Parallel 12: Jungle Earth
“You are the one who helped save my niece?” Elder Bon asked.
“I didn’t do much, but yes, my actions apparently aided in her rescue,” Jael replied.
“You are not very impressive,” Elder Luna commented.
“I aim not to be,” Jael replied.
“Why?” Elder Bon asked, confused, almost outraged.
“Because…” Jael thought for a moment. “That sort of thing can get you killed where I’m from.”
“You are not where you’re from anymore. You are here. A savior must look impressive to be honored,” Elder Luna proclaimed.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not be honored,” said Jael.
“You would refuse an honor?” Elder Luna asked, flabbergasted.
“I mean no offense. If it’s that important, I will surely accept the honor,” Jael said.
“Of course it’s important. It’s an honor! Why would it not be important?” Elder Rio asked, clearly befuddled.
Emilio watched from the sidelines with a bowl of puna fruit, enjoying the spectacle. This was how he’d felt his first few days on Jael’s Earth. Just land mine after cultural land mine. It was refreshing to see someone else go through it for a change.
“A purisma brought my niece home, but without you it may not have happened, so at the very least we will honor your good fortune,” Elder Bon said.
“Very well. What do I have to do?” Jael asked.
“You,” Elder Rio said with a pregnant pause, “will dance!”
A duo of purismas entered the tent with a rack of increasingly skimpy outfits. Emilio wished he had a camera so he could remember Jael’s horrified face forever. The woman from before tapped Emilio on the shoulder. He turned, mouth full of puna, startling her.
“Ihelo! What are you doing?” she asked.
“Eating,” Emilio said.
“I’m not so sure,” she said.
“Did you need something, or were you just interrupting my eating of this delicious puna for no reason?” Emilio asked.
“Why do you snicker every time you say it?” she asked.
“No reason. Seriously though, what’s up?”
“People have been talking about you,” she said, accusingly.
“Whatever Jael did, I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” Emilio said.
“No not you plural. Just you.”
“Oh. Whatever I did, I didn’t mean it,” said Emilio.
“People say you’re asking very strange questions. Strange even for strangers,” she said.
“I was just getting a feel for this place. Being new and all.”
“There is a difference between being new and feigning ignorance.”
“Sorry. I didn’t know it was a crime to be curious,” Emilio said.
“It is a crime to be a traitor. A spy,” she said. Her eyes were like daggers and Emilio wished they could pierce all of him. He banished the thought and took a relaxed pose on the barricading rope.
“You know, where I’m from, people are encouraged to ask questions,” said Emilio.
“And where are you from, exactly?” she asked.
“I told you already,” he lied.
“No you didn’t,” she said.
“It’s a place you’ve never heard of, I’m sure. It’s… um… on the other side of the world.”
“No, no, it’s… next to the ocean.” She started looking more angry. “Near the ocean. You know, we’re just trying to make our way back home, okay?”
“Are you taking the long way?” she asked.
“It’s… a long story,” he said, suddenly looking and feeling more dour. She got uncomfortable at his show of weakness and cleared her throat.
“Just know that I have my eye on you,” she said.
“Finally. I was wondering how long it would take to catch your eye,” Emilio said, winking. She planted her heel directly into his shin. It didn’t hurt in the conventional sense, thanks to the suit, but it did feel like it hit a nerve or his funny bone.
“You mistake me for a conjugal priest. I am a purisma and you will respect me or get thrown out of the village.”
“Okay! Fair enough,” Emilio said, rubbing his shin. “So, what’s a purisma, anyway?”
“You know not of purismas?” she asked.
“Um… not from around here. Maybe we have a different name for them where I’m from,” said Emilio. She narrowed her eyes, glaring at him. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t like her attention all that much.
“A purisma is a woman warrior who’s solemn duty is to protect the spiritual health of her community. Many things prey on the innocent. Predators. Monsters.”
“Like that guy at the river,” Emilio said.
“Yes. Like him.”
“And he was a what again?”
“Were you born in a cave or something?” she asked.
“I don’t want to get hit in the shin again, so what would you rather hear?” he asked. She exhaled slowly. No matter what Earth he landed on, he seemed to strike a nerve in people.
“They are magical shapeshifter folk. They make their homes in the rivers and lakes. In the daylight they resemble pink river dolphins. But at night, they emerge from the water as handsome young men, hoping to lure seemly young women to an eternity of penetrada and hate-making.”
“Jesus,” Emilio said.
“What?” she asked.
“Oh, uh, nothing. So penetrada and what?” he asked.
“The opposite of love-making,” she replied.
“Damn,” Emilio said, wiping the sweat off his brow. This Earth was getting to be as intense as the one he just left.
“Children learn of them in school rhymes. You really never heard of them?” she asked.
“No. Not really. We don’t get river creatures where I live. More… ocean types,” Emilio said.
“Hmm. Men don’t have to worry so much about encantados. It is the dick stealer that worries them most,” she observed.
“Wait, what was that last part?”
“It is decided!” Elder Bon announced. “Jael the honored will wear the bejeweled thong and vest combo for the Dinner Dance!”
“Your friend has good taste,” she said before leaving the tent.
“Did you say dick stealer? Wait!”
At the edge of the tent, an unassuming man decided he’d heard everything he needed to hear. He slipped through the people on the streets like an eel navigating a reef. He didn’t draw attention to himself. He pushed a loose piece of the town wall aside and left without notice. He went through the jungle at a quicker pace now. The sun was getting low on the horizon and the others would want to hear the news he had to share. Quicker now. Quicker still. Finally he made it the river’s edge. He took a knife from his belt and, clenching his teeth as he braced for the pain, he cut a small line on his manhood. A symbolic castration. A signal that his power belonged to another. He took a mouthful of yunaca root to keep his lungs full and dove into the rapids.
The water shook him, swished him too and fro, knocking him back and forth against sharp rocks. The blood from his manhood mixed in the water with the blood from his mouth and soon the servant was recognized. The way opened for him down below. He swam for what seemed like a long time, swam until his muscles ached and all light left the world. Finally, his eyes saw lights in the darkness. The kingdom of the Encantado appeared then, spread out before him like a waiting mistress. Enticing. Enchanting. The pain in his pecker kept him focused. Soon he reached the tallest spires, and then the rest of the underwater city. He found the court of his master without much difficulty. After all, it was the one with the most women’s garments waving in the current. He climbed inside a window, then floated toward the main hall where the thrones were kept.
His master heard him coming a mile away, but he pretended not to notice as the clumsy land beast awkwardly flung himself through the water. He waited on his throne, floating just above it, his flipper waving up and down to keep him steady. Finally, after years of waiting for the blubbering thing to appear, the spy requested an audience.
“Come forward then,” the master beckoned. The spy did so, swam until he was feet from his master’s flipper. “Swallow,” the master commanded. The spy swallowed the rancid yunaca root and did his best not to vomit. To do so down here would mean a slow drowning death.
“Master. I come with news,” the spy said.
“One would hope,” the encantado remarked absently.
“The people of the village wish to honor the one who foiled your latest conquest.”
“The idiot in the suit?” the encantado asked. The spy was unsure how to reply. “Right. I guess they were both idiots.”
“The one with the scars,” said the spy. The river leeches scattered around the room smelled his blood in the water and began to crawl toward him.
“Yes, and the coat made of teeth. I see. It sounds like a party I simply must crash.”
“Yes, master,” the spy said as the first leeches found his feet.
“And you know what? This time? This time… I won’t go alone.”
The spy swallowed nervously. “Yes, master,” he said. They were halfway up his leg now.
“Well, you know what they say,” the encantado said, swimming to a mirror hanging on the ceiling. “Party crashing’s more fun in numbers.”
“Of course, master,” the spy said as the leeches swarmed his bleeding bits.