Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Book of Sarah

It is I, Tomas... And Sarah too. They're having a 'throwin''... That's a term they use now, but it originally stems from an ancient Red Paint dialect. It sounded something like this---- A trovin ova bon, and even the surviving 'Reddies' (a nickname) don't know what it means. About twohundred and fifty of us are winding our way through the pines. Each holds a small, flickering candle. Not more than twentyfive or thirty are true R.P.'s by blood. The rest are Piney neighbors who have lived right by them too long and absorbed a lot of Red Paint ways. Edith says they got 'a taint o the paint.' It's cold. The humans are wrapped in well-worn woolen layers. The Reddies too. They are, after all still human. We 'blood folk' as they call us are similarly attired. It is not that we have anything to fear from old Jack Frost. But rather a desire to fit in. And I have to agree, it is comfortable. Sarah looks like a fetching, turn of the twentieth century immigrant. Baylah has her head wrapped Erika Badu style. I look like a cold-campus college kid straight out of Penn State or Michigan  or some place like that. Our feet crunch on a thin layer of snow and ice. Some of the others softly chant an old song. And some do not. We approach the partially hidden entrance to a cavern. There are not many such places in the Jersey flatlands, but apparently they have found one. And from what I am told, have been using it for centuries. We file insside. Orange candlelight dances around the rocky outcrops. The passage is narrow. It snakes down into the earth. No one sings anymore. A ghostly scattering of gruesome pictographs decorate the cold, hard walls. Ours is not the greatest colony of Reddies. Most are found far to the north along the Canadian, Newfoundland coast. That is where the first migrants apparently  made land fall all those milleniuum ago. But ours maintain a strict orthodoxy. And it seems they have attracted a certain number of converts from among the ranks of the Pineys. Edith whispers to me -----Tomas? You seen a few of those human bonfires they used to light up back in the day, right?..... I assume she means Inquisitional Spain and answer in the affirmative,..... Well, this is gonna be a little bit like that, but with a taste of say a rustic Mardi Gras and a reality TV show thrown in to spark things up a little....We hear an angry 'shush' from up ahead. Everyone files into a large-ish, roughly circular chamber. Some of the Leaders use their candles to light torches affixed to the walls. Various gradations of shadows dance all about us. And in the center rests one of the most unusual objects that I have ever seen. It is large, at least as large as a small bus. Like the ten passenger jitney buses they use to ferry people around airports or along Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City. But this thing has a threatening ancient menace. It is a coarse rendering of a huge bull, almost prehistoric, probably an aurochs. It stands twelve feet tall and measures about twenty feet long. But it is not solid. The monstrous carving (probably from a single quartz boulder) is hollow. A matching 'saddle' seals a small opening along the back. A stone fire pit occupies the ground between its legs. The congregants (for that is what we are) move about, forming a circle around this centerpiece. Drums sound. A shuffling dance begins to wind counter-clockwise 'round the idol. A 'Caller' takes his place under the head of the beast. He is blind. A white haze covers his useless corneas. He begins a chant and rhythmically shifts his weight from foot to foot. Every so often his claw of a hand shoots out and he grabs someone. Those chosen join him under the bovine head. And then the dancing stops. Each of the 'grabbed ones' is given a razor sharp, silver knife, which they use to silently saw off a little finger. No one says a word. A woman gathers the severed digits in a metal bowl and drowns them in what appears to be a strong acid. The contents fizz. A froth is formed. She pours everything onto the stone floor. The blind one gets down on his hands and knees and examines the bones. The newly mutilated are given draughts of something to numb their pain and rags to staunch the blood. And then the blind one begins to call out names... four names... two men and two women. Those called step forward. Two young men wrestle the cloudy, crystaline saddle from its resting place. The bull is opened. The four 'Ridders' remove their clothing and climb inside. They tenderly assist each other. We can see them through the foggy, semi-precious surface. The interior chamber is small. They can move around, but just a little. A few buckets of water are thrown in with them. The saddle is jammed back into place. The bull is closed. Some of the people have been carrying kindling. Others retrieve armloads of wood from alcoves. They deposit their flamable burdens into the pit and return to their places in the circle. Another woman comes forward. She ignites the crisp, dry fuel. It begins to burn. The smoke is drawn up and disappears through cracks and fissures of the arching roof. The rest of the celebrants fall back.  They reverently watch their encapsulated brethren contort and writhe, as they futily attempt to escape the searing heat. And we witness the spectacle of human  beings roasting and boiling and charring in their own juice. No one so much as coughs. The screams of the victims issued forth through small openings drilled into the nostrils, mouth, ears and rectum of the beast, blending into a hellish song. Shamans quickly called out interpreting the 'music..'  Baylah and Sarah and I stood close together with our arms about each other, waiting for it to end. And the 'singing' went on for a very long time..........

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