Samhala

I spent a week at the steel cabin reading the pioneers diary, which had an unnerving parallel to my own story. The author had woken mysteriously on top of a white mountain – which he called Mt Alba – and crossed swamps to reach the valley’s town; it was then no more than a hotel, shop, sheriff’s office and church. He had been welcomed at the hotel, but then chased out of town by holy zealots who feared and hated strangers. He had braved wild beasts, forests and rivers, to reach the place where he had either built or furnished this strange steel structure.

I made myself quite comfortable there. There was a stock of food – dried beans, garlic braids, and canned tomatoes, plus a mini root house with multicoloured potatoes. There were red, white, and blue ones; he must have been a monarchist. I also managed to catch some grouse, those most stupid of birds. Two flew into the structure and stunned themselves, becoming ready meals.

One night I heard a steady rhythm. At first I thought it was a bear bashing a tree trunk or the echoes of a woodpecker’s drilling. Then I thought noise could be the black river slapping a log, but it was too precise and steady.

It sounded like drums coming from further up the valley, on this side of the river, maybe slightly uphill. Enclosed echoes are deceptive though. It could be coming from anywhere.

I walked slowly through the forest. The bush was thick and ground unsteady.

The sound always seemed far away but suddenly was close; just as I realized this, I saw movement ahead. A shadowed clearing was filled with busy people, a hundred at least, of all ages, building something of wood. The object lay on the floor amid tall grass. What was it, I wondered – a giant boat? Could they read the weather of this flood plain? Was a deluge coming?

“Ouch!” I cried, and jumped up. “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Stop that! Who is it?” A boy turned and ran, clutching a reed, through which he’d been blowing beans, each of which had stung me like a wasp.

People in the clearing stopped working. Some shouted to others. Men advanced towards me clutching hammers and bars. A bearded elder called out, “What are you doing? Is this any way to treat a stranger? Welcome him! Invite him to our village!”

Some men’s snarls transformed into smiles. Others found the change too hard to master, and looked like jittery mimes. However they all made friendly gestures, encouraging me to come forward.

I stepped out of the forest into the clearing, and the elder came forward, huffing, and said, “You are not the first stranger. Others have come before and sheltered here with us. But you are the first to come on Samhala. We welcome you, stranger. It is a good day for us. It was foretold.”

I was taken to a house with thatched roof and squared plaster walls, and given warm water to bathe, and a soft bed to rest. At dusk someone entered. I was ready to jump up and fight for my life, but saw that it was a beautiful woman with full breasts, red hair and blue eyes.

She held no shyness, for her visit had holy purpose. It was to strengthen the Upper Valley’s gene pool.

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