Copyright © 2008 by Don Traverso. All rights reserved.As the latest images of war show on the TV screen, Kuhn hears someone exclaim, “What kind of world is this? It’s like God has abandoned us.”
Kuhn smiles sadly at the woman who’d said these words. He wishes he could do something to take away her despair. He sees so much of it around these days. He wipes the moisture from the chapped skin around his eyes.
He walks out of the diner and strolls down the street. A few miles, and he will be at the outskirts and out toward a new town. He will go through the wilderness a bit, to gather things to snack on. Plants, bugs, even bark from certain trees. He’s gotten quite used to these.
He glances at the homeless man in front of the liquor store. Another lost soul. He says a silent blessing for him.
The homeless man looks at Kuhn and cries out, “What are you doing here?”
Kuhn stops, ready for a fight. He’s had to defend himself from belligerent people before, drunks like this one, gangs hassling him for money, people out to mess with drifters and the homeless. It’s an occupational hazard. He sometimes thinks it’s the dry, ruined skin on his face and hands that repulses them, making them hostile.
The drunk steps in close and says, “What’s wrong? Where have you been? Your skin, it’s….” He takes Kuhn’s hand, strokes the back of it. “I see. You’re having some difficulty. Let me help you, sir.”
“What do you mean?” Kuhn asks.
“I know who you are, sir. Let me help you become who you should be. Come.”
The homeless man, whose name is Fu, pulls him to an alley. After checking that no one can see them, he asks Kuhn, “Where is it?”
“The back of my neck. It didn’t open properly. I’ve been working at it but….”
“That’s okay, sir. Take off your clothes and hold on to that telephone pole. I’ll do the rest.”
Kuhn does as instructed. His body is covered with chapped and peeling skin. Fu reaches behind Kuhn’s neck, feels the opening. “Brace yourself, sir. This will hurt,” he says, and pulls at the skin.
Kuhn grits his teeth as the skin is pulled over his skull. Fu moves slowly, trying to minimize the pain. He peels the skin all the way down to Kuhn’s feet, pulling it away as Kuhn lifts each foot. Fu then leads Kuhn to a cardboard box set off the alleyway.
“Stay here, sir. I’ll be right back.”
Kuhn lies there for the rest of the day and into the night, feeling raw and exposed. Sometime in the night, he finally falls asleep.
Sunlight wakes him. He feels warm. He looks down at his body and sees a curly rug, white and matted with brownish stains.
“Good morning, sir,” Fu says, sitting beside the box. “I hope the skin is to your liking. Here is the rest, if you feel hungry.”
He hands Kuhn a battered metal bowl with raw pieces of lamb inside. Famished, Kuhn grabs the meat and tears at it with his teeth. A couple of hours later, he’s eaten the whole bowl and is feeling strong. He holds the lamb’s skin close to his body, closes his eyes, and tells Fu, “Stand back and avert your eyes.”
Fu turns away, but can feel the transformation behind him. He begins to weep in joy. After a while, he hears Kuhn saying, “Face me now.”
Kuhn is radiant. His new skin is smooth and vibrant. Fu begins to avert his eyes again but Kuhn stops him, saying, “You are most worthy, for you saw me for who I am, and saw that I was in distress. For being loyal, I reward you by removing your pain.”
Kuhn puts his hand on Fu’s chest. Fu feels a charge run through him. Lightheaded, he smiles like a newborn babe. He knows now that he doesn’t need alcohol anymore. The God King is back. Things will be all right from now on.
“Come,” Kuhn tells him. “Let’s go set things right. It’s time to take back the Kingdom from the despots and false prophets.”
They walk out of the alley and into a new age.