Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chapter Fifteen

“What exactly are we looking for?” asks Baloo. He pokes his snout into a trunk full of clothing.

“I’m not sure,” says Mowgli. He thinks very hard about anything he might remember from his youth in the man village, but those memories are hazy and untrustworthy - he remembers Baloo being there, for one, and that’s certainly impossible.

“Just look for anything that might make fire,” comes the quiet voice of the Man, the lord of the apes.

This is easier said than done. The Man and the man-cub, despite their species, were raised in the Wildlands. They’re as unfamiliar with the items scattered throughout the ruined camp as their bear companion. The tools are a mystery. One is just a handle that holds a circle of some invisible material. Another is a dark box with a leather strap.

The three of them push buttons, turn levers, poke and prod, all to no avail. Baloo tries to keep an eye out for any invaders, but soon gets distracted by the unmistakable scent of food.

Mowgli puts down the magnifying glass and goes over to look at a framed photograph. The Man joins him.

“She was so beautiful,” he says, referring to the smiling image of Jane.

Being a child, Mowgli doesn’t know what to say. He gently pats the Man’s thickly muscled arm.

After some effort, Baloo figures out how to lift up the lid of a certain box, and he sighs at the sight of the man-food within.

“What makes fire?” Mowgli asks, as he rummages through the men’s nests.

The Man tries to remember. They had fire at this camp, from the brief time he visited. “The old man, the Professor, he could make fire. He often used it to breathe smoke. And the other man, the Hunter, his metal stick would sometimes flash like fire.”

“Guns,” says Mowgli, wisely.

“And they had…” The ape-lord looks over to the lanterns, still hanging from their hooks. “These. They had small fires in them at night.”

He takes one from the wall and shakes it. It is unlit and cold. “But I don’t know how they got them to work.”

Mowgli takes another lamp and opens it. There is a small little stub, like the sprout of a vine. This, he knows, should be fire. But it isn’t.

“I don’t get it,” says Baloo, his mouth full of man-food. “The men had these things. They had fire, but it didn’t save them from the invaders. What if it doesn’t help us?”

“These aren’t enough,” says the Man. He shakes the lantern dismissively. “Bagheera didn’t fear these fires. Most of the larger animals don’t. These are contained, controlled, locked behind these invisible walls. But a big, bright fire…”

Baloo shudders at the thought of it. That image in his head is enough to make him imagine he smells smoke, one of the worst smells in the entire Wildlands – it is the smell of destruction, of fleeing, of death.

“Wait a minute…” he says. He isn’t imagining it. He smells smoke, even over the overwhelming scent of delicious man-food.

The Man notices it as well. Smoke rises from the platform that the Professor would work from.

“Mowgli?” he asks, and takes a cautious step nearer the table.

They approach where Mowgli put down the tool holding the invisible rock. It lies there, magnifying the papers that the Professor will never finish writing. But with the sun winking down on it, the papers have begun to smolder.

“It’s a miracle,” says the Man. He rushes toward the edge of the camp. “Quick,” he says to Baloo. “Find some branches, dry ones. And moss. Dried grass. Anything that will burn.”

Baloo reluctantly turns away from the man-food and places a comforting paw on the boy’s shoulder. “Good job, little britches,” he says nervously, eyes glued to the smoke. “You’ve made fire.”