Sunday, April 14, 2013

'His eyes changed as he wrestled, and his whole form...'

'"He is an Angel," said Dadacus.  "He is an angel unrevealed even to himself.  That is what a typhonian is.  One of us here must reveal him.  Then he will be worth many of the others.  We receive the best of them in compensation for our losses."

The whine of the approaching chopper-cycle had become a scream.  The dust of it was a pillar in the air.  It came into sight as a howling dot at the bottom of the pillar, and it grew.  Riding it was the chopper whom several of them had seen while he was still far below the horizon.  He was a huge, bearded, slavering man, the whites of whose eyes were as big as apples, and the black pupils of them were like insane black holes.

His name, lettered in crazy print on his cycle, was Whole-Hog McCloud.  He was hairy and naked and obese, a mad and frothing giant.  But did he really look like that?

Only at first glance.  In reality he had the plastic smooth, primordial, unfinished look of a typhonian.  He could still be molded into anything.  But the noise of him and of his apparatus!

He had amplifiers on his exhaust; he had amplifiers all over his machine and all over himself.  He screamed to a skidding halt, throwing sand and rocks and gravel a hundred meters.

He was bloodied in his hairy nakedness from his skidding fall, and he had intended it so.  He arose and arose again, appearing more giantlike than was possible.

"We fight to the death," the big chopper roared through his amplifiers.  "I fight and kill you all at once."  And he came at them swinging a length of chain in one of his huge hands.

"No, we wrestle to life," Celsus said.  Celsus was the biggest man of his group of desert people.  "And you strive with myself only, not with all at once.  I'm a mightier wrestler than you'd believe, and my help is from otherwhere."

But part of Celsus' help was from those present.  Domitilla spread out her hands, and there was silence.  The fallen chopper-cycle coughed and its engine died.

The electronic noise boxes that were hung on the machine all conked out with their amplifiers.  There was left only quiet and little puffs of black smoke.  The throat amplifier of the giant Whole-Hog McCloud likewise went silent with a bigger puff of blacker smoke.  The giant tried to roar again, but his only noise was a weak, hoarse croaking.

"My noise, my noise, I need my noise," he croaked.  "My strength is in my noise."

Did someone laugh at him?  It may have been the desert itself, or the whitetailed deer or the ferrets; or those birds named bullbats that are unmannered birds.  The people of the desert group smiled at him with quiet compassion, though Domitilla still spread out her quieting hands.

It was tall, dusty noon, and the battle joined.  Whole-Hog came at Celsus swinging his chain, and he caught him a solid bloody blow with it.  But the strong wrestler, though staggered, had hold of the chain in the middle now.  He held two links of it in his wrestler's hands; he broke the chain.  (He really had strength or help from otherwhere.)  He held one half of the chain loosely in his hand now and left Whole-Hog with the other.

Then the wrestler Celsus smiled and threw his own length of chain away; but Whole-Hog kept his.  They closed, they grappled, and the pinioned Whole-Hog was more hampered than aided by his chain weapon.  Whole-Hog seemed less huge when the two of them were twined together, only a little larger than Celsus.  They wrestled for a great long while:  the naked hairy typhonian and the big youngish man in the bearskin cloak.

Jacob once wrestled with a Presence for a great part of the night and until dawn.  This was at a place named Phanuel near a stream called Jaboc.

Whole-Hog McCloud wrestled with Celsus from tall noon till near dark at a place that was very like Phanuel and was near a stream called Coyote Creek.

Cecilia, with her quick lilting voice, told the old and ever-new account of the erstwhile giant while he wrestled.  It was all new to his ears that had been stunned for so many years and were freed only in recent hours.  But he heard it and he changed.  His eyes changed as he wrestled, and his whole form.  Cecilia talked on and on (though it was necessarily a very compressed account that she gave) and Domitilla still held her quieting hands spread out.

Just as the sun touched down the two big men stopped their wrestling.

"Your name is no longer Whole-Hog," Celsus said.  "It is Whole-Man now."

"Here is water," said Whole-Man McCloud.  "What is there to prevent you taking me ritually into it?"

They did so.  And when they came out of the water, Domitilla wrapped Whole-Man in a bearskin robe.  By this he became, like the rest of them, a berserker.

They moved on in the early night.  There had been ten persons in this group; now there were eleven.

The people of the cities didn't understand how the desert epidemic grew.  It grew by such accretions as  this.'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'And Mad Undancing Bears', collected in The Beserkers, edited by Roger Elwood (1973)


Ross said...

Wow. Potent stuff. I've never read this story. This looks like an interesting anthology; if I come across it in a used bookstore, I'll buy it.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yeah, even though I've always thought the story as a whole was maybe one of Laff's 'lesser' works, this scene in particular is one of my favourite things he wrote. The story grows on me do, as most of his do that I don't think as highly of on the first go. Glad you like it, Ross!

Kevin said...

I have never read or come across this story. From the segment you quoted, it appears to be another of his Christian-as-outsider stories. Is that a good guess. Is the line, "Here is water. What is there to prevent you taking me ritually into it?" describing baptism?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yes on both counts, Kevin. It's quite akin to 'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire' and 'Ishmael Into the Barrens'. A fresh take, having to do with silence vs. noise, prayer & contemplation vs. mass media rock n roll, that kind of thing - asking: which is the real madness, who are the truly insane?

(Whereas 'Walk Now' centred on Order vs. Disorder, Construction vs. Destruction, Divine Revelation/Apostolic Succession vs. Drug-Use Euphoria/Utopia - and 'Ishmael' centred on Meta-Narrative vs. 'Scatterprint', Rebel Births/Children vs. Birth Control/Sterility/'Old Hippies', Family-Community-Work vs. 'Party-All-Night-Long' Lifestyle, Papal Authenticity/Authority vs. Secular Humanist Government - and only Laff could make all the former seem so radical, 'punk rock', rebellious, wild, dangerous, subversive, and thrilling!)

Kevin said...

Your comment on "Ishmael into the Barrens" would make a great cover blurb for an anthology of Laff's more openly religious stories.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ha, thanks, Kevin!

'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)