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Closer to God: Episode Three
Clarke’s stomach was full for the first time since he’d left the mainland. The squirrel, which he’d roasted over the fire, had been delicious. It’d taken him quite a while to skin the animal, as he had no knife and was forced to use a sharp rock instead, but once he had the rodent rotating on a spit above the flames the smell had been intoxicating. He wondered why they did not serve squirrel in every restaurant.
He finished eating around sunset and, after setting aside his leftovers for the following day, he laid out on the beach. His back sinking into the sand, Clarke stared up at the stars. There were more in the sky than he could ever remember seeing before and while the waves washed over his feet he traced constellations with his finger. The salted air blew in from open-ocean and he was surprised to find his body relaxing. Naturally, his thoughts quickly spoiled the feeling as they reminded him of the situation.
To avoid the inevitable hopelessness pressing in, Clarke turned to deducing how he would return the gestures the, so called, Men of the Earth had extended towards him. As well as how he would manage to establish some kind of communication with them.
The message the tribesman had left was clear enough.
Here is something you need, give us something we need.
Like most tribes in history, the Terra Tribus formed their allegiances around relationships that proved to be mutually beneficial. At least, that was Clarke’s best guess. By giving him back his journal, the tribe was sending forth an invitation of friendship. To accept that invitation Clarke had to return the favor by giving them something they wanted. Hopefully, in the eyes of the tribe, that would prove Clarke a worthy ally.
Yet, his understanding of the tribe’s culture was built on assumptions. He was sure his theory was at least somewhat accurate but every tribe seemed to have a different set of rules regarding the creation of such a relationship. If he was not careful, he may accidentally insult or offend the Men of the Earth and there was no telling how they might respond. After much deliberation, Clarke decided he would have to base his approach to the situation off of the way the tribe had interacted with him.
He would keep his distance, make an offering, and await their response.
As far as what offering he would leave, Clarke was stumped. He had nothing that the tribe did not already have or could not obtain on their own. Except, he did have something the tribe could never have, or obtain, or even desire. He had something the recluses of Libris were unaware existed.
He rose from the sand and returned to his lean-to, where he dug through his satchel and removed his broken GPS. He set the device down on a rock in the clearing that formed his camp. Darkness was wrapped around the jungle but his small cooking fire was close enough to cast its light in front of him. Of course, the GPS had been ruined when Clarke had fallen into the ocean, but he doubted if the tribesman would mind. All they would see is a futuristic device beyond their comprehension.
The elements of his plan began to form and weave amongst themselves. By giving them the GPS, he would not only suggest his technological superiority but he would accept their invitation by gifting them an object they would not otherwise have. There’d be no harm in the action, either, as he would not be exposing them to the outside world because the damned device didn’t even work. Confident there were safeguards in place, he acted through the encounter.
He would use the field in which he first saw the Men of the Earth as a place to set up the encounter. After ensuring he could be seen from the jungle, he’d walk to the middle of the grassy expanse where he’d set down a stone, then place his offering on top. He’d wait there, doing his best to appear strong yet not threatening, and when they arrived he would extend his hands and…
Preoccupied with the construction of his plan, Clarke did not notice the smoke rising from the mouth of the volcano and settling atop the canopy of the jungle. He did not notice the low chanting, either. In fact, he’d come to the understanding that this was a ritual the tribe performed nightly, in honor of the volcano. He was only partially correct. He’d not gone far enough into the island to discover the smoke of the volcano was actually ash. Each and every night, without Clarke’s knowledge, the volcano underwent a small eruption. It filled with lava and expelled the ash softly from its vents. By sunrise, the lava would be drained and the ash long carried away by the wind. It was a cycle of filling, excreting, and emptying. A cycle that created, powered, and destroyed forces Clarke could not see and was not aware he was feeling.
Clarke did not sleep at all that night. Instead, he played the anticipated encounter over and over again in his mind, until he settled on a final, imaginary narrative for the event. A narrative that ended with his acceptance and reverence by the tribe. He would be their mentor and they would help him survive. And when rescue came he would be known as the first man brave enough to set foot on Libris and the only man to befriend the Men of the Earth. He would return for a proper expedition and they would welcome him back. Slowly, he would bestow them with knowledge they’d never fathomed and he would guide them into the twenty-first century.
By the time the sun rose Clarke was brimming with hope and expectations rationalized off illusions. His satchel was packed, the GPS secure in its side pocket, and he was ready to embark.
Using memory, he followed the path he’d taken numerous times to the gnarled tree, the ravine, and the small stream. Once there, he refilled his water bottles and continued onto the field. He went directly into the middle and stamped around on the tall grass, creating a small circle akin to the one that enclosed his camp. He crushed more grass, forming several paths that lead back to the jungle. A heavy, flat stone he found balancing about the edge of the ravine was carried to the center of the field and placed inside the circle. He put the GPS on the stone and sat down. He waited and while he waited he drank water and ate his leftovers from the night before.
By noon Clarke was growing restless. He stood up and stretched, wobbling slightly in an effort to overcome the tingling sleep creeping through his legs. He wandered the perimeter of the field, whistling a tune along the way. Maybe one of the tribe would hear it. When that failed, he returned to his aesthetically ceremonial circle and started playing with the GPS, turning it over in his hands, reflecting the sunlight across the ground, and eventually watching his reflection on the screen.
He looked ragged. His beard was long and his hair was wiry. Dirt and sand littered his peeling face. He put the GPS down and went back to whistling.
It was in the late afternoon that a pair of yellow eyes finally opened within the shadows of the jungle.
Clarke spotted their appearance almost instantly. He watched them and they watched him. Seconds, minutes later a second pair of eyes appeared, followed by a third. He could not quite discern their mud covered faces but the eyes themselves shined brightly, reflecting the few shreds of light slipping through the canopy overhead. The sun kept moving, started to set, but the eyes remained still. Seeming to never blink nor leave Clarke’s face. Not once looking at the offering before him.
Suddenly, as if they’d simply closed, the eyes disappeared. Clarke tried not to move but could not resist shifting anxiously. He listened to the grass swaying with the breeze. There was no longer anyone watching and no one approached him. Just before night fell in full, he gathered the GPS and walked on a crushed grass path through the field and into the jungle.
He thought he should’ve approached the tribesman, but he had wanted to be sure they were not threatened by him or his strange device. Either they’d actually felt that way or they had been waiting on him to make the first move. However, he did not feel completely comfortable doing that, either. He only felt confident walking forward now because he was certain the men had gone. And they had. The area in which the tribesman had been standing, or floating for all Clarke knew, was empty. Empty save for another squirrel hanging from the low branch of a tree.
The forest turned black quickly as Clarke hiked the path back to his camp. Eventually, he had no light to reveal his way for the trees blocked the light of the moon and the stars. He tried to walk straight, using his memory of the area to head in the direction of the beach. He anticipated the flickering of his fire to appear before him but it never did. He tripped through the underbrush and stumbled on his hands and knees onto the beach.
The signal fire was no longer burning and its kindling was scattered over the sand and floating in the surf. Black, powdery wood was all that remained within the fire pit. Luckily, his cooking fire had been left untouched and, although the flames were low, it still burned. When Clarke looked at the base of the flames he realized why. His journal was feeding the fire. Swiftly, he grabbed a stick from the nearby wood pile and used it to fish out the notebook. Its pages were torn and burnt. Most of them crumbled and fell from the book to the ground. He looked down at their charred remains. In his peripheral vision, he spotted a flash of white illuminated by the fire.
Edges burned, but still intact, the envelope from his journal lay blown against the lean-to. Apparently, the breeze had carried it out of danger before it could be completely consumed.
Clarke was frightened. This was the first time the tribe had struck out at him. Had he done something to anger them? They’d seen him in the field and instead of approaching they’d wrecked his fire, destroyed his journal. They wrecked the item they’d used to make contact with him. But they left him another squirrel. What did that mean?
Clarke’s mind searched for answers. Perhaps they felt betrayed by his desire to contact someone off the island. If he truly wanted to ally with them he would not be seeking to leave. It made sense that such an action would offend the tribe. He could not blame the Men of the Earth for believing he only wished to befriend them so he could use them to survive.
With the moon well into the sky, the low chanting began, pluming forth from the mouth of the volcano. This time, Clarke heard it loud and clear. However, it sounded different. Every other time Clarke heard the voices they seemed to be traveling towards him until it was as if they were coming from right beside him. On this occasion they stayed in the distance and he could hear only their echoes. They beckoned him to join the ceremony.
A revelation hit him then. The Men of the Earth did not expect him to complete their relationship by giving them something they wanted. They knew he had nothing they needed. No, they were inviting him to join them. Each night they beckoned him up to the volcano and when he would not come the ceremony was brought to him. He knew not how their voices did the things they did but this time, instead of seeking him out, they urged him to seek them out.
He’d been misreading their messages. They did not say,
Here’s something you need, give us something we need.
Come to us and we will give you what you need.
He’d offended them by trying to contact the outside world so they destroyed his connection to it. Yet their offer still stood.
Clarke walked over to the lean-to and picked up the envelope. Only the top left corner had been touched by the flames. He tucked it into his satchel. If the canopy of the jungle permitted, he would use the light of the moon to read it on his hike up to the volcano.