THEY made this so. It was so even before the Others came. Too many moons ago to consider. Even before the Fathers of the Father’s Fathers, it was so. But that does not matter.
Before the Others came They called Us Mana-Hoka. The Others called Us Machu Grande, and They were forced to use the Other’s words. The Others are gone now. They gave the Others to their Gods to appease them. Now We are Mana-Hoka once more. But that does not matter, either.
At those times when They became of many, the Gods would often grow angry and send a curse of hunger or sickness, so They learned to appease the Gods, as They would on a night when a complete moon fills the jungle with soft light. Just as They had many times before. On such a night They launch five canoes with five Fathers in each canoe. They paddle in cadence to the rhythm of a drum made of monkey skin stretched tight across a hollowed log…beat upon in ponderous succession with the dominant of the two femurs of the last of the Others. The bone was salvaged from what the Gods had left after satisfying themselves, those many generations ago. Following the Fathers are five canoes with the five strongest young men, chosen by combat, towing a beflowered raft carrying five virginal daughters, singing and casting hibiscus blossoms upon the waters as a single canoe follows. In that single canoe the Appeaser paddles alone. She sings a bright and cheerful song of her happiness at being chosen. Two hundred complete moons have lit the land since the Appeaser entered this world screaming. Her Mother screamed in accompaniment that night. Again she will scream in accompaniment. Her Father will beat the drum until the Gods finish, fully appeased; and We are witness to all this but again, for We are Mana-Hoka…The Watcher. Watch with Us this night.
The smoke from the torches mingles with the smoke of the middle fire of the village as the Bright One dives into the sea beyond the reach of land. The day birds become silent as the night birds take their stations and fill the jungle with music to accompany the young girls as they gather, ready to embark on the raft. The smell of roasting wild pig and roots and berries fight the smell of torches for prominence in the nostrils. The village leader, followed by his son, his daughter, and his wife, approach the hut of the Appeaser. The Appeaser’s Father meets the leader and each places his dominant hand at arm’s length on the other’s shoulder in silent acknowledgment. The Son carries a woven reed mat in his arms. This he passes to his Mother who in turn passes it to her husband. The Leader looks into the darkening sky and sings a monotone at the top of his lungs, summoning the entire village, yes and even the Gods themselves to partake in this Appeasement. He hands the mat to the Father who takes it with an uncamouflaged pride and sings the same song, yet with a small crack in his voice. He lays the mat on the ground at the entrance to his family’s dwelling. On the mat is a black jaguar fur pelt folded into three corners. The Father unfolds the pelt and removes the decorated femur bone and raises it high into the air as the voices of the village rejoice in celebration. With the club held high the Father takes the pelt with his free hand and spreads it out on the mat at his dwelling’s opening, and he softly straightens out the wrinkles. The village falls silent. Even the night birds become reverent. He then speaks softly…kindly to his daughter, who has exited the dwelling wearing a flowered wreath on her head and a simple necklace about her neck from which hangs a single large ivory tooth. She stands on the black fur glowing in the fire light wearing nothing else, save a few flower petals clinging to her skin that has been oiled by her five virginal attendants. The Daughter of the village leader then approaches the Appeaser with another, smaller folded mat, bows reverently and presents it to her. It is accepted graciously. She unfolds the mat to find a silver metal blade that was taken from the leader of the Others so long ago. Brown stains are yet evident on the blade and handle. The same song her Father, and the Leader before him, have sung sounds different now coming from the young girl’s lips. There is a semblance of joy and the villagers are quick to take in this joy. She finishes her song and there is now silence for a long moment. The Appeaser’s Father says to her:
“The Gods love a fighter. Show them how much you love them. Fight with all your being.”
“Yes, Father, I shall.” As she kisses him goodbye she fingers the scar on her side that the Gods had given her as a child. It had hurt, then…and she had been afraid… Then. “I know pain and I am not afraid of it.” As she walks to her canoe she sings softly to herself.
The Supermoon has made the torches all but unnecessary as the procession silently moves to the beat of the drum through the dark, still waters of the lagoon. Blue-white and yellow-white reflections conflict as the ripples of the canoes and raft are ominously followed a short distance back by another, softer set of ripples. The mingling sounds of night birds and night creatures and children’s voices softly infiltrate the jungle.
We, Mana-Hoka have seen this before, many times. Watch with Us.
A small part of the jungle that is land surrounded by lagoon lays in front of the Appeaser as she paddles her lone canoe apart from the procession. She has long been determined to show the Gods she fears them not. The Gods came for her once long ago and she was afraid then, and she threw a blazing stick from the village fire at them and the Gods retreated, leaving her with a scar to remind her. She repeatedly rubs the scar now…and the grip of the metal blade at the same time. The water is cool about her ankles as she steps ashore and pushes her canoe adrift behind her. Her father and friends watch as she takes dry ground and sings her song again; this time with an air of defiance. The Gods will be pleased with this one. She remembers her Father’s words, ‘The Gods love a fighter.’ To herself she says ‘Bring it.’ The sound of the lagoon surface being slapped silences the night beings for a moment. The Gods have arrived. Aloud this time she says it again…’BRING IT!’
A subtle movement of the shadows to her right has tried to steal her attention but she is wise to them. They are hunters, They know the ways, They exist by being aware. She has learned. She is a fighter.
Slowly she moves toward the sound and the creeping shadow, not away from it. A large dark grey-green shape suddenly exits the water from the other direction, the left, where she would have been had she fallen for their ruse and shied away from the moving shadow. A sound of scurry from the right, a bellowing from the left, a thrashing of vegetation and water splashing in-between and the girl leaps into the water and makes loud noises and slaps the water with her hands and then quickly runs out of the water towards the right without making any more noise. The reeds protruding from the water in that direction start to move violently as a high pitched hissing and clicking ensue. A movement in front of her in the shallows belie it being merely a shadow and the girl flings herself into the mix of vegetation and water, thrashing to the left and right in determination to mark this God even as they had done to her when she was but a child. A shrill birdlike sound comes out of the reeds as the water churns black and moon-white and then a pale yellow that she had seen years before. She had seen that same pale yellowish grey on its underside when it turned to escape the burning stick she had thrown at it. It had made that same shrill noise then, a scream she thought, when the fire hit it. More thrashing sounds come from behind her and she jumps over the squirming mass in front of her and feels her ankle being raked by something rough. Something like tree bark. Like the limbs of the trees she has often climbed near her village. This tree, however is moving. It is moving quickly. It is definitely a tree. A living tree with short limbs having claws and a crotch where two limbs surely had grown from the huge trunk and broken away. The crotch is filled with gleaming white teeth and the trunk is twisting and splashing water at her as it tries to climb over another tree that is using it’s own tooth filled crotch to snap at the larger one’s tail. The Gods are fighting. The Gods are fighting over HER! Her Father was right, the Gods do love a fighter! The movement at her feet suddenly stops and the girl reaches into the water and grabs the smallest of the Gods by one leg and hauls it up partway out of the water. It is bloody and heavy. She drops it back into the water and dives with a fury into the mass of twisting grey-greenish tree-bark, and bright white teeth, and pale-yellow underside still fighting among themselves behind her. A crotchful of teeth snaps toward her head and meets instead with the front of her canoe which has drifted back toward them in the soft evening breeze. Splinters of wood hit the water around her. She keeps screaming ‘BRING IT’ as the Gods writhe about her, slapping the ground and water with their long tails and hissing and bellowing. She sweeps her blade back and forth as she screams and the water goes black and red and sand and dirt is torn from the ooze beneath the water’s edge as she wrestles her Gods. At one point the moonlight shines brightly on an expanse of pale yellow long enough for the Appeaser to see the evidence of an old wound… a long burn has healed and left it’s mark. She is able to prick it well enough mid-scar to bring red before the gyrations of the fighters move that spot away. She is able to see that this is the largest of the three Gods, if indeed Gods are what these things are. She still screams, covered in mud and moss and the blood of these creatures and the blood of her own as the two that can still move slide silently back into the water and leave receding wakes in the moonlit lagoon waters.
The Appeaser’s Mother had been screaming along with the other village women since the floating procession left the village and continued even until the drumming had abruptly stopped. She collapsed then in front of her hut and was carried inside and laid upon a mat of woven reeds and soft furs. A murmur continued outside the opening as villagers uttered prayers of praise and appreciation onto the Gods. The festive pig had been the last of the villager’s stock. The vegetables and berries and roots were all that They were able to scrounge during the week before the Appeasement. The food that remained would be sufficient for only a few days more unless the Gods intervene.
The drum is still. Small ripples radiate out from the flotilla. The villagers do not move. The Leader finally turns his head enough to face the Appeaser’s Father full on. He and the rest had watched as the moonlight allowed witness to a deadly contest being waged in front of them. The shock and dismay on the leader’s face is mirrored by the Father. ‘What now’ is the silent question. ‘Are we to be cursed…will we starve?’ All They remain motionless.
The Appeaser now feels the chill in her ankles work it’s way up through her body that is covered only by a thin coating of oily, bloody, muddy, muck. Her dominant leg has a bloodless gash where white flesh shows in the dim light. She feels a tiny trickle of blood migrate down her forehead, past her nose and into the parting of her lips. She can taste the salt of her own blood and suddenly realizes that she is alive. Alive! She looks at her hand that still holds the blade. It starts to shake uncontrollably. She realizes that she is still uncovered. She feels shame but for a moment and that is immediately replaced with anger. ‘Yes, I am NAKED! Look at me you Gods! I am but a small being and I have VANQUISHED you!’ She walks determinedly into the small jungle of the land-in-water in search of cover and food. Fighting the Gods has made her hungry.
We, Mana-Hoka, have watched as the creatures before us became They. Mana-Hoka has watched as the Others came and subjugated They and We watched as They revolted and fed the Others to the Gods. Mana-Hoka has watched it all but never would predict that They would defeat the Gods.
We see now the Appeaser sleeps in a clearing covered by soft lichen. There is safe water near. Roots and berries abound. Game beasts are abundant. We know the girl will take the dead God to her village and tell all They of a place replete with good food, and They will roast the dead God and pilgrim to the land-in-water and will no longer make Appeasement.
We know that someday They will climb all the way to the very top of Mana-Hoka, and then, They will see the world in front of them.
"Breakfast" Counter capped with cups and cakes. Coffee. Nested bowls. Hot buttered rolls. Toffee. Busy hands and frying pans. Spoons. Knives, napkins, morning news. Cartoons. Daily dose of patent pills. Drugs. Loving kiss to thwart all ills. Hugs. ** "Doctor's Office" O – N – C – O ... I adjust my glasses. Then I adjust my mask. The reason I had to adjust my glasses in the first place. O-N-C-... My glasses fog up. I don't know why I read it. Over and over. And over. Maybe it's dementia. Like DiCaprio in that movie about Hughes. I know how to spell it. I've read it a hundred times. We've been here a hundred times. Since she found the lump. O-N-C-O-L... There I go again. Block letters. Black letters. Bleak letters. ONCOLOGY. A hundred times. ONCOLOGY. The Doctor walks toward me, smiling. She is walking with him, smiling. She stops to ring the bell. Cured. For now. Hugs. Tears. ** "My Song of Her" Soft and sure, with shaking hands And rubber bands, She secures my ponytail, Then lacquers down the errant strands. Once perfect nails Display the rails Pandemic neglect And distancing hails. The warmth of her hand lying soft on my shoulder Combines with her kiss to make my heart smolder. I stand, take her hand, see the beauty inside, Wrap my old arms around, and lovingly hold her. Shared songs and arts And classic old cars, In separate memories Combine in our hearts. Two souls for centuries searched in a blur Wistfully waiting for US to occur, 'Till one wondrous night the dance brought romance. Now happily my heart sings my song of her. ** "Waiting" He followed her out the front door to the porch, Sat down on the steps by the rail. From over her shoulder “Now be a good boy!” She always says that, never fail. She skipped as she hurried to board the school bus. “Back soon, I love you, bye bye.” He stood up to watch as she sat in her seat. The bus disappeared from his eyes. Sometimes he goes in the house for a drink, But mostly he'll just sit and wait, In his favorite place, in the shade on a step To the porch, keeping his eyes on the gate. Sometimes he walks from the porch to the tree Where a swing hangs by chains from a limb. Then shakes his head and turns back around And goes back to the porch once again. People passing see him asleep. “He's dreaming of life on a farm” They quietly tell themselves, with a smile. He waits there, cool weather or warm. He's known to move quickly to sentry his post As guard of the garden and lawn. No rabbit or squirrel or stray cat comes near, No matter how many logs sawn. He's still a young pup in his day dreams. He runs circles around all the best. But deep in his heart he's coming to know He's a bit slower now than the rest. He circuits the house two or three times a day Just to see what there is there to see. But he's always out front when it's time for the bus. That's where she knows that he'll always be. Just an old dog, sitting there waiting For the bus and a young girl named Rose. She runs up to him...wipes the hair from his eyes... Then gives him a kiss on the nose. “Have you behaved yourself, young man?” The same question every day. “Yes, I have, my sweet little one.” “I love you Grandpa.” She tells him and then skips away. ** "Who Are We?" Perhaps I am a fire ant child. One of thousands, in a red clay hill learning To carry a bread crumb ten times my weight, Or deliver a painful bite burning. I might be a kitten wet dropped in the rain. Or a Labrador too young to stand. My eyes not yet open to witness whose warmth I feel in a soft loving hand. I could be a fledgling with feathers so new They have never felt the lift of air; Or the fresh bent white seedling searching for sun In a morning field flat, brown, and otherwise bare. I am surely not yesterday's forgotten promise. A purpose resides in my struggle and strife. Every new moment, new hour, new spring We sing “We are here! We are now! We are Life!” ** "Still" I was. I ran and romped, raced and rebelled. Where are they? Gone. Some far away. Some forever. Perhaps I seem to frown, For I'm often asked “Where are you?” I am then. I was. I am. Slower. Surer, I think. Or not. No matter. I walk and whistle, whittle and wonder. They visit. I smile and speak with them sometimes. We are again. They don’t stay long. Earlier now I wake and retire. My pain and pride dance hand in hand. I feel. I am. Will I be? Will those that were Meet those to come? Will they humor me and listen As I speak with those not here? Will my praise and advice and admonishments linger? Will I laugh and love as I lounge through life? Will I continue? Will I be remembered? When I become one of those before Will I come to visit those who remain? Will my mistakes outweigh the good; As with Caesar's? No matter. I am! Still. ** "I Toad You So" Once there were two roads That crossed near where two toads Lived in a tall house. One day these two toads Made use of the two roads To visit a small mouse. They passed by a golf course Where a frog and an old horse Conversed by a picturesque pond. The horse took a drink And the frog said “I think, Of this wondrous water, I'm fond.” Farther on, down the lane, Grew a field of sugar cane Soaking up sun near a creek. One toad told the other “I'm telling you, my Brother, I have heard Mouse of this sugar stuff speak.” “He likes to fill his cheeks and chew And sure as flies buzz, I would, too, If only I had teeth.” Tired, the two toads stopped to rest And discuss which type was best, Of toadstools they could sit beneath. “I like the kind that's round and flat.” Said the spotted toad so fat. “Right next to an anthill.” The skinny toad said “So do I, Or any kind of bugs that fly, So I could catch my fill.” Just then Mouse came running past. “Make yourselves real scarce real fast.” Right on his tail a big grey cat. “He won't eat us, we'd make him sick.” One of the toads told Mouse real quick. Later the cat wished he'd known that.
Jon D. Marsh was born and reared in Louisville, Kentucky. He served in the United States Air Force as an air traffic controller, and since the early seventies has attended several institutions of higher learning and endeavored as a carpenter, journalist, instructor, special inspector, recurring student and reluctant retiree. He has been published in a score of periodicals including The FERN CREEK NEIGHBOR, BANDIT, SIROCCO, and THE DIRECTOR. Twice he has been featured online at The Fictional Cafe and has won back to back awards in the Dolores Randolph Capitan competition for Excellence in Creative Writing. He lives with his wife Lissa in southwest Georgia where he spends his time as a woodsmith/wordsmith.