The sound of the train rolling over the tracks is hypnotic. Under normal circumstances, it would bring feelings of peace and relaxation. But this trip is different. A sense of darkness exists.
The foreboding of dark, lightning filled clouds on the horizon. I sense the faint sounds of souls in pain. The coppery smell of blood and sweat.
Outside the window, the terrain is a jungle. I wonder for what dark reason tracks would have been built in so wild a landscape. What sacrifices were incurred by the laborers who laid each track, pounded each spike? The very ground we are traveling is filled with the broken and ripped bones of the doomed souls chosen for this task.
I notice innocent souls around me on the train. They, too, stare out the windows. I sense that they are fearful. Insufficiently so, in my opinion. I wonder if anyone knows how we came to be on this train, our destination, or our fate. I certainly do not.
We are deep into tropical, bush jungle. Civilization is long behind us. The triple canopy of green filters out the sunlight and creates a shadowy dusk by the time the sky reaches the ground.
Our train starts to slow down. My sense of menace increases. The train stops at nothing more than a bare, deserted, rotting wooden platform. There is nothing else to see but dusky jungle, and an ancient, worn trail leading off into the jungle.
All of my fellow passengers disembark onto the platform. There is no sense of what must be done.
Quiet whispers and apprehensive glances at the trail dominate the crowd.
I have a foreboding sense that the trail isn’t one to take lightly. That embarking on the trail is to start a journey that ends in tragedy, horror and panic.
It becomes known, I don’t know how, that we can get back onto the train, as it continues it's journey. No one knows where the journey will take you to. No sense of any final destination.
Some of my fellows get quietly back onto the train, glancing back fearfully at the trail. There is no discussion. No debating. Some look at those of us not moving back onto the train with a mixture of pity, yet also with no small amount of shame.
As for me, I choose to journey no farther over the unending track of dead bones. I sense a worse fate for those who choose to get back on the train that is only going further into the bush. I am not fooled by the temptation to lull myself into the false, temporary comfort and denial offered by the comfortable seats and the hypnotic sounds of the tracks built by the dead.
As the train slowly takes off, I look over my companions who have chosen to stay. There are about 20 of us. There is nothing in the postures or facial expressions of any that indicate comfort or certainty. In the dusky light I see nothing but fear, apprehension and the beginnings of panic.
I know that to stand there at the platform is to become one with the desiccated and broken remains of those who have become part of the track. There is only one path. One way forward.
I take the first step onto the trail, determined. I look back and see my 20 companions slowly start to follow me. I am shocked to see that we are all now, men and women, completely naked. It seems fitting though, given that we are surrounded by nature that is menacing and primal.
Our journey on the trail takes several hours. It is a winding journey through jungle so thick that visibility is only 10 feet or so on either side. And yet, this is where the path leads, and where we must travel. There are no other options.
The path turns a corner and we are suddenly in a clearing in the jungle. To my astonishment, there are fierce and tribal men engaging in combat training with ancient and sharp tribal weapons. Their glistening musculature and scarred, branded and tattooed bodies speak of a merciless, warrior culture. Their training is fierce and without mercy, to which the sound of fist on bone, heavy grunting, and blood spatter on the ground attests.
I know there is no way but forward. Forever forward.
I step from the path into the clearing, my companions emerging slowly behind me. As the first warrior notices us, he stops, hands dropping to his side, chest heaving, and stares. The cessation of pain spreads to the rest of his brothers.
There is one warrior in particular. He is heavily muscled. His adornments are indicators of a leadership won through strength and mercilessness. His long hair, corded muscles and bone necklace attest to his savagery.
But it is in his eyes that I see the man. The god.
I know that to show fear is to die. Because of my military background, I intuit that approaching him without fear, showing respect, will be something he respects in his own way.
I slowly approach him, maintaining an upright posture and eye contact as I do. My muscles are clenched, as are my fists. The blood is rushing to my core. My vision is clear, my heart rate accelerated. Adrenaline floods. My sense of smell is breathing in the repugnant scent of musk, old blood, and rotting meat. The smell becomes stronger the closer I get to the boss.
I walk with the freedom that comes from knowing that I am already dead.
I stand in front of the warrior king, chieftain, elder...I do not know his title. I just know he leads. I salute him by beating my heart with a clenched fist, and slightly nod my head. There is no change in his gaze, except for a very slight narrowing of the eyes. I know I am to be tested.
With arms crossed against his massive chest, my nemesis lifts one finger with a miniscule movement. Immediately several warriors jump to my companions and grab one of the men, dragging him five feet from the group, and savagely cut his head from his body. The warriors take the rest of my group and bring them over to stand behind the chief, circled by other warriors, with the headless body of my companion at it’s center.
The chief’s gaze has not left my face. I know he is waiting for my reaction. I know my reaction will seal the fates of my companions. In my mind, I am already dead. I have made peace with my failure. I have accepted responsibility for the deaths of those for whom I was supposed to be hope.
The famous Samurai warrior, Miyamoto Musashi observed in the 1600’s that, “Generally speaking, the way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”
A timeless Truth. I understand. At this moment, more than ever.
I ask for his permission to speak. His chin slowly nods, once. Is it a glimmer of respect I see in his gaze, or am I desperate for any sign of hope as my adrenaline and cortisol flow freely?
I ask for the freedom of my companions. The chief is still for several minutes. He uncrosses his arms and walks to me. The quiet and volatile attention of his men and the shocked and terrified attention of my companions is totally and completely focused on the two of us.
The chief comes and stands directly in front of me, our bodies touching. The smell is overpowering, as are the stress and adrenaline. The fight or flight instinct that has existed in every man and woman since before we could write.
I stare into the eyes of his darkened soul, where I see shadows that thirst for emotional and physical pain.
The chief smells me. He smells my face, my breath, my sweat. He is smelling for fear. I’m sure he smells my fear. He is sifting every grain of my soul for weakness and vulnerability. “Fuck!” I say to myself. The plosive consonants and socially conditioned content of the word the only emotional release I have in such a situation. “We aren’t going to make it.”
However, the chief also smells the push of my lizard brain. My amygdala is pumping. The chemicals produced are strong and overpowering. Fight or flight. Dead men do not run. I am already dead. I’ve already concluded this.
So I must, and will, fight. Even if only to die. He smells this Truth from my lizard brain, and the lizard brain never lies. It’s beyond conscious intentionality. No options given. He smells my resolve. He smells my willingness to die fighting. How odd is it, for the lives of souls to be weighed against the smells of a man?
I can almost see the beauty in this interplay of assessment of violence - life and death, screams and panicked hopelessness. Blood and viscera. It’s a dynamic that has existed since ancient times. It is an unforgiving experience that most have lost touch with. It must be directly experienced in order to be understood and appreciated. The stakes must be high.
Having seen the death in my own soul, and perhaps even visions of my Saxon ancestors and their ancient wars and their gods, the chief says I may have two of my companions returned to me, his rancid breath overpowering. He says it with finality. To ask for more, is to perhaps lose even the two. However, as I look him in the eye and nod my burning acquiescence, I ask that the two be female. For females are the promise of life ongoing. I see his understanding. He nods his approval and demands, “Go.”
His warriors choose two females and tell them to follow me. The lucky, chosen two, who are in shock and to some degree not coherent enough to be fully aware of what has just occurred, come to me and we continue on the path out of the clearing.
Once on the trail time passes in a way I do not understand.
The jungle train ends. As we leave the darkness of the jungle, we arrive at a fortified military base. As we reach the gate, I ask for entrance and medical attention for my two companions. Instead we are met by bureaucrats who want to debrief us. They know of this chief, and no one has survived such an encounter with him. There is absolutely no hope for my companions left behind, I am assured.
I sense an air of defeat around the soldiers and bureaucrats. We are debriefed and told where some temporary quarters are where we might stay. One room for me, and one for the females. As we walk to our quarters, escorted by two military policemen, the military base goes on alert. I start to see military aircraft strafing the base, but wearing the same colors as the soldiers to whom the base belongs. I realize that there is fighting on the base. Gunshots. Screams. Explosions.
I see soldiers and civilians running. I hear howls and see great hyena like beasts running people down. I see bodies and viscera, torn and spread as if shaken apart with great violence.
I discern The Pattern - that all are being herded toward a central killing ground.
The Pattern. It’s an old one. Those with nothing to lose. Those of chaotic heart. Those with no restraint on their soul. Unchecked by those who sacrifice parts of themselves to meet violence with violence, these men of chaos will prey, and win.
I grab the shirt of one of the two confused and incompetent military policemen, ordering them to draw their weapons and fight. They don’t know what to do. Their eyes are wide. They still cling to the hope for life, instead of death, thus rendering them ineffective, no matter how hard I shake nor how loud I scream.
As I yell at them to draw their weapons, they are both taken down by two of the fear smelling beasts, each as large as a large man. Throats torn out, the bodies lay as the beasts are immediately drawn away by the fleeing of others, their predator instincts driving them toward those whose instincts are of running prey.
I take the guns and ammunition from a policeman’s torn body. I somehow know there is no option but to confront the chaos at it’s source. This chaos will not end until it has consumed.
Its entropic state requires death and suffering.
I follow The Pattern, and walk toward the central killing ground where all the base soldiers and civilians are herded into a slaughter circle surrounded by the chief and hundreds of his warriors and beasts, weapons ineffectively holstered.
The great Roman General, Marcus Aurelius, wrote, “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
The prey fear death more than they value truly living. A fatal calculation when facing men of chaos.
As I walk onto the field, I explode into violence and shoot several warriors and hyenas in the head, killing them dead. Did I mention the fatal calculation? Did I confess that I was already a dead man walking? For how else can one nurture the violence required to confront chaos, but to embrace the juices flowing from the lizard brain, feeding instincts that have evolved over millennia for moments just like this?
The chief sees me and I see recognition in his face. He sees I am already dead, and he knows the ramifications of this vision. As his warriors look to him for orders, he motions for them to stand down and let me approach.
The chief also starts walking toward me. Is it resignation and respect I see in his eyes? What is it that he is resigned to? Why? How? Is it my resolute acceptance of Death? My fear of never beginning to live?
We meet. He looks me in the eye, and waits. I do the only thing I know to do. What I want to do. What I crave to do. I shoot him twice, center mass in the chest. The bullets exploding from his back in massive exit wounds. As he falls backward onto the ground, blood spreading around him in a dark pool, we do not
break eye contact. Everyone is watching. I lean down to him and we have a conversation, as he struggles for breath, dark arterial blood bubbling with every breath and word.
It is the most important conversation in my life.
As the conversation ends, I shoot him in the eye, bullet exiting from the back of his head, spraying his brains across the field. I grab a killing knife from his hip, grasp his braids and put my knee on his chest, and saw the remains of his destroyed head off at the neck.
The chief’s men watch with rapt attention. I grab a stick and sharpen the end, and place the chief’s head on the stick. I take off my clothes and smear my body with his blood. My actions are methodical. Ritualistic.
Once I have the chiefs head on a stick, and I’m covered in his blood, his warriors drop their weapons and sit on the ground. Their chief, their king, their god, is dead. The God of Chaos is dead. I approach groups of warriors, covered in the blood of their god, bearing his head as my trophy. Beasts wine, Warriors look at the ground. Everyone knows I have killed him.
I have killed a God of Chaos.