Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Finking Paradise Lost

How did we escape those devil skewers of death? A hungry tribe, a mere snack of a captain, and then my master and me - sweaty and sore from the arduous trans-island trek, but otherwise juicy and tender to the touch…things could not have been more ominous. It is true that the native noses turned up at the gamy musk emitted from my master, but I warn the reader against any conclusions made by Jeffrey. We had just finished an arduous hike, and anyone would have emerged from that jungle smelling offensive. The curious tribe may have demurred initially, but was evidently still intent on eating us. Hopelessness overcame me.

Finknottle said: "I believe these people to be of the Marquesan language group. At least, I suppose it so based on their babbling."

He shouted something in Marquesan but the men seemed un-phased as they prepared a series of three large fire pits. Meanwhile, the women sang in altercations, some pouring briny seawater on three large planks of woods in a most ceremonious manner, others preparing a peculiar mealy powdery substance in a great bowl.

Observing the planks of wood Finknottle commented: "I believe the two on the left are from the gumbo limbo tree. The plan is to grill us slowly on the wood. The seawater provides salt and will prolong the endurance of the plank over the fire. This method will no doubt infuse us with very distinct, if slightly alkaline, aroma and flavor. The other plank appears to be a baobob. It produces a less desirable taste, but it burns at a hotter temperature. No doubt for the captain whom they probably intuit to be sickly and perhaps diseased"

"Sir," I interrupted, "they did not seem to respond well to your words."

"Why, they responded precisely to what I requested they do," he said confidently.

"What do you mean?" "I was speaking to those young girls preparing that Polynesian potlatch."

"What did you tell them," I asked.

"That they add more coconut shavings on account of the captain's sickly constitution."

"But sir!" I protested, "giving these savages cooking instructions while in this peculiar position seems to be..."

"In bad taste, Scribble?" he finished, "I suppose you'd have these people eat us only to find that we are bland and bitter?"

"I'd rather they did not eat us at all!" I said.

"Yes, but it is prudent to have a backup plan," Finknottle casually explained, as if the tribe was not preparing the fire pits.

"Honestly sir, do you have a plan to get us out of this?"

"Well, Scribble, as you are so direct in your inquiry, I feel compelled to answer you bluntly. I have little doubt that I can save myself. My tongue is such that I think I can impress upon the chief my value to his well-being. And the captain, I am confident, I can have pardoned, given his sickly nature. And you, Scribble, I am about sixty percent confident. You have the misfortune of being in good health and these people are intent on eating something. I do not see any hogs in these pens.."

"Oh sir," I fell down to the ground as if fate were already upon me, "I'd rather not be broiled like a fowl."

"If only that editor were here with us,” Finknottle mused thoughtfully, “the very evilness of his meat would shy them away from this human cuisine. They would never eat a person again. Ah, but what a waste of potlatch!"

About that time, the chief approached us. He was a skinny, elderly man of particularly good posture. He wore a headdress with small unfamiliar looking skulls adorning it. He ordered us out of our pens and led us to the shore where we were told to bath. While I waded into the ocean, Finknottle turned to the chief and appeared to exchange words with him. I splashed some water and returned to the shore to hear what was happening. By the time I got near, the chief huffed at my master and turned away and strutted back the village. Our guards returned us to our pens.

"Sir, what did you say to the chief?"

"I told him I held magic."

"What? How did you think that would work? Isn't that a cliche?"

"If by cliche you mean tried and true, then you've answered your own questions. I assumed the proclamation would grant me a supernatural forecast, and through that a release."

"What did you forecast?"

"I told him that small vessels, more numerous than the men on the island, each harboring captured words, would gather on the island. I warned the chief that this was proof that I had magic power. If he did not heed this, the next show of power would be a severe case of diarrhea throughout the village caused by our flesh and then a severe case of erectile dysfunction."

"What did he say?"

"Simply that he did not believe me, though I could tell that he was shaken considerably. I sense that he is not the sort of chief that wants to offend some mystical power."

That evening, the cooking fires were shooting high into the air and the planks were fully saturated. The feast was nearly prepared except for the sacrificial meat. To that end, we were led out of our cages and to the pit ovens. The men had fastened each of us to our respective planks with cocoa twine and were moving us into position of the fire when one of the villagers came running and yelling into the village from the shore:

"Ômole! Mamaka omole!" the man kept screaming. The whole village erupted in a frenzied panic.

"What is it, sir?" I asked my master.

"It is a sign from a small magic man, Scribble," he said.

The chief ran down to the shore to see, firsthand, what the yelling was about and came back looking pale with fright as he approached Finknottle and fell prostrate before him. He couldn't seem to stop babbling to my master.

"What is he saying?" I asked.

"He is asking me what he could do that would earn my forgiveness and good wishes."

Finknottle said something to the chief who nervously nodded agreement and motioned some men to untie him. Finknottle continued to give the chief orders.

“What are you telling him?”

“I’m telling him to untie the captain and yourself.”

Although they untied the captain, I remained fastened to my plank while the chief went back over to Finknottle and appeared to try to bargain with him.

“Why are they not untying me?” I begged to know.

“The chief is saying that they do not mind setting the captain free, as they never intended on eating him on account of his sickly state. They only planned to cook him so as not to offend the puny fellow by suggesting he would not make a worthy meal.”

“But what about me, sir!”

“Oh, they strongly wish to eat you, Scribble – as I predicted.”

My master turned to the chief and talked sternly to him. The chief looked a little annoyed, but a lot scared. He relented and his men released me from the plank. Finknottle continued to bark orders in that weird provincial tongue.

“I have ordered them to bring the bottles from the shore. My mailbag has found us.”

All night, the men from the village collected the thousands of whiskey bottles full of reader mail ashore and piled them near the chief’s hut, which Finknottle had commandeered. Meanwhile, hogs were found and cooked and the potlatch was not wasted. We drank arva water and were attended to by the many beautiful native girls.

I could see that the chief – so suddenly a subordinate to the visitor – was deeply hurt. Would his resentment towards my master overcome his fear of him? Much like the captain, I felt that the chief was somebody to be watched.

-His Assistant