Jimbo Yojimbo by David W. Barbee
154 pages – Eraserhead Press
When he could think straight, he began to wonder what was wrong with him. He was free now, but he’d lost his mind, seeing his dead father, hearing his words. Fighting his war.
There had always been a Jimbo Yojimbo. Up on the northern mountain, the name was passed down by a hundred fathers to a hundred sons, stretching back over six centuries. But despite the tradition, they were not a noble family. The first Yojimbo men made their reputations by renting their swords to the noble clans. Whether he worked as a bodyguard or enforcer or assassin, each Jimbo, and all the cousins and bastards that sprouted up alongside him over the generations, was simply known to be the best. If ordered, two Yojimbos would duel to the death, perfectly willing to slay their own kinfolk to uphold that very kinfolk’s noble reputation.
That had been their glory, long ago. Now Jimbo was the last one.
His father had waged the greatest rebellion anyone had ever seen against the Company, fueled by his own thirst for righteous revenge. It began after Jimbo’s mother was murdered in a crawd rampage. She was a strong woman from the noble Jethromoto clan, yet the law stated that Budnick’s forces could do what they pleased, especially drunk on kegs of Buddhaweiser, the latest menu item at that time. The crawd riot was even made part of the beer’s ad campaign. In the face of all this, the elder Yojimbo took the revenge vow, and waged the bloodiest war against the Company to date.
In the end it got a cuttlefish sewn to Jimbo’s face. Jimbo wondered if the punishment had come from the Company or his father’s quest for revenge.
“You ain’t crazy.” The ghost appeared over his head. “I got it all planned out, just like the dungeon. First we get to the monastery upriver. With any luck she’s still there. Liza’s the only ally we got. The only one left who didn’t fuck us over.”
At the mention of his surrogate mother, Jimbo got to work building a raft. He’d grown up on the northern mountain, climbing trees and mining the earth, so lashing together a raft from old logs and rotten rope took him all night.
The frogs came out to watch him work. Even after so many centuries, slime still polluted the land and the frogs lingered, waiting to push humanity back to the brink of extinction. Jimbo saw glistening frogs with metal spikes sprouting from their backs, swarms of termite toads burrowing through lengths of board, and a family of slender black frogs hanging upside down and hugging themselves with bat wings.
After hours of work, Jimbo’s raft bobbed halfway below the water’s surface, and even moreso when he climbed onto it. He readied himself to paddle out onto the river again, until a little green frog leapt out of the water, landing on the edge of the raft with six pairs of legs. Legend had it that men went so mad during the flood that they consumed the psychedelic juices of the frogs, for both physical nourishment and spiritual clarity.
The tentacles around Jimbo’s cephalopod mouth twitched and spread wide, slowly revealing a sharp black beak underneath. The maw spread open and a thin white tendril shot out at the little frog. Before it could leap away, the tendril had snagged and yanked it back into the cephalopod’s mouth. Jimbo’s fishy black eyes blinked as his face deposited the frog into his human mouth and he swallowed.
“That’s fuckin’ gross,” the ghost said, but Jimbo didn’t care. He needed nourishment if he was going to paddle a few miles upriver. As he paddled with a length of warped plank, he looked up to the brightening sky. “Ready to make it official?” said his father.
Jimbo closed his cuttlefish eyes and prayed the revenge vow.
Let me kill ‘em, he thought. Let me exist only to punish them that wronged me, for such is the pain of my life that only the pleasure of their death will weigh it equal. Amen.
“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about,” his dead father said. Jimbo paddled into the smelly fog that covered the river, not yet burned away by the morning sun. He could barely see through the mist, at least until a small golden light appeared up ahead. He thought it was a firefly, but then he heard a small splash. Something was paddling, just like him. A big shadow formed behind the light.
Jimbo stopped paddling and hunkered down on his raft, which now floated mostly below the water’s surface. He pulled his tunic up and over his head to form a hood and hoped he could just float by again like flotsam. He watched as the shadow emerged from the mist, and could see its face as the light came closer. It was a rebuilt man, a regular-looking human except for the anglerfish tendril melded to his forehead. The man’s skiff was loaded with little cages and he used a pole to push his way down the river. He passed Jimbo without a word.
More boats and canoes emerged from the fog, each manned by fishermen or salvage divers, most of them rebuilt with mechanical limbs or bio-grafts like Jimbo’s cuttlefish. Some had crab legs for fingers or lionfish spines sprouting from their heads. One had an elephant trunk hanging from his chest, and another sported a mohawk of pink tentacles.
Citizens of the Company were rebuilt for all sorts of reasons. Most were simply too poor to afford enough Buddha Gump, and had to be punished. Criminals and dissidents were usually rebuilt more severely, often given physical enhancements for slave labor. But the reasons barely mattered. Gumpist dogma demanded that all citizens be prepared to donate their bodies to the prophet chef’s experiments.
In the old days, the rebuilt had been intensely loyal to the rebellion. They were the Company’s hardened underclass, only too happy to help sabotage their oppressors from within. Still, the Yojimbo rebellion was over, and these days the rebuilt would be too glad to turn Jimbo in for a sizable bounty.
Jimbo paddled through the traffic and made it upriver before the freighters could start to arrive. Some of the river folk cursed at him as they dodged around his shoddy raft. Seeing the bright green-tinted sky made his freedom so much more real. The air grew fresher as he left the city, and sun climbed high and warmed his shoulders until they burned.
By midday he’d grown weary again. The hood over his head was stifling, but he still dared not take it off, but beyond its tattered edges, he could see the monastery. It sat atop a steep hill stretching up from the riverbank, a ruinous stone cube topped with turrets bearing gigantic crossbows and catapults. Jimbo tried to steer his raft toward shore.
The water churned beneath him. The raft tipped over and fell apart, bits of it floating away as Jimbo treaded water. Jimbo tore off the hood and looked around, trying to find the disturbance, but the glare of light nearly blinded him. By the time he could see through the brightness and the churning water, there was nothing to be done. An elephant-sized toad, its eyes perched on arm-length stalks, stared Jimbo down. Its mouth stretched incredibly wide and an elastic tongue shot out and wrapped around Jimbo’s waist. The toad yanked him into its maw and sank down into the darkness.