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#Sample Sunday

Excerpt from: The Traversal of Montabu

Awoken by the cooling trade winds that blew in off the Gulf of Papua, east of the village, Montabu opened his eyes. Instantly, he felt wide-awake and refreshed, the branch had kept him comfortable and secure like the warm palm of nature. Above, slices of turquoise sky peered down through the framework of branch and vine. Oddly blithe of spirit, Montabu took one lasting gaze of longing at his village and climbed down the tree.

Montabu set out to find the evidence of Traversal, down a narrow cut pathway worn by time and vegetation. Montabu knew this path well, for he had traveled it many times with his father. He had never been allowed thus far to participate in the wild boar and dog hunts, but Antobi had brought him out here to the worn path for long walks.

As Montabu walked along the cut path, he thought of those walks with his father. Antobi spoke with an abiding respect for the jungle, pointing out the many varieties of predator when they would come across paths: colorful multi-legged centipedes, undulating over the skin of branch and rock, scorpions, black and shiny, snapping pincers as big as crabs. Antobi even spoke lovingly of the many plants that preyed, including the Venus Fly Trap, in which he ran his finger along the fine hairs surrounding the mouth of the bulbous bloom.

Further on, the cut path veered left running along the bank of the muddy Fly River. With the heavy rains having not visited recently, the Fly River was thick with mud like lumpen molasses. Montabu looked out over the wide, mucky highway, and stopped. This was as far as he had ever come, and for good reason. Antobi had brought him this far to show him what he saw before him now.

Crocodiles.

Montabu side-stepped quietly, knelt behind the thick fronds of a riverside plant, and peered at the bathing reptiles. There were three of them basking in the intense sun that cut through the wide aisle, but there could have been more. Their armored, segmented backs were entrenched in mud. If you had not the wisdom of experience, you might not have seen the reptiles at all. The biggest of the crocs spread its jaws in a wide, lazy yawn.

Montabu backed up, quietly stole away down the cut path. He had no reservations with these predators and he surmised, wisely, that no evidence of Traversal lay within their perimeters.

Still on the path, the jungle breathed around Montabu like a living being.  The sky was hidden as the terrain grew deeper. The branches and vines above built vast cathedrals of foliage.

In the shade, Montabu perspired, and turned around sharply. A thought came to mind, a dreadful one, and he willed it to go away.

“Beware Serepenti, Montabu. The great king of the jungle.” Antobi had once told Montabu. 

“Who is Serepenti, Father?”

“The great king. The ancient serpent. He is long as a tusk, and has the jaws of a lion.” Antobi conveyed this with wide eyes that terrified Montabu. Now, he was frozen with fear in recollection. ‘What if Serepenti were watching me right now?’ Montabu thought.

To add the exclamation to his emotion, that is when it happened. Montabu did not immediately register the minute thumping in the soil beneath his feet. But, somewhere in the back of his mind, hiding behind the menacing thoughts of Serepenti, he sensed the beating. As the thudding grew more intense, his realization turned his blood cold, and despite the heat, grew goose bumps on the flesh of his back and arms. Before Montabu could pry his cemented feet from the earth, it was upon him.

A boar. A wild boar.

It came at him with odd speed, despite its stout body. Racing toward Montabu, with head lowered, it butted him, digging under with its stubby tusks, flipping the prey over its quilled back.

Montabu grunted, landing on his face in the soil.  He was only shaken, not harmed. Quickly, Montabu hopped to his feet and spun, facing the charging boar. He had a brief glimpse of scarlet eyes, yellow tusk, and black bristling whiskers before he was butted and lifted yet again. This time he landed on his head. Montabu had an upside-down view of the wild boar as it skidded off the cut path and slid into the brush. Montabu picked his entire four-foot frame from the earth and fled.

Thistles and wisps whipped Montabu’s cheeks, chest, and arms as he raced along the cut path. His little legs pumped furiously, but he feared they would not carry him fast enough. With his upper body pitched forward, Montabu sprinted with eyes wide, as well as mouth. He could hear and feel the wild boar directly behind him and gaining, its hooves digging into the soil. He could smell its foul breath, warm against the back of his legs. Montabu stumbled over a root protruding from the earth. With his short life flashing before him, Montabu closed his eyes, covered his head with his arms, and pulled himself into a ball. Nothing happened. No thumping hooves, no poking tusks, no biting teeth. There was the sound of rustling leaves, but what made Montabu open his eyes was the hoarse, guttural ranting of the wild boar.

Dread and horror consumed Montabu as he witnessed the sight before him. Behind Montabu, on the cut path, the wild boar was suspended in the air by a tentacle-like appendage. No, not an appendage, but a threatening form. The tube-like length wrapped about the thickness of the body of the helpless pig. The boar continued to vomit wet shrieks of surprise and pain.

Montabu saw the head of the serpentine beast, saw its eyes. Like pristine globes of pure contempt, those emerald eyes bore into Montabu’s soul. Those eyes seemed to say, “You are in my kingdom, an intruder, prey.”

Before he knew what was happening, Montabu’s legs had found their use and he was away with the whipping reeds and the Fly River aside. He would find evidence elsewhere before he became the evidence of Serepenti’s feast.

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