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By Zelda Rhiando

"Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.' Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth."
(Genesis 11:1-9)

You walk down the dark street. It is summer. The breeze is cool on your bare legs and the night silent but for the susurration of leaves. Pools of sepia-toned light fall from the lampposts, and the dark driveways yawn to left and right as you pass. Your heels strike the ground like drumbeats. You wish they weren't so loud.

Maybe it's the temperature; just that side of warm. A spasm twists you momentarily; someone crosses your grave. The night is dead silent - but is that a footfall behind you? You turn your head, just enough for a sidelong glance. Nothing. You shrug and walk on. The houses are barred, their windows dark. All the little diplomats tucked up in their beds, or someone else's, maybe.

You're heading for the school, further along: a gap in the fence and beyond it the sanctuary of the trees. You finger the wrap in your pocket, a tiny hard ball of cling film. Suddenly your mouth is awash with saliva. You quicken your pace. A bird starts up and you wonder what it's got to sing about at this hour of the night. Since when did anything in this crazy fucked up 24-7 town make sense? You walk on.

The gap in the chain link fence is all but invisible - the streetlights spaced much wider here - but you know just where to look for it. You crouch down and in a second you've gone, vanished into the dark beyond. The grass muffles your steps. As you walk across the playing field your eyes adjust to the darkness and you can just make out the shadow of a line of trees. The moon bursts out from behind the clouds and suddenly everything is silver, brittle. Why does it feel like someone's watching you, eyes probing like fingers down your spine? Dead quiet but for the distant whisper of traffic, the faint whine of a siren. You quicken your step, making for the trees. You seem to walk within a bright circle of light, carrying the darkness along with you; above you a universe of pinpricks swings into focus. You reach the trees and instantly the stars, the whole sky, vanish as the canopy encloses you.

You head for the centre tree, the biggest one, and find a dry spot at the base of the trunk where the dew hasn't penetrated. You take the works out of your pocket and lay them on the ground as ceremonially as a Shaman, holding the rock between your lips whilst you arrange the pipe and the lighter. Your hands are trembling a little, and you bite your lip in frustration as your clumsy fingers fumble at the cling film. You have to do everything by feel; it's so dark under this bloody tree.

Finally, it seems, you find an end and carefully unwind the cling from the rock. The pipe is ready. You raise the stem to your lips and you can already feel what it will be like: your lungs know the taste of the smoke and you flick the wheel of the lighter and suck it right down, and again, and again. You feel a massive rush of blood to your head. Everything tingles. You lie back and close your eyes and let it take you away.

Suddenly you feel the weight of a body on you. Cloth clad knees pin your wrists, and a hand at your throat, hard fingers. It might be happening to somebody else - as though in the distance, you can hear breathing; your eyes open. Dark bulk of a man against the black trees, face covered. Long seconds pass.

He fumbles in his pocket, looking for something, and a part of you is screaming silently, but you feel heavy as lead. You hear a faint snick, a half remembered sound, and see the glint of something bright in his gloved hand. It swings down to join its mate at your throat and you feel the cold prick of metal stabbing and then, you could swear it, the flood of liquid entering your veins. And still the dark hollows that should be eyes stare at you with no hint of emotion; deep breaths measure out the seconds. And for some reason you focus on that alone as everything else slips away...

The Photographer

A heavy and unruly creature, he habitually dresses in black or grey: for many reasons, but not least because he is living celluloid. He's probably fooling himself - at root he is a pragmatist, a state symbolised by his footwear: his boots are solid with good thick soles.

His apartment is a rat's maze of frenzied overblown house-plants, and concealed cameras. From the monstrous cine-camera in his hall cupboard (activated by the doorbell, it has contained the same reel of film for a long time - company is rare) to a cunningly devised cigarette lighter, which snaps wide shots bond-style. He is a man of few words, and two obsessions, one of which is to make pictures speak for him.

The other? Don't be impatient please; all will be revealed in good time.

Despite his retiring nature he has achieved some notoriety in the world of photography. Infrequent exhibitions and a total lack of interviews contribute to this. And no it is not clockwork that makes him tick, as one critic suggested.

Love Interest? Cold comfort.

The Caposcripti

The year is 1851 - the year of the Great Exhibition, optimism and palaces of glass (and not the late 20th century, an era of deforestation and sexual insecurity).

The Amazon is full of magic. Travel is difficult. Jungles impassable. Rivers form the main arteries for trade, but most are so sclerotic that traffic is limited to canoes and the occasional raft, all that can survive the rapids and endless deltas of the Amazon basin. Alcoholism, the Clap and the common cold have not yet decimated the indigenous population and the ancient arts and languages are not yet ancient - for the people that live them the legends are real and spirits, rather than morals, censor their actions. They are not yet children - it will take them a few years longer to become that.

The Caposcripti are a semi-nomadic people, their wanderings determined by the floods that submerge large tracts of the jungle for several months of the year, when the rivers break their banks. They live in small, temporary settlements, each loose scattering of families taking up a few hundred square feet of jungle. When the rains come they will frequently abandon a whole village, returning to it the following year when the Amazon has deposited a rich layer of mud on the dry shores. They range over a fairly large area - always choosing land avoided by more settled tribes.

Keenness of hand and a rich oral tradition have bequeathed to them the gentle arts of head shrinking, and the ability to brew the equally lethal concoctions curare and alcohol. There are substances in the jungle which give them visions, and on attaining adulthood they take these daily, so as not to become confused by the lie of this reality.

Their language is infinitely complex: they tattoo it on their bodies so they don't forget it, starting on their feet for common phrases in youth and scripting sacred truths and personal histories on their faces, on the lids of their eyes, and on the lobes of their ears. As the intellect begins to develop the head is shaved, and various areas of the skull marked with the traits and characteristics that arrive through maturity. Typically an elder of the tribe will be completely bald, hair replaced by an intricate tangle of points and lines. There is a paste made from tree bark, which prevents regrowth.

They exist on a diet of fish and what they can hunt in the jungle - almost anything big enough to eat and not actively poisonous is fair game to their blowpipes and poisoned darts, their almost invisible traps. Although sometimes the crops falter, and the staple manioc fails to yield its large and nourishing roots hunger is not a problem in the jungle. There are more than enough fruits and nuts to sustain the few people that inhabit the region. And yet there is much to fear, good reason to ask the protection of the spirits against accidents, floods, storms, against poisons, fevers and the attacks of animals. Those lost this way are the ones that are forgotten - their heads missing from the massed ranks that bear witness to the history of the Caposcripti, and provide the only constant record of their existence in the unsettled and ever changing jungle, ringing with the echoes of wandering spirits looking for another shell to animate. For all those who have ever been are not gone, but merely imperceptible to the living.

Suicide is less an escape from this existence than a passport to the next, and in fact an honourable way to remove the burden of one's existence from one's family. To avoid the fate of not existing, of never having been, those who are too old or tired or sick to continue take poison, mixed for them by the Speaker, who sends them on their journey to the next world. Their heads are preserved in the ritual manner, life reduced to an ideogram tattooed on their shrunken scalp.

After death, the body is mummified in a seated position, and suspended from the branches of trees high up to be disposed of by the elements - the cleansing depredations of birds and tree dwelling carnivores, the sudden, fierce squalls of the late afternoon.

The heads are prepared by quite another, and secret method, which preserves the sacred scrawl in perpetuity. They are hidden deep underground in concealed caves reminiscent of the photographer's cupboards and drawers - all the paraphernalia of a chronicle rests with them, the wisdom of the future and the potential of the past.

The Explorer

Once he was a big man: his shoulders were as wide as two axe handles, and young ladies sighed over his dance cards. Now the years of travelling, bad food, and loneliness have given him a wizened, jaundiced look. Dirt ground into deep creases, clothes badly stained, candid, fanatical eyes piercing from beneath untrimmed brows. He has two passions: travelling and chronicling - nothing hidden here, all is transcribed into small dog-eared notebooks which set forth, detail, narrate, enumerate moment by moment the minutiae of life.

In his youth he had been a literary man: possessed of a large vocabulary, and the full complement of the fashionable philosophies. The years have conflated these into an all-embracing pseudo humanism - ennobling the savage and placing learning on a pedestal for all to admire. Reduced though he is in possessions, he has nevertheless held onto several books: the essays of Montaigne; the Confessions of Rousseau; a volume of Keats; a pocket bible. The rest of his belongings fill a number of solid trunks in the family home - sent back to London from all corners of the globe, and held in storage against his eventual return.

He is still uncertain of what has brought him to these remote and savage lands to chronicle their inhabitants. There is disillusionment with optimism - the childlike wonder in the machine, in technology, that has gripped his fellows with fever. - Some disgrace, a lapse in his fortunes. Anger at the profusion of inaccurate descriptions already in existence and daily multiplying. And there is wonder in the thought of describing what had never been seen; of challenging the certainty of those who believed that because they held the secrets of machines, they were infallible. For whichever of these motives you prefer, he has for the latter part of his life taken to chronicling lands distant and mysterious; arcane tongues and barbarous practices in a self imposed exile from civilised society.

His should have been the guardianship of many secrets: instead all are bequeathed to vellum and paper, mixing his piss with berries when ink runs dry, making a canvas of his skin, his body.

This last is probably what saved his life - and his death - from extinction.

The Photographer is out looking to score with his callipers and camera's. All around he feels the pulse of the city; in the grumble of traffic, the constant almost-contact with other pedestrians on the pavement. He is edgy, taut. Controlled precision and a certain detachment are evident in his posture. He has chosen that uncertain hour between daylight and dusk when the puddles in the gutter start to reflect darkness and the stark outlines of cornices, aerials, fire escapes. Today, however, the Photographer is not particularly interested in puddles - although once upon a time he took pictures of them: as well as street scenes, barrow markets, smiling children, obscure buildings.

Back then the urban landscape had inspired him with its complexity - awed him with the continual juxtaposition of the unexpected. He would go to Liverpool street station to attune himself to the city's rhythms - wheels within wheels, natives interacting with one another like cogs turning, clockwork and unvarying measures; contrapuntal movement. Nine to five-ers in from the suburbs every day; the swarms of black suits fleeing the city at five fifteen; soaring buildings, park sized atriums, giant tropical plants belying their sterility and dwarfing the scurrying workers below; skyscrapers suspended from great steel arches, glistening pyramids of glass, all invited the Photographer's lens, demanded interpretation.

But now in the gathering dusk he ignores these and other possibilities: he is conducting a dialogue of one, with himself and his camera, the method and the goal, the Cartesian dichotomy. He believes in dualism.

"In the beginning was the word: and the word was with God. Who can we believe? The priests and the philosophers, these lovers of wisdom? Should have been a camera there. Black and white. Never lies.

"Seven planets, God and the Devil, and man travelling a known path one way or the other. Someone is up there with their CCTV, filming inside the mind, no lies. Camera never lies."

The Photographer doesn't own a television: he had a black and white one once, but the dull eye watching him from across the room unnerved him. God and his eye piercing his very soul, pinning him insect-like under the solar microscope, caught in the panopticon. No escape. Sometimes he thinks he is Lucifer - he too carries his hell inside him.

And so he is outside as the dusk falls, while the sun is too engaged in its struggle with the moon to keep an eye on him. Eyes scan the faces of passer-by for the one whose head fits his specifications: he has it down to a fine art now. The callipers a prop, part of the mythos. These days the only genre that interests him is portraiture, and he has no time for clouds, solar eclipses, or the bottom of the ocean. Motion photography he flirted with briefly, in his youth, but lately he's been after the freeze frame, the moment of truth.

Camera and callipers; callipers and camera. The others on the pavement give him a wide berth: his gaze is discomfiting - measuring them from head to foot as they near him. He has chosen a busy time and the roads are at capacity. The city's dwellers are displaying a refinement of evolution: the ability to condense population past the point where another species would choose to selectively cull their own kind. Evolution has a part to play in this narrative: the Photographer has more respect for it than for the scurrying pedestrians in his path. Still they serve their purpose.


Morning. The Explorer wakes on what feels like the seven millionth day of his journey. The jungle is beginning to swallow him whole, he feels his spirit evaporating day by day. His voice feels rusty from misuse - he has taken to talking to himself as he walks, to combat the loneliness, and to convince himself that he is still alive, and not wandering, a figment, in some self-imagined country.

Location is not important, but he might be in Ecuador, or Peru. If he had an idea where he was. If borders had any meaning in terms of the Jungle. He has heard rumours of a secret tribe somewhere in the vicinity, followed them up in the settlements up river, garnered what information he can from rum-sodden natives gone to seed in tiny river outposts. But for some reason they have never been classified - mere rumours of their existence culled from the records of successive waves of colonisers. Exploration in the area has been minimal. Attracted by the gold and rare minerals; the guano and oil and ancient treasure troves to be found in the more accessible areas of mountain and coast, the Spanish, and the British, and all of the other greedy or well-meaning colonisers have so far ignored it.

In another few years the anthropologists, those missionaries of civilisation, will arrive, taming the natives with ideas of property and sin, cheap gifts and alcohol - replacing traditional medicine with iodine, and quinine, the meeting huts with concrete schools. For now the Amazon is guarding its secrets well.

He cheats the jungle of his blood by making words of it, the dark fluid clotting on the pages of his notebooks. He feels himself shrinking, but into his descendants, onward to fame. The vegetable life around him is oppressive - the jungle alive with sounds all muted by the foliage, an audioscape that changes with each step, throwing back now the sounds of running water, now the high and melodious whistles of birds, now the harsh calls of parrots, the whirring and clicking of grasshoppers, the rustling of breezes and of his passage. Each step is a struggle and every step feels wrong. The lack of direct sunlight makes direction almost impossible to determine, and time a meaningless abstraction. For the first time in many months he feels lost. For the first time in as many years he feels fear, for somewhere on the edges of his vision he can sense eyes, a suspicion that has been plaguing him for some time. He thinks he is finally losing it. That and the years of travel, the instinct for survival that has saved him in uncounted situations, make him wary.

His clothes, boots, food, books are rotting in the humidity: the pages gradually turning a virulent green - the ink correspondingly purple. They are rotting, but they addict him - he has learnt to appreciate the smell of musty paper, and still he is writing, recording, reciting his existence. Because the jungle never changes (although it continues to astonish him) he has begun to delve deeper beneath reality. The life around him seems to him to be too sentient to be merely the sum of several different types of monkey, innumerable birds fish plants and insects, and strange iridescent lizards. He is gradually developing an equation, out there on the perimeter: a series of truths hard-gained and dear paid for. These he proves on his body, scribbling arcane figures in the crooks of his arms, and on the palms of his hands. These he reproduces in his report.

Night-time in London - or rather the electric dusk that passes for night in city, where the sky develops a perpetual orange glow that conceals all but the brightest stars, and a thin haze softens everything into indistinctness.

Patches of light from the street lamps intensify the areas of shadow under the long landbridge supporting the railway line, and cast doorways and corners into obscurity. Beneath the overhang arches curve along the pavement. The shops and offices are shuttered against the night, rendered uniform by the dark outlines of graffiti etched into them. The street is littered with the debris of daytime and has that peculiar sense of isolation of the shuttered outdoor market.

Save for the dim glimmer of reflection thrown from his lens, the Photographer is near invisible in his hiding place, black coat melting into the dark stone, dark eyes dim hollows in his pale face, camouflaged in stillness, checking for cameras.

His quarry, an aged female alcoholic entering the final stages of dipsomania, is about halfway down the street bedded down for the night in the entrance to the station. Like the market and the shops it's closed now, quiet and deserted, and she is only just visible through the metal cage that forms the stairwell. A near shapeless bundle in the darkness, even the filth and the stink of piss and stale cider have not been enough to dissuade her from the shelter that the stairwell affords in coldest hour before dawn. Shelter, the Photographer reflects, that will provide his activities with some cover too.

Everywhere these days there are cameras watching; cameras, hidden by them, tricks and feints. Even the concealed ones might be dummies, double bluffs, no escape. Watching me? He marks her and bides his time; there's no need to rush. Does anybody really see such people? Maybe not, but the camera catches everything.

The Photographer pictures a grand controller, seated in front of a giant switchboard, wired into a chamber studded with monitors in obscene symbiosis: a monstrous eye. Images flash on the screens, zoom shots, wide pans; from the grainy black and white of CCTV to the lurid polychrome of cheap porn.

Suddenly everything vanishes, every screen switches to a single shot, a magnified view of the very street, the very doorway where he is hiding, camera lens glinting in the streetlight, sight and senses straining. But what would they see? Nothing. For how can they see what they're not looking for? Blind. Blind leading the blind. Eyes closed to the patterns in the noise, fragments of the lost language. He's been watching this one for some time now, saving her up like a banquet, waiting for the moment of significance, the confluence of signs.

Even in the dark he can form a perfect mental picture of every contour of her person - from the filthy and crusted layers of petticoats, and blouses, and skirts, and coats, and cardigans, to the bloated feet wrapped in layers of plastic; conjunctival eyes squinting from the lined and bloodshot face. He is impervious to the decay, for this face still holds a promise of beauty for him, hints given in the high cheekbones, weathered cheeks, sockets spaced wide and eyes of an extraordinary colour.

He's observed her in all weathers: panhandling for change or drinking Tennant's Super on a bench by the library with the other regulars; shouting and spitting at the pigeons, at the government, at the rain, and at the great confusing conspiracy of it all; sleeping it off on the pavement, as oblivious to the passers-by as they are to her.

How many times has he asked himself: does anybody see such people? Really see them or just register their presence as they pass in the morning as an annoyance or obstacle or object of sudden pity, quickly forgotten? How many hundreds of pairs of eyes glance at this woman on a daily basis without ever seeing her at all? And if challenged to describe even one small aspect of her appearance, what would they recall? Naturally this last is an important consideration.

It's different for him, for them; he's intimate with her, close as no other. Who else could describe, as the Photographer can describe, the colour of her eyes, the moles on her face, the deep lines carved down to the mouth? Who knows the precise number of her teeth, and which are crowns? Who traces the lines on her hands, the varicose veins marbling the back of her calves, the tone and tenor of her voice, when she wakes, when she sleeps, where she goes.

Who had last touched her emaciated body - as he would - filled with a kind of awe before the microcosm of humanity; the machinery of natural language latent in her cells, like some complex DNA strand waiting to unfold? She will be more than the sum of her parts, society's discard, nameless and invisible. She exists for this, fragment of an equation that embodies that primary relationship between the identity of the individual, and the millions of dim reflections of the original form that people the universe, the fragments of Babel that she carries within her.

And all this contingent on the camera's, the CCTV, his present concealment and his long observation of her habits: Will anybody miss her? Will anyone register her absence, and having registered it, ask questions, instigate a trace, compile footage of her haunts to establish just when and where and how she disappeared? Will they delve into the black economy of the nameless and unrecorded to discover her true identity, that long forgotten National Insurance number, the place on the Electoral role surely lapsed?

So much easier to suppose that she has moved on, succumbed quietly to the maw of the streets, been rescued to rot her days away in institutionalised peace...

All potential truths, all possibilities, all made concrete to confuse the pursuer - a paper trail laid for those who might be looking.

"Black and white. Clear-cut. No, there is nothing preventing this: she is nothing. Camera never lies. People do. I must remember as life is art, she is symbolism. Nearly time now: woo her with the camera; always works; black and white: Camera never lies. Fool the eye. Time. Now."

When he was younger he relished these opportunities. Anticipation and the quick strike, snap, run. But this is only the first step in the process. Each element is deliberate, each a part of the ritual. Above all there must be no haste in his actions.

As with each of his victims there's an element of the lover's nervousness in this first contact. Despite all his observation, even having seen inside them with the eye of his lens, clear as the cross-section of a cell on a microscope, even then first contact is a shock, recognising in each of them a fragment of the true language. Whilst others dismiss their drunken ravings, he rejoices in their deafness to the language of Babel, the speakers of tongues - Have they no ears to hear? Here, in this dark and filthy street, shuttered for the night and watched by the blind lens of a score of CCTV cameras, here, would he hear the voice of God? Her cries could be the only remedy for the lost symmetry of his soul.

Not all of his subjects have been women: although there have certainly been a few. Outwardly they differ from each other, but linked by a common theme; the shibboleth latent in their musculature, in the juxtaposition of cheekbone and eye socket, the grammar of the sacred language encoded in each like a cipher. Each of these individuals could be prepared and reduced to their essence, the barest equation. Each would become an elegant notation in the vast and complex calculation, the answer to which is the original word, the knowledge the first humans stole from the Garden of Eden, which was lost in the destruction of the Tower of Babel.

It was time now, painfully, to reconstruct that language unpick the myths and conspiracy theories of society's remnants, living on the borders of its conscience, and rework them into his own private mythology.

Time. Strike. Thrill of fear or is it anticipation? He feels himself becoming hard, the street silent enough to hear her gently snoring in the stairwell, his measured tread as he approaches.

Softly he speaks her name, all reassurance - Betty come now dear, come with me, calming her with his mild voice and gentle hands, talking to her all the time as he gathers her up from her den. Somehow it's easier than expected to convince her that he poses no threat. She comes quietly, holding his hand in hers, grasping his fingers like a child. She is so light and frail that a strong gust of wind could blow her away.

Her hand: cracked and slightly crusted - is it exposure, or some skin complaint worsened by dirt and lack of washing? The contact is uncomfortable, but necessary to reassure her; the last thing he needs is a scene in front of the cameras. He glances at her profile in the darkness, walking head-down, one foot in front of the other, and the next gets you where you're going; how many years of the same round? Deliverer.

The rented car is around the corner, but it feels like miles, like they're crawling, open targets on the battlefield. Finally they reach it. He opens the passenger door. -It's all right Betty, I'm going to help you, can't have you sleeping on the cold street at night. Got a nice warm bed and a few ciders for you at home, come along now, in you get. Slow, slow talking in a gentle monotone, reassuring smile, no sudden movements; in his pocket, the solution - just in case.

Once she's in he closes the passenger door gently and walks slowly around to the other side of the car, settling his large frame into the seat. Turns the ignition and starts the car; turns to look at Betty, already dozing, head on her chest in the comfortable seat. Good. They can drive for a while.

After half an hour or so sure that she is deep in slumber, he slowly brings the car to a halt in a residential street beneath a large tree. What infinite patience it requires to wait for a couple more minutes. The street is quiet and dark, and she has not stirred at all. Time. Now.

Only the thought of all the invisible jungle, the lure of the empty spaces on his map keeps the Explorer going. It is solely the promise of an Eden, a place of purity and simplicity utterly foreign to the Babel of London and the insensate progress of the Western world that drives him on. It is not his first such journey. His books contain passages describing mandalas built up painstakingly from sand by Tibetan lama's, only to be brushed away on the instant they are finished with yak's hair brooms. He has illustrated first-hand locust plagues in Africa, and passed on recipes for aphrodisiacs, philtres, and near untraceable poisons, learnt from the medicine men of Haiti and the Congo to his descendants.

Sometimes he has used guides to take him to the distant and unrecorded tribes, to traverse areas so remote and strange that none of his race has ever ventured there to map their valleys and hills and secret places. Each sentence clawed out of painful ascents into the mountains, to the rocky heights where nothing grows, surviving on a few dried out grains of corn, goats milk, edible lichens, melting snow water in his mouth, staggering through blizzards over high mountain passes, eyes slitted behind wooden goggles.

And all of this he has recorded in his tiny neat and regular hand, in letters so tiny that you would need a magnifying glass to read them, to decipher the places, peoples, customs he has classified, captured and frozen, trapped between mildew-spotted covers to ensure his immortality. But none of it has prepared him for the Amazon, for the rich and hungry jungle, for the river, its life-blood, and for the unseen and unrecorded interiors.

Despite the rumours of bloodshed and war between tribes, an almost pathological distrust of outsiders, dark hints of cannibalism and the practice of head shrinking, the Explorer has made no attempt at concealment as he cuts his way through the jungle. For one, the sheer density of vegetation seems to insulate against all sound, even the crunch of branches beneath his feet are strangely muted, so that he feels the urge to scream bubbling up within him, if only to reassure himself that he is not forgetting language, losing his voice and the habit of shaping words.

But in fact the main reason for his confidence is that he cannot imagine that the people that he is looking for are actually dangerous, that they could harm him. This is not due to a lack of imagination, or knowledge of the area. Certainly there have been reports of whole expeditions killed and tortured by indigenous people, angry and terrified at the strangers invading their territory; people who have learnt the hard to associate the white man with death, with slavery, with the loss of land and children. So why not the Explorer? What makes him so sure that he can avoid this fate? What gives him his proselytising zeal, that almost missionary fervour, and the belief that when he finally finds the people he is looking for they will not do him any harm?

Is it working on the assumption that a lone individual is less threatening than a large group, who could be perceived as a rival �tribe'. It is partly this that is responsible for him travelling by himself. In addition he nurtures a dream of forming the tribe's first contact with the world outside their jungle home - a world that feels as distant as the moon, here, with the great walls of green rising on all sides, the tangled vegetation, warring for space and light, the possibility of creating multiple worlds existed, the real far away and half-forgotten.

Somewhere in this almost impassable jungle (impassable that is except for by a single, unaccompanied and determined explorer) dwelled people who had never heard of steam, glass, Faraday, and possibly writing. Their customs might be the strangest he had ever encountered, and their religion incomprehensible, pantheistic, sublime.

Is it a family trait, the talent for fabulism, the parallel reality created by belief that is so much more concrete to them than the real? The Photographer, no less than his illustrious ancestor would fall into this trap - the arrogance of one that assumes that he is the only master of the secret, and thus is above and beyond normal morality; that none of the mundane disasters to which others are subject can touch them. The Explorer would learn, as the Photographer would learn that he is no more proof against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than Hamlet...but we have a journey to travel before then.

They would take him in, teach him their customs and their language, and through him would discover and come to know their fellow man. He would be their sole interpreter and unique point of contact. Alone in the world he would understand their ways and a grateful humanity would thank him for revealing the secrets that they had discovered, of medicine, levitation, magic and divination. Who knew what boundaries of the mind they had conquered, untainted by blundering science? All of this would be his to interpret; to add to his chronicles, to augment the pattern he was creating of the world.

Over the years the Explorer has become less and less convinced of the efficacy of language in recording, correlating and explaining the customs and tongues that he has uncovered and chronicled. He has developed a system of mathematical notation combining that of the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Sumerians, and including symbols and constructions previously undreamed of in any Western or Eastern lexicon. This system functions as a kind of shorthand and allows him to cross-reference the elements he has taken from so many different cultures. It has the additional advantage of requiring far less space than longhand - thus conserving his limited store of paper. Now, travelling through the jungle, he makes notes in India ink on his hands, wrists, forearms, which he writes up in his notebooks when he makes camp each night, along with detailed sketches of pinpoint accuracy.

Decades of squinting at tiny characters have gradually destroyed his eyesight, so that he is in the habit of donning glasses when he is working on his notebooks. He preserves these against the damp and dirt of the jungle by keeping them in an inside pocket wrapped in silk - which is now slowly rotting away like the rest of his equipment.

As the deepening shadows remind him that the day is almost over he unrolls his hammock, ties it between a couple of trees, and hanging his pack on a nearby branch, climbs with effort into its confining folds. Night falls suddenly, the jungle becoming a negative of itself, deepening shadows where the palms and saplings and vines and trees grow into and around each other. The dark is almost complete - apart from the spark of fireflies, and the occasional star pricked out against the ink of the sky where the jungle breaks.

In the beginning he had been terrified by the chorus of calls, whistles, barks and shrieks that would start up at dusk. Sleeplessness hollowed his cheeks and lent a grey pallor to his skin. He experienced delusions, and imagined horrors - waking with a jaguar or a puma snarling on his chest, vampire bats sucking his blood at night, giant snakes crushing him and swallowing him whole.

Since, in the weeks that he has been travelling, the only animals he has seen are monkeys, lizards, tree sloths, giant rodents, capybaras, porcupines, he has relaxed his guard somewhat. Still, he builds a fire before he camps, and trusts that the hammock will protect him from the depredations of ground-dwelling creatures, covering himself well against the bites of bloodsucking bats and insects alike. He soon learnt not to leave anything on the jungle floor, for it would not stay there for long. There seemed to be a limitless number of ants, and all determined to carry away every scrap of anything left unsecured, as if the jungle were intent on gradually assimilating him.

Whilst his main interest is in the people that inhabit remote and inaccessible areas of the earth, and the way in which they define themselves and their ideas through language, their environment is of equal interest to him. As he travels he makes a minute and careful study of the life around him, in the hope that when he finds the tribe he will already understand to some extent the detail of their existence, and so be able to grasp their vocabulary and their concepts: the way that each word describes a unique set of attributes or essence. The Explorer's world is made of words; and although he has travelled and interpreted and catalogued innumerable languages the world over, the words are never repeated, each corresponding to a facet of the consciousness of the earth, in potentially infinite variety.

And so he catalogues the plants and animals and insects and birds, trying to describe the unique and irreplaceable nature of this world, and to construct an understanding of the people that he knows are there somewhere. He collects samples, and performs rough dissections, as far as is possible given the tools to hand. He follows the trails of leafcutter ants, to their cunningly constructed nests, searches out the funnel spider's trap-doored lair, the colonies of clay globes built by termites.

He travels from daybreak to dusk with infrequent stops for rest and refreshment, surviving on fruits that he recognises and pools of water collected in jungle hollows, or tapped from the trunks of trees. Occasionally he gets lucky and catches a bird or fish; but the river has its own dangers; swift moving and silent water snakes, many-teethed amphibians, and the animals and birds usually avoid his clumsy traps.

In the beginning he had tried to shoot game for food, using the heavy musket he had carried with him, the report deadened against the deep gloom of the jungle. But it was difficult to aim and fire the clumsy weapon fast enough to hit anything, and his sightings were rare. He did not know enough of the habits of the jungle creatures to follow the trails of capybaras, or catch possums in their lairs. In the end he had given up, preparing to conserve his powder and ammunition in case he should need it to defend himself.

Occasionally he stumbles across clearings that look as though they may have once been cultivated - perhaps with maize, or manioc - but the jungle grows back so fast that it's impossible to be sure, or to tell how recently the ground was used. He's learnt to live with more or less constant hunger, and with stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, sweats, and all the other consequences of his experiments in the edible. Each episode a painful lesson in the vocabulary of sustenance.

Poor diet, the bites of mosquitoes, and the bloodsucking of leaches and ticks have left him prey to recurrent fevers, which take him out of himself for days, wavering between unconsciousness and vivid hallucinations, so that he no longer knows where, or who, he is. When he feels the fever coming on he fills his water bottle, ties up his hammock and straps himself in, praying each time that he will survive, and waking, an unknown time later, weak, starving and parched, but with a clear head and cooler skin. For this reason he does not know precisely how long he has been in the jungle. His journals are full of gaps, dates and locations approximate, time and distance distorted by the absence of perspective.

So far he has seen little sign of the people he is searching for - found only the barest traces of settlements, tools or fires. According to the fragments of information that he has been able to gather, they should be somewhere around this area - always assuming that he hasn't lost his way or become confused during the times when he's been incoherent with fever. But the Explorer refuses to entertain this possibility. In his mind he's building a rapport with these invisible people in the way that he's adapting to their environment, acquiring the tools with which to decipher their language. Inevitably he will find them, and when he does he will be the first and only of his race to discover their unique world, to create a bridge between their reality and his own.

Half maddened and dazed, this feverish dream obsesses him as he hacks and cuts his way towards his goal, brushing flies from his lips and eyes, feasting on the stinging sweat, the suppurating bites. Bits of leaves and branches, beetles and unidentified seeds add themselves to the tangle of his hair and the folds of his clothes. His route is determined equally by compass and intuition, for it is rarely possible to travel in a straight line for long. Some of the land that he was crossing had evidently been cleared at some point in the past - the jungle had reclaimed it's own with extra ferocity, throwing up tangled areas of plants. He crossed swamps, precariously balancing on fallen logs, on stones, on anything solid enough to hold his weight in the valleys of mud between the river's tributaries. At other times the jungle floor was clear, huge trees soaring over the ground carpeted with their dead leaves and strange species of fungi; mosses, creepers and roots hanging down from the secondary growth, high above the jungle floor. Looking up he can see ferns and orchids and parlour palms, parasites on the trunks of giant sequoias.

The sun is rarely visible, and direction further confused by the variety and monotony of the landscape, the murmur and lap and drip of water, millions of leaves brushing against each other, parrots calling to each other, monkeys screaming in protest, packs leaping through the trees, cicadas whirring. At dusk the daytime sounds segue into those of the night; the jungle is at its loudest for the brief period of semi-darkness when then sky is a riot of flame and the stars have not yet begun to emerge. At this time the frogs begin to sing, and join their voices to the spider monkeys calling for rain.


related pieces:

Chapters 1-5, 7,579 words approx
� Zelda Rhiando, 2001, 2002, 2003
Email if you would like to read the full draft of this novel.