2017-08-28 14:01 short-story fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx Benjamin Brood


When Sos died he did not stop. To be placed in the trees, one needs to be absolutely still, but Sos still walked and spoke, complaining to everyone that he was dead.

The elders had never seen anything like this and weren't sure what to do. He could not live with them, the dead can't be with the living. When the elders met they decided he must be taken away, to the water.

The ocean was a long way away. They believed that's where the spirits of the dead go and that for some unknown reason the jungle kept his body upright, separated from his spirit. Maybe when he got to the ocean the natural order of things would be restored. At least, one of them said, he would be out of the village.

Two were chosen to take him there, Unnuk and Pukiq. They were promised eternal gratitude and nicer homes in the village. Sos was told he was going away and he had no reaction other than his usual complaints. He complained that morning as he was walked out along the path.

The journey was not easy. Unnuk was bitten by a scorpion and stumbled along feverishly for a day. Pukiq had trouble keeping Sos on the path, he kept wandering off into the green growth. On the fourth day they passed by a colony of monkeys, who taunted them and threw fruit and feces at them from the trees.

And Sos, Sos would not be quiet. How is it, Unnuk said to Pukiq, that the dead can be so noisy? And not just the complaining. He was always tapping, or groaning, or twitching, or going through their bags as if looking for something. When they asked him what he was looking for he would stop and stare at them blankly and then begin some other annoying test of their patience.

After the first week Pukiq suggested to Unnuk that they just leave him in the jungle.

"Abandon him? But he'll never find his way to the ocean. He'll wander the world without a spirit!"

Pukiq shrugged. Unnuk hadn't disagreed however. After a few more days travel, Unnuk himself brought it up again.

"So… we could point him into the heart of the jungle, he's always trying to wander off anyway."

"Then we turn around. The elders don't actually know if he would find his spirit at the ocean anyway. What would we do with him when we get him there?"

"Perhaps this is the real lesson from the elders."

They were in agreement. They watched Sos closely. The next time he walked off into the jungle, distracted about how hard it was to be dead, they grabbed their bags and ran the opposite direction, as fast as they could, back towards the village.

Breathless an hour later they stopped and looked at one another.

"We have done what we have done."

"Let us never speak of this again."

And they walked back in a roundabout way over the next few days, quietly, relieved that they didn't have to hear Sos.

When they returned they were greeted like heroes. Each of them, over the years, grew in rank influence. Each took wives and started large families and they never spoke of Sos because it really never occurred to them to do so.

But once in a while, over those years and decades, there would be a story from travelers about a man wandering the jungle, unhappily, insisting he was dead.