T’ung J’en [fellowship with man]
Onboard the Forcados Princess, Forrest Avery and Henry Dawson cringed beneath the gaze of the monster. Its one elongated eye studied them thoughtfully as the men watched the silhouettes of their comrades dissolving inside the alien. Four of Chi-Ukwu’s tentacles slid around the boat, almost completely enveloping it. The two surviving men, nearly suffocated by the fishy stench of the beast, crawled on their hands and knees in search of weapons while the monster began paddling back to the village where the natives had accepted it as their god. Dawson, at the rear of the boat, located the crate containing his guns. It was the only one that had been bolted in place. He unlatched the top of the box and lifted the lid open. He reached inside, pulled out his elephant gun, the Gewehr 88, loaded it with trembling fingers, and rolled onto his back.
Dawson pointed the rifle straight above his own head, aiming into the middle of one of Chi-Ukwu’s giant tentacles, and he fired. The sound of the concussion nearly deafened him; but the huge bullet seemed to have no affect on the monster. It continued slogging along through the water. Some sort of fluid was now raining down on Dawson, though. In the dark, caused by the nearly complete encapsulation of the boat by the creature’s arms, Dawson couldn’t tell what it was that was pouring onto him. He hoped it was the creature’s life-blood. Dawson fired again and again, emptying the rifle’s magazine. The two men were thrown back and forth, trapped in the monster’s implacable grip. Avery’s left wrist was broken by the time the beast sat the flat-bottomed boat down in the clearing. Dawson had several broken ribs. Both men, covered with black slime that had flowed out of the monster’s wounds, lay gasping for breath as the creature backed away from the boat.
Hesitantly, the Urhobo warriors crawled out of their mud huts and considered the shaken and disoriented white men. With a rumble of tongue-clicking and whispers, the natives approached the boat. Professor Avery had found a cache of rags and he was using his good hand to try and wipe away the oily residue on his skin. It seemed to have penetrated into his flesh, leaving him tattooed with greenish-black welts. He slid over to the landed boat’s captain and offered to help him up. Dawson only moaned and shook his head. He knew some things were broken inside and had no desire to be moved. He tried to twist his head and trunk so as to be able to see the savages; but gave it up because of the shooting pain in his midsection. He lay back against the side of the boat. Avery picked up Dawson’s rifle and aimed it towards the natives. They had either not seen a gun before or had no fear of it. They continued their approach.
The scientist pointed the gun skyward while shouting out greetings in a variety of dialects. The crowd shuffled forward. Most of them had spears in their hands. A few had primitive bows and were sliding arrows into them. When they got within ten feet of the boat, one man among them walked forward and put his hand on the boat. He was a tall fellow wearing a feathered head-dress atop an intricately carved wooden mask. He held up an arm festooned with bracelets and amulets made of bone and feathers. He planted the shaft of his spear into the ground in front of him and said, “Nibo lo ti wa?”
The professor, happy to hear a phrase he understood, answered, “Mowa lati Amerika.”
“By George, we can speak with the savages,” said Captain Dawson. He raised himself up a bit and called out, “Se egbo Geesi?”
He wasn’t surprised to hear the response: “Mi ogbe Geesi”.
“Well, we converse in their language, then,” whispered Forrest Avery to his sole remaining companion. He lowered the rifle and handed it to Dawson. Dawson, knowing the rifle was empty, lowered it gently onto the deck. Avery gestured to the natives with his palms extended, hoping this would be seen as a non-aggressive sign. It drew no reaction. The Urhobo, now surrounding the small boat, seemed tense as piano strings. There was some mumbling in the crowd. Avery realized he was sweating profusely and that the slime that had dripped onto him was hot and beginning to form boils on his skin.
“My friend has been injured,” he yelled, in the native dialect.
The aborigine who was now leaning against the small craft nodded his head. He climbed aboard.
Avery shook the native’s hand and then fought his way through the wreckage in search of the crate that had been filled with medicine and medical supplies. It took him nearly ten minutes; but he ultimately found what he was looking for. The crate had been torn to bits, but he found some soggy elastic bandages, squeezed them dry as best he could, and hurried back to Henry Dawson. Dawson was coughing up blood and wiping it on his shirtsleeve. He used the gun as a crutch and lifted himself up from the deck with a gasp. He dropped down onto a wooden bench and tried to unbutton his shirt. He was unable to lift his arms. Avery knelt before him, undid the buttons of the other man’s shirt and slowly, carefully, slid the shirt over Dawson’s shoulders and down his back.
Avery was at a loss, trying to determine what he should do. Dawson’s body was torn badly. Avery had found no clean water, dry bandages, or any kind of antiseptic. One of Henry Dawson’s ribs stuck jagged to the right of his sternum and his chest was distorted and swollen from the tossing about he had suffered.
The native touched Avery on the shoulder and pushed past him. After touching Dawson’s broken skin with his filthy hands, he began to chant. He reached into a bag that was tied around his neck and pulled out some small bones. He threw them onto the deck. He studied them, picked them up, and threw them again, several times. Then he put the bones back in the bag and stumbled about on the deck while singing. Neither Avery nor Dawson could make out the words of the song. When he was finished, he smiled and said, “Gbo-gbo e wa daa-daa”.
“So,” grunted Dawson, “everything is okay, is it?” He had a coughing fit and then held his sides as tears ran down his cheeks. “Avery, there’s a flask of whiskey in my hip pocket.” He leaned forward. “Give me a drink and then rub some on the worst of it. When you’ve done that, wrap up my ribs. That’s all you can do.” Professor Avery held the bottle up to Dawson’s lips and the injured man took three greedy swallows. “Okay, get on with it,” said Dawson.
Avery took a slug of the liquor himself and recapped the flask. “I’ll try to find something clean and dry to apply it with,” he promised Henry Dawson. When he returned, with a stinking and wet towel, the captain had passed out and had fallen off the bench. Professor Avery wrung out the towel, bent down, and poured some liquor onto the center of it. Gently, he dabbed it onto the riverboat captain’s wounds. Finally, he took a deep breath and stretched the dirty rag around the other man’s chest. Only then, did he take a close look at his own broken wrist. He tried pulling it straight out.
The next thing he was aware of, he was sitting on the ground next to Henry Dawson, leaning against one of the native’s shacks. Directly in front of him, towering over him, was Chi-Ukwu. The creature’s eye was distended in the white men’s direction. Avery felt no fear of the beast. Oddly, he felt a strange affinity to it. He looked to his right and saw that Dawson was still asleep. Blood had seeped through the towel that encircled his chest and ribs. The boils on the skin of both men had exploded and were seeping profusely. Avery was surprised to realize that neither his broken wrist nor his open wounds hurt. In fact, they tingled as if a mild electrical charge was surging through them. He lifted his left hand and tentatively shook it. The wrist seemed to be intact; but his hand was white as ivory.
The giant beast waddled away from the men and, when it was about fifty yards away, the natives, heads facing to the ground, surrounded it. Some of them had drums and they began to pat the leather heads of the drums with the palms of their hands. In a few minutes, the soft tapping turned into rhythmic pounding. The Urhobo began dancing in a circle with the creature in their center. Occasionally, one of them would leap high in the air with a hysterical shout.
Henry Dawson leaned over and tapped Avery on the shoulder. He whispered, “I know this sounds crazy, but, I feel pretty good.”
Avery nearly jumped off the ground. He hadn’t expected to find the battered old riverboat captain conscious, let alone to hear him talking cheerfully. Dawson began unwrapping the now-dried towel from his ribs and both men were startled to see the redness was gone and that the one broken rib that had torn through the skin had somehow disappeared from view. The man’s chest, though, had a glossy white shine to it and, while he had been a hairy specimen before, his chest, his arms, and his shoulders now looked shaven.
“What’s happening?” Dawson wondered aloud. He probed his flesh tentatively with his index fingers. It didn’t hurt, not even when he pushed around his ribcage; but, strangely, his body felt spongy and soft, as if his bones had dissolved. He pressed the palm of his left hand against his stomach and the hand passed deeply inside. The knuckles of his hand barely showed around the putty-like material that had once been flesh and bone. With a frightened intake of breath, he pulled his hand back and watched as his stomach slowly regained its natural symmetry.
As the natives danced wildly around and around the alien creature, a hundred voices began yelling, “Eze Chi-Ukwu,”. The beast had squatted down, covering its feet with its bloated, jellylike body, and seemed to be undulating in rhythm with the chant.
“What the hell is going on?” mused Professor Avery. “Dawson, can you understand what they’re saying?” The scientist was so engrossed in the scene unfolding in front of him that he didn’t notice his companion was now standing up. “Dawson,” he said, in a louder voice, “Are you still conscious?” Avery turned his head towards the captain and was surprised to see the man standing above him, actually towering above him, since Henry Dawson had grown three feet taller. The man’s eyes were glazed and his neck seemed to have disappeared into his shoulders. Before Avery’s horrified eyes, Dawson’s legs began to wither and collapse beneath the weight of his rapidly-growing, egg-shaped body.
“Oh, dear God.” The words escaped unbidden from Avery’s lips. He pressed against the ground with his hands and tried to rise, to get away from the deformed and rapidly changing man at his side; but he groaned in both fear and pain when he discovered that his arms had no strength. They had become flabby, wobbly, useless appendages hanging at his sides. He rolled over and tried to rise up on his knees; but his legs, too, seemed to have lost any muscle tone. With terror, he felt a churning inside himself and, with a boiling sound, his own torso began to lengthen and grow broader. Within seconds, his unnatural growth jammed his face against the hovel that the two men had been leaning against. With a jerky movement of his neck, he forced himself to rise up until his oddly elongated body was pressed diagonally against the building. When he felt his back begin to sag, he allowed himself to roll around and face the tribe, the monster, and the oddly misshapen creature that had recently been Henry Dawson.
“Henry, what’s happening to us?” the doctor cried out.
Dawson, his head now the size of a softball that was currently melting between his shoulders, tried to say something. The sound that came out was more of a buzzing sound than that of a human voice. He began stumbling toward the dancing, leaping, natives and the unearthly leviathan they seemed to be worshipping.
“Akpo r’Oba! Eze Chuk-wa!” These were the words the men were yelling in cadence. Then, one of them spotted Henry Avery, still about twenty feet out of the circle, but shambling in towards the group. The dancer stopped and pointed. Eventually, the entire group grew quiet and shuffled to a stop. Chi-Ukwu’s eye-stalk languidly rose above the crowd. A greeting droned from somewhere inside the monster and the Urhobo men began stomping their feet insanely. A new chant started and grew spontaneously until it filled the hot African sky.
“Eze Obgunabali!” The sound ripped through the clearing and into the jungle. The group of nearly one hundred painted and tattoed men danced and stomped their way towards Henry Avery, who sat, rather comically looking, egglike, in fact, just thirty feet in front of Doctor Forrest Avery.
Avery was, himself, nearly overcome by the Tinnitus-like whistling or humming sounds that had begun to drown out all the other sounds. But the last thing he heard was a dozen men without shoes, wearing clothing made from the jungle, looking happy as pandas, singing “Welcome Agwunsi healer.”
The old professor had never been happier.