Parallel 12: Jungle Earth
Emilio wondered where his life had gone so wrong. What the hell was he doing? A rap battle to save a jungle village? Save a woman he didn’t know? Then he turned to see the eyes of the people around him. Eyes full of fear. And hope. He didn’t owe these people anything but… that hope. He’d seen the same look in Jael’s eyes. Even though people burned his cult’s shit down again and again he still kept on. He’d known people like this in his own life, but he never understood where they got their tenacity. Their will to keep going.
Now they were looking at him with hope in their hearts. But why? He wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t even that great a guy. Mirabella held her hands together in prayer. Emilio didn’t know what people on this Earth prayed to, but there she was and for some reason she was hoping Emilio would be the answer.
“Lost the beat? Getting cold feet? Admitting defeat?” the man asked.
“What’s your name?” Emilio asked.
“My name? Boy, we’re in the middle of something. Shouldn’t you be focused on that?”
“Tell me your name,” Emilio demanded.
“And why would I do that?” the man asked.
“Because I want to know what to call you after I beat your ass,” Emilio said. The man chuckled.
“Remarkable. Fine. If you win, not only will you win the heart of the Chief’s daughter, I will also tell you my name.”
The ‘men’ holding the elders hostage looked at each other apprehensively.
“Great. Let’s wrap this up,” Emilio said.
“But,” the man said, holding up his finger, “if I beat you, I will take you to my kingdom as well. The two of you shall dance to the tune of my song. Forever. Do we have a deal?”
“No!” Mirabella screamed.
“Don’t do it, pendoha!” Iya yelled.
“What are you thinking?” Jael shouted.
Emilio felt his stomach tighten. This could go very very wrong. But he felt like he’d hit on something important. Such high stakes for something as simple as knowing the encantado’s name. Why? Emilio’s childhood memories bubbled to the surface. Tales of fairies, demons and creatures from other worlds. Deal makers and contract signers bound to strange taboos. This feeling gave him the worst kind of deja vu because he didn’t know what to do with it. But this was a clue to the encantado’s weakness and he had to exploit it.
“It’s a deal,” Emilio said. The man smiled his prickly smile.
“Excellent. Then do me a favor and get this over with. I have women to ravish.”
“Suit. Mix it up.”
Bum. Ba Tish.
Bum Bum Ba Tish.
Bum. Ba Tish.
Bum Bum Ba Tish.
Everyone waited. The man grew impatient.
“Is that all?” he asked.
“Fuck, you, and your little dick too. Cuz I’m gonna see this through. See, I got burns for days, can’t count all the ways I can slam your ass. Dude.”
“Fuck yeah I’m lyrical, it’s god damn satirical you even showed your face tonight. I’m a sick burn heavyweight ready to fuckin devastate and finish this unfair fight.
“You call it decided, I call it one-sided, and it seems like you’re getting owned. And don’t deny it don’t try to run and hide it looks like you’re done for sho’.
“Not specific enough? Think you’re a poetry buff? Think you’re not ending up stuffed? Look at the people around you. Do their faces confound you? I’m about to show them what I do. Blending up evil like fondue.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, while I’ve torn up reality’s weave. I don’t think you’ll ever achieve half of the things my legacy leaves. It’s okay, go cry to your mama. Tell her about all of this drama. Be sure to mention you saw ma fists wreck your dudes like instant karma.
“Because in the end I ain’t playing no games I’m bringing the fame you preying on dames is over the same can’t be said of your shame you’re losing to me your tears are my fee and anyone thinking it, yes it’s true, my vernacular aptitude just, grew and don’t be mistaken I ain’t fucking faking there won’t be no taking your kingdom is shit you have to admit it’s impressive how long this sentence is.
Emilio clapped his hands and made a hand sign no one on this Earth recognized. The villagers didn’t know how to react. It was… okay. They clapped and a few of them whistled.
“That was…” the man searched for the right words. “Entertaining.”
“It’s my best quality,” said Emilio.
“But will it be enough?”
“Who decides?” Emilio asked.
“The gods do,” Iya replied.
“Oh. Okay,” Emilio replied.
“To the Loving Tree!” the Chief bellowed.
The village moved as one, streaming away from the stage in the square and down a dirt path that led to the edge of the village. There, in a grove tucked away from the rest of the village, was a large gnarled tree. Ancient and looming, it was nearly as wide as it was tall.
“This is the Loving Tree?” Emilio asked.
“It is the home of the gods’ messenger,” said Iya.
“Gods’ messenger,” Jael said thoughtfully.
“I don’t know how you travelers talk to your gods, but here we depend on messengers to listen to the words of the thousand gods of the jungle. It is our only link to the wider world beyond our sight.”
“Sounds groovy,” said Emilio.
“What do grooves have to do with anything?” Iya asked.
“I… never mind.”
The village, the encantados and the travelers approached the Loving Tree. Everyone, even the encantadoes, seemed to hold the tree with great reverence. Jael followed their lead, keeping his head bowed like everyone else. Emilio cluelessly walked forward, looking for a door, a window, maybe a branch with a loudspeaker. Jael grabbed him and pulled him back, shaking his head.
“Great Loving Tree,” the Chief said when the village had finished piling into the grove. “We ask for your guidance.”
The villagers clapped their hands together and hummed a doleful tune.
“Do make this quick, meat. I don’t want to keep your daughter waiting too long,” the man with the jagged smile said.
“Loving Tree. Loving Tree. Give us your wisdom,” the Chief continued, unwavering.
“Loving Tree,” the villagers intoned.
“So, what’s supposed to be happening right now?” Emilio whispered to Jael.
“How in the world am I supposed to know?” Jael replied.
“Sorry. You’re the religious guy, I thought you’d have some insight,” said Emilio.
“We’re not even on my Earth anymore. Why would you think that?” Jael asked.
“Loving Tree. Loving Tree! Loving. Tree,” the Chief beckoned. The tree seemed to stay perfectly still, even with a slight breeze blowing through the grove. The villagers chanted. The purismas made holy signs on their foreheads. Emilio tried not to focus on how itchy his balls were.
A sound. Like bark groaning. The branches rustled. The leaves trembled. Emilio was locked on to it. Was he about to watch a tree come to life and talk? Instead of that, something less but also just as surprising happened. A man hobbled from the far side of the Loving Tree’s fat trunk. He was dark and knobby and had a bushy grey beard. He wore small black glasses with lenses the color of space. A smoking pipe poked out of his beard threatening to set the whole thing ablaze. He wore what Emilio would have called a stove pipe hat, if such a thing existed on this Earth.
The man hobbled to a thick root which jutted out of the ground and sat carefully on it. He took a puff of his pipe and nodded to the Chief.
“Who the fuck is that guy?” Emilio asked. Jael held his hands up, exasperated.
“Again, how the hell am I supposed to know?” he replied.
“He is the gods’ messenger. Quiet,” Iya chided them.
“Messenger. What does the Loving Tree say on the matter of the contest between Emilyo and the Encantado Master?” the Chief asked. The messenger took another puff of his pipe. He held the breath and let it out in a long stream of smoke.
“It’s, like… you know,” the messenger said with a vacant smile.
“Please, we implore you, messenger. Tell us the Loving Tree’s answer,” the Chief asked again.
“So… the Tree’s like… whatever, man. Everyone needs to just… chill out,” the messenger said before taking another puff.
“Messenger. The life of my daughter, of the village is at stake. The Old Ways were invoked. The contest must have a resolution. Please, messenger. The Loving Tree begs our respect. We ask only for its guidance. What wisdom does the Loving Tree impart on us? Who has the sicker burns?” the Chief begged.
The messenger nodded thoughtfully. He took an especially long drag of his pipe and coughed. “Damn this is good shit,” Emilio was pretty sure he heard him say.
“Well? Who is the victor? Who shall claim the purity of the Chief’s daughter?” the encantado demanded to know.
“The Tree… ha ha… the Tree is love, man. The Tree… feels the jungle around it. Like, it knows there is something here that does not belong. Someone here. And… like… it’s you two,” the messenger said, pointing to Emilio and Jael. Emilio felt all the eyes of the village on him.
“Does that mean we’re the winners?” Emilio asked.
“The Tree is saying… it’s saying you’re… like… supernatural or whatever. Like… above…. above nature. It’s, like, super weird,” the messenger said.
“Enough! I demand to know your answer,” the encantado shouted.
“Whoa. Don’t harsh out, man. The Tree is saying… ah fuck… ahem… *cough* The Tree is saying that the one with… the most sick burns…” the messenger took another puff of his pipe. The villagers waited for the words that would seal their fate.