21 Oct

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
” Lost and alone in the pitch black of an unknown forest, Umbaga sees a light…. “

Dusk crept slowly unto Umbaga’s head, together with a throbbing he rarely experienced, and overpowering it all was the need for water.

He had never felt so thirsty, and he needed a drink. And he needed it now. His tongue felt like dry leather, and he hated it.

He looked around and after his thirst his second thought was where am I?

Slowly images of the morning when he had stumbled into the clearing and the taste of the lovely mushrooms returned to him, and he realised that it wasn’t a bunch of flowers that were still in his hand, growing sticky and looking slimy and revolting, but a bunch of long-stalked mushrooms, the very bunch that he’d picked to take to Juju.

He slung them down. They were unfit as a gift for anyone and certainly not his beloved Juju, mother of his daughter and light of his life. What had he been thinking to have gathered such smelly, slimy things for her?

That morning had been a blur. He had stumbled into the clearing and then everything had gone wild. His head had spun with strange, unearthly images and he had felt a strange, not unpleasant, delirium. He couldn’t understand it, but thank goodness he seemed to be back to normal, and the clearing was still all around him with its pretty flowers, now closing as dusk fell, and mushrooms slowly folding their open caps ready for a night’s slumber.

Night! Dark!

What had happened to the day? It had been short of noon when Old Man Tiger had chased him into the Forbidden Territory and now it was getting dark! Had he slept so long? And why?

He must have been ill. That was it. He must have been bitten by one of the nasty bugs that flew around the forest, probably concentrated in huger invisible swarms in the Forbidden Territory, which was probably why it had been forbidden in the first place, and made ill. Now he wasn’t ill, now he was better – but how much time had elapsed since the crazy events he could remember had ended in sleep?

The clearing was becoming darker. Night was falling, and he was too far from home to be able to get back safely in the dark. He knew the ways of the familiar forest, he could probably find his way through that all right, even in the pitch black of a moonless night, but he had to find his way to the pissing stump first, and that would be no easy task.

In which direction did it lie?

He had turned around and moved in a higgledy-piggledy way in a daft and macabre sort of stupid dance under a yellow sky and he had no idea in which direction anything lay. The sun had sunk and the sky was still vaguely light where it had set, but as he stood there pondering even that dim glow faded to black behind clouds that had swept in whilst he had foolishly slept.

And the clouds meant there was no moon.

He sunk to his knees and might have wept, but he was a man and did no such unmanly thing. Instead, he tried to work it out.

But his raging thirst got in the way.

He needed water. Urgently, while he yet lived.

And as if in answer to a prayer to the spirits he hoped lurked somewhere in the unknown a huge, fat drop of rain plopped down onto his face. He had no great supernatural belief – the world was complicated enough with out one, but that drop of rain might have changed things.

It was wet and cold and glorious and it, on its huge, fat own made a little rivulet that trickled down to his chin before dropping off. And glory beyond glories, it was followed by a second, then a third, then far too many to count.

He opened his mouth to the skies and raindrop after raindrop splashed in. And with raindrop after raindrop his raging thirst got sorted out! And the water made little puddles hidden by the darkness, but his groping hands could feel them and scoop life-saving water into his mouth. He became almost delirious with happiness.

By the time had had sated his thirst it was truly dark, so much so that he couldn’t see his hand if he held it in front of his face, and when thirst was just about satisfied he gave thought of getting back home again.

There is no darker more terrifying than that which is not broken by any kind of light. Where shadows cannot exist, where direction is invisible, where nothing is known except the heart beating wildly of the man who is lost in it. And that was Umbaga. Lost in impenetrable black.

Juju, he thought, and he knew what would be going through her head now that he had failed to arrive back home. She would have a mental image of the Old Man Tiger or any one of his equally vicious kin, hungry for meat and pouncing from their invisible hiding places onto her man and tearing him limb from limb, tearing great strips of bloody meat from his howling body before death claimed him and he was finally silent.

He had to get back to the cave. He had to rescue her from her own fears.

He didn’t know anything about love, but he loved her.

So tentatively and some might say foolishly he set off, nervous step by nervous step, in search of the pissing stump.

Two steps, and he fell over. Then a third step, and he tripped again. This would take forever and be more on his knees than on his feet. That thought gave him an idea, and he remained down, hands and knees pressing against the clearing floor, and slowly, painfully, crawled towards where he thought the pissing stump might be. Once there he’d be better equipped to find his way home. It wouldn’t be easy, it was a terribly long way, but at least he knew just about every bough and branch on the way.

He had crawled like that for ages when he knew he had to give up when he came to the little bunch of mushrooms that he’d discarded before he set off. He knew them from the smell they gave off and the slimy feel to them when he touched them, accidentally because they were hidden by the night. He then knew, with despair in his heart, that he had just spent half the night crawling in one insignificant circle.

It was then that he saw the light.

It wasn’t much of a light, barely visible unless you looked the right way between the trees at the far side of the clearing and chanced to get an unobstructed view of it. But it was a light, and any light was better than no light at all.

That light, whatever it was, could guide him. He didn’t know where it could guide him to, but it could guide him to something because, in the black of night, a light cannot exist all on its own unless it’s the glowing fungi in some caves, and this most certainly wasn’t in a cave.

Still on hands and knees he started crawling towards the light. Again, this was no easy matter because as he moved he changed the perspective and it vanished out of sight as an obstacle completely blocked it from his sight. But he got round that one by moving his head left or right until he caught a glimpse of it, and crawling some more. And what was particularly great and good was the way the light grew in size the nearer he got to it.

A great deal of the night had passed and dawn couldn’t be far off by the time he got so close to the light that it didn’t flicker at all, but remained steadfastly glowing, a beacon to lost souls like himself, but the like of which he had never seen before.

But it wasn’t the light that made him pause and almost rise up onto his feet and run away, blindly, into what remained of the night.

It was the voice, and when it spoke it was in a language more harmonious, more musical, than any stone-age voice could ever be, and yet, to Umbaga, it made not one iota of sense.

“It’ll be a blessing when you’ve fixed it,” murmured the voice, “and it’ll be a blessing when we can get off this pesky, filthy little lump of rock, and home.”

And to Umbaga it was the voice of an angel even though there wasn’t a syllable he could make sense of. It was the voice Juju might have had if she hadn’t been such a scruffy woman who lived in a cave.

Because it was a woman’s voice.

© Peter Rogerson 19.10.16


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