Smooth, white sand baked beneath the tropical sun, while transparent blue waves lapped the shore. Up the hill, from the lush, green border of vegetation, coconut palms leaned out over the beach, partaking in the island’s laid back lifestyle. From between two palm trees, a man waddled through the shade and down to the water’s edge. The grey stubble and leathery skin on his face gave him the look of at least sixty-five years; the enormous, sunburnt belly protruding from his unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt gave him the appearance of a Ken Done painting giving birth to a glazed ham. Beneath a tasteless yellow visor, and the pair of steel wool scourers that were his eyebrows, the man’s hopeful eyes squinted one way up the beach, and then the other. With a scratch of the final remaining tuft atop of his head, the man turned left and made his way along the shore.
Panting and glistening with sweat, he arrived at a rocky rise in the beach. He removed his sandals, held them in one hand, and proceeded to demonstrate an almost complete lack of coordination as he climbed the wet stones. At the top of the jagged hill, among some giant boulders, the man spied the mouth of a cave. He clapped his sandals together to remove the loose sand, and put them back on his feet. Entering the cave, the man glanced around at the emptiness and then turned to leave, before a savoury scent arrested his nostrils. He went to the back of the cave. After a short search, he located a sliver in the rock wall, through which wafted an intriguing warmth. He pressed his face against the rock, and through the thin gap he saw a distant, flickering light. He stepped back and examined the wall; there was no sign of any way through. A odd-shaped shell embedded in the rock caught his eye. As he pressed his fingers to it to feel it, it gave way, receding an inch into the wall; there was a heavy click, a creak, and then a section of rock swung open like a door.
A tunnel of about fifty feet, carved through the rock, brought the man into another cave. It was much larger than the first, and the walls glowed red from the flames of a dozen torches riveted there at intervals. The very centre of the cave was also lit, by a wood fire burning beneath a large cauldron. Beside the cauldron, tethered to a thick, steel peg in the strangely marked ground, was a young wild boar. About twenty robed figures, like statues, formed a wide circle around the boar. The man entered the cave.
“Well hi there,” he called, in a cheery, Southern drawl.
Feet shuffled on the bare stone as the figures turned to face him; uncomfortable murmurs circulated, and then instantly ceased when a red-robed figure raised its hand. The man looked around.
“Well golly,” he said, “I gotta tell ya this looks like fun. Y’all must be on a different tour.” He worked his way into the circle. “The name’s Clint, Clint Callahan. Down here on holiday with my wife and some friends of ours. Beautiful place. Yeah, we’re taking the ‘Reef Explorer’ tour today. Havin’ a fine time. Just makin’ our way along the beach back there when I got separated—call of nature, had to dash up behind the trees. Anyway, next thing I know, the group has moved on and I’m left there on my own. Thought I’d head up this way, try to find ’em.”
The robed-figures stood motionless and silent, keeping their eyes on the unexpected guest. Clint studied the scene around the cauldron.
“Well, this looks fancy,” he said. “This one of those cooking tours? Kill your own food and then prepare it, right? I always wanted to try that.” He smiled at the boar, and then looked around at the silent figures. “Say, I know I’m not officially part of this activity, but do you think I might…? I mean, if you’ve all had a turn—you think I could have a go?”
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