Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Lotus (Part II)

This is Part II of a short story draft. Part I was already posted; the last part will be posted later.

I had been searching for Quin for three days. On the morning of the fourth day I was awakened by a rustle near the fire. When I jumped up, I found myself pointing my rifle at Quin, who continued to make coffee with my messkit as calmly and unconcernedly as if we had made camp together.

"Good morning, Trim," he said. When we had first met, we knew too little of each other's language to do anything but mangle the pronunciation of each other's name, so we settled on the closest approximation to first syllables that we could: Quin and Trim. The approximations remained long after Quin was able to pronounce my name correctly. I, alas, still cannot pronounce Quin's name properly. The third syllable is one of those sounds that are only pronounced easily by those who have been pronouncing it all their lives.

"I have been looking for you forever," I said, lowering the gun.

"Forever is a long time, Trim," he replied reproachfully. "You were only looking a few days. It's a short time to find anyone in these parts." He set the coffee over the fire and turned to me. "What are you trying to find today?"

I took a picture of Rozanov out of my pocket and gave it to him. "If you are able, I would like to hire your services again. I can pay twice what I paid last time."

"You almost missed me, Trim. I intended to set out tomorrow for home.”

I was surprised. Quin rarely talked of his home. I knew him better than probably any man alive, but I knew nothing of it except that it was away west and populated with a different people than these who lived near the jungle. He had left when young due to some family dispute and had never returned.

He seemed lost in thought a moment, then said, "Let's find your man, Trim. I think I know where to look. I have heard things."

After coffee, we set out and journeyed to the northwest for several days, until we came to a village. Several villages came out to meet us; Quin approached them and started joking with them. The jokes, of course, were largely at my expense; in many of the villages in this area there is no better way to get the sympathy of the natives than to joke about the follies of Europeans. We had done this before, I posing as the stupid foreigner, a role that is disconcertingly easy to play, and Quin telling several tale tales of bungling European ways, each taller than the last.

And it worked, as usual. Quin began to hear stories as well as tell them, since the villagers had met a few crazy Europeans themselves. At one point, Quin showed them Rozanov's photograph; they recognized him at once, but refused to say where he had gone. Every time Quin asked they would become silent, and look as if they did not know quite how to proceed.

We were fed a meal of catfish by the villagers which, given that hospitality is very important in this region of the world, was probably better than the meals they eat themselves, and then set out again. Before we left, however, one of the elders of the village took Quin aside and whispered something to him. After the village was out of sight I asked him what it was.

"Ah," he said. "He told me that we would do better to give up looking for this man because he was cursed."

"Oh," I replied, disappointed.

A ghost of a smile played over Quin's face. After a moment or two of silence he contined: "And that we should avoid following the second stream on the right because then we, too, could become cursed in the same way."

"Well, Quin," I said after a moment, "are you ready to brave the curses of the second stream on the right?"

"Some day, Trim, you and I will have to find something that requires going where we will be blessed," he replied.

Over the next two weeks we slowly made our way deeper and deeper into the jungle. The slow pace was necessary given the difficulty of tracking. A jungle is a flurry of activity in every way, from the swift-growing greenery to the perpetual toil of insects to the movements of animals. Quin, however, is the best I have ever seen at tracking, and despite the deliberate pace we made excellent progress.

On the afternoon of the twelfth day I was preparing to catch some small crocodile for dinner when I heard Quin signaling. I met up with him beside a human skeleton in very bad shape.

"Rozanov?" Quin asked.

I shook my head. "Judging from the leg, it is too short. His guide, perhaps?" I knelt to look closer. "The skull is crushed, the chest is crushed. Whatever did this was brutal."

Quin began looking around for more, and within a quarter of an hour had found the remains of an old camp site. Although it was clear no one had been there for several weeks, there was still a pack, half-buried in the underbrush. Inside was a book. It was badly water-damaged, but on opening its front cover, I could easily make out, in a bold and beautiful Cyrillic hand, a name. That name was Fyodor Rozanov.

1 comment:

  1. branemrys7:24 AM


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