The Javan Mystery : A novella

The wooden ship creaked, groaned and nudged its way through the ocean sea. It’s wooden beams, ropes, sails and its occupants; including the rats and the weavels and the bugs and the humans had been whipped and flayed by all manner of weathers and climes as they sailed on around the globe entire. Stars their constant companions had lit the way and smiled their merry dance, aided by their salt-smelling parched and weathered navigational charts and time pieces.

The victuals on board had long spoiled and the biscuits and the flour and the rice were infested with a cornucopia from the natural history museum. Many on board had succumbed to scurvy, their teeth bleeding.

But not he. He down below working away in his little cupboard of a berth; oblivious that the orange marmalade his mother had packed for him, and which he sucked a finger of every day – had saved him from the dreaded scurvy. He worked away furiously night and day. During day working with the little daylight that flitted in from the outside realm through the port hole, and at night working with the light from the tar lamp – with the rhythm of the ship and the slop of the water against the hull lulling him deep into his world and imagination. Occasionally he did venture up on deck to survey the ‘outside realm’ – but it was mostly an infinite ocean with the same horizon and a limitless sky – and he would then head back down into the more majestic and interesting and more ‘real’ realm of his ideas, thoughts and imagination.

During his time on the South American Peninsula a little thought had popped into his mind. Initially just a seed or acorn but as he and the ship ventured farther and as he trampled through numerous forests and up mountain tops and across raging torrents  – the little ‘thought seed’ was further watered and nourished, and finally fertilised on the strange islands off the coast of South America – and now this seed had blossomed into a fully fledged idea. A massive tree was growing with leaves and branches a-many – and he could barely contain the foliage. He was excited, feverishly so – but also fearful…

Here was an idea, that if unleashed upon a un-ready world, might prove its undoing or (in his more optimistic moments) provide the salvation and light, that the world truly needed. Everywhere he went, all he saw, all that tongues spoke to him – had the stench of ignorance about it. He worked away furiously scribbling away in his papers – collating, organising, mulling, chewing, figuring out. Had he gone mad?

He was sure he hadn’t, but that’s what mad people say anyway wasn’t it?

Was he about to give birth to a monster that would engulf the world like a fiery deluge and make shreds of the divine? Who did he think he was? It brought him no good feelings when he contemplated the havoc this idea might wreak on civilisation and peoples minds, but it was an idea steeped in facts, and figures, and numbers, and tables, and ah yes, observations!

His mind had munched what it saw – and was now ready to compute an answer to explain the facts. The idea wasn’t his. It arose logically – per se – a posteriori – E pluribus unum. But he still slept badly, if at all.

He tossed and turned with the ship when asleep and even when awake. Sometimes in the middle of the night when the ship was sailing on glass he would lie on the wooden deck; still warm from the day’s sun, and cast his gaze upwards towards the stars, and he’d watch them wink on and off as they trailed across the velvet sky. And suddenly from out of nowhere he’d be gripped with the fingers of infinity and they’d walk him across a vastness he could barely fathom –  a vastness his mind reeled from but a vastness his lips smiled to. In such moments he knew there was more, and the silly, small, toy thoughts of men who knew little, were no match for such grandeur and beauty.

One day the ship stopped to load supplies on a port off the Island of Java. He decided to accompany the ships officers for a brief foray on land and also to restock on ink and paper supplies. The port was a buzzing hive of all the sordid activity one expects in a port far-flung across the globe: supplies loaded on ships, the yelling of orders, the traipsing of barter and haggle, the mad rush and nasally squawks of pigs and chickens and goats as they were loaded on board, the stink of shit and urine and the rotting vegetation, and the smell of smoke – and all this spiked with the sweet zephyrs from succulent fruits and citruses and the seductive aromas of spices. How the mind boggled when confronted with such alien whiffs!

It was in one of the taverns; if tavern is the right word to describe this niggardly establishment, more a fetid cesspool of undesirables and cattle under a straw roof – it was in one of the taverns that he first heard the rumour. The rumour was of a discovery made not far in the interior, of some strange skeletal remains. The story he heard was that some fellows were off looking for precious metals and gold if they could find it, and as they rummaged through the dirt, one of the fellas caught a glint of something white protruding from out the black dirt, and as he went to take a better look at it – lo and behold – it was femur, and the remains of the rest of its long dead and departed owner not far below. Being a rather ‘industrious’ band of gold-seeking ruffians they’d established that a recent landslide caused by the heavy rains had dislodged a huge chunk of the mountain and caused it to fall into the valley below – thus leaving chance and faith or whatever you may to call it, to play her cards…

And play her cards she did, for at that very moment in that stinking tavern, at that very moment when this little tale was told – there happened to be present a man – yes he the one we have been talking of all along – who’s ears would prick to attention and whose rapt mind would seize the tale and whose imagination would not let go, till he himself had lain his eyes on these mysterious remains. The site was not far inland, and as they were in no particular hurry, he decided to take a look and bring them back to the ship…

He’d never seen anything like it! Back on board the ship, the bones after being unloaded from their boxes, were now placed on the deck and the pieces put together jigsaw puzzle like, and when that was done – they all took a few paces back and stared at the beast that was staring back from it seemed a time long ago. Staring back from yonder a time long lost to scribes and the memories of men. What was it? It had a skull like a man’s but smaller, arms and legs like a man’s but smaller. Half human, half beast? What was it?

The remains sent a shiver across the line of the assembled men and also a sense of dread. They were a superstitious lot and talk of bad omens evil doings were whispered from ear to ear.

But he was smiling. Grinning more then smiling – and it was the first time since the voyage began that he had done so. It was a broad grin that flooded his face and his eyes. Almost as if the sun had come out from within his deep melancholia. He had awaken.

He took the remains down below and began a careful examination. He had no reliable method of dating them. He knew they were old. Very old. On the site of their discovery he had deduced that they had been buried under 100 feet of earth when the landslide had dislodged them from their ancient resting place. And there was something else – the bones had strange markings on them here and there. Not natural and certainly not caused recently – the markings were as old as the bones themselves. And then there was the skull itself. It had the unmistakeable features of a man about it – the brow ridges, the nose, the cranial arch and the overal shape and the shallow of the eyes – but there was something primitive and not human about it too. Half man and half beast. Some strange race that lived many aeons hence? A hundred feet of earth meant it was certainly more than a hundred thousand years old. Possibly even more depending on the rate of soil deposition in these parts.

The ship continued to creak and groan as it ambled its way though the ocean sea. The star light that had travelled through imaginable tracts of space and time to get here finally reached its destination shone its radiance on the dark beams of the ship as they toiled away through the midnight darkness. Deep down below deck the only light that shone was that of the tar lamp, as it gleamed off the little skull that lay on the table, and the scratchings of pen on paper echoed through the gloom. And the tar lamp continued to shine but it never could get inside to illuminate the eye sockets of the skull – they remained in darkness for now, seeing all, but being seen by none…

A long dead spirit from the past had awoken from its turgid slumbers, and it was about to change the world.

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