CHAPTER TEN – THE MAGIC DUST

3 Nov

   A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Aurora and Melvin are offered food by Juju, and Melvin becomes quite greedy.

The young native was on the point of collapsing to the ground when Aurora finished her kiss, but Melvin’s face was black as thunder.

What do you think you’re doing?” he snapped at her, “have you any idea how many diseases lurk in that mouth you seem to want to suck at? Don’t you know that these filthy scum are on a different evolutionary road to us and that any microbe clinging to the spittle dribbling down the filthy youth’s face might mean sickness or worse to us?”

Don’t be so reactionary!” she snapped back, and she stormed over the where Umbaga and Lulu were standing side by side. “Do you have a cup of tea?” she asked with a sudden flash of a smile. And without a word or syllable of invitation she walked into the cave that the two called home. She took it in with a single sweep of her eyes – the soft bed where Idju lay, still sleeping the sleep of the young and righteous, the simple furniture designed more for utility than comfort and mostly slabs of stone ” seats (you couldn’t call them chairs), a table with crude stone and wooden platters on it, a corner where spare clothing (it was summer, so that would be for the winter, she decided) was piled neatly, and another corner, more of a shallow alcove really, where a stone table held, amongst other things, a crude comb crafted from bone.

How homely,” she sighed, and smiled at the two astounded cave-dwellers. “The inside of our spaceship – I’ll have to show you round some time – might look more modern than this lovely little place, but it’s nowhere near as welcoming…”

Melvin, by then, had stormed in after her, his face a mask of anger. He looked around himself scornfully.

There are more germs crawling in the filth in here than your body would normally expect to encounter in a life-time,” he grated. “Now pull yourself together and come back to the ship before I take off without you!”

It looks perfectly clean to me,” replied Aurora, and she flashed one of her smiles at him. Irrelevantly, Umbaga found himself wondering how old she was because her face was free of any of the blemishes men and women usually managed to contract almost before they entered puberty. He himself had a scar that ran (under the rash of his beard, which had never grown properly even though he was already well-nigh fourteen summers old) for a good finger’s length. By the time they had reached a steady middle age (twenty-odd summers) most of his friends and kin, both male and female, were scarred and pocked, which all added to their characters.

While he was thinking such things, comparing the familiar with the wildly unfamiliar, Aurora had squared up to her man, and the look she gave him, decided Umbaga, could have melted the deepest snows of winter in a trice.

We are not on our own planet, we are with natives who have yet to attain what you might like to call a civilised state and it behoves us to not only accept them for what they are but admire what we find admirable, and this cave, clean and tidy as it is, is admirable,” she said firmly.

You’re as mad as they are!” grated Melvin.

If you think that I’d beg you to remember which of the two of us is senior,” replied Aurora, “and if you’ve forgotten let me remind you: it isn’t you!”

It was down to Juju to smooth matters, or so she understood. Like her man she was what later generations would account young, a child herself, even, but in a time when life-expectancy was a short affair girls as young as ten summers were looked on as adult. She, herself, was fourteen summers old and in her prime.

You must eat with us,” she said, simply, and within what seemed no time at all she had produced strips of sun-dried meat (most likely venison, but in her time the various meats they ate were merely referred to, generically, as meat), some green leaves and a small dish of dust-like powder that looked not unlike pepper.

Smiling, she helped herself to a single strip, sprinkled a tiny amount of the dust on it, which she rubbed well in, and, wrapping it between two green leaves, started nibbling at it.

See, Melvin, our new friends have invited us to eat,” smiled Aurora, and she imitated her hostess by selecting a strip of meat, dusting it and taking two small leaves.

The meat didn’t taste as bad as it looked, though it was tough and needed a great deal of chewing. She swallowed some, and took a second nibble.

Come on, Melvin, take a bite,” she ordered, and he glowered at her.

I don’t fancy getting poisoned!” he retorted, “you’ve no idea what you’re eating!”

It’s meat,” she told him, “and it’s not bad. These people don’t look half-starved, do they? And there’s some tasty herbal powder to add flavour, not unlike the pepper we sprinkle on our food. Now, you like that, don’t you ” so be a good fellow and try to eat one of these tasty strips.”

Melvin knew that he had to comply. Much as he liked to believe the opposite, in actual fact, as Aurora had intimated, she was the senior of the two of them, both in years and station.

Before they had set out, with dozens of others, all going to different sectors of the Galaxy in search of a planet that might have seen the origins of mankind many millennia earlier, she had been fast-tracked to a senior rank on account of her successes at the Galactic University, an institution at which only the very brightest were educated. He hadn’t made the grade, largely because of the many distractions that flesh is heir to, especially if it’s male, and so the consequence was, when this expedition was manned, she was his superior.

So he did as he was told and selected the smallest strip of meat and contrived the rub the maximum amount of the fine peppery dust into it.

Umbaga looked on, dumbfounded and Juju smiled secretly to herself.

Be careful!” warned Aurora, but too late. Melvin stuffed his entire (but small) strip of meat into his mouth and proceeded with vastly exaggerated mouth motions to chew on what he saw as an unpleasant and possibly toxic repast.

The cave entrance still had a small group of Umbaga’s neighbours looking on, and they gasped when they saw the stranger dip his hand back into the bowl of powder and take some more of what was obviously intended to be used sparingly. To him, the meat was unpleasant but the dust that the natives obviously used to enhance the flavour, was quite pleasant and he knew how to be greedy.

The giant green bird that stood next to the dissolute Umbaga might have warned him, but it didn’t, as neither did the equally huge and rainbow-coloured elephant sitting on Aurora’s shoulder. But both creatures were there, as solid as flesh and monsters can be, and he sat on the earthen floor, legs crossed, every bit like the toddler that he hadn’t been for decades, because it crossed his mind that he was on the verge of falling down.

I see you, coochy-choo,” he rumbled to Aurora, and his voice, to himself, seemed to come from a mile or more away.

Aurora looked dumbfounded, especially when the magnificent multi-coloured butterfly landed heavily on her head and started tapping it with a very flexible beak. Then she opened her mouth and almost made sense when she seemed to say, “there you are my precious, down the road, turn right and bing-a-bang-boo!”

At least that’s what he heard.

What she really said was, “Melvin, you’re a dead loss and greedy. Come on ” let’s get you back to our ship before you upset anyone else, you silly man!”

Then she grabbed him by one shoulder and jerked him to his feet, displaying considerable strength, which made Umbaga respect her more than he had before. He had always admired strength in women. He knew that they were more powerful than himself in the brain department, and when that was combined with almost manly strength, to him it was awesome.

Meanwhile, Melvin was showing every sign of being in the grips of a nightmare. Umbaga knew it was the dust he’d put on his meat in excessive quantities, derived from the mushrooms which Juju had dried under the sun and pounded into dust. It greatly aided the taste of meat that may have otherwise been either bland or borderline unpleasant and it had the additional benefit of destroying any of the harmful bacteria that may have been establishing the odd colony in its fibres.

I’m sorry, my dear, you can’t take some people anywhere,Aurora murmured to Juju, and pushed a nightmare-raging Melvin out of the cave and towards their fairly distant stranded space-ship.

Just you wait until you sober up!” she hissed at him, “I’ll see you demoted to the lowest rank, just you see if I don’t”

Coochy-coo,” gabbled Melvin, and he cackled hysterically, striking terror into the heart of Old Man Tiger who lurked not so far off.

© Peter Rogerson 25.10.16

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