by Harris Tobias
Mentog was pretty sure he had seen everything there was to see in his world. The huts of his village, the ceremonial masks, the stone grinding pots, the shrunken heads of his ancestors. Mentog had seen them all and knew them all. He’d known them all of his life. Village life was immutable and unchanging back to the beginning of the Folk, a dozen generations before him. He knew the name of every head and their histories and their ancestors’ histories. At 40 years, he was a village elder and the bearer of his people’s culture.
He would sit with the children and tell them how the Folk came to be in this place, in this forest, on this world. Of the ancestor’s flaming arrival on a great silver ship taller than the tallest tree. And how the fire of that ship’s landing burned the clearing upon which the village now sits. The great ship, long since gone to dust and rubble, struck the earth in a great dome of flame. The whole arrival story is one of violence and destruction. And though the children have heard the story a thousand times, they still listen in rapt attention.
When a male child came of age, he is led into the hut of the ancestors and made a man. A man is created when he is touched by the skin suit, the only relic of the arrival to have survived. The suit was in reality a shabby thing, a tattered bit of fabric in the shape of a man. A much larger man than the Folk are now. It hung in the place of honor in the central hut surrounded by the heads of the ancestors, hundreds of them shrunken to the size of bread fruit. Heads stretching back in time for 20 generations.
Mentog was a simple man not much given to introspection. He knew what he knew. The skin suit was proof enough of God’s holy favor and the true origin of the Folk. The suit was all the proof he needed for there was no material like it on this world. Surely the suit was made by Gods or by men so advanced, they may as well have been Gods. The suit hung in the dimly lit ancestor hut surrounded by the heads of the ancient ones. There were over a hundred of them stretching back to the Folk’s six founders. Mentog wasn’t certain the six were represented but it really didn’t matter. The central hut was a holy place, the holiest on Tumara even though it was dark and frightening and smelled faintly of urine, fear and death. It was what gave meaning to their lives. The Folk, now numbering more than 200, were the only humans on the planet.
During the rites of passage, the boys would fast and sing in the ancestor hut for three days and three nights in the presence of the suit, its bulbous, empty globe of a head looking down on them its mirrored visor reflecting everything, seeing everything. Mentog would recite yet again the flaming arrival of the first Folk; of the enormous crash that left all but six, two women and four men alive and leveled the jungle so that they could live. How over the years since that awful day the folk have survived. How they kept the clearing open by heroic effort.
Mentog’s story was interspersed with songs whose actual meanings have been forgotten. The children sang of Old MacDonald, Mary’s Little Lamb and Take Me Out To The Ballgame with no idea of farms, sheep or baseball. The myths and stories and even the songs gave life and meaning to the suit and the ceremony. It was all so long ago. Mentog didn’t doubt for an instant that it was all true. It was as good an explanation as any for what this isolated speck of humanity was doing here. At least it explained the presence of the suit.
The time for the rite had come again and this year three boys would be touched by the suit and be reborn as men. Mentog passed around the bitter paste. The same paste he was given when he was a boy. The paste induced visions and the boys nodded and swayed as he recited the names of the clans from which the Folk sprang—Collins, Spencer, Dyson, Schwartz, Patterson and Klein. He chanted them over and over in a hypnotic fashion until the boys lapsed into a state of stupefaction.
When the time was right, Mentog slipped behind the suit and, putting his arms into the ragged sleeves, he brought the suit to life. One by one he called out the names of the initiates.
“Taran Spencer,” called the suit and the terrified boy rose and approached. The suit reached out and touched him. It was a transformational moment and, like so many boys before him, young Taran Spencer wet his pants and fainted.
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Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of several novels and dozens of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Dunesteef Audio Magazine, Literal Translations, FriedFiction, Down In The Dirt, Eclectic Flash, E Fiction and several other publications. His poetry has appeared in Vox Poetica, The poem Factory and The Poetry Super Highway. You can find links to his novels at: http://harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com/
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