost slowly floated through the fog like an old, aimless trout. In the southern woods, an odd-looking mutt of a hound dog sniffed through the underbrush, as the crows watched intently. It trotted over to the river bank, lapping its fill of water before following its nose farther towards the northern woods. It looks up to the crows, who all looked away, nervous of the dog’s intent. Then, as if led by a thousand years of instinct, the dog came upon a clearing in the woods containing several small cabins, one of which contained a young woman; a young woman who was awake, which was a very unusual sight, for the dog rarely saw anyone awake during his excursions. He watched her as she typed on a small computer in her kitchen, feeling a tugging in his tiny dog chest, as if someone had put a leash on his heart. Growing fond of this sight, he sat down at her back door and waited, simply watching.

“Well now” the dog thought, “This shall be a day unlike any other.”
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The Secret Griefs of Wild, Unknown Men (19)

19.
The Boy from the Old World was about 30 years old before he’d hit puberty. Some of his childhood friends were already dead. Most from one war or another. He’d have to thank his uncle for that. His new found hormones had ignited a furnace that seemed to rest a few inches below his navel. He’d always had a potent fondness for women, but this new feeling was a world apart. He began to understand the devil’s frustrations with unrequited love and his father’s appreciation for working women, which developed a few years after the death of his mother, who was now in hell, where no mother belongs.
This mixture of infatuation and longing seemed to collide headfirst with dense confusion and sudden bursts of violence that both scared and excited him. The first few years were filled with under-the-table deals with prostitutes, who would accompany him to a local barn or in the back rooms of bars where he was recognized as “the old boy” who was certainly old enough to drink, even if his liver was still too small to take it.
“That boy’s got the Devil in him,” they’d say, “and don’t try burnin’ him, cause it don’t work. Just get him a drink, and make sure all those damn animals he keeps with him stay outside, ‘specially that shitty little red ‘coon!”
Reputations are quite easily born in small towns, which seemed to be the only kind he’d travel to with his dozen animal friends, all of whom he shared souls with.
About 10 years into his transition to manhood, he met a woman preacher, which was a new and unusual thing for him. She would stand in bus stations and general store parking lots, forcefully intoning to the passers by, eerie chants on simple religious concepts. The boy would sit and listen as if he were absorbing a fairy tale being told by a grade school teacher. He often loved listening to preachers, because he knew they were wrong about God, but sometimes they were way off about everything. He’d once heard the tale of a Hittite named Boaz who had hit a giant fish between the eyes with a rock wrapped in a paper towel, the result of which provided Jesus with enough fish to feed a thousand flood victims for 40 days and 40 nights. And on the 40th day, God created rainbows to be a symbol and constant reminder that race mixing and homosexuality would lead straight to Hell. This had been one of the boy’s favorite sermons because of the fervor the old preacher mustered to describe the slaying of the fish:
“…And that giant devil of a cod fish, or whatevah’, splashed about with the hatred of a billion demons! And Boaz worried that tha wawtuh would soak through and BREAK his papuh towel! Ohhhh, but church! Church!! Our God is a good God, for those paper towels became TUHWICE-UH as ABSORBANT!”
“Preach Preachuh!!”
“I said-uh TWICE! As absorbent. And Boaz slung his mighty stone with the power of God hangin’ over his shoulduh’s and let that heavenly rock LOOSE!! And do you know what happened then, Church!?”
“Tell it, Preachuh!”
“That stone smacked that fish in between the eyes so hard that he IMMEDIATELY, turned retarded, had four hard attacks and died until he was DEAD-UH!!”
“Praise the Lord!!”
“Which goes to show, church. Gettin’ stoned only leads to retardation and deathification!!”
“Halleleujah!!”
Yep. That was a good one.
This Woman Preacher, however, was different. She spoke with unyielding clarity and conviction, and even her message was different. She didn’t bother with books or stories.
She simply said, “Be vigilant. Watch your neighbors, for you are their keepers. Say your prayers and prepare for judgement, for the Devil is among you.”
This was the first of two things that made the boy uneasy. Did she know? A lot of people did, but none took it so seriously. She spoke as if she not only knew about this Devil, but as if she actually knew what it meant to be a devil. Her short, curt sermons seemed to have an empathy to them, yet an absoluteness that cut to his core, implying that she knew everything about this devil, save what he looked like, though her eyes would linger every time they connected with his, which, as it were, was the cause of the second thing that they boy felt uneasy about when it came to this Woman Preacher.
He’d been attracted to women for a long time now, but there was something in this Woman Preacher that pulled at his loins with herculean strength. When her eyes would lock with his, he could feel his chest curl up like an armadillo, his breath would drop all the way to his navel and something like the sound of a bear’s growl would vibrate through his nethers. What made it worse was seeing it happen to her as well. He could see the tiny pockets of sweat form on her forehead, her posture grow rigid under her dress, her beautiful heart-shaped bosom heave up and down as the two locked eyes, bathed in endless twilight as if this were part of an absolute truth that the universe would let them do nothing about. And for an endless collection of seconds, their mutual lust for each other would silence the Lady Preacher, until she became aware of the Earth passing her by. And with a pinch of the wrist, she’d inhale and continue,
“Be vigilant, ladies and gentlemen. Raise your children under the watchful eye of God, and be mindful of your surroundings, for this devil is among you.”
Then, she’d disappear into the crowd, and her presence would disappear along with her, as if she’d never existed. But she did. And soon, the boy began to see her more and more; not just preaching, mind you, but watching from behind corners, or in post offices, or staring from a stool at a luncheonette while pretending to care about food that she obviously wasn’t eating. No, this Lady Preacher seemed to have no use for food.
It was on a cool night in September when he’d awaken to her standing over him as he slept. There were no words between the two of them; no sounds at all. They stripped off all of their clothes in silence. His heart seemed to have fists of its own, beating mercilessly at his chest, while the Lady Preacher, clothed only in starlight, straddled his wiry frame and proceeded to dance upon the monolith that stood between his thighs in a way that he wasn’t sure gravity would allow. But his mind wasn’t present enough to comprehend this. She had him, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t plan. He couldn’t speak. And he didn’t want to. All desires outside of this woman preacher had disappeared. He had been completely consumed by every aspect of her. And somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that something very bad was about to happen.
The next morning, a young farmer on his way home from choir practice noticed a small dead squirrel laying on the sidewalk.
“Aw hell,” the man hummed, “God rest that poor little soul.”
A few feet later, he encountered two dead cardinals of a gorgeous read hue.
“Aw hell,” the young farmer hummed, “God rest their poor little souls.”
It was odd, he thought. For them to be so close to each other, there must’ve been a hell of a fight between the three. As he checked the sky for rain clouds, he found himself tripping over a dead gator, which laid a few feet away from two dead dear.
“Well I’ll be goddamned!” he chimed, “We have a circus this weekend?”
The sight of such large animals needlessly killed struck him as eerie. Then, he noticed the trail of blood leading into the woods. He followed the trail (exactly what his Mother had warned him against when teaching him what to do in case he’d ever stumbled upon a blood trail), discovering a new animal every yard or so. Something was obviously amiss… afoot… which one?
The farmer mumbled an old hymnal to himself as he stepped over carcass after carcass. The light in the sky seemed to be fading without the help of clouds or natural Earth rotations. After passing a warthog, a gang of odd looking frogs, and what looked like an albino python, the farmer emerged into a clearing, a camp, the borders of which were lined with dead crows. The sight was too surreal for reality. And in the middle of it all was a hawk, laying splayed out over an early teenaged boy who held a bloody, red raccoon in his arms. He walked over to the boy, bending over the corpse.
“Goddamn it, son,” he muttered, pulling a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. This kid was definitely dead. His animals were, too. As he began to turn to find the police, he heard a low mumble come from the ground beneath him.
“What’s that?”
He turned back to the boy, who seemed to stir, barely, as a lone crow cawed in the distance.
“You alive!? Impossible!”
The Man eased in closer, as the boy’s right hand began to stir.
“Don’t you move, I’m gonna call the hospital! Don’t you worry!”
The boy began to cry softly, as his left arm clutched the little red ‘coon closer to his chest. Then, as if noticing them for the first time, the farmer took in the carnage around him.
“You kill all these animals?” he asked, turning his head to the crows. When he’d turned his head back to the boy, he noticed something quite peculiar. The boy’s right arm had found its way deep into the man’s chest. And there was a light, a voice, a darkness and then…
The following afternoon, the Man woke up to the smell of fatty bacon and spice-less eggs with no recollection of his life before today.
“Hey there, you’re up!” The Boy from the Old World smiled.
“Yep,” The Man replied. “What happened last night?”
“Not much” The boy smirked, “You tried to kill yourself by jumpin’ into the river. I saved you”.
“Well, aren’t you just a fuckin’ prince?” The Man remarked.
“To some,” the boy replied staring at his food. “You feelin’ alright?”
Sure, the man thought, but why not shut the hell up about it until after breakfast?
And while this was the truth, he figured he’d lie a little just to smooth it over. This boy did save his life, after all.
 “Sure” the man replied, “buy why not shut the hell up about it until we’ve had breakfast?”
The Boy from the Old World stared in silence before erupting into laughter.
“Funny,” the man said, “I meant to lie about that.”
He frowned, wondering why he would ever care to lie in the first place as he slid his sharp, black bowler hat over his greasy hair.

The Secret Griefs of Wild, Unknown Men (18)

18.

Chinstrap roams the forest like an old camel, trudging and spitting, with odd eyes dancing back and forth, seeking whomever he may entertain. He stumbles upon an old filling station, which accompanies a single winding road. No cars are there.
“Hmm”, he hmms, “I wonder what wonders lurk inside of such an establishment.”
And with that, he enters. Seeing no one, Chinstrap rings the bell on the counter, hoping for a friendly face to emerge from underneath. Perhaps even an attractive female for him to smooch upon in the moonlight! No. No, his wife wouldn’t like that, wherever she was. Chinstrap rang the bell again, which seemed to ring with a harshness that implied that the bell itself was annoyed to be handled more than once. He and the bell eyed each other like old adversaries.
“Fucking Bell”, Chinstrap voiced with disdain, “I shall ring you again at my whimsey, though the situation permits it not, to prove the more dominant participant in this debate of etiquette.” And with gusto, Chinstrap slapped the little golden bell on the top of its head as if disciplining a child. The bell screamed out in humiliation.
“Quit ringin’ the fuckin’ bell!” A voice rang out from a room behind the counter, “I heard you the first time!”
“Then I pray you, please, without quarrel or delay, make your motions to yonder counter top to discuss with yours truly the happenings of the day and, perhaps, answer a query or two as to whether or not a man, such as yourself, is privy to the goings on in a wicked wood such as this.”

A squat, quarrelsome-looking, badger of a man emerged from the rear room. “The fuck you just say?” he squawked like an old crow.

“Would you like to hear a story?” Chinstrap inquired, eyes gleaming.
“Absolutely not,” the badger man replied.
“My Gracious, Sir! My nature hath betrayed my intent, for if I’d presented it correctly, you’d never have rejected what was offered. I’ll reposition” Chinstrap repositioned. “My dear mud skipper, would you not only indulge the lowest aspects of myself, but the divine in yourself by allowing me the pleasure of presenting to you the gift of a performance so awe-inspiring and grand, that it cannot be denied?”

A silence.

“Sure, if you buy somethin'” The badger man chortled.

“Superb!” Chinstrap cheered, “I’ll take a Chick-O-Stick and a pack of Good N’ Plenty.”

 

The Secret Griefs of Wild, Unknown Men (17)

17.

“I suppose you’ve never seen God, have you?” The Devil mumbled with an impossibly far look in his eyes.
“God?” The Old World Boy didn’t know anything about it. “No, sir”.
The Devil scoffed, “Don’t call me that, and I should’ve known. Nobody sees God. Anybody who says that they have is over-exaggeratin’. Or just a fuckin’ liar.”
“Why?” The boy asked, “How would you know?”
“Because,” The Beautiful Man replied, “If they had seen God, they’d know that she was a woman.”
The boy frowned. “God is a ‘she’?”

“Yep, and nobody knows it but me. People automatically equate power with being male, so it’s an easy mistake to make. But God is a matriarch, and her entire family line is matriarchal”.

“Weird”, the boy huffed with a scowl on his face, “So where do you fit in?”
The Devil pinched his nose and sniffed like an addict. “She’s the one I loved.”
The wind took advantage of the following silence, whipping through the fields in a dramatic display of invisible grace. “I loved her with everything I had, but it’s never enough, boy.”
“Why?” The boy’s eyes were as big as saucers.

“Loving God is like loving a tree, or a river. These things are beyond beautiful, and they give us life and sustain us. That’s what love is, and God is nothing but love. She’s incapable of loving anyone any more or any less. It’s all equal.” The Beautiful Man wiped his brow with a fine silk cloth.

“What about evil?” the boy asked.
“She don’t see good and evil, boy. Just action, reaction, and circumstance.”
The boy thought about this. “Well what about Hell?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s my fault” The Devil scratched his head “It’s also too complicated to explain. Just know that I left God because it hurt too much. It hurt worse than a thousand goodbyes, and if I couldn’t have her, I didn’t want anyone else to either. So I left Heaven and came to Earth, which, at the time, was the most colorless, driest, emptiest planet in the universe, and I slept for a million years. When I woke up, there was water and trees here. Out of fuckin’ nowhere, this dry, colorless rock developed the foundation for life. Then, I realized that She did love me. Really did. Enough to do all this. But I was so angry at our fate that I couldn’t do anything rational. I stayed here, refusing to return. And soon, God created all the animals to keep me company, so I wouldn’t be lonely. Then, she created people, and the nicer she was, the angrier I got. So I ruined it.” The Devil filled his lungs with air and looked to the sky before pushing out a long, powerful breath, as if exhaling the whole of history.

“Ruined what?” the boy asked.
“Everything,” The Devil replied.
“How?” The Old World Boy wouldn’t be letting this one go.
“I convinced one brother to kill another.” Devil’s eyes squinted ever so slightly as the Old World Boy shook his head
“That’s bad.”
“Yep. It was the first time that God cried, because nobody had to die. Then, from God’s tears and my rage, the perversion was born.”

“I’ve never heard of that.”

“Gracious, boy, doesn’t your Daddy tell you anything?”

“Yeah, but not this stuff.”

The Beautiful Devil scratched his chin, then pinched a bit of tobacco to stuff his pipe. The clouds sailed across the sky as the boy, watching closely, wondered if he’d ever see anything like God up there. Then, he wondered about this “perversion”. What kind of being would be born from God’s sadness and the Devil’s anger.

“That’s right,” The Devil said, as if he could hear every thought, “the perversion is a thing unlike any other. It’s the sorrow of God mixed with my anger. In order to please God, it vowed to destroy me and my entire family to atone for me making God cry. It even went so far as to create Hell in order to trap us all inside. And that’s what it’s been doing. If anyone does anything to make God cry, they’re taken to Hell. And you and me? Well, we’re taken there automatically.”

“I hate that perversion” the boy spat.

“Good!” The Devil chuckled. “Go kill it. Go kill it before it kills you.”

The Old World Boy decided, then and there, that he’d one day find this thing and kill it, so he and his Dad would be able to die without fear of Hell. Maybe they’d even see God…

“You’re the only one who’s seen God?” the Old World Boy was intrigued.
“Mm,” The Beautiful Devil examined a shiny green beetle on a nearby leaf.
“What does she look like?” The boy asked, looking closely at the beetle, which the Devil now held in his hands.
“Hard to look at. Really hard. May as well not look at anything at all. She’s more of a feeling.” He seemed to blink twice as often whenever he’d reflect on God.
“What does she feel like, then?”

“Nah, boy,” The Devil sighed as the tiny jewel of a beetle flew off towards the west, where a far off smoke trail could be seen. “You’re askin all the wrong questions.”

With that, the Devil lit his pipe and was silent. The crows could be heard singing in the distance.

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The Secret Griefs of Wild, Unknown Men (16)

16.

She’d had the same dream for the 12th night in a row. It was of her mother, her mother’s mother, and a hundred other women that she’d never seen before who all looked like her, sitting on top of the water. These beautiful, loving souls all held hands, all smiled, all laughed as the sky grew closer and closer. Below them, submerged in the water, a great beast surrounded by a hundred other beasts looked up in great sorrow, as a woman (who she didn’t recognize) swam from beast to beast, ripping the bones from their torsos and slaying the beautiful creatures with great pleasure. With each kill, she looked to the family of women, seeking approval. But the hundred women who sat on the water did not understand this violence. Why would this woman kill such sad and beautiful creatures? Suddenly, she became doubtful as to whether or not this great hunter of beasts was a woman at all, noticing it’s masculine posture and deep voice growling with pleasure as the beasts were slain. Now, only two beasts remained: the great beast and one smaller beast, which seemed to be growing steadily with every breath it took. The warrior stared up into the eyes of the Modern Woman with a gaze so disturbingly deep and trusting that the Modern Woman gasped herself into waking. She was in her bed, in her cabin, in the woods, covered in her own sweat.

“No need to be afraid,” hummed the Kind Man, who stood at the top of the stairs, “your dreams are good dreams”.

And with a smile, the Kind Man descended the stairs and exited the cabin.

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The Secret Griefs of Wild, Unknown Men (15)

15.

The Loveless Woman stared at her melting reflection in the currents of a stream she’d discovered just that afternoon. Her hair and make-up, as usual, were pristine; her posture, elegant; her body, well-clothed; her breasts, well-supported. If the entire world had decided to pick today to fall apart, at least she would be the portrait of order and togetherness in a universe that was built through chaos. The events of the past few days had left her wanting. Wanting what? Despite the attentions that she always attained, her oldest companion seemed to have no interest in her. More and more, day after day, he’d devote his attentions to this Modern Woman. But for what? Did he really want her? Or was this some sort of silent retaliation against that odd Kind Man, who had shown up unannounced, like a magpie in the chimney? She could feel currents shifting beneath the earth and a tension in the air as the trees whispered to each other. Nothing good was coming of this, and they didn’t need to be here. And, with that thought, for the first time ever, she thought that she may leave the Old World Man here and now. But as soon as this thought manifested itself, it had vanished again. She didn’t love him. Most of the time she didn’t even like him. But she was devoted to him, which is stronger than love. She was chained to him like Prometheus to the eagle’s rock. Her walking freedom felt like an illusion. She needed him to be near, and she would have to obtain his favor once again and rid him of this Modern Woman and these sinister woods. Not for her own sake, but for his. Because, though she knew not what it was, something was slowly, methodically, and silently trying to kill him, and he certainly did not want to die.