Floris Girl: The Children of God

Sarah’s Island

“Why am I here?” Sarah cried aloud to
herself while shaking her head against the spiraling winds. To her
embarrassment, she observed the two native guides watching her, and
she wondered if they had overheard her lamentable outburst. Damn
it, she didn’t want to create a scene, not now and definitely not
during this furious storm.
Dark clouds continued to encircle the
beleaguered boat, and Sarah could only look up while shouting,
“Just my freaking luck!”
The guides could see that their passenger
was uncomfortable and doing all she could do to hang onto the side
of the small boat. The storm chop was worsening while the spray
washed over the open boat in a continuous, unrelenting shower over
the boat’s occupants. The small American brunette was dressed in
her customary khaki long sleeve shirt with shorts and was soaked
from head to toe. When the first spray soaked her shirt, Sarah was
initially concerned about giving the native guides an unintentional
show as the wet shirt clung tightly to her breasts. Now, her only
concern was to survive this ordeal. Goose bumps covered her
exposed, tanned legs due to exposure from the cold ocean spray, and
she fought hard to avoid shivering. She could hear the boat
struggling against the swells as a dark, pungent diesel smoke
poured from the ancient motor.
“Why did I agree to go on this stupid trip?”
she yelled in the direction of the guides.
Supar looked back at Sarah observing how sad
and lonely she appeared. Sarah, in turn, caught Supar watching her
so she managed a small, brave smile for him that said she knew
everything was going to be all right. Unfortunately, she did not
believe that small lie for a moment as another large wave crashed
against the boat.
The small vessel bounced from swell to
swell, and Sarah refused to relinquish her grip on one of the old
rusty cleats. The grey, violent storm was rapidly closing in about
the small boat, causing Sarah to question her sanity for agreeing
to go on this research trip in the first place. What sane
primatologist would travel in a boat that wasn’t large enough for
safe passage in a second rate theme park, let alone a vast ocean?
For Sarah, all of the scientific research and good intentions meant
little to her in the middle of this tempest. It was then that she
realized the whole boat trip had become a metaphor for her sad,
lonely life.
Their journey began earlier that morning
with little fanfare as just another routine island-hopping trip.
They were traveling from Maumere to one of the many local islands
that littered the Flores Sea, a trip that would normally take a
half-day, at most. It was just Sarah and the two guides aboard a
small wooden boat that totaled less than thirty feet in length.
Once underway, the two guides were preoccupied with the operation
of the boat so Sarah sat alone while busying herself with the
updating of her journal. The morning began with a beautiful
tropical sunrise; however, as they made their way into the open
ocean, the clouds rapidly moved in, and the water started to get
choppy. She could hear the small motor straining against the waves
with more smoke than usual filling the pristine ocean air.
They soon spotted their island destination,
and Sarah gave an outward sigh of relief at their apparent luck.
However, as they got within a half mile of the island, the boat’s
ancient motor started to sputter with the strain of its task. The
chop continued to get rougher, and to their dismay, the motor
failed entirely. The two guides became frantic in their efforts to
restart the motor as the strong ocean waves began a ferocious
assault on the small boat. Within minutes, they started to drift
away from their island destination and back into the vastness of
the raging Flores Sea.
The powerless boat drifted for about an hour
as the seas continued their violent assault.
“Look!” Supar yelled as he pointed to a much
smaller island off their port. Sarah grabbed the old tattered
navigational charts from the hold, but the island appeared to be
absent from the charts.
“Just get us there,” she shouted above the
howling winds as the rain streaked down her face.
Sarah watched helplessly as the guides
struggled with the motor in the inclement weather. After much
effort amid an unending torrent of unintelligible curses, they
finally coaxed the tired motor to start. With the storm continuing
to strengthen and after an animated debate in Bahasa, the guides
decided to bring the boat into the small island to wait out the
rampaging storm. A nervous Sarah tried to use the radio to get
somebody’s attention, but the weather was playing havoc with the
radio as well. She now understood that they were truly alone in the
middle of this horrific squall. The boat rode up and down in the
twenty-foot swells causing Sarah to become violently ill with the
unending motion. They were out of options so taking shelter on the
unknown island was their only possible salvation.
With their approach to the island, a small
voice within Sarah cried an alarm, “No Sarah, not this island, get
away from here!” Sarah did what she always did, and she ignored the
small voice of reason while she dutifully saved the coordinates
into her GPS device.
The skies continued to darken as the boat
made its halting approach into the relative calm of a small bay.
The motor sputtered and hissed the entire way as the boat slowly
crept toward the shoreline. After much struggle with the waves, the
two guides managed to ground the boat onto the beach. Supar helped
Sarah off the boat as she jumped onto the beach. The wind had
picked up considerably, and Sarah decided to make her way up the
dark, sloping sands of the narrow beach. An intense lightning storm
lit the skies above the island, but Sarah barley noticed the
theatrics. Instead, she sat on the beach holding her chin to her
knees as she fought the waves of nausea that swept over her. She
was huddled on the beach for almost a half hour, still feeling the
seas riding up and down within her body, doing anything she could
to make the ill feeling go away. While she sat, she watched the
guides struggling to keep control of the boat while they
simultaneously worked on the motor. Feeling guilty that she could
not help, Sarah turned her attention to the gathering storm clouds
that were swirling about the beach in a maelstrom of angry
green-gray colors. In the distance, she could see dark heavy rain
bands advancing over the ocean while the heavier rains appeared to
be retreating away from the island.
A half hour later the storm finally
exhausted its fury as the skies surrounding the island began to
slowly brighten. Feeling a bit better, Sarah decided to help the
guides with the boat. On unsteady legs Sarah approached the boat;
however, Supar could see that she was still green so he waved her
away.
“Okay, I’m going to explore the island a
little bit,” she said.
“Don’t go too far,” Supar replied back to
her. She nodded in agreement as she continued her shaky walk to the
tree line that demarcated the end of the beach. The tree line was
populated by a number of tall, slender palm trees while the ground
was covered with dense, impenetrable underbrush. The storm winds
subsided, and a feeling of normalcy returned to the beach as the
sounds of nature began to fill the air. Sarah recognized the calls
of some of the native birds and started to make her way into the
dark underbrush to investigate. Being a trained naturalist, the
petite brunette was very comfortable with exploring a strange
forest; it was something she had done hundreds of times before
without the slightest hesitation. She ignored the numerous branches
that scratched her bare legs as she purposely made her way to a
suitable sitting location. The restless birds sensed her approach,
and they quickly stopped their calling while taking the time to spy
on the intruder to their island world.
Sarah found a good spot for observation and
calmly settled down to watch nature. Once her movements stopped, a
few quiet moments passed, and the birds resumed their melancholy
songs. Among the choruses she was surprised to hear the call of the
Flores Green Pigeon. Sarah sat and listened to them for a few
minutes as she strained to hear if they were singing a different
song dialect from the birds she had heard on Flores Island.
And then there was silence.
That’s strange, the birds stopped their
singing. Why? Sarah was baffled, since she had been careful to
remain motionless in her current sitting position.
At that moment, she sensed it, the very
presence the birds had sensed. Something else was now present and
that something was in very close proximity to her. Gusts blew in
from the beach causing the palm trees to sway in rhythm to the
strengthening wind. More silence when Sarah had a sudden moment
of realization that it was a someone and not a
something that was close to her! Sarah’s experience told her
she was being watched; moreover, she could tell if an animal was
checking to see if she was a predator or perhaps potential prey.
She could even distinguish the inquisitive glance of an intelligent
creature such as a great ape. The forest just sounded different
when the great apes stopped to observe her, but there were no great
apes on these islands, and, for all she knew, no people either,
great or otherwise.
“Mmmrppoohhhh,” a voice murmured, followed
shortly thereafter by the low, hushed tones of several other voices
floating in the humid tropical air. The sudden onset of the voices
startled Sarah, and she looked about in vain to find their source.
She heard whispering coming from the brush and felt as if
somebody’s curious eyes were focused upon her. Still, she couldn’t
see from where or for that matter, know how many were actually
watching her.
The voices continued for several minutes,
always comprised of several low, hushed tones. She was positive
that there was more than one voice, maybe as many as three or more
individuals conversing or rather murmuring about her from only a
short distance away. They were hushed, definitely male voices that
she could not clearly hear or understand. They were communicating;
however, it was not a language that she could readily
recognize.
No, not quite the coherent voices of people;
however, more like the low, unintelligible mumbling of the insane.
Their cadence reminded Sarah of another time, perhaps the voices of
the damned, souls living in a grey nether world parallel to her own
world of light. The voices would rise up and down, grow quiet for a
moment and then continue their hushed dialog among themselves. To
Sarah, this haunting went on for what seemed to be hours; in
actuality, it lasted for a few minutes. Once the voices subsided
they began quietly moving, seemingly gliding over the forest floor.
Like any frightened animal, Sarah’s senses were at a peak as she
continued to feel their presence closing in about her.
From her vantage point, all Sarah could see
was a wall of green foliage, and she felt entirely defenseless in
her sitting position. She was desperate to escape; however, her
limbs had become paralyzed with fear, and she found herself frozen
in her vantage point. The hair on her arms stood straight on end;
Sarah now knew she was starting to panic. Her breathing became
rapid and shallower as fear overwhelmed her normally rational
demeanor. Finally, there was a sudden reprieve: the murmuring
stopped.
Maybe the guides were nearby, maybe even
looking for her.
More silence.
Were the voices gone? Yes?
No, she could still sense someone watching
her from the depths of the forest, and her heart sank.
“Who’s there?” she called out in a small,
barely audible voice that quivered in the wind.
Sarah was about to cry out when she heard
the frantic calls of the guides looking for their missing American
guest.
“Sarah! Sarah, where are you?” Supar yelled
out.
“I’m over here,” she said in a whisper;
however, her voice was too small to be heard above the rising wind.
Somehow she knew it was too late for rescue; they were closing in
upon her. She tried to see, but now her vision had become cloudy.
She tried to run, but she could not feel her legs. Like any scared
animal, she remained motionless, overcome by a primordial fear that
she could neither name nor see. This fear bred deep within her
bones as a lower form of being that supplanted all traces of the
logical human essence that was once immediately recognizable as
Sarah.
Red in tooth and claw, the unseen menace
surged from the brush. Rather than fight, she offered her throat to
the horrors, yet their bloodlust would not be satiated with a
sudden and clean kill. She opened her mouth wide to scream, but no
sounds could be emitted. In turn, her body began to violently twist
and shake as if to throw off her attackers; however, there was no
escape from the vicious onslaught. Each of her senses began to
leave her: first her sight, followed by her hearing and, finally,
her sense of self.
They systematically began ripping her
clothes from her limp torso and began tearing at her soft skin as
if to prepare her body for their consumption. Properly readied and
no longer struggling, they were able to feed at their leisure as
they tore her flesh from the attached bone while remaining
oblivious to the muted cries of their dying victim. No pity was
offered and having consumed her flesh and entrails they began to
crack open the remaining long bones as they gorged themselves on
the rich marrow contained within.
Her attackers were a faceless, nameless,
universal terror that she could only surrender to; her flesh
devoured for the continued existence of another. There was no pain,
just a sad inevitability to her timeless sacrifice as she offered
herself to her attackers. The weak of the species was giving up to
the strong, and she was swallowed whole into the darkness.
After the feeding was over, Sarah existed no
more. Only a large, damp red stain marked her brief passage along
the parched forest floor.
Sarah had become food for another.

Sarah’s Promise

Sarah jumped up and awoke thrashing about in
her bed, while bathed in a deep cold sweat. Struggling to catch her
breath, she realized that she did continue to exist despite the
momentary horror of her nightmare. She looked around to get her
bearings while trying to focus in on her immediate surroundings.
Groggy from sleep, she looked up to see the comforting familiarity
of her alarm clock. Through the darkness, her eyes began to focus
on the large red LED numbers.
Shit, it was only two o’clock in the
morning! She sat up in her bed while touching the front of her
gown; it was then that she felt the dampness of the cotton cloth
against her skin. Her heartbeat began to slow, and she noticed that
her once pristine sheets were now soaked from her recent bout of
night terrors.
Damn, how many times am I going to have that
same stupid, cretinous nightmare? How many times can I go back to
the same island and relive that same, stupid incident?
The dream had subsided from her life for a
while, but it was back with a renewed, almost hellish vigor
torturing her when she was most vulnerable: sleeping alone. The
stupid nightmare was always the same and, yet, it was always so
very real to her. A sudden storm overtakes the small boat, forcing
them to the mysterious island. It didn’t matter that in reality the
storm was no where near the biblical proportions of the dream, and
it didn’t matter that the incident on the island happened more than
two years ago. It didn’t matter that the guides found her alone in
the woods, and it didn’t matter that all three had left the island
safely together that day. No, it did matter, because deep in the
forest there was a presence Sarah couldn’t see, did not understand
and, that for some reason beyond rational explanation, had scared
her more than any other time in her life. It mattered a lot because
the incident scared Sarah, the normally dispassionate
scientist, out of her wits.
Why did it always have to be some strange,
mysterious island with bad weather? This is so pathetic; my life is
a freaking montage of other people’s inane clichés.
Even with that rationalization, she knew she
was scared; moreover, she had every reason to be. If only she could
talk to more people about the incident, then, maybe, she could face
her fears. Who knows, maybe what she really needed was quality time
with an experienced therapist. However, that was the problem with
being an intellectual; she knew all of the psycho-babble that would
be directed at her. In the jungle she had watched too many of her
wild chimpanzee friends become food for a big cat; that said, even
she knew there was more to the dream that its obvious primordial
shock value. The therapist would tell her that the recurring
nightmares were symbolic of her worst fears: that of being alone
and having no one else to turn to. Hell, Sarah knew she was truly
alone in the world. She was alone on that island, and she was alone
now in her bedroom at two o’clock in the morning. Nothing in her
life had changed since she left that damn island. Most of all,
there was nobody sharing her bed and, if truth be told, every
solitary night she went to bed alone was a constant reminder to her
of her intolerable loneliness.
For Sarah, the nightmare had become a sad
metaphor for her dull, seemingly pointless life. To begin with,
Sarah knew she shouldn’t have been on that stupid island in the
first place. Sarah was a primatologist; yet, she wasn’t going to
have much primate research to do on Flores Island. Flores Island in
Indonesia may have been famous for Komodo dragons and giant rats;
yet, it had little to offer in terms of primate study. Worse, the
famous limestone caves of Liang Bua were strictly off limits to her
as well. She was such a fish out of water that the other graduate
students would rag on her, even commenting on how the Komodo
dragons would “go ape” every so often. It was just another example
of their unending juvenile humor, and it always at her expense.
Sarah’s departmental associates had told her
that this trip would add nothing to her resume; in essence, the
time spent on the island was career suicide. What they had to say
didn’t matter much to Sarah. She was there to assist her old
comrade and mentor, Professor Brightman with his study of island
speciation. Brightman was an enthusiastic follower of Charles
Darwin’s work and by visiting some of the smaller islands Sarah had
hoped to identify some new fertile grounds for Brightman to
continue his ongoing studies of island bird speciation. With the
recent fossil discoveries in Liang Bua, Flores Island was quickly
becoming the new Galapagos Islands for biologists looking to do
evolutionary field studies on island biology.
For Sarah, it was all good theoretical
science especially with island speciation, once again, becoming a
hot topic among biologists. Even a casual student of Charles Darwin
would tell you that islands are nature’s great evolutionary
laboratories. Take a small population of animals from a single
species, isolate them on an island, and you’ll have a virtual
explosion of new species, as they try to occupy the new niches that
the island was affording them. That is assuming they do not go
extinct first adjusting to their new island habitat. This process,
called species radiation, was a major driving force in the
evolution of all living creatures, even human beings. Moreover,
Sarah was confident that the island research would help her with
her own studies of the great apes and the mounting ecological
pressures they were facing in their own diminishing forest
habitats. In this manner, Sarah tried to find some good cause for
her banishment to her island purgatory, away from her beloved
chimps and gorillas that were prisoners in the university research
gulags.
Upon retrospection the vicious truth hit
her: it was all bullshit, and worse it was all so boring and
tedious! Sadly, as she reviewed her logic for the trip, Sarah
realized that she was very accomplished at rationalizing her dull,
rather submissive life. Sarah knew the real reason why she was
there on that island. She was acting, once again, as a very
serviceable doormat for Professor Brightman, doing yet another big
favor for him. Now here she was, years later beating herself up at
two in the morning for being his doormat.
There were other reasons for Sarah’s
bitterness and loneliness. When the other students got out of hand,
Professor Brightman would put a stop to their nonsense by lecturing
to them. He also had the unfortunate habit of pointing out to them
how impeccably clear and concise Sarah’s field observation
techniques were while chiding them for their own shoddy work. This,
of course, had the undesired effect of making Sarah even less
popular with the other graduate students; well that plus her
normally chilly demeanor did not help matters either. Here Sarah
was, a grown women past her mid-twenties, being subjected to taunts
about being a teacher’s pet. Outwardly, it seemed all so juvenile,
yet the sexual innuendos were never far behind the childish name
calling.
Sarah pretended it really didn’t matter much
to her; after all she was so close to obtaining her associate
professor position. To Sarah, the other graduate students just
seemed so young and immature, not worthy of her attention nor of
her friendship. Once again, Sarah had managed to find herself alone
even amongst a group of her supposed colleagues.
The day had started innocently enough; it
was just another one of her routine island hopping trips from
Flores Island. Accompanying her was one of the expedition’s most
trusted guides, and she was the only American researcher going on
this day trip. In the beginning, this would give Sarah the creeps,
especially with the way some of the Indonesian men would gaze at
her. However, Sarah soon learned that the Flores men were just
staring in amazement at her pale skin since many of them had
limited exposure to western women. Overall, she found most of the
Flores natives to be extremely friendly and polite, almost to a
fault.
Moreover, Sarah felt good about the day trip
because one of the guides going with her was Suparman or Supar for
short. Supar was a relatively undistinguished looking islander. He
was short and dark skinned, like most of the other Flores natives;
only Supar’s graying black hair gave away his advanced years. A
wide flat nose dominated his large oval face and, in a similar
manner, his missing upper incisor would be prominently displayed
whenever he smiled or laughed. Yes, he was undistinguished looking;
however, Supar was special because his deep voice conveyed an
excellent grasp of English, and he was truly one of the more
qualified guides. He was attentive; moreover, his innate
intelligence allowed him to understand what the researchers were
trying to accomplish with their fieldwork.
Supar was also very personable. More
importantly, he had gone out of his way to know Sarah on a first
name basis. Every morning he greeted her with a big hello while
inevitably asking the despondent Sarah to smile. It wasn’t much in
terms of human companionship but compared to the frosty
relationships Sarah shared with her fellow students it was a
welcome change of pace.
Sarah also appreciated the respect Supar
garnered from the other native guides, something she couldn’t get
in turn from the other grad students. He exuded a quiet dignity,
and it was clear to Sarah that when Supar spoke the other native
guides paid very close attention to him. Under his seemingly
friendly veneer, Sarah knew that Supar was sheltering a much
stronger ego; one that he carefully hid from the other American
researchers in the expedition. Reflecting upon the other native
workers, Sarah realized she did not have much use for them, and
those feelings only intensified when the camp suffered through a
rash of stolen equipment.
It was two-thirty in the morning while
Sarah’s brain raced to resolve the questions and puzzles in her
life that she knew were unanswerable.
Why was she alone that day? Recalling the
day’s events, she felt a degree of bitterness towards Patti, the
obnoxious graduate student who was to be Sarah’s traveling
companion for the day. Unfortunately, Patti wasn’t in any shape
that morning to be traveling anywhere. After having spent a week in
the forest counting various bird populations, the freakishly pale
Patti, used her day of freedom to cavort topless with several of
the male grad students on an isolated beach. The insipid slut Patti
neglected to use a sun block, and after several hours of exposure
to the blazing equatorial sun, a painful, lobster-red hue had
seized control over most of Patti’s body. To make matters worse,
the incredibly stupid Patti spent the night drinking at a local bar
in a failed effort to try to kill the pain from the sunburn.
When Sarah greeted Patti in the morning,
Patti’s essence consisted of little more than a raging burn with a
wicked hangover. The funny part was that Sarah found this a vast
improvement over Patti’s normally sour disposition. Sarah quickly
recognized that Patti, in her present sad shape, wasn’t about to
leave her tent that morning. Sarah didn’t even bother trying to
find a replacement for Patti, knowing the smug attitudes of the
other grad students, and Patti’s antics had already delayed her
departure by an hour. Consequently, Sarah found herself alone when
the incident happened because some other stupid and immature soul
had decided to frolic in the sun the day before. When was she going
to frolic in the sun she wondered?
When she returned to Flores, Sarah was
unable to talk to anyone at the camp about the incident. Why? She
didn’t trust anybody, and because she was so unsure of what really
happened on the island. Feeling that you were being observed by an
intelligent presence really didn’t exactly qualify as a lucid
scientific observation, even in her books. Indeed, most people
would be fairly dismissive of the incident in question, ascribing
the event to that of an imaginative young woman sitting alone in
the wilderness. After all, the two guides had not seen or heard
anything even after her repeated questioning. No, Sarah felt that
it was best to keep the incident a secret until her return to the
states where she hoped she could find the right person to confide
in. Professor Brightman had already left camp the week before, and
she really didn’t know the other academics well enough to trust or
burden them with her story.
When Sarah returned to the states she
cautiously shared her curious encounter with Professor Brightman.
Her trepidation was unwarranted as he matter-of-factly asked, “Why
didn’t you go back to the island to investigate some more?”
On balance, it was a perfectly logical
question he was asking of her. She told him that among the thefts
in the camp was her GPS device with the island’s coordinates; at
least that’s what she told him. She didn’t tell him that even if
she had the coordinates she couldn’t go back because the entire
expedition had become somewhat uncomfortable for her, and in
reality, she was actually too frightened to return to the island
alone.
Really, how do you begin to break the news
to your mentor that you are an antisocial coward?

As she tried to make sense of it all, she
drifted back to another of her strange, chimerical encounters on
Flores Island. The research team had just broke camp so Sarah
headed with the other members of the team to the town of Maumere.
They were waiting for their respective flights home, and Sarah
decided to leave the hotel to take her final walk in the market
space. She was casually walking among the vendors, when a small,
native man with a shaved head began to attentively follow her as
she wandered from stall to stall. He was somewhat innocuous
looking, dressed in a crisp white short-sleeve shirt with dark
short; however, his staring was so intense Sarah stopped and curtly
asked him, “Can I help you?”
She stared directly at him taking care not
to avert her gaze from his brown eyes. She was several inches
taller than he was so she didn’t feel physically threatened by his
presence; in fact, she was more irked by his constant staring.
While she waited for his response, Sarah fidgeted with her clothes
in the slim chance that her apparel was somehow amiss.
“Are you Sarah?” he asked.
“Yes.”
“Very good, nice to meet to you,” he said as
he continued to stare at her. He extended his hand for a
handshake.
“Huh, okay, same here I guess,” Sarah said
feeling uncomfortable with this unwanted attention, and she limply
shook his hand.
“Good, are you happy?” he asked eagerly.
“What? What is it to you? Who are you, the
happy police?” she said as she walked away from the weird little
creep.
“I’m interested in all sentient creatures;
I’m happy, I hope you are too?” he said as he pursued the escaping
Sarah.
“This is ridiculous; of course I’m happy, if
you are referring to life in general,” she responded as she turned
to face the brazen little man.
“Don’t think about your answer, but are you
happy now?” he asked.
The man looked at her while measuring her
response, and he looked deep into her eyes. Suddenly, Sarah felt
guilty for her abruptness and her apparent deceitfulness.
“Are you happy this moment?” he asked
again.
“No, strike that answer. I am not happy at
all. That’s okay, this will change; it always changes. Why should
you care?” Sarah asked.
“I’m happy now, you should be too,” he
stated. “All we have is now, you can’t wait for tomorrow to be
happy. Your life is not what you want it to be?”
“I guess. I could, no, I should be doing
more,” she said.
“Not better? Not now?”
“No more, it’s not just about me personally.
I should be doing more for others,” she said.
“You study animals?” he asked.
“Yes, primates in general, who are you?”
“A friend, can’t you tell?”
“No, but how do you know me? Have we met
before?” she asked in a more civil tone. She was warming up to the
small inquisitive man with the thin-rimmed glasses and a ready
smile. She suddenly realized that he could be a simpleton so she
found it easy to smile back at him. She looked into his brown eyes
just as she heard a large bell sound several times in the distant
hills. Its resonating echo could be distinctly heard above the din
of the busy marketplace.
“No, we haven’t met before,” he said.
“Did you just hear that church bell?” she
asked.
“No, I did not, did you? Have you had dreams
of your past lives?”
“Huh, you mean like reincarnation or
transmigration? I don’t believe in that.”
“Yes, I do mean reincarnation. Too bad you
don’t believe. So do you believe in fighting?”
“No, I am a firm believer in
non-violence.”
“But would you fight to protect innocents
that cannot defend themselves?”
“Strange, in all the time I have been here
on this island I have never heard that church bell before. As to
protecting others, of course, not to defend the weak would be
cowardice.”
Funny that wasn’t the typical commentary you
would expect from a simpleton, she thought.
“You know, I don’t get this, first I get the
hell scared out of me on that stupid island, and now I get a visit
from mister happy. No offense, but what the hell is going on here?”
she asked.
“Why the answer is quite simple: your
destiny! Look in your pocket,” he said.
Sarah dug through the pockets of her shorts
and found a paper with three pairs of numbers scrawled on it.
“What is this?” she asked.
“You know precisely what it is, look
closely,” he said.
“Damn, those are the coordinates to my
island. How?” she asked.
“Good, I am glad to help. I trust you to do
what is right. I did my task and I must go now,” he replied.
“Are we done talking? Who are you?”
“Yes, we are done, and I am on my way. Be
happy now!” he said while turning and walking away.
“You know this conversation makes absolutely
no sense to me,” Sarah said.
“It did to me and someday it will to you. If
I told you everything it wouldn’t be your future, it would be your
past. Frankly, where would be the surprise? Where’s the choice?” he
asked.
With that final comment he disappeared into
the anonymity of the crowd. Flustered by the brief encounter Sarah
walked away.
“Now, where’s that damn church?” she said as
she surveyed the surrounding hills for the source of the
bell.

Prior to Flores, Sarah never attributed much
meaning to her visions. However, the nightmares kept coming back to
haunt Sarah, as a constant reminder of her spiritual timidity and
of her failure as a scientist to seek out the truth. She knew that
the recent news from Flores about the digs being halted had
awakened the nightmare once again, and here she was at two-thirty
in the morning realizing that the totality of her life had been
reduced to a simple combination of her intolerable loneliness and
her myriad fears. The whole damn island nightmare was a stupid
cliché but, then again, so was her desperate, tedious life.
Sarah had expected so much more from
herself, and this empty shell that now masqueraded as her life
couldn’t be allowed to stand. Always present was the gnawing
feeling she was not living the life that she was destined for.
Moreover, she didn’t know what was worse; was it the tedium or was
it the loneliness? In contrast, at least her nightmares offered the
promise of adventure and, who knows, maybe even purpose, to her
staid existence.
In turn, Sarah logically debated each
option. Before she could come to a decision, the small inner voice
became vocal once again telling her, “You must go back to the
island!”
Crap, that strained small female voice had
returned, the very same voice of reason that told her to stay away
from the island in the first place, was now telling her to go
back.
“Coward, you have to return to the island,”
the voice commanded.
Stupid, schizoid voice, make your freaking
mind up as she debated her future in the darkness and whether or
not she should renew her Prozac prescription. That settled it, at
three in the morning Sarah did the unexpected as she embraced her
nightmare as though it was a glimmer of hope.
She turned the lamp on, sat up in her bed
while retrieving a small note pad from her nightstand. On the pad
were a series of three number pairs she had written down from the
previous night’s dream with the curious small man. She stared at
the three pairs of numbers for a couple of minutes. To her
surprise, she did recognize them: they were the longitude and
latitude coordinates to her mysterious island. Through her dreams
her subconscious was telling that her that she had to return to the
island. Her destiny was now clear, so much so that even Sarah the
scientist couldn’t rationalize away the true meaning of her stupid
dreams.
With the paper in hand, Sarah made a solemn
promise to herself to return to the island of her nightmares, one
way or another. She wanted to face her terrors and to witness what
she couldn’t face alone that terrifying day on the island.
Surprisingly, that was a destiny she could readily embrace in the
early morning hours as she left her bed and diligently went about
changing the damp linens.

Richard’s Nightmare

And God said, Let us make man in our image,
after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the
sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over
all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the
earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God
created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:26-28 (King James Version)

The early morning light danced about
Richard’s face as if it was toying with him in a concerted effort
to wake him from his sleep. Richard grumbled and cursed as the
light continued to intensify, until finally, it shone full blast
onto his haggard face. The fog slowly lifted from his brain, and he
smacked his lips several times as he tried to identify the gunk
that was plastered in his mouth. He couldn’t remember last night,
and before he would get up, he carefully sniffed the air several
times.
Ah good, no smell of cheap perfume or
cigarettes. As a final prelude to sitting up he stole a peek across
to the other side of his bed. Please let the bed be empty, please,
please, please he pleaded.
He took a quick glance. All he saw was a
crumpled pillow, and in the distance, a half-empty J&D bottle;
a good sign for him that he had exercised some temperance with his
drinking the previous night. “Thank you,” he said; however, not
knowing to whom or to what.
He just did not want to deal with another
young trailer park girl, the kind that seemed so prevalent at his
local watering holes. They were relatively easy to bed, but so damn
difficult to get rid of the following day and their early morning
histrionics made his hangovers unbearable. In his normal state of
mind, he would never bother with such sad, vulnerable girls;
however, when he was inebriated any attractive female was fair game
for his drunken charms. Moreover, with the loss of his teaching
job, he found that the frequency of his drinking sprees had been
increasing at an alarming rate. Like all people with a serious
addiction, he kept kidding himself that his drinking habit was just
some benign hobby that he could readily turn on and off; only now
he was becoming too scared to try the on-off switch out of fear
that he might be wrong.
He was glad that this time he had listened
to himself and that he had focused on a singular goal for last
night: getting drunk! He had to face it one day that liquor was his
addiction but just not today. Like others of his generation, he had
tried both pills and pot; however, liquor was just quicker and more
in tune with his overall Irish-German temperament. Moreover, he
found alcohol to be a convenient and easily acquired lubricant for
sliding girls into his bed.
He wearily got out of bed and made his way
to the small dingy kitchen. This was a particularly good day for
Richard, because his hangover was relatively mild, and the pounding
in his head was merely a timid throb.
“What a shit hole,” he said aloud as he
surveyed the wreckage within his crummy apartment that comprised
his present existence.
He seated himself at the kitchen table while
pouring himself a glass of orange juice in a belated effort to
re-hydrate himself. Following his usually morning routine, he
turned on his laptop to review his email. It wasn’t like he got
regular emails from friends so he moved quickly past the numerous
boner spams to check his email alerts. He skimmed through several
alerts on the ongoing local town corruption scandals when a small,
curious headline caught his eye: “Indonesian Government Halts digs
on Flores Island”.
WTF?
The alert had a link to a blog post, and he
read on:
The remains of a new human species called
Homo floresiensis found on Flores Island continue to spark debate
among scientists so intense that the Indonesian government decided
to intervene. The government halted all digs and evacuations at the
famous Liang Bua cave as they reviewed the ongoing controversy.

The “dwarf” skeleton of this new species was discovered in a
limestone cave, and the miniature size of the adult female
surprised scientists. This new species was barely three feet tall
as an adult, and their body structure resembled older, ancestral
forms of man. What also amazed scientists was the size of the small
skull and the tiny brain contained within. The brain size was
roughly comparable in size to a chimpanzee’s and was just a third
of the size of a modern human’s. Adding to the surprise, the 3-foot
tall female dated back to only 13,000 years ago, making it
contemporary with modern humans on the island. The discovery calls
into question previous assertions about when man gained control of
the planet from the other lines of human ancestors. The find
promises to rewrite human evolution and suggests a complexity in
human evolution that up to now had only been hinted at.

Other scientists contend that the discovery was that of a community
of diseased modern humans and, in fact, the remains were not of a
new species. They say they now have confirmation that the
individuals found were definitely diseased, and they now had proof
of their microcephaly. Recent protests by some locals and
researchers at the site prompted the government intervention.

With the digs suspended once again,
scientists were clamoring for the Indonesian government to open the
island to further digs rather than to exclude other research teams.
A lone quote from an independent researcher said ‘this debate is
bordering on the cretinous, so now is the perfect time to
investigate other opportunities on some of the other so-called
non-primate islands in the region.’ The original research team
continues to search Flores Island.

Richard had been following the soap opera in
Flores for years. Not surprisingly, the discovery in Flores had
degenerated in an academic pissing match, one so full of ill will
and rancor that the Indonesian government now felt compelled to
step in and mediate the dispute. What a cluster fuck; however, what
really caught his eye was the so-called comment from the other
independent researcher.
He read it again, ‘This debate is
bordering on the cretinous, so now is the perfect time to
investigate other opportunities on some of the other so-called
non-primate islands in the region.’
“Cretinous?” Richard said aloud to himself,
but as he said the words, a strange feeling of déjà vu passed over
him. Cretinous? Who the hell else talks like that? Couldn’t be, but
then again could it be her?
Richard stared off into the distance for a
few minutes, unsure what to make of the blog article. This debate
had been raging for years, and still there was no resolution in
sight. Richard knew that the two anthropologists responsible for
the discovery mentioned several new cave complexes on Flores that
they had in mind for their next expedition. There were a number of
limestone caves in Sumba and Sulawesi that were of particular
interest to the original team, and he was sure that other
scientists were looking on Flores as well. Still, there was no
mention of visiting other islands from anybody in the scientific
community other than the lone independent researcher.
Richard knew all about the find and the
local legends. The indigenous human population on Flores had a
number of local legends regarding the other people that once lived
on the island. The most striking tale was about a dwarf people the
Flores natives called the Ebu Gogo, a translation that literally
meant ‘grandmother that eats anything’.
The Ebu were small creatures, standing
approximately three feet tall with long hair and resembled humans
except for their exceptionally long arms. The Ebu Gogo had
voracious appetites and they would devour any uncooked food,
including the occasional human baby. Humans were tolerant of the
presence of the Ebu Gogo that is until the Ebu developed a strong
appetite for human flesh. Once that happened, the islanders had
enough of the Ebu Gogo, and the Ebu were driven away from human
habitation toward the limestone caves of the island. The native
folklore talked of the Ebu living among the Flores Islanders up
until the arrival of the Dutch explorers, just a mere four hundred
years ago.
Wow, she was a strange intense girl, wasn’t
she? He could not believe what he was reading so he returned to his
online research with even greater intensity.
To all anthropologists, this was an
incredibly important find. Why? Because another species of humanity
was contemporary with modern humans, and they lived side by side
not that long ago. Many scientists had inferred that humans had
existed with other hominin species; however, this was proof
positive of that coexistence. Plus it was obvious that the Hobbit’s
island environment had directly impacted the evolution of these
dwarf humans. Challenged by a scarcity of food in their island
habitat and lacking natural predators, evolution gave a sizable
survival edge to the early humans that were small in stature.
Earlier scientific thinking stated that man’s tool use and culture
made him immune to the normal rules of evolution, however these
Hobbit’s fossils were a mute testimony to the fact that man was
subject to the same rules of nature that governed all living
creatures.
However, it was the other inferences that a
few renegade scientists were making that really piqued Richard’s
attention. They boldly suggested that there could be other major
finds to be made in the Indonesian wilderness, some even younger in
age than 13,000 years old. They even held out the promise of the
ultimate find: the unlikely possibility that tucked away in some
remote primordial region of Indonesia, there could be a band of
Hobbit survivors still alive to this day!
Richard went back to the alert and stared at
the screen for a while allowing each line to sink in. In one way,
he could not believe his luck, and he wasn’t quite sure if it was
good or bad. It was as if fate was tantalizing him with a new lease
on his life. If he could just get a sample of that fresh Hobbit
DNA, he would have the ammo he needed to support his dissertation
theory for high rates of speciation radiation among the hominins.
Richard was a DNA anthropologist, a field so new most people didn’t
know it existed, nor did it receive the proper recognition it
merited from the university system. Richard could get work as a
forensic scientist, but that would mean spending his lifetime
digging through the dirty work of killers, rapists and the other
deviants of human society, and that certainly wasn’t the type of
work Richard wanted to lose himself in. He was a deviant all right
but nothing that bad.
No not Richard, his interest was in
unlocking the secrets of the past, the distant past and that meant
working in a lab with a computer as much as he did in the good
earth. Based on current human DNA analysis, Richard’s research
postulated that the human family tree was once fairly bushy and
that many relatives may have gone extinct in recent years. Richard
had found a number of key genetic markers in existing human DNA
that he believed supported his high-speciation hominin theory.
Richard knew that after death an organism’s DNA quickly breakdowns
into thousands of small, incomprehensible segments. Richard’s
greatest skill was making probalistic sense of those fragmented DNA
remains and connecting the isolated strands to traceable
evolutionary markers. Moreover, with the Ebu Gogo, this process of
speciation could still be going on to this very day.
For his peers, this was all very interesting
academic fodder; however, Richard felt there were also some very
dramatic, real world consequences to his research findings. To
Richard’s way of thinking, this intense competition with other
human species was one plausible explanation as to why modern humans
had become so practiced at killing one another. It would appear
that we had a lot of practice over the millennia killing our many
cousins!
Richard’s theory was somewhat controversial
because the existing fossil record did not support his findings.
Instead of finding hundreds of different human species, as Richard
was predicting, the fossil record contained just a handful of human
species. The whole exercise was similar to putting together a large
puzzle of a road map with just a handful of pieces and then trying
to discern the overall map. Only the final destination was certain
with every stop in-between being open to question and endless
speculation. If you assume 5 million years of human evolution, with
a generation being equal to 20 years then the puzzle consists of
almost 250,000 pieces. So far, scientists have discovered maybe a
hundred different human fossils which is roughly equivalent to
having a hundred pieces of the 250,000-piece puzzle. To make
matters even more vexing, researchers keep finding additional
puzzle pieces that may not even belong to the human puzzle or at
some point become extraneous to the design of the overall
puzzle.
The entire exercise could be quite maddening
which is maybe why so much of the American public opted to believe
in Creationism. For Richard the scientist, it was easy to forget
that the public really did not comprehend the concept of millions
of years or large numbers, after all, look at the number of lottery
tickets they continue to buy every week under the misguided notion
that they could actually win the big one.
What made Richard so screwed up was that he
envisioned these antediluvian challenges at the oddest times in his
life. He’d be in a bar talking to some young chippie with her ta
tas hanging out of her halter top, and suddenly her breasts would
remind him of the Chicxulub asteroid destroying that lush, stable
prehistoric habitat. When food became scarce, the impact would
suddenly turn advantage into disadvantage, and acted as a cruel
culling machine that killed all the large fauna, including the
spectacular dinosaurs while allowing the much more numerous, less
energy demanding, smaller animals to wrest control of the planet.
Any colossal disruption to the ecosystem would take a
disproportionate heavier toll on the larger animals before it
impacts the smaller ones.
When times are tough it pays to be small,
and that was just the evolutionary stratagem that Homo Floresiensis
had employed to survive on Flores Island. Of course, by the time he
would snap out of it the chick would be gone, and Richard would be
left alone wondering why the hell did her tits remind him of the
asteroid impact in the first place?
Richard had long concluded that if you only
look at a few random fossil finds you could get many erroneous
interpretations, especially when you couple in the vagaries of
human character and ego. Moreover, Richard had personal knowledge
of the frustration of digging in the dirt, after all he wasn’t
afraid to get his hands dirty, and he also knew that many of these
extinct human species during their hey-day never had populations in
excess of a few thousand individuals. It was no wonder to Richard
as to why their fossils were so damn hard to find, and why as a
physical anthropologist he turned to DNA research in the first
place. Because deep in our DNA, Richard knew he could find the
secrets of our animal heritage that the earth was refusing to give
up.
Consequently, Richard dismissed the human
fossil record as being hopelessly incomplete, whereas his DNA
research would tell the true story of human evolution. To Richard,
there was nothing divine about humankind’s ascent from the lower
animals. No, man’s creation was a simple matter of human evolution
through a combination of selection, speciation and ultimately
extinction, just like any other living creature on this planet. As
they say evolution is a tinkerer, and after two billion years of
tinkering, human beings were simply the latest invention. Moreover,
as was the case with the Ebu Gogo, the tinkering was continuing to
this very day.
Shit, how would he ever get a sample?
Richard’s request for samples had been rejected or ignored numerous
times from the teams that did the initial work in Flores. In fact,
they would keep much of the findings to themselves, as was the norm
for this me-generation of scientists. Furthermore, Richard was no
longer affiliated with a major university, meaning he now lacked
both creditability and academic leverage. Scientists made crucial
discoveries, and they would sit on them for years before releasing
critical information to the larger scientific community. In that
fashion, they made entire careers out of a single fossil find.
Richard admired these Flores Island researchers for making their
announcement fairly early in the game, and they were being
especially bold in doing so. Didn’t matter, he knew the Homo
floresiensis remains were a soggy spongy mass that did not resemble
hard bone and consequently were a poor candidate for a decent DNA
sample. Accordingly, they were not about to donate a single tooth
to his cause when they needed the samples for their own
research.
Over the years, the debate over the find was
becoming even more complicated, almost Byzantine in nature. A
native scientist, with close ties to the Indonesian government, was
keeping the newly discovered fossils for his own private research
while the original research team was being barred from a return to
the caves. None of this surprised Richard, since professional
rivalries and petty jealousies were commonplace in the scientific
community. Despite all the rumors to the contrary, scientists were
human after all, something Richard knew all too well after his
brief tenure in the Ivory Towers.
Richard sent an email to the blogger asking:
Who made that quote about investigating other islands?
Later that same day the reply came back:
I don’t recall her name; some associate professor chick spoke to
me about it at a conference a few weeks back.
Just like a blogger to give a quote with no
reference name. Still, was it her?
Richard sent another email: What did she
look like?
An hour later a simple three word message
arrived: A smoking brunette🙂
Shit, it was her. That drunken little
jezebel was still cruising the academic conferences talking all
sorts of shit while looking to get laid. With that comment she had
to be planning an expedition back to her island, but what the hell
was her name?
It was really pissing him off that he could
not remember her name. He really needed a diversion then maybe her
name would somehow come to him. Frustrated, Richard knew there
would be some additional entertainment value to be found from the
announcement so he couldn’t wait to read the Internet response from
the Creationists, those ardent believers in the Biblical
interpretation of man’s creation. He knew they loved to take
advantage of any sign of academic bickering, and he wasn’t
disappointed by their wacky response to the recent events in
Flores. While other people read comics, Richard loved to their
mangled interpretations of evolution, and he would sometimes catch
himself chuckling aloud like a madman at the absurdity of their
convoluted logic.
Richard had heard every Creationist argument
a thousand times before; however, you had to admire their zeal in
denying reality. First, there was the classic, “It wasn’t an
ancestral form,” but rather it was the skeleton of a singular,
deformed human being afflicted with a crippling disease. In this
case, they described the individuals found on Flores as being
microcephalics, a serious medical condition where the afflicted
individual has an exceptionally small skull or in lay man’s terms,
sort of a pin-head. Unfortunately, they neglected to mention that
the medical record never associated with the disease a set of extra
long arms as found on the Flores Island Hobbits, nor do
microcephalics normally stand at three feet tall. Furthermore, they
also conveniently forgot to address the other six skeletons found
at the site. Damn disease must be catching; better start a telethon
for it!
Of course, there was the old chestnut about
the strange shape of the skeleton being attributed to normal
variations within the existing human population. They would cry
out, “Look at the pygmies for example”, while easily ignoring the
fact that most pygmies are more than five feet tall, and they don’t
have skulls the size of a chimpanzee. You could sit next to a pygmy
in full native dress on the subway and not bat an eye, especially
if you lived in New York City. However, if one of the Hobbits sat
next to you while they wearing a Brooks Brothers suit on the train
you would be running for the subway door faster than Martha Stewart
bidding adios to her West Virginia prison cellmates.
They would say anything to avoid admitting
that man had evolved like the rest of his animal brethren: by
selection and by chance. There was an old quote that said, “Science
has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty
without any proof.” No, all the Creationists had was their faith
and that wasn’t nearly enough for a wise-ass iconoclast like
Richard.
Richard realized he must have looked quite
the lunatic as he sat in his underwear while searching the net and
chuckling aloud. All he needed was some complementary drool on his
chin to complete his moronic look. He just didn’t care, as he
continued to shake with excitement at the find, and it wasn’t just
the after effects of the usual Friday night hangover.
Still, the biggest story in paleobiology of
the last century was breaking, and Richard was now a spectator on
the sidelines watching the story unfold. He knew he wouldn’t be
allowed official access to these fossils so he had to find another
way. On the surface, this should have been a professional and
personal disaster for him; however, Richard knew that he had an ace
up his sleeve. A few years ago, Richard had met a strange girl who
had just visited Flores Island. Cute but very intense, she told him
a curious story about a personal encounter she had experienced on
one of the local Indonesian islands. If she knew where the band of
Hobbit survivors could be found, and Richard knew that was a damn
big if, he would be right back in the game. Her recent quote to the
blogger indicated that she was perhaps considering a revisit to her
island. Everything was possibly coming together for him or so he
was hoping. Hell, he had nothing else to go on, but why didn’t she
go back to that island sooner he wondered?
Richard had to get to Indonesia, and his
only ticket out was to remember the name of that strange Flores
girl. His mind raced through a thousand thoughts trying to recall
the name of the girl he met briefly only a few short years ago. The
mental gymnastics continued; was it Marianne or Sally, possibly
Kristen? It was something common, but damn, what the hell was it?
Brenda? No, that was the name of his last girlfriend, idiot. Damn,
who, amongst his ever-dwindling list of professional contacts even
remembered her name?
Like so many other failed pickup attempts,
the entire encounter had been discarded to the deepest dustbins of
his mind. Ah, how did the song go, she wasn’t a beauty, but she was
all right. Actually, he found her kind of cute, which was saying a
lot when compared to the usual sorry lot of women who occupied the
ranks of scientific academia and another reason why he remembered
her. It was no small wonder why he preferred to hit on the English
lit majors; thereby leaving the women science majors to the truly
desperate.
Damn it, again his mind was wandering off
the subject. Was it the alcohol doing this to him?
“Focus, Richard!” he yelled to himself as he
struggled to reign himself in.
Richard just couldn’t recall her name, and
it was driving him crazy. Richard wasn’t one for much organization;
he felt that too much structure was the mortal enemy of his ability
to free associate ideas. Unfortunately, having no organization at
all wasn’t exactly stoking the old noggin, either. He went through
his papers, and as an act of true desperation, to his pile of old
business cards that he kept in a pitifully stained, brown paper
bag. He rummaged through the pile of cards and assorted napkins,
finding traces of long forgotten meals and the cell phone number of
a particularly ugly heifer he once met when he was drunk but nary a
trace of the strange Flores girl anywhere.
What should he do? It was clear drinking
wasn’t going to help fire the old neurons, and, in fact, it usually
had quite the opposite effect. There was only one option left to
Richard: go for a run. Richard always had one of two bi-polar
solutions for the adversities he faced in his life: go for a drink
or go for a run. It was his healthier remedy for indecision and
procrastination because running would get the blood flowing, and
hopefully, in turn, get the old neurons in his brain firing. It had
been his escape for years, and as he tried to give up his
prodigious drinking habit he found that, in a strange way, running
was helping to fill an unhealthy void in his life. In one sense, he
found it relatively easy to give up one obsession for another, at
least momentarily. Besides, Richard found that any excuse was a
good enough reason to get out of his depressingly small,
craptacular apartment.
He threw on his favorite yellow shorts with
his battered running shoes, and he started to vigorously stretch
his legs. Unfortunately, he noticed that the shorts were acquiring
a distinctive odor of their own. Oh well, he didn’t have time now
to be concerned about his personal hygiene; besides with the
departure of his girlfriend, whose delicate sensibilities other
than his own was he offending with the fetid shorts?
Now where the hell is my stained
T-shirt?
The only thing he liked about this sad,
little town was the nearby woods where he could run at will nearly
year-round. Running cleared his mind, if he ran alone. It was a
short distance from his apartment complex to the imagined safety of
the woods. He began a slow trot, and he could immediately feel the
Achilles tendon in his right leg beginning to tighten up. As per
his norm, he couldn’t be bothered to stretch properly such was his
haste to escape his dreary apartment. He convinced himself, as he
always did, that the leg would feel better once he got into his
run.
The deeper he ran into the woods, the more
he enjoyed the feeling of being alone and unencumbered. More than
anything, when he was in this splendid isolation, he hated running
into other people. This time, about ten minutes into his run, he
spotted a young man neatly attired with dress shoes walking along
the same path he was running on. The young man exchanged a weird,
dirty little smile with him, a smile that Richard had seen before
and one that almost always gave him a frisson. In Richard’s eyes
dress shoes were always a good tell about a person’s motivations
for being so deep into the woods.
Richard didn’t mind the occasional,
friendly, stray dog that would accompany him on his run. That was
an impromptu, mutual relationship with no strings attached, one
that he actually preferred to most of his long-term human
relationships. Rarely, he would encounter a dog with a different,
meaner temperament, one that would eye him as a possible game
animal. He had to, on more than one occasion; arm himself with a
club to protect himself from the likes of that kind of stray.
However, it was the people that always gave him the biggest reason
to pause and hesitate while he ran.
On a really good run, he would lose all
sense of time, and he would find himself deep in the woods running
along paths that only a few knew of, never mind dare taking. When
he ran along these secreted paths, he could literally hear small
animals furiously scurrying to get out of his way. He would never
see them of course, but occasionally he would catch a glimpse of
their tails as they hurried into the safety of the brush. On more
than one occasion, he had run into a clearing and there would be a
herd of bewildered deer staring back at him. Their look of surprise
delighted him. Within an instant, the deer would be off to even
deeper and darker sections of the woods.
Yet, the animal encounters paled in
comparison with some of the chance people encounters he had
experienced in the woods. He would get his fair share of elderly
walkers who were enjoying a brisk foray into nature. They usually
greeted him with a friendly hello, and, in this manner, announce to
the world their joy at still being alive on this sorry-assed
planet. Their cheery attitude really pissed him off. Or he would
encounter other runners, who were usually so self-absorbed, that
they would barely acknowledge his presence other than with a quick
nod or dart of their eyes.
And yes, there were the other people, the
one’s not meant to be seen, like that young man he had just
encountered. People, who when you came upon them, were startled by
your presence; people who were keeping secrets deep in the woods.
People with dirty little secrets, perhaps some small transgression
that was quite forgivable, such as grabbing a smoke, but then there
were the others who were concealing deeper and darker secrets.
Perhaps they were doing drugs or, worse yet, concealing some dirty,
little sexual secret that they felt they could only do during the
light of the day if they were deep in the woods. Whatever, it was
always some transgression against either humanity or nature. When
they saw him, they tried to conceal their faces or the bolder ones
would shoot a weird, dirty little smile at him. These were the
people who really did need a personal and omnipotent god to watch
over them and to keep their secret, dirty transgressions in line.
Yes, they did need a god who could see deep in the woods much like
Richard was seeing today.
The woods became darker when Richard saw the
white material fluttering in the wind from the corner of his eye.
It was a girl’s white dress.
Richard’s imagination ran wild trying to
figure out why it was lying here in the middle of the woods? Would
he find the body of a young girl off to the side of the path? Was
the young man who had just passed him a sexual predator? He
struggled to reign in his thoughts, and he felt his anxiety rise
within him as he ran in the direction of the dress. It was just
something about the woods and the nature of human beings that
brought out the worst in some people.
The dress was lying on the ground, off to
the side of his running path. Richard could now see a large dark
object lying next to it. He held his breath, and he saw a large,
black plastic garbage bag obviously stuffed with something!
Was it a small girl?
He cautiously sniffed the air noticing a
whiff of decay. Shit, Richard knew that odor all too well from his
gross anatomy studies as a graduate student. The sights and odors
of the decaying human bodies were so disgusting, and so obviously
repulsive, but like a car wreck you suddenly came upon in the
middle of the night, you just had to look or in this case take a
whiff. So compelling were the grisly sights it was not all that
unusual to observe students casually viewing the cadavers in the
university anatomy lab. One time he actually observed a couple of
pre-med students holding hands together as they walked from one
cadaver table to the next, viewing the dissections together. The
young man solemnly led the girl as if they were strolling the
grounds of some grand cathedral. From all outward appearances, they
appeared to be a fairly normal looking couple; however, Richard
couldn’t help, but wonder how freaky was their love life?
The white dress started to flutter in the
light breeze jolting Richard back to reality. He grabbed a long
stick from the ground, and as he began to peer over the bag he
caught sight of it. His heart was pounding as the haze from the
hangover was lifting, and Richard could clearly see a limb or was
it perhaps an arm emerging from the bag? He continued to poke at
it, straining the black plastic bag until it ruptured under the
load.
Startled, Richard jumped back as a strange
mass escaped the confines of the black bag and poured onto the
ground.
“Oh shit, how stupid!” Richard yelled.
He looked closer and observed a collection
of old clothes that was bursting free from the overstuffed bag. The
bag had been unceremoniously discarded in the woods, and the dress
had spilled out from the bag with the other articles of clothing
including a pair of tattered blue jeans. He continued to poke
around the bag when he spotted a moldering dead squirrel among the
clothes that was adding its own unique fragrance to the unsavory
mess.
“Shit! This was stupid, really, really
stupid!”
A dirty little secret all right, it was the
telltale signs of a morally bankrupt civilization; the ever
increasing piles of garbage and debris that littered the local
woods. Man was soiling his pretty, little planet faster than it
could heal itself, and he was too busy either procreating or
stealing from it to even notice. It didn’t matter how far he ran
into the woods the dirty little secret of civilization followed him
wherever he went and, above all else, when he most wanted to be
alone from people.
Why the hell would people go to the trouble
of dropping their garbage this deep into the woods in the first
place Richard wondered. Couldn’t they just be content to soil their
own little corner of the world?
“Fuck me!” Richard said.
Besides the garbage, what really annoyed
Richard was the way his anxiety would suddenly spiral out of
control at a moment’s notice. It was just a stupid dress, but his
imagination was far too strong, and he never felt in control of his
life or of himself. Moreover, whenever he overreacted in this
manner, he would recall his father telling him about how a coward
dies a thousand deaths. Clearly, his anxiety was one reason why he
drank so much; to him it was a clear and cut case of
self-medication on his part. Fuck this, and Richard continued his
run.
While Richard ran, his dark thoughts
continued to follow him through the wooden trails. Richard, like so
many men, was not very comfortable within his own skin and
consequently wasn’t big into personal reflection. Frankly, he
preferred to think of life as a bunch of shit that just happened to
him and other people. However, when he ran the surging blood would
open the floodgates within his brain and, for whatever reasons, he
was more tolerant of his introspection.
Richard’s exile, as he called it, to this
small backwards town in South Carolina, was an unmitigated personal
disaster for him. His career was dead at the university level,
having lost his associate professor position due to a lack of
diplomacy on his part and a convenient series of state budget cuts.
Well, his lack of diplomacy was more an act of brazen stupidity,
since he decided to score with the department head’s stepdaughter
at a university function. She was such a pretty girl, and the head
of the department was such an ugly, prodigious ass; how was he to
know that the two were related? What were the odds? With each step
the events of the past two years rushed through his brain, and he
felt himself shudder as he recalled his unending string of career
missteps.
Why the hell did he remember every fuck-up
he ever did in his life, but never bothered to remember one moment
of personal glory? Had those moments of glory really been that few
and far between? He was so damn close to finishing his research,
though that might as well have been another lifetime the way events
were unfolding for him. With each step he felt the failures
gathering behind him and doggedly pursuing him as he wound his way
through the woods. No matter how fast he ran they continued to
follow him, and when they caught up to him each whispered into his
ear a single word: loser!
It wasn’t meant to be this way, but wasn’t
that the lament of every loser?

Inspiration Goes for a Run

Without tenure, Richard lost his associates
position at the university and after moving south with his old
girlfriend, he reluctantly sought work in the public school system.
Richard ended up in middle school, of all places, teaching biology
to the southern masses. The kids were so mediocre and so
disinterested in biology he might as well have been speaking a
foreign language, perhaps something like English. The soft southern
drawls of the Carolinas were taking a toll on him as well, and he
found himself fighting hard not to acquire an accent. It was just
something about the summer heat in the south that made you want to
slow down a bit, and Richard fought that temptation at every
possible turn.
Richard’s northern arrogance managed to keep
him apart from his neighbors, and instead he looked for that one
kindred spirit amongst the students, one bright kid or enlightened
soul among the dross that would share his love for biology. Richard
certainly couldn’t find it amongst his brethren. His fellow
teachers were a dull lot, and were almost as disinterested in
nurturing their inner child, as were their students. It was as if
the entire lot was chosen for a purgatory called middle school,
where they would wait to put their time in before moving on to
their next destination. The only thing was that they hadn’t a clue
as to what the next destination was going to be or for that matter,
why they were waiting in line in the first place.
Richard found it a rough go going into class
and seeing the same dull faces every day. He spent the summer
between school years looking for a new tenure and working at a
part-time job painting households to make ends meet. He had hoped
to use the summer break to complete his paper; however, his present
circumstances sucked all of the inspiration from him. At least,
that is what he told himself. Not only was the school torturing
him; they were doing so for a pittance. He knew it was an excuse,
but what else could he do? What a loser he was becoming!
The second year was even worse, because he
came to the sudden realization that the faces of his students were
getting younger while he had just spent a year going nowhere and
growing older. He feared this temporary teaching position was going
to become permanent and depression hung over him, coloring his
world in gray monotone shades of despair that he didn’t bother to
hide. No, there would be no forced cheeriness on his part; it just
wasn’t in his nature. Consequently, he and his girlfriend soon went
their separate ways.
Richard’s smart ass attitude and demeanor
ensured that a steady stream of confrontations would keep finding
him during the course of that school year. Tom Gibson, the other
so-called science teacher, loved to get on Richard’s case. Tom was
a goofy, middle-aged, religious nut who had to be related to
somebody on the school board. There absolutely was no other excuse
for him being a science teacher. Tom could sense a changing
political tide as the country grew more conservative and, in the
process, he liked to score a few points off Richard. Richard wasn’t
quite sure why Tom liked to go gunning for him; he just assumed
that professional jealousy was playing a big part in their supposed
rivalry. Richard had a stellar academic record at an ivy-league
school, while Tom had barely made his way through the ranks of the
local community college by copying the homework of his dopey
girlfriend. It was either that or perhaps Tom had severe
anti-social tendencies since he was a bed wetter as a child and had
been tormented unmercifully by the other kids. At least, that was
the rumor Richard liked to share with the other teachers.
Richard walked into school that fateful day
on time for a change. He approached the faculty area just as
Margaret the admin peered out from her cubicle. She gave him a
frosty stare while looking him up and down. Margaret was a large
white, middle-aged woman with dyed red hair, and her once
curvaceous figure was now settling in some very unfortunate areas.
Like her figure, her once sassy disposition had also settled into a
more truculent phase; nevertheless, Richard enjoyed bantering with
her anyway. He could tell that in a distant time and place she was
once hot.
“Richard, you weren’t out chasing some
skirts again last night were you?” she asked with a slight scolding
twang.
“Now where else would I be Maggie?”
“When are you going to settle down boy? You
can’t go on like this forever.”
“Maggie, I have to keep looking knowing that
you’re off the market,” Richard said with a grin.
“Boy, that flattery is getting you nowhere,
and besides when I was younger you wouldn’t have been able to keep
up with me.”
“You know I kinda like that challenge, so
are you interested in taking on a younger man?”
“No, and stop dodging the issue. You are
late.”
Richard looked at his watch again.
“Can’t be, I’m on time for a change.”
“No you are not; Jim wanted every teacher in
early fifteen minutes today to discuss the results of the school
board meeting.”
“Oh, please, to discuss what, the latest
funding cutbacks along the road to mediocrity? So where is
everybody?” Richard asked.
“Where else? They’re all in the
sanctuary.”
The sanctuary was the euphemistic name the
teachers used for the teacher’s lounge. In the old days the smoke
would pour out of the room as you opened the door; however, now it
was just a convenient watering hole for nervous coffee drinkers who
were too cheap to buy a decent cup of coffee from the local
Starbucks. A couple of the teachers were preparing for the day’s
lesson, but Richard’s usual preparation for the day consisted of
trying to get some sleep before wearily trotting off to his first
class. Richard muttered a few hellos and went to his usual lounge
chair to close his eyes.
“Hey Richard, big announcement today coming
from the Kansas City Board of Education, huh? You must really be
excited about that prospect?” Tom asked.
Through the grogginess, the words struck a
chord in Richard. He immediately recognized the whiny voice as
Tom’s, after all Tom was the only other non-southern voice among
the faculty. Ah gawd, why is this clown talking about Kansas City?
This guy can barely read, never mind paying attention to a regional
issue like the Kansas City school board.
Richard decided to play along with the
fool’s game.
“Yeah, what about it Tom?” Richard
asked.
“Hey, you know that a group of respected
scientists are saying that your boys got wrong it all about the
theory of evolution,” said Tom.
Oh boy, here it comes, Richard thinks to
himself.
“Some are actually saying that DNA is the
result of an intelligent design and that the diversity of life
itself is proof of the hand of the creator,” Tom said.
“Diversity? I’m not sure what Creationist’s
blog you are reading, Tom, but most respected scientists are going
to boycott the upcoming hearings in Kansas City,” Richard said.
“That’s one man’s interpretation, I think
others would disagree with you,” Tom responded.
“Tom, why do I have to keep reminding you
that we are teachers, not preachers and that this is a public
school, not a Bible school?” said Richard.
“What do you have against religion, anyway?”
Tom stammered.
“Nothing at all, though to me it’s all just
a matter of faith and not a matter of science,” Richard said. “To
my way of thinking, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of
religions, and either most got it wrong or on the other hand, they
are just different variations of praying to the same God. In any
case it’s just not science.”
“What are you an atheist? Just figures,” Tom
said with a look of disgust.
“No, maybe I’m agnostic; better yet I’m a
practicing Druid. However, that’s the point, Tom; it shouldn’t
matter because I’m a teacher of science not of theology. Mind you,
I’m not saying there isn’t a God, but for most religions, it’s just
a simple matter of man creating God in their own cultural image.
Think about how many street corner preachers and messiahs claim to
personally know the word of God; and, you know, some of these guys
actually start major religions.”
“Keep talking Richard,” Tom said.
“Is it really that important to you that I
believe in the same imaginary friend that you do? Frankly, I just
don’t think it’s that easy to divine the divine, and if that is
true I’m probably safe with my own belief system. Even so, that
doesn’t mean I should subject the kids to my beliefs, nor, for that
matter, should you subject me to yours,” Richard said wearily.
“It’s going to take more than your little
speech to convert people to evolution,” Tom said.
Richard had this debate with Tom numerous
times before, but then a thought came to him.
“Wait here for me,” Richard yelled as he ran
from the sanctuary.
He went to the mailroom to pickup a package
that had been waiting for him. He grabbed the small package and
raced back to the teacher’s lounge, plunking the package on the
table with an exaggerated thud.
“There, take a look,” Richard said.
“Take a look at what? What the hell is
that?” Tom asked as he shied away from the table.
“Hey, will you grow a pair or I am going
have to insist on you using the ladies room from now on?” Richard
remarked as he tore open the package. He removed a small object
that was covered in foam, and as he ripped the foam from the
object, a small, brownish human-like skull was revealed. It was the
size of a small child’s skull and was seemingly pieced together
from numerous smaller fragments.
“It’s a cast of a Homo floresiensis skull,
dating back just 13,000 years or so. Look at the small cranium,
even a layperson could see that it is decidedly non-human, but the
teeth are small and look very much like ours, definitely not
ape-like. Notice the location of foramen magnum under the skull,
which is a strong indicator of the bipedal nature of this specimen.
Tom, care to explain away how this transitional skull fits into
your Intelligent Design Theory to me, and how could it be
contemporary with modern humans? Huh? Does ID explain anything
other than saying God did it?” Richard asked.
All of the other teachers crowded around to
look at the specimen as Tom stepped away.
“Where did you get that?” Tom asked.
“What do you care? I got it at ‘Skulls R Us’
with my own money, not the school’s, so relax reverend,” Richard
said.
The other teachers were listening intently
to Richard’s commentary about the skull, but Tom just stood there
and was actually smiling back at Richard. Richard could tell that
this goober knew something.
“Okay, so why are you annoying me anyway?”
Richard asked.
“Because I want to point out to you that
when you show your students your little shrunken head next time you
are going to have to include a conversation about some of the other
alternative explanations for its existence such as ‘Intelligent
Design’,” Tom said with a goofy smile.
“Tom, what the hell are you talking about?
Have you been sniffing the rat butts in the lab again?” Richard
asked.
Tom said, “The school board just voted
yesterday, and the new science agenda this year is now to include a
discussion regarding ‘Intelligent Design’. It’s all here, have
yourself a look,” Tom said.
From across the table, Tom threw a copy of
the school board agenda paper at Richard.
“You know if you came to the school board
meetings once in a while you could keep on top of these big issues.
It would also appear you’ve got to change your biology curriculum a
bit this year. In fact, don’t forget to tell the kids that
evolution is one of several possible theories this time around,
will ya? Oh, this is effective immediately,” Tom said.
Richard read the meeting notes, observing
that the school board had approved, by a vote of five to none, the
new Creationist-Intelligent Design agenda for Biological
studies.
“This is bullshit! I can’t teach that crap!
Where the hell is Jim?” Richard asked as he stormed from the
teacher’s lounge.
Richard was really pissed. To Richard,
Intelligent Design was just another name for Creationism dressed up
in semi-scientific bullshit jargon to be foisted upon an ignorant
and gullible American public. The idea that a benign creator was
guiding evolution to the ultimate goal of humanity was just as bad
science as the Biblical account of man’s creation.
The Creationists had lost big time with the
debate on the age of the earth so they were grasping at any other
theory they could find that would negate the role of chance in
man’s creation. Intelligent Design was now the latest flavor of
ignorance, and these teachings were becoming so fanciful that some
creationist clowns had created theme parks featuring dinosaurs on
the grounds of the Garden of Eden. Why in the hell would a T. Rex
need nine inch long teeth in the Garden of Eden? Was Eve really
that big a bitch?
Richard wanted to retch at the thought of
teaching this pseudo-science crapola. No benign creator would allow
this level of ignorance to resurrect itself, and besides, what was
next for a comeback: The Spanish Inquisition? To Richard, it was so
moronic the way people would grasp at any explanation of the world
that didn’t require them to think or question their role on the
planet. Yet, was it really laziness? Or was it more the arrogance
of man, and a desire for security that drove so much of man’s
offensive behavior, including his own?

Richard managed to track Jim down in one of
the science labs. The school’s science department head was a tired,
older gentleman named James Hyde, and he had little energy left for
Richard’s personal rants.
“Jim, I don’t get this. You didn’t bother
telling me about the school board vote? And I thought this was the
twenty-first century, not the nineteenth century,” Richard
said.
Jim looked up while sighing.
Jim said, “Let me guess. That idiot Tom
shared the news with you first, huh? Richard, I have asked you
repeatedly to attend the school board meetings and you couldn’t be
bothered. That’s fine, but because you don’t like the way a school
board vote went you think you have a legitimate beef with me?” Jim
asked.
In the past Jim’s soft accent had a way of
soothing Richard’s edginess; however, Richard was having none of
his bullshit this time around.
“You’ve got be kidding with this change in
the curriculum, Intelligent Design? Even the Catholic Church, which
has not exactly been the most enlightened or progressive
organization in recent history has acknowledged the existence of
evolution, and I can say that as a Catholic.”
Jim stared at him somewhat incredulously.
Richard suddenly felt awkward with Jim’s stare.
“What, you’re shocked I’m a Catholic? I
guess you just assumed with the last name ‘Staller’ I was
Protestant, am I right? Talk about religious intolerance, would it
be easier if I was a Baptist?”
“No Richard, it’s not that at all…I just
can’t imagine you belonging to any organized religion,” Jim
quipped.
“Whatever Jim, I’m a scientist, and unless
you can deliver for me the son of God Almighty here to verify this
so called Intelligent Design theory, I’m not teaching it!” he
shouted.
Jim was both a teacher and a God-fearing
Baptist, so he had little troubling go with the flow of the school
board. However, dealing with the ranting Richard was an entirely
different matter for him.
“Richard, it was voted on by the school
board, and that’s the direction we’re going. Besides, what’s wrong
with an alternative teaching to Evolution? It will either stand or
fall on its own merits,” he said slowly.
“What’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong!
In the real world it already fell a hundred years ago!” Richard
yelled as he glared at Jim while grabbing one of the large sample
fossil rocks that he had given Jim a while back. He lifted the rock
above his head, and for a second Jim cowered thinking Richard was
about to strike him with the rock. Instead, Richard struck the rock
against the desktop with a loud thud. The soft, sedimentary rock
splintered easily into several smaller pieces. Richard looked at
the broken shards and grabbed one to show Jim.
“Look at the shells in this rock. Look, damn
it,” as he shoved the rock near Jim’ nose. Inside the rock, there
was a collection of tiny shells or more precisely, the imprints of
some small half-inch shells that were jumbled and cemented together
over eons of time. They were small mollusks, tiny clams that you
could find in any bay today; and, looking at them you could almost
hear the ocean gently washing over them. However, unlike their
modern day cousins, the faint whisper of their existence was
forever imprisoned in this rock during the age of the
dinosaurs.
“What’s wrong? ID is not science, but it’s
faith. If you can give me one reasonable explanation as to why God
would hide the imprint of shells in rocks created tens of millions
of years ago or spend a couple of billion years designing us, I’ll
teach your damn Creationist dogma. Until that day I’m teaching
evolution as the only reasonable explanation for theirs and our own
existence!” Richard said.
“Thanks Richard for showing me what a fossil
is, I’ve almost forgotten,” Jim said with a small smile. “Look
Richard, regular folk just don’t know how to reconcile religion and
evolution; they are still trying to work it out.”
“Yeah, a hundred years later, and they are
still in denial,” Richard said. “Look Jim, one of the premiere
minds of the last century was Albert Einstein. You know what his
biggest failure was? It was saying ‘God does not play dice’ with
the universe. He got hung up on trying to resolve Quantum
mechanics, and its concept of chance with his preconceived idea of
a universe designed by an intelligent creator. He wasted the better
part of his lifetime in trying to reconcile the two, failing
miserably. The greatest mind of our time failed to resolve the
element of chance! So do you think these folks are up to resolving
the idea of chance and our own evolution? With twenty percent of
Americans still thinking the sun revolves around the earth, I don’t
think the dumb asses are up to the challenge.”
Jim looked out the window and watched
several squirrels cavorting on a tree trunk; he was doing anything
to avoid listening to Richard’s rambling monologue.
“Look, the Church eventually adjusted to a
universe that didn’t have the earth at the center. Yet the minute
you suggest man’s creation isn’t by divine intervention, people go
ape-shit. You wanna know why? Because it knocks us off our divine
pedestal and calls into question many of our most cherished
assumptions. Most of it is just sheer arrogance on our part. This
fight was never about God’s divinity; it’s about our own,
so-called, right to divinity!”
Richard stopped for a second when he saw Jim
rolling his eyes, but Richard decided to continue the rant
anyway.
“Let me guess, we’re getting new biology
books with an Intelligent Design section?” he asked.
“Why, yes,” Jim replied.
“Figures, I asked for some new lab equipment
over a year ago, and I’m told there is no money left in the budget.
However, the school board can give the okay to spend tens of
thousands of dollars on this abomination of a biology book to
satisfy some asshole who has to be told how to think by some
preacher.”
“Richard, to be honest with you, your speech
would have been a lot more useful in front of the school board,”
Jim said.
Jim could see the look of dejection in
Richard’s face.
“What’s the big deal, Richard? You are going
to sell evolution in a big way to the kids, and you’ll give a short
shrift to the Creationist section. And knowing you, you will do it
all with a smirk and a wink in your eye. Richard, you are one of
the best teachers we have in this school. You’re smart, energetic
and funny. I know you think your talents are wasted here, but I
also see how those kids respond to you, even if you don’t. You
haven’t lost anything, and you haven’t lost those kids. Just get in
there, and fight for the minds of those kids instead of fighting
with me, okay? Or better yet, take your fight up with the school
board,” Jim said.
Jim was about to step away when he
interjected, “You talk about arrogance? You know, you’re also
telling people what to think as well all, except it’s under the
guise of science. Science is not entirely objective either, I know
you know that.”
Richard was about to protest, even though he
knew Jim had a small point. It didn’t matter; he had already heard
Jim’s “you are a great teacher” speech before, and consequently he
had already discounted anything Jim was going to say to him.
Richard was also a true believer, and it would take more than the
likes of Jim to persuade him otherwise. That was always at the core
of Richard’s problems; he made friends quite readily, however he
never managed to keep them for very long. He was trying Jim’s
patience, he knew it, but he just didn’t care anymore. That was the
story of Richard’s life: a never-ending series of strategic
retreats and burning bridges.
“Richard, just do it, end of discussion,”
Jim said. Jim was glad to leave the lab without any physical
injury. Why continue to fight with Richard when the curriculum
wouldn’t touch on the topic of evolution until later on in the
year?
That night, Richard was particularly
motivated to drink himself into near oblivion. He arrived early at
his favorite watering hole and was drunk in record time as he
gathered about him a small clique of women that he continuously
lavished with liquor. Richard drank his Scotch while the girls
about him drank an assortment of sweet kiddy drinks. He was soon
without pain, but as the night darkened, the moment he always
dreaded arrived earlier than usual, as a sudden jolt of sobriety
pulled him away from his alcoholic revelry, and caused him to stop
and reflect on the assortment of frivolous young women he had
assembled around him. Tattooed and drenched in cheap knock-off
perfume, most of the women gathered about him were in their later
teens, and they were finding his intoxicated ramblings very
amusing.
“When had his choice in women turned to
young, vapid girls?” he pondered aloud during a lull in the
music.
One of the less inebriated girls overheard
his acerbic comment and asked “What did you just say?”
Richard focused on her young, wholesome face
when he suddenly became alarmed that she could actually be one of
his students. Richard had only one hard and fast rule about bedding
young women: they could not be one of his students. He was so drunk
he couldn’t be sure so he abruptly left the girls at the bar and
staggered home alone into the darkness of that chilly spring
night.
The last and the sorriest chapter in
Richard’s stint as a public school teacher exploded during a
parent-teacher’s conference. Some of the more ardent
fundamentalists, who also happened to be parents to some of
Richard’s students, came to the meeting with an agenda, and they
were intent on forcing the department’s hand regarding the use of
the new biology book. Word had spread among the faithful that one
of the biology teachers was insisting on using the old science
book.
One parent, an obstinate redneck type, made
a loud point of wanting to talk to the biology teacher about
evolution. After entering the school, he began the process of
systematically hunting Richard down. Richard was busily talking to
another parent about her child’s progress and the parent’s own
debilitating learning disabilities. While speaking to the parent,
Richard’s accent became very pronounced, giving away his northern
roots. The fundamentalist parent overheard Richard speaking and
knew he had found his quarry.
When the mother left, the fundamentalist
parent flagged Richard down. Richard took a long hard look at the
man who apparently wanted his undivided attention. The parent was
dressed in a mechanic’s uniform topped off with a jacket that was
stained with grease. A tall, thin man, his blue eyes were small,
and he resembled a red-necked Randy Johnson while speaking with a
pronounced drawl. He was a hard-working stiff who was actually
fairly larger and a bit taller than Richard. Richard carefully eyed
his opponent realizing that these physical attributes were
all-important factors to consider when engaging in a possible
physical confrontation.
“My kid is in your Biology class this year.
What do ya’ll think of the new biology book?” the parent asked.
Richard was one not to back down from a
confrontation; he felt had a little too much Irish in the blood to
do so. He looked the man in the eye, and asked him, “Who’s your
son, sir?”
“Steven Boyle.”
Richard knew Steven immediately. Steven was
a dull, disinterested student who had a tendency to play with
himself in the back of the classroom. He wasn’t much of a bother;
though it was clear to Richard that Steven wasn’t going anywhere
fast during this lifetime unless, of course, masturbation was on
the fast track to becoming a new Olympic sport.
“Ah, Steven, for whatever reasons, he
doesn’t seem to be particularly motivated about biology other than
his own, so to speak. Also, to answer your question, I don’t think
much of the new biology book. It is an abomination of learning, and
I have little use for religious doctrine disguised as
pseudo-scientific fact. Unless a theory can be tested, it has no
place in a science class. Until we define a test for determining
the existing of the Lord, it can’t really be called a theory…,”
Richard said.
“Yes, you can! We call it faith. Don’t you
believe in the Bible? Don’t ya believe in anything?” the parent
asked.
Richard said, “No, not literally, I don’t
think God is that easy to divine, but let’s get back to
Steven.”
The clearly agitated parent said, “What? You
know evolution is just a theory, and it’s not proven.”
Richard was ready for this comment.
“Mr. Boyle, that’s a bit of a misnomer by
most lay people. By theory, we mean in science a theoretical
framework for an explanation that describes and supports our
observations of nature. Gravity is by definition a theory too, and
yet you have no problem observing it as reality. In fact, I would
say that you’re fairly grounded with it, if you don’t mind the pun.
Nonetheless, within the gravitational theory, there have been
numerous changes, as for example, when Einstein described the
mechanism of gravity as the result of the warping of the time and
space continuum. The mechanism may change as our knowledge base
grows, but the results are still good old gravity,” Richard
said.
Richard knew he was being a smart ass, and
once again, he found himself referencing Albert Einstein, knowing
that in any debate he could count on the reverence many average lay
people had for the physicist’s name. Besides, how many lay people
knew the names of any evolutionary scientists or for that matter,
the names of any living scientists? Had they even heard of Richard
Dawkins or the late Stephen Jay Gould? No, probably not, but there
was a good chance they might know the name of Oprah’s latest mate.
Their world was constantly transformed by the men and women of
science, though most people spent their lives living in blissful
ignorance of science, and frankly, they preferred it to stay that
way.
The parent’s jaw dropped at the changing
course of the conversation, and he wasn’t armed intellectually to
put up much of a fight. Richard was finding it hard to remain
interested in this battle of wits with what appeared to be a
genuine conscientious objector on the part of the redneck parent.
To make matters worse, a small gathering of other parents began to
encircle the two antagonists. They were sensing the growing tension
between the two, and they didn’t want to miss a word or more
importantly, the possibility of a good fight. Likewise, Richard saw
this as his opportunity to put on a good show and perhaps even
teach the goobers a thing or two about evolution.
“But it’s still a theory!” the parent
exclaimed.
“Not if you mean theoretical or unproven,”
Richard said in an annoyed manner. “It’s a construct for describing
our observations of nature. Animals and plants live and die, and in
time will evolve into new forms all without the direct intervention
of God. We can even create new species in laboratories that has
nothing to do with God directly, unless, of course, you count us as
instruments for God. You probably had some of those new species for
breakfast this morning. We invest billions of dollars in
technologies that manipulate DNA, the very building blocks of
evolution.”
“But what…,” the parent tried to
interject.
Richard interrupted with, “Jeez, there are
even things call wolphins that exist because killer whales and
dolphins got it on in one of the Sea World tanks. As far as I know,
that was man’s doing for the tourists, not God’s, unless Jesus is
making a comeback during a Sea World show on the back of a killer
wolphin.” Richard knew he was adding a touch of the sacrilegious
into the debate; however, he was on a roll in front of the audience
that had gathered about him.
“The earth just isn’t that old. It’s all a
big lie,” the parent yelled. “The Bible is the truth, and man is
not the result of some accident. Man is God’s work, and we have to
accept that!”
Jim overheard the angry words between the
pair, but he couldn’t make his way through the growing throng of
parents to intercept the two combatants.
“Hey buddy, it’s not just the biologists
making this stuff up, it is also the physicists, geologists and the
astronomers who are doing the dating of the earth. Most of those
guys couldn’t give a damn about the theory of evolution, and yet
they all have this planet pegged for being about four and a half
billion years old, not your six thousand years,” Richard said.
The parent shook his head and muttered, “All
lies, all lies. You’re teaching lies to my kid.”
Richard was tired of the fight, and an angry
torrent of words emerged from his mouth. “And, I’ll clue you in on
something else! The earth isn’t in the center of the universe any
more, and I don’t care if your politicians don’t know if evolution
is true or not. If evolution is all a big lie, how come you never
find a bunny rabbit fossil in a Pre-Cambrian rock? It’s rough when
facts get in the way of fiction, huh? Think man, will you, that’s
all I ask of the kids,” Richard said. There was an awkward silence
among the large gathering of parents.
“Now if you will excuse me, I have another
meeting to go to,” Richard said. He then snarled a quick smile at
the parent that said go ahead fuck with me and see what
happens.
The abrupt ending didn’t sit well with the
fundamentalist parent so he grabbed Richard’s arm as he was
stepping away. Richard quickly pushed the parent’s hand off his
arm, and in the process of deflecting arms, they began to jostle
each other. Richard finally extricated his arms from the parent,
and he began to walk away again.
The parent, frustrated with the ordeal,
realized that his foe was evading him, and he shoved Richard in the
back as he stepped away. Richard fell forward but caught himself
before completely falling to the ground. There was an audible gasp
from the gathering of parents as they saw Richard stagger
forward.
Richard had enough from his opponent, and he
turned around while letting loose with a big overhand right that
caught the charging redneck square in the nose. The nasal cartilage
fractured with a crunching noise as blood flew from the broken
nose, splattering the crowd of horrified bystanders. The taller man
crumbled to the ground while Richard was restrained by several
other parents in an effort to separate the two combatants. Some of
the women started screaming in fear as they wiped the splattered
blood droplets from their faces. This precipitated a mad rush for
the exit doors as other parents tried to escape the ensuing
melee.
Several additional teachers intervened, and
they pulled a struggling Richard from the room. Leaving the room,
Richard could overhear the incoherent cursing of the fundamentalist
parent in the background. Richard was hastily walked to Jim’s
office, and while he waited he noticed a large cut on his knuckle
that he had opened with the punch. Richard smiled to himself
figuring he had given more than he had taken.
Jim finally arrived, and he stepped closer
to Richard while angrily asking him, “Are you nuts? Have you
completely lost your sanity?”
Richard nodded his head in the
affirmative.
“What do you want from me?” Jim asked.
“That asshole started it! I’m out of here as
of now,” Richard yelled. “I didn’t start this fight, but I sure in
hell will finish it. You teach these morons, they don’t want to be
taught; they just want to be reassured,” Richard said and he
hurriedly left the school.
The whole episode left Richard feeling cold,
useless and stupid. Besides losing his job, he had to wait out
whether or not the redneck parent was going to charge him with
aggravated assault. And, of course, there was the cloud of a
lingering civil suit that continued to hang over his head. The only
thing that was saving Richard was that any practiced lawyer
reviewing the case would immediately know Richard had no assets to
speak of, so it was more a matter of pursuing the school district
for damages. So far, the parent was content with having Richard out
of the classroom, though that status quo could change at a moment’s
notice or a lawyer’s phone call.
Richard’s enduring bout of depression was
now going on for several weeks. Worse, depression for Richard was
truly anger without the enthusiasm, and with each day he felt his
spirit slowly ebbing away from him.
However, this morning everything had changed
for Richard. The article this morning had given him something he
hadn’t had in a long time: a sliver of hope, but what the hell was
the girl’s name?
Being self taught, Richard was not an
elegant runner, and his stride wasn’t very efficient; even his
breathing technique was all wrong. Instead, he made up for these
shortcomings by transforming his body over the years into an
enlarged heart and lung machine that gave him an endurance edge
that few other people possessed. He approached his running with the
same manic commitment he once reserved for his drinking habit. He
also knew he was fortunate so far in avoiding the usual chronic
injuries that crippled so many other distance runners. With each
step, the blood from his heart was pumping vigorously throughout
his body, surging into his limbs and, finally, deep into the
dustbins that littered his brain.
This is what millions of years of evolution
had designed the human body for, an efficient machine for walking
to the next food source and for running after wounded prey. During
a good run, each stride for Richard was a perfect, effortless,
rhythmic step that made his soul and body feel like one, rather
than the usual state of constant warfare with one another.
With his next step he suddenly remembered
her face. She was an attractive lady; pretty actually, with small
features and who wore a little makeup. That’s right, she was a
small brunette with light-colored, almost green eyes, a little bit
older, and she had a nice, curvy shape. She had a tan at the time,
and she had good, firm legs, if he recalled correctly that were
accentuated by her heels. That’s right, she also smelled good as
well. These were all key elements in his checklist for remembering
any woman of sexual merit.
He then remembered one other distinguishing
characteristic about her. Man, she was such a pain in the ass! She
was very bright, yet so opinionated, and she possessed absolutely
no sense of humor. She didn’t even find him amusing and that was
particularly insulting to Richard’s fragile ego.
Come on, how could that be? Richard knew
that every 9th grade girl in his school had a crush on
him for as much as his looks as his smart-ass ways. A sense of
humor was critical in his short list of admirable qualities in a
woman. With Richard’s childish behavior, it was actually a
necessity in order for a woman to tolerate him for any period of
time.
He approached a steeper slope, and he
immediately shortened his stride to accommodate the challenging
gradient. He looked down to check his footing when he caught a
glimpse of a discarded Sara Lee pound cake lid lying on the
ground.
Stupid garbage, that’s all I need to do, is
to take a spill on that lid.
He knew that a fall this deep in the woods
would mean an excruciating, long walk back to the crummy apartment.
He took an elongated step to avoid the lid, and with the blood
surging through the vessels in his skull it came to him, seemingly
out of the void, but actually deep from the recesses of his
brain.
“Shit, that’s it, her name! Sara, Sara
Levine!” he yelled. And that’s why Richard ran, not to run away
from his sad, tortured life, as he did with his drinking, but to
somehow remember the random, discarded fragments of his existence.
With Sara’s name firmly fixed within his consciousness, Richard
picked his pace up and barely noticed the abyss that loomed before
him.

The Rest Will Follow

It took Richard less than ten minutes on the
Internet to track Sarah Levine down to her most recent university
posting. Later that day, he managed to find a phone number for her,
and he began calling her obsessively. Reaching her voice message,
Richard would hang up repeatedly, wanting instead the opportunity
to talk to her directly. Later that afternoon, he finally caught
Sarah in her office.
“Sarah Levine?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Professor Staller, Richard Staller, we met
at the Cleveland anthropology conference a few years ago.”
“Why, yes, I do remember you, Richard. How
is it going, and what have you been up to?” Sarah said in a forced
cheerful tone.
“Well, not up to much, a little teaching at
the public school level, though to be honest with you Sarah, I am
not really calling you to catch up on old times. I’m sure you’ve
heard the press announcement regarding Homo floresiensis and Flores
Island?” Richard asked.
Sarah felt a sinking sensation in her
stomach. It was one of her momentary lapses of judgment when she
shared with Richard the details regarding her to trip to the
mystery island and her so-called incident in the jungle. She wasn’t
even planning to go to the social mixer that ran after the most
boring academic conference Sarah could ever recall attending.
Nevertheless, for some reason that stupid small voice told her to
get out that night and have some fun.
Sarah was alone at the mixer, busily
rebuffing the approaches of several losers when she spotted Richard
listening to a grey haired dowager as he surveyed the room. Richard
was a somewhat attractive guy, at least compared with some of the
other university dregs that had attended the conference, and she
caught him scrutinizing her.
Richard was tall, somewhat on the lean side
with a somewhat boyish face and a square jaw line. He had brown,
thick hair and, unlike his brethren, his hair at least appeared to
have been combed during the past week. His clothes were cleaned and
pressed; overall, he made a respectable presentation from a
distance. Most of all, she liked his light blue eyes with their
hint of mischief that danced within. In short, he had all the
traits of being a typical player, and that suited her temperament
perfectly; after all, she was looking for some fun that night, not
a relationship.
Most of the other men at the conference were
barely capable of rudimentary grooming such as bathing and shaving,
never mind having a full social discourse with a woman. When
totally bored, Sarah often made a game of spotting the man with the
widest variety of food stains on his clothes, trying to guess, for
example, what they had for lunch. Previously, she had tried to
figure out who had went without a shower the longest, however the
body odor would take too much of a toll on her sensitive nose. And
this was from a woman who worked regularly with apes; she could
excuse the apes but not people for smelling like animals. No,
viewing stains from a distance was a much safer diversion. Even so,
this game too had its perils because if they saw Sarah looking at
them, they automatically assumed she was flirting with them.
No matter how slovenly they might appear
Sarah could always count a healthy dose of male ego to fill any
academic conference room. If they did approach her, she found that
her best defense mechanism was to either play dead or to challenge
them intellectually. Most of the men she met felt challenged by her
intellect; after all, she was a bright person, and she wasn’t about
to dumb it down for some fragile male ego. After shooting down some
of the other academic dregs, Sarah set her targets on Richard. For
whatever the reasons, she felt like flirting that night, and
Richard was the only male in the room that appeared to be of the
same species as her.
Richard spotted the quiet brunette eyeing
him, and he quickly excused himself from the talkative dowager. He
confidently walked over to Sarah and smiled while asking her, “How
many evolutionists does it take to change a light bulb?”
Sarah looked at him, and incredulously
asked, “What the…?”
“You heard me, how many evolutionists does
it take to change a light bulb?” he asked.
“Duh, only one, but it takes her eight
million years,” she said chuckling while shaking her head at his
lame joke.
Richard was undeterred by his initial
failure. “Alright, you heard that one before, so how many
creationists does it take to change a light bulb?”
Sarah gave him a quizzical look while
Richard pressed ahead.
“Only one and you damn well know that it
takes him no more than seven days,” he joked.
Sarah continued shaking her head while
commenting, “Really, I haven’t heard such riveting humor since
grade school. That’s your pickup line? So what are you working, a
pity angle with me?” Sarah asked jokingly.
“Why, would that angle work with you?”
Richard asked.
“No, not really, I don’t do charity work,”
Sarah said.
“All right, those jokes sucked, I’ll grant
you that, but you did laugh. And after surveying the competition
here I figured I could get away with a slow start. Besides, I
didn’t think my standard pick up lines would work with you, and I
had to make sure you weren’t one of the pod people at this
conference,” Richard said.
“No, I am not, and I was laughing at you,
not at the lame jokes. But, you are right though, these people do
make tedium seem exciting. So is that your best shot at picking me
up?” Sarah asked.
“I was going to ask what a fine looking lady
like you was doing here with these losers?” Richard asked.
“What, I don’t qualify as a hottie?” Sarah
responded as she flashed him a big grin.
Richard realized she may have been quiet,
but she wasn’t shy, not by a long shot. Emboldened by her flirting,
he decided to press ahead.
“To be honest with you, any adjectives I use
you to compare you with this crowd is damning with faint phrase,”
he said.
“Very well put then, I’m Associate Professor
Sarah Levine,” and Sarah extended her hand for a collegial
handshake. Richard grasped her small hand with his, and held onto
her hand for a few extra moments while looking into her eyes.
“Actually, I didn’t know what line to use
since I observed you shooting down all the other guys here.”
“You know they deserved to be shot down, so
please don’t disappoint me,” she said with a seductive smile.
“You got a deal, but this usual works a lot
better for both of us if you’re drunk so allow me to get you
another drink,” a smirking Richard said, and the two headed over to
the open bar together.
“Scotch on the rocks for me and for the
lady?”
“Ah, a white wine—no, I have that all the
time. Make that a Scotch for me too,” she said.
Richard liked the spunky little brunette,
and after the introductions he gave her a brief overview of his
research. Sarah could tell that he loved talking about himself, and
she actually understood his work on species radiation in hominins
through DNA analysis. Most other women would have chewed their
right leg off to get away from that conversation with Richard.

Bright kid he was thinking to himself even
though she was actually several years his senior. Sarah talked
about her work as a primatologist and some of the papers she had
published making it clear to Richard that she was no lightweight.
Smartest kid in her class they would say about her, and she knew
it.
Richard was impressed with her work, but not
enough to keep the academic talk going. He wanted to have some fun
and, after all, she was a pretty girl, in anybody’s room, boring or
otherwise. For Richard that was only type of girl truly worth
pursuing because if you were going to be tortured by a woman, and
they all do torture you at some point in your life, you might as
well be tortured by a pretty woman.
Richard interrupted her by commenting,
“That’s a hell of a nice tan you have going there girl. I would
love to see your tan lines.”
“Hmmm, that was a bit obvious Richard, and
why do you assume I have any?” she replied with a small smile.
Richard thought that sounded encouraging,
and he was about to offer his inspection services when she followed
with, “Anyway, spend two months in Flores and you develop a darn
good base coat. For now, I’m going to keep the tan lines to myself,
thank you,” she said.
Richard wasn’t dissuaded from his pursuit.
She continued to talk only to have Richard interrupt her once again
while asking, “You went to Flores, huh? So did you visit the caves
at Bin Laung?”
“Ah, no,” she said.
“What, you’re a primatologist visiting
Flores, and you didn’t go the caves? I’m not an expert; however, if
I recall correctly there are no primates on Flores Island, other
than the two-legged human kind, right? That had to be a big career
move for you. So why were you there?” he asked jokingly.
Richard was being a smart ass, and maybe it
was the second glass of Scotch, but Sarah decided to show off. No,
the boring tales regarding the bird studies would not do in this
situation. Sarah smiled at Richard while looking at him straight in
the eyes.
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that if I
was you. You know there can be more than one species of two-legged
primates,” Sarah said. Richard drew closer to her, noticing that as
she spoke her nostrils flared ever so slightly.
“Yeah, maybe 13,000 years ago on that
island,” Richard replied.
“Don’t be such a cretin Richard,
that’s such boring, old school thinking,” she said.
“What?” he asked as he pondered her use of
the word cretin.
“It may not be that long ago,” she said with
a big smile.
“Get out of here, where?” Richard asked.
“Well, I can’t say however on one of those
so-called non-primate islands, I think there is a major discovery
to be made, just there for the taking as they say,” she said.
Maybe it was the alcohol, but Sarah found
herself talking more loudly than usual.
“You saw something on Flores?” Richard said
as he pressed closer to her. He loved the look in her eyes with the
pupils widening; this girl knew how to flirt. He started to notice
her perfume, and he struggled to place the scent. This cute girl
also smells good, and she was wearing a white blouse under her
blazer that nicely offset her tan. The top buttons of her blouse
were undone, and he found himself fighting hard to resist the
temptation of looking down at the shorter woman’s cleavage. For a
small girl she had a nice pair, and he wondered about her cup size
before he regained a modicum of self-control by repeating his old
pickup mantra: “Focus on her eyes, Richard, the rest will
follow.”
Sarah commented, “No, not on Flores, but on
one of the other islands off Flores, there is something on that
island.”
“Come on, what Bigfoot?” Richard asked.
She continued in an excited but hushed
voice, “More like I felt something while I was in the woods, I mean
it was an intelligent presence. It was far different from what I’ve
sensed when I’m in the jungle with other apes such as chimps or
gorillas! I heard murmuring coming from them, some type of
vocalization, very non-ape like,” Sarah said.
“You’re being a bit vague for me. Just what
the hell did you see or hear, kiddo?” Richard said with a
smile.
“I didn’t see anything, but someone is
there, and I’m going back to find them” Sarah said with great
determination.
She asked, “Have you ever heard of the Ebu
Gogo?”
“Yes, what about them?” Richard asked.
“Well, think about destiny,” Sarah said as
she smiled at him with that sparkle in her eyes.
“Destiny?” Richard thinks to himself. Great!
This chick was spending way too much time alone in the jungle on
some God-forsaken island. Now he was beginning to question what was
that wild-eye look in her eyes a few moments ago? He had assumed
she was flirting, but now he was having second thoughts about her
true motivations. Was she a flake or maybe she was a member of some
weird cult? Whatever the case, horniness would always win out over
personal safety for Richard, and he decided to press ahead with the
peculiar brunette.
They talked a little more, and Richard
started to tease her about working with apes. That was a big gaffe
on his part since that was tantamount to attacking her family!
Sarah found his humor to be somewhat juvenile, especially when it
was at her expense, and she grew tired of the flirting game. Sarah
gave Richard the dreaded good-bye look and told him she was calling
it a night despite his adamant protests. Before she left they
politely exchanged email addresses.
A few days after the conference, Richard had
the opportunity to read some of Sarah’s research in the journals,
the very same professional journals that he was hoping to submit
his work to. Richard had expected to find her articles to be a mix
of some soft, touchy-feely, humanist anthropology. Much to his
surprise, Sarah wrote her articles on primates with the cold,
unblinking eye of a scientist. Observations, facts and deductions
were the mainstays of Sarah’s publications, not subjective humanist
feelings.
Sarah’s research on the great apes focused
exclusively on the study of empathy. Empathy, the ability of one
sentient creature to put themselves in another creature’s shoes is
a critical ingredient in the unique makeup of human beings. That
unique human ingredient also seemed to be an important
characteristic of primates in general. Research in macaque monkeys
identified a region of the brain that fired in response to their
own activity or even if they watched another monkey perform the
same action. Called mirror neurons, their presence suggests an
innate ability of primates to put themselves in another creature’s
frame of mind. Research was indicating that much of the primate’s
brain is wired specifically for interaction with other primates.
The ability to predict the behavior of other individuals in the
troop would give an individual a decided edge in manipulating
others. Even in chimps, there have been suggestions that they know
how to lie to other primates, even to their human researchers!
Sarah’s work was continuing the research of
others in the field in suggesting that this basic primate
capability was integral in understanding human behavior. And Sarah
wasn’t just content to publish academic work, but she was an active
member of the online Animal Rights community as well. Going on a
hunch, Richard did a search on ‘cretin’ & ‘apes’, and he found
numerous blog entries from an individual going by the handle of
“CRAZY4APES”. It had to be her because in one exchange she wrote
that ‘the primate’s innate ability to manipulate and empathize lead
directly to the good and evil duality we are now witness to in
human beings’. She continued, ‘empathy allows humans to feel pity
and sorrow for others; while on the other hand, it allows a man to
join others of his kind in fighting a war, truly a double-edged
sword’. To Sarah, apes were clearly on the first step of the
evolutionary ladder to a “Theory of Mind”. The other person
strongly disagreed with her assessment about ape empathy, but Sarah
punctuated her closing argument by labeling that person a
‘cretin’.
All of these readings on human emotions made
Richard feel a bit dirty since he was a meat and potatoes type of
science guy. Furthermore, even Richard had to admit that he was
somewhat of an emotional cripple with an obvious dislike for
analyzing his own feelings. Still, Sarah’s work couldn’t be
ignored, and the ramifications could be far reaching. Obviously,
damage to certain areas in the human brain could result in a
variety of neurological diseases. Could damage to mirror neurons
result in autism?
Richard then reflected on the full spectrum
of classic sociopath behavior that was manifested in a loan
solitary child that tortured small animals for a vicarious thrill,
to the secretive sexual perversions of an obsessive serial killer
and finally to the demonstratively public displays of genocide
perpetrated by your garden variety war criminal. The ability of
some people to intimately kill others, without the slightest
hesitation or remorse, perhaps to even enjoy it, was a trait that
most humans had some considerable difficulty coming to terms with.
People just assumed these behaviors were the product of a flawed
soul, but what if all of these horrific behaviors could be
attributed to a deficiency of the brain, leading to a means of
detection and finally, to an inevitable remedy? It sounded almost
flippant; however, could future Hitlers and Stalins be cured with
the proper medications or treatments?
No, as Richard saw it, Sarah’s work was
important in linking the evolution of primate emotions to our
present human behavior. Despite her deep respect and reverence for
the great apes, science was the dominant theme in her writings. She
certainly wasn’t a flake so that made her comments about the
‘intelligent presence’ on the island even more vexing to him. As
the Flores discovery gained momentum Richard knew he had to stay in
touch with the brunette, but then life happens, like a sledgehammer
to the testicles. That was why he remembered meeting her in the
first place. Plus, he always had a yen for small, dark-haired girls
with big boobs.

Upon hearing his voice once again, Sarah
wished she never said anything to him. She suddenly felt
nauseous.
“I see that you like giving anonymous quotes
to bloggers about finds on non-primate islands,” he said.
Taken aback by Richard’s boldness, Sarah
decided to play it safe so she got defensive about the topic.
“What do you mean, Richard?” she asked in a
somewhat agitated voice while wanting to hang up on him.
“That night you told me that you sensed an
intelligence presence on one of those Indonesian islands, plus
there are a few anthropologists thinking there are more than just
bones to find in the area. Hell, they are talking about searching
the caves and forests, not just for fossils, but for living
specimens! You’re the one that mentioned the Ebu Gogo that night!”
Richard said.
“You are getting way ahead of yourself,
Richard. I didn’t tie this into Homo floresiensis; you just did. I
had too much to drink that night at the conference. And besides, of
what concern is this matter to you?” Sarah asked.

The phrase ‘this matter’ caught Richard’s
attention. To Richard’s ear, her last comment was a tell,
and that’s why Richard hated phone conversations. If he could see
her face, he would know instantly if she was planning a trip back
to Flores. Richard knew she was playing defensive ball, doing
anything she could to stonewall him.
“Come on Sarah or should I call you
CRAZY4APES? Please don’t snow me, I know what you are planning, and
your blog comment was a dead giveaway!” Richard said.
“Sorry Richard, I have to go. Bye!” Sarah
said.
She abruptly hung up on him. Sarah realized
that was not too polite of her, but she was truly shaken by
Richard’s call. Sarah knew Richard’s meddling could queer the
entire expedition for her.
There were many ways to describe Richard.
Angry, impetuous, arrogant and sometimes even stupid, but he was
never a quitter. Richard decided to meet with her face to face at
her university. Hell, he had no job after the incident with the
redneck creationist parent, so a road trip was not out of the
question for him. Richard looked her address up and decided to
drive the following day to Sarah’s university.
Richard spent the day tracking Sarah down
when he finally caught up with her at the university’s primate lab.
Richard went into the Biology building on campus, and he asked one
of the security guards if they knew where Sarah Levine could be
found. He showed the old guard his expired university card,
explaining that he had a meeting scheduled with Associate Professor
Sarah Levine. The guard, who was more interested in the reading of
his copy of the National Enquirer, ignored the card, and he gruffly
pointed Richard in the direction of the Primate Labs. When he
entered the lab, Richard noticed the distinctive ripe odor of caged
apes, an odor he found repulsive even as a kid when he visited the
local zoo.
Sarah had been working with several chimps,
and she was now taking some time out to feed and play with them.
While feeding them, she had taken it upon herself to clean their
neglected cages. The other graduate students responsible for
cleaning the cages were to be found slacking as usual;
consequently, Sarah decided to pitch in to help her animal
friends.
She was on her knees as Richard entered the
lab. At his first glimpse of Sarah in over two years, Richard
literally took a step backwards at her grubby appearance.
Gawd, how drunk was he that night when he
first met her?
After having spent two hours cleaning the
excrement from the chimp cages, Sarah looked like a homeless person
in her filthy sweat clothes and dirty hair. She was sweaty while
smelling of disinfectant and ape shit, never mind her missing
makeup and tan. A startled Richard tried vainly to remember what he
saw in her in the first place.

Sarah, likewise, was surprised at the sudden
arrival of Richard. She quietly escorted Jojo, a five-year-old
juvenile male chimp, out of his cage, and then she moved nearer to
Richard. She was horrified that Richard was seeing her in her
present disheveled state; she was even more horrified that Richard
had been brazen enough to track her down. Plus, the look of
undisguised disgust that registered on Richard’s face did not go
unnoticed by Sarah. No woman wants to receive that look from any
man no matter what her circumstances may be.
“Sarah, how are you doing? Richard Staller,”
he said as he extended a hand to shake with her. However, Sarah’s
gloved hands were covered in a mix of fruit mush and who knows what
else. Sarah graciously declined to shake while gesturing to the
mess on her hands.
“Uh, what’s that on your cheek?” he
asked.
“Food?” she hesitantly replied as she tried
to wipe her cheek with her forearm. Richard decided it was best for
all not to pursue that particular line of inquiry.
“Really Richard, how did you get in here?
You know you caught me at a really bad time.”
“Why, you look great!” Richard said.
“Huh, thanks a lot,” Sarah said.
“No really, what is that beguiling odor in
the air, is that a new perfume you are wearing?” he asked as he
faked a sniff. “No, no let me guess…,”
“Is it Monkey Business?” he asked.
Sarah made a small disgusted face at the
comment.
“Trying out new material I see. So besides
being the straight woman for your new standup act, is there any
particular reason why you are here—uninvited I might add—to see
me?” Sarah asked.
“Well Sarah, you kind of ended our
conversation very abruptly so I figured I would look you up. I
remembered your story about the island and the intelligent presence
you sensed. Or should we cut to the chase and call that presence
the Ebu Gogo? You know, how somebody intelligent was watching you
in the woods and, even more importantly, how you know where they
are,” Richard said.
“Public school, huh? You must have really
enjoyed teaching biology to the great unwashed. I mean a man of
your superior learning and capabilities shouldn’t be allowed to
lower himself by having to mix with the local yokels,” Sarah
said.
“Thanks for the sarcasm, but I guess I
deserve it. It wasn’t that bad until I banged heads with one of the
Born Again fanatics. They didn’t care for the way I refused to call
Intelligent Design a theory. I had an altercation with one of them
one day during a parent-teacher’s conference. The jerk actually
shoved me,” Richard said.
“Let me guess? You weren’t the least bit
belligerent?” Sarah said in an obvious effort to sidetrack
Richard.
“A bit maybe, however that jerk really was
asking for it. It really became a small donnybrook. I bet that they
are still talking about it to this day,” Richard said.
Sarah shook her head. She said, “I’m not
quite sure what a donnybrook is, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not
Latin for a scholarly debate. Allow me to guess again, your
scholarly debate with the parent turned into a fist fight, am I
right?”
In response to her question, Richard hung
his head down in apparent shame.
“Ah, good times, huh Richard? Richard, you
are such a cretin, that’s exactly how they wanted you to
react,” Sarah said.

Richard was about to speak, but he paused
for a second. Richard had been subjected to a variety of different
curses before, even called an idiot and moron at numerous times;
however, cretin was now becoming a regular addition to the list of
disparaging adjectives people had used to describe him. Interesting
choice of words from a strange little girl; moreover, she didn’t
even pronounce the word correctly.
“Perhaps, but you know it could have been
just the excuse I needed to get the hell out of there. I kind of
felt trapped there. A heretic amongst the true believers, I guess,”
Richard said. He looked away from her in an effort to try and hide
his apparent repulsion regarding her present physical
condition.
“Well, you missed a perfect opportunity to
win converts amongst the less committed,” Sarah said as she smiled
at him. He started to hate that stupid, little smug smile of
hers.
“Sarah, do you know what it’s like to teach
the great unwashed? You sit here in the Ivory Tower preaching
gospel to the choir. They’ve already bought into evolution with all
of the iconoclastic ramifications those beliefs entail. Out there,
in the real world, they haven’t. They still believe in angels,
saints and miracles, and they hate you for trying to upset their
perfectly stupid little world! They don’t want to think, and they
sure in hell don’t want you to challenge them. I guess I don’t
quite fit the bill as a missionary for evolution,” Richard
said.
“You don’t fit the bill for much, do you
Richard?” Sarah asked.
Wow, Richard thought that comment was
uncalled for; she was really letting him have it with both barrels.
It was readily apparent to him that Sarah wasn’t warming up to his
boyish charms. Must be her dirty sweats talking.
“So besides catching up on old times, why
the visit now, Richard?” Sarah asked.
“I know what you saw that day on that island
off Flores—”
“Wait a minute, I don’t even know for sure
what I felt, so I’m positive you don’t know,” Sarah said. “If you
recall, I didn’t see anything!”
“Well, I figured we put together an
expedition, and search outside Flores where nobody else is looking.
I figured you can use my help with…,”
“Richard, I don’t need your help, thank
you,” Sarah said abruptly interrupting Richard.
“But you are going; I mean you are planning
to go back to your island aren’t you?” Richard asked.
“I rather not say Richard. I try to keep my
lies to a minimum; it just makes it that much easier to keep track
of the occasional lie,” Sarah said.
He knew it; he was right about her! What was
even worse she was deliberately shutting him out from her
expedition. Richard felt his stomach tighten, and he was starting
to feel a bit desperate.
“Look, just add me to the team as a junior
member; give me a chance to work with you!” he pleaded.
“Richard, Dr. Brightman is putting together
the team, and he has already invited a DNA anthropologist. I’m not
sure there is a position open, but I can check for you.” That would
be a cold day in hell!
When she said those words, Richard thought
he detected a trace of a smile on her lips. Figures! No lipstick,
slightly chapped and thin lips to boot he noted to himself as he
looked away. Richard bit his own lip as he tried to gather his wits
about him. A sense of panic was starting to grip him, yet there was
little he could do to regain control of the conversation or of his
destiny.
Out of desperation, Richard blurted out,
“Well, maybe I could keep you warm at night, you know bumpin’
uglies!”
The minute Richard said it he knew it was a
stupid, rude remark that wasn’t at all funny, especially to someone
who wasn’t drunk. Too late, the damage was done! As a rejoinder to
his last comment Sarah scrunched her face again and pursed her lips
as if to chastise him with a single, fleeting look.
“Really, that’s not necessary; I’m perfectly
capable of staying warm on my own, especially on a tropical island.
And I’ll keep my uglies to myself, thank you.” Sarah said.
They continued their animated discussion
while Jojo, a male juvenile chimp, was sitting docilely in the
corner busily playing with a piece of fruit. The chimp was getting
bored, and he wanted attention from Sarah. Worse, he was sensing
the growing tension between the two bipeds in the room.
Consequently, he started to get unruly by making loud calls, and he
soon escalated into a full rampage by throwing his toys about the
lab. Richard did not even realize the animal was free from his
cage, so he was taken aback by the chimp’s outburst, and he
instinctively took a step back toward the other end of the lab. The
noise from the enraged chimp became deafening in the confined space
of the small lab. Richard knows all too well how strong chimps are,
and, ouch, as a reminder, he remembered a news story about how a
rampaging chimpanzee had ripped apart a man’s scrotum. The ape
began a full charge at the two. Richard froze for a moment not
knowing how to react to the apparent onslaught from the crazed
chimp.
Sarah stood straight up to face the
attacking chimp.
“Jojo, stop it now, damn it!” Sarah yelled
while staring him down. The juvenile male backed down giving a
small whimper as he scampered away from the two. The rampage ended,
and a relative calm returned once again to the lab.
Richard was thrown off by the attack and
visibly shaken by the rage display of the male chimp. Did that
bitch plan that little display?
Sarah commented, “You know he’s like most of
the males I have met in my life: all noise and very little
substance.”
Richard smiled in an exaggerated manner at
her, as if to say ‘ha, ha’.
“Very funny, I bet you staged this just to
see what I would do…,”
“That’s fairly paranoid of you especially
since you are the one visiting me without an invite. Sounds to me
like somebody is off their meds today,” she said in a falsetto.
She spoke without looking at him, busying
herself with the preparation of meals for the other animals.
Richard felt his career opportunity slipping away from him, and he
was drawing a blank on what next to say to her. He sat down,
putting his head in hands while rubbing his eyes then his head.
Sarah paid scant attention to him while she continued with her work
in the lab.
A few awkward minutes passed, and Sarah
asked, “Excuse me Richard, do you have anything more to say?”
He did. In fact, he had much to say, words
that were far too vicious to utter. Richard felt the blood pounding
in his head and his anger building until his face flushed a warm
red, a sure indication of how conflicted he felt. He was angry with
Sarah for her righteous, schoolgirl attitude, plus he was angry
with himself for having to go to her with his hat in hand in the
first place. He wanted to let her have it so badly, but the small
voice of reason within him restrained him and finally it muzzled
him. Here he was with one identifiable moment in his life that
could make or break his career, no, actually his very existence,
and he stood at the precipice wondering what to do next. Usually,
those moments passed right by him, identifiable only by his
terrible hindsight, but this moment stood out, stopped and
challenged him to make the right choice.
Finally, Richard made his decision. He
decided not to explode, thereby avoiding his usual scorched earth
policy of human relations.
“Ah, fuck me,” he muttered under his
breath.
“Richard, did you say something?” she
asked.
“I think I should be leaving,” Richard said
while trying not to scowl at her. “I’ll leave you my phone number
in case circumstances should change with your team. I mean you’re
not totally opposed to working with me if the something should
change, are you?”
“Of course not, and if things should change
you will be the first person I contact. Goodbye Richard,” Sarah
curtly replied.
Richard wrote down his phone number and left
the lab muttering. The lab door slammed behind him, and an eerie
silence fell over the caged animals.
After Richard left the lab, Sarah gathered
Jojo and ushered him in the direction of his cage. Before putting
the chimp in the cage Sarah stopped to give the chimp a big
hug.
“Good boy, I can always count on my Jojo to
make a scene! Now tell me, did that big ape scare you?” she cooed
to him as the chimp returned her hug.

Nobody of Consequence

Should a seeker not find
a companion who is better or equal,
let him resolutely pursue a solitary course;
there is no fellowship with the fool.
Dhammapada 5.61

The day after Richard’s unfortunate visit to
the primate lab Sarah decided to make a hasty call to her mentor
and friend: Professor Daniel Brightman. Sarah heard about the
Flores Island news weeks before Richard through her university
grapevine, a connection that Richard was now sorely lacking. After
hearing about the Indonesian’s government intervention, Sarah had
immediately contacted her old mentor for a meeting to discuss her
proposed expedition plans. She wanted to move quickly fearing that
Richard’s interference could somehow wreck those very same
plans.
Sarah pulled up to Brightman’s colonial
house and practically ran to his front door. Once there she meekly
knocked on the large red door. Brightman’s wife Helena answered the
door and seeing it was Sarah rolled her eyes at the sight of the
shorter, younger casually dressed woman.
“Oh, it’s you. Dan, she’s here again,” Dan’s
wife called out disgustedly in manner befitting the arrival of a
stray cat rather than an esteemed colleague.
Sarah meekly thanked her as she waited in
the foyer for Dan. Dan was expecting Sarah’s visit, and he was
genuinely happy to see her. He ushered Sarah to his cherry wood den
as the two took a seat in some old worn Queen Ann style chairs that
faced each other.
“Your wife doesn’t like me, does she?” Sarah
asked.
“Never mind Helena, that glacier doesn’t
like anybody including myself; besides we have more urgent matters
to discuss.”
“Professor, have you given any consideration
to my proposal about putting together another expedition to Flores
Island?” Sarah asked. Sarah was nervous and a little unsure of how
Brightman was going to react to her somewhat strange request. Would
he consider her request an imposition on his time and his
friendship?
Dan was the only person other than Richard
that knew of Sarah’s bizarre experience on Flores 2 as she
called it. Dan knew where the conversation was going, and he had
anticipated Sarah’s call shortly after the latest Flores
announcement.
“Sarah, I told you before call me Dan; you
are making me feel ancient with that Professor crap after all of
these years. Yeah, I’ve been following their discovery for some
time, and it’s great stuff. Imagine another species of hominin
living at the same time as modern man on that small island. The
stuff of dreams and legends, that’s what this is. Mind boggling
what we don’t know yet isn’t it?” Dan asked.
Dan paused for a moment while eyeing Sarah.
He asked, “Sarah, are you still having those dreams about your
island experience?”
“Yes, but, frankly, they’re more like
nightmares. Professor, I mean Dan, I was hoping to get back, ah,
you know…,” Sarah trailed off hesitating to complete her
sentence.
Sarah never used the phrase ‘you know’
unless she was nervous, very nervous that is. Dan looked at her
while asking, “You want to go back to that island don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, I know it’s there,” Sarah
responded.
“What’s there, Sarah? The Ebu Gogo, our
little Hobbit friend?” Dan asked.
“I don’t know, something very different is
on that island, and I need to find out what. To do so, I need help
to put an expedition together. Most of all, I need your help Dan!”
she said as she looked right into his eyes and managed a small
smile for him.
Dan immediately knew that he couldn’t say no
to her. Sarah was his brightest student; she always stayed in touch
with him through the years, and he considered her a genuine friend.
Moreover, he couldn’t help, but notice that she was young and
attractive, albeit a bit too serious for his taste in younger
women.
“I trust you Sarah as well as your
intuition. I assume you have the location of the island tucked
safely away?” Dan asked.
“Of course I do,” Sarah said.
“So nobody else knows about the island,
Sarah?” Dan enquired.
“Nobody of consequence,” she replied.
Dan noted the peculiar comment, but he
decided to leave it alone. “I assume you want to be co-heads on
this expedition with myself?” Dan asked. Sarah nodded
affirmatively, knowing full well this could be another deal breaker
with Brightman.
“If that is okay with you?” she said
demurely deferring to her senior partner.
Dan sighed, “I’m fine with that and frankly
you’ve earned it. I’ll call in a few markers and see what I can do
to get funding! Nevertheless, we need to come up with an
alternative excuse; I mean rationale for this expedition. We’ll
just say we want to do some more bird studies. We can’t very well
let people onto the fact that we are big game hunting now, can we?”
he said with a wink.
Sarah’s usual quiet demeanor erupted into
squeals of delight, and in the process of hugging Dan she nearly
knocked him off his chair.
“Dan, what’s going on in there?” his wife
yelled from the hallway.
“Nothing dear!” he yelled back as he
motioned to Sarah to tone it down.
“Well then, I’ll start putting this trip
together right away? You do want to go right away, I assume?” Dan
asked as he found himself getting caught up in Sarah’s
enthusiasm.
She smiled and surprisingly, kissed him on
the cheek. “Absolutely, we can’t waste a moment. Let’s put this
dream team together as soon as we can.”

The following morning, Dan was driving his
car to his campus office while feeling incredibly upbeat. Dan was
mentally running through a list of key contacts he will need in
order to pull the Flores 2 expedition together when he decided to
put the car radio on and settled on listening to a pop love song.
He was actually enjoying the song, which was somewhat out of
character for him when listening to such apparent drivel.
He didn’t know what to make of Sarah’s
curious encounters on Flores 2, but the thought of spending several
months with Sarah on this expedition was starting to excite him. He
was slowly beginning to realize that he was attracted to her even
though he was twenty years her senior. Her sweet face appealed to
him while the smell of her perfume continued to linger in his mind.
He knew it was wrong, but it was fun to fantasize about her;
moreover, he convinced himself that it was nothing more than a
harmless flirtation. Besides, wasn’t he more of a father figure to
her?
Dan hit the accelerator forcing the small
car to outpace the sluggish morning traffic. He was getting a
vicarious thrill with his driving as he frenetically darted in and
out of the line of zombies. At this point, he knew he was dying to
feel anything that brilliant bright morning. The traffic light
ahead suddenly changed color, and he was caught in the middle of
one his crazed maneuvers when he realized he had to make a right
turn.
Dan jammed on the brakes, thrusting him
forward against his seat belt while causing the car to come to an
abrupt stop at the traffic light. He looked about at the other
drivers to check their reaction. Good news; the other zombies
barely noticed his brazen moronic maneuver. He waited impatiently
to make a right hand turn onto the road and to get the car moving
so that he could once again feel something. The light turned green,
and as he turned the car he remembered one time watching her in the
lab feeding some of the animals. She was attentive and caring with
each of the chimps. Normally, Sarah was a bundle of nervous,
occasionally noisy energy; however, this time she was exhibiting a
quiet grace he had never been witness to before. She was bending
over one of the cages when he caught a clear view of her
décolletage as her old and loose fitting sweatshirt fell away from
her shoulders. He politely turned his gaze away, but not before
noticing that her pale breasts were hanging downward in her white
bra. Just as he turned away she looked up at him, and she smiled at
him like an innocent angel. He instinctively smiled back at her.
Dan had not looked at his wife that way for nearly a decade, maybe
even longer. Ever since that day, Dan convinced himself that Sarah
never caught on that he was looking at her breasts or so he hoped.
After all, he had two daughters that were nearly Sarah’s age.
“Why are breasts such a potent sexual signal
for men?” he wondered as the scientist in him wrested control from
his genitalia for a brief moment. “Oh to heck with that nonsense,
let’s face it; she really is a very attractive —”
Tires screeched, glass shattered and a loud
metal thud filled the early morning air. According to the police
report, witnesses said they heard a loud crashing noise and
observed a large SUV with blackened windows plowing into the much
smaller compact sedan. The force of the crash had pushed the
driver’s side a good two feet into the middle of the silver sedan
while the momentum of the impact had deposited the smaller car onto
the shoulder of the road. The SUV hesitated for a few moments and
then sped off without stopping to inspect the resultant
carnage.
The small car was resting along the edge of
the road, surrounded by small plastic and metal fragments that
littered the asphalt. A sea of broken glass shimmered in the early
morning sunlight barley suggesting the devastation contained within
the broken car. The surrounding traffic slowed then stopped to
watch the calamity. With traffic at a standstill, the morning air
became still again except for the hissing of steam escaping from
the ruptured radiator of the smaller car. A fire started in the
engine compartment, and before a Good Samaritan could intervene,
the car began a slow but increasingly furious burn. The radio
continued to play the mindless love song until it too, was finally
consumed by the roaring flames.
After the fire was extinguished, the local
coroner was called the crash site to retrieve what they
euphemistically call in the trade “a roast”. Dan’s remains were
unrecognizable by his family members; however, the dental records
did confirm that Professor Daniel Brightman, noted researcher,
devoted father and husband, was indeed dead that brilliant, bright
morning.

A day later, Sarah called Dan’s house and
after repeated busy signals, reached one of his daughters.
“I’m sorry, I guess you didn’t hear, Dad
died yesterday in a horrible car crash,” the young girl said in
between sobs.
“What, Dan? When?” Sarah asked.
“We don’t know who, maybe a drunk in a large
SUV, they just took off,” the girl muttered. “The car caught
fire…,”
“Oh God, I’m so, so sorry, I didn’t know,”
Sarah said.
Sarah quickly said goodbye to the daughter,
and she hung up while staring into the distance. Sarah had lost her
mentor, friend and her dreams, all in one careless accident. A few
moments later, she then realized that without Dan, her expedition
was finished. Dan was the only one who believed her story. Without
Dan, Sarah had nothing in her life. Alone in her small room, Sarah
sobbed uncontrollably for the loss of her friend and her
dreams.

A day later, Sarah attended the wake for her
deceased mentor. The university crowd was out in force for the wake
as waves of faculty and students arrived to pay homage to a great
educator. Sarah mingled in while trying to talk shop with some of
her old colleagues. The room was crowded with people at the back of
the chapel with few venturing to be up front, near the closed
casket. Surprisingly, few were talking about or even interested
about the discoveries in Flores. Sarah tried to talk about the
recent headlines, but she can sense that her colleagues were
somewhat put-off by her boldness at the wake. Instead, they were
all exchanging memorable stories about Professor Brightman, and the
companionship that he readily shared with both his fellow faculty
and students. Sarah felt awkward among so many other people,
particularly with casual acquaintances and total strangers. She
didn’t want to talk about Dan because she was so close to an
emotional breakdown. She was also failing miserably in her quest to
try to find out if Dan had spoken to anyone about the expedition to
Flores.
To make matters worse, Sarah was not well
received by Dan’s family. She had spent too much time with him and
was not the least bit shy about calling his house whenever she felt
necessary. Dan’s wife and daughters had little tolerance for Sarah,
for they all, at one time or another; had viewed her as a threat to
their domestic tranquility. Sarah gathered her strength and
approached Dan’s wife so she could give her condolences to the
family. Dan often joked about how frosty his Helena could be, and
her intimidating looks bore Dan’s comments out. She, too, was a
professor with her own singular career, and it was amazing that
they had found the time to conceive their two daughters. Helena had
seen far too many young girls come and go through the university
ranks, and Sarah was just another one that seemed to have
overstayed her welcome at Helena’s house.
Sarah approached Helena nervously while
picking at her freshly cut nails, and she dug deeply into her skin.
She had cut her nails in anticipation of the rigors from the
expedition; that now seemed liked such a waste of time. Instead,
now she was confronting Helena, and Sarah was actually drawing
blood from the cuticles. Helena was a tall, thin woman whose
fragile frame was more than compensated for by her nasty
disposition. She never seemed to smile as though if she did she
would lose her edge on the world.
Sarah began to speak when the taller Helena
hastily pulled her aside while commenting, “Dear, please save your
tears and condolences. I never really liked you from the start. You
always seemed so needy; you were especially demanding of Dan’s
time. Moreover, I didn’t appreciate the fact that Dan knew more
about you than his own daughters. Really, did you ever sleep with
him?” Helena asked.
Sarah was stunned by boldness of the
question. “What? No, I did not.”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter dear, it’s not like
you would be the first. Please go now, and don’t come to the burial
tomorrow. Say your goodbyes to Dan, and leave my family alone.
Thank you.”
Sarah was devastated by the conversation
with Dan’s wife. She had never considered the depth of ill will she
had engendered with Dan’s family. In tears, Sarah made her peace
with Dan, and she headed home alone.
Once home, Sarah replayed the bitter words
from Dan’s wife in her head. Yet, as bad as that episode was, Sarah
was more upset with her own display of blind ambition at the
funeral, especially with her own awkward efforts to talk with her
colleagues about Flores. For God’s sake, the man had just died, and
her blind ambition had her talking shop with her peers. What a
great human being I am, huh?
Sarah called her mother for a comforting
word, yet she really did not know what to say to her mother.
Instead, her mother exchanged a few trite words that were of little
comfort to Sarah. Since the death of her father, Sarah had come to
rely on Dan as the father figure in her life. For as long as she
could remember, her mother had been a shadowy presence during her
childhood, there for her, but never a significant force in Sarah’s
existence.
Several days later Sarah was back in the
primate lab cleaning up once again. She felt at home with the
chimps, and they readily accepted Sarah’s lavish attention. Sarah
sees the sadness in their eyes and their complete dejection at
being imprisoned for their entirety of their earthly life. She
understands their despair and feels at one with the caged primates
in the oppressive lab.
Sarah occupied herself with cleaning the lab
when she found a paper scribbled with Richard’s phone number. She
recalled her own recent embarrassment, and Sarah’s face reddened at
the remembrance of her own shabby treatment of Richard. Despite his
apparent boldness, she could have treated him better. All sentient
creatures deserve some measure of respect, and she was pretty sure
that Richard almost qualified as being sentient.
With nothing to do, but to reflect on the
strange turns in her life, Sarah realized that few people would
believe her story particularly with the media frenzy surrounding
the Homo floresiensis find, and the possible link to the Ebu Gogo
legend. If she approached others about her incident on the island,
they would just dismiss her as an attention-seeking crank. Nobody
would believe her story, that is, nobody but Dan and Richard.
“I’ve got nothing to lose; I might as well
call Richard and apologize to the big ape, right Jojo?” she said to
Jojo as the chimp was playing catch with her. Jojo smacked his lips
which Sarah took that as a yes.
Sarah called Richard several times and had
no luck in reaching him. She hesitated to leave her name, but on
the third call, she decided to leave a message.
“Richard, it’s Sarah Levine, we’ve got to
talk. About that other day in the lab, well, I’m sorry; I was a bit
surprised by …,”
Richard was screening his calls in a vain
effort to avoid engaging with the lawyers involved in his civil
suit.
“Sarah, is that you? What is it?”
“Well, first let me apologize for being such
a bitch to you at the lab the other day,” Sarah said.
“That’s all right; you were just being a
bitch to my being a complete and total ass. Hey, it happens; I did
catch you at a bad time. So Sarah, why did you really call? I
assume it wasn’t just to exchange regrets, right?” Richard
asked.
“You’re right. I’ve made a complete mess of
everything. Dan is dead…,” and then Sarah does the unthinkable; she
started to sob on the phone to a relative stranger.
“Dan who? You mean Professor Brightman?
How?” Richard asked.
“A car accident, a hit and run. He’s gone,
the expedition is gone, it has all turned to ahh…,”

More tears and Richard had to wait a minute
for Sarah to compose herself. He couldn’t understand what she was
saying, and once again Richard doesn’t know what to say in turn to
Sarah. The raw emotion Sarah was displaying had taken him totally
off guard. Furthermore, he was ill prepared to comfort her
especially after he had been wallowing in his own self-pity for the
past two weeks. Since the incident at the lab, Richard has resumed
his nasty drinking habit and had been tucked away in a perpetual
alcoholic fetal position hoping that his nightmare would soon pass.
Sarah was fortunate to catch him during one of his more lucid
moments. How does this damn Flores girl always manage to keep me
off balance?
“So what are you planning to do?” he
asked.
“What do you mean; do what? I’m doing
nothing. The team was never put together! Dan hadn’t spoken to
anyone before his death, as far as I know. I’m so screwed. With the
recent press coverage on Flores nobody is going to believe my
story, short of you and Dan,” Sarah blurted out in an emotional
torrent.
There was an awkward silence on the phone.
Richard was quickly thinking about ways to turn the situation
around to his advantage, and he struggled to free his brain from
his current alcoholic haze.
Just keep talking, just say anything,
Richard. Then the words that could only be described as the
desperate words from a truly ignorant man emerged from his mouth:
“Let’s put it together ourselves, we’ll plan and run the
expedition.”
“With what, are you nuts?” Sarah asked in a
hysterical tone.
“Look, all we need is some money and some
minimal equipment. All we have to do is prove they exist! Maybe we
put together some camping equipment, some small excavation
equipment, video and digital cameras, nothing too crazy. I’ve got
access to camera equipment that I can borrow from my brother
Steven,” Richard said.
“Richard, I’ve been on these expeditions.
They cost a fortune in time and money—”
“You’re absolutely right, if you’re talking
about a planned university expedition. Look, a standard academic
expedition is put together by a mob of lazy bureaucrats spending
other people’s money. They haven’t a clue about being lean and
mean. And really this isn’t a big dig, we’re just looking for
critters, we don’t need much for that,” Richard said. He wasn’t
sure if even he was buying this line of bullshit, but what did he
have to lose at this point.
“As for funding for the trip, we are going
to have to get really creative about using personal funding. You
know I could never so no to a big fat, cash advance. Plus, I can
sell my SUV. It burns a little oil, but hell it still runs pretty
good. You’ve got to have something, anything we can use to raise
money to hire guides and, you know, bribe the occasional government
official?” he said.
The bribing comment caused Sarah to
chuckle.
“That’s crazy! How do we get official
clearance?” she asked.
Sarah knew she had a good point, and Richard
fumbled for a moment before answering.
“Okay, babe, you and me, we are just two
tourists –no make that hikers–taking a tropical vacation to Bali.
You got a passport right? We’ll pack, take as much equipment as we
can with us and then take a side trip to Flores from Bali. Don’t
forget the suntan lotion! From there, we’ll charter someone to take
us to your island, find whatever we can, and ask permission or beg
for forgiveness later,” Richard said.
“This is nuts, Richard. You really expect me
to take this proposal seriously?” Sarah asked. There is silence on
the other end of the line, and then they both turn silent for a
brief moment.

Sarah was in a quandary. Any other choice
meant that her dreams could slip away, seemingly into oblivion and
perhaps with it, any possible meaning to her tedious life. Sarah
didn’t know what idea of the two was crazier; putting together an
unsanctioned research expedition with no funding or throwing her
lot in with Richard, the complete and total cretin? She certainly
couldn’t go there by herself.
Damn, what other options do I really
have?
Some dream team this would be, more like a
team of miscreants. Sarah knew that the prospect of a Richard-led
expedition would be a nightmare in the making for her. There was an
old proverb that said wishing for suffering makes the suffering
disappear, but this new arrangement bordered on the
sadomasochistic. Yet at this point in her life, all that Sarah had
left was her nightmares. Really, how bad could Richard be?
Sarah broke the silence by commenting, “Let
me think about this for a day or so, okay Richard? I’ll call you
back, and by the way, thanks for the pick-me up. You’re not such a
complete ass after all, are you?”
“We’ll see what you have to say a few weeks
from now. Goodbye Sarah Levine.”
After the call, Sarah pondered the strange
twists and turns her life was suddenly taking. Jeez, in a few short
days she went from a fully sanctioned academic expedition with
Professor Brightman to a surreptitious Bali road trip with an
apparent reject from a second-rate frat house. After a night of
tortured internal debate, and much to her own surprise, Sarah
called Richard the following day.
Richard answered the phone and sounded
startled that Sarah had even bothered to call him back.
“Sarah? I really didn’t expect you to call
back so soon after I threw that crazy proposal at you. Hey, I know
what I said sounded a bit nuts, but I was kinda of talking out
loud…,”
“Richard, let’s cut to the chase, I’ll do
this; however, with one stipulation. Is that okay?” Sarah
forcefully said.
“Shit, you must be desperate. Great! So
what’s the stipulation?” Richard asked.
“I’m the head academic on the team, which
also means I’m in charge of the expedition, in fact, of everything,
and I do mean everything. Okay? Is that going to work for you, me
being the boss?” Sarah asked.
“What ever you say boss, just as long as you
give me access to some fresh Ebu DNA!” Richard said.
“I’m so glad to hear that Richard. Let’s
meet tomorrow, and get this expedition going as soon as possible,”
Sarah said.
“You got it, and one other thing boss, how
much money do you have in the bank?” Richard asked.

Corporate Citizen

The large laboratory facility occupied
several full city blocks and was oddly situated in the middle of a
vast virgin farmland. On the sprawling campus, there were several
large, new buildings that dominated the rural horizon while
gleaming brightly in the scorching afternoon sun. This was the new
home of GendMeds, a promising biotech company that was enjoying a
somewhat chaotic ride on the stock exchange. Their pharmaceutical
offering, which relied heavily on touting new treatments based on
stem cell research, was both controversial and extremely
profitable.
To handle their meteoritic growth, the
GendMeds board had decided to buy an entire town for their own
private development. Their target was a small, quiet backwater town
with few employment prospects and with an even dimmer future, one
that was located far from inquisitive government eyes. The GendMeds
CEO, Peter Foster, figured he could buy a town on the cheap with
the right persuasion of the local politicians, and besides owning
your own town was a source of considerable corporate pride for the
company. “Collect the right politicos, and you’ll find getting the
zoning variances for a high tech construction site becomes a mere
paperwork formality,” the CEO liked to say to his staff.
So GendMeds secured, with their
shareholders’ dollars of course, a small town call Centreville, and
bought permission to rename the entire town to GendMeds City.
Several thousand associates/employees were persuaded to uproot from
their existing homes or face the daunting prospect of finding new
work with another employer. The vast majority decided to make the
move, and they found themselves cut off from their families and
friends, while in turn, they were embraced by an entirely new
community, one that had been completely subjugated and controlled
by their employer.
Reginald Frey, or Reggie to his
acquaintances, oversaw the operations at the facility, supervising
every facet of GendMeds production from research to the final
manufacture of their meds. He was the right-hand man of the CEO,
and he was, for all intents and purposes, the acting COO. He was
just under six feet tall, with thinning brown hair and non-descript
facial features that were not necessarily masculine in their
overall nature. Taken as a whole, he was somewhat innocuous
looking, that is, if you were able to avoid looking at his eyes. If
you did look, Reggie possessed a pair of brown eyes that was
practiced at looking right through people, friend or foe alike.
They weren’t so much cold and dark like a shark’s eyes, but rather
they burnt brightly like the eyes of a playful big cat; announcing
to all the world their joy at entertaining a possible kill. A
glance from his eyes told the wary that he was an accomplished
predator, and what he lacked in physical size, he more than made up
for in sheer intimidation.
With Reggie, anybody could be a potential
opponent; or if they were a subordinate, subject to his bountiful
wrath. Even to the casual observer, it quickly became apparent that
Reggie’s attitude and demeanor was more befitting a prison yard
rather than a corporate entity dominated by academic types.
Moreover, that was the key to Reggie’s success at GendMeds: there
was a decided lack of Alpha males within the corporate walls to
challenge his authority or his sizable will.
Over the past year, GendMeds was having some
difficulties with getting viable medicines from their research
facilities into the marketplace. Their hype machine had done an
excellent job of creating shareholder excitement; however, the
small number of viable new drugs in the pipeline was fast becoming
a major disappointment to their Wall Street followers. In fact,
after the hype had settled down, analysts were becoming dismayed
that there were no new significant treatments in the offing. In
response, the CEO Peter Foster tapped Reggie on the shoulder, and
made it clear that the status quo was no longer to be tolerated.
Reggie, in turn, decided to lean heavily on William Donaldsen for a
new product launch. Bill was an exemplary research scientist, but
he was also a particularly poor power player in the corporate
hierarchy. One had to conclude that Bill’s ascent to his current
position was both a testament to his ability to think differently
from the herd and to having Reginald Frey as his improbable
mentor.
Right from Bill’s humble start at the
company as an assistant researcher, Reggie noticed Bill’s bright
and industrious nature. It didn’t take long for Reggie to peg Bill
as his go-to “idea” guy. Thus, Bill was one of the few people
allowed to think on his own within the corporate walls and that was
a freedom Bill freely reveled in. It was generally understood that
the cattle could have original ideas; if you allowed the upper
management to take credit for them. Challenge the upper management
as to the true origin of an idea and you either were quickly
repatriated to the corporate gulags or terminated altogether for
being a poor culture fit. After all, it was far easier, plus better
for the bottom-line, to reward one upper management type rather
than an entire team of researchers.
Consequently, Bill played his own version of
the corporate power game and freely gave his ideas up to Reggie. Or
as he put it, “Render unto Reggie the things which are Reggie”.
For his compliance, Bill was free to
envision strange what-if scenarios while recombining improbable
ideas in an endless eddy of creativity. Such creativity occurred as
he was reading about a strain of bacterium that showed an
incredible sensitivity to the presence of certain sulfa drugs.
Bill’s next thoughts were of creating unique pairings of the
bacteria’s DNA with different human genes. A break-through occurred
when Bill combined parts of that very same drug-sensitive bacterium
genome with human stem cells to produce a new prostate cancer
treatment that specifically targeted the malignant cells.
The continuing Hobbit announcements from
Flores were another exciting mental exercise for Bill. Most
biochemists would have looked right past the academic argument or
given it a quick that’s cool nod of the head while turning
the page. Not Bill, as he was amazed to read about the find in the
cave and the relative youth of the Hobbit bones. The idea that
clumps of hair from the Ebu may have survived opened the door to
all sorts of radical new genetic research. Bill wondered how intact
the DNA strands were; additionally, how much did they differ from
the existing human population?
Bill knew that DNA was a relatively weak
molecule that can deteriorate very quickly in a harsh climate.
However, in the right environmental conditions, DNA molecules could
theoretically last thousand of years. A case in point, scientists
had recently been able to extract sixty thousand-year-old DNA from
the ancient dung of ground sloths. Yes, getting gold from the
crappiest of situations was the norm for research scientists.
Granted, it wasn’t quite the same as yielding dinosaur DNA from
prehistoric amber, yet there was a small chance that the hominin
DNA from the Flores cave could still be viable and thereby open the
door to a poor man’s Jurassic Park.
Doing what creative minds always do, Bill
took his mental gymnastics a step further. The accepted wisdom was
that chimpanzee DNA nucleotides only varied from human DNA by a few
percent and that the two species were separated from one another
about five million years ago. What would be the difference in DNA
with a relative of Homo sapiens that had diverged from us less than
a million years ago? More importantly, what differences in the
Hobbit DNA could lead to new scientific breakthroughs? Like many
indigenous native tribes in recent history, the Hobbits could be
more vulnerable to certain diseases. On the other hand, could there
be some diseases that the Hobbits were more resistant to? Bill was
intrigued by the idea; however, he really didn’t know how to
execute on his musings. Instead, he stayed in his lab diligently
completing his lab reports, while his mind was light-years away
trying to solve a problem that prior to that moment did not even
exist.
In the executive suite, Reggie was
approaching desperation mode because he needed to have some answers
for the CEO, and it had to be pronto. To spur the research team
into action Reggie called a meeting of the key department heads,
instructing them in his memo to think differently for the next
scheduled meeting. Bill shuddered slightly at the possible
consequences of this meeting with Reggie. Like Bill, Reggie also
thought out of the box; unfortunately, Reggie’s musings were more
in line with the ramblings of a sociopath. Wait, what was the
correct PC terminology for a sociopath? That’s right; Reggie was
afflicted with an antisocial personality disorder.
Whatever you called the affliction, Reggie
was the poster child for the disorder. Not only did the norms of
society not apply to Reggie; Reggie could honestly say he was
unaware of the norms. Reggie’s stock answer to the timid who were
concerned for the norms of society was always a robust “Fuck’em!”
It would almost be comical to the uninitiated except Bill knew that
Reggie actually meant it!
Rumors and innuendo flew about Reggie as
though he was a member of a crime syndicate rather than a key
officer in a public corporation. Rivals to Reggie, within the
organization, would often crash and burn or would completely
disappear from view all together. Their favorite story was that of
a corporate high flyer named John Barnes who made it clear to all
those within an earshot of him that he was about to become a major
power player at GendMeds. To back his boasts, John made good on his
deliverables no matter what the challenges were before him. John
was also unabashed about directly challenging Reggie’s management
style. Worse, he had no qualms about exposing some of Reggie’s
miscues to the rest of the company’s upper management. That didn’t
sit well for Reggie, yet to everyone’s surprise Reggie didn’t
initially react to the challenge. In fact, rumor in the office was
that Reggie had begun to turn a new leaf; in fact, he had become a
kinder, gentler Reggie. Bill was having none of this; he had known
Reggie for way too long to think that a personal reformation was
even a remote possibility for Reggie. Bill knew that Reggie was
biding his time waiting for the right opportunity to strike down
his unwary opponent.
That moment came in a big way during an
annual convention in Vegas, an event that allowed the
pharmaceutical industry executives the venue to bribe and ply
potential customers with alcohol, drugs and, if need be, the
occasional hired date. It was also a good excuse to socialize and
catch up with old acquaintances in a non-stop party atmosphere that
lasted well into the early morning hours. Reggie was unusually
reserved during this convention; he had been known to mix it up and
to inspire other associates of the company to act like complete
asses with the booth bunnies. No, not this time, Reggie was all
business, keeping quietly to himself, away from the action and away
from the gentlemen’s clubs.
John was out with a team of his people at
one of the local dance places along the strip. Everybody was drunk
and in high spirits as they relished a free night on the town. John
was a tallish, Anglo-Saxon type who had attended an Ivy League
school, the correct pedigree for running a major Fortune 1000
company. Despite being married to a typical blond trophy wife, John
had made it known about his taste for the exotic and, in
particular, a fondness for small Asiatic women. As he told it, he
liked the way they made small mewing noises during their love
making. That night John’s team was scattered throughout the club’s
numerous dance floors and bars. At around midnight, several members
of his team observed John approaching a very attractive Japanese
lady, who happened to be sitting alone at the bar. They talked for
a while, and the two left the club together a short time
thereafter. That in itself would have been good fodder for the
water cooler gang, but events would soon take a much tawdrier
direction for John.
The story, as told by the office wags,
continued at four o’clock that morning with a loud knock on John’s
hotel room door. It was the local Vegas police. They were making a
drug bust, and despite John’s protests, they were intent on making
their way into his room. John’s exotic Asian paramour, besides
being a hooker, was also a crack ho, and as the story goes, they
were caught by the police enjoying a few rocks together. The hooker
was later released on a desk ticket whereas John was never seen at
GendMeds again. The following Monday, the contents of John’s office
and desk were unceremoniously deposited into a dozen brown shipping
boxes and quietly removed from the complex. And, of course, the
rumor mill attributed the entire, unfortunate incident as the
direct result of Reggie’s machinations. Precisely how nobody
understood, but Reggie was known in GendMeds as a man not to be
trifled with or as Reggie would put it, “I’m not to be fucked
with.”
The day of Reggie’s marketing research
meeting arrived too soon for Bill’s taste. The entire research
management team was gathered in one of the large, luxuriously
appointed conference rooms that typically were reserved for the
corporate honchos, board of directors and their sycophants. The
thirty-foot long conference table was actually made of real wood
with marble inlays, and the chairs smelled of the finest leathers.
It was very unusual for the lab rats, as Reggie liked to call the
researchers, to be assembled in such a grandiose setting. The team
sat down, but not before noting their opulent surroundings when
Reggie made his grand entrance. A quick silence fell over the room
with all eyes riveted at the head of the conference table where
Reggie sat. Reggie calmly adjusted his papers before he boldly
stood up to begin his speech.
“Gentlemen, we have enjoyed incredible
success at GendMeds thanks to your hard work. I want to thank you
each personally for your diligence over the past couple of years.
That said, we are facing an important turning point at GendMeds. Do
you know what we desperately need at GendMeds?”
Reggie hesitated for a moment allowing the
rhetorical question to sink in with his audience before
answering.
“We need new products, new blood for our
product offering. How do we get new products? They come from new
ideas and vision. And where do new ideas come from people? They
come from thinking outside the box. They come from people willing
to take chances. I need ideas people, GendMeds needs ideas.
Gentlemen, have you looked at our product pipeline lately? It’s
somewhat thin, and both the analysts and the shareholders alike are
starting to take notice. This has to change, and this has to change
very soon. Who are the risk-takers among you that are going to come
forward in our time of need? I need bold men with a clear,
extraordinary vision! If you are not a risk taker, if you are among
the timid, then please, I repeat, please do not waste my time
during this meeting.”
Reggie was so excited he was almost shouting
the words of his speech.
“Now, I ask you this gentlemen: what new
ideas do you have for me today? Remember I’m looking for
sizzle.”
From the far end of the room, one of the
more experienced researchers, Sam Watkins, began to speak.
“Mr. Frey, this isn’t how we normally do
product research. Shouldn’t we be reviewing market data reports and
analyzing demographic trends before we commit to funding a new
product offering?”
Bill could only put his head down in
reaction to the stupidity of the remark, but personally he felt a
little relief that somebody else would soon be the object of
Reggie’s sizable indignation.
Reggie glared at the man while struggling
for a few seconds to retain his composure.
“You are right Sam; this is not about how
research is done. And, no, this is not how medicine is done.”
Reggie paused, waiting for the opportune
moment to drive home his point.
“No, this is how money is done! And, no, we
are not going to do this by committee so that whatever we come up
with ends up being a useless, watered down piece of shit!
Gentlemen, I want boldness from you and that doesn’t come from
rehashing the same market reports our competitors read, damn it!
Fuck the market reports, we have to think differently!”
Reggie wanted to spot the leader of the herd
so that he could target him and take him down quickly. In that
manner, he could coward the other cattle into an early submission
and doing his bidding. Sam wasn’t entirely stupid so he quickly
fell silent, in effect announcing to the group his acquiescence to
Reggie’s tirade. Much to Reggie’s sadness, he found there wasn’t
another bull to strike down; just a collection of lab rats being
led to their inevitable slaughter.
“Any ideas gentlemen? I’m waiting!”
The quiet of the cavernous room overwhelmed
the team of squirming researchers. Nobody wanted to speak first on
the fear of actually have to engage in a real conversation with
Reggie. One researcher began to hesitantly talk about new
variations in their present prostrate cancer cure offering;
however, Reggie was having none of it! He sternly told the
researcher to be quiet and to stop wasting his time.
“Out with the old, in with the new! New,
that is the operative word. You got nothing new for me?” Reggie
asked.
More silence punctuated by a feeble cough.
Reggie noticed that even the coughs were weak from this group of
lab rats.
“Okay, so what is new in the world of
science?” Reggie asked in an effort to kick-start the conversation.
Reggie took a quick glance at Bill.
Bill wasn’t sure if it was out of fear or
just the awkwardness of the moment, but he began a long rambling
talk about the discovery in Flores and, in particular, about the
recent find of hominid-like creatures that were contemporary with
modern man.
“You know the addition of archaic DNA
samples from other hominids may expand our existing gene pool thus
affording us new insights to disease treatment. For example, our
ancestors may have been stronger than us, perhaps impervious to
certain diseases and malnutrition or, on the converse side, more
susceptible to certain diseases. Our Flores relatives were
certainly shorter than us. We could earn–I mean learn–a
considerable amount from their DNA. Perhaps even combine the new
genetic material with our existing stem cell line to offer some new
therapies.”
When Bill was done with his little
monologue, he was shocked to see the stunned look from the other
researchers in the room. The room had grown even quieter than
before while Reggie appeared truly perplexed by the strange
monologue from Bill.
“Well, I liked the ‘earn’ part, but Bill how
do you propose going about finding this archaic DNA material?”
Reggie asked.
“Yeah, this isn’t Jurassic Park, right?” was
a remark from one of the other researchers. A small chuckle emerged
from the group, and even Reggie was amused by the strange turn of
direction in the meeting.
Despite the merriment Bill continued, “These
DNA materials maybe more resilient than what we originally
realized. In one instance, they actually found soft tissue within a
fossilized T-Rex thighbone. What’s interesting about Flores is that
we have an archaic hominid species that is separated genetically
from us by almost a million years; however their physical remains
are only 13,000 years-old. There maybe so some viable DNA in those
bones after all, then again there might not be; I really don’t
know. There is even a legend on Flores about a short people called
the Ebu Gogo. Hey, if we’re really lucky, there might even be a
tribe of these small people running around the jungles of Flores
that we can take some samples from.”
With that comment, Reggie started to laugh
giving a cue to the others that they could join in and laugh as
well. The laughter swelled from one end of the meeting room to the
other, and Bill felt a strange flush race across his face. Was he
actually embarrassed for having made these stupid comments to his
cohorts and Reggie or did he just feel vulnerable?
“These freaking Oboe things were only
three-feet tall? Intriguing Bill, we will discuss this topic
offline. Okay, what else do you have for me?” Reggie said with a
smile on his face.
They had nothing to offer to Reggie, nothing
to offer other than the usual, variants on old tired ideas that had
gotten the company into trouble in the first place, forcing Reggie
to reconsider all of his options. For some reason, Bill’s insight
was intriguing to Reggie. Perhaps he could get a sample of the DNA
from the original anthropologists at the dig, and he immediately
began to investigate that option. With more research, Reggie came
to realize that Bill’s comments reflected the thoughts of the
overall scientific community, and indeed Bill’s monologue was not
entirely unorthodox.
Reggie decided to visit Bill in his lab for
a private meeting after the normal business hours.
Reggie said, “I have been giving this Flores
proposal of yours some additional thought, and I’m thinking of
exploring going ahead with this project with you as the lead
project manager.”
At first, Bill doesn’t react hoping that he
heard Reggie wrong. Then he was shocked at the suggestion.
“Reggie, this is just some mental doodling
on my part, and I’m not confident about the viability of doing
this. I don’t know if we can find the DNA in the remains of these
creatures; moreover, even if we did find some viable strands, how
could we use them?”
“Bill, I’ll be frank. I have nothing in
terms of other projects, and in two quarters this company is going
to hit some hard times. We have no viable products in the
pipeline!” Reggie said.
“Surely our prostate cancer treatment looks
good?” Bill asked.
“It’s going nowhere with the FDA. Mind you,
this is not common knowledge yet, but the trials were not
convincing enough to allow them to give the go-ahead with the full
scale treatment populations. Now you understand why we are stuck.
Everything else we discussed at the meeting was so tired and hack,
but your idea was so off the wall, so novel, I think it could
capture the imagination of the investors. You know a sort of a
Jurassic Park for midget cavemen.”
“We all know how well that turned out,” Bill
said.
“Nonsense, you have to back me on this one
Bill. Will this new DNA create a breakthrough for our research?”
Reggie asked.
Bill wasn’t stupid, and with a quick glance
at Reggie’s face he understood that Reggie’s question marked the
end of any real conversation between the two. The decision was
final, and Reggie wanted obedience from his subordinate.
Unfortunately, Bill found himself stammering in response. Bill
managed to clear his throat, and replied weakly, “I believe it
can.”
“Damn it, that’s not good enough Bill!”
Reggie yelled.
“Wait, you asked for ideas that were out of
the box, and this is what I came up with. This idea doesn’t even
qualify as a long shot,” Bill said.
Bill wanted to take the words back, but
before he could Reggie grabbed him by his white lab coat, and he
started yelling at him, “How much are your shares worth in a year’s
time, several million dollars? Well, how much will they be worth
two quarters from now when this FDA announcement comes out?
Nothing, damn it, nothing. Like your wife and kids? Do you like
your lifestyle? Well, say goodbye to all of it, old buddy.”
Bill looked down at the floor instead of
facing Reggie directly.
Reggie released his grip on Bill’s lab coat
and said, “I’ve seen your wife Bill, and I might add she is way
over your league. That warm look in her eye is going to disappear
pretty quickly when she finds out the money is gone. You know, I’ve
overlooked the sabotage business in your lab; that’s what friends
do, Bill. Now respect me and return the favor!”
Bill looked surprised by Reggie’s
comment.
“What you didn’t think I knew about the
goings on in the laboratories of my favorite lab rat? Come on,
Bill, really, you are disappointing me. Your choice Bill, now
choose your side!”
Still no reply came from Bill.
“Bill, I’ll say it one more time to you. I
really need you to back me on this venture; I would mean a lot to
me, old buddy.”
Reggie began to press Bill for the answers
he wanted to hear. Now, drink it Bill, damn it!
“Bill, you have to really sell this
proposal, tell me that you believe this DNA will help our research,
benefit mankind and all of that other happy horseshit. And Bill, if
you don’t believe it, then don’t even bother to sell it. This trip
could cost the company minimally a million bucks. We can’t sell
this crazy scheme with a ‘I think so’, God damn it!” Reggie
said.
“Now once again, Bill. Will this new DNA
provide a breakthrough for our new research?” he asked.
Bill responded without hesitation,
“Absolutely, in fact, this will open the door for a variety of
different cancer treatments.”
“Good boy, Bill. For a moment there I
thought I was going to have to get myself a new lab rat,” Reggie
said with a small smile on his face.

Yes, much better, only Reggie did not
necessarily believe for a second that this archaic DNA was going to
make much of a difference in terms of a new drug offering. No,
Reggie only had to find a source for this DNA, and let the lab rats
extract a few strands from it. That bit of magic alone could be
sold to Wall Street, and, in turn, buy a temporary reprieve from
the investors. He figured that the dog and pony aspect of the story
had to be worth at least a year or two of headlines. And a year or
two was all he needed, because by then the bulk of his shares would
be vested. He could then walk away as a rich man, well at least a
richer man than he was now. You could never have too much money in
these uncertain times, and besides as a last resort, he could
always throw Bill under the wheels if events really turned
sour.
And a year or two was all that Reggie could
ever ask for. No, Reggie didn’t buy Bill’s story; moreover he
didn’t have to. Reggie understood that it wasn’t his job to drink
the Kool-Aid. Instead, it was his responsibility to mix and serve
while the others drank their fill of the Kool-Aid, whatever the
flavor was for that day. Be sure to drink up, Bill!
Reggie never drank the Kool-Aid because
Reggie didn’t have a need to believe in anything other than his own
ability to have others to do his beckoning. No God, no dreams, just
the here and now. Immediate self-gratification was his mantra. He
just liked the act of doing and making others do his bidding. He
was guiltless as well as fearless, and he was the personification
of economic Darwinism in its worst possible incarnation. Obtaining
money and power wasn’t the goal in his life; it was the actual
pursuit for money and power that excited Reggie. The rewards that
came with that pursuit: the wife, the house, the boat, they were
just mere mementos in his twisted personal journey of
exploitation.
“Good, Bill, now please make the
preparations necessary for this trip. Remember, you’re in charge so
take no bullshit from anyone. If they ask questions or get in your
way, you just have them see me. Put two crack teams together; one
team for the actual trip, the second to begin the research once we
return with some Oboe DNA. We leave in two weeks,” Reggie said.
“What about official approval and funding?”
Bill asked.
“Leave those details to me,” Reggie
replied.
Bill started to leave; however, Reggie
stopped him by tugging on his arm.
“Oh Bill, before you go we’ll also need a
half dozen holding cages as well for the specimens.”
Bill looked puzzled, yet he quickly caught
on.
“Reggie, come on, I don’t even think they
exist. Even if they do exist, all we need are a few tissue samples.
If we remove too many Ebu from the existing troop, the remaining
group maybe too small in number to sustain a viable breeding
population in the wild.”
Reggie looked at Bill as if he sprouted a
new growth from his head.
“Fuck’em, I don’t give a shit about their
breeding viability. I want their DNA plus I want a number of them
alive, ready for…, fuck the Oboes; they can go extinct for all I
care, especially if I have few in my own personal collection.”
This was going down an unexpected path for
Bill.
“Assuming they exist, what are your plans
for Ebu?” Bill asked.

“What Bill? Oh come on. I’m outsourcing some
of the lab work to them, what the fuck do you think? I’m going to
exhibit them. I’m going to explore options with a third world
country to host the exhibition. Don’t tell me that this prospect
actual bothers you?” Reggie asked.
“Why yes, I mean if they are somewhat human
this could be conceived as inhumane treatment, maybe even slavery,”
Bill said.
“Damn hypocrite, you can build your research
on a pile of aborted human fetuses, that’s okay; however, if I want
to show a few freaks you get moral on me?” Reggie shouted.
Bill looked away.
“Let me ask you this, who’s going to stop
me? The U.S. government? I don’t think that’s going to happen. What
are they going to do? Protest that we are keeping these creatures
in bondage because they’re human or related to humans. I don’t
think the current White House administration is going to be too
quick to acknowledge that they are human, and in turn upset this
country’s conservative constituency, who doesn’t even believe in
their existence? Yeah, this president is going to call them our
cousins, and start another evolution debate? Not in my lifetime,”
Reggie said.
“But won’t the shareholders be concerned
about our little side project?” Bill asked.
“This will be my own personal project.
GendMeds will get their cut, but I’ll take personal responsibility
for this project. It’s the least I can do to repay my benefactors.
You let me worry about the Oboes. After all Bill, like you said,
they probably don’t even exist, so what are we arguing about?”
Reggie asked.
“Bill, why don’t you go home? You know, go
see the wife and kids, okay? We’re going to be away for a few
weeks, and it’s always good to remember what you are working
for.”

Several days before the expedition’s
scheduled departure Reggie summoned Bill to his house for an
impromptu meeting. Reggie’s house was a palatial estate, and a
middle-aged Hispanic house cleaner greeted Bill at the large
entrance door. She quietly guided Bill into Reggie’s study. Reggie
was on the phone talking so he motioned to Bill to have a seat.
Bill had only met Reggie’s family once before when Reggie’s wife
visited him at the office, so this was a revelation for him. Bill
was also relieved to find that Reggie was not screaming during his
phone conversation, as was his norm in the office. Still, Bill was
on edge because he had no idea as to why Reggie had taken the
unusual step of giving him an invite to his house. After five
minutes of quietly conversing, Reggie got off the phone. He offered
no apology for the delay and got straight to the business at
hand.
“Bill, how are the preparations going? Are
we set to go this Thursday?”
Bill decided to be positive and firm.
“Yes, everything will be in place. People,
equipment, clearances, all of the arrangements have been made. The
team is willing and ready to go!”
“Good! Nice job on getting this trip off on
schedule,” Reggie said, while peering at him.
“Got a question for you, actually it’s more
of a concern of mine. These ‘Oboes’, how are we securing them?”
“Oboes? Oh, you mean the Ebu. I’m not sure;
we have a number of larger animal cages that we can use if we bait
them properly.”
“You’re going to trap them? You don’t have a
more proactive means of immobilizing the ‘Oboes’ such as the use of
tranquilizer darts?” Reggie asked.
“We do, but that could be dangerous because
of their diminutive size. We run the risk of accidentally killing
them if the dosage of the tranquilizer is too high; bottom-line is
that we don’t have much wiggle room here,” Bill said.
Reggie smiled at him. It was a cold, dirty
smile that made Bill uneasy.
“Well, I have a solution for you my friend,
it’s right here!”
He pulled from his desk what appeared to be
a handgun yet its largish shape indicated otherwise.
“You know what this is?” Reggie asked.
“Yes, it’s a Taser!” Bill replied.
“Very good Bill; however, this is no
ordinary Taser. This is a state of the art prototype only available
to certain government agencies and to people with the wrong
connections such as myself. Now Bill, up to now, what has been the
biggest problem with Tasers?”
“Accidental deaths due to overuse by local
police departments,” Bill said.
Reggie said, “Well, yes…, fuck no, oh
really, who gives a shit, Bill! Who cares about some scumbag that
dies after being coked up and then shot by the cops? No, it’s the
fact they only work with the wired leads up to a distance of twenty
feet. This baby is different; there are no leads. With their
patented new electronics, these bullets —they’re not really
bullets, rather they are actually miniature capacitors —can release
enough of a charge on contact to do their work. No leads, so you
get much better distance, maxing out at about 100 feet or so. The
gun keeps the bullets charged until it’s show time, plus, you get
six shots. You know how these babies work, right?”
Before Bill could answer Reggie continued,
“Once they hit you, their electrical charge causes every muscle in
your body to convulse all at once. You are helpless like a baby for
at least a good half hour. Shit, think I should do an infomercial
on these babies?” Reggie asked.
At this point, a young girl bursts into the
room. Reggie put the gun down, hiding it back in the drawer.
“Heather!” Reggie said. His daughter jumped
up to greet him, and Reggie caught her in midair while he remained
seated in the chair.
“Daddy, Daddy the cat got out in the yard.
We have to get him in,” she said.
The girl was an adorable nine-year-old with
beautiful long blond hair, pale skin and blue eyes. She must take
after the mother, Bill thought.
“Well, go ask Nina to get the cat for you.
She is pretty good at hunting down Pickles,” Reggie said.
Heather sighed in reaction to the suggestion
from her father about getting the house cleaner.
“Dear, I have a guest here right now. What
did I tell you about interrupting Daddy’s work?” Reggie asked.
“I know, I’m sorry, I’ll get Nina,” the
little girl said in a contrite tone.
Reggie’s daughter kissed him on the cheek,
and she quickly left his lap, skipping her way to the door. She
stopped by one of the coffee tables on the way out to look at a
magazine cover. Bill breathed a small sigh of relief. For one brief
moment, he had grim visions of a collective Pickles hunt with the
new gun.
“So what do you think, Bill?” Reggie
asked.
Bill was amazed at how tender Reggie was
with his daughter. It was not a side of Reggie that he has never
seen before nor could he have ever imagined existed before today’s
meeting.
“Sounds useful, if you ask me, but is it
safe?” Bill asked.
“I know, I know, I’ve been thinking the very
same thing. You see, we are on the same page. Let’s say we find
out!” said Reggie as he picked up the gun and pointed it at Bill.
For one brief moment, Bill was sure that Reggie was going to shoot
him with the Taser, but instead Reggie turned away from him, aimed
and fired the gun seemingly at the far wall.
Why the hell was he firing at the wall?
The gun fired with a strange hissing sound
emanating from the spent CO2 cartridge. Bill flinched
from the sound when he realized Reggie was firing at his own
daughter! The bullet hit her square in the back. She stopped moving
while remaining upright for a second, her entire body convulsing.
She dropped the magazine while her small face contorted in a
ghastly grimace as she looked upwards. Reggie quickly got up to
catch her before she could slump to the floor. He picked her up and
with great care placed her on one of the leather couches in his
office. He kneeled by her side, checking her pupils and pulse for a
minute or two.
Satisfied, Reggie walked away from his
daughter back to the horrified Bill and remarked, “Oh, she’ll be
fine…,”
There was silence for a moment then Bill
said, “What, you shot your own daughter? Are you fucking nuts, you
maniac?”
“Bill, please don’t use that sort of
language when you talk to me in my house. Besides, I’ve been
thinking about this for a while, you know she is almost sixty
pounds; she’s tall like her mother. That has to be close to what
the Oboes weigh, right? I would say this gun is safe, and we can
use these new Tasers on the Oboes. Look, it was a spur of the
moment thing, you know you being here just in case there were any
side effects from the gun.”
Bill found himself holding his head in his
hands. Reggie walked over to Bill and put his hand on Bill’s
shoulder as if to comfort him.
“Bill, you know that little girl is the most
important person in the world to me. You know, if somebody were to
hurt her I would personally rip their fucking heart out in front of
their entire family.”
Reggie started to forcefully squeeze Bill’s
shoulder to get his attention.
“The fact that I would shoot my own daughter
tells you how important this project is to me. Without this project
my little girl is not getting into the Ivy League school of her
choice. Bill, you know what else this little incident tells
you?”
“What Reggie?” Bill asked as his voice
cracked.
“Don’t fuck with me Bill, is that clear?”
Reggie asked.
“Very much so, I think I understand that
now,” Bill said. Before leaving he took a quick glance at the small
girl on the couch and saw that she was resting comfortably. He left
the office visibly shaken by the events that transpired in front of
him.
Walking away from the house, Bill became
more upset with himself for having allowed this monster to become
an integral part of his life. Bill’s mind struggled to find an
escape from Reggie; however, his sense of foreboding was heightened
as he realized he didn’t have the strength or the courage to
extricate Reggie from his life. He should just quit and tell Reggie
to shove the Taser up his twisted ass. But then Bill thought of his
own wife and kids. The financial hit would be enormous; moreover,
could he really disappoint them like that? He knew all too well
that he was stuck on a very slippery slope with only one direction
to go. All he could wonder was where the hell was Reggie taking
him?

Higher Calling

Karl was playing a dangerous game at the
GendMeds labs. Tasked as the chief lab assistant, Karl was
responsible for the overall care of the tissue cultures at the lab.
He did his job well, well enough, in fact, for him to have earned
several key promotions over the course of two years. However, he
never took a promotion that would take him away from his primary
calling at the lab. In fact, his higher calling was to sabotage the
lab’s research each and every day whenever possible.
Karl was a red-blooded Born Again Christian.
He came from poor white people, and he spent his childhood years
avoiding the raging alcoholism that had consumed his father’s
existence. Karl’s mother had abandoned the two when he was just
three years old after a particularly bad, all-day rampage by his
father. He didn’t resent her because he knew it was a simple matter
of survival for his mother and not some great character flaw on her
part.
The situation continued to deteriorate as he
grew older with the beatings routinely being delivered by his
father on a daily basis. Consequently, Karl avoided his father
while spending most of his time with his father’s sister Patty and
her husband John. Karl tried to find some semblance of a family
life with his aunt and uncle that eluded him at his own home. Being
childless themselves, it was only natural that they would raise
Karl as their own son. By the time Karl was a teenager, the cycle
was almost complete, and he was living with them on a full-time
basis. Over the years, his father would occasionally visit Karl as
a dreadful reminder of the horrors he had managed to escape. The
visits became fewer in number, but were increasingly uglier and
more violent, as his father began to dabble with a poor man’s
cocaine: crank.
Karl’s life had become almost ordinary;
however, that was all to change several days after his fourteenth
birthday when his uncle quietly approached him, and told him in a
solemn voice that his father was dead, killed in a head-on car
crash during some late night rampage. Everybody just assumed that
Karl’s father was drunk or high at the time of the crash and that
he died in the same manner as he lived his sad, miserable life.
Karl’s father never did acknowledge his son’s fourteenth birthday.
It really didn’t matter; Karl was far beyond caring. In a similar
vein, Karl never shed a tear for his father, and in fact, he
remembered a strange, almost goofy smile emerging from his face as
his uncle told him the news. He felt a sense of relief now that his
father was finally permanently removed from his life. No more
embarrassment or humiliation for Karl!
Karl’s Uncle John was a poor man living in a
trailer park; on the other hand, he was as he often said, a
righteous, God-fearing man. He was a Born Again Christian, believed
in the baby Jesus, and he raised Karl in the same manner. A strict,
literal interpretation of the New Testament was called for, and
anything that caused one to deviate from the Bible was to be
avoided, forsaken or perhaps even cursed. Like so many
fundamentalist Christians, Karl’s uncle saw life as a literal
battleground between the forces of good and evil. Moreover, it was
the responsibility of every Christian to do God’s work on this
planet. Social activism was the duty of every God-fearing
Christian, and there was much work that needed doing!
Like so many other disadvantaged white
Americans born in this country, his uncle had a problem with being
so dirt poor in a land of such gaudy wealth. He remembered reading
that 10% of the people owned almost 70% of the wealth in America,
so he figured for the math to work somebody had to be robbed of his
or her American dream to pay for the rich. After generations of
John’s family had been fighting and dying for America in the waves
of endless wars, John had expected, no, he actually demanded, a
better life for himself, his wife and for his adopted son,
Karl.
“Being poor in this country is like having
your face in the window while watching the others inside having a
grand old party, a party, I might add, that you’re not especially
welcomed to,” Karl’s uncle would say to him. “It’s unbelievably
wrong, but that’s our burden, our lot in life from God. God will
make us better people than the others.” Yes, God was always the
answer even if nobody was asking the right questions.
Being devout religious people, Karl’s uncle
and aunt were always involved in some type of weekly church
function. The local pastor was a prototypical fire and brimstone
preacher who knew how to exhort the flock. Their friends were all
members of the same congregation while strangers were kept at a
safe distance. Not that many strangers would spend much time with
such dirt poor white folks. For other white folks, the feeling was
that if you got too close to poor people the poorness might rub
off. Moreover, most people felt there really wasn’t that much
difference between poor and rich in this country other than life’s
circumstances and just maybe, the play of the cards. You never
know, bad luck could be viral!
Most of the townspeople worked at the local
mill creating textiles for designer jeans and other expensive
clothing. The hot, hard unrewarding work paid subsistence wages to
the workers, and the threat of exporting the work overseas was ever
present. Worse yet, more Latinos were joining the work force
causing considerable consternation among the white and black
locals. Still, there was little they could do about the new
interlopers since there was little other work in the area.
Each week it had become a regular routine
for Karl’s uncle to meet up with some of the other men from the
congregation. They would often stop by the trailer and go into the
bedroom while Karl was in the kitchen toying with his homework.
Low, muffled voices filled the air, and on more than one occasion,
their voices would rise above the quiet dialog, as if in anger or
excitement. They were planning something; Karl was smart enough to
figure that out, though he wasn’t quite sure what they were trying
to do. After talking for a couple of hours, the men would leave the
trailer together, and on the way out Uncle John would, without
fail, mess Karl’s hair.
“Keep working son, you’ll get out of this
town yet,” his uncle said.
The only problem was that Karl was an
exceptionally poor student, and he was heading for a very brief,
undistinguished academic career even for this quiet backwater
town.
While he wasn’t learning much academically,
Karl did learn how to handle a gun and how to hunt game animals.
Hunting was almost a religion here, and a man’s standing as a
hunter was truly based on his own personal merits, not the cost of
his equipment. Karl’s uncle made sure that he knew how to safely
clean, handle and shoot a gun. More importantly, his uncle taught
him how to hunt efficiently and track deer while getting into the
head of their prey, so to speak. Furthermore, there was the
constant reminder from his uncle about having respect for their
prey. Every fall, they would go off to the woods for four or five
days to see how many bucks they could grab. No, they didn’t have
the best equipment, but they did possess a keen woodsman’s
knowledge of nature. Each year they looked forward to the
challenge; unfortunately, the woods were getting increasingly more
crowded with the appearance of the amateur hunters from suburbia.
Every year, they would have a run in with some ignorant jerk that
didn’t know the rules of the woods or how to handle his gun
properly.
When Karl turned sixteen, there was a
seminal moment in his life that occurred at their favorite buck
blind. Karl and his uncle had spent several hours in their stand in
quiet preparation for the hunt. Preparing for the hunt meant
secreting themselves and their scent while being patient for the
arrival of the deer to the blind. After waiting a few hours they
finally could see a small herd making their way into the clearing,
and to their delight there was ten-point buck leading a group of
does. Karl’s uncle held a finger to his lips while gesturing to
Karl that he wanted the boy to take the shot. This would be a
prized kill for Karl. Just as Karl started to take aim at the buck,
the deer suddenly scattered into the woods. A second later, a
crashing sound and laughter echoed throughout the nearby tree
stand. A party of suburban hunters had stumbled upon their blind,
and they were busily scaring animals for miles around.
Karl’s uncle was livid so he left the blind
to yell at the men about their stupid, loud behavior. At first, the
party raised their guns in unison, but as the man and boy emerged
from the blind, they brazenly decided to approach them. With each
step their behavior and breath gave away their drunken state. Karl
felt an uneasy familiarity with their condition. A confrontation
began as Uncle John let them have it for their stupid behavior and
the careless way they were handling their guns. The party’s
belligerence continued for several minutes with Uncle John, and
Karl was worried that the situation would soon escalate into
violence. However, as quickly as the incident had begun, it ended,
as the hunting party lost interest in their argument with Karl’s
uncle, and they stumbled their way back into the woods. Uncle John
was fuming, but Karl was happy the incident hadn’t taken a turn for
the worse.
“God is going to teach those idiots sooner
rather than later that I can tell ya,” his uncle said to him. They
returned to their blind; however, before they could settle in, a
shot was fired coming from the general direction of the departed
hunters. Soon yells filled the forest, and a screaming man’s voice
sounded in the distance. Karl and his uncle ran toward the hunters
and reached the party within a couple of minutes. Upon their
arrival, they could see that one of the hunters was lying on the
ground, writhing and rolling about as he held his bloodied hand.
The other hunters finally stopped him from flailing about as the
wounded man tried to fight them off. Half his hand was missing with
the remnant being reduced to a bloody stump.
Karl’s uncle grabbed the man while telling
the others to hold him down. The man was screaming in agony, and
the blood flowed freely from the wound leaving a small, bright red
puddle on the sandy ground. Karl watched as the blood mixed in with
the dirt to form brown clumps as he tried to avoid looking directly
at the mangled hand. He had seen his share of cuts and stitches in
his time, but nothing quite like that bloodied hand. Karl’s uncle
took off his jacket and ripped up his T-shirt for an impromptu
tourniquet. Within a couple of minutes, the heavy bleeding had
stopped, and the pale man was slowly rolling about moaning about
his missing hand. The party gathered their friend from the ground,
and without a word of thanks, they headed off to seek medical
assistance for their fallen companion. Karl was shaken by the
incident, and the sight of the bloodied hand with its exposed sinew
occupied Karl’s dreams for many a night after the incident.
Uncle John didn’t say anything about the
incident until their drive home several days later. Just as they
were about to stop for food his uncle began, “Karl, just remember
God’s work will be done on this planet with or without you. I can
tell you that for your own sake; with you is a whole lot better
than without you. Why? Because if God has to do His will on this
planet without you, God sure enough not going to need you in his
heaven. Those men were foolish, they got what they deserved. That
was His will being done.” They never spoke of the hunting accident
again, but this was not the last time Karl would hear this specific
sermon from his uncle.
One dreary autumn day, the local sheriff and
his men descended upon the trailer while Karl was alone struggling
with his math homework. He was seventeen at the time when they
burst into the trailer by first yelling their presence, and then by
smashing the flimsy trailer door open. With shotguns waving in the
air, they yelled for everybody to get down on their knees with
their hands up. Karl was terrified by the men. He hit the floor
face down while he covered his head with his hands. He had never
been in trouble with the law before, and he was trembling with fear
unsure what would happen next. They picked him up off the floor
while showing him the arrest warrant for his uncle. They decided to
let Karl go once they saw he was a kid, but they insisted on
knowing where his uncle was. Karl didn’t know; moreover, he
wouldn’t tell them if he did. Didn’t matter, the sheriff did
eventually catch up with his uncle at the local church, arresting
him in front of his aunt and the rest of the congregation.
Karl’s uncle was arrested for the notorious
bombing of a local birth control clinic.

When he visited his uncle in jail, Karl’s
uncle proclaimed his innocence to him. Sure, he knew Samuel, the
man with the explosives and timers; after all, they had been good
friends for years. And, yes, they did talk about what to do with
those abominations called birth control clinics, but it was never
his intent to go ahead with the bombings of the clinics, because he
couldn’t reconcile how killing others was going to save the babies
in the first place. His indecision had tormented him for weeks, and
the others went ahead with the planned bombings without him.
Intentions, good, bad or indifferent, didn’t
matter; Karl’s uncle was arrested with the other conspirators.
There was no hiding because the bombing at the clinic had killed
one person and wounded three others. It was only a matter of time
before the full weight of the law was to descend upon them, and
with access to only a public defender, he was given a twenty-year
jail sentence for conspiracy.
His uncle’s take on the entire incident was
to change once his incarceration began. After days of deep prayer,
he came to realize that his lack of faith and his inaction in
protecting the babies resulted in God’s punishment. God was
punishing him for not being more proactive in his defense of life.
During Karl’s many visits to the county jail’s visitor center,
Uncle John continued to lecture to him.
“Remember what I said to you a few years
ago, Karl? It’s very simple; God needs good Christian soldiers, not
conscientious objectors.” Karl struggled to understand the words
from his uncle while his face showed his distress with the
conversation.
“Karl, if I thought the bombings were
righteous I should have helped Samuel, and if they were wrong I
should have stopped him. Instead, I chose to do nothing because I
was afraid to make a choice. I should have protected the babies, I
should have done something. Instead, I did nothing. And, now we are
all in jail, and a person is dead. Like I said, God’s way will be
done on this planet with or without you. It’s much better with you,
Karl!”

Karl took this incident as a literal message
from God; more specifically that as a servant of God he was to do
God’s will on earth, but how? There were so few opportunities in
his small town; however, he heard from a friend about the hiring at
the new GendMeds plant some twenty miles way from where he lived.
Like so many town people, he flocked to the new facility in
Centreville looking for a job and a new chance in life. They did
extensive background checks on all applicants; fortunately, Karl’s
surname was different from his uncle so his record was squeaky
clean. Moreover, there was nothing in the local police records to
associate Karl with radical Christian fundamentalists. They needed
people quickly to man the new facility so that they could get the
pharmaceutical manufacturing lines moving as soon as possible.
Speed was often a necessity with the expenditure of venture
capital, and GendMeds was moving at a furious pace to meet the
unrealistic expectations of their investors; the very same
expectations the GendMeds hype machine had stoked in the first
place.
Karl started as a maintenance man since he
lacked a proper education beyond high school. Karl’s lowly start
actually gave him greater access to the labs. Because of his white
skin, he was given the midday shift in the main lab where he would
carefully and quietly go about his duties while taking great care
not to disrupt the work of the researchers. Racism was still a big
issue at the plant so Karl’s white skin was a welcome relief for
some of the white researchers. They had found many of the
African-American janitors just a little too loud for their own
good. Karl retreated into the background, and he soon was privy to
many conversations about their work, especially regarding the new
stem cell lines. It would take a while; however, once Karl
understood where the lines of stem cells were coming from, he took
this as a sign from God that he was destined for higher
aspirations.
Karl’s good work had earned him a stellar
reputation plus a promotion to a position of higher responsibility.
The higher responsibility meant learning how to dispose of the
biological hazardous waste at the lab. Disposing of the waste was a
serious matter at the lab especially when it came to the handling
of infectious cultures. Elaborate procedures were in place for the
proper incineration of the waste, and for once in his life, Karl
became a serious student. After all, he had found a true purpose to
his life.
Karl’s attention to detail combined with his
overall serious demeanor quickly got the attention of his
supervisors including William Donaldsen. Bill liked Karl’s
straightforward work ethic and no-nonsense approach to his work.
Furthermore, Karl was both a quick learner and a self-starter, who
spent much of his time studying and acquiring new knowledge. These
were considered key attributes to any corporate go-getter. Soon,
Bill began to feel that he was doing a noble deed by making this
rustic his new assistant and thereby helping Karl to aspire to a
higher station in life than what his education and background would
normally allow. Bill soon made Karl a lab assistant, and he found
that the lab never ran smoother. Less than two years after joining
GendMeds, Karl was made head lab assistant, and Bill felt that he
now had a proper right-hand man. Some of the other assistants
grumbled about a red neck being in charge of the lab; however, no
one could argue about Karl’s dedication to the lab’s work.
The only problem was that Karl’s dedication
had little to do with GendMeds while having everything to do with
his calling from God. Karl at first didn’t understand the lab’s
work, never mind knowing what a stem cell line was. However, as he
continued to read, he learned how many of the stem cells were
cultured from aborted fetuses. For a Born Again Christian, that was
a sin against God, and he immediately thought of quitting. However,
what would that accomplish? He couldn’t allow the work at the lab
to go unimpeded so the next step for Karl was obvious.
Consequently, Karl religiously reviewed the lab procedures while he
simultaneously studied and practiced techniques to destroy the work
of the lab. His uncle’s words continued to ring through his head,
“God’s way will be done on this planet with or without you. It’s
much better with you!”
Through a tortuous process of trial and
error, Karl learned how to expose some of the tissues to critical
levels of UV light which in turn stopped some of the cultures from
growing. Initially, his efforts were very modest, and there were
many false starts on his part. Karl was very careful about
concealing his intentions, and he listened carefully to Bill so
that he could anticipate the expectations for each set of samples.
Karl never killed an entire batch outright; instead he studied just
enough statistics to know what the threshold levels were for
negating a significant result from a given test. His caution served
him well in the months ahead.
Over time, Karl fashioned a ritual that he
went through as he went about his holy duty of tampering with a
sample batch. To begin with, he had to make sure he was alone, and
that meant working long hours into the night. Karl found the lab to
be a cold and sterile place to spend most of his waking day. The
bright halide lights made a mockery of any sense of time that he
may have had causing night and day to blur into one another. To
heighten the effect, there were no windows in the facility. There
were no windows because of the constant fear of industrial
espionage at GendMeds; the GendMeds corporate culture was a
particularly paranoid one. It was funny how the most corrupt
cultures were also the most paranoid.
Karl’s weapon of choice against GendMeds was
the UV sterilization chamber. Unlike poisons, the chamber left no
chemical signature that could be detected by the lab’s
spectrometer. The daily procedure had its own unique ritual. Karl
would pick up the sample dish, and as he placed it in the UV
decontamination chamber, he would simultaneously utter the Lord’s
Prayer. Karl never forgot that each sample was possibly the remains
of some poor, unwanted child, a gift of life from God that would
never have the opportunity to make it to this world. This prayerful
reminder added to Karl’s sense of self-worth while reinforcing his
bond with his God. Occasionally, he would think that the fallen
child was somehow lucky in not making his or her way into this ugly
world, but he would quickly relinquish those dark thoughts. They
simply weren’t in keeping with his Christian beliefs of how life
was God’s gift to man.
Sometimes he never tampered with any of the
samples within a batch, allowing Bill one small vicarious victory.
Nevertheless, when it came time to test a critical batch of
tissues, Karl knew what the critical levels of success were and
with his trusty UV equipment, Karl made sure that the sample would
fail a critical test.
This ritual went on for a year, and the poor
results left a confused Bill feeling as if he was suddenly cursed.
Bill found himself so close to a breakthrough yet always falling
just short of a key critical goal or milestone. Little did Bill
know that Karl had cost the company millions of dollars over the
three years he was with them, and nobody was the wiser as to Karl’s
true motivations.
One day, Bill began an unannounced rigorous
evaluation of the lab procedures to rule out the source of his
seeming curse. One by one, Bill changed the variables in the lab
environment, and then he changed the roster of the lab personnel
who handled his precious samples, all in an effort to ferret out
the root cause of the curse.
The day soon came for Karl’s exile from the
lab when Bill ordered Karl to take a post at a different facility.
At that moment, Karl knew for sure that his tampering days would
soon be over. He spent the day in the other lab feeling oddly out
of place, knowing that they would soon be coming to escort him from
the GendMeds facilities. Certainly, the prospect of facing jail
time was not out of the question for Karl. Several days passed
while Karl agonized over a very uncertain future.
Perhaps it was divine intervention, but, in
actuality, the lab assistant chosen to replace him was having a
particularly bad day after a fight with her boyfriend. In her
distracted state she neglected to add a key nutrient to the sample
dishes. Two days later the entire culture was dead, and Bill cursed
the assistant’s incompetence. “Karl never did anything this
stupid,” Bill muttered to himself. The news of the spoiled batch
made its way through the lab like a wildfire, and Bill was
confident he had found the culprit of his curse. Another person’s
incompetence was going to save Karl’s work and his chosen mission
from God.
So Karl returned to his beloved work with
his active imagination filling the tedious hours he spent alone in
the lab. He imagined the identities of the different children that
were incorporated into the cultures he was preparing, as waves of
playful blond hair, blue-eyed children filled his head. Among the
blond children there was a lone dark-haired girl, with a pale white
skin and light eyes who waded slowly into warm tropical water,
seemingly unashamed of her nakedness.
Wow, he really did he have to get a
girlfriend, and he immediately thought of the last girl he was
with. He would muzzle the nape of her neck, gently kissing her skin
while inhaling the perfumed fragrance of her hair. He really did
like girls, but his intensity scared away his last girlfriend. Now
those simple earthly pleasures would have to wait; he had God’s
work to do first!
Yes, his children would have a better life
with God, and he would see to it that no other children would be
sacrificed in the name of science; that is until they put the video
cameras in the lab. The new camera installation required a bit of
doing since the new cameras couldn’t be tied into the normal
security system. Simply by watching several ill-gotten security
disks, competitors of GendMeds could gain valuable clues into their
lab techniques.
Karl was seemingly out of the sabotage
business or so he thought. For his final farewell, he contemplated
the possibility of arranging a massive lab accident perhaps using
one the compressed gas tanks in the labs. There were two problems
with this final act of desperation. One, he still had to deal with
the surveillance camera system. Secondly, in all likelihood he was
only going to get one chance to pull it off before they were on to
him. Also, it was one thing to tamper with the specimens, it was
entirely another matter to set off an explosion and possible maim
or kill other people. After all, he did learn something from his
uncle’s woes. No, this didn’t seem right so he decided he would
bide his time while waiting for another opportunity to do God’s
work. Karl knew God would choose the right time and place so he
eagerly awaited a sign from his savior that would spur him into
righteous Christian action.

The Boss

Putting together an expedition on a
nonexistent budget was a daunting challenge for the neophyte
management skills of Sarah and Richard. They decided that it would
be best to continue their charade as tourists, and avoid going for
the official government sanctions. There was a lot of squabbling
going on between the original Australian researchers and the
Indonesian government; consequently, the two Americans wanted no
part of that political imbroglio. Other than their clothes, the
only real equipment they would bring from the states would be the
video and camera equipment that Richard would borrow from his
brother. They still needed thousands of dollars when they arrived
in Flores to secure camping equipment, supplies and to hire the
necessary native guides. Richard didn’t have any of the equipment
for a proper dig, but if necessary, he would improvise on the spot
and dig with his bare hands. And although they seldom mentioned it
to one another, they were both hoping to see something a bit more
animated than 13,000 year-old skeletons. Apart at night, they each
had their own visions and dreams of discovering a tribe of Homo
floresiensis alive in the remote, dense jungles of Indonesia.
They raised the money for the expedition by
equal amounts of inspiration, improvisation and a few select acts
of total desperation. True to his word, Richard sold his SUV to an
older couple while cashing in a few unsolicited cash advance offers
from his friendly credit card company. Of course, he timed it so
that he would be out of the country when the initial payments would
be due. Sarah sold off her condominium, and from the profit was
able to come up with forty thousand dollars. Over the course of a
few months the pair managed to raise over seventy thousand dollars
for the expedition. Before leaving the states, they tidied up their
personal affairs with Sarah arranging with some of the more
responsible grad students to care for her chimps at the university
lab. With the two placing what remained of their former lives into
storage, Sarah wondered who in her life would notice her absence
—let alone actually miss her— other than her beloved chimps.
The two left together from Los Angeles to
begin their ad hoc expedition. Their journey began as an all day
excursion to Bali with a six-hour stopover. Richard vainly tried to
sleep during the flight while the ever-practical Sarah attempted to
learn Bahasa, the official Indonesian language of the
region. He drifted off while wondering about the sanity of the
small intense girl that squirmed in the seat next to him busily
mispronouncing the words of a foreign tongue.
“Datang, datang,” she repeated over and over
again until Richard was ready to implode. Could he really count on
the validity of this strange girl’s curious jungle visions?
Ten hours into their journey, Sarah finally
settled down, and quietly rested against his shoulder. When she
quieted down and wasn’t annoying the shit out of him she was
actually kind of cute. Besides, it really didn’t matter if she was
sane, what the hell else was he going to do with his miserable
life? No, he was betting it all on this strange Flores girl.
From Bali, they caught a two-hour flight to
Flores in some tired, old plane that they were too exhausted to be
concerned about. A day later, the haggard pair finally arrived at
Maumere, Flores, at two-thirty in the afternoon. The two were
exhausted upon their arrival, yet with the precarious state of
their finances, they just didn’t have time to rest. After dropping
their belongings at the hotel Sarah decided that she would
immediately call upon her old friend Supar to lead the
expedition.
Maumere was a small town of sixty thousand,
and like any small town, everybody knew everybody else, which Sarah
hoped would make it easier to track Supar down. The only problem
was that when Sarah started talking she knew just enough Bahasa to
either illicit laughter or complete confusion from the locals.
Flores Island supported five different language dialects not
counting the new dialect that Sarah was busily inventing.
Furthermore, it wasn’t helping that most of the English from the
Flores locals was relegated to a simple “Hello mister” greeting
that they would affectionately direct at either Richard or
Sarah.
It was a brilliant, tropical day at the
small coastal town; however, the fine weather was all but ignored
by the two Americans. Sarah approached various merchants in town to
buy supplies while saying “buset?” in an effort to find out
how much they wanted for their goods. Each time they would change
their price in response to her animated request, and a flustered
Sarah would say “buset” repeatedly. Nobody in Flores had a clue as
to what she was saying; however, judging from the gathering crowd,
Richard knew Sarah was fast becoming a popular local attraction for
the natives.
Soon, a crowd of interested bystanders,
consisting of young and old alike, had surrounded the two
Americans, and they followed Sarah’s every move. When the pair
stopped for a moment, one elderly man, who had difficulty-keeping
pace with the Americans, began a soft chant that was soon joined by
rest of the locals. A rhythmic chant of “Buset, buset, buset”
echoed throughout the small marketplace and grew louder with each
passing minute. The chant was intermixed with peals of laughter as
Sarah became increasingly more flustered.
“You know Sarah, for a team that was hoping
to fly under the radar, we aren’t exactly keeping a low profile,”
Richard observed. “Do you have any idea what you are saying to
these people?”
Sarah shook her head no, and a look of
concerned bewilderment was flush across her face.
The foreign crowd continued to grow in size
about Sarah and Richard, invoking a sensation of claustrophobia
among the pair of panicked strangers. With the crowd milling about
them, a middle-aged native with a furious face emerged from the
crowd and headed straight at them. Richard wasn’t sure what to do
with the charging man; however, the anti-American sentiments etched
on the man’s face quickly stirred Richard into action.
Richard began to rear his arm back for one
big overhand punch when Sarah yelled “Supar, Supar!” She rushed
over and exchanged a big hug with the onrushing man while literally
lifting him off the ground. After a few seconds, Supar wrested
himself free from Sarah and yelled a few choice comments at the
crowd that caused them to disperse. The disappointed, mumbling
crowd slowly walked away, and Supar returned to the pair. Sarah
excitedly introduced Richard as “Professor Staller” to Supar, and
the two men shook hands.
“You two follow to my brother’s shop?” Supar
said as the three strolled away from the marketplace.
Supar was surprised to see Sarah, but he
managed to regain his natural reserve. Supar’s demeanor was a bit
different from the rest of the Flores inhabitants because he was a
Buddhist rather than a Catholic. He was also of mixed heritage
according to Sarah. His Japanese father had married a local girl,
and how his father had initially arrived in Flores was a mystery to
most of the people who knew him.
“Sarah, why you here at the island, wait,
sorry—why are you back to Flores? Excuse me, give me a minute, I
have to think in English again,” Supar said.
“Supar, I have a very special trip in mind.
You do remember the day when your boat failed during that horrific
ocean squall?”
Supar nodded affirmatively.
“Well, I have to return to the island we
stranded the boat on. There is something on that island I have to
see for myself, something new, almost miraculous, and if I’m right,
perhaps the biggest discovery to be made in this millennium,” Sarah
said excitedly. Sarah the salesperson was doing her best to sell
Supar on her mysterious island junket.
Supar kept nodding his head in agreement,
and was not at all surprised about Sarah’s interest in the island.
Apparently, he never forgot that day either.
“What’s there Sarah?” Supar asked.
“I’m not sure Supar, although as a team we
are going to be the first to find out,” Sarah said.
“Who else is here with you?” Supar asked.
“Who’s the boss?”
Sarah said, “I’m it. In fact, Richard and I
are the entire research team.” Supar’s eyebrows rose a little bit
at her comment while he disapprovingly shook his head slightly from
side to side.
“No, you don’t want to do this. Go home, get
a real team,” he said.
“What are you saying? We are a real team;
we’re both experts in our respective fields. Richard’s a leading
DNA anthropologist,” she said.
“Where’s Brightman? I only work with
Brightman,” Supar said as he looked away.
“He’s dead,” Sarah replied.
“What?”
“In a horrific car accident,” she said.
“Are you sure you want to do this Sarah
without Brightman?” Supar asked. “You really don’t have a large
enough team for this trip. I think this could be a big
mistake.”
“Why wouldn’t I Supar?” Sarah asked.
“Because…trust me, it’s just not a good
idea,” Supar replied.
Sarah looked at Supar with her eyes staring
directly at him.
“Listen to me Supar. I’ve wanted to do this
ever since I left that island. Yes, I want to do this, more than
anything else in my life, Supar. Do I have to get another guide or
are you going to work with me? In case you are wondering, I do have
the coordinates for that island.”
The two continued to argue for ten minutes.
It was readily apparent that Supar wasn’t too happy about the
nature of their impromptu expedition. Supar kept warning them about
the local authorities; however, Sarah was wearing him down.
Finally, Supar had to concede to the resolute Sarah.
“Okay, okay, we go; don’t say I didn’t try
to stop you. Now let’s begin to fight over my fee for this trip
while I still have some fight left,” said Supar.
After a slow start, Supar’s English would
rapidly improve, and his knowledge of the surrounding islands left
no doubt that he was the right man for their expedition. Richard
loved another quality of Supar: Supar’s ability to handle the super
sensitive Sarah, even when he was correcting her.
“Oh Sarah before I forget, buset
means ‘damn it’ or ‘bull shit’. They were giving you a price, and
when you said buset over and over again, they thought you were
either a tough business guy or just some nut. ‘Berapa ini’
are the right words, which means, “How much is this?”
A smiling Sarah nodded her head in agreement
while Richard breathed a sigh of relief. Yeah, the Flores natives
had it right. Damn nut was more like it as far as Richard was
concerned.

That night at their hotel, the pair decided
to grab some dinner together, and they were very much alone in the
dining room. After being seated, the two shared some small
talk.
“So, how did a nice girl like you get
started with these filthy apes…I mean primatology in the first
place?” Richard asked.
“I don’t know,” Sarah said, “when I had a
chance to work with chimps at the local zoo I just fell in love
with them the very first time. Their eyes did it for me; there so
much more going on behind their eyes. They are much more
intelligent than what we commonly believe,” Sarah gushed.
“Hmmm, well that’s an interesting answer,”
Richard said. Richard sensed some touchy, feely anthropology about
to be served up for dinner, so he quickly changed the topic.
“So, what do you think they are going to
look like?” Richard asked.
“What, the Ebu Gogo?” Sarah asked.
“No, this year’s crop of Young Republicans;
of course, I’m talking about the Ebu,” a frustrated Richard
said.
“Well, let’s see if they actually exist,
okay? I’m not one for mindless speculation,” Sarah said.
“Come on girl, let your hair down, it’s fun
to speculate. Besides we don’t have MTV to watch, and I don’t know
about you, but I have nothing to read other than some old Maxims
and Playboys,” Richard said.
“You could have brought some books to read,”
Sarah said.
“These you can read and—”
Sarah just looked at him, and Richard
decided not to go there.
As to the Ebu Gogo, both Sarah and Richard
had made it a point not to discuss the Ebu Gogo in front of the
crew and that included Supar. It was just a simple matter of
reducing the possibility of loose lips among the small native crew.
Still, Richard was bored and Sarah wasn’t biting.
“Look, you know how the legend goes about
the Ebu Gogo, right?” Richard asked.
“Richard, come on, you know I do. I
originally told you about them if you recall, so how could I not
know the legend? I’ve only been over it a hundred times. Let’s see
Ebu Gogo, meaning grandmothers that eat anything. According
to legend, they are small hairy people with long arms, about a
meter tall, and the women have pendulous breasts that they throw
over their shoulders or so the local legend goes.”
“Stop it, you’re getting me hot,” Richard
said.
Sarah ignored his small outburst and
continued to talk despite Richard’s failed effort at humor.
“Not surprisingly, on Sumatra there is a
similar native legend regarding the orang-pendke or ‘short
man’ as they call them in their native language. Flores natives say
the Ebu will eat anything, including raw meat, fruit, vegetables
and the occasional human baby…,”
Richard interrupted her.
“Jeez, enough already Sarah, I already know
you are the smartest kid in the class and that you probably have
more horsepower upstairs than I do, but that and a few bucks will
get you a ride on the subway. Cut to the chase, will you, please?
What do they look like?”
Sarah gave Richard a quizzical look.
“All right, I’m not sure about the cost of a
subway ride nowadays; however, the question remains: is this a
legend or a shared folk memory? All we know is there are at least
two research teams scouring Flores looking for the Ebu Gogo as we
speak while others are hunting for the Orang Pendek in other parts
of Indonesia, but guess what Richard? Thanks to my earlier
encounter, we are looking on a totally different island that nobody
else knows about. What do they look like? As long as they look
significantly different from humans, I don’t care what they look
like. That said I do know that these little critters do vocalize in
the strangest manner.”
“Boy Sarah, you didn’t exactly go out on a
limb with that comment, did you? My guess is that they are not
particularly hairy, and they don’t have pendulous breasts, thank
goodness for that. I mean after all, I like a natural breast as
much as the next guy; however, down to the floor…,”
Richard stopped short after seeing the
exasperated look Sarah was giving him. The look said, “Please, stop
being an ass, Richard.”
“But I digress,” Richard said. “Okay, not
much hair, no pendulous breasts, maybe they wear a sports bra for
added support, and I doubt that they eat everything. There is some
truth to the legend in that they are probably omnivores so they
enjoy eating a mixed diet very much like our own. Based on the
remains at Liang Bua, they are about a meter tall, long arms, with
sloping foreheads, no chin and a naked skin similar in color to
African or dark Indonesian people. Their hands and feet are
probably very similar to our own as well. The question is how
intelligent are they; more importantly, how did they get from
mainland to the islands with the technology on hand?” Richard
asked.
“You’re getting way ahead of yourself,
Richard. Let’s find them first, then we can answer these questions
and ask some more. I do have one speculative question to ask of
you. Assuming that we find them, what are we going to call them? I
mean Homo floresiensis is a bit formal as far as I am concerned,”
Sarah said.
Richard thought for a moment. “First, we
will find them, and secondly for now let’s just keep calling them
the Ebu, when we make the announcement we can come up with a
spiffier name for them like dwarf people critters. Besides,
what we find on that island could be a potentially new species
altogether.”
“Works for me, Richard; I certainly don’t
want to call them Hobbits; besides being demeaning I’ve had quite
enough of that Ring stuff over the past five years. Here’s to the
Ebu!” Sarah said, and the two toasted to the promise of a strange,
new people.
They stopped talking shop, and the two
scientists then became tourists spending the remainder of their
evening making fun of their dinner and the other hotel guests.

Supar convinced the Americans to move their
departure port to Ende since he had ready access to the supplies
they needed for the expedition. Unfortunately, stowing the
equipment aboard Supar’s old boat was posing another challenge for
such a small, neophyte team. Sarah wasn’t much of a manager and
delegation wasn’t high up on her list of personal skills. Being
green, she felt that she had to manage every detail, including the
packing of Richard’s own equipment. Richard was feeling very
oppressed by Sarah’s heavy-handed management style and to make
matters worse, Sarah had become very suspicious of everybody in the
crew especially Richard. Sarah was taking micro-management to the
molecular level, yet what could Richard do? After all, Sarah was
the boss, as she often reminded him, and any suggestions otherwise
provoked an immediate, shrill confrontation with her. Accordingly,
Richard would do anything to avoid a confrontation with her, even
to the point of becoming a passive-aggressive.
One afternoon it all came to a climatic head
when Sarah found the equipment stowed the wrong way aboard the
boat. She had wanted all of the electronic equipment placed in a
waterproof lining, and Richard chose not to in order to save some
precious time.
“I did it this way because it was taking
too…,” Richard said.
“Richard, this is my expedition and my
crew!” Sarah yelled. “Damn it, we do it my way, and do I have to
tell you once again that you are junior academic on this team! My
way, is that clear Richard?” Sarah barked at him.
The ferocity of this small woman surprised
Richard, plus he had no idea she could yell that loud. For one
small moment, he felt as if he was in the lab again with the
rampaging chimp. All he could do was shake his head in the
affirmative and sigh. In the old days, Richard would have ripped
her a new one in front of the crew, but that was the older,
prouder ego of Richard that had left his side a long time ago.
Besides, the only thing worse than her yelling at him was when she
grew quiet and starting sulking.
“You heard the woman. We’ve got to re-pack
all of this equipment,” Richard yelled. The crew looked at each
other, shrugged and began to tear apart the packed equipment on the
boat. The natives had seen this drama play out too many times
before, and as the natives would say, score one for the
majikan. Majikan meant boss in Bahasa, and by now all of the
natives referred to Sarah by that name.
Fortunately, Sarah was too sensitive about
other people’s feelings, and consequently she wasn’t very good at
being a hard ass. A little later that day, she actually felt bad
about yelling at Richard so she pulled him aside to apologize to
him.
“Richard, I’m sorry about that yelling bit,”
Sarah said.
Richard just smiled at her while commenting,
“That’s okay majikan; I just never realized you could yell that
loud.”
Richard realized she was green and didn’t
press the issue any further. He actually made it a point to defer
to her as much as possible while secretly doing his own thing.
Richard had his own agenda to attend to, and, yes,
passive-aggressive was a much better strategy when dealing with the
ice princess. So when Sarah insisted on having a dry camp,
Richard made sure he had already secured his own private stash of
Irish Mist aboard the boat for those long, lonely island
nights.
In a similar manner, instead of getting
angry at Sarah about her yelling episode, Richard decided to kid
her about the incident, and he even suggested that all the
employees get together for a happy hour when their work was
completed. Other than Supar, the mangy crew that comprised most of
their team seemed barely capable of staying out of jail, never mind
joining them in a social occasion such as a happy hour. Besides,
Sarah was constantly complaining to Richard about the endless
variety of body odors that emanated from the crew, and this was
from a woman who cleaned the chimp cages at the university labs.
They were an unsmiling and surly mob, far different from the Flores
natives that worked the previous university expeditions. When Sarah
protested to Supar about their overall disposition, he would curtly
comment, “You get what you pay for.”
Often as they worked loading the boat, the
flatulent crew would erupt without warning causing Sarah to groan
in disgust and scurry to the far side of the dock to seek relief
from the ill wind. The outbreaks were so frequent and so brazen,
Sarah suspected that Supar was deliberately hiring the
gastro-intestinally challenged or perhaps the crew was embroiled in
some weird, avant-garde anti-American protest.
During one such outbreak from the crew,
Sarah commented to “Richard, what the hell is that odor?”
“You have to ask? I guess the boys are it
again,” Richard said with a smirk. “You just got to love their
tenacity!”
“Just gross!” Sarah said as she stormed away
from the boat to sit by herself.

“Hey, I’m going for a run,” Richard shouted
to her, no doubt looking to make good on his own escape from the
malodorous crew. She waved the damn runner off with a disparaging
flip of her hand. Sarah found herself alone with little to do until
the air cleared so she reflected on her own brittle relationship
with Richard. Deep down, Sarah knew why she didn’t trust Richard;
moreover she realized it wasn’t entirely his fault. She didn’t
trust most men, particular younger, more aggressive men.
Oh, what the hell, I don’t get along with
women either, Sarah thought. Nevertheless, Sarah did have a
specific problem with Richard. He reminded her way too much of an
undergraduate student she had an affair with while she was in
graduate school. There was a striking resemblance between the two
men, and for Sarah, that was the original attraction to Richard in
the first place. Richard was a constant reminder of a stupid,
sordid affair that Sarah spent much of her recent life trying to
forget.
Several years earlier, Sarah was a teacher’s
aide, responsible for doing most of the menial work for a tenured
professor, including the grading of the undergraduate tests. The
head professor was a pompous ass who was legendary in the
anthropology department for his continuous efforts at
self-promotion. The undergrad student, Sarah’s lover at the time,
tried to leverage her for some better grades. At the same time,
ugly rumors about the pair sleeping together flew around the
department from a number of jealous female undergraduate students.
Yet, Sarah had done nothing wrong in terms of how she treated him
or even how she had graded him. She even tried to get the professor
to mark her boyfriend’s paper; however, the professor couldn’t be
bothered, and he left the task to her. Once again, her actions
didn’t matter. Public opinion on the campus had already spoken
quite forcibly to the entire faculty about the ‘whore’ Sarah
Levine.
Sarah would have been fired if it hadn’t
been for her impeccable academic record, and she was soon persuaded
by the tenured professor to seek a new school to complete her
graduate studies. She never forgot the smell of his pipe in the
office, as he told her in a cold and detached manner that her
scholarly services would best be served elsewhere. Sarah sat
quietly as she was being scolded by this pompous ass, while at the
same time she struggled to suppress the anger that raged deep
within her. She couldn’t help but wonder which grad student would
become his next hand maiden, and she was glad to be rid of the
professor.
With regards to her ex-lover, the end of
their ill-fated romance was a stupid and ugly one-act drama that
Sarah never wanted to reprise again. She tried to recall if there
was a lesson to be had other than to be leery of any male who
spends more time preening in the mirror than she did. It was also
the start of her frosty demeanor toward all potential male
suitors.
Sarah drifted off, deep into her own
thoughts on her past relationships, back to a lonely year in grad
school and a date with a philosophy major that that seemed nice
enough. While eating a forgettable fast meal together, they shared
an engaging conversation on nihilism and religion. The more they
talked about the books they read the more she became infatuated
with their shared journey and his incredibly light grey eyes.
It took little encouragement on his part to
persuade her to return to his dorm room for a few refreshments.
Once there they downed a few shots of tequila together, and he soon
talked her into trying some coke. Why she agreed to do the coke was
a question she had repeatedly asked herself over the years. She
never was a big partaker of drugs before nor was she that curious
about them. Was her judgment clouded because of the tequila or was
she that desperate to connect with someone? She just couldn’t
decide. Within minutes of doing a few snorts, she was high, and he
was feverishly kissing her while groping her breasts. She eagerly
returned his kisses as he removed her clothing, and he carried her
naked into his bedroom. The sex was spontaneous and uninhibited,
but as the night progressed, she couldn’t separate their lovemaking
apart from the freaky drug taking.
Upon rising the following morning she sat up
at the edge of the bed, naked, agitated and feeling very used. She
slowly climbed out of his bed and turned back to look at her
mistake. He was out cold with his mouth wide open, and was barely
moving from the night’s frenetic activities. She looked around the
room. Wow, he had a lot of drugs even for a college student!
Realizing the mistake she had made she gathered her clothes
together and hastily put them on as she literally ran from his
room. Walking across the dark campus in the early morning hours,
she realized that perhaps loneliness was a far better choice than
dating some of these seriously flawed men. She certainly didn’t
want to become one of their damaged women. She never dated him
again despite his protests and his best persuasive efforts to get
her to join him in another tryst.
Sarah tried to snap out of her mental fog,
and she found herself back at the dock in Ende. She realized that
was the problem with her existence; she got so lost in her own
narrative she often failed to see the real world as it went by.
No, it wasn’t all Richard’s fault. Richard,
after all, wasn’t a bad looking guy complete with his very own
crude charm. He certainly was bright, and he could be amusing if
you were in the mood for his juvenile antics. Moreover, there
certainly was no doubt that he found himself amusing. Sensitivity
and caring, well, that was an entirely different matter for
Richard. The young boy, smart-ass attitude, kinda of hid those
qualities in Richard and consequently he could become very
wearisome to her. But, this wasn’t about a checklist between the
pros and cons of sleeping with someone. Simply put, having an
affair with Richard would complicate the expedition for Sarah. She
wasn’t sure she could control him if they became lovers; likewise
she wasn’t sure if she wanted to control him. No, it was best that
she keep this a professional matter and not complicate the
expedition with another sordid love affair. Sarah knew herself all
too well, and she knew the emotional attachments an affair would
bring for her. Right now, she wasn’t that crazy about Richard, and
that meant keeping Richard on the outside for the duration of the
expedition.
An hour later Richard returned from his run,
and they continued to work together throughout the remainder of day
putting their equipment and stores securely onto the boat. Two
small boys, who were nephews of Supar, had been helping the
expedition by carrying some of the smaller supplies to the boat.
After a time, they became bored with the task so they began a small
food fight by hurling bits of broken chicken wings at each other.
The infectious laughter of the two small boys caught both Sarah’s
and Richard’s attention.
Supar was having none of their nonsense, and
he scolded the two small boys for playing with their food.
“You should have respect for the animals
that have given up their life to nourish you. One day your bodies
will be feeding others, and you would want the same respect,” Supar
said. Sarah noted the simple Buddhist sentiment Supar was
expressing while she intently watched the reaction of the two boys.
The two small boys hung their heads in shame, the joy quickly
draining from their small faces, and they fell silent. They sat by
themselves for a while, not saying a word to one another. Once
Supar left, one boy nudged the other, and they quickly resumed
their childish play.
After several days of preparation in Ende
the team was set to leave so Sarah unilaterally made the decision
to depart the following morning. With dusk beginning to approach,
the exhausted team was reviewing the supply list for the third time
when Richard held up his hands as if to say no more.
“No mas, that’s it. We’ve been over this a
hundred times. If we missed something, we’ll find out when we get
there. That’s the way it always is with these expeditions, no
matter how much you plan, you are always going to miss something,”
Richard said.
Surprisingly, Sarah nodded in agreement with
him.
“Richard, when you are right, you are right,
and I’m dead tired. That’s it for today, and I’m going to bed
early. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow. Thanks everyone.
Have a good night!” Sarah said as she turned away to leave the
dock.
Richard was having none of that from Sarah,
and he grabbed her by her arm to stop her.
“Hey, not so fast young lady. This is our
last day in the big city. Let’s get dressed up and grab a few
drinks before we disappear into the wilderness for a few months. We
deserve, no I might add, we need a night on the town,” he
pleaded.
They both knew that was a joke. Flores was
not exactly a premiere travel destination for the discriminating
western tourist. In some of the smaller towns you didn’t ask about
air conditioning, you were more concerned about whether or not your
room had mosquito netting. Overall, conditions were somewhat
primitive, and transportation was painfully slow; actually,
everything on Flores was slow. It was a different world from what
Sarah and Richard were used to, a world where it was more important
to be polite than it was to be punctual.
For a westerner, the food was sometimes very
bizarre and often challenging. The word ‘challenging’ is almost
desirable when used to describe a novel or a game, maybe even a
sexual conquest, but not when it’s used to describe food! To a
western observer, it sometimes looked as though anything that moved
was fair game for the cooking pot. In reality, the staple diet for
the local population consisted of rice, fish and vegetables. The
local delicacies that the natives loved inevitably entailed the
head of some small animal or dog meat. For a treat, entire chickens
would be roasted with the feathers left on the hapless bird. Other
than some meals consisting of chicken, fish and rice, the two
westerners found it difficult to find enough edible food to eat and
maintain their weight. In the week they spent preparing for the
expedition, they both had lost over ten pounds, and they spent much
of their time racing each other to a toilet. However, the tropical
sun, combined with their illness gave the two a distinctive leaner,
almost healthier look. Sarah and Richard kidded one another about
the possibility of forgoing the Ebu altogether and promoting a new
“Flores Diet Book” instead.
Sarah continued to protest about going out
and said, “Please, I really need the rest, Richard.”
“Come on Sarah, tomorrow is just one long
boat ride. Once we arrive at your island that’s it; we’re stuck on
some shit-hole island for several months with nothing to do but to
watch the Ebu make out, and that’s assuming we’re lucky. We need a
break, you know, a real celebration to kick this expedition off the
right way.”
“Okay, we’ll do it, just as long you don’t
invite the crew for happy hour. I have to give my nose a break from
those bad boys. Let’s meet in two hours, say about seven, all
right?” Sarah asked.
“Fine,” said Richard. After saying their
good nights to the crew, the pair walked together to the hotel. The
two Americans were oddly quiet during their evening walk as they
silently reflected on their strange journey to Flores Island and
the prospects of a very uncertain future.
Richard was exhausted from the day’s labor,
and decided to get a quick nap so he could be fresh for the night’s
festivities. He returned to his room, and found it as he had left
it, in a total state of disarray and chaos. After a quick shower,
Richard briefly entertained the thought of straightening the room;
however, he decided instead to fall into his sagging bed. The hotel
didn’t have the greatest of amenities, which made sleeping even
more of a challenge. The only cooling air within the room came from
a squeaky, old brown ceiling fan that moved so slowly he could
count the revolutions on a moonlit night. Flores had a wide range
of climates for an island so close to the equator; however, since
their arrival, the tropical heat had been consistently
oppressive.
Despite the heat, Richard soon fell off into
a deep sleep until he heard a knock at the door. Richard was
startled, and he could hear Sarah’s voice calling him in the
hallway.
“What the hell was she doing here this
early?” He looked up at the clock and saw it was after seven. “Oh
shit!” he muttered to himself as he jumped from the bed.
“Richard, are you in there?” Sarah
asked.
“Coming Sarah!” Richard said as he threw his
clothes on and went to the door.
“Sorry, I overslept.”
Sarah came into the room and immediately
took a step back from the sprawling mess. She decided to take the
high road while not saying a word to Richard about the disarray in
his room. Meanwhile, Richard was busily trying to pull himself
together in the bathroom, and he removed his shirt.
“Gee, it’s not too often that I’m ready
before the guy,” Sarah said. The bathroom door was open, and she
took a quick glance at his lean, muscular torso. Not too shabby,
but then she noticed a blue razor wire tattoo on one of his biceps.
She was a bit surprised by the tattoo’s presence wondering how
somebody that bright could do something so, eh…common.
“Hey, what’s with the tattoo? Trying to look
like a tough guy in school?” she yelled to him.
“Nope, just looking like a guy who gets
drunk on a regular basis,” he replied.
Well, on the positive side, he didn’t spend
too much time admiring himself in the mirror. She continued to
watch while Richard was hastily trying to apply his deodorant
stick. When he opened the top of the container, the stick crumbled
and fell to the floor in a number of broken white pieces. Richard
cursed as he scooped up the pieces and mashed them back into the
plastic holder. He then began to apply the mangled stick to his
underarms. Sarah rolled her eyes, while deciding she had seen
enough of Richard’s grooming habits and looked instead at the
unrelenting chaos of his room.
“Typical male,” she said to herself. Walking
about the room, she spotted several dozen condoms pouring out of a
box and lying among his clothes on the floor.
“Hey, Richard is there something you should
be talking to me about?”
Richard saw Sarah looking at the condoms and
knew he was busted.
“Hey, you never know, I might get lucky on
that island with a little Ebu love!” he said.
“You know that’s kind of disgusting even for
you, Richard.”
“Great, I still got it! If you noticed, the
condoms are not lubricated. They can be used to protect equipment
such as the muzzle of the guns from tropical moisture and
critters.”
“Okay then, just as long you weren’t
planning something sleazy like smuggling drugs or something else,”
she said. She smelled his cologne wafting through the humid air;
surprisingly she didn’t find it that objectionable.
Sarah never wanted to bring guns along the
expedition so Richard decided to proactively distract her before
she could go on a rant.
“But since you brought the topic up, didn’t
you ever wonder how the Ebu got it on? I mean, was it your basic
missionary position? Did they have to wine and dine them? Get them
flowers or whisper sweet nothings?” Richard asked.
Sarah wasn’t buying Richard’s rationale for
bringing the condoms, since an equal number of them were lubricated
as well, but she decided to play along.
“Do you want me to go through the
evolutionary check list, Richard? They had small brains, probably
had a shortened childhood for their young as compared to our own. I
would say the Ebu needed less time to raise their young, and
therefore, they required less involvement from the male parent. The
question is did they have permanent pair bonds? If not, my guess
would be that, they were quick, impersonal, back door men. That
would still make them better lovers than most men today, you know,
no pretenses,” Sarah said.
Richard shook his head.
“Ouch! What do you have against males and me
in particular?” Richard asked as he combed his hair.
“I didn’t say anything about you; however,
now that we are on the topic, let’s just say you’re lacking
something,” Sarah said with a small smile.
“Care to elaborate, Sarah?”
“Let me see, oh I don’t know, how about a
personality?” Sarah asked.
“Hey, I got personality up the yin-yang,
baby!”
“No, Richard, I’m talking about a good
personality. You know, a personality with such noble
characteristics such as loving, caring and affection,” Sarah
said.
“Oh, I’m caring, baby! Just try me!” Richard
said.
“I’m sorry to let you down Richard, but
bringing your own condoms to the party doesn’t automatically
qualify you as caring! Come on, let’s go before I change my mind
about tonight,” Sarah said.

The bar closest to the hotel was a dark,
dank place where relatively few tourists go to except for the most
adventuresome. The music in the background reflected the islander’s
preference for pop songs, mixed in with a few classic reggae songs.
None of this matters to the two Americans as they found two seats
along the bar and settled in for the night. Sarah was wearing a
tight blue dress with heels, and with her hair up Richard couldn’t
help, but notice how stunning Sarah was looking.
“Boy, you are looking so hot tonight,”
Richard said as he sniffed the air in her direction. “You smell
good too! I have to say your selection of perfume is
improving.”
“That almost implies that I don’t look or
smell good at other times,” Sarah said with a twinkle in her eye.
Sarah was feeling playful tonight, and she decided to give Richard
a run for his money.
“Well, before I go down that road, let’s get
a few drinks into you. Unfortunately, it appears that warm beer is
the drink du jour at the bar,” Richard said.
“Beer it is,” Sarah said with a big
smile.
“Barkeep, dua bir, terima kasih” said
Richard.
A stunned Sarah looks at Richard. “You’re
picking up the language?” Sarah said in a tone heavy with both
surprise and sarcasm.
“Let’s just say I’m filling a void that
exists with our present resident linguist,” said Richard. “Supar is
teaching me.”
They begin to pound a few beers, and they
kidded one another about the other patrons in the bar. With each
passing drink, Richard was a bit taken aback by Sarah’s ability to
stay even with him.
“Damn it girl, you can really pound them
down. I never saw you as a beer drinker,” Richard said.
“Heck, I’ve been in college most of my
adult-life so I better have a taste for beer. That’s pretty much
all you see in the dorms. I mean when you’re drinking at a party
with the grad students, you are not going to drink a 94-point
Cabernet Sauvignon. The tenured professors have all of the good
wine; unfortunately, that wine comes with a certain personal
obligation,” Sarah said.
They have a few more beers and spend most of
their time talking about the expedition.
“You know I named the island. I’ve named the
island, Irmã Flores, that’s Portuguese for Sister to Flores,” Sarah
said with a slight slurring of the words. Richard still had his
doubts about Sarah’s language skills, but Irmã was a good as any
other name to call Ebu Island.
Sarah was sitting close to Richard, and they
were looking into each other eyes. Sarah’s perfume was doing a
number on him, and with her hair pulled up the long line of her
graceful neck was exposed. Richard found himself wanting to caress
her neck so he decided to stop talking shop.
“Hey, how come you never married? I mean you
are a damn good-looking woman, and when you’re not being such a
tight ass you look like you could be a lot of fun. I don’t get it.
Why are you still on the sidelines?”
Before Sarah can answer, Richard asked,
“You’re not one of those are you? You know, because if you are I’m
okay with that too, especially if you’re bi.”
Sarah laughed, and said, “Yeah, I bet you’re
good with that little fantasy. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m
just not that curious.”
Sarah hesitated for a moment, shaking her
head. “You know, you are such a cretin, and you are being damn
nosy. Why do men always question the sexuality of every woman that
won’t go to bed with them? No, I am decidedly not, and I could ask
you the very same question?”
Richard knew he was teetering on the edge of
upsetting her. In seeming remorse, Richard’s hung his head down
while he carefully measured his response as Sarah sipped her
beer.
“Sorry about that Sarah, I don’t know why we
do that; as you probably guessed I’m not quite right, having grown
up as an adolescent wondering if I was a normal male or just a…,”
and his voice tailed off.
“Or what?”
“You know…,” he said dolefully.
“What?” she asked impatiently while she
drank her beer.
“A well-endowed shemale?” he asked.
“What the…?” Sarah said, and she choked on
her beer causing the beer to unceremoniously spill from her mouth
and nose. Richard was laughing at her as he helped her wipe her
chin with a napkin.
“Girl got you with that one. It’s really all
in the timing.”
“Idiot, I got beer on my dress. Not quite
right really does sum it up for you. You know, calling you a
complete idiot just doesn’t do you justice!” Sarah said, as she
coughed and dabbed her face with the napkin.
“Are you through playing with your beer
missy? To answer your question, it was never the right time or the
right girl. My career kept getting in the way of any serious
commitment. Every time I would settle down and find a girl, another
school posting would call me away.”
“Or should you say you prayed for another
posting to call you away,” Sarah said.
“Yeah, you’re right, and am I that obvious?
I just keep finding out that most people are assholes; it really
doesn’t matter what genitals are attached to them. Men, women, it’s
all the same, we all have a bad habit of disappointing one another,
myself most of all. What’s the Kafka quote out being a happy animal
in a happy herd? I’ve never been happy to fit into the herd, and I
suppose I never will,” Richard said.
“Kafka?” Sarah said with a small snort.
“Yeah, you reading Kafka.”
“No really, I spent most of my time hanging
around the English Literature girls, what can I tell you? They were
so much cuter than the girls majoring in science, present company
excluded, of course,” Richard said.
“And you?” he asked.
“No English lit majors for me and, yes, it
was never the right guy. Oh, I was serious about some guy; several
times in fact, only problem was they were less than serious about
me. The years go by and the scar tissue begins to build up. After a
while, I didn’t want anybody, and I was content in the knowledge
that nobody wanted me, at least not for the long run. That’s all; I
just grew tired of those broken commitments. No deep dark secrets
other than the years going by. They do fly by don’t they?” Sarah
asked.
“Yeah, the years are going by, and I had a
career that was solidly going in reverse, that is until I met you!
I say here’s to you Sarah Levine, and to your bizarre jungle
visions,” as he held up his glass for a toast.
Sarah heartily tapped his beer glass with
her own glass and said, “Thank you sir for that stirring
toast.”
“Hey, Levine? You must be Jewish? So did you
get a nose job and breast implants for your bar mitzvah?” Richard
asked.
“Cretin, it’s bat mitzvah for a girl, and
this is all original equipment I’ll have you know. Besides, I’m
half Jewish, my father was Jewish, and my mother is an
Italian-Catholic.”
“So?” Richard asked.
“What?” she asked in return.
“You know, how were you brought up?” Richard
asked.
Sarah looked down, scrunched her face and
paused for a moment before answering.
“Basically screwed up! Yeah, that sums it up
pretty well! I don’t observe much of anything. It’s kind of tough
to observe any holidays or religions when your family didn’t have
any. I can also tell you that my family didn’t bring much fun to
the word ‘dysfunctional’ either. My father died of pancreatic
cancer when I was young and, my borderline mother became severely
depressed. My older sister ran off as soon as she had the
opportunity to get out of that house. It was just a sad, quiet,
lonely childhood. So, I lost myself in my books and my studies.
Now, all I have left in my life is my depressed mother and a sister
I almost never see.”
“So you had no males in your life, no
father, not even a brother to tease you?” Richard asked.
“None, what about yourself? I mean what God
do you pray to or should I say, choose to ignore?” Sarah asked.
“Lapsed Catholic, whatever the hell that
means. Oh right, I guess hell is the operative word there. The
whole church and religion thing just didn’t make sense to me.
That’s the problem with being educated. You end up asking more
questions, and getting answers that you really didn’t want to know
in the first place. Sometimes I think it’s just easier to be dumb…,
no wait, I don’t mean dumb. You know, just more accepting of things
as they are,” Richard said.
“That is not the lot of a scientist, is it
Richard?” Sarah responded. “The best science is when you challenge
accepted dogma, the older the better, but that doesn’t help you win
any popularity contests.”
“No, you’re right. Anyway, the way I figure
it, religion has one basic shtick. They try to convince you that
you should bundle up all of your passions and channel them all into
some sort of religious fervor for an entity that may or may not be
there. You know, turn all of your lust into a burning desire for
God. And, I don’t know, anything that schizoid in nature, I just
don’t want to be a part of,” he said.
“You’re right, the preachers do try to make
god sound like a jealous lover, don’t they?” she replied.
“Yep, like I said it makes no sense, but my
guess is that for a sense of security most people will accept
anything, including a belief in a god, and buying lots of
whole-life insurance,” he said.
She said, “But that’s the difference, at
least you had the choice to make Richard. I had nothing, no
direction in my life.”
“We all have choices to make, Sarah. You
just have to be coherent enough during your life to recognize them
when they come around. So we procrastinate, we delay making the
tough choices, but like my daddy always said no decision is a
decision.”
“Coming from a self-loathing Catholic,
shouldn’t I take all of this homespun philosophy with a grain of
salt?” Sarah asked.
“I guess. Hey, I’m sorry about your father
and the Jewish crack…,” he said as he nervously swirled his beer in
the glass.
Sarah just waved him off with a small smile
as if to say no big deal; however, a quick look at the saddening
girl told Richard otherwise. He was losing the fun Sarah that was
with him just a few moments ago. He knows she has begun reflecting
on her own sad life and the death of her father. The damn girl had
so many personal land mines that he kept blundering into so he
decided it was time to change gears again.
“You know there is one good thing about the
Catholic Church,” Richard said.
“Really and what pray tell is that?” Sarah
asked while playing along.
Richard became more animated, and told her,
“I love the way the Church makes sex out to be something really
dirty, you know, some great sin. Sex is so much more fun that way.
None of that good wholesome, procreation crap for me. Sex has got
to be little dirty for me to be any fun. You know how you’re
supposed to keep this dirty disgusting, filthy little secret to
yourself that is until you get married and then you share it with
your loved one. No way!”
“Dirty, disgusting, filthy secret, huh?”
Sarah said while smirking. “You are such a jerk. It just figures
that comment would be coming from you, Richard. Did you ever hear
of love? Oh, excuse me, stupid question on my part. This goes right
back to my comment regarding personality,” she said.
“Hey, I got personality,” he protested.
“Yeah right. Boy, it sounds like you have
enjoyed the company of a bad girl or two in your time. Maybe you
even had the occasional lap dance with a tattooed stripper?” Sarah
asked.
“Who hasn’t?” he retorted. “Besides, Sarah
Levine, what do you know about lap dances? You didn’t pay your way
through college that way, as a pole dancer? Any tattoos you care to
show me?”
“Oh, you would love that wouldn’t you? No,
I’ve heard things and stop fantasizing about me will you? So have
you been with any bad girls? No, wait, I should be asking how many
have you been with?” Sarah asked.
“Well, yeah but only during the occasional
bachelor party, maybe at a bar, there was that car wash… so what if
I did, like women don’t like the company of bad boys every so
often,” Richard said.
Car wash? What the hell was he doing with a
bimbo in a car wash? Stupid question so she decided not ask
him.
Sarah left her musings, and commented, “When
do we like bad boys? When we’re drunk? Biologically men have a
different mating strategy as compared to women. Their goal is to
spread their seed around as much as possible with minimal energy,
and with even less commitment on their part. The more women they
have, the better for them. Women have to take a different approach
because they get stuck with the child. I know that’s changed with
birth control, at least that’s the way it looks with the way some
girls act. All I know is that for me the emotional attachments are
still there. What can I say; it’s bred in the bone. At some point,
you’ve got to nest, and it’s just a question of knowing when, and
with whom. You have to know who you are, and I have no quarrel with
being a woman. The only question mark in my life right now is the
man, that’s even if I need one at this point,” Sarah said.
Richard was about to say something, but
Sarah decided that she was not done with her rant as the alcohol
firmly took hold of her.
“The real mistake women make is when women
confuse men with boys, when the better comparison is with a cretin.
Women love that little boy crap in their men. Little boys, yeah
right; they wished. A bunch of insensitive, thoughtless cretins,
that’s all I have ever seen from men.” Sarah started chuckling to
herself thinking about the absurdity of the conversation they were
having.
“Hey, I resemble that remark. You know you
call me that a lot,” he said.
“Sorry, it just seems that you don’t worry
very much about what women want,” Sarah said.
“To hell with that, I’ve got enough trouble
figuring out what I want! Why would I throw somebody else’s wish
list into the mix,” Richard said.
“Do you ever listen to yourself and hear how
selfish you sound? You are some piece of work,” Sarah fired back at
him.
“Whoa, I didn’t mean it that way, Sarah. You
have to admit that Freudian comment is very sexist at its core.
Damn it, Freud was a sexist. It’s not a question of what women
want, I’m just saying that men can’t figure out what they want;
okay, I’ll grant you that there is one thing we always want, but
beyond that, we haven’t a clue about our true desires. All
individuals have to be responsible for their own wants and desires;
they shouldn’t hide behind some sexual stereotypes whenever it’s
convenient,” Richard said.
“Amazing,” Sarah said.
“What now?” Richard asked.
“No, you actually made a good point. So what
do you know; am I seeing Richard the feminist for the first time?”
Sarah asked.
“Hey, don’t say that too loudly in this bar,
the locals may get the wrong idea about me. And please don’t
translate that into Bahasa. You’ll end up starting a bar fight, and
I’ll end up going back to my room with some Indonesian transsexual
knowing my damn luck,” Richard said.
Sarah wasn’t sure if was the honesty of his
comments or the effects of the warm beer, but for once she actually
liked what she was hearing from Richard. There was some hope that
there was a man in the boy-cretin, after all. At that
moment, Sarah realized she must be drunk, since she was laughing at
all of his stupid jokes.
“Well, let’s go then before that transsexual
picks you up, okay? We don’t need to add more issues to your sexual
confusion,” Sarah said.
“How about a dance, Sarah?” Richard
asked.
“Lap?” she asked.
“No; however, I am game for one if you are.
I meant a nice slow dance,” he said with his ready grin.
“You’re not going to hit on me?”
“Should I? You do look hot tonight,” Richard
said.
“Nah, why spoil a perfect evening!”
Richard was undaunted, and replied “That’s
okay, I’ve got time.”
Sarah smiled brightly at Richard and said,
“And you’re going to need a lot of it. Boy, you never give up, do
you? You know what you desire you may not need!”
“We could find out? Did I mention that I
have several dozen condoms?” Richard asked.
“You’re quite the sweet talker Richard, but
not tonight. Besides aren’t we going to need those for the
equipment, and I’m not referring to your own? One dance and let’s
call it a night.” Sarah said.
They were the only couple on the dance
floor, and an old Bob Marley song, “Is This Love?” was playing on
an ancient jukebox in the far corner of the bar. Richard holds
Sarah closely for a while as they slowly danced to the song, and he
gave Sarah a quick kiss on the cheek. It wasn’t a romantic kiss so
Sarah was puzzled by Richard’s motivation for the kiss.
“What’s that for, Richard?”
“A thank you,” Richard said.
“Again, what for?”
“You know, for taking a chance on me and for
taking a chance on life, Sarah Levine!”
“Your very welcome, Richard Staller!” she
said as they continued to dance slowly to the music.
She was dancing closely to him, and in
unison they began to sway to the reggae music. Richard allowed his
hand to glide down her back, finding his way to the curve of her
buttocks, and with one small motion he tucked her hips in closer to
his own. Sarah didn’t resist his brash move, and found herself
pleasantly surprised by how comfortable she felt in Richard’s
arms.
She was completely disarmed as the emotions
and the alcohol overwhelmed her. She contemplated telling him to
lie to her and to say that he loved her, to say anything to her
that would move her from her glacial indifference. It had been such
a long time since she had felt this way, and the sudden resurfacing
of these sweet emotions bewildered her at first. She was looking
for any excuse to take the plunge, but then as quickly as the
feeling surfaced, the moment passed, and the ever-rational Sarah
regained control over herself.
This is going to be a problem she thought as
she gently put her head on his shoulder and enjoyed the scent of
his cologne.

Pirates of the Flores Sea

The following morning after their night on
the town, Richard and Sarah were set to journey with their small
team to their destination, the island Sarah christened “Irmã
Flores”. They were leaving from Ende, a southern port on Flores,
and although they are a tiny research team, much of the dock was
buzzing with the news of their imminent departure. The wooden boat
was loaded with their equipment and a crew of six people, forcing
the tired boat to ride low in the water. The sight caused Richard
to question the boat’s sea worthiness, but Supar insisted the boat
will get the job done as it has always done.
For the expedition, Richard and Sarah have
hired four of the less aromatic natives with Supar to be the lead.
Sarah was busily instructing the men about where to place their
gear; however, her command of the Bahasa language was once again
creating confusion among the crew. With Sarah barking instructions,
the men looked at each other in a puzzled manner trying to decipher
her incoherent commands. Supar tried to translate for the men, but
then he looked to Richard to intervene. Richard sighed in reply,
knowing full well the sacrifice he must make for the good of the
team. Richard engaged Sarah in an argument about the charts in an
effort to distract her in order, allowing the crew time to complete
the final loading of the boat.
Sarah reviewed with Supar the course to the
island several times over the past few days so she was not
particularly interested in what Richard had to say about the
charts. The trip was going to take several days from the southern
Flores port so they will have to stop at a northern Flores port on
their way to their final destination. Sarah can barely contain her
excitement, and she talked continuously to Richard about their
plans upon their arrival at the island.
Much to Richard’s chagrin, several hundred
people lined the dock to send the research team off. In the
background, Richard heard a small native band attempting to play a
halting version of “Stars and Stripes” for the team’s departure.
Richard muttered “low profile,” to himself repeatedly, as the
festive crowd continued to swell in number at the old dock.
Upon their departure, the crowd waved
goodbye in unison to the small boat while Sarah in turn was busily
waving and incoherently saying goodbye to the crowd. Richard was
relieved that they were finally underway with beautiful weather as
their lucky sendoff. An hour passed after they have left Ende as
the old, small boat was lazily making its way across the sea.
Richard continued to scan the horizon in the direction of Ende. He
noticed that another boat had departed from Ende shortly after they
did. For a full hour, the boat was far off in the distance, but
never quite disappearing from view. The large crowd at the dock was
a big tip off to Richard that others know of their expedition; even
worse, a rival team may have received advanced word about their
expedition.
“Supar, hand me the binoculars, will you?”
Richard asked. Richard viewed the other boat in the distance, and
then he handed the glasses to Supar. “What do think?” he asked.
Supar looked through the glasses for a few
minutes while commenting, “I think it’s a fishing boat.”
“Oh, come on man, too high in the water plus
it has been out there for over an hour just trailing behind us,”
Richard said. “Supar, can’t you make this tub go any faster?”
“I’ll try majikan. You know this is an old
boat.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed Supar,” Richard
said.
Sarah noticed the two talking and asked,
“What’s wrong Richard?”
“Look out there,” Richard said as he pointed
to the horizon, but Sarah’s eyesight wasn’t as sharp as Richard’s
to see the other boat. Richard handed her the binoculars. Just as
Sarah focused on the boat, she saw a rooster tail erupt from the
back of the foreign vessel.
“Richard, I do see them. They just opened up
their engines full throttle!” Sarah said.
Sarah was right; Richard could see the
rooster tail behind their boat even without the binoculars. Richard
didn’t know what to make of this. Perhaps it was authorities
getting wind of their unsanctioned expedition so they were trying
to intercept them. The boat was a relatively new and expensive
speedboat. Whoever it was, they were following them from the
beginning, and they were now going at a fast enough speed to
intercept them in a relatively short amount of time.
“Supar, get us the hell out of here
now!”
“Boss, can’t, nowhere to go! They’ll catch
up with us in no time.”
“Where are the guns, Supar?” Richard
shouted.
Sarah gave Richard a panicked look. Sarah
hated guns, and she never wanted to bring them along on the
expedition in the first place. Richard convinced her that they
maybe needed for an ornery Komodo; however, Richard’s real concern
was more with the two-legged variety of animals that could dwell on
a remote island.
“Richard, if that is the authorities, I
don’t think breaking out the guns is such a wise idea,” Sarah
said.
“Good point Sarah, but Supar be ready with
guns just in case,” Richard said.
“You got it majikan!” Supar said.
With the approach of the other boat, two
things were becoming very evident. First, they could not out run
the larger, faster boat. Secondly, it was clear that gauging from
their scruffy appearance that the crew of the other boat were not
the authorities; moreover, they were clearly not another research
team. The boat’s crew consisted of six mean looking native
Indonesians. They were armed to the teeth with an assortment of
AK-47s, automatic weapons and foul-looking knives.
“We have no place to run to,” Supar said.
Richard saw an island off in the distance, but it was too far away
for an effective escape.
A voice over a megaphone told them in broken
English, “STOP YOU BOAT.”
“Boss, they’re pirates,” Supar said.
“What the hell do you mean pirates?” Sarah
asked.
Richard knew what Supar meant. The Indonesia
region with its seventeen thousand islands was a safe haven for
modern day thieves or pirates, as they liked to call themselves.
The numbers were shocking: one out of three pirate incidents
worldwide occurred in Indonesian waters, and they put the Somalia
amateurs to shame with their brazen exploits. They didn’t have
large man of wars to do their plundering, but instead they relied
on small, powerful speedboats to hijack ships and steal from the
local Indonesian ports. Stealing from tourists wasn’t beyond them
either. Unlike the colorful pirates of old lore, these pirates were
most likely to be uneducated, native Indonesians who were petty
crooks, terrorists or rebels in opposition to the local government.
In any case, they were heavily armed, and they could be very
violent when provoked. They were facing some lean times due to the
presence of Western naval fleets in the region.
“Pirates? Are you kidding me?” Sarah
asked.
“No, they are a real problem in the waters
of Indonesia,” Supar said.
“Supar, you know this information would have
been really useful if you told use just a little bit earlier,”
Sarah said.
Richard was now worried, and more than a
little concerned for their safety. He glanced over at Sarah,
observing the very same worried look in her eyes.
“Supar, get the guns ready just in case. Why
do I have the feeling that these bad boys aren’t here to promote
safe boating?”
With the pirate speedboat pulling along
side, Richard instinctively pushed Sarah down onto the deck.
Struggling with Richard, Sarah kept picking her head up to get a
good look at the ongoing drama.
Strangely, as Richard looked at his own
crew, he can see no outward signs of panic on their stoic faces.
Richard decided to grab a rifle, but Supar had already grabbed
one.
At that moment Richard noticed the rifle
barrel pointed directly at his head.
“What the hell are you doing Supar? That
way! You want the pirates, you know the bad guys,” as he pointed to
the pirates. Richard blinked his eyes several times not
comprehending what he was seeing from Supar.
“Sorry, majikan but we got to take your
stuff. Be cool and don’t resist so we can get you out of here
alive,” Supar said.
Richard couldn’t believe what he was hearing
from Supar. He then took a small step toward Supar. In response
Supar fired a warning shot that whizzed past Richard’s ear forcing
Richard to back off.
“Supar, what the hell? Why?” Richard yelled.
Supar didn’t back down.
“Look, take what you want, but please don’t
hurt Sarah,” Richard said.
“Supar, why are you betraying us?” Sarah
asked.
“Like I said, be cool and you’ll have a
great story to tell your kids. If you act like a hero, this will go
very badly for you and Sarah. These guys are nasty; I know that
from my own experience with them,” Supar said.
The speedboat was secured alongside the old
boat, and the pirates hastily climbed on board led by a taller,
better dressed pirate with as small mustache.
“You’re getting sloppy. You were running
late the entire day. Take the boat and all of the equipment back to
port,” the pirate chief said making it a point to talk to Supar in
English.
“What are you doing with them?” Supar asked
as he pointed to the Americans.
“We should just shoot the two Americans, and
dump their bodies overboard,” the pirate said.
Sarah let out a small incoherent cry as
Richard started to yell, but in a moment three additional guns were
pointed at his head. Richard quickly ceased his yelling.
“Men, do me a favor, and get rid of the loud
American first. You can leave the girl on board for a while to have
some fun with, but I want them both off this boat before we return
to port.”
“No, that is not the deal, Sukarno!” Supar
yelled as he intervened, and he began talking in Bahasa to the
pirate chief. Supar called the pirate chief ‘Sukarno’ and the irony
of the name was not lost on Richard. They argued fiercely for a few
minutes, but Supar appeared to be winning the debate. Supar turned
to Richard and Sarah while hesitating for a moment.
Supar asked, “Can you both swim?”
Richard and Sarah looked at one another for
a second as they both simultaneously muttered a feeble yes.
“Then you should both swim for it!”
“Swim for what? What about the crew?”
Richard asked.
“Don’t worry, they belong to Sukarno. Your
only concern should be for yourselves. Now go before they change
their minds!” Supar said.
Richard looked with disgust at his crew and
turned to Sarah to say, “Well, that would explain their odor. Looks
like we overstayed our welcome, Sarah.”
“Are you crazy?” Sarah asked.
“What, you want to stay onboard to party
with this motley crew?” Richard asked. Sarah just shrugged in a
combination of despair and resignation as she fought back the
tears.
“Before you go, please hand over your
wallet!” Sukarno said. “No life preservers for them!”
Richard glared at Sukarno as he handed him
the wallet.
“You know, this is not over my pirate
friend,” Richard said.
“Right now, I think you should be saving
your energy for your swim rather than making empty threats. Go
before I change my mind,” Sukarno said as he gestured with his gun
for the two to go overboard.
The two Americans clambered over the side of
the boat while Supar stopped one of the crew from taking a shot at
them. The two hit the water and they quickly swam away from the
boats.
“Hey, look at the pretty lady swim with a
breasty stroke,” Sukarno yelled while getting a hearty laugh from
the entire crew. The two boats left with Richard and Sarah
furiously paddling in the middle of a vast empty ocean.
While keeping his head above the water
Richard struggled to take his boots off, and he helped Sarah to do
the same.
“How good a swimmer are you?” he asked.
“Okay, I think!” Sarah said while spitting
out water.
“We have to swim to that island.” Richard
pointed to a distance island that appeared several miles away from
the two.
“Jeez Richard, I’m not a freaking dolphin!”
Sarah cried.
“No choice, Sarah. It’s our only chance out
here.”
They hesitated to swim at first as if to
weigh their limited options, but then they begin to swim, slowly,
then more purposely. The ocean water was relatively calm and warm;
however, Sarah was tiring fairly quickly. Sarah’s fatigue caused
her to lower her head, and the small waves begin to overwhelm her
causing her to choke up the bitter seawater. Richard had to wait
for her, and constantly encouraged Sarah to go on.
“Richard, are there any sharks in these
waters?”
“Probably, but I wouldn’t worry; I believe
they have a distinct preference for the meat of a male cretin. Stop
worrying girl, I got you covered!” he said while giving her a big
smile.
They swam for about an hour, but as they
draw closer to the island, a strong ocean current forced the two to
double their efforts. Sarah continued to struggle, stopping several
times to catch her breath. Finally, as she neared total exhaustion,
Sarah began to panic, and she stopped swimming altogether. The
small swells broke over her head causing Sarah to swallow and choke
on the bitter seawater. Richard was unaware of Sarah’s struggles as
he continued swimming to the island.
“Richard, I can’t…,” Sarah yelled followed
by an incoherent series of cries and sobs. Sarah’s head grew heavy
as exhaustion overtook her body, and her motionless body slowly
descended below the waves. A moment or two pass, as a comforting
eerie quiet filled Sarah’s being. Finally, a sense of peace washed
over her…
Something lunged at her, and she was angry
at the intrusion.
Damn scavengers, leave me alone will you!
You can pick at my bones later!
Instead, a firm hand brusquely grabbed her
wrist, and pulled her defeated body to the surface.
When her head broke the surface of the
water, Sarah heard Richard seemingly in the distance shouting,
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” He firmly wrapped his
arm around her torso to keep her head above the water. After she
recovered somewhat, Richard grabbed Sarah by the shoulders, and
shook her violently causing her in turn to angrily spit up the
seawater. Richard looked deep into her glassy eyes, and then he
slapped her face several times in an effort to get her to
focus.
“Sarah, come on, come back to me girl. We
are doing this together; I’m not going to leave you out here. Where
you go, I go. You mean too much to me. Trust me; we are making it
to that island, together. We’re not done by a long shot.”
The forceful look in Richard’s eyes gave her
renewed confidence, and after resting a few minutes, Sarah resumed
swimming. Richard’s words of encouragement kept Sarah moving and
throughout the swim, Richard motivated her, joked with her, cursed
Supar and he even cursed her. He said anything to keep her spirits
up. Her legs started to cramp from the continuous exertion, and
Richard was there to massage her failing muscles, and her shattered
ego. Almost by the sheer force of Richard’s will, they slowly,
painfully advance to the island one stroke at a time.
After several hours they made their way to
the shore of the island, and both struggled as they slogged their
way through the sand of the sloping beach. Sarah stopped at the
edge of the water forcing Richard to half carry and drag her along
the sand. They rested in the sand near the waters edge too
exhausted to make their way up the beach. They struggled to catch
their breath while lying close to one another as the waves gently
lapped about their bare feet.
“Any chance, this is your island?” Richard
asked. Sarah can barely shake her head no as she spit out some
water.
“Damn, too bad! You know we really got to
complain to the travel agency about this crappy Bali vacation,”
Richard said as he gasped for air.
They were both soaked with Sarah’s white
shirt and bra literally being transparent on her. A few minutes
passed before Richard caught his breath; however, he can’t help but
stare at Sarah’s breasts. The cold water and physical exertion had
made them very pronounced including her dark nipples. After
struggling up the beach, and collapsing next to Sarah, Richard’s
head was only a few inches away from her breasts. Normally, Richard
would be more discreet in his voyeurism; however, this time he was
too tired to turn his head away. He always wondered about Sarah’s
breasts, and with all of the advances in undergarments plus the
surgical enhancements, you never knew what was real anymore. In
fact, they were so good nowadays; you could create the illusion of
breasts even on a Keira Knightley. Sarah always kept herself
covered up, but ‘the twins’ were now out in the open in all their
glory.
Damn it, she had a good pair, and they were
real, original equipment just like she said as he took in the
magnificent view.
Sarah finally caught her breathe as her
entire body shivered; nevertheless, she managed to gather the
strength to talk. Initially, she only uttered a few squeaks with
coherent words following shortly thereafter.
“Richard, I want to thank you for…,” she
said when she caught Richard staring at her breasts, and not at her
face. She watched him for a few moments, but Richard’s eyes never
deviated a moment from her chest.

Sarah’s face contorted in what Richard
originally thought was amusement; however, as her face reddened he
quickly realized it was anger.
“Gawd, you know, you are such a dickhead! I
wanted to thank you, ugh…,”
Sarah struggled to catch her breath then she
continued her scolding.
“You asshole, we nearly get killed, and
you’re staring at my tits?”
Richard said, “Sorry, I can’t help it.” He
turned his eyes away from her chest toward the tree line. “You
know, I prefer to call them breasts, and they were right there in
front of me. You know they are quite nice.”
“You are such a cretin!” she cried
again.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, don’t you know all
men are hard-wired to be assholes?” he said with a small smile.
“Besides, don’t I deserve a pass, you know with that whole water
episode?”
However, Sarah’s anger was unabated. She
angrily sat up while moving away from him. She wasn’t buying his
‘men are assholes’ story this time, and she certainly wasn’t giving
him a pass.
“I see you got your strength back,” Richard
said.
Sarah was not amused which flustered
Richard. It was now Richard’s turn to redden. He muttered a sorry;
then changed his mind and stood up.
“You know, you are such a freaking tight
ass!” A torrent of curses emerged from his mouth; however, they
were muttered just low enough so that Sarah couldn’t overhear
them.
Richard stormed away while Sarah stretched
out on the beach exhausted with her back to the sand. The imminent
danger of the moment had created a heavy adrenaline flow within her
body, and she struggled to recover from her exhaustion. Still, her
mind found some moments of clarity so she began to chuckle to
herself about the absurdity of the past moment with Richard. She
pulled her wet shirt from her breasts, and she felt a sudden
exhilaration that she survived a brush with death. A few minutes
pass when the exhaustion returned causing her mood to sour once
again.
Sarah knew she wasn’t mad at Richard because
of his staring antics; she had seen enough hungry stares from males
during her life so as not to even give it much of a second thought.
She couldn’t count how many slobs had given her the modern day
equivalent of a wolf whistle by honking their horns at her when she
walked alone on the street. Moreover, she certainly didn’t need
them or Richard to validate her attractiveness.
Then it occurred to her as to why she was so
angry with him.
“Damn it, I nearly died today, and that slob
saved my life!” she said aloud to herself. She finally realized how
conflicted she felt about Richard, how he had gotten her into this
mess to begin with, and how he had kept her alive in the middle of
that vast, empty ocean. What did he say to her? Something about
‘you mean too much to me?’ It was the good, the bad and the ugly,
all rolled into one cretinous persona, namely Richard Staller.
Worse, she owed him big time!
Sarah reflected on her life while she
watched Richard going about his antics. So this was her hero, huh,
her so-called knight in swiney armor? Wasn’t he the very
same slob that was staring at her tits a few minutes ago? Really,
it was one thing to have a sad, uncertain destiny, but did she have
to be ridiculed along the way? Not only did her life continuously
disappoint her, it continued to do so in the most outlandish
manner. With Richard muttering curses in the distance, Sarah
decided to rename him “Dick”.

Richard continued to mumble a few choice
curses under his breath, and he moved quickly away from Sarah. How
does that girl go from being in a nearly catatonic state to an
erupting volcano in less than ten seconds? He quickly came to the
realization that they pair wouldn’t be doing an erotic remake of
“Swept Away” anytime soon on the island.
While he walked about Richard did discover
one positive find on the beach. The island they were stranded on
may have been small and uninhabited; yet, like so many of the
islands in Indonesia, there were plenty of coconut trees freely
growing on the island. In fact, there were enough coconuts lying on
the beach to keep them going for a few weeks that is before a bad
case of diarrhea would begin to afflict them. Other than having
coconut juice in his Pina Coladas, Richard had little taste for
coconuts. There goes my damn cholesterol. All he needed was a sharp
object or a large stone to crack them open, and the drinking or
eating could begin. With a little luck, maybe he would find a case
of rum!
Richard made his way to a large unsavory
pile of debris. The ocean had tired of carrying the garbage for
thousands of miles, and deposited the garbage a hundred yards
inland. He rummaged through the disgusting pile of garbage at the
rack line, noting the usual mix of wood, paper, and plastic
bottles. Filthy, disgusting civilization was spoiling even a remote
tropical island like this. This time, though, this disgusting,
dirty secret of civilization never looked so beautiful to
Richard.
There had to be something useful in the pile
of debris besides the plastic bottles. A recent storm had pushed
the debris higher than usual on the beach, and for weeks, the
unmerciful tropical sun had taken its toll on the debris. The
paper—much of it covered with Chinese characters— was bleached and
dry from weeks of exposure to the torrid sun. He gathered the
paper, as dozens of small sand fleas scurried away from the paper
observing that the paper crumbled easily in his hands. A few yards
further down there was another particularly promising find: a
broken wood skid was buried in the sand.

Sarah grew tired of watching the boy and his
stupid antics so she found the strength within herself to stand.
She began to purposely walk away from Richard along the beach. She
looked out to the sea and the reflected glare of the sun forced her
to squint. The water was a brilliant crystal blue with the
cloudless sky offered no protection from the sun. She felt the
water evaporating off her skin, and the salt remained as a
lingering white residue of her recent ordeal. She felt tired and
thirsty while wishing with all her might that she was back in the
states with her old boring life. After this fiasco, she realized
that boredom was seriously underrated.
A torrent of thoughts and emotions continued
to rage within her. Great, I’m stuck on this island with that
cretin that knows next to nothing about women. Did that idiot
really think I was going to make love to him on the beach after
that arduous swim? He is such a boy; was he ever with a real woman?
You would think he would know by now that men use sex to relax, but
women preferred to be relaxed before having sex? And that brush
with death wasn’t exactly relaxing! Damn, she could use a drink to
calm her nerves right now.
She remembered that smile of his that he
continuously flashed at her in the middle of the ocean. Damn
reassuring as she shook her head. How the hell did I allow myself
to get involved in this harebrained scheme with him in the first
place?
“I’m way too smart for this bullshit,” she
said aloud for Richard’s benefit.
Sarah surveyed the horizon while spotting
the occasional gull slowly circling above the beach. She squatted
down to give her back a rest from standing when a stiff breeze
started to blow causing the sand to dance above the beach. She felt
the sand bite into her face with several sand grains making their
way into her eyes. They stung her eyes, and they began to water
immediately. She stood up to get way from the swirling sand while
rubbing her eyes to remove the irritants. After she stopped rubbing
her eyes, she refocused and saw a dark dot off in the distance of
the ocean. There was a glare on the dot, perhaps the sunlight off a
reflective surface, perhaps a window or some metal on a small boat.
She watched the dot for a while. It moved slowly in the distance,
but not necessarily closer to the island. Sarah instinctively knew
this had to be a small boat, perhaps a local fisherman.
“Hey Dick, look!” she said as she pointed
out to the vastness of the ocean.

Dick? Ah, that’s nice a new term of
endearment he thought. Following Sarah’s hand, Richard looked out
to the horizon and, he too, saw the small boat bobbing in the
water.
“Can we get a fire going?” Sarah asked.
Richard smiled as he removed a small metal
container from his pants. Inside the waterproof container, he
removed five wooden matches. Richard ran back to the rack line, and
gathered together the abundant debris and garbage of a thoughtless
civilization.
“Beautiful, filthy garbage,” he shouted,
once the bane of his existence, and now it was worth its weight in
gold to him! Richard broke up the battered wood skid, stacking the
wood together into a sizable heap. He gathered a stack of the dry
weathered paper while adding small pieces of kindling to the
pile.
While on his knees, Richard struck the first
match, and the ocean breeze blew it out instantly. He struck a
second match, and tried to cup it with his hands to protect against
the wind. Again, the match blew out in the strong breeze. He was
about to strike the third match, when Sarah grabbed his hand and
stopped him from striking the match.
“Damn runner, you have never smoked
cigarettes before have you?” Sarah asked him.
Richard shook his head no.
“Just wait a minute will you?” as she took
the matches from him. Sarah tried cupping the match with her hands,
but the wind was too strong and the match failed again.
“Shit!” Sarah said as Richard tried to
recall if he ever heard Sarah curse before, well that is, other
than at him.
“I’ve got an idea.” She positioned herself
between him and the wind with her back to the wind. Sarah squatted
down while undoing the buttons of her shirt, and she began to open
her shirt.
“I don’t think we have time for this now,”
Richard said.
“Quiet, Dick.”
Sarah unbuttoned the shirt entirely and held
the shirt opened with both hands. The shirt was working as a
windbreak against the ocean breeze.
“Get it lit, and your name is back to
Richard,” she said. Richard smiled at her while looking down at her
breasts again as they strained against the thin white bra.
“Concentrate boy and I mean on the match!”
Sarah scolded him; however, this time with a small smile on her
face.
Sarah’s impromptu windbreak flapped and held
against the wind while the match stayed lit for Richard. The paper
caught the flame and, in short order, the kindling wood caught as
well. Soon the pile of debris was burning at a fierce rate creating
a thick, black plume against the blue tropical sky.
“Sarah, you are a survivalist and somewhat
of an exhibitionist after all!” Richard gushed while giving her a
small hug. Sarah was so happy at their possible rescue she didn’t
bother to push him away until she began buttoning her shirt.
“You know we might have time for a quickie!”
he said.
Sarah gave him a dirty look, and Richard
replied, “Yeah, right, bad idea.”
Two local fishermen on the boat spotted the
smoke along the beach and slowly made their way to the island
through the breaking waves. The two fishermen spoke no English, but
they quickly understood the meaning of the mangled Bahasa words
“terima kasih” that the two stranded Americans repeated over and
over again.

Resolve

Upon their return to Flores, a distraught
Sarah was not sure if she wanted to continue with the expedition.
The brush with death left Sarah feeling cold while her enthusiasm
for pursuing her dream was diminishing with each additional day
they spent in Flores. Furthermore, they lost all of their
equipment, and had very little money remaining between the pair.
Even the return home would require a visit to the American Embassy
to beg for some type of government assistance. Moreover, the
betrayal by Supar had left Sarah’s faith badly shaken. Prior to
their run in with the pirates, Sarah had felt that Supar was the
one person in Flores she could trust with her life. She now knew
where the stolen equipment from the last expedition had gone, and
the nasty faces of the pirate crew haunted her at night. Sarah was
feeling very alone again as depression was settling in with the
realization that her life savings had vanished with little to show
for her investment. And, to add a final insult to injury, she had
lost the GPS coordinates to her Irmã Flores as well!
For several days, Richard watched Sarah
slowly sink into her small ball of misery hoping she would come out
of it on her own. After two days of uncertainty he finally decided
to intervene.
“Sarah, what do you want to do?” he
asked.
“I want to go home and get away from this
horrid island,” she said.
Richard debated his options; however, going
to the authorities just did not seem to be a viable alternative.
Instead, he decided to track Supar down and confront Supar
personally about his treachery with the two Americans. In doing so,
he was hoping he could force Supar to make good on their stolen
equipment and money.
“Before we make any hasty decisions give me
a chance to set this right. You stay at the hotel; I’ll be back in
a few hours.”
“Where are you going?” Sarah asked.
“It’s time to look up an old acquaintance,”
Richard said.

Richard arrived at the brother’s shop and
waited outside for Supar while trying to be as inconspicuous as
possible for a westerner. Hours later, Supar entered the shop, but
as he stepped into the small doorway, he saw Richard lurking
outside in the shadows. Supar decided to make a run for it through
the back of the shop into an alleyway.
“Big mistake Supar!” Richard yelled. Within
a few minutes Richard’s long strides allowed him to catch up to
Supar. Supar didn’t struggle when Richard grabbed him. Richard then
forcefully pinned the smaller man against a wall while he shouted,
“Why the hell did you set us up, Supar?”
There was no answer from the smaller man who
had a resigned look on his face. A frustrated Richard began to lose
control, and he violently threw Supar against the wall. The force
of the impact was so abrupt Richard lost his grip on Supar. Sensing
his opportunity, a composed Supar grabbed both of Richard’s wrists
and forced them back on the taller man. Soon the smaller man had
Richard in a painful submission hold. Supar held him in place for a
while as he waited for the fight in Richard to ebb.
“Are you going to listen to me or do I have
to break your wrists? You choose!” Supar shouted.
“All right, all right, I give, fuck…,”
Richard yelled, and Supar relinquished his grip on Richard’s
wrists. Richard wanted to a take a hasty swing at the native, but
his damn arms hurt too much. Instead, he continued cursing at
Supar.
Several bystanders stopped to watch the two.
Supar glared at them while motioning them away with his hands.
“Damn that hurts, you bastard. What the hell
gives? Why did you set us up like that you schmuck?”
Supar struggled to regain his breath.
“I’ve been working with those thieves for
four years now. They’ve been robbing westerners for a while now,
and they have been very ugly in the past. Now, I promise to deliver
them westerners, and they promise just to rob them, not kill them.
I did try to talk Sarah out of this, but she wouldn’t listen. Any
westerner becomes a big target when they arrive here. So far, it
has been a good business deal up to this point. You were in no
danger; I had my people ready to pick you out of the water.”
“It’s a big fucking ocean,” Richard snidely
remarked.
“Okay, some danger, but most times we make
money, and you get to keep your life! It’s a fair deal, better than
some of the other choices.”
“Fair deal? What’s going to stop me from
turning you into the local police?” Richard asked.
“Why? Because, at some point, you’re going
to have to explain to the authorities why you were putting together
an expedition without their okay? I mean that is why you hired me,
right? Once my friends get word of your rescue, you will find
yourself not welcomed on this island anymore. They will kill you. I
can promise you that your equipment and money are long gone.”
Richard looked down at the ground thoroughly
dejected. After a few moments Richard sat on the ground, hands in
his hair while mulling his options.
He muttered, “You know, Sarah almost
drowned.”
Supar asked, “She almost drowned?”
“Yeah, she went under the waves, and I had
to pull her head up out of the water. A couple of seconds later I
never would have found her,” Richard said.
Richard glanced at Supar noticing that the
native looked shaken by his words. Supar sat next to him while
shaking his head.
“I never wanted anything to happen to
Sarah,” Supar said softly.
Richard just shrugged not knowing what to
say to Supar. They remained quiet for a few minutes while Supar
muttered to himself.
“Look, I’ve been thinking about this for a
while. I’ll make it up to you. I’ll take you back to the island,
and help you find whatever it is you’re looking for. I’ll give you
two weeks on that island. That should be more than enough time to
scour every cave and tree on Sarah’s island.”
“Why the hell would you help us after you
set us up?” Richard asked.
The expression on Supar’s impassive face
immediately flushed with concern.
“Because I like Sarah, that’s why. She has a
good spirit about her. Dropping the two of you in the ocean made me
sick, but if I didn’t go through with the deal, the three of us
would have been floating dead in the water. You know, I’ve got to
change my Karma in this lifetime or else it’s going to be a rough
go for me the next time around,” Supar said.
This half-assed spirituality wasn’t sitting
too well with Richard, but he was quickly running out of any real
ideas or options.
“I remember the location of the island to
this day. I even marked it on my chart. It took us a while to find
her, and when we left that island, Sarah had a kind of scared look
about her. She didn’t talk, and she was quiet on the boat ride
back. That’s not like her, she always talked to me. What did she
see in jungle? Did she see the Ebu?” Supar asked.
“That’s our concern not yours,” Richard said
as he tried to determine how much Supar knew about the Ebu.
“And, I don’t know how much she is going to
like you anymore. When are you proposing we get started?” Richard
asked.
“Give me two days to put together the stuff.
We can’t go out of Ende. My pirate friends watch that port like
hawks for new business. We need a different port on Flores to go
out of so that my friends don’t catch on to what we are doing. If
they saw me with you, I’m dead and so is my family,” Supar
said.
“You got any equipment?” Richard asked.
“I know what you are going to need for food,
water and a basic expedition. We have to be more careful this time.
Oh, how does a HD video camera sound to you?” Supar said with a
smile on his face. Richard knew it was his brother’s camera and
guessed that was Supar’s share of the plunder.
“You’ll hear from me by the end of tomorrow
regarding when and where. I’ll find you. I give you my word,
memberi harapan,” Supar said. Richard nodded a weak yes and
walked away.

Richard walked back to the hotel with his
mind racing all over the place. The words ‘memberi harapan’
played repeatedly in his head. How much is the word of a pirate
actually worth Richard wondered in the grand scale of life; more
than a politician’s, but less than a corporate lawyer’s?
Initially, Richard was worried that Supar
was setting another trap for them, yet why would he bother with the
charade of putting together another expedition? Supar had quickly
gotten the upper hand on Richard, and if he wanted to, he could
have killed Richard with little fear of reprisal. They didn’t have
anything else to steal plus Richard could tell that Supar was very
genuinely protective of Sarah. That was clear from the incident on
the boat. Perhaps, Supar wanted the Ebu for himself or for his
associates. If so, why not go to the island in the first place and
then rob them? What the hell would they do with the Ebu anyway?
Could Richard take Supar at his word, and then again, would Sarah?
His mind raced with the possibilities and permutations of a
thousand questions with nary a single answer in sight.
Upon his return, Richard went to Sarah’s
room and told Sarah about the confrontation with Supar. With the
telling of the story, the look in Sarah’s face quickly changed from
horror to repulsion. Worse, when he told her that Supar was going
to make it up to them, Sarah became silent.
“So, what do you think?” Richard asked.
“I don’t know. We can’t trust him, I can’t
trust anybody now. Richard, we don’t even have the fare to get back
home even if we wanted to leave.” Supar’s single act of treachery
had turned an ambivalent world for Sarah into a decidedly hostile
one for her.
“Sarah, you can trust me,” Richard said.
They were trapped in a very strange world;
moreover, they knew that they had far too few viable escape
options. Sarah had tears in her eyes, and she was visibly shaken by
Richard’s reunion with Supar.
“Richard, I don’t know what to do. You make
the decision for us. I just wish I never came to this
hellhole.”
“Believe me, I know how you feel, Sarah,” he
said feeling her misery. It just wasn’t like Sarah not to take
charge or to at least offer a strong opinion to him. However, the
two weeks in Flores had taken its toll, and the loss of everything
was weighing heavily on the pair. He put his arm around her while
holding her by his side for a moment.
“Look, all I ask is that you sleep on it.
I’ll see you first thing in the morning. We’ll do whatever you
want,” he said as he left her room.
It was only afterwards that Richard realized
he missed an opportunity to have ‘comfort sex’ with Sarah. In the
past, he found that comforting a distraught young lady could be a
sure invite to bed. A few soft words and a hand around her shoulder
followed by a few quick kisses, and the next thing you knew she was
on her back moaning your name. Now, he wasn’t quite sure what was
more pitiful: the sobbing girls or the fact this had become a
preferred mating strategy of his?
The weird thing was that this time he
actually felt so much for Sarah this strategy never entered his
mind. For some strange reason, Richard was feeling very protective
of her, and he was a little unsteady in playing his new role. Maybe
saving her life had given him some sort of vested interest in her
continued happiness—he didn’t know why. Whatever, he was aware that
this new role had greatly diminished his own personal anxiety. With
somebody else to worry about, Richard’s own issues were clearly on
the back burner, and the need for a daily drink had virtually
disappeared. Besides, the timing was good for him since the damn
pirates were now enjoying his stash of Irish Mist!
Richard began a review of his usual Sarah
pros and cons checklist. Okay, on the plus side, she was attractive
with a nice figure, and she was very intelligent. On the other
hand, she was also a stubborn cuss, and she could be the biggest
pain in the ass. Moreover, her sense of humor was still pretty much
MIA, and you would think she was a freaking Ferrari with her veiled
high maintenance requirements. It didn’t take a genius to figure
out that she was entirely the wrong woman for him, but the
continuous sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach told him
otherwise. Normally, Richard approached life on his own solitary
terms, and he made it a point to never carry too much baggage in
terms of personal entanglements. Now, all of Richard’s thoughts and
concerns were suddenly focused on Sarah’s happiness. What a kick in
the head!

Sleep did not come easily to Richard that
night. The humidity hung like a thick haze in the air, and the
feeble hotel fan provided more noise than relief. Tossing and
turning, Richard soon found himself lying in a small pool of his
own sweat. No matter where he turned in the bed, he found damp
linens waiting to embrace him. To add to his frustration, his
disturbing thoughts and feelings followed him like rambunctious
monkeys scurrying along a ripe fruit tree. Once he put one thought
to rest, it was replaced by another notion with even more
disturbing imagery.
Reflecting on his life, it just seemed that
everything he touched in his life would inevitably turn to shit,
and this Flores cluster fuck was no different when compared with
his usual body of work. With the night laboring on, Richard did
come to the realization that only two things now mattered to him.
One, he didn’t want to go home in defeat and, two, something that
was actually very surprising to him, he found himself not wanting
to be separated from Sarah. Her tears were working on him, and he
was having trouble coming to terms with his true feelings for her.
No matter what, Richard would keep this adventure going for the two
of them; all the time wondering could it possibly get much worse?
The decision was simple for Richard; he didn’t want to go home and
have Sarah give up on him. They would go to Irmã Flores with
Supar.
“It had to be the right decision right?” or
so he wondered, as he lay awake in his clammy room.

The following morning, Sarah reluctantly
agreed with Richard’s decision to go to back to Irmã Flores. Sarah
just couldn’t make a decision, and she decided in lieu of her own
leadership vacuum to follow Richard’s lead. All of their options
were equally bad, and she found herself looking to Richard for
direction. Richard was actually saddened by Sarah’s sullen
behavior; it wasn’t like Sarah to defer to anybody, especially him.
In a strange way, he found himself missing the old feisty and
combative Sarah.
Later that afternoon, a small, skinny native
boy approached Sarah as she was sitting outside the hotel and gave
her a note without saying a word. Sarah took the note while the boy
scampered off into the crowd. True to his word, Supar had sent them
a note regarding when and where to meet. There wasn’t much for them
to carry since most of their clothing and equipment was now gone.
Fortunately, Sarah still had a functional credit card so they
bought what provisions they could. Mid-way through the afternoon,
the card was tapped out between their shopping spree and a small
cash advance. With their card now defunct, they decided to sneak
away from the hotel early in the morning in order to avoid paying
their bill. To do so, they concealed their clothing in an alley so
that they could make a discreet exit from the hotel, like any
proper deadbeat. Richard spent most of the day reassuring Sarah
that everything was going to work out. It was funny, but in Sarah’s
distraught state, she was taking Richard’s newfound sensitivity for
granted.
The following day they took a bus out of
Endes to the port town of Maumere. The old bus was slow; worse it
was crowded with both people and livestock while taking forever to
wind its way across the island to their final destination. They
barely spoke to one another as Sarah stared blankly out the bus
window. Richard sat in the aisle, fending off the numerous chickens
and roosters that ran free range on the bus.
After their arrival at Maumere, they went to
a small shopping market that Supar had written about in the note.
They walked about for fifteen minutes, milling about numerous shops
before Supar spotted them. Richard greeted Supar; Sarah instead
gave Supar a frosty look of death as the three headed to the dock
together. Supar talked the entire time, initially apologizing to
Sarah and saying how he would make up for his treachery to
them.
Sarah looked at Supar straight on and in a
very cold voice asked him, “Should I have packed my swimsuit for
this next trip?”
“You got nothing that I or the crew would
want this time,” Supar said.
“Well, how reassuring for Richard and
myself,” Sarah replied in a formal manner.
Supar showed the pair his brother’s old,
battered boat which looked even more decrepit than the original
boat. Throughout the day, Supar arranged for the loading of
supplies and their limited equipment. This time, Sarah stepped
aside allowing Richard to handle the details regarding the packing
of the boat. She wanted nothing to do with Supar.
Strangely, the same two small boys assisted
with the loading of the boat, and by mid-day, the two boys took a
break to eat their lunch. As if on cue, a small food fight broke
out between the boys as they playfully threw rice and chicken at
one another yet again. Supar spotted the boys antics, and he vented
his anger at them. He started yelling at them to stop, reminding
them once again to have respect for the animals and plants that
gave them sustenance. The entire time, Richard and Sarah watched
Supar with the small boys.
“You know, that’s a funny commentary coming
from a man whose business associates are pirates. Well, at least he
is consistent,” Richard said to Sarah. Sarah just shook her head at
the peculiar turn of events. She wondered what absurdity would
happen next.
Besides the two boys, Supar had enlisted the
help of his younger brother Rudy to assist in the packing of the
boat. Immediately, Sarah and Richard recognized Rudy as one of the
fisherman that rescued them from the island. In a sense, this was a
relief to the pair because at least part of Supar’s story was borne
out. Still, Sarah refused to talk to Supar while going of her way
to avoid making any eye contact with him.
It took a couple of days to ready the boat
for their second trip. That night, Richard and Sarah slept in a
local shop as they waited for their departure. The two spent the
night tossing uncomfortably in their sleeping bags as they try to
cope with the heat of the tropical night. Richard tried to reassure
her, but Sarah coldly ignored his words and his small touches. In
the darkness, the pair grew silent with each left to their own
thoughts and a long troubled sleep.
The following day the packing of the boat
was completed. There was far less to pack this time, since their
trip was scheduled to last just two weeks with a crew that only
consisted of the two Americans and the two native brothers. With
the boat’s departure from the dock, there was no crowd or fanfare
to accompany them, which greatly pleased Richard. Once out to sea,
Richard was even more pleased not to see any pursuers in the
distant horizon.
The boat trip to Sarah’s island would take
the better part of a day from this northern port, and they were
fortunate, once again, to have good weather with relatively smooth
ocean waters. A weird feeling of déjà vu filled Richard and Sarah
with a sense of dread, and for a good half hour, the crew aboard
the boat was eerily silent. Nobody dared to speak among the small
crew other than Richard interjecting an occasional navigational
question for Supar.
Sarah sat apart from the crew and averted
her eyes from making contact with Supar. After a half hour of
monotonous boat travel, Sarah finally broke her silence.
“Supar, could you come over here to discuss
something?” she said as she turned to face the smaller man. Supar
breathed a sigh of relief that Sarah was finally speaking to him.
Supar approached Sarah while she stared intently at the small man.
Once upright, she let loose with a slap that caught Supar off
guard. She hit Supar soundly on the side of his face, and with the
sound of the impact, Richard turned around to have a look at the
melee. The small man fell backwards from the attack with his face
contorted in obvious pain.
“You bastard, how could you do that to us?
How could you betray my trust in you?” Sarah yelled.
Richard was about to intervene, but instead
he decided to give Sarah the opportunity to vent her considerable
anger. Once again, the ferocity of the small woman took Richard by
surprise. On the other hand, at least she wasn’t yelling at him
this time.
Supar hung his head down not knowing what to
say. He shook his head saying, “I know, I know. There was little I
could do. I tried to stop you from going. I’ll make it up to you. I
have to, I’m so sorry, Sarah.”
“Do you remember where the damn island is?”
she asked.
“Yes,” he said. Supar grabbed his charts and
pointed to an island with a circle about it. Sarah moved toward the
charts to take a closer look when Supar instinctively took a step
back.
“Stop being a baby Supar, we are even…for
today, that is,” Sarah said. “Now where is that damn hell
hole?”
“Sarah, I marked it down that day. I never
had a chance to ask you what you saw that day, but I knew it was
something important. The way you acted, not talking like you did
today, told me something bad happened to you while you were alone
in the forest,” Supar said.
“Supar, take us to the same beach where we
grounded the boat during the gale,” Sarah said. Then the storm
passed as quickly as it erupted, and Sarah stepped away from Supar
to sit by herself on the other side of the boat.
Richard approached Supar with a big grin on
his face.
“Well, look at it this way Supar; at least
she is talking to you again.”
Supar shook his head from Sarah’s onslaught
while saying, “I never knew American women could be that
scary.”
“Tell me about it brother. There’s an entire
country filled with Sarahs, but hey, Supar, better you than me,
that’s all I can say,” Richard said.
“I think she would fit in well with
Sukarno’s crew. Still, I deserved it. Sarah remains to me a very
special person,” Supar said as he rubbed his face.
“Yeah, you’re right Supar, she is special
all right. Then there other times when I just think she’s crazy.
Yeah, I go back and forth on that one quite a bit,” Richard
said.
“Are you two together?”
“Huh? Oh, you mean romantically? No, just
colleagues and, I guess, friends, thank God.”
“Don’t worry, you will soon be together. I’m
a good judge of these things. I see how she looks at you.”
“I’m not finding that very reassuring,
Supar. You know, if you are such a ‘good judge of these things’ why
didn’t you know she was going to slap you in the first place?”
“I did know, but it didn’t matter to me. She
had every right to slap me. Still, it was a bit harder than I
thought,” Supar said.
Richard chuckled to himself and looked at
the forlorn Sarah sitting quietly by herself.
“Well, at least she is quiet for now! You
know, it’s good to have the old Sarah back,” Richard said.

The trip took the better part of the day,
and as they approached Supar’s coordinates, they spotted a small,
isolated island that stood tall over the horizon. Sarah was sitting
by herself at the stern, completely oblivious to the island, when
Richard shouted to get her attention.
“Sarah, take a look. Amazing, that peak has
to be a good three or four thousand feet above the rest of the
island,” Richard said. Sarah took a quick glance at the island and
was about to protest that they had arrived at the wrong island. At
the center of the island was large volcanic peak that towered over
the surrounding landscape, its top shrouded in a veil of heavy,
white clouds. Below the peak, they could see a series of several
small, undulating hills covered in a lush green forest.
On closer examination Sarah noticed that the
shoreline had a haunting familiarity to it, and she nodded a weak
affirmative to Richard. The only explanation for missing such a
spectacular landmark had to be the inclement weather that day. The
island itself was only a few miles across with most of it
consisting of the core volcano.
“Sarah we should circle the island first,”
Supar suggested.
“No, we’ll lose daylight soon enough, let’s
get to the original landing spot as quickly as possible and setup
our base camp,” Sarah said.
The boat moved into the small bay and the
approaching tree line was all too familiar to Sarah. She always
regretted not taking her camera that day, but this landscape was
forever etched in her memory.
“Yes, yes,” Sarah said as she looked up at
the shoreline. Sarah felt a chill as the boat landed, and she began
wondering why she ever agreed to return to this damn island. She
looked up at Richard with a weak smile and said, “Yes, this is it,
this is my nightmare.”
Richard tried to talk to her above the roar
of the engine that Rudy was busily gunning. “It’s really too small
to be on anybody’s hit list to explore. That’s a good thing. Hey,
we’re almost there girl!” he said.
He smiled back at Sarah, and she felt a
quick lift to her spirits. Then as she thought about it, the
renewed confidence actually began to bother her! The past few days
were like a blur to her, and she had relied too heavily on Richard
to keep her going. She never needed anyone before so why did she
suddenly need a cretin like Richard? What the hell is this all
about?
The team decided to create a base camp on
the beach to guarantee a clear line of sight, just in case Sarah
was right about not being alone on the island. For Richard, it
wasn’t a question of worrying about the Ebu. Richard was concerned
that there could be some archaic human tribes on island or, worse
yet, some criminal types like the pirates, using the island as a
base for their operations. They quickly unloaded the boat and
pitched their tents, judiciously making use of their remaining
hours of daylight. The brothers grabbed a two-way radio to do a
quick recon trip through the woods, just to make sure there were no
locals in their immediate vicinity.
They were back to the camp after a half hour
with nothing to report. With little else to do, Sarah was fidgeting
and getting a little concerned about her privacy when going to the
bathroom.
“I have to go,” she said.
Richard pointed to the woods as he
announced, “So go, there’s no waiting. We’ll dig a latrine
tomorrow.”
Sarah hesitated with dusk approaching.
“Do you need a body guard?” Richard said
with a smirk.
Sarah was torn between the imagined dangers
that lurked in the darkening woods and the leering jerks that
occupied the camp. Sarah didn’t respond while she pondered her
options.
“Look, Sarah, just take one of the two-way
radios with you. Just don’t go too far, okay?” Richard asked.
Sarah agreed, thinking it would give her a
measure of security in the dense woods. Sarah tentatively walked
into the darkening woods looking for a spot while listening
intently to the sounds of the jungle. A few moments passed, and the
animals in the woods resumed their usual sing-song chorus. Sarah
quickly grew accustomed to their rhythm anticipating the rise and
fall of their chorus. At first, she was fearful, but with no
murmuring filling the air, Sarah reassured herself that no one was
watching her this time. Sarah settled into a good spot, and she
began to lower her shorts and panties.
“No, problem, I can do this,” she said to
herself. An eerie silence settled in while Sarah concentrated on
the matter at hand.
A loud clicking noise sounded next to
her.
“What the hell?” she yelled.
A second, louder click sounds and Sarah
tried to get up.
“ARGHHHH! THGWATTTT! ARGHHHH!”
“Help!” she yelled. In a panic, Sarah fell
backwards into the bush while she struggled to regain her balance
with her shorts and panties down around her ankles.
As she wrestled with her clothes she
suddenly heard laughter. Yes, she could hear hearty laughter coming
from the camp, and she realized that it was Richard on the two-way
radio shouting an incoherent message out to her. The men at the
camp heard Sarah thrashing around in the brushes, and they were
roaring at Richard’s stupid prank.
When she returned to camp, the three men
became very quiet as if they were schoolboys caught doing a prank.
Sarah’s angry face was about to explode, and she attacked Richard
with a series of furious blows and kicks.
“Cretin! You’re back to dick head! Damn it;
show me a little respect, will you? When the hell are you going to
start acting like a professional instead of an immature
cretin?”
Sarah turned her steely gaze to Supar and
yelled, “You are still on my shit list!” with that comment Sarah
retired to her tent.
Supar looked at Richard while commenting,
“That wasn’t such a good idea.”
“No, not at all,” Richard replied. The two
men walked away from each other in an effort to stop from
laughing.

The following morning, Richard broke up the
small team into two groups to begin their search of the island.
Sarah was still not talking to the rest of the team so Richard took
over the lead and outlined for Supar what they were looking
for.
“The most important thing, is there any
human or other presence on this island? We want to know if there is
anybody else on this island. Footprints along trails would be a big
sign and be careful to note their size. And, yes, Supar, as you
guessed, we are here for the Ebu Gogo or what we call Homo
floresiensis. As you know, the Ebu are supposedly a small people
with the males topping out three and a half feet tall, while
weighing maybe sixty to seventy pounds. That’s about 30 kilograms
for you fans of the metric system.”
Richard glanced Sarah’s way and noticed that
Sarah’s head was turned away as she stared out at the ocean. He
sighed and then he continued.
“Also, finding the remains of a fire is
another big possibility. If you find a campfire or pit, that is a
huge find. In addition, stone tools that would be a big telltale
sign for the presence of a Homo erectus descendant. Tools would
include spear points, cutting knives, cutting stones and
arrowheads, all made of stone. Just watch out for any irregularly
shaped rocks. There might also be the remains of a meal as
well.”
Richard looked at the guides. They were
intently listening to his every word as Supar translated for his
brother. Sarah, instead, was now making faces and mimicking Richard
as he spoke.
Damn, I’ve been a bad influence on that
girl. Undeterred by Sarah antics, Richard continued his Physical
Anthropology 101 course with the guides.
“Be on the look out for the remains of any
human. Pieces of teeth and jaws are very common; however, skulls
and long bones are a rare find. And if you do make the big find,
and we all know what I mean, right?”
The guides were hanging on his every word
when Sarah began whistling a nonsense tune. Richard looked her way
in disbelief.
“If you find any live people of whatever
species, do not approach, I repeat, do not approach them. Once we
find them, then Sarah takes over.”
Sarah gave Richard an icy stare at the
mention of her name. The entire time, Supar translated Richard’s
ongoing dialog to his brother.
“Oh yeah, don’t forget to look for feces as
well,” Richard said. The two men looked at Richard not really
comprehending what he was saying as Sarah began whistling her
nonsense tune once again.
“Feces, you know what’s the local word, oh
come on Sarah what’s the word, turds, ah shit!” Richard said.
“Oh, yes, tinja, berak! Shit!” the two
guides said together with a nodding of their heads.
Supar gave Richard a quizzical look. “How do
we tell Ebu shit from other animal shit?” he asked.
Richard just shook his head.
“Are you guys for real? I don’t know, I
guess they’re smaller. Use your best judgment, that’s all I can
say. You know, this isn’t rocket science.”
Sarah was smirking at Richard while doing
her best not to laugh at him.
Richard decided to change the topic and drew
up an outline of the island in the sand with a large peak near its
middle. To the best of his knowledge the volcano was now dormant;
however, you never knew for sure with islands within the ‘Ring of
Fire’. Richard had spotted some characteristic volcanic rocks such
as obsidian mixed in the coral sands that indicated that it once
was very active. How long ago, well that was another story. These
volcanic sands gave the island’s beaches their distinguishing dark
color.
“I want you two to head to the flatter lands
in a westerly part of the island to begin searching. Sarah and I
will search the hills that lie below the central peak of the
island. Hopefully there’s a cave complex or two from an old lava
tube that could provide shelter for some critters. Are we good to
go?” he asked. The natives nodded in agreement while Sarah stared
out at the ocean.
“Each team gets a two-way radio and
provisions for lunch. Give us updates on the hour, and we’ll meet
you back at camp before dusk. Remember, there is no reason to rush.
Take your time and look carefully. Oh, yeah. Watch out for any
Komodos, you never know. Early in the morning they are somewhat
sluggish so you could literally fall right over the dumb shits,”
Richard said.
“Sheeets?” Rudy asked Supar.
“Oh no, we’re not going down this road again
guys. If you find anything just call us, okay? Sarah, anything to
add?” Richard asked reluctantly. Sarah looked down at the seated guides and
said, “Just keep your talking down to a minimum. If you listen
carefully, you might hear the same murmuring voices I originally
heard, and keep in mind there was more than one voice. That’s all,
nothing more I can add other than telling all of you to go straight
to hell!”
Supar was busily translating for Rudy as
Richard shook his head. For a few moments, there was stunned
silence among the small team.
“Okay then, thanks for that fine
inspirational speech, Sarah. On that upbeat note I guess we’re off
in search of little bipedal critters,” Richard said.

Discovery

‘Nothing in biology makes
sense, except in the light of evolution.’
Theodosius Dobzhansky

Richard and Sarah walked off together hoping
to retrace Sarah’s original journey into the woods some two years
ago. The only problem was they couldn’t find her original location
from her previous visit. Sarah frantically went up and down the
edge of the beach a hundred yards in either direction, but nothing
looked familiar to her. Two years of growth and tropical storms had
irrevocably changed the forest’s edge from Sarah’s original visit.
After thirty minutes of watching a frustrated Sarah pace along the
tree line, Richard suggested to her that they should move on
directly to the hills. She reluctantly agreed.
While walking, Richard began a hesitant
apology for his recent bad behavior. “Sarah, about that staring bit
on the beach, you know all males are hardwired to be assholes. It
was just a stupid male visual thing, yet when you think about
aren’t we all slaves to visual cues and desires? I mean look at the
males in any society where the women have choice in mates. We have
to cut our beards on a daily basis, hell I’m shaving every day on a
tropical island because of your presence. And that incident with
the radio, well I was just trying to break the tension for the
team…,”
Sarah immediately put her hand up to stop
the halting apology.
“Richard, over the years I have learned to
immediately discount any apology that contains a ‘but’ in it, okay?
Moreover, I have little interest in listening to an erudite
argument from you about the root causes of your stupidity. As for
your shaving please don’t do anything special for me. Let’s face
it, nothing is going to change my opinion about you nor will it
exonerate you from your blatant chauvinistic tendencies, so just
leave it alone. I’m in a good place right now so please don’t spoil
the day for me, alright?”
After Sarah’s comments the pair grows
silent. In the beginning, their walk was fairly easy; however, when
they cleared the beach area the underbrush grew thicker with no
discernible trails. Richard took the lead as he tried to hack his
way through the vegetation. The going became progressively more
difficult causing Sarah to grow increasingly impatient with their
progress. She took the lead, and instead of hacking though the
brush, she carefully moved from spot to spot. The noises of the
birds and insects was almost deafening as they slowly moved along.
Every time they moved a few yards, the immediate animals in their
vicinity grew quiet, while the others in the distance picked up the
continuous roar. After moving several hundred yards, they see what
appeared to be an opening in the woods. Moving closer, they can see
large areas of barren sand that clearly marked a trail as it
meandered through the woods.
“This is peculiar, where did this trail come
from? There are no large mammals on this island, are there? I hope
this is not from people. I don’t see any tracks do you?” Richard
asked.
Sarah looked at the trail. “No, I have no
idea why this trail is here, unless…,” she said as she hung on to
the last word as if to tantalize Richard. The pair stopped talking
as the jungle noises engulfed the pair once again.
The two-way radio crackled with the sound of
Supar calling in causing Sarah to cringe. “Nothing so far, boss.
The vegetation is very thick here. You find anything?
“Yeah, we did we found a trail! I never even
considered finding a trail on this island,” Richard said.
Supar asked, “That’s good, right?”
Sarah as she walked away yelled, “All
depends on whom or what made it. Let’s keep going, Richard.”
Richard could only discern the markings of
some small lizards and birds on the trail when Sarah silently
pointed to a very different print in the sand. It was a rodent
marking, but it was large, almost three to four inches long. They
instinctively followed the prints for a few yards when they heard a
thrashing sound off to the side of the trail. They both grew quiet
while they hunched down to conceal themselves as they approached
the source of the noise.
Someone or something was thrashing wildly
about the vegetation. In unison, they slowly moved closer in the
direction of the sound, using hand signals to communicate to one
another. The thrashing grew louder, and a shower of vegetation was
strewn into the air. Peering over the brush, they saw a large six
foot long komodo with its mouth firmly clamped on the carcass of
some unfortunate animal. The dragon was violently throwing carcass
about as another smaller komodo tried to steal a mouthful. They
watched for a few minutes before deciding it was best to leave the
two Komodos to their catch. After they depart, the spectacle
persuaded Richard to call Supar to warn him about the presence of
Komodos on the island.
They traveled ten minutes more when Richard
spotted an irregularly shaped rock that caught his attention. He
picked the rock up taking care to examine its jagged edges.
“It’s chert, Sarah. You know flint, though
it’s not necessarily a tool. It’s a flake from a larger rock, it
could be natural, but it could also be man made, kinda of hard to
tell.” After Sarah inspected the rock, Richard put the rock into
his backpack while marking the location.
“Damn, I wish we still had that GPS device,”
Richard said. Sarah just sighed at the comment, and she kept
walking.
They continued to walk along the trail in a
methodical manner. Neither was talking; however, each was carefully
observing their surroundings while taking turns to point at various
sights. Occasionally, they stop to scrutinize a find. Every so
often in their walk, they startled a small animal along the trail,
a good sign indicating that they were being quiet in their
approach. When they do talk, it was in a hushed whisper so as not
to alarm the denizens of the jungle.
As they moved along the trail their sense of
hearing becomes more acute. In the dense vegetation along the
trail, Sarah could even hear a light rain falling, but the sky
above the pair remained a deep crystal, blue azure color. Sarah has
heard this sound before, the sound of a million strong army of
caterpillars defecating from the treetops as they digested their
meals of leaves in the dense jungle. It sounded like a light spring
rain as the tiny insect feces hit the leaves and ground below the
trees.
Another hour goes by as they slowly walked
the trail; however, they have seen little else other than a
collection of small birds and some reptiles. Richard estimated that
maybe they have gone about a half mile so far. Walking with Sarah
through the forest has becoming a bit of a mind-numbing experience
for Richard. After spending two months in Flores, Sarah’s knowledge
of the local bird life was both amazingly detailed and surprisingly
annoying. Sarah busily watched the birds as they walk, pointing out
such rare birds such as Flores Green Pigeon. Her silent monologue
wasn’t too bad, but Sarah soon began to imitate their call with a
guttural ‘rawk-rawk, rawk-rawk, rawk-rawk’. This went on for a good
half hour, and Richard found the various birdcalls quite maddening.
In fact, he began to wonder if she was doing the calls deliberately
to get back at him.
“Well, at least your bird calls are better
received by the locals than your attempt to speak Bahasa,” Richard
said. Sarah was undeterred by his sense of humor.
“Look, there’s a Hanging Parrot,” she
whispered to him as she began making another strange call,
“Keewrap, keewarp”.
“Stop it, will you, you’re going to scare
the hell out of the Ebu,” Richard said. Annoyances aside, Richard
could sense Sarah’s spirits brightening with each step they took
into the wilderness. Sarah was at home in the wild; moreover, the
little princess was becoming more animated and engaged the deeper
they moved into the jungle.
Along the trail, Richard noticed a small
hatchling that had fallen from its nest. The pitiful bird was
stranded along the dirt trail as it lifted its head straight up to
the sky, chirping a distress call to its mother. Richard knows
there was little the mother could do for it, and that the young
bird was as good as dead. No doubt, he was pushed out of the nest
by a stronger sibling, and he would soon be dead from exposure.
Richard debated if he should put the small bird out of its misery
by stepping on it, but he decided this would be a good opportunity
to observe Sarah’s reaction to plight of the small bird. Richard
stepped right over the small bird, seemingly oblivious to the small
scrap of life.
Sarah was trailing behind Richard by a
couple of steps. Sarah, in turn, did indeed notice the small bird,
and to Richard’s surprise, she actually picked the small bird
up.
“What the hell are you going to do with that
thing?” Richard asked.
Sarah smiled at Richard and pointed to a
small nest overhanging the path.
“He’s going back home!” Sarah said. She
returned the small bird to his nest and walked away with a slight
skip in her step. Richard shook his head in disbelief, wondering
how the hell did she know where the nest was located?
He decided it was best not to ask as he
debated whether Sarah was special or instead just a bit crazy. It
really didn’t matter; it was just a damn good thing that he didn’t
squish the young bird in front of her! He began to wonder if she
had, in turn, been observing his behavior regarding the small
bird?
Before he could ask her they eyed an opening
in the brush. The two silently walk toward the opening when Richard
observed an entirely new marking on the trail.
“Shit, are you kidding me, did we just hit
paydirt or what?” he said in a hushed voice as he bent lower to
investigate.
No, it was not an animal track, but the
impression was immediately familiar to him and to Sarah or to any
other living human being. Richard’s heart was racing because he
couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was a small bare footprint
about the size of child’s and was definitely very human
looking.
“Is it human or Ebu?” Sarah asked as she
examined the print.
“Can’t tell, but we’re going to find out.”
Richard was very excited at the find; however, the shallow
footprint was positioned in fast drying sand. A strong wind could
erase all traces of the print.
“Oh my gawd, we have to go back and make a
casting of this. This is big, it could be a human child, but who
knows. Let’s mark this or better yet, let’s get Supar over here
with the plaster…,”
Before Richard could finish his sentence
Sarah, who was looking about, gently tapped him on the
shoulder.
“What Sarah? Come on, stop bothering me, I’m
trying to get a measurement here.”
Sarah was standing and looking straight
ahead, furiously blinking her eyes. Sarah tapped Richard again,
this time more forcibly on top of his head while she pointed to an
opening in the woods along the trail.
“Cut it out, will ya?” he asked.
“Richard, do you see what I see?” she
asked.
Richard finally looked up to see in the
gleaming sun a large, flat mud puddle that formed during a recent
tropical downpour. The ten yard long mud puddle was rapidly drying
in the torrid heat. Within the drying puddle a trail of footprints
recorded the journey of a band of small people trudging off to the
hilltops. It was Richard’s turn to stare in disbelief with his jaw
gapping as he stood alongside the stunned Sarah. He counted at
least five distinct sets of footprints in the mud, all headed in
the same direction.
“Holy shit Batman!” Richard exclaimed.
For several seconds there was a strange
silence then the two scientists reacted to their discovery. Sarah
quickly took photos of the trail while Richard crouched down to the
ground, measuring the individual footprints.
“Shit, they actually exist. They can’t be
more than 60 or 70 pounds each, I mean based on the print’s size
plus their depth,” Richard said as kneeled down to get a better
look. “The short stride indicates that their legs aren’t very long
yet these aren’t kids, look at the foot size. There are least five
of them, and one of them is dragging something along the ground.
Maybe it’s the carcass of the animal after a kill. That would be
exciting. What the hell are they surviving on? Size of it could a
small komodo or is it something else? Is that fur? Could it be a
mammal? We better tell Supar, right?” Richard asked.
Richard didn’t notice, but Sarah was not
listening to him. Instead, Sarah was dancing a slow twist with her
weight poised on the heels of her feet punctuated every so often by
a series of small jumps. From all outward appearances, she appeared
to be gripped by spasms of pain; however, on her face was a
beautiful smile as she repeated quietly to herself “Yes, yes,
yes…,”
Her strange encounter in the jungle was not
her overactive imagination after all, but was rather, the discovery
of a strange, new people! Richard sees her little victory dance,
and he decided to join Sarah in her exuberant celebration.
“Damn it girl, you were right! You know, I
never doubted you,” Richard said as he picked Sarah off the ground
in a celebratory hug and propelled her high into the air.
Simultaneously Sarah flung her arms upward and lifted her head to
the sky. It was at that very moment that Richard finally decided
that Sarah wasn’t crazy after all, just somewhat different and
completely misunderstood by most, including himself.

They walked another hour following the
footsteps of their elusive prey. The day was hot and humid, soaking
the two in their own sweat. The footprints had disappeared when
Sarah noticed a new odor in the air, and she motioned to Richard to
stop. Richard also noticed the odor: the undeniable odor of
putrefying flesh hanging heavy in the humid tropical air. It was
the smell of death, the smell of carrion. It was a sign to beware,
to watch out for the numerous bacterial plaques that can engulf a
rotting carcass. A human’s omnivore system doesn’t have the
digestive juices necessary to kill the swarms of maggots and
bacteria that feed on the rotting meat. Yet for scavengers and
their powerful digestive systems, it was a call to dinner for a
very savory treat.
The pair followed the odor off the path; in
turn, they discovered a secondary trail. They moved along the
secondary trail for about ten yards as the jungle grew denser and
quieter about them. Sarah stopped to point out several rock
fragments to Richard. He stopped to pickup one of the rocks, and as
Sarah’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, she realized Richard was
holding a fragment of a small jaw in his hand. Two small incisors
and a single canine tooth sat in their sockets along the gum line.
They were tiny yet they appeared to be very human. Richard put the
fragment in his pocket, and placed a marker down in the spot where
he originally found the fragment. In turn, Sarah stepped backward
to give him some room, and as she moved back she began to loose her
balance. Sarah stumbled backward into the brush before Richard
could catch her, and as she fell a loud buzzing roar suddenly
filled the air. Sarah was engulfed in a dark cloud as a black swarm
of a thousand angry flies took flight about her.
The putrid odor intensified, forcing the two
to gag and cover their mouths with their bandanas. Richard stepped
into the small cluster of trees where Sarah had fallen, and the
horrendous odor continued to overwhelm the pair of explorers. In
the darkness, they watched as thousands of swarming flies formed a
dark cloud above a single carcass. They struggled to see in the
dark, dense growth, but they soon notice there was more than one
carcass lying on the ground. Sarah had landed squarely on her butt,
and Richard stepped forward to assist her when he heard a crunching
sound of brittle bones breaking under his foot.
“Shit!” Richard yelled as he realized just
how careless he has been.
When their eyes adjusted to the darkness,
the pair caught a glimpse of an animated form that appeared to be
rising from the ground among the rotting carcasses. The dark form
was the size of a small dog; however, jutting from its jaw was a
large, single tusk that the beast waved menacingly in the air,
something the pair of naturalists had never seen before. Sarah
turned her flashlight on causing the apparition to let out a loud
squeal that startled both Sarah and Richard.
“What the fuck is that thing?” Richard
yelled causing Sarah to drop the flashlight in her terror and
confusion. The apparition continued to squeal while scampering away
from them, and then back toward them.
“Get that thing away from me!” Sarah
yelled.
Richard grabbed the flashlight from the
ground and turned it on the apparition once again. It was almost
two feet in length and its grey, mottled fur was clearly visible in
the light. At the end of the creature, they spotted a long naked
tail.
“Stupid beast,” Richard said.
A large island rat was gnawing on a bone
when they had the misfortune to disturb it. These stupid rats had
survived on Flores and apparently they were thriving on this island
as well. The rat dropped the bone, and Richard shooed the rat away
in the direction of the opening in the brush.
With both of their flashlights on, they
began to investigate the dark interior of the dense tree stand. The
rat dropped a small humerus, and there was still some darkened,
desiccated flesh attached to the bone. A cloud of flies hovered
about them, covering their hair and skin with dozens of trapped and
struggling insects. Richard kept looking while desperately trying
not to swallow the buzzing flies. The trees in the dense stand have
trapped the air in the enclosure making it even hotter than
surrounding the jungle, further intensifying the putrid odor.
Richard shined the flashlight through the
stand of trees and the soft gleam of white, weathered bones
reflected back at him. Rib bones, scapulas, femurs and pelvic bones
were strewn about the ground as if they were carelessly tossed from
a jigsaw puzzle box. As far as he could see, a treasure trove of
small human-like bones littered the floor of the stand, scattered
about by generations of ravenous scavengers. Among the heaps of
bones were the empty eye sockets of small skulls that peered back
at the pair in an eerie, funereal silence. The skulls were the size
of a small child’s, but were shaped very differently. The tiny size
combined with the sloping cranium bones of the skull made the
remains readily recognizable as that of Homo floresiensis. To their
astonishment, Sarah found among the bones numerous small stones and
seashells, the personal ordainments of the deceased perhaps left in
place by bereaving survivors.
Richard moved nearer to the deepest
concentration of flies in the stand. The flies rose above the
ground like a miniature tornado, moving vertically up and down,
while dancing about him. Undeterred, Richard removed a number of
dried palm fronds that were covering what appeared to be a small
pile of debris on the ground. While he uncovered the form, he aimed
his flashlight on the ambiguous mass, and the debris suddenly took
shape. Empty eye sockets looked back at him and, in the dim light,
a small, blackened body was writhing on the bare ground.
“Richard, that freaking thing is still
moving,” Sarah cried out.
Richard remained steady because he knew the
body was writhing from the myriad maggots that were ingesting the
decaying flesh of the cadaver. He brought the light closer to the
moving body. In the light, they could see thousands of white grubs
squirming and ingesting the darkened flesh of the deceased
Hobbit.
“It’s just maggots,” Richard yelled.
Clearly, the remains in the stand belonged to a recently departed
Ebu.
“This is an Ebu burial ground,” he said but
as Richard spoke, he swallowed several of the flies from the dense
cloud that was flying about him. He instantly started to gag and
choke on the swallowed flies.
The odor finally overwhelmed Richard as he
struggled hard to stop from retching. Richard tasted his own vomit
as it surged from his stomach causing him to double over. Sarah saw
Richard doubling over and grabbed him by the arm, pulling them
together from the inside of the stand to the relative comfort of
the tropical jungle.
Outside, they struggled to catch their
breath. Their eyes watered, and Richard remained bent over, holding
his sides while he vomited. He finally caught his breath and looked
to take a drink of water from the canteen.
“Wow!” Sarah said as Richard continued, with
what were now, dry heaves. Finally, Richard was able to compose
himself and breathe normally.
“Yeah, that odor is something,” Richard
gasped as he continued to drink the water.
“That’s not what I am wowing about. I’m
talking about an Ebu burial ground. Well, all right, they’re not
quite buried, but we get the idea. This is amazing; I mean they are
actually cognizant of death and its implications. Do you think that
they could have religious beliefs with those tiny brains?” Sarah
asked.
“All I know is, I just wish their belief
system included the burying of their dead, it would be a hell of a
lot easier on both of us,” Richard said.
“Richard, do you realize that we have found
them! We actually did it!” Sarah said.
Richard nodded in agreement, as he began the
chore of systematically removing the struggling live and dead flies
from his skin and hair. He motioned to Sarah to turn around, and
she hesitantly turned around revealing the back of her shirt. It
was covered in a sea of black, squirming flies that were entangled
within her clothing and hair. Richard brushed the flies off her
back, and picked the more stubborn ones from her shirt. Sarah was
so deep in thought she was seemingly oblivious to the dozens of
flies tangled in her hair and writhing on her body. After he was
done with Sarah’s grooming, Richard carefully marked the burial
ground and then began to take photos of the site.
“I guess I should come back later for
samples?” Richard asked. Sarah immediately gave him a frosty look
as if to say don’t go there.
“Okay, we’ll broach that topic later,”
Richard said.
They hesitated to stop their exploration
since they were so close to their prize, but the sweltering heat
was taking a heavy toll on them. They spent ten minutes removing
the remaining dead flies from their clothing and hair while being
bathed in their own sweat.
“Let’s keep moving,” Sarah said.
Tired but excited, they trudged along the
main trail until they felt a sudden rush of cool air. They made
their way through the underbrush, when they came upon a clearing
containing a pool of shimmering, running water. At the far end of
the pond there was a small waterfall running down from the volcanic
slope. Wild flowers covered a wall of lush green vegetation, and
the air was crisp and cooler than the surrounding jungle. Richard
ran to the edge of the pond checking the water with his hand. The
water was cool to the touch, and Richard realized the water had to
be fed from the upper slopes of the volcanic mountain. Richard saw
a few shadow-like forms swimming in the water so he surmised that
the water was safe to bathe in, perhaps even safe enough to
drink.
“Just wash off in it, but no drinking till
we test it or boil it, okay Richard?” Sarah asked.
Without a word, Richard started to strip off
his clothing, and he was soon totally naked as he jumped into the
water. A startled Sarah could only watch his brazen display. He was
submerged for a while, his form barely visible from the shore, and
Sarah stood at the pond’s edge alone for a few moments.
“Richard? Where are you? Are you okay?”
Sarah asked as she strained to see him.
After a few moments Richard emerged some ten
yards from the shoreline while gasping for air.
“Sarah, come on in, the water is fine!”
“Okay, but please turn your head so I can
get in,” Sarah said.
“No way! I’m here for a free show. I gave
you one,” Richard said.
“But I didn’t want a show. There is no quid
pro quo here.” Sarah said.
“Prude!” Richard yelled as he refused to
turn his head. Sarah grabbed his clothes with his boots and started
to walk away from the pond into the jungle.
“Okay, okay, I’ve reconsidered, I’ll be a
gentlemen,” Richard said as he belatedly turned his head. “You
know, you sure take the fun out of voyeurism on a tropical
island.”
A minute later, a naked Sarah jumped into
the water with him. The pond was relatively shallow while running
forty yards in length. Amazingly, the pond water was clear from the
cool mountain’s streams that fed it so Sarah made sure to keep a
proper distance from Richard. After all, she didn’t want to oblige
him with a free show. They slowly swim across the pond, and
startled a few birds that have stopped to drink at the pond’s
edge.
“This is beautiful; the running water makes
this a perfect spot for any large animal to use as a watering hole.
It keeps the flies and mosquitoes down as well. Girl, do you know
what we have just found?” Richard asked.
Sarah put her finger to her mouth to shush
him.
“Please don’t spoil paradise by yammering on
and on. Just enjoy the moment, okay?” Sarah asked.
“You’re right, this is paradise,” Richard
said.
Surprisingly, Sarah swam closer to Richard.
Richard got quieter and more reflective as Sarah slowly
approached.
“You hear that, Richard?”
Sarah looked intently at him, and she was
less than two feet away from him. Sarah’s dark wet hair dangled on
her naked shoulders, and Richard saw the outline of her breasts in
the water. She had that wild look again in her light green eyes
that Richard knew he couldn’t resist.
“Hear what?” Richard said while he tried to
both listen and look at Sarah’s breasts below the surface of the
shimmering water.
“Quiet boy, close your eyes, and just
listen,” Sarah said, in a low, hushed tone as she put her finger to
her moist lips.
Richard strained to hear the sound as he
closed his eyes. Sarah then proceeded to hit him with a full
broadside splash of water directly into his face.
“Oh, so that’s how we play?” Richard yelled,
and he returned her watery barrage.
The two engaged in a splashing contest for a
few minutes, yelling and laughing at each other like a couple of
kids playing together in a pool.
After their horseplay, Richard found himself
close to Sarah, so close that he tried to kiss her. She avoided his
kiss, but he was gently holding her with one arm. He can feel her
smooth, soft skin rubbing against his arm, and he intently looked
into her eyes. Sarah stopped struggling, looked into his eyes while
smiling her surrender to him, and then she—splashed him once again.
In the same movement, she swam away from him, breaking his tenuous
hold on her. They paddled about the pond for a few awkward minutes
carefully keeping their distance from one another as if repelled by
some invisible force.
Sarah looked at the setting sun said, “It
really is time to get going.”
“You better get out first, I may need a few
minutes to settle down here,” a forlorn Richard said.
Sarah laughed and headed out of the water
while Richard looked the other way. He turned slightly to catch a
quick glimpse of her naked back emerging from the water. The quick
glimpse became a stare as Richard intently watched her, half hoping
to observe some defect in her physique, one that would invoke
immediate repulsion in him. Perhaps something like a thick layer of
puckered cellulite around her thighs, yeah that would do the trick.
Actually, he was looking for anything that would temper his desire
for her. Instead, he observed a very shapely, athletic young woman
with gleaming skin and matching tan lines slowly emerging from the
water. As he watched her a small smile emerged on his face.
How could that beautiful piece of ass still
be on the market? He quickly realized that the vision of Sarah’s
well-rounded butt emerging from the water certainly wasn’t going to
help his cause for abstinence. Jeez, when was the last time he got
laid?
Richard started to turn away, but once again
he had lingered too long.
“Hey, come on, no peeking Richard! Would it
kill you to be a gentleman for just a few minutes?” Sarah
shouted.
Busted again!
“My bad, I was just inspecting for leeches.
Good news, you appear all clear from here. If you like, I can give
you a more thorough inspection?” Richard asked.
“That’s fine, I’ll take my chances with the
leeches, they’re probably less needy, thank you,” Sarah said.
“Did I mention I’m a fan?” he said.
“I don’t care,” Sarah said in a sing-song
reply.
While Sarah dressed, Richard was slowly
paddling in the water, the entire time lamenting his pathetic,
almost desperate move on her. Once she was dressed, Richard stormed
out of the pond, and Sarah averted her eyes from him, but not
before taking a quick glance in his direction.
It was late in the afternoon, and they were
both fatigued. Sarah looked at Richard while enquiring, “Well, do
we continue to search for them today?”
This is the first thing she says to me after
that moment in the pond? With her detached all-business demeanor,
he now knew why she was still on the market. Oh well, business as
usual with the ice princess.
A frustrated Richard looked at Sarah, and he
decided to choose his words very carefully. “Uh, I know we’re
pretty excited about what we found so far; however, if we go
running after them we could scare them from one end of the island
to another. They could turn on us as well, especially if they feel
cornered by our pursuit.”
“So what are you thinking, I mean besides
the usual?” she asked.
Richard ignored the personal shot from
Sarah.
“So besides the usual, I’m thinking they are
going to be back here fairly soon. I checked the weather before we
left Flores, and the entire region has been dry so far this season.
Other than a spot shower it probably hasn’t rained here
consistently for a few weeks, so wherever they are on this island
they are going to be thirsty. They’ve been here before so they’ll
be back here again.”
Sarah nodded slightly in agreement.
“Look over to the top of that waterfall,”
Richard said as he pointed to the bluff overlooking the pond.
Sarah looked up following Richard’s
gesture.
”Ah, seems kinda of high,” she said.
“Well, that bluff next to the waterfalls is
a perfect perch to spy on the pond from. We can grab some brush,
set up a blind and just wait for their arrival. I can’t think of a
better location to watch and wait for them. Tomorrow looks as good
as any other day for a little Ebu voyeurism.”
“You do like to watch don’t you?” she
asked.
“Yes, yes I do,” he said and he began to
walk back along the trail.

Sarah didn’t move. Part of Sarah wanted to
pursue the Ebu, but she was exhausted from the heated hike through
the brush. She reluctantly agreed with Richard to delay the
fulfillment of her nightmare dream for another day.
Richard turned around and saw the
disappointment in her eyes.
“Sarah, we are almost there, just be
patient! No matter what we’ve proved you were right all along.
Girl, do you know what we have found?” Richard asked.
Sarah smiled, nodding in agreement, while
she reluctantly got up to leave. Their return to the camp was an
awkward, silent affair as the two walked slowly along the trail.
Neither wanted to talk, because as excited as they were about their
find, there was still some lingering disappointment that they have
yet to find their ultimate prize: the living Ebu.
About a half hour into their walk back,
Richard decided to apologize for his move in the pool.
“Sarah, I’m sorry about that attempted kiss
in the pool…,” but he does so in a halting, awkward manner that
becomes painful for Sarah.
Sarah was a bit confused with Richard’s move
because of her own mixed feelings for him; however she was feeling
gracious so she decided to give him an out. Besides there were some
moments, and those moments were still in the minority, when she
found herself actually liking and perhaps even wanting the
man-boy.
“Look, it was a beautiful moment, and we
were both excited about the find. Leave it at that, Richard. No
harm done was done, really. And besides, you know what they say
about infrequent rewards leading to the greatest habituation,”
Sarah said jokingly to him.
“You’re quoting Skinner to me? Now, I’m a
lab rat going after a piece of cheese or wait a second, wasn’t that
morphine?” Richard asked.
Sarah saw the somewhat confused and hurt
look in Richard’s eyes with her last comment. She wondered to
herself how anybody that insensitive could be so personally
sensitive.
“What, I really mean, Richard, is that
you’ve been great so far. Let’s face it; we never would have made
it this far if it wasn’t for you being so persistent. Maybe
persistence does pay off in the long run; I mean who knows, right?”
Sarah said with a small smile on her face.

Richard grew quiet withdrawing deep within
himself. Talk about mixed messages! If this crazy bitch starts
singing ‘High Hopes’ I’m going to have to kill her right now. I
could do it, who would know? I could say a Komodo got her, who
would be the wiser?
Richard realized that on the positive side,
at least she was not calling him ‘Dick’ anymore. He was going to
ask Sarah a question about her feelings for him, but he decided
after her comments to leave well enough alone. Richard was on such
a high about their find, he found himself confusing that high with
his own feelings for Sarah. The two events were rolling into one
emotional whirlwind that he was ill equipped to deal with
especially when he was so damn horny.
They returned to the camp to excitedly
update the brothers about their amazing find. Amazingly, Sarah was
talking to everyone, and that night the small camp was buzzing with
excitement about the day’s discovery. The team unanimously agreed
to get up early in the morning to make their way to the bluff.
While the team prepared the equipment for
the next day’s hunt Sarah asked Richard the big question.
“Richard, I know you only got a brief look
at the skulls scattered at the Ebu cemetery, but do the Ebu belong
to the same Homo floresiensis species they found on Flores?” Sarah
asked.
“Yeah, I think so. From what I could see in
the dark the skulls looked almost identical. The real challenge for
me is explaining how did they get to Flores and then to this island
in the first place without a land bridge?” Richard said. Richard
stopped a moment before treading in dangerous waters with
Sarah.
“You know now that you mention it Sarah, at
some point, I have to go back to the cemetery to get some real
specimens,” Richard said.
Sarah looked at Richard with an annoyed look
and said, “Not again. You realize that you are disturbing their
dead; I mean should we be doing that if they have some primitive
belief system? You do know the courts have recognized the rights of
native tribes to retain the physical remains of their
deceased?”
Richard looked down at ground, dreading
where the conversation was headed. He then replied, “You know, I’m
not that familiar with the ethics of this, it is kind of uncharted
territory for me, I mean for all of us. I mean how often do we come
across a living fossil people? That said, I just don’t think the
Ebu are at the stage in their evolutionary development where they
are ready to ask for their lawyer, at least not yet.”
Richard looked at Sarah, but he could tell
Sarah was unmoved by his plea.
“Come on, I need some physical samples, and
I’m going back to get some. You also need the evidence! Your work
is useless without some hard, physical evidence that these little
buggers are still alive and kicking. Our word with a few digital
photos alone are not going to cut it nowadays, I think we can both
agree on that. And we sure in hell don’t want to have to bring
somebody back to this island to verify our finds,” Richard
said.
Sarah was torn. Disrupting the site could
also upset the small tribe, and as a result, they might not trust
her.
“Richard, they are not living fossils, but a
breathing, living people. I mean I certainly hope they are. Hey,
I’m tired of this argument, let’s find them first then we can
resolve this argument later, okay?” Sarah asked. Richard didn’t
argue, deciding instead to hold his tongue for now.
The following morning the small team made
their way to the waterfalls to setup the blind as Richard had
originally proposed. The bluff itself was on a rocky outcrop that
was littered with loose debris. Each step upward was followed by a
succeeding slide downward as the volcanic rock gave away.
Frustrated with their progress, Supar made a solo climb and secured
a rope to a tree at the top of the bluff. The small team in their
efforts to secure the bluff was generating too much noise, so much
so Sarah was concerned that their raucous activity would scare off
any approaching Ebu.
Once perched at the top the decision was
made that Sarah and Richard would occupy the blind above the falls
while working the video camera. Sarah instructed the guides to
remain at a secondary camp within five minutes of the bluff just in
case their assistance was needed. Just in case meant that the two
guides each had a rifle.
“Supar, listen to me. Look, I expect the Ebu
to be docile and fairly non-aggressive, I mean I think so,” Sarah
said. The guides listened attentively to her such was their desire
to avoid another confrontation with her.
“However, just in case this gets ugly, you
shoot in the air. And you only shoot if the Ebu are actually
attacking Richard or me. Do not shoot the Ebu! I repeat, do not
shoot any Ebu. Is that clear? I don’t want any misunderstandings
about this instruction at all. We are expendable, not the Ebu,”
Sarah said.
The two muttered a small yes in response to
her commands while Richard, in turn, gave Sarah a weird look. Sarah
the boss was back, and she was firmly in charge of the expedition
even to the extent of deciding who was expendable in the
expedition.
“Can I have a say regarding your
instructions?” Richard asked.
“No,” Sarah said while turning away from
him.
By ten o’clock, the blind was secure with
the camouflage in place. The two settled in, and Sarah breathlessly
watched the pond for a few hours. After a while and as her
enthusiasm began to wane, she grew reflective. Richard noticed the
changed in her demeanor.
“Okay Sarah, what’s wrong now?”
“Nothing, Richard. I was just thinking how
Professor Brightman, I mean Dan, would have gotten such a big kick
out of this find. It’s a shame he isn’t here to enjoy this
moment.”
Sarah then added, “But that said, I’m glad
to be sharing this moment with you.”
“Thanks, same here kiddo,” Richard said
grudgingly not knowing if Sarah’s remark was an afterthought or
not.
More quiet time passed, and Sarah is the
first to break the monotonous silence.
“Richard, I’m beginning to realize that
you’re not one of those homosocial types are you?” Sarah
asked.
“Huh?” Richard grunted. “I really don’t like
the sound of that at all, so I’ll go with a no.”
“Silly, homosocial means you got to hang out
with the boys all of the time, you know your homies. You like
girls, but only for procreating, not for socializing. However you,
I don’t think you get along with anyone,” Sarah said.
“Sarah don’t do that,” he said.
“Do what?” she said.
“Puhlease, ‘homies’? Girl, don’t ever talk
gangsta to me, will you? Can either one of us be anymore white
bread: two university professor scientist-types? Besides, I like
girls for more than one thing. I tolerate you, don’t I?”
“It’s just that you seem…,” Sarah
replied.
Richard decided it was time to cut her
off.
“Jeez, I know you’re getting bored, but will
you stop analyzing me? You know, if you keep scratching below the
surface you’re just going to ruin a perfectly good finish,” Richard
said in a somewhat annoyed manner.
“Hmmm, I’m not sure about that!” Sarah said
with a small smile.
“Look if I answer your questions will you
sleep with me?” he asked.
“Get a clue, will you!” Sarah replied with a
laugh.
“Then I got nothing for you,” Richard
replied as he folded his arms, and turned his head away from her in
mock disgust.
“Oh, that’s real mature,” she said.
For the remainder of the day there was no
sign of the Ebu, and Sarah was sure that the frenzied activity
about the pond did scare the Ebu away. Dusk approached with the two
vowing to return to the bluff the following day.
The following morning was equally
uneventful, and there were no signs that any large animal had
approached the pond. On occasion, small flocks of birds would land
near the pond’s edge, and gingerly make their way into the cold
water. Once in the water, they splashed about madly allowing the
cooling water to soak their feathers. The ritual typically ended
with a preening of their feathers. Sarah watched this ritual for
hours, and was beginning to feel more like an ornithologist rather
than a primatologist.
Richard was bored with watching birds so he
had taken to napping in the relative comfort of the cool
waterfalls. He offered to alternate watches with Sarah, but she was
too excited to doze off. Sarah kept looking and checking her watch
as if she was a commuter waiting for her train to arrive. Richard
was not sharing her excitement, plus he was concerned that an
approaching weather front could bring a good rain to the island. If
that was so, Richard assumed that the Ebu can gather enough water
in their home territory to drink and, thereby, forgo a trip to the
pond.
“Richard, what’s the longest time you’ve
been in a relationship?” she asked.
“Oh gawd, not again! I don’t know, a couple
of months, a couple of years. Time flies when you’re being
tortured,” he said.
“What was she like?” Sarah asked.
“She was a goil, you know with two XX
chromosomes. Enough of this, it’s time to go,” he said in
disgust.
“Please, let’s stick it out for the
remainder of the day,” Sarah said.
“Fine, we’ll hang out for a while longer,
but no more psychoanalysis, understood?” Richard asked.
Sarah nodded in agreement, and the pair
returned to their watch over the pond. By mid-day, both of them
were now tired of the waiting game. Bored, Richard swatted at a
hungry fly that was busily hovering about him. It took him three or
four swats, but he finally nailed the annoying pest against his
arm. The remains were smeared on his forearm, and he flicked the
recently departed insect remains in the direction of Sarah.
“You are such a cretin!” Sarah yelled as the
smashed fly landed on her lap.
“Shush, keep it down or you’ll scare the Ebu
away! Who says I don’t socialize with women?” Richard asked while
laughing at his stupid prank. He was desperately looking to do
anything to break the oppressive monotony of the moment; so much so
he was willing to talk to Sarah.
“I don’t get you, the other day you were
covered in flies, but I shoot one in your direction you get all
apoplectic on me?” he asked.
“Just leave me alone little boy,” she said
sternly.
More time passed with nothing to do, but to
sit and wait for the Ebu to arrive. It was mid-afternoon, and the
torrid afternoon sun combined with the continuous monotony was
weighing heavily on the pair.
The unbearable stillness was suddenly broken
by a loud crashing noise in the underbrush close to the pond.
Plants were furiously moving about as if some demon had possessed
them yet the two scientists couldn’t see the cause of the
commotion. Sarah and Richard jumped up together to get a better
look at the pond’s edge. The noise continued, but something was
wrong; the disruption appeared too low to the ground, and as the
creature emerged, they can finally see the source of the commotion:
a giant island rat rooting around for food by the pond’s edge!
Simultaneously, Richard and Sarah slumped
back in disappointment. The rat was almost three feet in length and
was an ungainly, ugly looking creature. Moreover, the wet rat’s
mottled grey fur added to its unattractive demeanor. The rat
clumsily made its way about the pond knocking the vegetation about
as it foraged for food seemingly oblivious to the two
naturalists.
“Damn, that’s a big ugly rat!” Richard
exclaimed as he settled in again to watch the rat. After a while,
Richard tired of watching the rat so he decided to look for more
mischief.
“Hey, do you want to make out?” he
asked.
Sarah grimaced at the suggestion.
“Yeah, that is going to happen real soon.
Richard, please don’t make this day any more disappointing for me.
Do you ever give it up?”
“No, just like you said, I find persistence
is a virtue on to itself. One day you’ll give in, I promise you
that,” Richard said.
Sarah rolled her eyes at the comment while
making a barfing motion with her hand at Richard. She then
continued her silent vigil of the pond. Richard chuckled to
himself, happy at having provoked such a childish display from the
usually proper Sarah.
“Oh, real mature,” he said to her.
A few more minutes pass like an eternity for
the pair. Like a schoolboy with too much free time on his hands,
Richard grabbed a few loose rocks to throw at the foraging rat.
“Leave the poor thing alone, will you?”
Sarah asked.
Richard laughed. “I’m not even close to it
hitting the stupid rat,” he said as the rocks ineffectually rain
down in the middle of the pond.
“Richard, stop being an ass, will you?”
Sarah demanded.
“All right, just one more,” Richard
said.
He hurled the last rock with even more
force, and to his surprise, the rock hit the rodent squarely in the
back. The rat let out an incredible squeal, and curled onto its
side forming a tight ball. Sarah was horrified by the results of
Richard’s antics.
She slugged him in the arm.
“I told you to stop, you stupid cretin…,”
Sarah said, but then she ceased her attack.
The animal fell over on to its side with
blood clearly visible.
“Hey, I didn’t throw it that hard…,” Richard
said.
However, as they both look closer, they see
a spear protruding from the side of the writhing rat.
“Holy shit, they’re here!” Richard whispered
as he went for the camera.
“Mmmrppoohhhh.”
Sarah heard a familiar sound from the brush
that started her trembling with excitement. It was clearly the same
murmuring sounds that she heard during her original encounter on
the island. In between the murmurs, there were a few clicking
sounds as well; however, the thick brush at the pond’s edge was
still concealing the source. Richard was about to speak, when Sarah
sternly put her finger to her mouth to tell him to remain silent.
It was Richard’s turn to roll his eyes, but he dutifully remained
silent. Then he heard the murmurs as well, and his eyes opened
wide.
Richard carefully started the video camera,
aiming the camera in the direction of the fallen rat. Richard was
hoping that the noises from the bluff couldn’t be heard above the
roar of the small waterfall, but he wasn’t sure about that
assumption. Both strained to see the Ebu yet there was nothing in
view.
“This is wrong. Why can’t we see them?”
Sarah said in a low voice to Richard. A minute passed with no sight
of the elusive Ebu as if they were toying with their audience.
The unfortunate rodent was going through its
death quiver near the pond’s edge. In a final spasm, the animal
fell into the pond, and a red hue slowly tinted the water. The
vegetation parted as three small, upright figures slowly emerged
together and, in unison, they looked upward at the bluff.
Sarah whispered, “Oh, my god.” She and
Richard instinctively moved their bodies lower to secret themselves
from the prying eyes of the small figures.
The pair of scientists struggled to
comprehend what they were seeing. From a distance, they looked
almost human, but they were small, standing a little over three
feet tall. Their dark, naked skins glistened in the sun, and their
black scalp hair was surprisingly short. They were very naked, and
were definitely male with a dark patch of pubic hair between their
legs. Stranger yet, they were also very slender but with a
pronounced, almost rotund belly and long arms that extended past
their knees. However, their hands were surprisingly human looking.
Yes, they do look human until you closely look at their faces with
their sloping foreheads and missing chins. Then the view takes a
different turn, one with a close resemblance to a distorted image
from a fun-house mirror.
Two of the hunters were carrying a short
wood spear, about three feet long, armed at the end with a nasty
looking stone tip. The first Ebu male to emerge from the brush went
to the dying rat in the water. He gave the quivering animal one
more thrust of the spear, removed his spear and started to drag the
dead animal to the shore. The other two Ebu were chattering to him
while carrying out from the brush what appeared to be animal skins.
The skins were actually the stomachs of prey animals that were
secured at one end. The two Ebu used the skins to collect water
while they continued to gaze up at the bluff in the direction of
Richard and Sarah.
The two scientists were about sixty yards
away from the Ebu, and Sarah was struggling to see them. She
grabbed the binoculars to get a better look, and as she peered at
the Ebu, the hunters once again looked up at the bluff above the
falls. Richard was busily videotaping; however, he realized from
their reaction that they may be seeing a reflection of the
binocular lenses in the sun. He tried to say something to Sarah;
however, it was too late. As suddenly as they appeared, the three
Ebu disappeared into the brush with their catch.
Sarah was both ecstatic and upset, but she
waited a few minutes before exploding.
“Richard, you cretin! I can’t believe you
were throwing rocks as they were approaching.”
“Hey, if I didn’t do something stupid like
throwing rocks, they never would have appeared,” Richard said.
“I don’t know if you are being funny or if
you are just a complete ass. You are so damn unprofessional, I
can’t take it anymore!” Sarah said.
“Before you go on a rant princess it wasn’t
the rocks that chased them off. This is a consumer video camera. We
forgot all about the lenses with the sun glare. It’s not blackened,
and we don’t even have a filter on it,” Richard said.
Sarah stopped her verbal assault.
“Oh, oh, that does make sense,” said Sarah.
“That’s why they kept looking up.” They began to put away the
equipment when Sarah noticed the binoculars.
“We should do something about these too,
right?” At that moment, Sarah realized she may have scared them off
when she looked at the Ebu with the glasses.
Sarah was quiet for a moment.
“Hey, I’m sorry about the unprofessional
remark. You know Richard, you can let me know when I’m being a
cretin as well,” Sarah said.
Richard saw Sarah with her sad little girl
look so he gave her a quick smile.
“I think I can speak for all members of this
expedition when I say we only have room for one designated cretin,
and that job is already taken. Union rules, you know boss. Look
don’t be sad girl, we actually found them, this is a great moment
of triumph for you,” Richard said.
“I know, I can’t believe it, but they really
do exist. Now what do we do? Go after them?” Sarah asked.
“Nah, it’s almost four, and it’ll be another
half hour by the time we get down there with the way you climb. At
best, we only got two hours of daylight left so we’ll lose them
fairly quickly in the dark. Let’s find the trail, mark it, and go
after them tomorrow,” Richard said.
“God, this is unbelievable. Richard, you
realize they cut their hair?” Sarah asked.
“Very stylish too, I might add!” Richard
said.
“No, you don’t understand. They don’t have
much facial hair, either. They have sense of self. The burials, the
hair cutting, it all indicates a heightened awareness,” Sarah
said.
“Yeah, and all with 500 cc’s of brain
matter,” Richard said. “Not exactly gourmands are they? I mean,
what’s for dinner dear? Oh, no dear, not rat again!” he said in a
high pitched voice.
Sarah started giggling to herself.
“What?” Richard asked after realizing she
wasn’t just laughing at his comment.
“Nothing,” Sarah said as she hesitated to
speak her mind.
“Amazing, they are fully bipedal tool users,
and they clearly have at least some rudimentary language skills.
What now? Come on, you got a dopey look on your face, I mean dopier
than usual,” Richard said.
Sarah’s giggling got louder, and as she
tried to suppress her giggles her face turned red. She began
laughing while turning away from Richard, but the laughter
grew.
“What is it?” Richard pleaded while
beginning to chuckle himself from her merriment.
At this point, Sarah lost all control, and
in between laughs and gasps, she blurted out, “They got such big
hands and feet but their…,”
“Their what?” Richard asked.
“Their tiny…,”
“Tiny what?” he asked impatiently.
“I mean they’re not exactly well-endowed,
are they?” Sarah said as she pealed into more laughter while
rocking side to side.
“What? But you know you’re right, they do
kinda of make me feel like a porn star,” Richard said while
laughing.
Sarah stopped laughing, looked at Richard
straight-faced, and she began laughing even louder.
“Hey, I thought you weren’t looking at me?
Wait, a minute…,” Richard responded.
Sarah waved Richard off while shaking her
head and continuing her laughter.
“Sarah Levine, I’m shocked at you young
lady, and you call me unprofessional? Now I know why you grabbed
the binoculars so damn fast. Is that all you women ever think
about?”
“Yeah, you wish shemale!” Sarah said. “This
is way better than making out!”
“You know, I’m feeling a little vulnerable
over here,” Richard said while Sarah doubled over in laughter with
tears in her eyes.

Later that night a strong tropical rainstorm
battered the island and its inhabitants. The members of the small
research team were stuck in their respective tents as sheets of
rain deluged the camp. An entire new Ebu world waits for them,
except the weather kept them huddled in their small tents wondering
if the rain will ever break.
The following day Sarah and Richard went
back to the pond, but the previous night’s torrential rains washed
away all traces of the Ebu.
“Damn it, I can’t find a sign of them
anywhere. Let’s head off in the original direction we saw them
leave,” Richard said.
They continued to search, however they have
trouble finding a trail, never mind the Ebu. The trails surrounding
the pond have entirely disappeared, covered by a mountain of plant
debris deposited by the furious storm. They spent the next two days
searching the island with few results. They find an occasional
trace of a trail, but it appeared that the Ebu have disappeared
once again into the depths of the island.
“Why and where?” Sarah asked.

By the Sea

-The sands takes lines unknown-
D.H. Lawrence

“Care to join me for a run?” Richard asked
Sarah as he was stretching in preparation for his daily run on the
beach.
“Are you suggesting that I’m getting fat?”
Sarah jokingly replied.
Sarah was usually not one to talk about her
looks. In truth, Sarah knows that she was looking considerably
thinner since losing ten pounds from the combined effects of the
heat, poor food and the continuous daily walks into the jungle. To
offset her gauntness, her skin was turning a golden brown and her
legs were firm to begin with. In her matching shorts and long
sleeve shirt, she looked like a glamour model except for the myriad
number of scratch marks, insect bites and bruises that lined both
her arms and legs.
All right, she didn’t quite look like a
model on a photo shoot, but on the other hand, what model would
endure the primitive conditions Sarah was being subjected to? That
was the one trait about Sarah that always amazed Richard. Well,
actually there were two if you counted her significant cleavage
that managed to defy her recent weight loss. No, what was amazing
was that despite the adverse conditions and despite the grueling
daily routine, Sarah managed to groom herself to perfection each
and every day. Richard had been on long expeditions in the wild
with other female biologists, and they quickly used the trip as an
excuse to let everything go au natural. Their leg hair sometimes
became so thick you would think they were planning to braid it.
But, oh no, not Sarah! Every morning she greeted the world with
that fresh scrubbed look about her. It was almost sickening to him
the way she wore her look of perfection, like some goddamn
untouchable high school princess but, in fact, it just made him
hotter for her. After all, he could never pass up an opportunity to
sully perfection!
The entire team was finding camping in the
tropics to be a real ordeal. Their food and water was less than
great due to the omnipresent tropical heat, and a decided lack of
variety. Fortunately, everybody’s appetite was off as well so the
demand for food just wasn’t there. Even the simple act of going to
bed at night could be an unwelcome adventure. The night before,
Sarah let out a small yelp, and as Richard watched, Sarah herded
out of her tent a flying beetle the size of a small bird. Dressed
only in her t-shirt and panties, Sarah shooed the bug from her
tent, forcing the green beetle to buzz loudly as it took flight
into the cool night air. Richard laughed while shaking his head at
the spectacle.
“I know some people who would pay good money
to watch your show on YouTube,” he yelled to her.
“I’m glad that I amuse you, Richard,” Sarah
said, and she retreated to her tent with what remained of her
dignity.
Damn, she did look good in that t-shirt and
panties!
When Richard first met Sarah he had always
assumed her to be a four-star hotel type of gal, the kind he
usually couldn’t afford. However, Sarah was handling the primitive
conditions like a trooper and even Richard had to admire the
hardiness of the petite princess.
No, Richard had to smile at her while
saying, “Nah, you look great, kiddo!”

In return, Sarah gave Richard a perplexed
look. Sarah had found it an incredible challenge just to keep up
with Richard during a walk, never mind a full run. She was no
slouch herself during a hike, but his long legs were always
carrying him way out in front of her. Her diminutive stride just
couldn’t keep pace with him. Yes, he was always moving too fast for
her.
Then there was the troubling matter of the
bright yellow shorts. Richard was wearing his favorite old yellow
shorts again; in fact, he was always wearing his favorite yellow
shorts. Sarah observed that the only variety in Richard’s daily
running getup was deciding what dirty t-shirt would complete his
ensemble. The cotton t-shirts would hang from a makeshift line by
his tent, stiffly waving in the breeze as they dried in the
tropical air. However, the yellow shorts always seemed fresh, a
testament she attributed to the enduring qualities of polyester,
and not to any specific act of cleanliness on his part.
Surprisingly, Richard never smelled bad; however, he always had a
distinctive masculine air about him.
“You know, Richard, if you ever wore another
pair of shorts, I might reconsider that run with you. What is it
going to take to get you out of those shorts?” Sarah asked.
Richard gave Sarah a leering look.
“Look boy; choose something that will
actually happen during your lifetime, okay?”
“Are you kidding, give up my lucky running
shorts? Never, I sooner walk,” Richard said as he sprinted from the
camp. Richard has been running along the beach on an almost daily
basis, but today, for a change of view, he decided to run along the
beach in a westerly direction. Following his normal routine, he ran
near the water where the sand was wet and firmer to tread on. He
hated kicking up the dry sand as he ran.
Richard was running for fifteen minutes when
he suddenly heard a rustling sound coming from behind him followed
by a sharp strike to his head. He looked back as a large gull was
hovering above him while taking pokes at his head with her beak. He
covered his head with his hands and felt a trickle of blood oozing
from a small cut. Maybe it was the aggressive pace of his run or
his ugly yellow shorts; in any case, he definitely had incurred the
wrath of the nesting gull.
He accelerated his pace and began
haphazardly changing direction in an effort to lose the irate gull
while waving his arms in the air. With each turn that he made, the
gull was right there with him, crying as she continued her
unrelenting attack on his scalp.
“Why is every female on this island so
freaking temperamental!” he yelled.
Richard began a furious sprint that left him
high up on the beach. The gull ceased its assault, seemingly
satisfied that he was no longer a threat. He slowed down, and
noticed something curious in the approaching sands. There were more
gulls, but they were preoccupied with taking swipes at an
assortment of empty shells that littered the beach. With his
approach, the gulls quickly departed, and he saw that the sand was
upturned along the length of the beach. Years of fieldwork has
taught Richard to be curious anytime he spotted a disruption in the
natural order of things.
With a few more steps Richard surveyed a
sight he had seen countless times before during his childhood
vacations. He could see hundreds of diminutive footprints scattered
throughout the sands of the beach. A troop of the Ebu had been
present in the area; moreover, they had resided there for a fairly
long time. There were even some stone flakes lying on the white
sand. Amazingly, they had spent enough time on the beach for some
of the Ebu to reshape their stone hand axes. He then spotted the
ultimate archeological prize, the remains of an Ebu fire, and as
Richard stirred the cooling embers, he spotted charred fish bones
among the ashes.
Richard sprinted back to camp in record time
while excitedly yelling, “I got it, I got it! Sarah, the Ebu are
Hamptonites!”
Sarah is not a New Yorker so she doesn’t get
Richard’s stupid little joke. Instead, Sarah looked at him as
though his idiocy had finally become permanent.
“What is it now, Richard? Please slow down
and speak slower. Oh, why are you bleeding from your head?” Sarah
asked in a tone befitting of a mother talking to her hyperactive
son.
Richard was breathing hard from his sprint
back, and he stopped to catch his breath. Gathering his wind,
Richard pulled his t-shirt up to his face to wipe the sweat from
his brow. He then poured water over his head, removing the sweat
and the blood in a small flood from his hair. He followed that with
a quick swig of water that he immediately spat on the ground.
“Really Richard, you could write ‘the’ book
on manners and personal grooming. Now, what is all the yelling
about?” an exasperated Sarah asked.
“Sorry about that, but I found the Ebu! When
they get tired of dining on rat, they move down to the beach for a
change in menu. That’s why we couldn’t find them. We were looking
in the heart of the island, and they were at the shore living off
the sea. That’s why you stumbled across them during your original
visit. It makes sense, and it wouldn’t be the first time that
ancient hominids have been found to be living at the shoreline. I
mean how else could they have managed to survive on this small
island?”
Sarah looked at him while shaking her head
the entire time.
“Wow, we are so stupid. At the burial site
among the dead, there were some seashells, remember? This is great;
however, where are they now?” Sarah asked.
“Not sure partner, but at least now I know
where to begin looking,” Richard said.
“Let’s get going. You grab the camera
equipment,” Sarah ordered.
“Shouldn’t I change?” Richard asked, while
bathed in sweat from his run.
“Hell no, with you on a roll wearing your
lucky shorts? Really, I’ve survived the odor so far, I’ll manage
for a few more hours, Richard. Just air dry like you always do,”
Sarah said with a smile.
During the half hour walk back to the newly
discovered beach site Richard kept looking over his shoulder for
the irate gull. He was walking ahead, and Sarah interpreted
Richard’s looks back as impatience on his part with her current
pace. Richard’s long strides put him out front from her forcing
Sarah to double her pace just to keep up with him. Once there,
Sarah and Richard began looking for a trail along the tree line.
They did not have far to look when they found a trail covered with
a layer of crushed seashells, a strong indication that it had been
used by generations of Ebu.
The two walked for about a quarter mile,
when they heard a loud murmuring noise coming from the woods.
Richard couldn’t see them; however, he realized the Ebu must be
close by. The two crouched down, slowly waddling their way to the
source of noise. Richard was not comfortable with crouching this
long, and he would occasionally fall over as he grappled with the
camera equipment. Sarah became impatient with his pace so she took
the lead, and the two continued to push on. The murmuring continued
to grow louder. When they approached a small clearing, they could
see several Ebu sitting by a small fire. Other Ebu were sitting
among the trees with all appearing to be peacefully resting.
Richard was not sure what to do; if they got
too close, they would startle the Ebu. However, their present
position for the purposes of observation was untenable plus he
couldn’t get the camera running. They watched for a few minutes
before Sarah signaled to Richard to go back a bit. They reluctantly
leave to return to the beach to reconsider a different
strategy.
“Well, we found them so now what?” Richard
asked. “We can’t get close enough to get the cameras going or even
observe them without them being on to us.”
Sarah smiled at Richard while affectionately
grabbing his hand. She looked him directly in the eyes.
“Leave that to me. Listen to me so I can go
over the basics. First, I’ll be the one interacting with them. I’ve
done this all my life with chimps and gorillas. You are the support
person with the cameras, and I don’t want you to be seen during the
initial contact. Nothing personal; however, you are a fairly tall
specimen, Richard Staller. If they see you, don’t stare at them,
instead glance back at them, and give them a chance to look back at
you. Remember, it’s not polite to stare. Secondly, keep yourself
small. A large animal is very intimidating to a smaller animal.
Keep in a crouch, no sudden movements, and please no loud noises,”
Sarah said.
Richard just smiled in agreement with
her.
“Richard, I have no idea how they are going
to react to us. Sarah motioned to Richard’s backpack for him to get
something. Richard rooted through the bag for a few seconds and
handed her a handgun.
“What are you nuts? I want the dry fruit in
your pack, not a gun,” Sarah said. Sarah was visibly upset at
Richard while he rolled over on his side laughing.
“You are so damn gullible, girl I love
pulling your chain,” Richard said between laughs.
“Ha-ha, Richard, keep it down will you. You
know you are such a cretin. That’s why you’re the support person.
Oh yeah, this time please refrain from throwing rocks at them, is
that understood?” Sarah demanded.
“Oh, I’ll try! So how are you going to win
them over, boss?” Richard asked.
“We’ll do what Jane did. We’ll win them over
with food and patience while I’ll try to blend into the
background,” Sarah said.
Richard looked quizzical after her
comments.
“I was making a reference to Jane Goodall.
I’m going to move over to them in a crouch, let them see me from a
distance and leave some of this fruit. This dried fruit is sweet as
compared to their usual diet; in addition, it will hold up in the
heat of the day. You got any better ideas; you know other than
using guns and stones?” Sarah asked.
“They might like lobster!” Richard said.
“I’ll talk to the chef and see if I can get
the item added to the menu. In the meantime, you stay behind me
while keeping out of sight. If this gets ugly, you just stand up,
and be your usual self; that’s enough to scare anybody including a
truculent Ebu,” Sarah said.
Richard looked at her while shaking his own
head.
“You know, despite popular belief, I am not
a complete imbecile. Jane Goodall’s techniques worked with wild
African chimps; however, these guys are a nearby relative of ours
that just happen to split off the old family tree close to a
million years ago. We have no way of predicting their behavior, nor
do we know they are going to react to the sight of you. We should
have given this approach a little more serious thought,” Richard
said.
Sarah gave Richard a harsh look. Richard
immediately realized that he had incurred Sarah’s wrath once
again.
“Richard, all I have done over the past two
years is to think about this very moment. Damn it, I know all of
the ramifications, and I even considered the possible cultural
contamination that is going to occur when a primitive species meets
a so-called advanced species such as our own. The right way to do
this is to have a team of experts study and debate this issue for
months on end. And you want to know something? It’s weeks of
endless mental masturbation as they massage their massive egos and
try to gain an advantage so they can promulgate their own agenda.
Believe me; I’ve watched these pompous asses in action.”
“We all know about the pompous asses,
Sarah,” he said.
“Do we really? Look, in the end, it always
comes down to the good intentions of the observer to make it right
for the subjects, whether they are Apache, Maasai, chimps or Ebu.
It has always been that way. You know the Heisenberg uncertainty
principle about measuring and observing a subatomic particle
without changing its future position. All you can do is minimize
the impact of that observation. I have to be a good observer while
remaining as dispassionate as possible when watching the Ebu. I am
not there to interact with them, nor am I here to save them. That
is the only way I can accurately record their existence on this
planet and do them the justice they deserve,” Sarah said.
“Nice speech Sarah, but who are you are
trying to convince: me or you?” Richard asked.
“Richard, the right thing to do is to walk
away from the Ebu and forget all about this island. That way the
Ebu can continue their present existence uninterrupted, but you
know someday they’ll go extinct on their own or worse yet, somebody
will find them and exploit the Ebu for their own personal gain.
Then what of their future? Are they going to share the same fate as
the medical lab chimps?”
Richard was listening; even so, he remained
unmoved.

This entry was posted in Adventure Novel. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s