Late, one foul night in the Sacred Land of Korin, the hero Upa vigorously copulated with some woman from his tribe whose name he had never learned. They had been married for twenty years, and she was twenty-five years his junior. She was trying to sleep, so like any self-respecting village chief, he decided to put a baby in her for the twelfth or thirteenth time (he had lost count). There were no surprises between them in this engagement. That wasn’t so hard when he turned her on her back and did her like a shaggy dog, although she moaned a lot, and thus, half the tribe was aware of what they were up to. Such was the cost of doing business, Upa knew.
“If we have a daughter this time, I’ll climb Korin Tower,” he boasted.
“You’ve been saying that for years, but all you have given me are sons.”
“I will put a daughter in you tonight, my plain-faced bride, or my father’s name isn’t Bora. I swear it on a handful of acorns and two or three kernels of maize.”
She gagged, pulling away, her slit drying up. “Damn it, Upa, don’t you ever brush your teeth?”
“Don’t you dare disrespect me in my own teepee, wife. I am the village chief!” he roared, grabbing her by the throat and flipping her over. Seeing her from behind once more warmed his aging blood.
About nine months later, a week before his sixtieth birthday, the bitch went into labor. During those months, Upa had lived with not a care in the world, for he was the leader of the Karinga, and that meant he got to sit around all day eating nuts and drinking wine under the Spear Tree. It was a laborious living; he suffered for his people. That day, out of nowhere, he heard his wife screaming in the distance, and his blood ran cold. His first thought was that she had been sleeping with his neighbor Uddey. She went on like that for a while, though–much longer than with him–so he discounted that as a possibility. Eventually, about three hours later, he decided to get up and go see what was the matter, for she had not stopped her pained howling the entire time.
There the hero Upa found his wife lying in bed, holding their infant daughter, a trio of midwives kneeling by her side. His wife wasn’t smiling, wasn’t looking down at the beauty she was holding (with how many she had churned out by this point, she had gotten over her sense of motherly affection). She was staring at him bitterly.
The woman had a whiny, nasally voice that made him zone out sometimes. “You said you would climb the tower if we had a daughter. You promised me. Well, look at your daughter, Upa.”
“Oh, golly, she’s beautiful, wife. I love her just as much as the other ones. What’s her name?”
“Listen to me, you dingbat. That’s not what I’m talking about. You promised to climb Korin Tower.”
The midwives shuddered. A cold sweat began trickling down his spine. Curse that whore for her memory. I completely forgot about it. I haven’t trained a day in the last nine months. I can’t upset her now; it was a promise. Nothing anyone can do about that. I have to climb it. Father tried, and he failed, but I’ve always been better than him, so I’ll do fine.
He had no clue if they had noticed any of that internal dialogue leaking into the emotions of his face. “Very well, wife, I’m going now. On my honor, you will not see me again until I’ve reached the pinnacle of that tower.”
“Now? It’s a quarter past five. The sun is already sinking.”
“Ah, that doesn’t bother me. I can do it. I’m the biggest, strongest guy in the whole tribe. I haven’t lost an arm wrestling match since I was eleven.”
Her face softened. “We’ll be waiting. Best get a move on it, love.”
Laughing nervously, he sidled out. The midwives were muttering to one another before he had left. That was some real disrespect, the kind that his father would have never tolerated, bless his poor liver. He would deal with them when he got back. Maybe off the dopamine rush of completing his life’s dream, he would be able to think more clearly.
There was nobody around, except for an old woman who was picking at the uneven blades of grass, making everything more uniform. That was alright too. He didn’t need a big crowd. They would be gathered by the time he returned back down. Hopefully that trip wouldn’t take as long as going up.
He gulped, looking up. The tower rose far into the sky, becoming lost in the clouds before he could see the end of it. His father had told him that he had spent hours climbing it before giving up. With how strong Bora had been, that meant this would be a long climb. It would probably take him most of the night. It had taken Goku less than a day. He was surely stronger than Goku had been at the time. He was a fit and muscled man, perhaps a little beyond the prime of his life, but that was nothing to be concerned about. He knew he could do this.
The old crone could tell he was about to climb by how he was looking at the tower, how he was pacing before it nervously. She offered him an ancient carved shell-cup of their tribe’s famous black drink, and he took it without question. Moments later, he vomited up a prized bottle of vintage wine and some half-digested nuts. Collapsing to his knees, Upa gasped, his lips tingling, his legs feeling shaky. His stomach growled and he vomited again onto the grass. Feeling weak, he wiped his mouth and struggled to his feet.
This purification ritual was a sacred rite in his village, and was not to be questioned. It would surely cleanse him of his demons, allowing him to climb all the way to the top. What did he care if his stomach was rumbling and he felt desperately thirsty? That only meant he wouldn’t have time to dawdle on his way up.
And so he climbed. It was really not so terribly awful. There were carvings and ornamentations of rock that he could use as finger holds. He scurried up to cloud level before the sun had set. He was making good time, and he had hardly broken a sweat. Confidence emanated from him.
Beyond the clouds, however, it was dark and wet and cold. As Upa did not deign to wear a shirt, he was shivering within seconds, despite moving so quickly and actively. The rocks were slick, and he couldn’t stop the shaking. Still, he had a promise to keep, so he had to keep going.
On and on he went. Perhaps two hours passed, perhaps three. He could no longer feel his fingers, nor most of his other extremities. What parts of his body still had feeling in them throbbed in pain. He was an old man. He could not stop, for to stop would mean he was a quitter like his father. Upa wasn’t about to be the second straight failure in his bloodline. The ancestors were counting on him, allegedly.
It was not long after that Upa grasped onto an outcropping of rock, not unlike the last ten thousand times. This time, his finger slipped, though he had already propelled himself upwards. Crashing down against the side of the tower, he frantically reached out to grab onto anything he could. His fingers felt the rock, numb though they were, scraped against it, and slid off, ripping off one of his fingernails in the process, and he was falling.
He had two minutes to think about what he had done, maybe a little less.
A crowd had gathered at the base of Korin Tower. Upa’s wife, holding her shrieking daughter, was sitting on a chair outside of her teepee, watching the excitement build. Torches had been lit, and a great feast was being prepared.
“I saw him climb up there, I did! Chief Upa’s going all the way to the top,” the wrinkled hag was telling the growing crowd. “He’ll be down soon, I’d wager.”
And just like that, his scream audible as a circling vulture, and growing louder by the half-second, Upa came down, landing on his back in the grass before his teepee, his body exploding apart upon impact. For a moment, there was silence. Then, several onlookers ran off wailing. Upa’s wife spit out her chewing tobacco and patted her daughter on the back. The baby was no longer crying. Instead she looked on at the freshly-made corpse that had landed before them with a peaceful, inquisitive gaze.
Her mother smiled weakly and scooped another finger’s worth out of the tin.