The Ends of the Earth
A sequel to THE JAGUAR HUNTER (1987), THE ENDS OF THE EARTH transports readers to Caribbean islands, Central American warzones, and the late Republic of South Vietnam, as well as the frontier of “Bound for Glory.” Here, soldiers, expatriates, vagabonds, and bored travelers seek transcendence from meaningless lives, hoping to make contact with gods, goddesses—even the devil himself. All of Shepard’s people open themselves to contacts which often turn into spiritual takeovers.
In these stories, two despairing men on a tropical island play a ruinous Mayan game which leads them to madness and murder; a minister directs his mental energy toward the rape of a parishioner, a hot-blooded woman kills herself with a black clay statue as she makes love to it; a soldier in Vietnam learns how to murder.
In Shepard’s universe, darkness reigns: Any light is either dim and fitful or tropical and consuming, of no help to anyone caught up the nightmarish murk of existence. Here, good defers to evil, which is strong, vibrant, sought after, and wholly destructive of minds, bodies, and spirits. God gives way to lesser deities, allowing them to control the destinies of Shepard’s misfits and drifters.
If love and peace are denied Shepard’s characters, they have death and mayhem to rely upon: They break taboos, searching dense jungles, spider-infested caverns, bloody battlefields, and menacing borderlands for spirits which inhabit those places. Some spirits are unsought, however, like those who board the phantom train of “Bound for Glory”—terrible beings which claw and creep their way onto a ghost train headed for a place misnamed Glory. The ghosts of Mayan warriors enter the soul of the protagonist in “The Ends of the Earth” after he has played their macabre form of chess.
Life has failed Shepard’s characters as much as they have failed it. Losers devoid of concern for others, cunning, deceitful, lecherous, and alienated, they are harried by furies of boredom and self-hatred into encounters with dark spirits, inhabitants of parallel universes which at times interpenetrates our own. These deities, however, promise far more than they deliver, and after frenzied unions with him, mortals are left with an aching void and total desolation.