Strong Toad and Cherufe


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Cherufe, a snake-like fusion of rock and magma, slithers out of the Mapuche mythology of south-central Chile, undulates in the bedrock, and triggers volcanic eruptions. His frightful signature is a volley of lava bombs that scream explosions and invoke unforgettable damage. These bombs are the burning, severed heads of virgin girls that he loads into the volcano’s vents just before he executes his fatal dance.

He has fallen on hard times. No great eruptions have ripped eyes skyward nor sent the abundant herds of furless bipeds running for their hopeless hovels, not in decades. His virility is in question. A panic of pride had him coiled him in a depression on the side of the slumbering peaks of Ojos de Salado—the only place he can shed his enormous tears without attracting tourists and worse, like that poor angel—when who should come moping along but his old rival from the great, but defunct, Mythological Olympics, Strong Toad.

* * *

That sad, hard fool yearns to die. Strong Toad drags up barrels of gasoline and a satchel of puny spark-makers. He prepares himself in a secluded meadow. Cherufe watches as the toad proves his invincibility in a grand puff of flames.

Strong Toad sighs. He bangs his head upon a boulder. The boulder splits. He sighs again.

Cherufe slides through smoldering grasses.

"You," Strong Toad says. "What do you want?"

"Why to help," Cherufe says. "I understand."

Strong Toad narrows his eyes. He turns his back. "You understand nothing."

"But I do. I do." Cherufe chuckles, a sound like an avalanche. "You’re ready to leave the game. I don’t blame you."

"Leave me be."

"I shan’t." A delicious thought stirred Cherufe’s scales to chattering: if Strong Toad dropped into the volcano, it would make for an eruption the likes of which the world had never seen. The name of Cherufe would be on every pair of lips. "I’m going to help you burn."

"Nothing works."

"Nothing, you say? Have you ever plunged into magma? The hot blood of the mother will sunder you on the bosom of oblivion."

Strong Toad turned. A grim smile passed across his sooty pug-face. "Take me there."

Cherufe lifted his head toward the highest peak. "It is far."

"I am Strong Toad."

"It is hard going."

"I am Strong Toad. Nothing stops me."

"Nothing but life, is it not so my friend? It will take a year to climb."

Strong Toad slumped his head. "So long?"

"Unless you were to climb on my back. If you could stand my heat."

"Your prattle is worse. How much time can I save if I ride?"

"Why, I could drop you off in no more than a week."

Strong Toad inclined his head, which inclined his whole body, that magnificent shell. He hitched his horned fingers into the hot gaps between Cherufe’s scales and settled in the nape. He was not light, that rock of toad, but Cherufe found, as he flexed for the climb, that the weight was welcome.

Thanks to Michael Dietcher.