Fiction from the Left

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El Malpaís


El Malpaís

(The Badlands)

A Modern Folk Tale from the Left

Episode 6: Report to Tatcho

 (Previously in El Malpaís: In Episode 5 Oskar traveled through McCarty’s Flow to The Land of OZ in the mid-21st century where he met Rosa de la Frontera and was detained and classified as a Criminal Element for trespassing on OZ property. When he returned from the Land of OZ his exploration of Los Tubos de Tiempo in El Malpaís was complete but his vision quest would be unfinished until he delivered his Report to Tatcho.)

El Malpaís

Oskar dashed into Tatcho’s camp on the Rio Grande and embraced the old man tightly while Diego trotted around the pair and brushed against their legs.

After the greetings were over Tatcho prepared a feast for the famished vision quester and his compañero. He roasted a fresh rabbit on a spit over an open fire while he baked corn tortillas on a flat rock in the glowing embers. Close at hand was a pot of salsa he had concocted from green chili peppers and onions that grew wild in the river bottom.

The boy and el lobo mexicano sat on the ground as Tatcho cut slices of meat from the sizzling rabbit, placed them on a tortilla, slathered them with salsa, and rolled it all up into a fat burrito. Tatcho offered the first one to Diego but the wolf pointed him towards Oskar.

Oscar took the burrito and wolfed it down in three bites—then asked for a second. He was finishing a third when he realized that el lobo and the old man were watching him eat.

“Sorry,” he said, liking his fingers clean. “I was really hungry.”

Tatcho and Diego laughed.

When the trio had finished off the tortillas and rabbit (Diego even ate the bones), they settled down around the campfire.

El Malpaís

“Tell us about your vision quest, Oskar,” Tatcho said.

El Malpaís was…overwhelming,” the boy said haltingly. “I think I may have seen too much, Tatcho—some of the visions were horrific. I found out that man will learn to fly and set the sky on fire and he will develop the power to move mountains.”

Tatcho leaned close reassuringly.

“Take it easy, Oskar. I am your medicine man—I’m here to help you sort it all out.”

The boy nodded and managed to smile.

“Tell me what you saw in Los Tubos de Tiempo.”

“Here,” Oskar said unfolding his map of El Malpaís and handing it to the old man. “This should help you follow my travels.”

El Malpaís

El Malpaís

Tatcho traced the paths of the four lava tubes on the map.

“Did you explore them in order?”

“I did.”

“Then start at the beginning,” Tatcho said. “Tell us about El Calderon.”

El Calderon

“At the exit of El Calderon I stepped back into the Stone Age,” Oskar began. “As I was investigating a recent bison kill I was captured by hunters from the Tribe of Conn and taken to their leader who declared me a slave of the tribe. A slave, Tatcho!”

“Men have enslaved other men since time immemorial,” Tatcho said. “We still see it in our times.”

“But It’s not right,” Oskar shook his head, “to treat a person as property.”

The old man nodded approvingly.

“And what did you learn in the Stone Age?”

Oskar thought about it for a minute.

“I think the main thing is that I arrived there believing in the myth of the noble savage, but found that there was nothing noble about living in the Stone Age. Life was short and brutal and people were dominated by strong men and manipulated by clever charlatans.”

“How did you manage to escape?”

“After I refused to be a slave Conn was about to kill me when Tiwi, the tribal shaman, tricked the chief into turning me over to him. The shaman wanted to exploit my light complexion and fair hair to increase his own power but I refused to go along with his scheme. When he threatened to turn me over to the tribe I told him that I would expose him as a fraud and he let me go.

“And I’ll never forget Tiwi’s final words to me, Tatcho. He said:

There is no place for you in the Tribe of Conn—or any other tribe.”

“He was right,” Diego interjected. “I know you, amigo. That was no place for you.”

“It’s not just me,” said Oskar. “No person in their right mind would want to go back to the Stone Age—life was precarious in those days and people lived in perpetual darkness.”

Tatcho nodded.

“A most excellent beginning for your vision quest,” he said, consulting Oskar’s map. “Now tell us about Cerro Hoya.”

Cerro Hoya

“Cerro Hoya took me back to Medieval Times,” Oskar recounted. “Things had changed a lot since the Stone Age. Humankind had advanced from subsistence hunter-gatherer tribes to well established agricultural communities where wealth came from the land. The trouble there was that all the land had been seized by the warrior kings who ruled over the people by military force with the collusion of the priests.

“And again, as in my journey to the Stone Age, Iarrived as a naive traveler. I had read of noble kings and loyal knights but encountered greedy landlords who exploited peasant farmers who were bound to the land they tilled. And the knights—the knights were nothing more than hired thugs who enforced the status quo.”

Oskar shook his head.

Tatcho saw the boy’s disappointment.

“You are not diminished when you lose your illusions,” the old man said. “You are liberated by the loss. Freedom from false preconceptions assures the success of your vision quest.”

The boy squared his shoulders and resumed his narrative:

“In a way, Tatcho, the machinations of the priests were the most disturbing things I saw in Medieval Times. The church had taken religion, peoples’ search for consolation in their dismal lives and turned it into an institution of social control to bolster the power and privileges of the rulers.


The old man sensed that something profound was troubling Oskar.

“What is it mi hijo?”

“Oh, Tatcho!” said the boy.  ”I did a terrible thing on my way back to El Malpaís!

“Tell me.”

“At the threshold of Cerro Hoya I left behind the woman who saved my life.”

“I see,” said Tatcho, placing a firm hand on Oskar’s shoulder. “But you must understand that you could not have brought her back with you.”

“Why? I made it back.”

“Because what happened in the past—no matter how attached to it we may be—must remain in the past. No one can alter history.”

Tatcho let the boy think about that while he traced the meandering flow of Bandera on the map.

“What about Bandera?” he asked when Oskar was ready to go on. “Where did Bandera take you?”


“Bandera transported me into the future. It was there that I saw the things that deranged so many vision questers who went before me.”

“We weren’t with you,” el lobo reminded him. “What did you see?”

“Yes,” Tatcho said, “Tell us what you saw.”

“Men will master and exploit nature. They will learn to take the very elements of the earth and convert them into all manner of useful objects that people are willing to pay money for.”

“Like what?” inquired the wolf.

“Like automobiles—self-propelled vehicles capable of carrying people at high speed over great distances.” 

“I’d like one of those,” Diego quipped. ”I’m tired of walking everywhere I go.”

“The exercise is good for you,” said Tatcho to the wolf and turned back to Oskar. “Tell us more.”

“The down side of Factoryland,” said the boy, “is that men will pay little attention to the impact of their activities on nature. In the process of development they will cause catastrophic environmental and climate change that will endanger their own future.

“Also on the negative side,” he continued, “is that the incredible wealth created by manufacturing will be concentrated in the hands of very few individuals while masses of people will experience misery and dislocation.

“And it gets worse…”

“How can it get worse?” muttered Diego. “Environmental destruction and human suffering—how will it get worse?”

“The most frightening thing about the future,” Oskar shook his head, “is that through science and technology man will create weapons of mass destruction so powerful that they can set the air on fire and reduce cities to heaps of rubble. He will use those weapons to end World War II, the most destructive conflict in the history of man in which 70 million people will perish.

“In the future,” added the boy, “bombing countries back to Stone Age conditions of existence will become a widespread practice of war.”

Tatcho was dumbstruck; Diego lowered his head and rested it on his paws.

“Listen,” said Oskar. “It doesn’t end there. Ruthless men will use the threat of mass destruction to establish the most powerful empire that the world has ever seen—an empire that will increase global inequality and political instability.”

Silence fell over the river camp on the banks of the Rio Grande—each member of this odd familia lost in his own deep thoughts.

Tatcho recovered first. He picked up the map and pointed to the last lava tube.

“You have not yet talked about McCarty’s Flow.”

McCarty’s Flow

Oskar took a minute to collect his thoughts and then began:

“McCarty’s Flow took me even further into the future. Strangely enough when I completed my passage through the final time tube, I found myself at the foot of Lookout Mountain. When I climbed to the peak I saw a radically altered landscape—the mountains to the north had been moved to make way for the progress of man. The trails that had connected the Indian Nations for centuries had been replaced by a corridor of concrete and steel that led directly to OZ 17, a megalopolis on the West Coast, one of the pillars of the Land of OZ.”

“The Land of OZ?” queried Tatcho. “What is this ‘Land of OZ’?”

“The Land of Ownership Zones is the ultimate outcome of the empire I first encountered in Factoryland. OZs are fortresses built by the super-wealthy in a world of poverty. The owners of the means of production live in and rule from the security of the Ownership Zones while the mass of the population has been reduced to a state of peonage—they contribute to the wealth of the owners through their labor and the consumption of goods and services controlled by the same people.”

“That is a bleak future,” said Tatcho shaking his head.  He stood up and stretched has ancient limbs. “Let me think about it all.”

The old man walked slowly to the edge of the river studying Oskar’s map of El Malpaís while Oskar and Diego gazed at each other in silence.

El Malpaís

Tatcho Speaks

Darkness had fallen by the time Tatcho returned to his place at the campfire.

“Your vision quest, Oskar,” he said, “was a fantastic voyage. You did what I did not have the courage to do when I was young. You traveled from the distant past far into the future and saw things beyond the purview of most people—indeed you have seen things that I have never even imagined”

The old man paused.

“I am humbled by your experience.”

“Me, too,” said el lobo mexicano. “I wish I could have gone along.”

“Quiet, lobo loco!” said Tatcho. “You know that a man has to go on his vision quest alone.”

The old man turned back to Oskar.

“Your vision quest offers you a unique opportunity—you can choose when you want to live. It appears that there are three possibilities.

“First, you can try to ignore your vision quest and continue to live here in the present. Diego and I both enjoy your company and value your friendship. We can continue to travel and explore the world together. And I am sure that your family will be glad to see you from time to time.”

“I vote for that!” said Diego, obviously delighted.

“It’s not your choice, wolf!” said the old man and addressed the boy again:

“The only trouble with choice number one is that although you can ignore your vision quest, you can never forget it. Because of your quest our present has become the past for you. You have seen the future and if you chose to remain in the present you will, in a very real sense, be living in the past.”  

“I get that,” Oskar said. “I have been thinking about that a lot.”

“But you will be with us,” Diego said.

“And always wondering what might have been,” the boy added.

“Choice number two,” continued Tatcho, “Is to choose to live in the past. Considering your vision of the future, this choice might be tempting. But remember that the past can never be changed. You’ve been there and you’ve seen the conditions of existence. It’s your choice but I don’t see you turning to the past. Knowing you, it would lead to a life of discontent.”

“And choice number three?” asked the boy.

“You can choose to live your life in the future. Standing upright on your own two feet and recognizing your dependence on others you will have an opportunity to shape your own destiny. Considering what the future has to offer it’s the scariest choice but it’s your only prospect for an authentic life.”

Tatcho concluded:

“This, I think, is the meaning of your vision quest.”

Oskar stood up, squared his shoulders, and faced the old man.

“I’m going back to the future,” he announced.

El Malpaís

The three amigos spent their last evening together sharing their experiences during the year they had not seen one another.  Oskar told of his trip back east to go to school. He impressed the old man and the wolf with the knowledge he had acquired. Tatcho described the ruins of many abandoned pueblos that he had discovered to the west of the Indian Nations. And Diego recounted the harrowing encounters he had with the migrants from the east who were settling the American Southwest.”There’s not many of my kind left,” he concluded.

That night the three amigos slept together beneath the crystalline sky of New Mexico for the last time.

El Malpaís

The next morning Tatcho and Diego accompanied Oskar back through El Malpaís to the entrance of McCarty’s Flow. Oskar took his backpack from el lobo mexicano, slung it on his back, and offered his hand to Tatcho.

The old man took the boy’s hand, drew him close, and embraced him.

Oskar noticed Diego staring into the lava tube, raring to enter.

“No, Diego,” the boy said kneeling in front of the wolf. “You can’t go with me.”

“But Tatcho told you to recognize your dependence on others.”

“I do,” said the boy. “I met somebody in the Land of Oz.”

The wolf was downcast.

“Not someone like you,” Oskar said, scratching el lobo’s head. “There will never be anyone like you.”

The wolf shook off the boy’s hand.

“You know I don’t like that.”

Oscar laughed and stood up.

“You stay with Tatcho. You two can make tracks in the sand together.”

After the boy disappeared into the darkness Tatcho and Diego turned to each other.

“There’s a universe of things that we have not yet seen and discussed,” the old man said.

He started down the trail back to the Rio Grande. He continued talking as he walked away:

“The abandoned pueblos that I found have never been investigated. You and I…”

El lobo mexicano took a long last look into the darkness of McCarty’s Flow and then followed Tatcho.

Their foot prints intermingled in the sand of El Malpaís.


Episode 7: Back to the Future

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Copyright © 2016 by Richard D. Vogel

Permission to copy granted

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iOwnership Zones evolved out of Free Trade Zones that were originally business parks subsidized by governments and granted exemptions from tax, labor, and environmental laws in order to promote economic development. It didn’t take the owners of wealth long to see the advantages of these zones. By expanding and consolidating the FTZs they concentrated their wealth and power and at the time of Oskar’s visit to the Land of OZ the Ownership Zones controlled most of the world’s wealth.

iiOZ 17 used to be the city of Los Angeles. In the mid-21st century it was the 17th largest Ownership Zone in the world.

iiiRFID stands for radio frequency identification, an electronic system by which an object or a person can be identified from a distance.

ivOZ 9, formally New York City. In the mid-21st century it was the 9th largest OZ in the world.

vHasta que nos encontremos de nuevo” translates as “Until we meet again”. Whether Rosa knew  she and Oskar would meet again or if it is just an empty phrase is unclear.