Proverbs


Ben is in Africa. He isn't exactly sure which part of Africa because the map went down when the boat did, bubbling slow and muddy to the bottom of the river. But there are a lot of trees here, so most likely they are in The Jungle. Yes. And in The Jungle there are snakes and alligators and probably tigers, so he will have to make sure he has his rifle ready. Just in case.

Inusiq is walking ahead, swinging the machete at the thick vines and trees. It isn't really a machete, obviously; they made it themselves by tying Ben's pocket knife to a long stick. Inusiq gets to hold it because Inusiq is being Marlow. Which is not fair at all, since Ben is the only one who actually read the book, but Inusiq is eleven and once made a tattoo in his own arm with a safety pin and besides, courtesy makes the bigger man.

"Wait." Inusiq stops walking and holds up his hand. Ben stops, too.

"You hear that?" Inusiq asks, "Those drums over there?"

Ben cocks his head and there they are: cannibal drums, loud and deep in the distance. He nods. Inusiq looks grim. "They're close," he says, "They're right here, pretty much. Aaahh--shoot them! Quick!"

They dive for cover. Ben shoots as many of them as he can. There are arrows flying everywhere.

"Oh no!" Inusiq yells, "They got you Ben!"

Ben glares at him. "No they didn't! I'm okay!"

"Yeah, but say they did, Ben. Say they're trying to eat you for dinner."

Ben sighs. "Oh!" he shouts, "They got me, Marlow! Help!"

The cannibals drag Ben into some bushes. They're really horrible-looking and have fangy teeth, like the cougar Ben's dad killed when they still lived in the old house with his mom. He puts up a very good struggle but he doesn't escape. He knows Inusiq will want to rescue him.

Sure enough, there's Inusiq's hand-me-down boots crashing through the bush toward him. "Marlow!" Ben yells, "Over here!"

"Ben!" Inusiq shouts, "I'm--hey, isn't that your dad?"

And just like that, Ben's back on the hill above his grandparents' house, lying underneath the dwarf pines. He scrambles to his feet and looks down. His father is in the drive, striding away from the house toward his truck. He looks angry and impatient, lost in thought. Ben hasn't seen him since Christmas.

"Dad!" he shouts, and he's already running down the hill so fast he's almost falling. He jumps the last few feet and sprints across the road. His father is waiting, smiling at Ben, one hand resting on the truck.

"Why, Benton!" he says, "You're looking well! Grown taller, have you?" He holds out his big callused hand and lets Ben shake it. He smells like gun oil and wood smoke; he's still wearing his uniform from the field. "Just coming home from school?"

Ben shakes his head. "It's summer," he says, "And um. I don't go to school anymore, remember? We live too far."

"Of course, of course." His father nods, looking distracted again. "Playing then, eh? Good, glad to hear it. A man needs to play. Learn a lot that way. Even young caribou do it." He smiles again, and puts his hand on Ben's hair for a second. Then he opens the truck's door.

Ben feels his face fall. "Oh, so... You're leaving, then?"

"Duty calls," his father says briskly. He steps up into the truck and Ben moves out of the way so he can swing the door closed. "Well. Mind your grandparents, Benton. And watch out for wolverines--I understand there's quite the surplus this year."

Ben nods. His father starts the truck, puts it in gear and pulls out onto the road. A cloud of dust sprays up from underneath his tires. There hasn't been any rain for weeks.

"He leaving already?" Inusiq is standing right behind him, somehow, even though Ben never heard him approach. He has his arms crossed over his chest and a skeptical expression on his face. "What's the rush?" he says.

Ben feels a wave of heat sweep up from his feet, tingling under his skin like poison. He wants to pound the expression right off Inusiq's stupid face, until there isn't anything there but fear. He wants to keep on hitting him until he says uncle, and even then Ben doesn't know if he'd stop.

But Ben's grandmother is at the kitchen window, and Ben can feel her watching. And the road is clear and the dust has settled, and a smart man doesn't solve his problems with his fists. So he forces his hands to relax, shoves them into the pockets of his overalls. "I have to go in, now," he tells Inusiq. And then he turns and walks back toward the house.


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