The forest of the gods of torn jaws? Sure, I know it. And it’s pretty easy to get to — once you’re out of Bismarck here, jump on the I-94 and head west. Drive to the sun.
Follow the lanes from the vast prairies and swimming traffic until the monsters of the forest tower over you and cast you in darkness and all the other cars fade away. You’ll know you’re on the right path when day and night are little more than figments of a fever. The shadows there are black voids and endless, and time only becomes the ghastly green numbers glowing on the dashboard or the blue or black sky, which you can see only through the line the highway cuts through the canopy.
Hours beyond the Montana border, you may start to feel dizzy. Relax: this is good. There may be an aluminum wrench churning the voids of your stomach. Beads of sweat may hang on the edge of your skin. I repeat: this is good. You’re not lost.
Typically near Forsyth, you’ll have jazz on the radio but you won’t remember turning to WEKZ Triple-Shot Jazz with Ray Pazzo the Love Master. But he’s there. Talking you up. Don’t think too much of it and keep driving to the sun, even if you don’t see it through the trees.
Do you remember where you come from? Ray Pazzo might say something like this.
You are a product of nature. You are ours. That won’t be him. The trees are now speaking to you.
Outside of Billings, the forest of the gods of torn jaws claims your return to the natural habitat. For those thousands of years, the forest was the light of the day, the cool of the night. For those thousands of the years, the forest was the flow of the seasons like all the rivers of boiling blood rushing to the well of the universe.
The sun, the rain, the wind.
The car, WEKZ Triple-Shot Jazz. The billboards are leering.
If you’re near Bozeman, look in the backseat. There’ll be a child you’ve never met before. She has red hair and freckles and a pale, round face. She couldn’t be older than ten.
What are you doing here? you ask. How did you get in my car?
Daddy? Mommy? The little girl looks scared. She moves uneasily in the backseat and pulls at her seatbelt. Where’s my Daddy? she asks.
Pull the car over. No use in troubling yourself with the forest’s tricks. The whispers of frightened, quiet voices speak about the games the forest plays. They’ll tell you the gods of torn jaws are listening.
They’ll tell you the forest beckons.
There’s a rumble underneath the highway. You’re not asking for directions, you’re already here, aren’t you?
How did we end up here? the little girl asks.
After all this traveling, you won’t have the patience. So you say, you wraith, you phantom. Leave my mind. This is the wrong thing to say and, because you’ve said it, her eyes have turned red and her tears into droplets of blood.
You get in the car and drive. You leave her on the side of the road in a swirl of dust but guilt burrows into your skull. You return to pick her up.
The point of no return has abandoned you.
She climbs in the back seat. I’m not a demon. You’re a demon, she says. The indignant young girl crosses her arms.
You say, I didn’t call you a demon.
You basically did.
Somehow it’s Missoula so you roll the window down and the cold night air is wailing by and it smells like raw egg. The trees will have risen to the moon but, on a clear night, you can see the stars through the small crack in the endless black of the canopy.
You’re still driving to the sun but, as any journeyman does, you wonder if the sun has fallen down. Maybe that’s it. The sun has fallen and won’t be getting up anytime soon. You tell this to the girl in the backseat and she’s crying blood again. Bad idea.
So answer me this and don’t lie. How did you get here?
I just want to go home to my mother and father, she says bleakly.
You stop to pee and as you’re coming back from the dark woods, you see the car’s on fire and there’s no girl in the backseat. The flames dance into the night sky and become the stars and the tips of the forest guide them there.
Time is gone and I ask, do you continue to the forest of the gods of torn jaws?
Yes, you do. You always do.
So you walk. You walk even though there is no road and the ground beneath you is gushy from the bodies of all those suicides you read about in the news. The billboards are still leering. Eyes are still watching. Quiet voices are whispering. You’re on the forest floor and you’re wondering, is this it? Is this the forest I’ve traveled so far to see?
Touch your stomach and move your hand away. Look at your hand. It’s covered in blood and the blood runs in drunken streams down your legs. But it’s not you. It is you and it’s not you. The forest is bleeding to death. You’re in the belly of the horrible dying forest and it speaks to you of its suffering.
You’ll know you’ve made it when the forest is a skyline and all the trees have toppled on themselves. Twisted wood rises upwards to the stars barely twinkling through the bare branches.
The forest may ask you to kiss her. She’ll be beautiful. Don’t.
You’re here. You’ve made it to your last days and perhaps, if you’re lucky, you’ll wake up. But the forest of the gods of torn jaws is a daydream, a fever, and there are no assurances here.