A Jungle Spirit

February 10, 2015 - Short Story

A Jungle Spirit – A Short Fantasy Story By Kelly D. Tolman
Joao Sebastian looked over the quiet waves to watch the longboat that was moving steadily toward the ship that waited at anchor.  “Cao Italiano,” he said, and spat to accentuate his words.  “He leaves us here to rot, on this forgotten island, while he goes to find the gold on the continent.”
The sun weltered, and the sea breeze died silently.  Even in the shade of the tall trees, the jungle still burned.  The noise of insects infected the air with a constant buzz.  Joao Sebastian felt the anger see out at him from the crew behind him, searing into his back as hotly as the sun on his face.
Joao heard Vasquez grunt indifferently and say, “Dios quiere.”
“Yes, Vasquez,” agreed Joao Sebastain, “this is exactly what God has wanted for us.  We are to wait here and die on this forgotten place while that Italian dog returns to your Queen with the glory and the gold.  I did not leave prison to face this, Vasquez.  I did not cross these waters to face the savage spirits here.”  Suddenly Joao Sebastian’s face changed, and he smiled.  He turned to Vasquez and with a friendly gesture said, “but come, my Spanish friend, and we will find the treasures that Nuestro Senor has provided.”  With that Joao Sebastian rubbed a leather hand across his brown face and started across the beach toward the jungle.
“They are coming, father.  I have seen them.  They are covered in odd clothes, and they turn at the sound of a cricket.  Birds flee before them; the jungle is silent.  Even the trees do not know how to receive the strangers.  These can not be the spirit sons which the gods promised to send us.  They are dirty.”
“Do not judge too quickly child.  The spirit children of the gods are unused to our world.  Only by their hearts can you tell them from the deceivers that the Dark one may send.  Go and watch them, and pray to see their hearts.”
Four months of storm and hell for this.  To be left at the end of the earth where even the devil will not come.  To purge the ignorant pagan of his beliefs and cure him of the evils of gold and silver.  Four years in a Spanish prison to spend four months in a Spanish hell with only an Italian dog to turn to.  This is not why I left my motherland.  To see the ocean, that is what I told my mother.  Yes, to see the ocean, but also to have a little bread to eat.  What is an orphan to do?  Sail away to cut timbers in the burning jungle.
“Cut faster you dogs,” growled Joao Sebastian.  “El Capitan wants this fort built and dedicated to Nuestra Senora La Virgen before he returns from the mainland.
“You screech for nothing,” replied Vasquez, “El Capitan isn’t coming back tomorrow.  We have time.  Or do you fear El Capitan more than Nuestro Senor, the King of our souls.  God will provide for the righteous.
“El Capitan killed Nuestro Senor a long time ago.  El Capitan is your god now, and he has already sent us all to rot here in this hell.”  Joao Sebastian pointed to a dark rock that knifed above the trees, a hundred meters over the calm waters of the bay.  “There is where we build the temple to our golden god.”
“They are attacking the forest.  All day, like animals, they have cut down the trees in the sun-god’s shadow, and carried them to the holy grounds, father.  They burn fires there now, and stink of sweat and anger.  Animals they have killed, and they burn them on the fires and eat them.  I do not like these spirits.  The leader, he works and does not perspire.  The others, they fear him.  They do not speak to him.”
“Have you seen their hearts, child?  Only when the gods open your eyes to see their spirits will you know them.  Of course if they are spirit children of the gods they will go to the holy places and offer sacrifices.  You must watch them and learn their rites.  Of course they must seek nourishment in our world somehow.  And we, unworthy souls have not offered them anything because of our much fear.”
“And what if they are deceivers sent to defile the holy grounds?”
At least there is meat in this lost place.  Joao Sebastian looked around the skeleton of a building they had managed to erect that day.  Not the worst structure he had ever seen, but hardly a fortress.  “Vasquez,” he called, “set up a watch.  Have the men take turns.  I don’t want anything from that jungle to find its way into our new home.”
“Of course, Joao Sebastian,” said Vasquez, though his tone clearly indicated his low regard for his leader.  “We’ll protect your fortress with our lives.”
Joao Sebastian turned his eyes from the fire with effort and wrapped his eyes around Vasquez’ mind.  “Of course you will because it is all you have,” replied Joao Sebastian.  “This is all you have anymore, this jungle and me.  If the fort goes then we die.”  Vasquez scratched his lice nervously and stood up to leave.  “Do you think the Capitan will come back for us?  Eh, Vasquez?”  Joao Sebastian rained laughter on the Spaniard, until Vasquez opened his mouth to respond and Joao Sebastian cut him off.  “We were left here because that perro was running out of supplies and he never liked any of us from the start.  If he could have afforded to get rid of me sooner, he would have.  But no, I was too valuable, until he realized that I’m not as stupid as the rest of you.  There is no gold on this island, only mosquitoes.  On the continent there is treasure, but when he comes, what will he say to us?  Eh Vasquez?  Will he say, ‘look, we’re rich, what a fortune we’ve made,’ or will he say, ‘Nuestro Senor has not been as kind as I had hoped my friends, perhaps fortune will treat us better another time.’  Well, Vasquez?”
Vasquez turned his eyes from Joao Sebastian’s dark glare.  Vasquez ran a nervous hand through his dark curls, scratching where the lice bit, and answered, “I don’t know Joao Sebastian.  Either way this is better for me than dying in a prison.  I had a sentence of death in Spain.  I had no hope.”
Joao Sebastian’s voice became suddenly calm and quiet as the sea breeze.  “And here you also have a sentence of death, and I am your only hope.  If it is not starvation or disease, then surely the savages will take us.  Yes, Vasquez, they are watching us, waiting, and surely they will come.”  Joao Sebastian suddenly let out a raucous laugh that filled Vasquez with terror.  His dark eyes danced wildly in the firelight as he looked ofr his secret bottle.
No, I did not leave my Portugal to live with Spanish dogs.  If only Nuestro Senor has been kinder, perhaps then I would have been the Capitan instead of just a Portuguese dog that knows the stars and the savage ways.  Yes, I know the savage ways.  I can steal form them and use their women and make them slaves as well as any.  And the gold.  Yes, I had gold, enough to get a ship of my own perhaps.  Yes.  More, enough to have a good crew, not like El Capitan, scraping the prisons.  And all lost for the death of a nobleman’s whelp.  Joao Sebastian took another pull at his secret bottle.
“Some sleep, and some watch the night, father.  The leader, he does not sleep.  But he does not watch.  He is like in the gods’ trance, but his face is full of pain, not joy, father.”
“Have you seen his heart, child?”
“I have prayed and watched.  Others also watch.  They say we should kill them, that they defile the holy ground.  Others say we should give them gifts, that they are the spirit children.  I pray.  I wait.  But the gods do not answer.  If these are the spirit children, why do the gods not reveal their glory to us?”
“The gods sent them here to try us.  Be careful, so, to choose correctly, or the whole village will feel the gods’ wrath.”
Joao Sebastian slipped out of his trance with the first indifferent rays of the sun.  Already the sweat of his companions was beginning to stink as the company roused and resumed the building.  Joao Sebastian noticed for the first time in the dawn light the ghostly angular shadows cast by large stones that surrounded the camp.  The stone they were building on was covered with sod, but a circular section near the center had been cleared away, and holes had been drilled at symmetrical points into the rock around the central pit.  What the sailors had naturally taken for the best spot for a fire contained more ashes than Joao Sebastian remembered burning the night before.  In the pink dawn the jutting rock seemed a bloody crown for a  savage dead king.
“Vasquez,” he called, “what do you make of these holes?”
Vasquez looked with interest for the first time at the holes in the ground.  He was obviously confused for a moment, until he saw what Joao Sebastian saw, and his face wound itself into a deep frown.  “We are not alone,” he said flatly.
“Very good, Vasquez,” mocked Joao Sebastian, and then his voice curdled, “call the men.”
“They stand around the holy place, father, talking in strange tongues.  The leader has strange crystal eyes.  He does not sleep.  He marks our sacred places.  He walks a careful pattern and does not put out the holy fire in the sacred place.  They burn the sacred fires, but heir sacrifices are not accepted.  The spirits do not approve, that much I can feel.  These creatures cannot be the spirit children of the gods.  I have prayed, and their glory has not been revealed.”
“You say the leader has strange eyes, child.  That can be dangerous or glorious.  Perhaps the fair ones are the spirit children, and he has deceived them.  Take the sacred lance and kill him.  Then try the others.  A trial will tell all.”
“El Capitan said here,” retorted Vasquez angrily.  “Here is the spot.  We’ve already started.  We’ve ammunition and powder.  I’ll not leave.”
“Then rot,” growled Joao Sebastian.  The wiry Portuguese sailor grabbed a pistol and tucked it into his belt.  “I’ll be back to bury you.”  With that he turned and stomped angrily into the jungle.  Yes, I am dead, but you are dead too, Spanish dogs.  They will come and eat your hearts.  I have seen their angry spirits watching us, waiting in the night.  Now the time for waiting is over.
The jungle received his intrusion in cruel silence.  Save for the subtle buzz of mosquitoes the jungle was quiet.  Joao Sebastian felt eyes on his movements, but he didn’t take out his pistol.  After he had gone perhaps a hundred meters he heard a hushed whistle in the distance from the jungle behind.  But he hadn’t seen a bird all day.  Strange eyes seemed to bore into him, until Joao Sebastian finally grew weary of his stalker.  He changed course, casually turning for the beach.  A muffled crack behind him, and Joao Sebastian sensed his hunter’s frustration.  Another moment passed in silence, two, three.  Now!  Joao Sebastian heard the swift movement of the arm before the spear actually took flight, but his reaction was slow.  He turned and ducked in one smooth motion, but the lance grazed his left shoulder.  He pulled the pistol out and fired as his attacker screamed a war cry.  Joao Sebastian couldn’t tell if his shot was good or not, but the attacker didn’t come again.  Joao Sebastian crawled his way to the base of a tree and sank down to look at his wound.
The obsidian point had dug deep, and he could tell from the burning that he had been poisoned.  At least the bone is intact, but what does it matter.  I am dead.  In an hour or a day, if not the poison, the gangrene, the spirits.
“I have broken the deceiver’s spell, father.  His magic was strong, he used the dark fire, and I am burned, but the spell is broken.  The wound is deep, but I have seen them all unveiled.  They are stupid and slow without his magic.”
“Very good, child.  The gods will reward your valor.”
Joao Sebastian passed the afternoon beneath the shade of a palm tree near the edge of the beach.  Even from the beach he could feel the jungle come alive with the savage spirits.  The same dark magic that had struck him would strike again.  As the shadows fell across the jungle, an even darker shadow came over Joao Sebastian.  Vasquez will curse me before he dies.  All those dogs will curse me, but it will not save them.  God will strike them down with the hand of the heretic.
“There is a note, Capitan, here on his body.  He scribbled something, but the writing is faded.  “Mueran Perros . . .’ is all I can see.  He must have fought the savages here, cursing them even in death.  There are no other bodies.”
“Did you search the rock, did they build the fort?”
“There is nothing Capitan.  Not even one timber is there.  There are signs of chopping and hauling, but even the tools are gone.  We found a spear near the skeleton with an obsidian head and a few feathers, but that is all.”
“Fate is fickle, a few more shares for us.  Too bad for them.  Let’s go.”

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