The Gift: A novel

My project for A man finds himself alone on a paradisical island where has has no need to work to support himself. His life is spent transforming the island.

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Location: Los Angeles, United States

I am an awkward, stubborn, slightly insane woman who would rather talk Plato than Prada, rather watch Frank Capra than Carrie Bradshaw, and rather listen to Norse myths sung in Icelandic than anything currently on the radio. Yeah. Told you I was weird.


Monday, November 08, 2004

(update: The end of this post marks 10,366 words.)

Chapter 6

"Why do you think we're here?" asked Cobb suddenly. Dranger took a quick sip from his canteen and wiped his mouth. "Here where?""Here. On this island. Why'd we pick this one? Why'd the company send us? Why'd this guy make an island this way? Why any of it?"
"Oh." Dranger screwed the lid back onto his canteen and packed it away again. Standing, he stretched and yawned. "Well, kid, that's too many questions to tackle all at once. Pick one, and we'll figure that one out before moving on to the next one. Deal? And let's walk while we talk. No sense wasting time."
Cobb grinned in acquiesence. "Fair enough. So, what would make a guy do this with an island? You figure he's just some rich S.O.B with too much time and money for his own good? Some crazy artist trying to escape the world?"The older man shook his head, brushing a few loose vines out of his way. "Naw...Look at those rocks that we saw. Too roughly done to be some guy with money. Heck, he'd hire someone to do it for him. Or manufacture it. I doubt that it'd be an artist; no-one out here to see the stuff."
"Alright, Stan, who do you think it is?"
"Well, whoever he is, he's well-educated. I don't know Greek or Latin, but I know what they look like. Seems he speaks both, and some of the phrases he uses sure sound intellectual. So I'm guessing he went to a good school. Which makes it even stranger, because what would a kid like that be doing out here?"
Cobb acknowledged the point, and fell silent for a few paces. Then he spoke up again: "So why are we here?"
"Well, there's always the direct cause: we're here because we're scouting out possible mining locations for the corporation. This island was in our assigned sector. But I have a feeling that that's not what you mean. So," he shifted his backpack slightly, "what you mean is, 'Why have all the various choices of our very different lives lead us to this point where we are walking on an island which has been turned into some sort of obstacle course by God-alone-knows-who.' Right?"The younger man laughed, and nodded. "More or less, yeah."

At that moment, pushing through another web of vines, they came across another pillar. This time, it had no clay coating, nor was it stone. It was a wooden pillar; to be perfectly precise, it was a tree. Its roots were still planted deep in the ground, but the trunk had been carved and polished until it gleamed dully in the afternoon sunlight. It had been given the form of a strong man, reaching toward the mountain peak with hands upraised. In the wooden fingers rested a small clay bowl.The men walked around the statue until they stood almost face to face with it. The face was clean shaven, though by no means young, and the eyes were fixed relentlessly on the peak of the mountain. The figure wore a long robe, and it was on this carved textile that they found the message of the statue:

"Look above to what lies ahead,
Travellers, and kneel in thanks,
For the pilgrim's prayer is heard.
You wait upon the mountain's flanks,
And journey up unto the peak,
So light a fire and give thanks;
For grace given to the weak."
While Dranger read the verses aloud, Cobb's eye fell upon the feet of the statue. A small basket lay there. Peering in, he discovered several pieces of flint. He selected two pieces, then, when Dranger had finished reading, reached up and took the basket from the hands of the statue.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?"Cobb shrugged. "Just what it said to do." He held out the bowl for inspection. "See? Dried leaves. Like potpourri." He brandished the chips of flint."Incense, not potpourri.""Whatever. Anyway..." He struck the flint chips together. The first few sparks went awry, but one finally landed in the bowl. The leaves ignited almost immediately.

A small wisp of smoke curled upwards, smelling of strange spices and dry leaves. Gently, almost reverently, Cobb scooped up the bowl and returned it to the statue's hands. He seemed to extend the strange offering to the mountain itself. The smoke curled upward slowly, hypnotically...
Cobb blew a smoke ring towards the ceiling and tried to look thoughtful. It was enough of a challenge for him under the best of circumstances, and being high was not the best of circumstances for attempting to look thoughtful. But he tried anyway.
"Yeah, I think there's more to the universe than we ever know about. I think we get glimpses of it sometimes though."The girl snuggled closer to him, her head on his chest."Yeah. Something weird happened to me once...I always wondered what caused it.""Yeah?" He took a drag on the small cigarette. "What happened?""Well," she said as she sat up a little straighter, "I was out driving really late one night. I mean, I didn't actually have my license yet, but, like, I'm a good driver, and my parents were off somewhere on a business trio or something like that, and my friend was having a really great party, so I just took the car, it wasn't like she lived far away or anything." She sipped at a can of soda. "So, yeah, I was coming home from this party, and I swear I wasn't drunk or high or anything 'cause I knew I was gonna be driving." She began to grow more solemn. "So on the way home, it was late, about 4 am, and I guess I fell asleep or something. I woke up and the car was headed out of my lane, and there were bright lights ahead." She shuddered at the memory. "I yelled something, 'Help' I think, and all of a sudden, I was back on my side of the road, and the other car was safely past me."
Cobb had grown silent while she was relating the story. He didn't mind talking all mystical: after all, it always interested the girls. But he always got a little uncomfortable when people moved into telling stories about things that had happened to them. That was a little too close to home.
"Aw, c'mon Steph. You just said that you fell asleep at the wheel. Why not just assume that you were still sleepy, and just don't remember pulling the wheel back over?""Don't remember nearly getting hit head on by a car?" She rolled her eyes. "Get real, you jerk. I wouldn't forget a single instant of that." She shook her head. "No, someone heard me asking for help, and helped me." She sipped the soda again. "Maybe I just haven't worked out my karma yet."
"Down! Down! Dow-!" The voice was drowned out by a sudden flood of sound accompanied by an equally sudden flood of debris. The shrapnel pattered across the helmets of the men before burying itself in the ubiquitous mud.
"Hey Dranger!" He turned to see a man, no more than eighteen years old, crawling his way towards him. He extended a hand and pulled him alongside his position. "Yeah?"
"Man, you think we're gonna survive this one?"
"Hope so. Couldn't say for sure."
"Me too. Got a girl back home who'll be mighy upset if I don't come back and marry 'er." He grinned. Dranger laughed and slapped the boy on the back. "Yeah, you better survive this. There aren't enough pretty girls in the world; it'd be a shame to leave one of 'em unmarried."
"Grenade! Grenade!"Reflexively, the men ducked and covered their faces, turning away from the incendiary. The world exploded momentarily into a brilliant flash, which almost instantly turned to smoke. As it cleared, Dranger came up coughing, looking around to see who was injured."Hey man, help me check the other guys." He grabbed the young man by the straps of his pack, hauling him to his feet.
But the boy did not follow. Instead, the moment Dranger released him, he crumpled into a heap in the mud. "No!' Kneeling beside him, Dranger wiped his face clean of the mud that covered it. The boy's eyes were moving slightly as he tried to open them. Finally, he managed to raise his eyelids enough to look up."Hey man..."
"Don't talk, we gotta get you to a medic. Medic!"
"No, Stan. I think it's too late." He held up a hand, drenched in blood.
"Damn it, soldier, you can't die! You gotta go home and marry that pretty girl of yours." He looked around desperately, but no medics were in sight. He whispered a prayer, to whatever powers there might be. "Don't let him die. Not now." He looked back down at the young soldier in his arms. The boy's eyes were open and staring, the inevitable glassiness beginning to appear. "No! No! Not like this! How can you let him die?"
"Hey, soldier!" Dranger looked up. "We got wounded men over here. Help us carry them!"Dranger got to his feet, looked down at the man at his feet, then pulled the boy's dog tag out so it would be easier for the burial crews to find. "Yes sir. Coming, sir." He pulled himself together, and trotted off through the rain.
The rain fell softly all afternoon, making the mud run red. The light of the setting sun made the helmets of the dead gleam dully, though their dog tags shone brightly. One tag, hanging from the neck of a soldier, no older than a boy, caught the light more fully than most, shining like a star in the oncoming darkness. As the sun fell below the horizon, the star flickered and went dark. As the light faded from its surface, a name could have been read on it, if anyone had been around to see:
John Dranger, Private.
The young man sat on the grass in the warm sun, calmly crushing dried leaves into a clay bowl. More leaves, nuts, and grasses lay in the sun behind him, still in the process of drying.
He finished crumbling the leaves and set the bowl aside. He gathered up the nuts from the sunny area behind him, and placed them on a nearby rock. Grabbing a smaller rock, he pounded the nuts until the shells split. Seperating the nut meats from the shells, he placed them back in the sun to continue drying. Turning back to the shells, he reached for another bowl, which contained a rough pestle. He scooped the fragments into it, and began to grind them into powder.
The sun slowly slipped past its zenith and began its long slow descent towards the horizon. The young man set aside the small bowl, and rested, rubbing his hands and wrists occasionally. He knelt in the long grass, and took one of the bowls that lay in his work area. He put a few pinches of the plant matter into it, then took a small twig out of his firepot. He hold the bowl aloft, then set the smoldering twig in the bowl. Soon, a sweet smelling smoke began to rise up from the bowl, twisting and coiling its way into the sky. He watched it, tracing the swirls and eddies within the small cloud.
"I do not know why it has been given to me, but I thank you for this great and terrible gift."
He sighed, and as he drew his next breath, he smelt the soft tang of the smoke brush his senses.
The young man lay in darkness, sprawled on a couch. Even in the dim light of the room, he wore dark glasses. Without warning, the door opened, letting in a ray of afternoon sunlight. The man squawked quietly, and rolled over.
"Hey man. Your eyes still giving you problems?"
He nodded mutely.
"Now you know why you're not supposed to participate in staring contests till four in the morning."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know the doc said it's an infection, and not completely due to that one lapse of judgement."
"Yeah, I know. Just trying to increase the guilt. Helps the healing process, you know.'
Arthur grinned slightly, adjusting the sunglasses. "Yeah, man, whatever you say. Now close that damn door, you're letting out all the dark."
"Sure thing, man." As Arthur relaxed back into the couch, he heard the click of the door shutting, signalling that his roommate had left the room.
He sighed. "I don't know if You're out there. I have no idea who or what You might be. I'm not sure you exist. But I want to know. And I think that if You were who people claim You are, You'd want me to know. So if You're there, I want to know about it. I can't take this uncertainty anymore. I don't know how to live. So show me. And show me in a way that I can't explain." He closed his eyes and shut out the last remnants of the light.
"Dude, wake up, time for dinner."
Arthur's eyes flew open, and fixed upon his roommate. "Oh, right." He blinked. Does it seem dark in here to you?"
"No, but I'm not the dope with the sunglasses either."
He slowly removed the glasses, blinking slightly in the light. "Hey! I can see! They don't hurt anymore!" He blinked a few more times, then laughed wildly. "Ha! My eyes are better!"
"Sweet, man! I guess the stuff the doc gave you finally started working!"
"In 45 minutes? When I had to wear sunglasses in a room with all the lights off before?"
The other man shrugged. "Miracle of modern medicine. Why, you got a better explanation?"

Arthur laughed at the memory. Perhaps it could have been explained away, but he had had no desire to do so. He had asked for a reason to believe, and the reason had been granted. It had worked, and that was all that mattered.
The smoke curled up towards the heavens, curling and twisting as it did so, spreading its sweet smell across the sky.

copyright 2004 Elizabeth J. Weaver


Blogger Linda said...

Hey, 1/5th of the way there! Great job! The incident with the eyes sounded vaguely familiar.

6:25 AM  

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