Da Tengat

Pixabay.com

The muggy heat settled down on the four young men as they stepped off the small plane. Its moisture settled down on them and soaked their clothes. Breathing was difficult with the humidity surrounding them.

 The bustling rudimentary airport was filled with exotic noises as people moved about carrying various sized objects and rushing past on bikes. Baskets of fruit, wood for fire, and fishing equipment blurred around them. People called out to each other as they passed along the way. The strangeness of a foreign language being spoken all around added to the surreal feeling of it. They weren’t in Kansas anymore.

The area served for more than a landing strip. It was also a major thoroughfare on the small Andaman mainland island. Pedestrians who had scattered off the runway to make way for the plane filled it back up as they moved along from the villages on the outskirts to the main capital. Small scooters and cars moved from place to place, loaded with objects the men couldn’t make out.

The four new arrivals stood out from the native crowd with their European skin coloring and tall build, tall compared to the natives. A few of the islanders moving past them stared at the newcomers. Travelers from the Western world were nothing new to them. Tourists loved to come to the exotic island in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the past.

A tall boy with sandy colored hair slung a large duffel bag over his muscular shoulder. A wide smile separated his slightly tanned features. With a nod, he looked around at the other young men getting off the plane behind him and then back at the scene before him.

“We’re actually here, guys.” Detlef rocked on his heels.

“Where d’ya think we were going to end up? Paris?” The sarcastic response came from Bill, the shorter guy of the group who fit the stereotype of the college nerd. Disheveled dark hair rested on a head sporting thick black glasses and freckles. He was barely over five foot six, but wasn’t the skinny type. He might be a registered genius, but he was also a health nut.

From behind him, a large football player sized young man shoved him with his shoulder. Ralf’s red hair hung down into his eyes. “Hey, we could have. You know that pilot seemed a little suspicious if you ask me. I think he had too many reefers before we left.”

“Guys, don’t embarrass me.”

The three young men turned at once to the face the lanky man who stepped out of the plane. It was evident Brad was several years older than the three but not quite an old man. His hair was still dark and his face void of wrinkles, but there was a wisdom in his eyes that gave him the appearance of being much older than the thirty years he was. Experience changed a man, but it was experience that made him better. 

He moved with assurance toward the boys but stopped with his eyes scanning the scene that was displayed before them. How he missed the unique town of Port Blair. Though the capital of a territory, it looked more like a refugee camp that had taken over a hesitantly growing town. He knew it didn’t all look like this, but that was what the tourists saw when they came. The officials liked to keep it that way because it added to the remote exotic flavor of the place. They knew tourists were suckers.

The runway they stood on was nothing more than a dirt path that connected the town to outlying areas of the main island. On each side were large tracts of lean-tos and old buildings.  Closer to the main city, there were small huts with vendors hawking their wares. All tourists had to pass by there to get to their destinations. Who couldn’t pass up something native to the island and culture as a souvenir? 

Beyond that, the eye could catch glimpses of rich, green foliage that hinted at mystery and adventure. They were in a tropical rain forest.

Laughter from children running around mixed with the yells of the natives as they called out to each other on their way to various destinations. Some carried baskets to the market while others made their way to work.

A beat up Jeep pulled up on the far side of the road. It hiccuped as it stopped. Stepping out of it was an older man dressed in jeans and a button down shirt that hung out of his pants. His body gave the impression of a young man, muscular and strong, but his face was lined like that of an old man. Several people passing by gave him a tentative wave and scurried along. 

His eyes lighted on the four men standing by the plane. A smile broke out and softened the wrinkles in his face. With a wave, he started toward them, dodging a running dog and a man hunched over a bike.

“Brad, my man. So good to see you.” The older man with the shocking white hair held out his hand to the older of the four and pulled him into a hug. “It’s like seeing a little bit of home every year.”

“Ben, it’s good to see you, too. Mary sends her love.”

“Ah, wish she could have come with you, but a new baby prevents such pleasure doesn’t it. Oh, how the Lord blesses.”

Brad turned to the three men standing off to the side. “Ben, here are the three men I brought in Mary’s place. It took three because no one works like she does.”

“Amen!” Ben walked up to the first boy and held out his hand in greeting. “Ben Card. And you are?”

“Detlef Alvarez.” The young man gave the hand a hearty shake and then laughed at the confused look on the older man’s face. “Mother is German. Father is Mexican. They compromised.”

Ben nodded as he chuckled. “Ah, that explains it. Creative. Glad to have you here in Port Blair.” He turned to the bespectacled youth.

“I’m Bill Berzin.” Bill blinked in surprise at the strength in the old man’s hand.

“I detect a slight accent.” Ben held up his hand.  “Wait! Don’t tell me. Mid-west?”

“Yes, sir. Milwaukee.”

“That’s what I thought. Spent a couple of years there. Loved the place. Great party town. Festivals every weekend, I do believe. That means you must be Ralf Biwersi.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m beginning to think you picked some of the most mismatched named boys you could find.” The older man laughed as he slapped Brad on the back. “I like it. Unique. Makes them stand out though that won’t be hard here. Come on, and let’s get you to the compound.”

Each one grabbed their duffel bags and followed the man to the Jeep that looked like it had been through a couple of warzones. Dents that more closely resembled craters had found homes all along the outside of the Jeep leading to various parts where rust had settled in. The inside wasn’t much better with a few holes letting in more sunlight than the windows. Rust wreaked havoc on the vehicle.

It took them ten minutes along the bumpy road to reach the so-called compound. They had driven down several lanes that could barely be considered paths which wound around old neighborhoods. The roads gave the appearance of being built where someone had decided to squat. On the edge of the town, they came to a large brick wall with a wrought iron gate that looked like it had been through the same war as the Jeep. It hung on its hinges and was twisted in various spots. They passed through what once had been a gate and into a large tropical paradise.

The entire area was lush with vegetation. Green trees of every shape filled the landscape with colorful flowers filling in the spaces. In the midst of it all was a large white washed stone building. Three stories high, it didn’t hide the fact that it was old and had seen much in the remote area. Several other buildings were set off to the side.

The Jeep pulled up to the building and stopped. They all got out and looked around the quiet area. It was a little too quiet. Not one sound except that from the town could be heard. Even the sound of birds was absent.

Brad took a step forward and looked around. A frown creased his forehead. “Ben, where is everyone? It’s so quiet.”

The older man coughed and rubbed his hands down his khaki clad legs. “It’s been a rough year. Most have returned home. But we’re managing. You boys wouldn’t believe how old this place is. Built in the 1700s by the British when they occupied the islands, it might appear rather primitive to you.”

Brad’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean? Half of them were natives. Home is just a few minutes away.”

Ben nodded. “Right. As I said, most have returned home. Come on in, boys. We have rooms waiting for you.”

He led them into the old, stale smelling building where the scent of age mixed with mildew filled the air. The large foyer had several doors leading off of it and a tall staircase that led to the second floor. From where they walked in, they could see a large room off to the right filled with boxes of what appeared to be donations. The dark wood inside weighed heavily on the eye and emitted a depressive yet old air. 

They didn’t have time to look at all the details as Ben led them up the stairs where several more doors led off of a narrow hallway. He opened the first door on the right and led the way in. In military bunk style, beds were lined up in the large room.

“This is for you guys. It once housed many a British soldier trying to expand the empire and conquer the world.”

Brad looked around as he lowered his bag onto one of the beds. Every bed was made up in a tidy fashion. “We’re the only ones?”

“I said, most returned home.” Ben’s eyes refused to meets Brad’s. “Bathroom is outside. Sorry, boys. Modern conveniences in a centuries old building are few and far between. We’re lucky to have the little bit of plumbing we do have in the kitchen building. Hand pumps are still all the rage unless you go to one of the hotels that has been put up for the tourists. Can’t have the ones bringing in the money go without the luxuries they’re used to. I’ll show you where the john is when you’re settled. Under each bunk are some boxes, you can put your stuff in there and it should be safe from critters.”

“Critters?” Bill turned from looking out of the window. “What kind of critters?”

Laughing, Ben patted the young man on the back. “Nothing that will carry you off.” He paused and turned toward the window, a dark shadow crossing his face. “But….” He shook his head and brought the smile back. “Okay, I’ll meet you downstairs. Brad, bring them into the meeting room when you’re done.”

Brad stood watching the door until the man had left the room and his footsteps had faded off into the distance below them. The other boys began stashing their bags. Noticing Brad looking after the man, Detlef paused. “Everything alright?”

Shaking his head, the man gave Detlef a half smile. “Might be nothing.”

“But you don’t think so?”

Brad moved to claim his own bunk. “You’re a little too astute at times, man. But you’re right. Something doesn’t feel right.”

“Like how?” Ralf chimed in.

“For one thing, no one is here. Usually this place is teeming with activity. So many people love Ben. His missionary work has been highly successful among the Indians here. They come to him for teaching and guidance. I’ve never seen a time when nobody was here.”

“He said half were native?”

“Yes. They come in from the town and neighboring villages to learn and to help others in the community. They have several ministries here including counseling for young girls and health clinics. Others come from around the world to help him and to learn from him about successful missionary work. For them not to be here, tells me something is wrong. They have faced hostilities of all sorts and survived. Nothing has stopped them from being here before.”

“Maybe they got homesick.”

“No, that would be a couple of them, not all. For everyone to get homesick at once would be very unlikely. Plus, I can tell he is hiding something. Well, if you guys are done, let’s go on down. You can go out and explore on your own while I corner the old man.”

A few minutes later, they entered the large room on the first floor where Ben sat in a large, overstuffed chair. He had a leather book in front of him with his reading glasses perched on his face. When they entered the room, the frown on his face disappeared and a smile beamed. “Ready for the tour?”

“Actually, Ben, why don’t we let the boys explore on their own. They…”

“No!” Ben pushed himself out of the chair. The book slid onto the floor with a thump. His eyes blinked as he regained his composure. “I mean, they don’t understand such primitive conditions. Honestly, Brad, do you think they know how to use an outhouse?”

“Honestly, Ben, they can figure it out. Let’s take some time to catch up.” Brad noticed how Ben hesitated before finally nodding. Not giving the older man a chance to argue, he waved the boys off. 

Ben ran a shaking hand through his white hair and walked over to a large built-in bar. Brad watched in dismay as the man walked behind it and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. He poured a shot and threw his head back to take it down fast. Setting it on the bar, his eyes met Brad’s. The sound of the front door echoed in the empty building.

“What’s wrong, Ben? I’ve never seen you drink outside of a social situation and rarely then.”

“Nothing’s wrong with a drink now and then.” He poured more into the shot glass and downed it quickly. “Sometimes that is the best medicine available.” Another round.

Brad walked over to the bar and leaned on it. He noticed the lines around the old man’s eyes were deeper than he remembered. Though he was going up in age, the lines were not there the year before when he and Mary had spent a month helping the mission out. “Ben, there is something you aren’t telling me.”

“A lot happens around here. Some things are hard to understand.”

“Like what? Culture issues? You’ve been here long enough to know all the ins and outs of the local issues.”

Ben slammed the glass down. The sound reverberated off the walls giving the room the sound of a tomb. “Why are you badgering me?”

“I’m not badgering. Ben, I’m concerned You’re not acting yourself.”

“How am I supposed to act?” He reached behind him and took an old walking stick in his hand. “Like an old man who has to have a cane to walk with?”

Brad feared for the old man’s heart. Ben’s face was bright red and his knuckles were white from the intense grip he had on the old stick. The younger man had to get his mentor calm before he had a heart attack or stroke.

“I’ve always admired that walking stick.” Brad pointed at the five foot tall staff. 

Ben’s eyes moved to it and stared at it for several seconds before answering. “I’ve had it for years. An old man who first welcomed me to the island carved this for me. In fact, he was a native long before the Indians showed up. He claimed it was from a special tree deep in the rainforest. It had magical powers.” Ben harrumphed. “I waited on that magic to appear. I never saw it. So I use it to protect myself when I go to remote areas. It also seems to allow me access when otherwise I wouldn’t get it.”

“Maybe that’s the magic of it.”

“What?” 

“Getting you into places to minister that you normally wouldn’t be able to.”

Ben’s face softened as he chuckled. “Never thought of that. It’s a very special stick. I think that it does have something in it that is special. I’ve always said it helps me do my work.”

“See?” Brad was relieved to see Ben’s face return to a normal color and his posture relax. 

Nodding, Ben ran his fingers over the aged, carved wood. “I don’t know what I’d do without it.” His voice was low. “It’s almost like an old friend.”

Brad couldn’t shake the feeling that something was still being kept from him, but after the outburst Ben displayed, he was hesitant to bring it up again. He was going to have to find a way to do it without setting the older man off. 

“So, tell me about what’s happening in the town.” He really wanted to ask what was happening or not happening at the mission but decided it would be too dangerous of a topic at the moment.

Ben visibly relaxed and leaned the stick back against the wall. Within minutes it was as though nothing had happened. They were sitting back in the chairs discussing the latest happenings with the Indian government and some gossip about people Brad was familiar with.

******

When the young men left the building, they stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked around the compound. The eerie silence did not go unnoticed. In the distance, they heard the sound of the city moving about, but overall, the compound was rather remote and quiet. 

Several picnic tables were scattered about the front lawn area next to the driveway. The areas under the tables were bare from the amount of use they once got. Now they sat silent and alone. 

Trees covered the area, giving shade over the tables, and situated off to the side were a few buildings. Wandering over to the first one, set back behind the main building, they discovered a large kitchen. It looked like there had been an attempt at modernizing it. There was an electric stove against one wall while a few feet away was a large fireplace that appeared to be used as storage instead of a cooking tool, for canned goods were piled inside of it.

A small fridge sat against another wall. Shelves lined the rest of the space, but they had very little on them. Ralf walked over and picked up a bowl laying upside down on one shelf. 

“Why do I have feeling that something happened here?”

“Maybe because something did,” said Bill. 

Ralf and Detlef swung around to find Bill looking in the empty space between the fridge and the storage fireplace. Looking over his shoulder, they found themselves staring at a dark stain on the floor.

“Is that blood?” Ralf asked.

“Maybe. Look on the wall.” Bill pointed at the dark splatter on the faded stonewashed wall.

“If it is, why? I could argue there was a struggle here.”

The boys looked around at the bits and pieces of dishes scattered on the floor. Opening the fridge up, they gagged. The food inside was moldy and full of flies.

They pulled their shirts up over their noses as they peered into the fridge. It had once been full of edible food. 

“Close the door.” Ralf’s muffled voice loud enough for all to hear.

Bill quickly complied. All three quickly made their way outside and gulped in fresh air. “Okay, that was a little unexpected.”

“What the he…heck happened here?” Detlef looked around the empty compound. “None of this makes sense.”

“Maybe Brad is finding something out.” They all looked back at the main house with hope in their eyes. “Well, what else is there to look at?”

“What about around the main building? There are some trees in the back. I can’t make out anything more.”

“Okay.”

The back of the main building was off to their right. As they got closer, they realized that several trees created a shaded area in the back. Abandoned tables and chairs were turned upside down and laying on their sides. 

“Looks like another brawl,” Ralf said, running his fingers through his hair. 

“Looks like more than that.” They turned to see Bill pointing up.

Their eyes moved up into the tall trees and widened at the sight. Strands of unknown material hung down from the trees.

“I’d say someone T.P’d the place, but that’s not toilet paper. If I’m guessing right, those are spider webs.”

“Man, that’s a lot of webs, but they don’t look like webs.”

“Yeah, or it was a web that was destroyed.”

“It would have been a huge web.”

“Anybody suddenly seeing images of Shelab?”

“Yep, let’s go back in. I think I’ve seen enough for now.”

Back in the building, they found the two men in the meeting room having a drink and laughing over memories. The boys couldn’t help but raise their eyes at the sight of the men each with a scotch in their hands. They didn’t say a word, although they silently hoped some beer could be found for them somewhere. 

Brad saw them. “Come on in and sit down boys, unless you want to go out and explore some more.”

“No!” Ben jumped up. The laughter fled from his face as horror replaced it. “You cannot go out anymore. It was foolish the first time.”

Brad slammed his glass down on the table next to him. “Now I want to know what is going on. And don’t tell me ‘nothing.’ You just acted as though I suggested sending them to a brothel.”

Ben sighed and sank back into the chair. Wiping his hand over his face, he shook his head. “I almost wish you had suggested such a thing. Fighting the natural lust of man is so much easier than fighting the unknown.”

“The unknown?” Brad leaned forward in his seat. “Okay, spill it. When you prefer fornication over something else, it has to be bad. What is that bad?”

Ben’s eyes moved to the boys who had each taken up a place behind Brad in chairs or against the backs of chairs. “I almost wish they would leave, but I don’t want them out of our sight.”

A frown pulled on Brad’s face. The mystery was growing by the minute. “Why? Problems with the authorities, rebel leaders, what?”

“I wish.”

“Stop wishing and tell me.”

Ben swallowed. “I don’t know what it is. I know what they say it is, but that is impossible.”

Brad’s patience had completely left him. “Ben! Stop beating around the bush. Tell me exactly what has happened. Start at the beginning.”

The older man raised an eyebrow. “The beginning?” He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess you could say it was a month ago. Just a few weeks ago it all began to happen.”

“A month ago or a few weeks ago?”

Ben shrugged again. “What started it all happened a month ago.”

“What did you do then? What happened a month ago?”

“We took a small trip.”

“We? We who?” Brad wasn’t about to let anything slide by him. 

Ben raised his arm as though indicating someone else in the room. “I took a couple of volunteers with me.”

“Where to?”

“The southern islands.”

Brad sat up straight. “The Sister Islands? That’s forbidden by the government.” He shook his head in disbelief.

Ben stood up again to fill his glass. Irritation was evident in his voice. “Well, you don’t reach the masses by following all the rules.” He held the glass up to the light and watched the sun swirl around in the liquid. “I heard a rumor that there was activity down there.” He swung around, the liquid sloshing against the sides. “Think about it, Brad. Meeting tribes who had no exposure to the outside world in decades and still live as they lived thousands of years ago! It would be huge.”

Brad caught sight of the boys out of the corner of his eye. Their faces were intent on the agony and excitement written on the older man’s face. He motioned for them to sit down and filled them in quickly on the background information.

“The real natives here are extremely primitive. They live as they did before the discovery of metalworks. The Indian government that rules here protects them from the outside world. It is against the law to make contact with them.” Brad turned back to the man. “Did you meet any Onge?”

“Actually yes. We saw several, but they ran and hid from us. That’s to be expected. They haven’t seen a white man, or any man outside their culture, since the early twentieth century. But there was one old man who remembered those days and spoke rudimentary English. We conversed for a bit, but he refused to let us interact with the others. He did allow us to explore the upper section of the island and take pictures as long as we didn’t cross the boundary he laid out. It wasn’t until later I remembered what he said.”

“And that was?”

“Watch out for the dark. Avoid the dark.”

“What did he mean by that?”

“It kills.”

Silence descended on the group for several moments as they waited on Ben to continue. No one knew what to say to his words. 

“We came back home with pictures and recordings. I had planned on going back. I wanted to get to know them. These people would be about as close to sinless as you could find. I wanted to know their secret. Why could they live so long without worldly influence?”

Brad frowned. “That’s playing with fire, Ben. They need to be left alone.”

“They need to know the truth!” Ben moved back to his seat and leaned toward Brad. “Imagine revealing to them the truth and discovering other truths from them. It would turn the world upside down. They are as close to perfect as it was in the Garden of Eden.”

“What happened then?” Brad wanted to argue with the old man but knew it was futile. He had to discover what was happening before he could fight anything.

“Over the next week I made plans to return. One of the young men who went with me argued, as you have, that I should leave them alone. The other man was eager to come with me. Peter said he would have nothing to do with it. Thomas and I continued to plan.”

“Peter whose mother cooked for a time here?” Ben nodded at Brad’s question. “And then what?”

“That night, Peter went out to use the john. We heard a scream and then nothing. Racing outside, we found the door of the john open. Peter was nowhere to be seen. We still haven’t found him.”

“Did you contact the authorities?”

“Of course I did. I assumed it was some funny business by some factions who want us out of here. Even within the Christian community we have rivals and, of course, there are the Hindu rivals who have been very vocal in the past. They investigated and decided he had left to go home.”

“What plane did he take? There is only one every week, and he was from Seattle, wasn’t he? How is that possible?”

“It’s not. I argued with them. The truth is, they didn’t care. It wasn’t worth their time. Peter hasn’t been seen since. And then there was a week later.”

“Someone else disappeared?”

“Yes. Three in one night. All were venturing out and left the lit areas of the compounds. All disappeared. Two were native Adamans. The authorities found the shoe of one of them. Nothing else was heard of them. They looked a little harder for those two since their families were here to pester them, but they quickly decided they had run off to the mainland.”

“This doesn’t make sense.”

“It gets stranger when the next week another group was attacked while gathering firewood. It was day time, but in many areas of the forest it is as dark as night. Parine escaped and made it back though he didn’t last long. Stumbling into the compound, he had blood pouring from a wound on his neck. The entire time he was mumbling, ‘It’s real. It’s real. Da Ten….’ He died before finishing.”

Ralf asked in a hushed tone, “What was real?”

Ben closed his eyes for a few seconds before answering. “It’s an old legend that the Jarawas have about creation. The Da Tengat was a massive hunting spider who roamed the land naming the plants and animals. When the items would not respond with a name, he shot them with arrows and ate them. The other animals cried at the loss of their friends, and night fell for the first time. He lit a fire to cook his hunt, and others on the land saw how he used resin to bring forth fire. They imitated him. There were so many fires that the dawn came forth. They still light fires and dance every night hoping to ward off the Da Tengat and bring dawn back each day.”

“It’s an old legend of creation. Every culture has them.” Brad concluded. 

“Yes, but the natives believe the Da Tengat is real and lurks in the shadows, waiting on someone to defile his land and his people.” Ben nodded. “I realize the silliness of it all. Yet a part of me feels there is something more than stories here.”

The boys’ eyes met briefly as their thoughts moved on to what they had found in the kitchen and behind the main building. Though they weren’t ready to admit to the existence of a giant spider, something more was going on than Brad wasn’t telling. Detlef opened his mouth, but Bill shook his head. Now was not the time to bring it up.

Brad leaned forward and put his hand on the older man’s shoulder. “Ben, when was the last time you were home?”

“Oh, I guess about five years ago.” 

“Maybe you need to do just that.”

Ben shoved Brad’s hand off of him. “Don’t you think I’ve wondered if I’m losing it? But the others have run off. They see there is something more here. I’ve even gone to the archives in town. There isn’t much, but there are a few references of British officers disappearing with no explanation. Many times over the centuries reports have been written down of mysterious disappearances.”

“You’re in a rainforest. It happens. They might have fallen into an old trapping hole or down into ancient caves.”

“Then explain Parine.”

“He let his imagination go wild when he saw shadows and the others fall. You know how powerful the mind is.”

“Don’t patronize me, young man. You might be more worldly than me, but I know this land and its people. I’ve been here twenty years. They know me. Something is out there, and it is killing off my people. Something evil is here and taking over the island.”

Brad put his hands up in the air. “Okay. Okay. I’m sorry. You just have to see it from my perspective. You’re saying a legend is real and killing people. I would be crazy not to question it.”

“Brad, we are in the business of believing the unbelievable. Think of it from that perspective. Others say our beliefs are foolish, yet we stand by them. Why should we dismiss theirs?”

Brad nodded. “Good point. Okay, let’s step back for a bit. We’re not going to get anywhere arguing about the sensibility of it.”

Ben returned to the bar and filled his glass again. Glaring at Brad, he spat out, “Give me a little credit here.”

Brad shook his head but kept his mouth shut. There were some battles not worth fighting. This was one of them. “Is there anybody left here?”

“No. They have all gone. I refused to leave though Mina tried to force me to go. She even called the police to take me off the island. Thankfully, they ignored her. I’ve been alone for five days now.”

“Why didn’t you call and tell me?”

Ben hung his head. “I think I needed to have you here. I needed a little sense of sanity. Crazy, isn’t it? Maybe I do need to be committed.”

“I wouldn’t go that far, but I do think you need a break, a rest. No one can hold up to all this. Even if there is something happening we can’t explain, you can’t expect to be strong like Hercules.”

“What should I do, Brad? Should I leave? Should I chalk it up to coincidence and accidents? Something deep within me says there is something more to it than that.”

“Mina was right in that you need some kind of help. She was worried for you. After all, she has cooked for you for nearly ten years.”

The boys again looked at each other but kept their mouths shut. With Ben’s back to them taking another drink, Ralf leaned forward and tapped Brad on the shoulder. He jerked his head back to indicate they needed to leave the room. Brad nodded in response.

“Ben, would it be okay if I went with the boys. I see how nervous you are, but I really need to use the john and they might too. If we go together, would that make you happy?”

Ben moved behind the bar and was fingering his walking stick. “Yes,” he mumbled. “Just stick together.”

The four quietly got up and made their way out of the room. When Brad went to stop in the hallway, Ralf grabbed his arm and led him outside. Once outside, Brad spoke.

“What’s up?”

“You’ve got to see something we found.”

Brad looked at each boy. “Do I want to see it?”

“No, but you need to.”

**********

Brad’s eyes roamed over the tendrils of silk hanging from the trees above his head. No one spoke as he looked around. Finally, he ran his fingers through his hair and took in a deep breath.

“Large pieces of a spider web? This isn’t helping me debunk an ancient myth.”

“Does kind of put a monkey wrench in the works?” Bill continued to look at the scene before them, hoping to find something that would prove it a hoax. “I could climb up and see what I can find.”

Brad shook his head. “Not yet. Especially after the kitchen.”

They had taken him to the kitchen first. His reaction was shock at what he had described as a once pristine and orderly kitchen. First shock, then disgust, then sorrow hit Brad hard. He blinked back tears as they left the building. Now, he scratched his head as he walked around in circles. Halfway through one rotation, he spun around to face the boys.

“What do you think?”

They all were silent as they looked up. Finally Detlef said, “Can I make a suggestion?” 

“Go ahead.”

“We are studying to be scientists, right?” He looked around at his buddies who nodded in agreement. “Why not let us use our skills and training? I spent last summer in the Amazon tracking the movements of the leopard and documenting mating habits. Bill has roamed Chinese mountains in search of unique plant life. Ralf is a geology expert in training. Let’s approach this scientifically.”

“Yeah,” Bill chimed in. “What better way to debunk a myth?”

Brad looked up again before giving the boys a wry smile. “What can it hurt?”

********

Ben laughed and threw his hand up in the air. “Science! You want to battle the supernatural with science?”

“What is science but a different form of the supernatural?” Bill asked. They had returned back to the main building to find Ben pacing in the meeting room, muttering under his breath. When they entered the room, he acted like he had forgotten they were there.

Ben’s eyes were riveted to the young man’s. “I want to argue that, but I can only say that this will not end well.”

“I agree,” Brad jumped up. “ I understand what you boys are doing, but we don’t want to be rash. The truth is, we have no idea what we’re up against here whether it is just fear run amok or someone causing trouble.” They had all agreed not to mention what they had found quite yet. Brad was still unsure of Ben’s emotional state with everything going on.

“Then we find out.” Ralf looked around at the others.

“Then we find out,” his friends echoed.

Brad looked at Ben with raised eyebrows. “Let them prove us either right or wrong.”

“For one of us right could be deadly.”

“You always said that every day was a gift. Why not make the most of it?”

Ben closed his eyes. “God help us all. Can we at least wait until morning? I’d like to let this sit with me for a bit.”

“Understood. One more day is not going to make a difference.”

********

Within the hour, the men had pulled out everything they had brought and met outside at a picnic table under a large tree. Spread out on the weathered wood were a variety of objects: notebooks, pens, flashlights, tweezers, plastic bags, small chisels, markers, cameras, batteries, first aid kits, and some other items Brad couldn’t identify.

“You guys brought all that in your bags?”

“You’d be surprised what a college kid can hide in the most unlikely places.” Bill laughed.

Detlef pulled another bag up and began unloading grappling hooks, hats with lights attached, and more. “You’d also be surprised what one can find in the back rooms of this place.”

Brad held his hands up. “I don’t want to know. So, what is the plan of action?”

“We start in the area where it all happened. By the way, where is that?”

“The first incident was at the outhouse.” Brad pointed at a section of the compound set off in the far corner. “Traditionally and obviously, the latrines were kept a long way from the main quarters. Over the years, they have moved them about, but they typically stay on the perimeters.”

“How old is this place?”

“This actual building has sections that date as far back as the 1700s when the British set it up as a penal colony. Most has been rebuilt over the years, though I figure the last update was in the early 1900s. That was before the Indian government took over the rule of the islands.”

“Hard for the missionaries?”

“Not as much as you’d think. They’re more harsh when it comes to the interactions with the natives. Typically, the missionaries respect that as there are so many within reach that need witnessing to. Less than a fifth of the population claim to be Christian.”

“Then we start at the latrine. In the daytime,” Ralf added.

The other three men froze and then nodded. There would be no argument on that score. They would approach the mystery scientifically.. That didn’t mean they’d walk into the mouth of the lion without checking out the teeth first.

The shadows on the ground lengthened as the sun made its way down toward the horizon. With deliberate slowness, the men packed up their equipment and with just a hint of speed moved back into the building. Detlef was the last one in. As he closed the door, he nonchalantly pushed the old lock into place.

Making their way into the meeting room, they saw one of the long tables set up with food. The aroma teased their senses. Each stomach growled in response. All of them eagerly made for the table where Ben was setting down another platter of food when the memories of what he had seen in the kitchen came back to them. They all paused and looked at each other.

“Wow! Uh, Ben, we didn’t see you go out to the kitchen.”

“Oh, I set up a makeshift one in a back storage room with a camp stove and a fridge.  After Mina left, I didn’t feel like leaving the building to do my cooking. Seems silly for one man’s meals.”

Each of them sat down slowly. All their minds were on the sight in the kitchen and wondering what the old man knew about it. Bill opened his mouth, but Brad shook his head once again. Their focus then shifted to the meal of chicken and rice laid out before them.

Hunger won out. The boys quickly devoured the food, leaving not one crumb for another day. The first smile Ben had shown since telling them of the incidents. With a wink at Brad, he disappeared from the room only to return with a plate piled high with sweets. The boys’ eyes grew wide at the sight.

“There is a little old lady in town who makes the most wonderful sweets you’ll ever find. She is as illiterate as they come, but with just one bite of something she can tell you everything that is in it. Then she goes in her little lean-to kitchen and makes exactly what was made in some fancy store on the mainland or back in the States. If anyone practises magic, it is her.”

The boys didn’t hesitate once the plate was on the table. Cookies, brownies, and small candies disappeared down throats amid moans and groans of delight. Brad even took a couple before they were all eaten.

“You’re right. These are wonderful. The woman is gifted.”

“Yes, she is. Right before I picked you boys up I went by and grabbed some items from her. Tomorrow I’ll see what other delights she has.”

“So now what?” Brad licked the crumbs off his fingers. 

The somber mood descended on Ben once again. Dark circles seemed to deepen under his eyes. “We wait and pray we sleep.”

All the boys slowed down in their feasting. Each one glanced at the darkened windows. Night had fallen. Though they didn’t believe in giant spiders, they were confused as to what was happening, and each had a vivid imagination. 

“Will it come inside, I mean, if it is real? What do the legends say?”

“That is where we find issue. You see, the truth is that very little is known about the original Andaman people aside from the fact that they are African descendants and not Asian.”

“African? How did they end up in the Bay of Bengal?”

Ben’s face softened as he dove into the history of the people. “That, my young man, is the mystery many scientists long to discover. The current theory is that they island hopped their way over. From their genetic makeup and how they live, they are assumed to be some of the earliest Africans to leave their large continent. Why, no one knows. But these little people hold such mystery for us.”

“Little?”

“Yes, the tallest is just over four feet and typically is the man. Women don’t get much more than three feet and a few inches. Though we can’t say for sure as there is so little documented about them. You can go on Youtube and see videos taken of them a century ago and some taken from a distance in more recent years. Most are still hidden from the modern world.”

“So that is why you know only so little of the legend?”

“Yes. How much is exaggerated I have no idea. Over time, things can be removed and added, but I think what we know is the basic as there is so little there. You’d think that if there were additions, the stories would be so much larger.”

“I’ve never heard of the Da…this thing.”

“I doubt one percent of one percent of the world’s population has. No one even realizes these people exist. I mean really, before today, would anybody have thought that there were people who had never had contact with the outside world?”

All of them shook their heads.

“Never assume you can’t learn something new. That is the humility check for science and religion. We don’t know it all. We learn everyday we walk this earth.”

“When do you sleep?” Brad asked.

“During the day, I catch a few winks between researching the legend and hounding the officials.”

“Well, you can get some sleep now. You’re not alone.”

“Right. We’ll take turns keeping watch.”

“You boys are a Godsend, but are you sure you know what you are about to do?”

“Does anyone who challenges anything?”

“Okay, I will try to get some sleep.”

“I’ll take first watch,” Ralf stepped up. He looked around for anyone to protest.

****************

Ralf made another tour of the first floor. Though all doors and windows were locked each time, he was a little doubtful as to the ability of the old locks to hold up against any attempt to enter by man or beast. In his opinion, the locks were as old as the building.  At the moment,though, they were the only things giving them any sense of security. 

Making his way back to the meeting room, he held the rifle in his hand with a firm grip. Ben had given it to him. The older man had been using it every night. Though he wasn’t sure if it would protect them from whatever was out there, it was better than nothing. 

A distant noise gave Ralf pause as he began to sit down. Every part of him froze and went on high alert. Another sound and Ralf laughed. It was only the sound of Detlef’s obnoxious snoring. 

“Don’t know why I’m worried. Geez, that guy’s snores would have Hitler repenting.” Ralf laughed and settled down in his chair. Picking up a book in one hand and the rifle still in the other, he relaxed.

Outside, the tropical moon hung over the island. Not a breeze moved through the oppressive heat. Through the thick foliage, the moonlight reached down and caressed the land. All was quiet. Shadows moved along the edge of the large building and back into the dark jungle. Behind the moving shadows, strands of silk fluttered in the breeze.

*******************

The next morning, the men gathered around the table for a breakfast of bread, cheese, and rice balls. Ralf came in halfway through the meal and sat down to eat. A few hours earlier, Brad had relieved him so no one was without getting some rest.

“Sorry I don’t have any sausage or anything. I’ve gotten used to the traditional Indian meals, though I like my cheeses. They are a weakness of mine. No kitchen is worth the name without several varieties of cheeses.”

“It’s great,” Bill answered with a full mouth.

“Obviously, nothing happened last night.” Ben dipped a rice ball into a cup of dark sauce.

Ralf shook his head. “Nothing but Det’s attempt to strip the entire island of it’s trees.”

“Hey, I don’t snore that bad.”

“Understatement of the year,” Brad laughed.

“So what are your plans now?” Ben looked at each of them.

Detlef took a long drink from his water bottle. “We use the daylight and search the perimeter and a little beyond.”

“I still don’t like this idea, but what else are we going to do?”

“You can go home and get some rest. Otherwise, we face it. In the end, it is up to you, Ben?”

The old man leaned back in his chair and scratched his head. “No choice, I guess. What do you need me to do?”

Brad took the lead. “Keep the food and beverages coming. In fact, go into town and check into that magical woman and see what other delights she has for these explorers.”

“That I can do.” 

Within the hour, Ben was on his way to get the sweets. The remaining four made their way to the outhouse with their backpacks on their shoulders and flashlights in hand. At the last minute, before they left the meeting room, Brad had handed them all hunting knives that he directed them to strap onto their belts. 

“Better safe than sorry,” he answered to their raised eyebrows.

Now they were armed with scientific tools and defensive weapons. The area around the outhouse was clear. It stood in a clearing that reached ten feet before it came to the large stone wall that set the boundary to the compound’s land. There, they found a large hole in the wall.

Walking up to it, Bill looked it over. “This has been here a long time. Age is slowly pulling it down.”

“Looks like it is used a lot.” Ralf pointed at the well-worn path that led into the foliage. They could see several yards down the path before the darkness possessed the way.

“Dark in there,” Bill said in a low voice. 

“Explains the reason the legend seems so incredible to the locals.”  Brad nodded. “So, what do you want to do now? This is your experiment.”

Bill pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. “Well, we stay together for one thing. Supernatural creature or real person, we’d do better together.” All of them nodded. “Ralf, check out the area around the hole on the ground. Brad, you check out the wall. Det, you come with me.”

“To where?”

“Through the hole in the wall.”

“Why do I have a feeling you think you’re funny?”

“Because you know deep down that I am and you’re not. Now through the wall.”

Detlef glared at his companion before stomping through the break in the wall, but he stopped immediately on the other side and pointed to the ground. “Bill, you have to see this.”

Behind him, the three moved quickly to see where he indicated. A heavy silence descended onto them. After several moments, Ralf asked, “Is that human?”

Bill knelt down. He poked at the object until he had it turned over. “Looks like a femur.”

“But a human femur?”

Sighing, Bill replied, “Yes, human.” He looked up at his mentor. “Brad, are there any wild animals big enough to hurt a man like tigers or anything?”

Brad shook his head. “No. There are some indigenous wild boars that could hurt a man and lead to death but to eat him or anything like Ben is describing, no.”

“No tigers?”

“They tried a while back to introduce leopards, but they weren’t successful.”

“Maybe they were and just didn’t know it.”

“Now that is a possibility we hadn’t thought of.”

“We have it now to play with. Look around for more…for anything else that looks unusual.”

“As though a femur isn’t unusual enough,” Detlef mumbled under his breath.

Never straying more than a few yards from each other and staying in sight, they scoured the ground outside the compound’s deteriorating wall. A few broken pieces of vegetation was all they found which did not tell them much aside from something had been there. 

“A boar could easily have done this.” Ralf nudged the broken stem of the large plant. “If it were fresher, I’d say we did it.”

“But we didn’t.” Brad stood up from examining the ground under a large tree. “Yes, a boar could have killed a man but he wouldn’t have disappeared. The boar doesn’t kill a man to eat him. He does it to protect this territory or if he is having a bad day.”

“So that means what?”

Brad turned and began to re-enact a possible scenario with a boar and man encounter. Pointing at the opening in the wall, he narrated, “A man comes through the wall on his way to wherever this path leads.” He moved a few yards down the path and faced the imaginary man. “A boar is on the path rooting around for food. He is interrupted which ticks him off. The man might see him or not. An angry pig rushes forward and impales the man.”

“Where? Are there boars big enough to reach a man’s stomach?”

“No, but the man could have fallen which would make his gut easy to reach.”

“Or he got it in the leg and fell down, but that doesn’t explain why we only found a bone. Surely the man would have called for help. Isn’t this path used a lot?”

“The natives have a lot of small paths that take them to various places on the island. I don’t recall this one, but I have only been here for a few weeks at a time, so I don’t get to be as familiar with the area. We can ask Ben.”

“Okay, we have a broken old wall, a well-used path, a human femur, and nothing more.”

“Broken plant doesn’t count?”

“Nope. Not entirely sure we didn’t do it.”

“Do we go further?”

“I think so.”

The four of them moved down the path that narrowed as it came to a turn that led  deeper into the forest. Darkness was surprisingly heavy with the thick foliage above them.

“Is it still morning?”

“Yes, you are in a rainforest, so it can be as dark as midnight in some places all day long.”

Ralf clicked on his flashlight and shone it around them. While the area wasn’t completely dark, it did help them see. Each one turned on his and scoured the ground and trees.

“Nothing.”

“Okay, it is getting close to lunch time. Why don’t we go back and decide what to do next? Okay?” Brad looked at each of the boys. “Bill, is that okay?”

Bill’s attention wasn’t on Brad or the others. He was staring at a section of forest off the path. Without looking up, he motioned for the others to join him. They peered over his shoulder.

“Is that what I think it is?” Detlef whispered.

“If you see a thick spider web, then we are seeing the same thing.”

Each of them slid their eyes one to the other. “Boys, I think we do need to go to lunch.” He began pushing them back down the path. Brad followed, walking backwards with his hand on Ralf’s arm. 

********

The two-legged figures moved away. So close and yet not quite there. There would be another time. There was always another time.

***********

When they arrived back at the compound, Ben was pulling up. All four went to help him and bombarded him with questions and comments about the food he had brought and the town in general. Over the meal, they were silent as they ate.

When the plates had been cleared of food, Ben interrupted Bill’s analysis of the latest weather patterns. “So now that I have fed you and catered to your desire to not talk about it, tell me about your little exploration.”

They all looked at each other before Brad spoke up. “Well, we found a space in the wall behind the outhouse that looks to have been crumbling for a bit.”

“Yes, that has been there as long as I have and then some. I think it was where a cannon accidently went off in the last century or so. Did you go through it?”

“That we did and found…we found what looks like a human femur.”

Ben stared blankly behind Brad’s head. Several moments passed before he spoke. “I wonder whose it is.”

“We had a theory of possibly a boar hurting someone.”

Ben shook his head. “Then the body would have been found before now and more than just a bone. And you appear to have something else on your mind you aren’t telling me.”

Brad swallowed. “Further down the path, a few feet off of it, we found a…a very large web.”

Ben’s face paled. “So it is true.”

“Now wait a minute. We don’t know that. We found a bone. We found a web. They were yards apart; they might not be connected.”

“You know they are, Brad. You know they are.” The older man stood up and went to the liquor cabinet as he had the night before. Turning around with the glass in his hand, he said, “I know it’s mid-day but I need something for my nerves.” He tossed the contents into his mouth.

Brad ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m not judging you, Ben. I’m worried. But I’m worried beyond just you. I’m worried about what really is happening. All I can say is that we will keep looking into this.”

“I’m really having second thoughts about all this.”

“Well, at this point you have no choice.”

Bill stood up. “We’re heading out again now.”

“We’re going now?” Detlef looked up with wide eyes. Coughing he quickly said, “Yes, we’re going now.”

“Then let’s go.” Brad walked out of the room.

********************

This time as they crossed the wall, they all carried large sticks with them. Bill stopped at the stone structure and mounted a video camera on the top part of the wall. Nodding he was ready, they took a slow step forward.

Each of their eyes moved around them, seeking out any object that was not supposed to be there. No words were spoken as though the very act of doing so would bring forth the unknown they prayed was a figment of a culture’s overactive imagination and ties to the past. At the spot of the mysterious web, they stopped.

This time, they all shone their lights on the object and gasped at the sheer size. Stretching seven feet high and just as wide, it glistened with moisture under their beams. Bill moved forward, but Brad’s hand descended on him. 

“What do you think you are doing?”

“Scientifically exploring this. You guys are here. What could happen?”

Detlef murmured, “Oh, I don’t know. Fall into web. Get eaten by mythical spider. Who knows?  The possibilities are endless.”

Bill gave him a look with a snarled mouth. “Just watch my back.”

Moving forward, he pulled the tweezers out of his pocket. He put out his hand and moved toward the web. Slowly, so not to disturb anything, he aimed the instrument at the web. Just as he was about to pluck a piece off, the entire trap vibrated. 

Hands pulled Bill backwards, causing them all to fall down. Looking up, they watched as the web’s vibrations turned into a pulsating rhythm. Hearts racing, they watched it stop as suddenly as it began.

“Why did you have to do that, Bill?” Ralf asked.

Bill shook his head. “I didn’t. I didn’t even touch it. I was about to when it spared.”

Brad raised his flashlight to scan the entire web. “Usually that action means the spider is moving forward to tend to his prey.”

“But this prey didn’t touch it. By the way, that thing is at least two inches thick.”

“What? Webs aren’t like that.”

“Well that one is.”

“Is what?” The voice boomed from the path.

The boys jumped up and took a step back before relaxing. “Ben! You scared us half to death.”

The man stood in the middle of the path not moving. His white hair was in disarray as though he had been pulling at it. His face was ghost white. Sweat glistened on his forehead.

“Ben, what’s wrong?” Brad made a move toward the man but stopped when Ben pulled from behind his back the large walking stick he kept in the meeting room. “Ben?”

“You are sick, Brad. You and the boys.”

“Uh, no. We’re not sick.”

“Yes, you are. Don’t you see it? It is all over you and spreading. It needs to be dealt with and dealt with harshly.”

“Ben, you are making no sense. What is all over us?”

“The evil. It’s the evil that lurks within us, but it has decided to come out and consume us. I have been given the task to spread goodness and fight the evil. I have to do that.”

“Ben, I think we need to rethink this.”

“It is too late for thinking. It is time for action.” With a growl of determination, Ben lunged forward with the stick raised above his head. All four men advanced on him. Detlef grabbed the arm holding the stick while Bill and Ralf restrained his other arm and pushed him backwards to halt his movements. Brad grabbed Ben by the face. 

“Snap out of it!”

“Evil must be purged!” With strength far exceeding that of man of his age, he managed to pull the arm with the stick back. Swinging it around, he hit Detlef in the side of the head. The young man fell to the ground. Brad reached up to replace Detlef, but found himself at the receiving end of the piece of wood as well. 

Ben fought Bill and Ralf until they both were on the ground, dazed. A smile pulled at the old man’s lips as he looked down on the three sprawled out before him. “I will fulfill my duty. Evil will not take this island or the people I love.” He raised his arms to bring down the blows to end it all.

He had forgotten the young man behind him. With a trickle of blood making its way down Detlef’s face, he pulled himself up and lunged at the old man. Crashing into his body, they both stumbled over the other three. Detlef lost his hold and crashed to the ground. 

Ben stumbled forward. Before he regained his footing, he swung around with the cane stretched out. The momentum prevented him from being able to hit any of them. Instead he stumbled sideways – right into the giant web.

In the blink of an eye, the web shook and enveloped the man. The struggling old man disappeared, leaving a white cocoon in his place. Silence descended around them once again.

The men looked up from the ground, breathing heavily. Their eyes widened as long wooly legs reached out of the dark and curved around the web-covered body of the old man. Yellow glowing eyes materialized behind them. They bore into the men. Several moments passed before the eyes blinked and the large arachnoid faded back into the darkness, taking Ben with him.

No one moved. No one spoke. They continued to stare at the space where the monstrous web had been. Slowly, comprehension began to settle on them. Ralf was the first to speak.

“That was a spider.”

Bill nodded. Pushing himself up, he helped the others. “What just happened here?”

Brad shook his head. “I’m not sure.”

“I think I can help.”

All of them jumped at the voice that came from behind. Whipping around with flashlights brandied, they found themselves facing another surreal scene. Before them stood a naked man no more than four feet tall. He was extremely dark skinned with leaves strapped around his groin and a spear in his hand. His salt and pepper hair was the only indication of his age. 

“You see something no man lives the next day for.”

Brad stepped forward. “What was that?”

“The Da Tengat.”

“It’s a myth…legend…story.”

“All stories born in truth.”

“But…that was big.”

“Ancient ones are. He is big hunter that…balances good and evil. Da Tengat protects us.”

“Why was he here?”

“To take evil away.”

“Ben.”

“Yes. Evil ate the good in him. Da Tengat had to take him away. Ben was once good, but no more. Now you go home, far away. Let balance return.” With those words he disappeared into the dark jungle.

With a mix of eagerness to leave the forest and slowness of shock, the men made it back to the compound. They moved like zombies as they entered the meeting hall. Their footsteps echoed as though they were in a tomb.

“Do we call the cops?”

Brad shook his head. “And tell them what? That my mentor and friend went crazy and was eaten by a large, mythical spider?

“That would work.” For the third time that afternoon, they turned in surprise to find someone else in the room with them. Standing in the doorway was a local police officer, his grey uniform was wet from sweat.

“Excuse me?”

“When in doubt, tell the truth. Is that not a saying in your country?”

“Seriously? This truth?”

“Yes.” The man moved further into the room toward the bar. Reaching behind it he pulled out a box of cigars and proceeded to light one. Taking in a long draw, he leaned back against the bar. “I knew Ben very well. We spent many an evening playing chess and arguing about politics around the world. That all changed a month ago.”

“What happened?

“I am not entirely sure. I had not been over for a few days, tending to officials visiting the island from the mainland. When I came over, he was walking around muttering something about evil everywhere. A few of the helpers commented how angry he got at times for no reason. I suggested a game of chess. He…he became very angry telling me that there was no time for chess with all the work that needed to be done. I attributed it to work around here. Only later did I realize he meant something else.”

“When did he break the law and visit the indigenous tribes during all this?”

“So he told you. It was a few days after the incident. I found out when he got back. When I confronted him, he began yelling about the lies spread by man and the lack of trust. He then ordered me to leave. I did because I did not want to cause him to have a heart attack. But I had several of the people here keep me informed. His behavior became stranger and stranger as the days went by.”

“How? When we got here, he acted more scared of all the disappearances and the possibility of the Da Tengat being real.”

“When the tribes turned him away, he was very angry, claiming the evil would consume them. From the reports I received, I determined he was having a mental breakdown of sorts. I contacted the local doctor who was also turned away. In fact, he was chased away. Ben raised his walking stick to him and ran after him down the driveway.

“That’s when reports of people disappearing came in. We attributed the first one to running away as he was young and foolish. The next one was an older man who kept the grounds clean. There was no reason for him to leave. We began investigating and uncovered nothing, which made us more concerned. 

“A few days later, Parine stumbled into town claiming Ben had tried to kill him. We tried to help him, but he died within minutes. The doctor said he had been beaten to death. When I arrived here at the compound, everyone was leaving. They were yelling how Ben had gone crazy and was killing people. Seems a few more people turned up missing I was unaware of.”

“Where does the spider come into play?”

“The indigenous tribes talk of the Da Tengat that created the day and night. It is a powerful spider that is neither good nor bad. It is a balance of both which represents the true nature of the earth and its people when they work together. It seems Ben woke it.”

They frowned in confusion.

“His presence with the Onau caused the creature to wake and bring the balance back. It sensed the evil lurking inside him.”

“Ben wasn’t evil.”

“No, I believe his heart was pure, but his acts were evil. So the Da Tengat followed him back to the main island and stalked him, waiting on the moment he could take him away.”

“Why not just enter the compound and take him?

“The Da Tangent is to never be seen except by the one he is to claim.”

“We saw him. Are we next?”

“No. You were given a rare gift. You fought the evil and tried to bring balance within your own means. That was respect he showed you.”

“How do you know all this?”

“The native you saw stopped me before I came in. He wanted me to explain it better to you.”

“So now what?”

“Go home. Realize what a gift life is and live it.”

Within the hour, the four were at the small airport. The government had called in a special plane outside of the ones normally scheduled to take them to the mainland. They had quickly gathered their belongings and left. 

Walking up to the plane, Brad paused and looked back. He thought back on all the times he had arrived and left with Ben there welcoming him and sending him off. That would be no more. His mentor had moved on and left this world behind him. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the tiny ball of silk he had snagged from the tree in the back of the complex. Some things should never be forgotten.

******

The plane’s engines roared to life and pushed the small aircraft down the makeshift runway and up over the ocean. Down below, as it flew over the southern islands, an old man watched it and gave a slight wave. In the dark behind him, hidden by the rainforest trees, another set of eyes watched unblinkingly. 

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