Excerpt: 'Toughlahoma' by Christian TeBordo


Photograph by deejaymarlon

From Kill the Messenger:

Lord Jesus,

Have I done something to displease you? I ask, not because I question your commands — I have carried them out faithfully thus far, and will continue to do so to the extent possible — but because this mission, forgive my putting it so bluntly, does not appear to offer the possibilities for wealth, fame, and acclaim that you suggested it would.

These people are savages, Lord.

But it occurs to me that you might not know which people I am writing of, so allow me to account for my journey to this point in the way that you instructed me to.

My servant and I departed from home with full bellies, still sore from the fantastic orgy you threw in my honor. It is good that we had partaken of the mozzarella sticks, because we have not found anything to eat since, or rather, we have, but not anything that we would be willing to eat, as you will learn anon. As for the sore loins, it is always right and good, as you have taught, to pound that poontang until it stinks, and to have that ass tapped from behind in kind, but because we left without taking the time to recover, I was forced to have my man carry me a good part of the way between there and here, which, naturally, retarded our progress. This pace, however, bore one good result, which is that I was able to survey the land with great thorocity, and can report that there is nothing to see between home and here, or rather, that there is one thing to see (a sculpture of a fat man seated upon the ground beside an empty pond, some sort of bondage gear bikini at his feet), but it is hardly worth mentioning.

By the time I was able to walk without pain, we had reached the line in the sand that you had told me I would find. I had the servant put me down upon it and gave thanks to the spirits of blue, pink, and green neon, thanking them for bringing us safely to the land you promised us, chanting: All you can eat, $3.99. All you can eat, $3.99. All you can eat, $3.99.

But it was not long, Lord, before I began to think that my gratitude was misplaced.

Or that, perhaps, I am misplaced, despite the fact that the line in the sand was right there where you said it would be.

The people of this place, if people they should be called, had seen us coming a long way off, and we them. But whereas we endeavored to gain their attention from the moment we saw them until, in my case, at least, the time of this writing, with waving gestures and shouted hallooes and ahoys, they merely stood staring past us as though we were invisible. The effect was unsettling at a distance, but once we drew closer it was outright disturbing. I stood face to filthy, pockmarked face with one of them — I could not tell whether it was a male or a female — and asked it the name of this place, and still it said nothing, would not acknowledge me.

At first we thought we were being ignored, but as we continued on into their land, we realized that, against the evidence of their own eyes and ears and eventually their skin, bones, and muscle, such as they are, they believed they could not be seen by us. How else to explain the way they behaved in our presence? On that very first afternoon, no fewer than three of them dropped trou and shat on the very ground before us.

It wasn’t many days before we saw one of their women, whom we did not, at first, take for a woman, approach one of their men, knee him in the groin, strip him naked and bind him with duct tape, throw him down upon a slab of concrete, mount him, grip him by the ears, and buck upon him, slamming his head repeatedly into the ground with her rhythm until he bled and she was satisfied, at which point he wept tears of what appeared to be thanks and devotion.

And all this without any shame, without any sign they were aware we were there.

I could not help but notice that the boy you gave me was visibly aroused.

Neither did he try to hide it. No sooner had the two heathens staggered to their feet and scurried away like dogs than my faithless lackey wandered over to the concrete — merely to inspect it, he said, though I could see from where I stood that there was little enough to inspect — poorly poured concrete, some blood and other bodily fluids. The retch spent an undue amount of time on that particular slab, and, as we continued our explorations, every other slab we came across as well. Seeing what was becoming of the cretin, I ignored the concrete completely, trying to engage the natives and, being rebuffed, combing through their copious droppings, which are generally of a shape and consistency similar to those of any Huglahoman, though perhaps a bit chalkier. I have not yet brought myself to taste one.

Eventually, the sniveling slut got what we both knew he wanted all along. He was standing, as usual, on a slab of concrete, not far from what appeared to be a rudimentary temple and thus a high-traffic area. I was some way off, examining another specimen, when another of their women, or so I suppose, approached the boy you gave me.

I could not bring myself to watch.

Lord Jesus, after the greatest orgies in Huglahoma history, the ones where thousands upon thousands of chickens were sacrificed, where grease from the sacred mozzarella sticks coated every wall and floor and sometimes even ceiling of the great condominium, where the vomitoria overflowed to the point where we could not distinguish vomitorium from dancefloor, where jism and tears were splashed by the pintglass over bodies and barstools and sofabeds alike, who was always the first to show up the next morning, bucket and mop in hand? Who handed out handbills and wheatpasted posters advertising the next orgy? Who coordinated the potluck dinners that got everyone in the mood? And since the answer to every one of these questions is I, tell me, Lord, what have I done to deserve this hell to which you’ve sent me?

I accept that your ways are mysterious, so I will continue to obey your orders and await your instructions.

But the slave you gave me has gone native. He insisted that he would not return to you with my message, and when I told him what would become of him if he disobeyed you, he insisted that he would describe this place as paradise and beg to be ordered to return. He is probably lying to your face even as you read this. That is why I settled on this method of composition. I carved this letter with a rock into his flesh so that his body would give the lie to his words.

Please, Lord, send more slaves to carry me back to you.

Your apostle,


Excerpted from Toughlahoma by Christian TeBordo, forthcoming, May 2015 from Rescue Press / Open Prose Series. Excerpted with permission of the publisher.