Zanzibar – Part 37
Zanzibar – Part 37
by Lori Carlson
Montage and another Settler had gathered Nellie and took her away. Ethan hadn’t been happy about that. He wanted to be with her, but Lena insisted that what these people do can’t be observed by outsiders.
“They have strict codes of living dictated to them by the Great Black Head. If they break them, they vanish,” Lena informed Ethan.
“But where do they go? None of our people have talked about banishment from the Settlement.”
Lena shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. They don’t know either. But it has been decades since anyone has vanished. That’s how closely they observe the codes.”
“I doubt our presence here is part of those codes.”
“No, it isn’t. I won’t pretend that the Settlers are comfortable with our presence. They aren’t. In fact, they are scared that by helping us, they could all vanish.”
Ethan looked around the room. Since the Settlers discovered them, they’d brought in cots, bedding, and food. For a people scared of their Deity’s wrath, they were generous.
“They do have a request,” Lena said, breaking Ethan’s thoughts.
“They want us to assume their mannerisms.”
“You aren’t suggesting…”
“Naked and painted.”
Ethan scoffed. “They can’t be serious.”
“I’m afraid they are. It’s our best hope to be hidden from the Great Black Head. In fact, they are preparing a painting ceremony for us now.”
Ethan sighed. He went over to Tang who laid on one of the cots sleeping and shook him. “Get up. We’ve got a ceremony to attend.”
Tang lifted his head and rubbed his eyes. “What? A ceremony?”
Lena began removing her clothes. Tang sat up on the cot and stared at her.
“This must be some ceremony if Lena is shedding her clothes,” he said with a hint of enthusiasm in his voice.
Lena chuckled. “All three of us. So get naked, guys.”
Ethan and Tang removed their trousers and shirts and stood there in their underwear, looking sheepishly at Lena who’d already removed all of her clothes.
“Chop chop, guys. Underwear too. This is no time to be modest,” she said as she walked around gathering all of their clothes into a bundle.
They complied and handed over their underwear. Lena left the room and returned minutes later.
“They’ll burn the clothes so that the Great Black Head won’t see them.”
Ethan had covered himself with a blanket, but Tang laid on the cot again sprawled out, enjoying his nakedness.
“Why do they run around naked?” Tang asked.
“It’s part of their code of living. Apparently clothing restricts their connection to the planet and their Deity,” Lena informed him.
“I kinda like that.”
Ethan wrinkled his brow. “I don’t. It’s barbaric.”
One of the Settlers walked into the room and spoke to Lena via whale song. She spoke back to him. They conversed for several minutes, not once acknowledging Ethan or Tang. Shortly afterwards the Settler left.
“What was that all about?” Ethan asked.
“They are ready for us. Nellie has been healed and will be joining us.”
“Healed? Already? It’s only been five hours. She was near-death.”
“I can’t explain it, Ethan and they won’t explain it.”
Ethan shook his head in disbelief. He dropped the blanket and kicked Tang’s cot. The three left the building and made their way down a twisting dirt road guided by the Settler who’d spoken to Lena. As they turned past a large boulder, there sat Nellie on a large rock looking surprisingly healthy and smiling. Other Settlers had gathered around her and Montage. A long, concave stone table had been assembled with a creamy white substance inside. Their guide directed them to sit on rocks that had been placed around the table.
Montage broke out in song and Lena translated.
“She says, we are gathered here to welcome our newest family. She wants us to stand and be baptised.”
Tang leaned in and whispered to Ethan. “Baptised? What kind of fuckery is this?”
“Just do it,” Ethan said. “If not, we vanish.”
“Vanish? As in go back to the Smoke? I’m all for that.”
“No, as in dead.”
Tang’s eyes widened and he stood up. There was no way he wanted to die. Lena, Ethan and Nellie rose from their seats as well. A tall Settler scooped the white substance into a bucket and walked behind Nellie. He poured the substance over her head in a spiral, covering her from head to toe with it. He returned to the table, dipped the bucket in and poured it over Ethan’s head in the same manner. After two more times, all four stood dripping wet and painted. Their eyes had turned black as well.
Montage sang to them and suddenly they all understood her. “The great sun will seal your baptism. Welcome, welcome to our family.” She walked up to each of them and placed small stones of varied colors into their hands. “These mark your rank among us. Ethan and Nellie are now council members. Lena, you will be a teacher among our young and Tang, you will serve in the guards. Now, let’s dance and feast as the Great Black Head dictates!” She waved her hand and the Settlers broke out in a whale song and dance. The four previous Caverners stood and watched for a while until Settlers grabbed them by their hands and led them out to join in the festivities.
The singing, dancing and feasting lasted well into the evening. No one seemed to pay attention to the change in time except for Ethan. He stood off on his own, looking out at the vast landscape and observed the sun. It dipped behind the mesa and the twin moons rose long before they should have. In fact, the small and large moons appeared too close, like they could collide at any moment. Something was wrong. He couldn’t put a finger on it since this was his first full day in sunlight for decades. As day turned to night, a young Settler ran into the circle of feasting, a panicked look upon his face and his voice wavered as he sung out.
“Bleugh’s gone. He’s vanished!”
Montage calmed the youth with a loving song until his panic ended and he sat down on a rock. “What did he do, child?” she asked him as she squatted down and looked him in the eyes.
“Nothing, Great Mother. We were building a new house, singing and rejoicing in our task. He was there one minute and simply gone the next.”
“Who is this Bleugh?” Ethan asked.
Montage stood and turned to him. “A young orphan we found wandering out in the desert. We took him in just as we have you.”
“Was this recently?”
“Yes, just a few months ago.”
“Has his name always been Bleugh?”
Montage looked puzzled. “No, he had two names when he joined our family. Wildcat and Billy, but he said those names represented his old life and he chose a new name with us. Why does this matter?”
Nellie scratched her head. “Yes, why does this matter?” she asked Ethan.
“Wildcat is part of Hemi’s gang. Haven’t any of you noticed something strange since the Moterhead gang arrived? I mean, even the moons’ cycles and time have changed.”
Nellie placed her hands on her hips and tilted her head at Ethan. “You aren’t suggesting that all of this is their fault.”
“I don’t think so, not deliberately anyway, but maybe something happened to the vortex when they came through.”
Montage began to sing a soothing song. When she finished, she stood in the middle of the gathering and declared, “Then we will put our trust in the Great Black Head that he will resolve all of this.”
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
If you missed a chapter, click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6,Part 7, Part 8, Part 9,Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16,Part 17, Part 18,Part 19,Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25, Part 26, Part 27, Part 28, Part 29, Part 30, Part 31, Part 32, Part 33, Part 34, Part 35, Part 36
or Jump ahead to Part 38