26 October 2019 / Fiction Out of the Dark Continent: Chapter 3 Our first night in the jungle fell upon us with a blanket of stultifying humidity and mist, wreathing the cloistering trees around us in clouds of moisture. The constantly damp vegetation reeked of rot and the death caused by the absence of sunlight to penetrate the thick canopy over our heads. I remember we pitched camp in a small hollow in which the vegetation had been flattened by some herd of beasts, beasts which no sound or sign revealed, for the forest was still silent. Barton told us how to pitch our tents so as to prevent any incursions from the curious wildlife, if such things came down from the branches in the night. Under his strict instructions, no fire was lit, but a few fluorescent lights were set in front of our circle of tents in the middle of our little camp. I threw down my bag, neglecting to unpack my tent like the others, for I merely longed for sleep. Vernon and Partridge bunked in one tent together, in keeping with expectation. Danielson and Brodeur took another – poor lad drew the short straw–; Barton and his assistant slept in the final of the three. I unrolled my sleeping pallet and threw it down next to the fluorescent lights, hung my mosquito net from a small collapsible poll and hid myself for the night."Well, since you deem a tent unnecessary, shall you take first watch?" Barton asked, looking off into the mists surrounding us with some strange smile on his face, as if all of his life he had wanted to be in a dark, damp, misty jungle hunting for a primate. "Very well," I acquiesced resignedly. "Place the radio there," Barton motioned to his assistant to place the box next to my mosquito net, within reach and within sight should any transmission come to us by night from UNAMIR or the French-Belgian compound. I unpacked a few MRE's, dry crackers with cured beef, combined with a strange sauce that claimed the title of "ketchup." We ate in silence, Vernon writing busily in his little notepad, Partridge looking over his shoulder curiously to see how the narrative portrayed her and her ample female endowments; Barton poured over a map. Brodeur sat there pensively, looking as if he wished to smoke – a desire which I understood, but which had been strictly forbidden on entering the jungle: "We need no more forest fires here," Barton had summarized. I remember little from that night, but I remember this:"An artistic vision soothes the senses, allowing the absurdity of abundant eons to form itself into meaning, even if such a meaning garb itself in the shining lights of fanciful illusion."Doubtless the recollection proceeded to me from some academic tome of philosophy, specifically the field of aesthetics, but I knew not why at that time, for my head felt heavy on my shoulders, while my eyes longed to shut themselves. The others retired to their tents, and I sat up in the clearing alone, hidden in the coarse folds of my mosquito net. Like a tolling bell my spirit slipped into sleep and, as I write these few words to make sense of it all, I can only hope that what came to me was dream. A voice, like the resonant tones of an old English judge in a wooden study, sitting by a roaring fire; such rang in my ears as I slept. Yet, it was somehow muffled by static and electricity, as if it came from the other side of some great chasm between us. I can only assume that such a call came from my own subconscious, or was it the unconscious? I lose track of the musings of these gaggle of new-century priests known as psychologists! The wind began to pick up that night, breaking the silence of our camp, whistling through the small holes in the forest that covered our upward view. I lay there for some time, supposedly "on watch," but no other explanation than sleep explains what I saw, for my medicine had been taken in keeping with procedure: no hallucinatory experience could have darkened my view. It began – in my dream, that is – with an increase in the rustling in the branches overhead, a rustling which began to move every tree, causing me to look up through the blurs of my mosquito net, finding my line of sight blocked by the fluorescent lights of our camp. The buzzing of those same lights began to pick up in frequency, rising in intensity, till a few flickered, eventually causing them all to blink off entirely, enshrouding our camp in utter darkness, shadows on shadows, the only movement being the shadows of the trees against the darker, deeper shadow of the night. I felt the frigidness of the blood in my veins, like the first sight of Hamlet viewing his father's ghost, for in the center of our camp, around a small fire, stood half-a-dozen virginal maidens, faces pure, eyes closed, smiles fixed on their faces eternally, as if in the saintly sleep of the blessed. I sat behind my net, scarcely daring to breathe or blink. I audibly gasped as they moved as one, in some sort of elaborate dance, their movements primal and, at first, slow, then picking up in speed, as if I were viewing the opening act of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. For some minutes this continued, their movements as silent as the tomb, increasing in contortion, as I felt my tongue transfixed to the top of my throat, unable to call out for assistance or eyes more sane than my own. At last, one lady lifted her hand, beckoned to me, and I rose to join her as if by divine command. Their dance continued, until I took the hand of the maiden, and felt my insides explode with horror, as if on fire, for in one maiden's hand was a knife, long, luminescent and serrated. We held hands in that circle for some time, and the maidens made not a move or a sound. On taking the lass's hand, the dance instantly ceased. One maiden moved suddenly towards the lass with the knife; the others surrounded her and gripped her arms, legs, and sides. What I saw next could only have been a vision within a vision. I challenge the Freudian folk to make sense of this little number!Blood everywhere – covering the floor of a dark hallway – the rising and falling of a knife – the thrashing of white limbs – the cries for mercy – symbols painted in blood on a white wall – ...the reverberating voice of some old British actor. Now the maidens danced once, their frenzied movements rising and falling, their shadows cast on the forest around us, their hands covered with blood, their faces painted in gore. Finally, as one, they clasped hands in a circle, opened their eyes, and nearly struck me blind, for their eyes were so beautiful that I should have known every single one of them. I should have known them; indeed, I felt as if I remembered these women. Last I remember, I was on the jungle floor, covered in my mosquito net, the pole having collapsed to one side, and all I heard was the buzzing of the fluorescent lights – along with the hollow static of the radio. A few words came back to me, spoken in the strong English tones of that judge in the study: "Are you wrath's child?" Those words seemed so dark, but brought a strange sense of comfort, as if they were spoken by a king that meant me no harm. Barton emerged from his tent and took over the watch; I fell asleep sweetly. "What's left of the imprint seems to be of definite bipedal persuasion," Barton said with a practiced scientific disinterest, as he knelt on the narrow tribal path of tightly packed soil. "Human?"Barton smiled, "Soon that definition may have to change, Brennan, dear.""Gentlemen, please allow me to get a good view of the specimen!" Vernon loudly proclaimed shouldering between us, viewing the imprint with his magnifying glass. The interest of them all in this slight dip in the dirt still alludes my understanding, for without Barton, none could tell that this was a footprint, and not the impression of some branch fallen from above us. We spent most of that morning traveling through jungle of a thickness that defied description, attempting to stay cool with occasional sips from canteens. We stopped a minute around this hole in the dirt, dropped our packs gratefully, and sat in a slightly-too-close-for-comfort huddle around the print. Partridge's lily-white complexion now bore the sheen of sweat, the smudge of earth, and a sensual glow of red – from the intensity of the equatorial sun, no doubt. Vernon, with the grizzle of an old sailor, had lost interest in his assistant for most of the day, now fully engrossed in the work at hand."Partridge, dear, need you a slight respite?" I said, offering the lady a piece of a chocolate bar. She looked at it for a moment but accepted it happily. Vernon took no notice. So goes the Species.Barton looked up at the two of us for a moment with a frown – at the waste of food, no doubt."Be gentle with the weaker sex, dear Mr. Barton," "Aye, as long as you maintain gentleness with the supply of food and water.""How much longer must we trudge through this thick undergrowth?" Danielson asked, removing his hat and pouring some water over his Apollonian head to cool himself."Damn it, lad, save your water! You never know when it will be necessary for more than your comfort! More, must you leave the direction of your...team...to me alone?" Barton said with barely disguised anger."This Englishman is better in a cushioned study than in the field," Brodeur said, humorously, thinking to lighten the moment. I dreamt in a flash of the joy of hanging him from a tree."Gentlemen, I assure you, my associates will soon enough take on war-time virtue and tighten their belts – won't you, friends?"Danielson slicked back his black hair in a handsome flourish and nodded. Vernon continued writing in his notepad – the oaf – while Partridge finished her chocolate and smiled demurely letting fall a sweet word of assent. Doubtless the classroom she left had no lack of endless vapid babble on the intricacies of sexual selection and the effect of environment on animalic function, I thought with an inner laugh. "To answer your question, Mr. Danielson, we will be out of this thicket before a proper tea-time, where we will see our first view of the lovely valley, through which flows the rushing waters of the white Nile." I intoned placatingly. "Is it true that its source remains unknown?" Vernon finally broke his focused silence, no doubt wanting a juicy detail to spice up his narrative.Barton answered, "At present, it depends upon whom you ask – opinions vary– In short, yes, the source is unknown. Gather 'round behind me; this last stretch is thicker than previous, requiring the use of a machete!" He drew the machete from his long duffel bag and took the point of the party.Aside from the silence, the light thwack-thwack of his machete was the only thing worth hearing, excluding, of course, the ragged breaths of the company, with the exception of Barton's assistant who seemed very fit. We traveled up a rise in the ground slowly making our way to the overlook through which the river-valley would finally show itself. The lack of wildlife began to truly trouble me, and I found myself surprised that Barton had failed to mention such – doubtless, he also felt suspense at the dearth of life before us and behind us. I tightened my pack, gripped both hiking-sticks tighter, and followed closely behind Barton. The blade glinted in the forlorn beams of light that occasionally made it to earth through the dark canopy overhead. I put one foot in front of the other and felt a strange trance overcoming my limbs as I watched it cross back and forth across my vision. I remembered the strange flashes of red and fluorescent light from the previous night's dream, and let the memory of those colors wash over my thoughts like the pourings of a bucket of paint on an impressionist's canvas. After another hour, I felt my limbs screaming their exhaustion, and the coming dryness of dehydration. With salvation in its hand, the horizon broke, revealing the White Nile valley coursing through the Nyungwe below us, like a blue vein of blood carving through the arteries of cliffs, mountains, and greenery surrounding it. Either Brodeur or myself exclaimed with joy at the lovely sight before us. Barton allowed us to halt for a time while we recovered our breath for the descent to the river and the suspension bridge. This took some time, for the air was surprisingly thin, as if we were come to an alpine jungle. It was their that we heard it for the first time: the cry of the Creature!At first it echoed along the far end of the valley, some miles away, but then it reverberated from cliff-face to cliff-face in long ululating tones, like the cry of a seagull, but more mournful, deeper and darker still. We heard it as if it flew from a distant memory, a memory of a place in which we all once dwelt long ago, in jungles and chasms far away in the mists of time, where the orchids bloomed in long sheets of pure white, without stain or blemish. The members of our party froze in place where they stood, rooted to the ground in a peculiar mixture of delight, apprehension, and something nameless, something like wonderment or awe. "There she blows, Barton! From the direction in which the Nile flows! We couldn't ask for an easier quarry.""Aye, there she is, indeed, but we must meet with Mbunte before nightfall." I looked at the other members of the party for signs of dissent to this lack of an adventuresome spirit, but found none. Brodeur only seemed somewhat taken aback by Barton's words. I knew I could not rely on the cowardly Frenchman to say a word in truth, so I rose to the occasion:"Barton, the river flows in the direction of that primate call! Doubtless, it has made its nest in the branches of some great tree near to the water's edge. Let us make ourselves rafts and follow it to its source!""More, I appreciate your intrepid nature, but the jungle holds secrets that only a native such as Mbunte can assist us in circumventing. I dare not proceed in that direction without guides.""What in bloody hell has all of you so frightened? It is a beast!""Brennan, it is no mere beast...this Creature has spooked every tribe in a 100 mile radius. They do not believe it to be a beast, but some sort of tribal deity. This is due to the Creature's purported intelligence. We know not what we face as of yet, so I plead caution!"Danielson, Vernon, and Partridge cast their gazes to the ground, not daring to make eye-contact with me as I sought for some ally in this argument. "It is precisely because we know not what we face that I argue for the gathering of more data. If not in the native runs and grounds of the Creature, where else shall we find it? With the assistance of some cowardly native? I'm deeply disappointed at this affront to science and progress. Must I strive forward alone?"That threat raised a concerned look from Danielson, and roused Vernon enough to get him to respond:"Dr. More, doubtless the guide, Mbunte, will hold an even more detailed knowledge of the Creature and its tracts..."I silenced him with a look. "Vernon, you may need to edit this portion out of your novel; it reeks of fear and decadence."With that I turned and strode off into a wild jungle alone, at least, so I thought at the time. For Brodeur accompanied me. I only did what I believed Livingstone would have done in his days of great adventure. He was a man of true virtue and strength, notwithstanding the tragedies he witnessed: the slave-drivers, the slaughter of nearly a whole village, the fever induced delirium and slow painful death of his young bride. That, I knew with every part of my human soul, was the only means through which progress could occur: to be willing to sacrifice anything to the mission at hand. My thoughts consumed me for some time as I trudged down the high elevation, creating artificial switchbacks of my own to ease the strain on my shins and knees. The jungle's silence was immensely augmented by the loneliness of that moment, with only Brodeur's hot breath on my neck in the rearguard. I knew not why he chose to accompany me, for doubtless my conduct toward him was less than welcoming. Then I had a moment of realization: he did not want the discovery to be only a British contribution to the pages of history.What a fucking bastard.At last, ahead of us was heard the roar and rush of a thousand voices, the voice of many waters in their forum between the watching cliffs. By sunset, we had lit a fire, crafted a makeshift raft, and sat down to sup on yet another dried meal: dried pork and hard-tack. After our day of travel, it seemed like a feast of kings there on that riverbank, where the rushes hid us roundabout, and the moon finally broke through the canopy, causing that vein of blue to glint silver and bright in the night. I comforted myself from any guilt with the knowledge that I had left enough of the supplies for the others and only brought with me a portion for Brodeur and myself. I rehearsed this in my head as the moon rose higher in the sky and my eyes hung heavy with sleep. We fell asleep in a silence that was only broken by the water's flow, and a smell that was sickly sweet, somewhat fetid, wafting to us from the direction of the water's flow. The fading shadows danced in the dark as the fire died to its embers, and my memory returned to the dance of the maidens with their strange ritualistic sacrifice. No meaning readily flew to my mind for this vision, but that night my sleep was peaceful with the knowledge that, if there was going to be any sacrifice, it was only of myself, and possibly Brodeur: all a little cost for a great reward. So goes the Species.