The New Life


by Anthony Manganaro


Forever ago, we climbed the mountains of Pinkatoma. It was an older age of blacksmiths and ringing bells — you couldn’t hop from one gray stone to the next without closing your ears because of the angry noises afar — but the journey also consisted of its peaceful moments, of its afternoon naps in mossy groves when you could listen only to the sounds of chirping birds. Without ever sleeping more than five consecutive hours, my wife and I traversed 17 mountains before she was slaughtered by boar-men on the descent of a nameless hill that was surrounded by round, blueish stones. Therein began my new life, which gave me purpose and agility and hunger and righteousness. It was not as good as the old life but rather more concentrated. The new life was not aimless and open and pleasurable but rather a sport of sorts, a way of understanding the world through a series of steps. Previously I worried about how to spend my time; now there was not enough of it.

First I returned to Hanging Leaves, the village of my youth, and killed everybody there. There were 214 citizens, and most were of the older variety, but their existence prevented the building of my fort at the ideal hill of the village’s high peak. Of course I did not kill them instantly, but over a stretch: first I relocated to the farm of my youth, then I herded the cattle, then I changed the religion and told a few lies. It took nearly four years but in my state it didn’t matter: to me four years of concentrated energy felt like four minutes. In the following decade my children and I would sit on the peak and take revolving turns watching the broader hills of Cone-Land; time passed effectively because the children were busy eating dumplings and meeting their future spouses and playing herk-ball (for them it was a life of leisure, merry abandonment, and sexual experimentation). I of course never failed to remember my mission but occasionally played chess on the hill with my beautiful sons and smoked my hash-pipe as the sounds of the evening mixed wonderfully with the smells of evening soups.

That is, until one evening.

“Pa,” said my son Torkon, as I, seated on a square rock overlooking the sunset, was in the process of moving my bishop. Torkon, at the moment, looked very sad.

“Yes?” I asked.

“We are low on onions,” he said, his face drooping further downward, melting in fear. “We will eat them tonight, but in six more days, our suppers will be no more.”

“And why is this?” I asked.

“It is for one reason, pa,” he said, looking left, and then right, as if he were keeping a secret from the sun. Then he blurted: “The citizens of Hourhour will not trade with us any longer!” 

I had forgotten, it seemed, the pertinence of my mission, so I began vibrating in agitation, as wispy smoke poured from my ears, causing my younger children to scurry away. I stared past the flies that orbited my son’s head as if it were a planet, past Torkon’s incompetent will to procure the most basic vegetable, and beyond the turquoise hills of the sunsetting horizon until my vision crystallized on the redder mountains where the sun was in the process of nestling. There, settled invisibly and rather comfortably, lay my peaceful ally of a village, the village of Hourhour.

 

“Zakadia!” I yelled, kicking my hut’s door down. My only daughter stared at me in anger. She was roasting a squirrel on the fire.

“Pa,” she said. “Shut up.”

“Listen,” I said, kneeling and staring into her eyes. “You must depart by oxen-time of the seventh half-moon.”

Two mornings later, five horses clopped their way into Hourhour, village of cobblestones and clean water. The horses marched in horizontal formation, with Zakadia alone in the center. She perceived, as she was my intelligent daughter, a sense of freshness, coldness, and potential accomplishment. For she had been to Hourhour as a baby when their dimwitted citizens accepted our plums for onions in rapid fashion because of the massive axes wielded by my sons.

She confidently made her way towards the central waterwheel.

“Aloy!” cried a man in an iron hat, the typical greeting from this backwards village.

“Dak-dak,” she responded, in our proper language.

“Aloy be silent!” said he, “and descend from your animal!”

Zakadia did as told, and then began one of her verbal machinations. She did so while twirling in circles, hands raised to the heavens, while singing two voices at once: a low-pitched recitation of hellish occurrences that would scare any listener out of their wits, and a high-pitched song of glory reminding one of flowery weddings. The scenes of doom were posed in the future tense, sung in throaty exasperations as warnings, while the cheerful tunes of glory — which included the laughter of multiple children — evoked a dominating present tense. The voices snaked against each other, representing darkness and lightness in a type of tussle that could be understood by people who listened to scriptures, as Zakadia fabricated about the rotting trees of the following year, the fiery hills of the following decade, and the molding human flesh of the upcoming century. The man listened to my daughter’s fluctuating monologue until he was joined by 1,133 others, the basis of the town of Hourhour — women, children, and half-dead elders creeping towards the waterwheel until something else diverted their attention: the presence of my son, Barabao, pissing on an exterior statue. His movements caused eyes to wander, until my daughter unleashed five knives across the sky into the throats of prominent-looking men with taller metallic hats than the rest. They fell simultaneously, my son ran away, and every man, woman, and child stared at Zakadia.

“The one,” they said, pointing to her, though not immediately because they had to tend to their dead, but the writing was on the wall, so to speak: Zakadia was their newer version of a prophet, the one meant to overthrow their five corrupt lords and restore ethical balance to the village. She was the one who would inspire refuge from their era of declining garlic and radishes, of harsher winds in deteriorating autumns; the one who would sing newer prayers each evening and save the Hourhourians from subtle corruption, racism, and urban blight.

 

Two years later, we sat atop the tallest cylindrical tower, listening to waterwheels and viewing our olden hill as a meaningless dot in the distance, space that represented time. Telling that to Couchran, my replacement-for-a-wife husband, was a waste of emotion, so I quieted his nostalgic blabbering by barricading him in an octagonal formation near the cobblestone entryways. We would not, I told my sons and daughter, be bored stiff by waterwheels anyway, for this somewhat useless village was but a speck of significance in the wider purpose of things, things which wouldn’t load our buttocks with sentimental recollections.

Look, I said, pointing towards yellowing fields, fields we’d occupy as the wheat of Cone-Land made itself gorgeously presentable — nearly digestable — from atop the tower: panoramas of space worth setting up hundreds of tents for, and forests wherein to construct platforms to see further aloft. My children spread their love with the people of Hourhour and new grandkiddies I had, populating reaches in every direction until tree-bolted structures had been created from scratch. Couchran died of a broken heart and four sons captured the whooping cough, but we created festivals across pastures involving flags transforming into kites and hot dogs being flipped into the mouths of our devoted terriers. These traditions were put to rest when the people of Tjak-Dang torched the Party of My Fiftieth Grandchild’s Birth, a day when my beautiful Torkon was roasted alive, but we remedied the situation by exploding every rock of the surrounding mountains until we no longer heard sounds. Though this lasted two decades, it was tiresome to the degree that Zakadia died in her sleep and I suffered heart palpitations. After all, we’d been worn out by wars and celebrations, of the endless excitements of the ages. Though the rest of my children died lovingly at my feet, I pitied their general lack of focus and energy.

One evening, while smoking a pipe on my deck, I decided I needed to walk. There were no longer citizens in the mountains, nor peasants to clobber, simply an epic sense of calmness I hadn’t known for decades. But move I could, so I clambered up the highest peak for the zillionth time, seeing across craggy triangles all we had accomplished in every direction, and then squatted on a rock and smoked another pipe. Then, upon shaky descent, my legs buckling with pressure, my head wobbly with uncertainty, I sensed weird shapes under my feet, and a nauseating recognition of hills climbed in years past. I stumbled upon two fishermen, no, fisherman and fisherwoman, a couple bobbing for trout with backpacks, happy smiles, and a disposition I used to call “all-at-ease.” To my fading eyes, these two took their time, staring at rippling fish and letting capricious winds govern their crab-like movements, as they seemed to move alongside the fish, enjoying the process immensely, appearing to let the creek carry them along like kites in the wind. They seemed, dare I say, tranquil.

“Dak-dak!” I cried to them, startling them for a moment. But then they smiled.

“Hello!” she responded, and instantly I saw she was my wife. No, not her, but she had similar turquoise eyes, the weird curve of the cheekbone, the fat left thigh, and, never to be mistaken, the billowing hair resembling corn blossoms!

I raised my hand in friendly salutation, then scraped the back of my neck and backpack, and in one motion I felt a cold axe on the back of my shoulder, lifting behind my head, and I stared in horror as the axe was clasped by my five hairy fingers, gripping this heavy thing as I was walking towards them, no, running towards them, step after step, splashing now, faster and faster through the puddles, raising this axe above my head towards these innocent people and roaring like an animal!

“No!” they yelled, and the young man shot me with an arrow.

I fell on a blue stone, bleeding from my head, carefree ripples of water passing beneath my body: for these were my final moments, of course, since I had accomplished all I needed to accomplish.

“Shall we eat the fish?” the man asked.

“Actually,” she said. “Let’s eat the man.”