CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah
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The Stars are Wonder
A short story from Cheeseburger Brown
CHAPTERS 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9|10|11
The Stars are Wonder, a short story by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

An Encounter with Savages

After ten days of searching this magic-forsaken archipelego of lifeless islets and fetid lagoons we came upon an island whose trees yield a thin butter which is nine parts fresh water to one part tart mud. In less than an hour we had razed the glen and ferried every stalk to our ship by canoe. Even now Mr. Spice is pressing their precious juice into jugs so that we might also drink tomorrow.

One of the light-brown shipmen managed to catch a small tortoise with his bare hands, which he then proceeded to consume raw after levering open the shell. Before we left the island the magician presided in a brief ceremony over the hungry crewman's corpse.

Onion War has been giving me little pinches of powder to put beneath my tongue, as he himself does each morning and evening. "What is it?" I asked him, and he claimed they were the distilled essences of substances required for the healthy operation of a body. "Like what?" I asked, sceptical. His answer was nonsense -- rock dust and berry acid, traces of metal and beads of gummed oil.

(Still, it cannot be denied that while we are wasting with the others we do not sicken as they do.)

I dare not speculate how many more days we would have lasted had we not come upon the crescent-shaped island of savage people this morning. An enterprising tribe, they had little houses made of thatched grasses and primitive canoes made from trees. They shaved their colourless heads clear of hair and painted designs there in blue squid ink. They were ugly, of course. They hooted like apes when we first came upon them, brandishing wooden spears tipped with sharpened spikes of bone.

I believe they were a fishing people, and this I judge not only by the bone hooks and barbs we can see scattered in their nests but also by the distinctly aquatic aftertaste of their meat.

The mathematicians refused to partake. Captain Valley is worried they may starve, so he has sent some crew back to the ship to force feed them. In the meantime he's sitting on a boulder in the shade, watching us all with his blinking eyes and thinking whatever it is Captain Valley thinks. His mouth is a line. His limbs are motionless, like a lizard.

When I ask Mr. Spice for a second helping he is light-hearted and relatively unprofane. He asks me which cut I would prefer, and I admit that I would be delighted to have more child. "Very tender!" agrees Mr. Spice, and I hold out my bowl.

It can be disconcerting sometimes to eat the flesh of an animal that looks very much like a man, but the rawness of my appetite proved a sufficient incentive. It is only after being sated and then continuing to chew that I find it necessary to remind myself that white people don't have soul.

As with monkeys and eels, the magic is indifferent to the incarnations of savages.

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CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah
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