Ba Tik Di (rpg)

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It is rising within me. Ba-tik-di. The tightening of the stomach, these yawns that shake the body; a slow heat vibrating up the length of the spine. Ah, the shivering, the ecstasy! The gentle acupuncture, these needles that prick the skin into gooseflesh; the cold hot freezing warmth of it all!

Submitted: March 06, 2012

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Submitted: March 06, 2012

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“It is rising within me. Ba-tik-di. The tightening of the stomach, these yawns that shake the body; a slow heat vibrating up the length of the spine. Ah, the shivering, the ecstasy! The gentle acupuncture, these needles that prick the skin into gooseflesh; the cold hot freezing warmth of it all!

“Music opens out into the room; music from nowhere. Horns burst into breath, the strings sing possibilities; violins crash into crescendo. These songs, this smoke, shall guide me to God. To Ba-tik-di. The room swims in sounds, pulsing in bulbs of multicoloured lights. Stars of all colours, shivering in enlightenment. Ba-tik-di. There is…”

“Hang on. Pause it. What the fuck is this?”

Patrick Templeton, director of the university’s anthropology department, studied Detective Quinn from across the desk.

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t smoke in my office.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your cigarette.”

Quinn eyeballed the professor. He took one last, long draw, and stubbed the cigarette out on his saucer. It was almost finished anyway.

“Ba-tik-di. He repeats this over and over. What does it mean?”

“I have no idea.”

“You never thought to ask him?”

“I never had the chance. Besides, George wrote that it was beyond explanation. That we had no words for it.”

“Bullshit.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say, detective. I’ve told you everything I know.”

“Then why do I think you’re hiding something?”

“Perhaps you have difficulty trusting people.”

“Don’t get smart with me. Play the tape.”

“Mr Templeton let the tape run once more. George’s last tape. His final recording, before…”

“…no time here, in this universe of thought. Every second is its own eternity. There is no instrument, no medium. Everything is automatic, transposed directly, without filter. I am inventing new worlds, cosmos without circumference; raising flags in new dimensions. The elixir is here. It is Ba-Tik-Di. The magnet, mind, pulling me clear through into eternity…”

There was a long pause, while the two men sipped at their coffee.

“You, boy. You the pilot?”

“My name is Jacky.”

“You the pilot?”

“Yes, I’m the pilot.”

“You brought George to the island. Tell me about it. From the beginning.”

This wasn’t what he had signed up for, thought Jacky. He’d never wanted any trouble.

“I already told your men everything.”

“I don’t care. Tell me.”

*

“It’s a beautiful ocean, the south pacific. An endless blue, without land, rolling and rippling beneath you. I’d taken the helicopter out on George’s request, but his order carried Mr Templeton’s seal. They were close. I had no reason to suspect anything. It was only later I found out George had stamped it himself.

“We were approaching what is now known as Padawan island. It’s little more than a scratch of sand in an otherwise endless ocean. The same beach encircles the whole island, giving it the appearance of a floating disc. The interior is densely forested. As we dropped a little closer, we were able to make out the outlines of six figures on the sand. Six men. They stood still, watching, almost like they were waiting for us. I remember George saying how strange that was, that such passive reactions were unusual, if not unheard of. These were primitive peoples, he said, and the normal reaction - if there could be said to be one – would be some kind of fight or flight response. For the natives to gesticulate, jump up and down, to shout and raise their spears or to run screaming for the forest, would have been understandable, even expected. But these men appeared completely, eerily calm. They were stillness itself; one could almost say disinterested. It was unnerving.

It took me some time to find a safe spot to land. I wasn’t sure opf the sands. It could be dangerous to attempt to set down there. I circled the island slowly. We hovered a few meters above the earth. The men were watching us now. They were naked, except for their spears, and these masks that covered their faces.”

“What kind of masks?” Quinn interrupted.

“It was difficult to make out the details from where I was. They were humanoid in nature, but with exaggerated features; elongated noses, huge ears and mouths, wild eyes. They were creepy, more than anything, as though the natives wanted to appear monstrous. It sure was in contrast to the calmness of the men who wore them. Anyway, George remained unfazed. He secured the rope ladder and set it down, sending up a cloud of sand. He climbed down then, and stood still in front of the men. They made no move to speak, so George attempted an introduction of sorts.

“’Me George’, he said, and tapped his chest. ‘I come meet you.’

“The men watched him for a moment, then turned all together and walked away across the beach. I watched them disappear into the forest. George didn’t follow.

“I helped George lower down his things. He had boxes and crates of food and clothes, a pot for cooking, writing materials, a compass and mirror and a razor. And a pistol. Nothing much else. He told me not to worry. I said I’d be back in two weeks.”

*

“Wait, Templeton. You’re claiming you had no knowledge of the project?”

“No. I knew about it. I’d told George to wait. But he didn’t listen.”

“When was this?”

“George burst into my office, a few days before he left with Jacky. He was holding a clipping from some obscure journal; the headline read: ‘signs of light on uninhabited island’, or something like that. George was convinced the island was home to an undiscovered tribe, that the ‘signs of light’ had to be fires. I told him there was no such conclusion in the article.”

“You forbid him to go?”

“Not exactly. I suggested he submit a report, outlining why he felt such a study was merited.”

“What did George say to that?”

“That he’d go alone, if he had to. As an independent. That he wouldn’t involve me, he needed the transport. That I was a fool, and would pass up the most important anthropological discovery of our time. I told him I had to follow protocol.”

“And?”

“That was the last time I saw him. George never was much one for protocol.”

Detective Quinn leaned back in his seat and studied the man before him.

“Let me get this straight. You’ve had no contact with George since that day in your office?”

“You’ve read the communications. George kept notes, day by day.”

“But you never spoke to him?”

“How could I?”

“You never visited the island yourself?”

Templeton looked across at Jacky. He had never been a good liar.

“Yes, one time, long after. But we found nothing.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. But first I want to hear George’s story. Read me his notes, from the first day on the island.”

*

“There were children playing as I set up camp. Two boys, perhaps eight years old, circled around a girl of eleven or twelve. The boys crawled in the sand, crablike, dancing around on their feet and hands. Each in turn would jerk forward, as if trying to touch the girl, then somersault backwards to resume his scuttling. The girl swayed and twirled , dancing within an invisible circle in the sand, at once playful and wonderfully graceful. All were naked. I thought at the time that the act resembled nothing so much as a primitive mating ritual, among minors.

“As I approached, the boys scurried off into the forest with a series of canine yips and barks. The girl alone remained, apparently lost in her dancing. I stood and watched. I still felt unsure of her age; perhaps I had judged her younger than she was. I think now she may be of thirteen, even fourteen. That she had reached puberty was not to be doubted. Her small breasts were already developed, if half concealed by the black hair that hung close to her waist, and a small triangle of the same colour marked the skin between her legs. She was wonderfully unconscious of her nakedness, not shy, but rather indifferent to my observations. I sat upon a rock, a few metres from the girl, and waited for her to cease her dance.

“With one final, fast twirl, the girl spun up a cloud of dust and collapsed on her back in the sand, her back arched and legs open. The act was at once beautiful and indecent, vulgar and alluring. I found that I could not turn away. In one quick movement, half spasm, the girl sat up, crossed her legs and fixed her eyes on mine.”

“Guy sounds like a pervert to me”, Quinn interrupted.

“He was a keen observer; that is all. Should I continue?”

“Please, do.”

“’Tik, tik, di’”, Templeton resumed. “Those were her first words. I remember clearly.

“I introduced myself, in name only, pointing at my chest. ‘George’. She copied my gesture, pointing at the space between her breasts. ‘Tik-di’, she said.

“I pointed a finger to the sky. ‘Sky’, I said. The girl followed my finger with her eyes. I pointed to the Sun. ‘Sun’. I had hoped the girl would attempt to copy my words, that I could begin to teach her English. But all she uttered in reply was of her own language, if it may be called such. ‘Ba’, she said. ‘Ba-di.’

“I next tried to count with her. I held up a finger. ‘One’. The girl mimicked my action. I repeated the gesture, raising another finger. ‘Two’. ‘Three’.

“’Tik’, said the girl. ‘Tik, tik, di.’

“I held up my hand, palm facing outward. After a moment, the girl did the same. Little by little, I edged my hand closer to hers. The girl did the same, her eyes intent on my own. These were wild eyes, with none of the mannered coyness of an Englishwoman. Yet, unafraid, and this perhaps was strangest of all. Our hands touched.

“’Ba, tik, di’, she said.

*

“This doesn’t help us any. Skip forward a few days.”

“What am I looking for, detective?”

“Something about the tribe, about these words he keeps repeating. Tell me about the island.”

“Ok. July 4th, 1949. Day 6. ‘I have been on the island for close to a week now and feel it is about time to record my initial thoughts on Padawan and its inhabitants.

“The island is small, almost circular in shape and approximately 30 kilometres in diameter ; easily circumnavigated on foot. The weather is hot and humid, though eased somewhat by the cool sea breezes that brush its coast. The shoreline is almost entirely comprised of pleasant white sand beaches, coconut palms and warm, blue waters; a landscape comparable to the islands of south-east Asia, and especially of Thailand’s west coast. The interior is of lush, dense forest. The canopy is so thick that it blocks out much of the day’s sunshine and provides a home for a host of cicadas and similar insects that rarely cease their cacophony. The flora is typical of the tropics, save for an unusual diversity of fungi. I have counted over a hundred such species in a single day’s walking, including a great number I was unable to identify (though my experience in mycology is admittedly limited). Of these I have preserved specimens to be returned to England.

“Despite the biodiversity of the island, there is no great abundance of food, or at least, no great variety. The natives appear to depends almost entirely on fish and crab for sustenance, a diet supplemented with the few fruits to be found – mostly bananas and berries - and of course, coconuts. Many species of spiders, insects and larvae are also eaten. The natives appear especially fond of the latter, in search of which they tap and bore the trunks of trees with sharpened sticks. There are snakes also, though these are seldom eaten. I suspect the natives judge them to be poisonous.

“I am yet to spot any mammal larger than a rat or bat, either in the forest or over the fire, and I often hunger for meat. Though gulls sometimes grace the island in numbers, they are not hunted. The natives appear to hold in great reverence anything graced with the power of flight. They neither hunt nor raise bird or fowl, rendering their apparent indifference to the arrival of our helicopter all the more puzzling.

“In this and other superstitions, they are a somewhat primitive tribe. In all activities, they go without clothes, except for a kind of mask which covers the faces of the adults. These masks tend to be carved from wood and serve to exaggerate aspects of the face; enlarged ears and mouths, elongated noses, eyes set on stalks; that sort of thing. Though somewhat alarming upon first sight, I have seen no indication that they represent violent or warlike tendencies. Rather, the natives appear to be a very peaceful people. Except for a wooden spear, used to fish, the men are without tools and seem almost without language. It is strange to say, but the impression I have is not that they are incapable of making such sounds, rather that they have no use or need for them.”

“Wait. Stop there a moment.”

Upon Quinn’s instruction, Templeton halted his reading.

“Your friend is saying, what? That he thinks the tribe choose not to speak?”

“He writes that he feels they have no need for it.”

“Why would anyone decide not to use language, if they were able? They have nothing to say?”

“There is no such inference. George apparently feels they communicate well enough without it, that they have some other means.”

“Like…?”

“I have no idea.”

“Go on.”

“With tremendous patience I have succeeded in teaching a few words of English to the young girl. She now visits my camp daily and we have spent many hours in one another’s company. As to her motives, I remain unsure. Might she be acting as some sort of spy for her tribe (common in such circumstance), or is she merely interested in my person, this peculiar visitor. If so, then in this she is alone. What is most of note about the natives of the island is their continuing disinterest in myself, my equipment or my activities. I’m sure it sounds silly, reading this back, but I feel almost snubbed, as though I had arrived uninvited at a gathering and my fellow guests were doing their damndest to ignore me.”

“He’s right. It does sound silly. Find me something about the language they do use. This ‘Ba-tik-di’. Was he able to translate at all?”

Professor Templeton quickly leafed through the pages, skim-reading for signs of the tribe’s language. George had always kept extensive notes and diaries on his field trips, and there was a lot of material to get through.

“I have said that the natives appear without language, but this is not quite the case. They speak, but with sounds strange to my ears; not merely foreign, but altogether alien. As far as I can work out, the language consists entirely of inflections on three syllables. These I can best transcribe as ‘Ba-Tik-Di’, though in actuality they are more guttural, almost animal-like. These three ‘words’ appear – in varying order and repetition – to constitute the sum total of their vocabulary. For example, the girl-child refers to herself as ‘Tik-di’, to the Sun as ‘Ba-di’ and the sky as ‘Tik-ba-di’, at least, as far as I can fathom it. I have begun work on dictionary, collecting combinations and definitions as best I am able. Yet, I feel that I am missing something, that this represents only a small part of their communications, that they have, perhaps, some other method altogether. In summary, I have only now begun to scratch the surface of the language of these people. I hope to provide a more extensive report in further communications.”

“This girl he liked. She may be the key. When you visited the island, did you find her?”

“From a distance, that last time. She could tell me nothing.”

“And you, Jacky?”

“Not that time, but before, when I first returned to the island.”

“Tell me about it.”

*

“I reached the island around 9am; it must have been the twelfth of July. Even at this hour, the Sun was real intense. I spotted George on the beach - as we’d arranged – and he signalled for me to land. The sand was firm enough on this stretch and I managed to set the chopper down without issue. George told me he had come here to do some fishing, and asked me to join him. We stripped off to our shorts and waded into the water, about waist deep. There were so many fish, more than I’d ever seen; every shape and colour you can imagine. I can’t remember ever seeing anything so alive, so full of life, before or since. They swarmed around our legs, stealing kisses from the skin.

“George was holding a spear he said he’d fashioned himself. I watched him try to catch some of the larger fish, twisting his body at the waist, his legs firmly planted in the sand. The fish darted here and there; short and panicky. It was almost impossible to catch them, adjusting the angle for refraction, plunging the spear down. Hopeful, more than anything. I tried once George had given up. We caught nothing. Feeling kinda pissed, I speared a ‘crown of thorns’ starfish. They eat up all the coral, George said.

“Anyway, that’s when I saw the girl. Or heard her. She was laughing, standing on the beach behind us. Completely naked. We called her over, asked her to help us. Well, George did, mostly in mime. I passed him the spear and he waved it at her, the starfish still stuck to the point. He mimed spearing, catching and gobbling down an invisible fish. Then rubbed his belly and smiled. The girl thought it was hilarious. It was hilarious. She ran down to meet us and took the spear. You should have seen her then. You could see she was in her element. Her eyes darting and wild, like her prey beneath her. In one movement, she swung her arm back and struck through the water, spearing a large trevally in one clean strike. She made it look real easy.”

“Get to the point, Jacky.”

“Well, we were sitting on the beach afterwards, eating the fish she’d caught and cooked for us. It still looked half raw when she started to tear out little chunks of flesh and pass them to us, but it sure tasted good. Then she spoke to us, in English.”

“What did she say?”

“Nothing, really; not at first. Something stupid. ‘Good. Eat.’ And we did. Then she scooped out the fish’s eye and chewed it down. That kind of put me off my lunch. She spoke again, except this time, we didn’t understand at all. She looked up at the sky, turned to us and said: ‘Sun up. Sun down. Eat God.’”

“Eat God?”

“Eat God. Drink God. She was inviting us to something, least that’s what I thought. After the Sun came up, and went down again – tomorrow night, in other words – we should ‘eat God.’”

“What do you think it means?”

“I didn’t get a chance to ask, though I doubt she could have explained it. George sure as hell didn’t know, not then. And she went crazy just after.”

“How do you mean, crazy?”

“George took out a mirror from his bag, a small hand mirror. He held it up so she could see her reflection. But I swear she didn’t recognise herself. She asked George who it was. Was it God? ‘It’s you’, said George.”

“Did she understand?”

“I don’t know. She snatched the mirror from his hand, held it right up to her face, so that it touched the tip of her nose. She stared real intensely into it, in silence, for a long time. Then she began to scream. We couldn’t stop her. She smashed the glass with her hands, across her hands, leaving bloody cuts all over them. There was blood all over her arms, and the mirror was broken already, but she kept on smashing it, like she had to destroy this image of herself, like she wanted to destroy herself.”

“What did you do?”

“What could I do? It all happened so fast. She stopped screaming and just fixed her eyes on George, wild as a cat. But there was something in them. It was like, I don’t know, you’ll think I’m crazy for sure.”

“Try me.”

“It was like she was trying to tell us something. Like the whole act had been a demonstration. She licked the blood from her hands and fled into the forest. I never saw her or George again, until long after, the last time we went back.”

*

“OK, Jacky. According to your statement before, when you left George you judged him to be completely rational and in sound health. Is that so?”

“That’s correct.”

“Yet he didn’t show up as the next time you went back. Which was when?”

“Two weeks later, as planned. I told you before.”

“You said George had ‘disappeared’. How so?”

“I searched his camp. There was rotten fruit in bowls, no sign of recent fires. I would’ve guessed he’d been away a week at least, and the diary entries proved the same.”

“Here’s what bothers me. When you see George, he seems perfectly fine. He’s got a freak girl for a friend, but he knows where he is, what he’s doing, and he’s keeping meticulous notes. Until right after you leave, when he disappears, abandons his diary and doesn’t return for a month. Finally the media arrive. They track him down, but find him completely out of his mind, babbling about ‘Ba-tik-di’, about smoke that will guide him to God, about an elixir that’s somehow inside of him. So, what the fuck happened?”

“Perhaps he did.”

“Did what?”

“Eat God. Drink God.”

*

“I was woken the following night by the sound of rhythmic drumming, emanating as though from the island itself. The noise encircled me, moved through me, at the same time within, and without. The whole island pulsed to the sound of the drums; it was its own time, its heartbeat.

“I took out my flashlight and switched it on. Jacky had brought new batteries, thank God; now was no time to depend on a wind-up torch. I stepped out of my shelter and stood listening, trying to make out the source of the drumming. It grew louder, and then more distant. The sound would swell from the west and then dwindle to a soft beat, before being taken up once more on the eastern side. It was obvious there was more than a single group at work. I picked out those I judged to be closest and set off in the direction of a neighbouring beach, following the thud of the drum.

“The flashlight I kept on a low setting, illuminating only a few metres before me. The floor of the forest was thick with roots and leaves. Vines and branches curled out from the darkness, like hands reaching to grab me. To find one’s way without a light would have been impossible. As the foliage grew sparser, the drums grew louder. Finally, I emerged upon a clearing. There were voices ahead, and I hastened to switch off the flashlight.

“The moon was full, I remember. It reflected blue from the waves that lapped the shore. I crouched in the dirt, shielding myself behind a mask of ferns and leaves. Ahead of me I saw the drum, a large rounded instrument, almost half the size of the man who held it and covered in something that looked like hide. Six men, naked except for the masks that hid their faces, stood in a circle. Each held aloft a flaming torch, which cast monstrous shadows of their figures on the sand. I believe this effect was intentional. In the half-light of flames and moons, their masks became part of their bodies; they looked half-beast, satyr or Minotaur. With each beat of the drum, the men trod step in the sand, circling and dancing in rhythm around something I couldn’t see.

“From this distance, in the dim light, it was difficult to make out what was happening. I caught flashes of a figure that lay within the circle of men, the silhouette of a woman. She lay on her back on a bed of wood or bamboo, her arms spread as though tied. Her long hair, black in the dark of the night, was spread out around her, as though ritually arranged. She rolled her head left and right. If she spoke I could not hear her. The rhythm…”

“Pause the tape”, Detective Quinn ordered. Jameson, the reporter in question, did as he was asked. “When was this?”

“About a week before we met, according to George. That would have been the night of a full moon.”

“He doesn’t sound like a crazy man. He’s the perfect witness.”

“That was my opinion, detective.”

“You thought him completely sane?”

“I thought him to be in control of his senses and reason. At that moment, anyway.”

“OK, let’s hear the rest.

Jameson restarted the tape.

“…changed, quickening now. The masked men ceased their dance. One of their number stepped forward, standing over the woman. The five moved behind him, obscuring my view. After an interval, the drum slowed its beat, and the men resumed their dance. They repeated the act over and over, each time the drum quickened its tempo.

“The dance stopped. Another man – I hadn’t seen him before now – stepped forward. It was like he emerged from the darkness itself; I would’ve sworn he wasn’t there before. He bent over the woman’s head, pinched her jaw in his fingers and made her drink something. ‘Ba-tik-di’, he said, in a low voice. The six men chanted behind him: ‘Ba-tik-di’.

“The woman laughed, or screamed, rolling her head from left to right. It wasn’t a cry of pain, or pleasure, but of ecstasy.”

“What was it that they made her drink?” interjected Jameson.

“I couldn’t see. There was no way to tell.”

“I understand. What happened next?”

“They dimmed the torches, one by one. The drums slowed; stopped. It was so quiet, all at once, that I could hear my own breathing. My own heartbeat. The drums had ceased all across the island. The men on the beach turned away from the woman and began to walk back towards the forest, towards me. I tried to back away, crawling backwards through the jungle. But without a light, it was impossible. Nothing but thorns and vines. I caught my foot in a root and tripped, cutting myself as I fell. I could hear the men approaching, closer now. They were moving easily through the forest, without any light that I could see. I remember thinking they must be familiar with every tree, every branch and root of every tree, to move that quickly. Where could I hide?

“I switched on the flashlight, full brightness now, and ran. I hacked at the vines with my knife, at branches, at things I couldn’t see. I jumped, flying over roots and stumps. When I looked back I could see the men were merely walking, masked shadows, demons with monstrous heads. They walked quickly, even rhythmically it seemed. They did not run, and yet, they were catching me, moving ever closer. These were not men that hunted me, but shadows, born from the night.”

“And then?”

“I fell. I remember falling. And then darkness. When I awoke, I was with him. With the shaman.”

“Could you describe your esperiences with this man you call shaman?”

The sound of heavy breathing crackled through the tape deck. Almost whispering; an almost-scream.

“George, are you OK?”

“I can’t talk anymore. Not now.”

“Then we’ll take a break. Thank you. We can talk more tomorrow.”

The tape came to stop, nothing but hiss.

“Where’s tomorrow’s tape?” asked Quinn.

“That I believe you have already heard”, replied Jameson. “It is in the possession of Professor Templeton, at the University of Nottingham’s anthropology department.”

“That was the next day? Those mad ravings?”

“The next day, George didn’t show. I walked over to his campsite – George like to work alone, and we camped separately. I found him lying on his back in the sand. I don’t think he recognised me. He looked right through me, like he was seeing something beyond me. He was talking, endlessly talking, but not to me. When I couldn’t get him to answer, I set up the tape beside him. The result was what you heard before.”

“And after?”

“When he stopped talking, he sat up; it’d probably been about half an hour. I tried to engage him in conversation. He saw me now, but would not speak. I left to collect some water; he looked like he needed it. When I returned, he was nowhere to be seen.”

“And later? When you found him, was he OK?”

“Detective, I never saw George again.”

“You just took up his notebooks and left? Without looking for him?”

“I looked for George, for three full days. I believe the tribe were hiding him. There is no other explanation.”

“And the notebooks?”

“I don’t know anything about any notebooks.”

Templeton, thought Quinn. I knew he was hiding something.

*

“Sir, do you have an appointment?”

Quinn eyeballed the receptionist. Not now.

“Get out of my way, lady,”

“I have to insist. Professor Templeton is very busy.”

“He’ll make time.”

Quinn brushed past her and pounded on the door of Templeton’s office.

“Yes?” came the call from inside.

Quinn threw open the door. “You better start talking”, he said. “Right now.”

“I’m sorry professor”, Rose called from behind. “He just-”

“It’s OK, Rose. This is detective Quinn. He’s investigating George’s disappearance.”

“Oh.”

“Ask Jacky to come in for a minute, will you?” He gestured to Quinn. “Please, take a seat detective.”

After a moment, Jacky knocked and opened the door without waiting for an answer.

“Come in, Jacky. Close the door behind you.”

Jacky closed the door and took a seat beside Templeton. No words passed, but a question flashed between them. Templeton nodded in affirmation, and turned to the detective.

“We hadn’t heard from George for close to a month”, he begun. “The journalist’s report had not yet been published. We were both worried.”

“So you got there before the media?”

“Yes, thankfully. Jacky led us to the campsite, where we found George’s notebooks. George however, was nowhere to be seen.

“Walking on one of the forest trails, we came across a secluded pool. There was a girl bathing beside a small waterfall. Jacky recognised her as the girl he’d seen on the beach before.”

“This true, Jacky?”

“Yes.”

“She was naked, but not alone. Two boys swam in the waters around her. Their play was curious to watch. One moment they treated her as the child she was, splashing water over her, or diving down behind her. The next, they attended her as though she were a queen, even a goddess, except-”

“Except what, Templeton?”

“Except, they had no fear of touching her. One combed her hair, and kissed at her neck. While the second, he kissed her between her legs.”

“Are you saying this was a rape?”

“No, nothing like that. It was sexual, of course, but also innocent, beautiful rather than depraved.”

“The girl was underage. Way underage by the sound of it.”

“These people are not of our culture, detective. They do not abide by our laws.”

“You confirm this, Jacky?”

“Every word.”

“Continue.”

“It was then we saw George, or who we recognised as such. He stepped out of the bushes. He’d been watching, just as we were. The boys ran away when they saw him. The girl drew him into the pool with her. She peeled off his clothes. They held each other like that, for a moment. It began to rain. The drops formed tiny pockets in the water, creating an illusion. As the water escaped from the surface, it appeared to be raining upwards, rather than down. And the two of them looked - what’s the word - ‘beatific’. They were in wonder; it was as though they each had an aura.”

“Quit with the poetry.”

“They lay on their backs in the water, floating effortlessly. They lay there for what seemed like hours. They were happy, more than happy; they were in a state of bliss. In ecstasy, in permanent orgasm. Yet at the same time, innocent, like beings whom have moved beyond desire. Enlightened.”

“What did I just say?”

“Detective,” Jacky broke in. “We don’t expect you to understand. This is why we couldn’t say anything before. But something had changed in George. You could see it, feel it, just by being in their presence. He had shared in some secret, something powerful.”

“Why didn’t you call to him?”

“We did, once the girl left.”

“We sat on the edge of the pool,” resumed Templeton, “as George got dressed. He came over to us, as to two strangers. He smiled then; there was some faint trace of recognition, some remote memory. ‘George’, I said, ‘George, do you remember me?’”

“What did he say?”

“Ba”, said Jacky.

“Excuse me?”

“That’s all he would say. Ba-tik-di.”

*

Tik-di has not returned since the incident with the mirror. Something scared her in her reflection. I am convinced it was more than the reaction of a primitive being, an animal, confronted with an image they do not yet recognise as themselves. No, I am certain Tik-di recognised the image before her as her own. And she sought to detroy it.

Ba-tik-di. What does it mean? Is this their God? Whenever these words appear together, in sequence, they take on a special significance; one which I am quite unable to fathom. One meaning, or shade of a meaning, is of the ‘divine’ – at least, that is how I would best attempt to translate it.

Divine. Of, or pertaining to a god. Addressed, appropriated, or devoted to God. Godlike; characteristic of, or befitting a deity. Heavenly. Celestial. Proceeding from God.

The same word appears in conjunction with certain plants on the island, particularly in reference to some kinds of fungi, and one species of vine. Ba-tik-di. Di-vine. Vine. What coincidences we find in linguistics!

Is this what Tik-di is referring to, when she speaks of eating, of drinking God? I must try to ask her, however limited our communication. Perhaps she can show me, can somehow initiate me into this secret.

Ba-tik-di. This phrase, this enigma, forms the core of the tribe’s belief system. It is, in a very real sense, what lies behind everything, the ‘meaning of it all’. To understand these people, I must discover what lies beneath these words, the mystery that justifies their existence. I must experience it.

These words concluded the notebooks George had left. There was nothing else. Detective Quinn felt no closer to solving the mystery of his disappearance. He had questioned all witnesses, listened to the tapes over and over, read the notebooks from cover to cover. He felt he knew no more than when he had begun. What did it all mean?

He realised now, reading over the notebooks again, that George had felt exactly the same. He had studied these people. He had lived alongside them and, in a limited way, had begun to converse with them. Yet he felt he had learnt nothing.

‘I must experience”, George had written. There was no understanding without the experience.

Quinn knew then he had to go, to the island. There was no other choice. He too had to experience.

*

“Drink”, she said. “It is time.”

Detective Quinn was seated on the beach, within a circle of masked men. The girl – Tik-di – took the cup from the shaman and offered it to him. What she urged him to drink was of a vile green colour, a terrible soup of vines and leaves.

“What is it?” he asked of the shaman.

There was silence within the group, as though the question was beyond answering. All closed their eyes, as though in meditation. The shaman alone kept his eyes open. He removed his mask. It was George ,as he had guessed.

“It is God”, said George. “Now, drink.”

Quinn stared down at the liquid that filled his cup. He had come this far. This was it, the secret he had been sent to discover. They were offering it to him. Their secret. Their God.

It had not been difficult to find George. It had not been difficult at all. Upon his arrival on the island, four masked men had immediately escorted Quinn into his presence. But this man was not George, not anymore. The face was the same, but the eyes had forever changed. They had brought him before their shaman. And then, Quinn knew he had not been looking for George at all.

Quinn gulped down half the liquid in one wretched swallow. It was even more vile to the taste than to the eye, more bitter than anything he had tasted. He felt his stomach retch. Tears filled his eyes. He looked up at his shaman in silent plea.

“Drink all”, said the shaman. “You must drink all.”

Quinn emptied the cup and immediately felt sick. He tried to stand, to run, to find somewhere to vomit. His knees gave way beneath him and he crashed dizzily to the ground, vomiting into the sand. He felt the hands of men roll him onto his back. The heat of fever coursed through his body. The clouds above him swirled and danced, like snakes in the sky, inviting him to join them. Quinn felt his self flying up to meet them, surrendered himself to the experience, and closed his eyes.

A wave moved through his body. His body became that wave, his legs coming into a life all of their own, pulsing and writhing in ecstasy. Hairs pricked up across his skin; tiny needles, standing to attention. He heard their chanting. The shaman – George – was blowing smoke over him. The smoke took on the shape of the snake. It became spirit, and entered him.

Twin snakes danced behind his eyelids. They twisted and turned, separating and rejoining, forming a circle. Endless. Limitless. A cosmos without circumference.

We are inventing new worlds, thought Quinn. We are making maps, raising flags in new dimensions. Vast mysteries are rising within me. I must break through these walls. The elixir is here. The magnet is mind, pulling me clear into eternity. Everything automatic, without medium or instrument, without transposition or filter. A universe of thought, where time has no meaning.

Why is there so much static? Why are my eyes so full of tears?

He heard the chanting, songs from within and without, voices to guide him forward. He was enveloped by the voices, and the light. A light of impeccable whiteness, of unbearable intensity.

He opened his eyes and saw the girl staring down at him, smiling at him. Your smile precedes catastrophe, he thought. Every second is its own eternity.

What if in this final moment of awakening, your God is silent, signifying nothing?

*

“Quinn? Hello, Quinn?”

Quinn. He felt he had known the name once. It sounded familiar, as a memory, even a false one, may seem somehow familiar. The name belonged to another time, to a self that had once existed, where there now was none. Where there was now only One.

“Ba-Tik- Di”, he said. And he smiled.

.


© Copyright 2019 RGilham. All rights reserved.

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