And here I am continuing with chapter 5 of “The Beginnings Project” a collaborative writing project that you can learn about here as well as also reading the first 4 chapters. If you’d like to continue after mine, take the baton and roll! Thank you Miss A, for giving me the challenge!
Chapter 5: The Gate of Gods
We took a seat in the small darkened cabin, aesthetically warming with its dark, walnut interior and lack of space but at the same time cool with the essence of salty dampness. The old boy lit an oil lamp and pulled two dusty tumblers from a small cupboard attached to the splintered table, followed by an ancient, half empty, bottle of rum that looked dubious. He noted my reluctance as he spilled the cloudy nectar into the glass.
“Improves with age, like all things of worth.” He pushed the glass toward me, indicating that refusal wasn’t an option as he poured a larger measure into his own. The heavy aroma of molasses and aged old oak filled the small room. James took a large swallow and breathed out a loaded yet contented sigh. His eyes were rheumy. I wasn’t sure if that was because he was about to unburden or if it was due to the sharp, alcoholic vapour.
“I was just a young lad of eight years,” He began, his hand kept firmly around his glass, as he looked yonder through the cabin windows to something and nothing, “ It was a warm day in April when the spring floods were upon us and swelled the rivers. I ran through the town, mid morning, as always with the fishing net my Mother had made from strips of linen. Past the clay bricks that lay baking and out of the great city walls to where the two great rivers nearly converged.” He breathed in deeply, through flared nostrils as though remembering the smell that accompanied his memories.
I took a tiny sip from the glass and felt the liquid burn my tongue and cauterise the back of my throat. I coughed at the harshness and the old salt snorted at me as he came back to the room.
“Go on..” I rasped.
“It’s at this place where I met Josiah. It wasn’t the first time. We’d become friends over the last couple of years and taken to meeting up to catch fish for our families over the past few months.”
“He became a good fisherman’s friend, then?” I asked.
“He became more than that, lad. So much more.” He drifted for a moment. “He was a clown of a boy, always the joker but filled with a fierce intelligence and wit. I’ve never met one since who can take the measure of a man within minutes.”
A moment of silence followed as James stared down at his glass. It felt wrong to interrupt and push for him to continue. I took another sip of the harsh liquor and it burned less this time leaving the taste of dried dates to evolve in my mouth.
“Josiah was already waist deep in the waters when I arrived that day. His net thrown in and teeming with jumping fish. I ran in to join him and cast my own. He threw a fish at my head as I approached and we laughed together, splashing one another with river water like we did most days. ‘Cept this day was when it all changed. For him. For me. For all.” James’s eyes blackened and the light in the sky outside seemed to cloud over at the same time. The flicker from the oil lamp casting spiritual shadows into the wooden room as the light outside faded.
“In seconds it happened,” He suddenly continued, breaking me from my visual trance, “before the last peal of laughter had even left my throat.”
“What? What happened?” I urged.
“He leant down into the waters with his left arm to pull on his net and that’s when she had him.” He growled and shook his head as he relived the moment.”
“She? Had him? Who..?” I felt strangely nervous of the answer.
“The croc. Took a hold of his arm and dragged him clean under. Never seen a body taken so fiercely in all my life. I was frozen for what seemed like minutes; shocked to the core. I was a young ‘un and didn’t know what to do.”
My glass stayed raised halfway between table and mouth as I hesitated mid drink; stopped in time along with the moment of the story.
“Granted, I knew about crocs and a fair few had been taken that way but it was the first I’d experienced. It was brutal. That old reptile rolled him over and over. I reached in and grabbed for his neck to pull him free. He screamed like a beaten girl when his face hit the surface and I heard his arm snap clean off when she tore it from his shoulder. The river turned dirty red with blood all around me. I tried to pull him from the water but his feet were caught tight in his net where she’d twisted him around in her death roll. He was still. Heavy as a boulder. I pulled him as far out as I could, into the shallows of the flooded banks. Flesh hung in torn strips from his body and bones jutted out with bits of jelly and blood everywhere. I’m not afraid to tell ya lad, that I vomited all over the place.” The old man took a long gulp from his glass and I joined him. One thing’s for sure, that nectar was the only thing that could halt the rising bile. I poured us both another. James looked into my eyes and gave a half hearted smile at the gesture and rubbed his leathery hand across his mouth and chin before he continued.
“I don’t know how I did it but I packed some mud on that ripped apart socket of his before I fled screaming towards the town. Never have I ran so fast in my life. I knew he was already dead, I was sure of it but I needed to get someone to him lest she came back for more. Before I reached the city wall I ran straight into a priest.”
“A priest?” I repeated.
“Priest of the new age, this one. Not like the priests you’ve come to know in this day. Back then, they were masters of the stars; both exorcists and doctors. The fallen angels of alchemy. This one was something else and then some.”
“And then some? Like a prophet you mean?” I wanted to know what he meant by that.
“Of the highest meaning. I fell at his knees and couldn’t talk for sobbing. He put his hands on my shoulders and chanted at me until I calmed. And then I told him what had happened.”
‘My friend, he’s dead. I had to leave him in the shallows…the crocodile came for him.’
‘Take me to him.’ The Priest demanded of me. To be honest I wasn’t sure he was enough to help get Josiah out of the water or able to carry his body back to his family, but like I said, there was something about him. When we reached the place where I’d left Josiah, bleeding to death, he was no longer there. I wailed at the loss of my friend and cursed that crocodile for finishing him off. Not a trace of him was left; not even the bloodied waters.”
“But…how can that be? I mean…you were with Josiah the other day at the bar?”
James straightened himself on the cabin bench and looked directly into my eyes like he was searching for my readiness; my openness.
I held James’s gaze though my solar plexus whirled like a stormy sea whilst I waited for him to carry on. I could feel the warmth of the coin through the lining of my trouser pocket.
“The priest gently put a hand over my mouth to abate my cries and with his other, turned my head to the right. I tried to blink away the vision before me; wipe away the tears that blurred my sight and magicked up the image. There sat Josiah, alive and well on a large rock; his arm in tact and not a wound in sight. He sat there, calm as you like, staring off into the distance with a look of all knowing on his face. I tried to call out to him but the words wouldn’t come. I couldn’t understand how this could be. I’d left him for dead and here was as good as new; better somehow than before. And afore I had chance to argue or question, the priest began to answer.”
I held my breath as James looked at me and held a silent pause for a moment too long. As I went to break it, he started again.
“He said to me, ‘Be silent in this moment, for today the fiftieth desert wind blows across our land and your friend, Josiah, has been delivered to save the people. He looks on at none that you can see; a place of great spirituality; for his eyes have been opened to the Gate of Gods.’
“I looked on at Josiah and knew something had changed; something vital; something not of the world I knew and as I watched him, I noticed that in his hand, on the arm I’d seen not an hour before, ripped from his body, a golden coin danced through his fingers.”