Xerxes at Toad Suck



By Dana Carlina
Special to Radio Free Ozarks
August 1st, 2023

[Editor’s Note: Radio Free Ozarks is presenting this news article from a guest reporter as a service to the community. Radio Free Ozarks is, at present time, unable to corroborate the information presented in this report and it may not meet our normally stringent requirements for accuracy. “Corroborate” is our $9 word for today.]

In a most peculiar event this past weekend, a small group of Conway High School students hanging out near Toad Suck Park on Sunday afternoon were witness to a spectacle otherwise unseen in these dark 3rd Millennium times. Through a localized earthquake and bright, staggering sunlight that seemed to dance around the entire sky, these moping Gen-Z stoners were witness to the reincarnation and reemergence of the great King Xerxes I of Persia.

Seemingly pulled out of the earth underneath the Arkansas River and flung by unknown forces high into the air, with a deafening yell alongside what sounded like a morning school bell ringing, Xerxes the Great himself fell to the earth before this small witness group, landing in a crouch but with no apparent injury or dampness. From his radiating divine glow and commanding intellectual presence, this newly unslain fourth King of Kings slowly rose to his feet before this audience of coddled teens.

Greetings, greetings, my wards, my lambs!” Xerxes announced, with a hearty laugh and a toothy grin. The group of perhaps 10 to 12 high school students stood unmoved and in disbelief, no doubt a side effect of their many ADHD medications. Unbelievably, no one dishonored the great king by saying “Ok, Boomer.”

[NAME OF PUBLICATION GOES HERE] is not printing the names of the young witnesses to this event, as we did not bother to ask them their names. At least 5 of the disappointing youth posted videos of the event to TikTok, from which the event is chronicled here, but like hell are we linking to TikTok. One particularly useless teen claimed to have been looking at their phone the entire time.

The man-deity who stood before them, ancient ruler of the Achaemenid Empire, victorious general at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, did in no way resemble the semi-nude, chain-adorned fey weirdo depicted in the 2006 film 300. To this assemblage of slouchers, Xerxes appeared as a fifty-something contemporary Caucasian male, of slight medium build and wearing worn-looking work slacks and a white dress shirt with a pen in the pocket, an appearance befitting an avuncular scholar, perhaps a teacher of high school history.

The king’s visage showed craggy cheeks that were fronted by a full beard of a graying salt-and-pepper color, no doubt befitting the great destroyer of ancient Athens. Xerxes’ head surprisingly bore not a crown, but a receding hairline of straight and slightly long graying hair. His intense eyes were ringed by wire-rimmed bifocal spectacles that served to only sharpen his professorial world history focus onto ancient Greece and Persia.

With a booming baritone voice that at times moved up to a nasally twang, King Xerxes stood before this gallery of aimless minors and honored them by his speech. “Son of Darius, grandson of Cyrus the Great, I am reborn. KING XERXES!!” His statement of his name seemed to loudly echo up and down the Arkansas River. “I am sent to stamp out IGNORANCE and promote the reading of BOOKS! Books that try to reveal the truths of history, no matter how unpleasant, no matter how the ruling politicians would rather not hear it. So that all great works of knowledge shall reside in the library, WHERE THE BOOKS LIVE!! And be not censored by the petty whims of some godd***ed SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS!!” Xerxes spat on the ground, and the sound of thunder was heard on a day of otherwise fair weather. Xerxes smiled at this disturbance.

Through the thin and slightly yellowing broadcloth of his shirt pocket, the faint outlines of a small rectangular object could just be made out. Was this ancient artifact a divine vessel, a hamper of sorts, for holding all the secrets of history? To be slowly revealed to these semi-numb secondary school students?

No. Xerxes pulled the object from his shirt. It was a packet containing narrow paper cylinders stuffed with tobacco. Below a the red top of the package the word “Marlboro” was printed, no doubt an appellation of the Marlborough Mound, built in England by the ancient mystics. With sure hands, Xerxes pulled out a cigarette and turned to admire the view of the unusually high river. After a prolonged moment of silence, Xerxes turned again and asked, “Anybody got a light?” From this high-school age cohort, no doubt protected from all the chiggers by their cloud of blue smoke, Xerxes’ noble request was granted.

For the next 30 minutes, King Xerxes, the great bard of antiquity, paced as he held court before this audience of doe-eyed Zoomers. Part diatribe and part history lecture, this highborn polymath, this Renaissance-Man-before-the-Renaissance, touched on many topics:

On history: “History is recorded from the perspective of the people who write it. As you will learn, that can be very different, depending on the author. Is history best described as a thin veil of agreed-upon lies? The autobiography of a madman? Or is it just ONE DAMN THING AFTER ANOTHER!? You can only be absolutely sure of two things. First, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor was it Roman, nor was it an empire. Second, a career in LIBERAL ARTS EQUALS POVERTY!!” Once again thunder rumbled through the air. “Don’t listen to me. You didn’t hear me say any of that.”

On hoplite warfare in the ancient world: “My old man Darius always told me that the secrets of the Greek hoplites and their phalanxes must be kept from history. My pops learned the hard way at Marathon. I’m not talking about a gas station. 490 BC. He told me they were distracted in the battle by the appearance of a hot air balloon flying over the battlefield. I (expletive) you not! He looked up and saw some guy in a baseball cap watching and furiously taking notes. There was a momentary truce called as the best archers from both sides came forward and sent their volleys skyward and shot that assclown down. He crashed down in the swamp and quickly sank. Pops said that before they could go have a look, the Greeks broke the truce and caught him flat footed! So my dad always cautioned me to be on the lookout for the future people, these armchair fans of history, trying to have a look-see. I took it all to heart and smashed those (expletive) Greeks at Thermopylae!” Xerxes nearly doubled over with his royal, hearty laughter.

King Xerxes
Engraving of Xerxes I (image used without permission from the British Museum – that’s right, we stole it from the British Museum).

On school boards and censorship: “The victors in war will remember things differently than the vanquished. The groups in political power will surely see things from a different perspective than those not in power. Know this as you begin your journeys in studying history. A proper and true history teacher will present to you some ideas about the world that the local Southern Baptist clergy and/or school board would rather you not hear. So take notes like your lives depend on it, for they probably do. Got it? Got it? THEN DO IT!! Now, anybody here like hexagons?”

On his current mission: “My job here is too important for those ne’er-do-wells who came after me, like Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, (or) Napoleon. From a time before monotheism, I am sent here to raise the best army in the land and march on one of the meetings of the Conway School Board! I will find and train the best archers and cavalry (not calvary’) and foot soldiers to be found in Conway! We will hold our training fields near here, amongst the agrarian society. We will equip ourselves with spears and shields, and we will cross the Hellespont and enter western Conway, with our sights set on the Administration Building on Prince Street. Do they think they’ll just block the pass at Thermopylae? I know that trick. Tell us to hand over our arms? COME AND TAKE THEM!!” Lightning shot across a mostly clear sky, followed by thunder as witness. Fish leapt above the water. Xerxes paused for a puff. “Heh, that Leonidas was a real smartass. Was.

“We will close-march in on the meeting of the school board and we will…sign up to speak truth to the board! Step up to the microphone at our allotted time and look them in the eyes and make sure they realize that banning books is wrong, and that teaching their fictional, sanitized version of history is wrong! Show them at we are serious! If that doesn’t work, we will make our camps on the football practice fields and I will…make sure my entire army is REGISTERED TO VOTE!! Yes!”

During this lecture, Xerxes took note of one particular freaking slacker who was looking at his phone. “You in the back there. Taking notes, yes? Got it? Got it? WELL THEN GET IT WRITTEN DOWN!!” From his right hand Xerxes magically produced and threw a chalkboard eraser at the potential future criminal. Certainly nowhere in the chronicles of the ancient historian Herodotus is such an ability mentioned?

“I have raised an army before and I shall raise one again. And as we crossed the water into Europe to lay waste to the deceitful Athenians and Eretrians, I shall again build a bridge out of boats, to cross this river to enter the city of Conway proper.” One of the feckless kids pointed to the Highway 60 bridge running across the Toad Suck Lock and Dam nearby. Xerxes let out another hearty laugh.

The warrior-sage Xerxes seemed restless, for there was much to do and he was anxious to be on the move. As a parting gift, Xerxes pulled many copies of a book from out of the thin air. One by one he gave a copy to each of the idling students. Had they ever held a real book before? The dawdling juveniles looked at the cover. Xerxes had given each of them a copy of The Glory and the Dream, the 1975 narrative history tome by William Manchester. How could these sheltered adolescents, with no grounding in reality that being alive in the 20th century would provide, relate to such a text? “Treat them well,” Xerxes commanded, “lest I find you guilty of BOOK ABUSE!!” The sun itself seemed to momentarily darken in fear.

“You youthful people must stay here and prepare by studying history and how it is censored and rewritten by those in power. Then you much each pick two additional books about history to read for your BOOK REVIEWS!!” The earth heaved at these two words, or perhaps a large truck was engine braking on the nearby highway. “The next time you see me, have your selections ready! There is much to learn and much work to be done before our big march on the school board! It will be a day like no other!”

One naive teen, briefly shaken out of his Big Pharma stupor, stated that such a showdown with the school board would be a huge national news event. And that with all the local and national news helicopters, plus the police helicopters, plus the many National Guard helicopters called out by the governor, the light of the sun itself would be obscured. Xerxes paused briefly to take a Marlboro drag and, with a gleam in his eye, bellowed out his response: “THEN WE SHALL FIGHT IN THE SHADE!!” Xerxes then quietly noted that he was repeating a line originally said by “that sonofabitch Dienekes.”

As these teen goof-offs resumed their graceless discussions about the few remaining nice things that their generation could still break, the wise Xerxes left them. Less impressive than how he arrived, he walked out of Toad Suck Park to Highway 60. Xerxes was last seen walking west along the highway, flashing a wicked grin and attempting, without success, to “thumb” a ride the entire time. Thus the ancient troubadour of truth Xerxes I disappeared west into the Perry County hinterlands, his grand return forthcoming.

Several of the students in attendance, who could have been holding down a part-time job this whole time, stated that while Xerxes initially scared the [crap] out of them, after listening to him for a while he seemed to be a pretty cool elder hippie-type mentor. Like the sort of history teacher they dearly wish they had in their school.

Dana Carlina is a men’s health apothecarist and freelance scribe who lives in Fayetteville but grew up in Conway and attended Conway High School in the 1990’s.
[email protected]

Tomb of Xerxes
The rock-cut Tomb of Xerxes I, in present-day Iran. The meaning of the hexagon symbols has never been conclusively determined.