The next day, they continued on, with no one really talking. By mid-afternoon, Chess felt violent rumblings in his stomach. He had gotten accustomed to somewhat regular meals, with Gryff teaching him how to hunt. But Gryff had been strangely distant all day -- unusually reticent, even for him. That evening, Sariel prepared only the vegetables and roots that she had collected along the way. The nutrition bars were almost gone and they had decided to save a few for emergencies, and so they sat around the fire eating the sparse meal of greens.
After a while, though, Ileana pulled herself out of the deep waters of her own thoughts and looked around with a cheerful smile. “Sariel,” she began, “You keep us alive with this nutritious food, and we all appreciate it. But…” She looked up at the darkening sky. “I have to say, I really miss some things from civ.” She closed her eyes. “Mostly, I miss chocolate.”
“Oh,” Chess groaned. The bland taste of plants in his mouth was suddenly intolerable. “Why did you bring that up?” With effort, he swallowed and then laughed, shaking his head. Gryff was staring stonily at the ground, so Chess turned to Sariel. “How about you, Sar? Chocolate?”
Sariel shook her head gravely as she swallowed a bite of food. Chess expected her to say that she didn’t know what chocolate was, but she shocked both him and Ileana when she smiled brightly and pronounced, “Ice cream.”
“Oh!” Ileana exclaimed. “We couldn’t even get ice cream at Razor’s! Where did you have it?”
Sariel leaned forward, wrapping her arms around her raised knees. “At the parties, sometimes, when they were located close enough to the borders of civ.” She shrugged. “The ice cream was always in small amounts, and usually shared. Often I would wish for a big bowl, to have all for myself.”
Ileana stared at her, expressions of amusement and horror seeming to chase each other across her face. And then she blinked, as if waking up, and turned to Gryff.
“Gryff, how about you?” she asked with the same cheery voice. “Dessert? Or something else?”
Chess feared that he was not going to acknowledge the question. The fire popped, sending up sparks during the long moment that passed. Then, without raising his head, Gryff growled, “Steak.”
“Huh,” Chess answered, trying to keep him engaged in the conversation. “Well, your family raised cattle, so the steaks were probably really good. Not like the processed stuff that we got in civ.” He smiled. “I mean, most of the meat available in civ could not compare to what we cook over our campfires, here.” Chess felt like he was rambling, but he just wanted to draw Gryff out of this weird, uncomfortable mood. “Yeah,” he mused, “that’s one thing I don’t really miss…”
Abruptly, Gryff raised his head and scowled fiercely at Chess. Chess started, surprised by the flashing anger in his friend’s eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly Gryff moved toward him. And Chess saw the hunting knife flash out of his belt.
“I would kill for a steak right now,” Gryff spat, bringing the knife up under Chess’s chin.
Shocked, Chess stayed as motionless as he could. He stared into Gryff’s eyes, just centimeters away from his own. Gryff’s blade was not touching him -- at least, not that he could feel -- but he was afraid to swallow or even to breathe in too deeply. He sat there taking rapid, shallow breaths. “Gryff?” he whimpered softly.
But, behind Gryff, Sariel had her own knife out. At the edge of his vision, Chess watched her press the blade against Gryff’s throat, making a dark shadow where it pushed the skin inward.
“I sympathize with your appetites,” Sariel murmured into Gryff’s ear. “But I do not believe they can be satisfied here.”
With a cry of frustration, Gryff suddenly lowered his knife and moved quickly away from both of them. As they watched in stunned silence, he got to his feet, swept up his backpack, and stomped off, shouting, “You can all just go to hell!”
When he had disappeared into the woods, Ileana asked quietly, “What did we do?”
Sariel added, “What does that mean?”
Continued next page...
…Enkidu nodded his head. Deep in his heart, he felt something stir, a longing he had never known before, the longing for a true friend.
- Gilgamesh: A New English Version translated by Stephen Mitchell
Admittedly, we could argue forever about mythic plots like the dying-and returning god, and whether the story of the Biblical Jesus is actually an adaptation of Mithras, god of the Roman soldiers, and whether the dying god was originally a goddess, such as Inanna or Demeter, temporarily sacrificing herself by descending into the realm of death... but I would probably lose the argument because I have not done enough research yet. I mean, I always thought that Red Sonja was invoking Mithras, which made sense to me, what with all the swords and everything. But apparently “Mitra” is actually a god of ancient India, so what do I know?
There are two stories, though, that strike me as uncanny in their similarity - and in the way that the take-away message of each version is very different. The first is the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel of Genesis 11, in which the people of the earth build a tower, with the goal of ascending to heaven. The Lord decides to put a stop to this by making everyone suddenly speak a different language, so that they can no longer work together and complete this project. This is usually taught as a lesson in fearing an all-powerful god and the consequences of pride.
However, Plato's Symposium contains a similar story about humans growing powerful enough that they were threatening to scale Mount Olympus and attack the gods themselves. Zeus ruminates over how to stop this and finally decides that he will separate them physically -- rather than the metaphorical separation of the Bible -- so that they will be much less powerful. And although Zeus’s reaction and his words are remarkably similar to that of the Lord, this story is presented within a set of speeches about human love, so the moral of the story is very different.
The Symposium’s story of the “splitting” of humans has been explained incredibly well in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001). It is also alluded to in the movie Hancock (2008).
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