Man of Old

one

Friday night came with the usual gathering in the camp’s meeting tent. A new stack of beer cans in cardboard cases waited, the reward for a hard week’s work. Through its lubrication, the stuffy, formal discussions drown in the music and swam in playful silliness.

This and a work-free weekend promised the Professor’s students a little vacation in paradise. Here on the Professor’s family land, they were surrounded by a wilderness that could be harsh. That even the natives of the region weren’t found out here was proof of it.

The Professor brought students out here for the chance to experience fieldwork. They represented each of the college’s departments, and their work went to the book the Professor had been working on. Contributing students would be credited in that work, for some it would be the first steps of many into scientific academia.

They had come for the chance to earn that credit. It was an invaluable experience that promised to lead them on to greater opportunities.

Harold sunk into his chair, peering through sunglasses across the shining aluminum can. Beer, he thought, was a diabolical poison. It would lure you into a false sense of comfort, make you forget your troubles for a while. It always seemed to be there, standing by like a reliable friend, ready to convince you everything’s okay. Then, one day, you wake up to find you’re an alcoholic, with a dying liver. You’re not as smart, or funny or desirable as you thought you were. It tricked you into making a fool of yourself, and now you’re hung over too. Not to mention the disgusting gas, ready to escape you from both ends. Beer, my old fiend, he thought, you’re prince charming in a can.

He eyed them all with an intuitive suspicion, for intelligent people they were quick to ridicule and insult each other. As amusing as it was to watch intellectuals psycho-morph into drooling idiots, however, he had to admit it was more fun to join them. He promised himself that he’d try to keep his wits, he knew he was swimming with sharks in a sea of ethanol.

The music had died down and a discussion was hopping around the room, from person to person. He closed his eyes and listened, paying little attention to who said what, but following the journey from fact to fantasy with a strange sense of intrigue.

“They seem kind of typical, beliefs of cycles in nature, that the world has been made and remade. I think that at least smacks of the idea of evolution.”

“Science in the guise of superstition?” punctuated with laughter.

“I don’t think so, evolution is gradual, a world remade sounds like a sudden change. It hints that something existed before, people before people, so in the end nothing has really changed.”

“People before people, sounds like a reference to the predecessors of modern man. It is believed that we coexisted with other ‘things’ early in our history, and it’s almost implied that we not only knew of them, but that we had something to do with their disappearance.”

“It is a common idea, there’s a reference in the bible, something about giants, giants in the earth. I never really paid attention in Sunday school though. Then there’s the eternal headache of the story of Atlantis, though that’s obviously fiction…”

“Obviously?”

“It’s just a literary device to illustrate some point…political, social, cultural propaganda. Who cares?”

“These are from the dawn of recorded history, Stories of the old world before us. I think it’s to the point.”

“Atlantis isn’t just Plato’s story, it was obtained from the Egyptians. We know that they practiced the selective recording of history, that they omitted aspects they didn’t like. Are we really supposed to believe that they also didn’t indulge the urge to include things that weren’t true? I think it’s an issue to their credibility. If anything is suspect then all of it is questionable.”

“At any rate, you can’t even discover history in Egypt. It has to be approved by their historical society. Findings that contradict established beliefs are discredited, ridiculed and buried in the sand so to speak. Careers had been destroyed there.”

The thought of a dead career elicited a moment of silence.

“Sounds like they still have issues with the truth. I guess the Pharaohs still rule Egypt, despite the remade world.”

“It seems that without constant maintenance, the modern world would be largely gone in a few decades, and the last, lingering traces would be lucky to remain for a few centuries. If we just vanished, there’d be nothing to prove we were here for long. Really, who can say what might have been lost millions of years ago? The earth has seen multiple mass extinctions…”

“I think we can presume we’re the first of our kind, and the greatest so far.”

“Why though? If we’ve actually achieved anything significant… Remember that we have a ready means to self-disposal. What if there were, before us, other beings that had done the same?”

“Imagine that. Tempted by the ultimate evil they succumb! In the flashing fires of war, they burn their own civilization to ashes. Nature just rolls on, century by century, and the traces of them fade into nothing. Less than ghosts, lost forever.”

“But that’s why we’re here. That’s why we dig in the dirt and sweat in the burning sun. We’re not just looking for fossils or artifacts, we’re looking for the truth. When we find it, once we’ve decoded its lost language, we bring that truth to the world. We’re bearing the greatest gift.”

“Well, as long as Egyptologists agree with it…”

“Our lost friends believed it.”

Natives were a tricky subject. There were none out here, and those nearest had a questionable pedigree. They weren’t the authentic culture of the region, but a mixture of old and new worlds.

What they were like before was anyone’s guess. Even the Professor had little to say on the subject. After decades of research on the land itself, he offered nothing to pierce the veil of the unknown that shrouded them. Although a few human relics had turned up now and then, there was no evidence of any nearby human settlement.

“We don’t know what they believed, there really aren’t any of them left.”

“We have the stories they left behind. We can find the influence other cultures have had on them and, when we remove it, what remains is likely to be theirs.”

“That’s the problem. Early cultures, in their simplicity, are likely to have similar beliefs. It isn’t even surprising to hear the same story – a story of remade civilizations- the great flood for instance.”

“Human beings need resources to survive. Early settlements were by necessity near sources of water, usually by rivers. When people have lived by a river for centuries, it’s only natural that they would remember the floods and droughts that must occur. The death and destruction a flood could bring to those people is a ready-made cultural memory.”

“We find stories of a great deluge in early civilizations all over the world. We might start to wonder if they could really be talking about the same event. It’s more likely that a flood is a such powerful, universal symbol that people in riverside settlements would naturally include them in their myths and later in their history.”

“Even today we can trust the accounts of eye-witnesses. Embellishments and exaggeration usually hide the truth of things. When early people passed these stories on they were changed, no doubt, from ‘a big flood’ to the ‘biggest flood.’ It’s simple enough to guess that through traditions of ancestor worship, to honor the ancestors and their many struggles, they would interpret the famous flood as the greatest of all time.”

“The myth of the great flood, found all over the world, suggests itself as fact. Yet there is no evidence of a global deluge, there are only traces of floods that would have had a great impact on the people of the riverside.”

Having beaten a dead horse, the subject seemed ready to evaporate.

“On the subject of myths and remade worlds, I found a fable that referred to the last ‘makeover.’ At the end of it there were two groups – men from the old world and men from the new. The old man was bigger and stronger, while the new man was smaller and weaker. The talk about how the old ones drove them out of the forest kingdoms into a more dangerous world.”

“The new men were forced to use their minds to solve the problems they couldn’t meet physically.”

“There the story of the old ones becomes one of the bogeyman, a shrewd, hulking beast. Some relic of a lost world, it’s jealous of the new man and his fire. Children and the child-like people of this early culture had a reason to fear the dark, the forest depths, and the wild man or beast man that haunts it.”

“All together it makes for an interesting tale that’s largely entertaining, but the idea is more than just a universal fear, I think. Even if there is exaggeration, there must have been a kernel of truth that inspired it. Like the big flood that became the biggest flood there has to be something more because people really aren’t that creative.”

“Well, the waters of the great flood finally receded and man was given a new world. What did they get from old man of the forest?”

“According to the myth, he and his offspring still haunt the wilder places, places modern men have no use for. I would suppose that the benefit of this myth is a taboo of safety, preventing them from wandering far from home, keeping them safe and their culture together.”

“It is an interesting story, but without proof it’s just a story. We contradict ourselves, being both so ignorant that we don’t really know what’s going on, and at the same time we’re clever enough to lie and deceive. The poor truth, whatever it may be, has some difficult obstacles to cross.”

 

Joe Stanley

story by Joe Stanley

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