Tas rolled over; his pain returned in full force. His head was throbbing and his mind was lost. He opened his eyes sometimes, but would shut them immediately because of the throbbing pain shooting from the side of his head. In the depths of his agony, he could see the smile of the man with the razor teeth grinning in between bursts of pain from his spine and head. His body was useless.
For two-days, he simply sat and recovered in a small hut, the village women brought him food and water and they arranged for a few new cloths for him to wear. Occasionally, they would bring him a coconut and it seemed to make everything feel a bit better.
He didn’t leave the small space that was allotted to him; he didn’t think he could even if he wanted to. The pain in his head was overwhelming.
Tas was happy to eat and drink his fill after a few days of nearly starving in the jungle. The women brought him bowls of rice and noodles and vegetables and some fruit to match. But their tea was absolutely intoxicating, Tas must have had 6 full cups throughout the day. He also had a bowl of soup each night for dinner, which was a delightful mix of squash and lentils. He slept on a soft fur that one of the women had given to him and as he recovered, he couldn’t help but feel very lucky to be where he was.
On the third day he woke with his spine still in pain, but his head felt better. It was still a bit hard to breath because his ribs were bruised, but he could stand without too much pain. There was still a dull throbbing, but he soon found himself stretching his spine. It was painful at first, but as he warmed his body slightly, the tension faded. He was still very sore, but he was ready to be out and about.
He walked out of his little hut and immediately was surrounded by people. The villagers acted like they had never seen an outsider before and their eyes were on him everywhere he walked. He was pulled this way and that by a small crowd of children, until one of the women shoo’ed them away. Her body was tattooed, but her face was relatively free from ornamentation.
She took him by the arm to an older man; on his head was a crown of feathers and carved wood and his face was painted to look very important, red bolts of lightning on his cheeks and vertical lines of white on his forehead. His eyes didn’t leave Tas as the boy approached. He seemed to look at him like the old wandering man did, piercing through his skin to something deeper. Only this man had spear surrounding his chair, long knives and arrows laced the background menacingly.
The old man looked at Tas for a moment, then called him closer. The woman pushed Tas so that the older man could examine him. He spent several long minutes examining Tas’ skin, then his head, then his ribs and spine. He looked at Tas in the eyes and seemed to have decided something. He called out in a loud voice to the entire villages and they roared and applauded as one in response. Tas wasn’t sure what was happening, but the entire village seemed to come alive at the old man’s words. The men began to organize to leave, grabbing weapons and painting each other with face paint. The women began to prepare food, Tas began to hear them chatter and heard sizzling in the background and could smell their fires being lit. In 20 seconds, the entire village had roared to life.
The woman took Tas back to his tent, where he remembered his throbbing head again. The pain had come back, though not as strong as the day before. He spent the rest of the day resting and listening to the village prepare, but had no idea what for.
When the shadows of the afternoon became longer, Tas was yelled at to come outside by the woman who was tending to him. He couldn’t quite figure out what they were saying at first, but once he had left his hut, three women grabbed him and pulled him towards a fire that was roaring in the center of the village. The men had returned with various game, a few chickens, but most notably a boar that was being skinned by the vicious man who had struck Tas. He felt his blood boil as he watched the man tearing through the boar’s flesh with his knife.
The women led him to a seat beside the old man, then began to feed him. All kinds of drinks and different vegetables were placed before him and he couldn’t help but devour them. He had never eaten so well as the past few days, but this was different. He felt like a king with servants that were continually arranging his food for him to eat, bringing new dishes until he couldn’t eat anymore. Once he was done, he realized that the entire village was waiting for him to finish.
Something was very wrong here, Tas thought to himself. The words from the villainous man days before rung in his ears ‘no friends here’. He couldn’t help but feel that this was not in his honor, but for something else entirely, but he had no idea what.
After everyone had finished eating, the sun began to set. The men began to pull out pipes and pass them between each other, before passing them to the women and even some of the older children. Tas had smelled tobacco before, but this was different, a skunkier smell. He felt a bit disoriented after a while and could tell that the smoke was strong. The villager’s eyes turned a dark red as they digested and smoked. Finally, Tas was offered a pipe, but after one pull found himself coughing uncontrollably. He felt a strange peace begin to settle over him and he almost felt as he had with the old man in the last days in the desert. He thought back grimly at the old man’s final prank.
The men began to scuffle about and soon a big wooden bowl that was cured for fire was brought into the center of the fire. The old man rose from his chair to the silence of the village and began to put ingredients into the bowl, some that Tas could see, some that he couldn’t. He could make out various roots and leaves and other plants of various sizes and shapes. He added some dark green and black liquid into the mix and set it over the fire.
A few minutes later, when the sun was just setting down on the horizon, Tas was led to the bowl. He was given a ladle and told to drink and he did. It was a nasty taste, but they gave him a bit of fruit afterwards. The old man drank longly from the bowl, as if relishing the taste, which Tas found unbelievable. It tasted like a mix of cow dung and overcooked vegetables.
Once the old man was done, the other men in the tribe took smaller portions of the strange liquid then the remains were passed to the women and finally, a few of the eldest children.
Tas returned to his seat and after a time, began to feel very weird. He started to see lights that couldn’t be there and the whole world seemed to come more alive. He couldn’t stop staring at the stars and the setting sun and felt his entire being start to melt away. The entire world melted away and all he could feel was the nothingness inside of himself, a void that grew larger and larger until it was overwhelming and he felt a burst of light come forth from his chest and illuminate the entire village. He saw his mother and sisters dancing at their own village fire and felt an intense longing, time seemed to pass so slowly. He opened his eyes to look at the stars again and found himself floating amongst them, a light inside of him was burning bright. He felt as if the stars were his brothers, though he had forgotten them. His vision became more and more in control and suddenly, he re-realized where he was. The old man was right beside him and he seemed to be inoculated, looking up at the sky with closed eyes.
Suddenly, seemingly in response to Tas’ gaze, the old man looked over at Tas and yelled loudly, so the entire village erupted. He took Tas by the arm and then slapped him to the floor. Pain flared in Tas, though it seemed to be distant in a way. He could still see the old man in perfect detail, his skin seemed to hang like a bag around his body and it swirled and magnified as he stared. He was brought to his feet again, and was bound to a tall pole. Tas finally knew that this was a tribe of the sort that were in children’s stories in his village. He knew immediately that these men planned to eat him. As if in response to his thoughts, the grim man who had injured him before came to the fire, licking his lips. Tas began to struggle, but it was too late.
They brought him to the fire and he knew it was over. He thought back to the old man and wondered how he could have gotten so lost. He walked slowly with the men surrounding him until they dropped him with a yell, close to the fire. Tas fell on his face, but could hear the cries of the villagers, screaming. Hell itself seemed to break loose from the lips of the women..
Tas tried to roll over, but couldn’t and found a rock to untie his hands from the pole. As he finally was able to look up, he saw a flash of darkness moving against the fire, seeming to dance with its flames. He finally broke the bindings of his hands and used them to raise his head to see what was happening.
A group of villagers were backed up against one of the larger huts, one shorter looking man with a large spear threatened them. Tas would have found this comical in any other situation, but the villagers seemed terrified. He smelt burning flesh and turned to the fire to see the body of a headless man singing in the flames. He looked on the floor to see more bodies, at least a dozen men, most of the them dead. The rest would be within minutes because of their wounds. Gashes, cuts, and blood decorated their bodies, giving signs of the battle that was continuing now.
The fire just barely illuminated the short attacker, who seemed to fly through the villagers while tearing through their flesh. The cries of the villagers grew less and less until only a dark silence remained. The fire was growing softer and Tas was still having visions of his family, of the old man, and of the stars and the life around him. But this was interrupted by his thoughts of the attacker that he watched flow like a swan with his movement. Who was this godly man who could kill a dozen ferocious villagers at once?
As if on cue, the attacker approached Tas and to Tas’ surprise, gently untied his feet from the pole and sat him up to look at him. When Tas could finally see the man’s face, he gasped.
It was the old man from the desert. He seemed to know that Tas was out of his mind and left him for the time being, but Tas sputtered and tried to speak to no avail. He was amongst the stars now, feeling the eternal energies of the cosmos flowing through him as a stream through a valley. He wondered if the old man was a hallucination and if perhaps he was dead. What a curious thing, life. Tas thought to himself.
He came back down for a moment to see the old man again, whose gaze hadn’t left Tas’ face. He helped Tas to his feet and brought him to a nice place to sleep. Tas cried the whole way, not knowing if he was alive or dead, but knew that this man, who had saved his life and viciously slaughtered 20 men in the process was a part of god. He felt it as strongly as he had ever felt anything in his life. As the visions began to fade, so Tas faded into sleep, the world forgotten and blackness overtook him.