This is the concluding second part of a short story. If you missed Part One, go here.
The Sacrifice (Part Two)
We traveled together quietly like that for the rest of the day, drifting smoothly through changing landscapes. We passed through thick jungle with overhanging vines that dipped low into the water, and watched the green vista turn to sandy brown as thick grasses lined the banks and fields spread out beyond our vision. We sat in peaceful silence as the sun rested low between the trees and cast its rays in orange and pink across the sky. It was when the first star had appeared that I heard the drumming, like a low rhythmic rumble in the distance. I turned to check if he had heard it too, but he gave no sign. The sky turned from pink to violet to deep blue, and Venus’ bothers and sisters appeared above us, twinkling like fairy dust, and the drumming grew steadily louder. I felt a growing unease in my belly as we approached the gathering but he did not react, he just sat hunched over, staring out across the water to the right. By the time the boat pulled into the grassy bank, the drumming was so loud it was like being in the middle of a carnival, with strange voices whooping and crying out to the music. As the boat bumped against the soft bank the Baboon skipped past me and leaped into the long grass, turning to look at me as if to say Come on, then.
I sighed heavily and picked up the axe from the bottom of the boat, carefully concealing it under my blanket which I drew around my shoulders. Carefully, I stepped onto the grassy bank. It was the first time that I had set foot on solid ground for quite some time, and it felt good. I pulled in the rope from where it lay in the water and casually looped it around a nearby tree, although I knew that the boat wasn’t going anywhere without me. Walking slowly through the thick grass, I followed the Baboon between the trees. He loped along steadily in front of me, his tail swishing between long stalks of grass which were crowned with fluffy seeds. He seemed to be sure of the way as we steadily approached the raucous drumming, and I followed quietly. I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t happy about it. There were so many things that I didn’t understand about this journey, and now that my task seemed clear to me, it just didn’t seem fair.
Suddenly we broke through the forest and I found myself standing at the edge of a large clearing. The drumming instantly stopped as the small crowd turned to look at me as if on cue, and I nervously looked back. They were dark-skinned tribal people, dressed only in small leather thongs or skirts and richly adorned with bright jewelry, the way native Africans often look. Their faces were painted with white clay and they were sitting around a small fire with drums and rattles and shakers dotted between them. They looked as if they had come for a celebration. Some of them stood now to greet us and I bowed awkwardly. As I met their eyes one by one, they acknowledged me with slight nods. The Baboon started to walk towards the group, his head held high and his tail making low swooshes across the ground. I followed him, and as we approached the center, the crowd parted to reveal a dark figure standing behind the fire. She was small in stature and her face behind the white clay was ancient. She was dressed in long dark robes which fell to her feet, and she was standing beside a wide flat stone seat. She motioned to us to join her, and we took our places around the fire.
The musicians took up their drums once again, but quietly this time, and as their gentle rhythm set a comfortable pace, the Old Woman started to talk. She spoke in a language I couldn’t understand but somehow it was familiar, and her tone of voice and intonation was like listening to running water. Someone handed around cups of hot sweet liquid, and as I drank I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything in a very long time. I stared into the fire and watched the beautiful red and orange flames swirling about each other, and listened to the Old Woman’s voice. I felt like I was being told an old, old story; a story which I knew from a long time ago and, although I didn’t understand the words, I knew that it was a story I would never forget. The heat from the fire warmed my face and my tired body, and as I listened to the melodic rise and fall of the Old Woman’s voice, I lost myself in the flames. It seemed that I sat there for a very long time, riding the rhythm of the drums, caught in the swirling dance of the flames and the warmth of the fire. As I slipped into a trance I became drowsy and my vision began to blur.
What happened next seemed like a dream, but it was so real that I still shudder when I think about it. Something in the Old Woman’s voice compelled me to move and I stood up with a sudden energy and brought the axe out sharply from beneath my blanket. The Baboon turned and looked up at me, his face expressionless. He rose from the ground on all fours and loped slowly to the wide flat stone, lying down on it as if he was going to sleep. I raised the axe high above my head with both hands. He looked up at me calmly and as our eyes met I fell into his gaze. Suddenly my world seemed to shift beneath me and I slid downwards into the deep black eyes which opened like pools of dark water. Down I fell into the black depths and I felt the Baboon move deeply inside me, his presence rose from somewhere inside my being, filling every cell of my body until I was him, he was me, and we were one. The axe fell and as it hit the solid stone, waves of pain shot through my arms and struck my heart. The Baboon’s head fell immediately away from his body and into the waiting hands of the Old Woman. The tribe was drumming and calling out in a loud frenzy of whoops and screams and I watched the Old Woman walk away quickly, wrapping the Baboon’s head in a cloth as she disappeared into the crowd. I looked down on the bloody body beneath me and dropped the axe softly onto the Baboon’s chest which seemed to give a final heave. The loud voices and drumming around me had become deafening. As I turned to walk away, my vision suddenly darkened and a sickening dizziness came over me. I stumbled, confused, tried to turn back, then as my legs crumpled beneath me and I slipped from consciousness, I felt strong arms catch me before I hit the ground.
Misha Hoo is an Australian writer with a passion for nature, spirituality and exploring the human experience. Her poetry is forthcoming in Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, she is the author of Tarot in Black & White and is regularly featured in the Connect Magazine. Misha is completing her BA in World Religion and English Literature at the University of New England.