The Gentle Art of Cooking People inspired me to explore the great outdoors.
We had been loyally following the blue path for hours, nearing the point of having exhausted exactly half of our energy. The silent battle between Maria and I hid in the back of my mind, not wanting to be the weak link and suggest turning back first. I wondered if I could use the tactic she did last time, displacing the exhaustion-blame on our four-legged friend Furnando Cortez. I listened for a labored panting, but our little bull terrier seemed to be as comfortable as ever. Instead, I looked ahead for any sort of benchmark to serve as an excuse for a turning point: a boulder, a great view, or even some litter would do. The lightly-beaten trail was unrelenting with its featurelessness.
The canopy had a rhythmic complexity, blocking most of the sweltering rays but not enough to keep me consistently cool. Coming over the top of a hill, lagging behind Maria and Furnando, I stopped and noticed a tree ahead with red and orange painted stripes. Finally, I assumed we were intersecting with another path and I had my excuse. I picked up the pace to catch up before they were past it, but Maria had already stopped and was admiring the tree. It wasn’t just red and orange, the tree was marked with the entire rainbow, including our familiar blue stripe.
Maria wondered about the last time we saw a marker and I admitted that I hadn’t seen one in at least a kilometer, but with no splits in the path, I knew we were not lost. But, after taking my eyes off the marked tree, I turned and saw we were at the convergence of eight paths, seven marked with one color, and the last marked with all of them. I suggested turning back, as I had planned, but she wanted to see where the spectrum lead. I put up no resistance, knowing it was what I wanted too. The path was arduous, requiring massive uphill lunges and an acute awareness of loose rock. Maria led the way and Furry Cortez followed our steps.
Unbelievable, she remarked upon the crest. Even out of breath, I nearly forgot to inhale once I saw the monument. Standing over 6 meters tall was this animal, not steel but also not any organic material I had ever seen: a flawless chromed wood. Four-legged with the head of a bird, and riding not on it but in it, a woman carved from the same material. I pointed at the hat floating above the human form’s head, amazed at its levitation, but Maria said she saw a pole holding it. I agreed but saw no such thing. Cortez sniffed around the stone base, interested but not as amazed as the two of us. Nothing seemed to be protecting it from visitors or the elements, so I walked near the leg and laid my hand upon it. This second sense confirmed that it was nothing like I had ever encountered before.
Then it happened. My eyes shook in their sockets as everything became blurry and colors lost their meaning, bending and swirling together. Everything was color until it wasn’t. The night was replaced by dark, fire-lit and filled with clouds of smoke. The hilltop was suddenly cleared of vegetation and awake with crude drumming and chants. A dozen naked men stood beside a carefully crafted fire, all willingly holding an arm inches above the blaze. Maria pulled my out of my daze by grabbing my arm and encouraging me to back away slowly, but the stone wall behind us left nowhere to hide. We crouched in the lowest-light and waited for an opportunity.
A handful of women disappeared and reappeared from the edge of the firelight with handfuls of wood to stoke the fire. The first man in the fireline suddenly barked and held his charred arm out for inspection. One of the three ornately dressed men behind him took a few steps forward and looked closely at destroyed flesh. Smiling, he moved even closer and bit down hard on the man’s bicep. The man made no noise as a sizable chunk was chewed off his living arm. Instead, he promptly returned the damaged arm to the fire. Blood smoke hissed out of the timber.
I commented that this can’t be real and Maria didn’t respond. I noticed for the first time that the dog didn’t make this trip with us. We slid across the length of the wall until we found where it ended. We turned to run, but a living form of the statue stood in the opening, surrounded by hundreds of men holding torches. In the open, I enjoyed a moment of thinking that this is indeed a vision and we could not be seen. That moment was crushed when the rider, no, the driver of the beast pointed a spear at us charged forward. Two steps into fleeing, a rope snagged our ankles and we were thrown above the canopy. All control given up to parabolic physics, we tumbled through the air towards a valley of smoke in the distance. I closed my eyes where the impact should have been, but we just kept falling. The heat kept rising and smoke clogged my breathing. We landed in a red viscous tar and we sank into oblivion.
We woke in the intersection of the eight paths back in the daylight and Cortez licking my face. The look on Maria’s face showed the same horror and confirmed that something wasn’t right and the experience was mutual. There were no markings on any of the paths, no monstrous hill to in sight, and no footprints to lead us back to the blue.
Thanks to The Gentle Art of Cooking People for creating the soundtrack for the writing, and Borowski Waldemar for the amazing artwork that sparked the idea in the first place. This is some exceptional instrumental post-rock from Poland, listen up!