A cautionary tale for civilized humans.
By Matthew Bracken
My name is Naku. This is the story of my people, who live on the great Island of Plenty. Our island is so vast, and the need for travel so small, and it being very difficult to cross the high mountain ridges, people most often live near where they are born. Food is easy to grow or to pick everywhere and at all times of the year, and there are plenty of fish to catch as well. But from time to time a traveler might visit, sometimes by boat, and sometimes by climbing over the sharp-topped mountains between the numberless valleys. As you may suppose, because of the difficulty of distant traveling, news from afar does not travel quickly on the Island of Plenty.
But I did hear a few years earlier about some new people from the outside, people who had landed on the other side of our island, in the place we call Far Plenty. These new people were said to be very strange, and not so pleasant. They did some unusual praying at night, possibly to the moon. They were called the Alanok people, if the tales were truly reported. It was said that they had come from a very terrible island, an island full of war and hunger and catastrophe, and that they needed to find a new home where they could live in peace.
Now, on the Island of Plenty, we have two very important rules or laws that we must all always obey. The First Law of Plenty is that anybody can believe anything that they want to believe, or not believe anything they don’t want to believe, and that is okay, because all ideas are equal on the Island of Plenty. The Second Law of Plenty is that if you give kindness and plenty to other people, they should always give kindness and plenty to you in return. After all, it is the Island of Plenty, and the bounty should be shared. Why not? There is plenty for all. These Laws came from our distant ancestors, who once suffered wars and hunger, until they learned the Two Laws. Then, the Island of Plenty also became the island of peace and contentment.
So it is understandable that when the Alanok people escaped from a terrible place and first came to Far Plenty, that they should be warmly welcomed. The Alanoks had severe needs, and the people of Far Plenty possessed a great bounty to share with them. But, according to the rare visitors to our valleys, the Alanoks were rather strange, and unpleasant, and did something odd at night when the moon had risen.
That was all I knew about them, until the day came when a man about my age, with a very weak and sickly wife and a young daughter, climbed down the steep cliffs and crawled into our village almost at the point of perishing. His name was Napok, which means Hawk in your tongue, and he had the most incredible tale to tell. He had lived all of his life on the other side of Middle Plenty, in a valley almost as distant as Far Plenty. Napok and his wife and daughter had been driven out of his valley by the Alienorks, as he called the Alanoks, barely escaping, most of his extended clan and family being wiped out.
This was a most alarming story. The Council of the Wise met at the Council Bluff by the sea to discuss the matter. Was Napok crazy-in-the-head insane? Was his presence here a danger to us? His tale was completely unbelievable. All of the tribes and clans of the Island of Plenty had learned to live in harmony many generations before. This was accepted and understood by everyone as the normal condition of all people.That the Alanok visitors to Far Plenty could be so dangerous and violently aggressive was simply implausible. Clearly, Napok must be insane. Perhaps climbing over all the steep ridges and down the even steeper cliffs for many weeks had driven him mad.
It was decided that Napok and his wife and daughter could live with us in the middle valley of Near Plenty, but only if he stopped his bizarre public rantings about the Alanoks, given that his speeches of warning to passers-by were extremely disturbing, and upset everybody, especially the children. This demand was put to Napok, and with some reluctance he agreed to our conditions — no more crazy talk about the Alanoks, or the Alienorks as he spoke their name. His family was given the hut that belonged to an old widow before she died. It turned out that Napok was quite good at making useful items from bark and vines, and soon we all had very nice foot coverings, that were especially useful for walking on shallow reefs and sharp rocks. Except for the occasional paranoid and conspiratorial whisper about the Alanoks, Napok was a fine addition to the people of Near Plenty. His wife was weak and frail, but his daughter, Nona, was pretty and popular with our young men. Some of them were courting her, hoping to be paired with her when she came of age, which would make Napok and his family a full part of the people of Near Plenty.
Amok asked if he could stay with us near our village, and in return, he could give lessons in The Alienork Ways, and the Alienork tongue as well. He said it would be wise for us to learn these things. A volunteer teacher in the valley was always welcome. He could also teach anyone who wanted to learn about Far Plenty and other distant islands. At his request, we offered him an empty private hut. Amok was mostly quiet, didn’t eat much and caused no problems, but he did have a few peculiar requirements. First, he said that he needed a little more land for his hut, because he was required by his beliefs to pray to the moon anytime it was up at night. And to do this correctly, he needed to make a little ring or circle of stones around his hut, and this ring needed more space than he had been offered.
And also, he declared, it was the sacred custom of Alienork men to always wear a ceremonial dagger or sword on their belt, as a symbol of their manhood. The dagger of Amok was thin and as long as my arm from elbow to fingertip. He kept it tucked beneath a red sash around his waist. Unlike my people, who always wear the light wraparound pareo cloth, which also dries quickly, Amok wore a thicker robe of black cloth. He explained that the ring of stones and the sword and the moon singing and the black robe were all part of The Alienork Way. And, as Amok reminded me, because of our First Law of Plenty, we had to allow him to believe as he chose, which was, of course, completely true.
The Council of the Wise met and we decided that if Amok would agree to always obey the Two Laws, we would also comply with his wishes concerning his private beliefs. He readily agreed to this, so we let him take a fallow field over past the other bluff, and a group of our men even moved his hut over there for him. He then placed a circle of stones around his new dwelling, the circle being about five paces across from side to side. And sure enough, after nightfall and when the moon came out, he walked around the inside of his ring and he prayed a strange song like a lamentation. Otherwise, Amok was a normal man in most every respect, very wise and learned and well-traveled, and a good speaker of our tongue. He quickly attracted a following of our younger men, who trailed behind him as he walked along the beaches and he spoke of his Alienork ways, and as well he taught them the Alienork tongue.
Now, our prior visitor and long-time guest Napok was very upset by the introduction of the Alienork elder into our midst, and he came to me when I was alone at the lower fishing pool. He warned me not to trust Amok. He told me that everything that Amok said was a lie. It was very disturbing to me that Napok was acting crazy and paranoid again, and I considered whether I should notify the Council of the Wise about the degrading condition of his mind. But on the other side, I had to admit that at least Napok had been correct about the ring of stones, and the moon singing. And the black robe. And the sword.
We began to walk over to inspect the new huts, to see how they were built in the Alienork method, but when our feet touched the ring of stones, the three new Alienork men became filled with sudden anger, and began to pick up other stones, and threw them at us! It even seemed as if they were aiming at us, intending to cause us actual pain and harm! We all retreated back into the trees. Finally, Amok came out of the circle of stones, his arms extended in apology. The new boys had seen much war and privation. They were a little jumpy. But, he said, we must understand that it is a part of The Alienork Way that we people of the Island of Plenty, whom Amok said the Alienorks call Notorks, should never, under any circumstance, ever enter inside of the circles of stones without a direct invitation. He said this in a pleasant way, but he made it very clear to us that there would be serious trouble if any Notorks intruded within the sacred Alienork stone rings uninvited.
On the other hand, Amok’s three nephews would walk freely through our village and our market, and even down by our pools for fishing and our pools for swimming, and when they walked among us, they spoke in their Alienork tongue in ways that suggested that they were insulting us. They also clucked their cheeks and wiggled their extended tongues at our women and girls in a quite disgusting manner. Some of our Near Plenty men became angry, and threatened the Alienork youths with violence if they did not stop their bad behavior, but the three drew their swords in a menacing manner at the approaching group of Near Plenty men, and both sides withdrew cautiously, the Alienorks throwing presumed curses and insults at our men in their tongue as they departed.
The Council met again, and I volunteered to speak to Amok about their bad behavior. I went to their circle of stones and called to him, and he came out to the ring. Opening his arms widely in welcome, he stated that I was bid to come inside as a special and valued guest and dear friend of a considerable time now. We walked into his hut, and that was the first time that I saw that there were not only the three new male Alienorks, but also about a hand of females, and that was only counting the females in Amok’s hut! These new females had never been seen outside of any hut, and not only that, but each one of them was squatting on the ground, completely covered by a black blanket extending to the ground! I only knew they were females by low keening wails that they made as they rocked front to back.
I exclaimed to Amok, what is the matter with your women, are they sick with a disease? I recoiled in alarm. Amok gently took my arm and led me to them. No, he said, they are not sick, but it is The Alienork Way that our women should stay inside our huts, and must always be covered in a black blanket when Notork men are near. Just as Notorks must never cross the sacred circle of stones without an invitation, Notorks must never see the uncovered Alienork women. This is The Alienork Way, he said.
Amok reminded me of our First Law about freedom of beliefs, and said that these beliefs are all part of The Alienork Way, and so they must be respected. I pondered this, and looked at the crouching women under their black blankets. I asked of Amok, said I, Elder, what of the freedom of belief of these women? Do they too agree with The Alienork Way? Amok crossed the small room, spoke sharply in the Alienork tongue, and nudged one of the women with his foot. All of the women in unison began to sing a strange high-pitched La-la-la-la-la song, until Amok nudged the nearest again, and they all stopped as one. You see, said Amok, this is how our women express that they are very happy. They prefer to live under their black blankets, inside of our huts, where they can feel safe from any harm. It is The Alienork Way, and you must respect our beliefs. I know, I agreed. It was our First Law again. All beliefs are equal.
I then said to Amok, your young men are causing great difficulties in the village and the market and at the pools. They are upsetting our women and they are angering our men. A big fight almost happened today, and it could have lead to the unimaginable: actual physical violence. Physical violence, which is the demon’s burning hell compared to the heaven of the Island of Plenty. Physical violence, which is the opposite and the antithesis of the Two Sacred Laws of Plenty.
Amok agreed with me that it was a most lamentable situation. But it was The Alienork Way that if Alienork men are around any women who are not covered by a black blanket, then the Alienork men may make such use of the women as they should so desire at that moment. This is a very important part of The Alienork Way, declared Amok with finality. If the Notork women and girls do not wish to experience the overtures of our healthy and strong young Alienork men, who are acting only according to nature, then they must indicate this feeling by wearing the black blanket, and by staying inside of the huts of their men.
I said to Amok that this is certain to cause a lot of problems, and that I am only a spokesman, and that the Council of the Wise will never agree to this. We decided to meet again, after the next meeting of the Council. Amok escorted me to the circle of rings, and wished me well. The Council met several times more, but no decision could be made. Napok also sought me out, and warned me in the strongest terms not to make any agreement with Amok, but to drive the Alienorks out of the middle valley of Near Plenty while we still could. He said that the Alienorks always lie, and that The Alienork Way is not peaceful, but the path of war and violence and slavery and death and conquest. I was beginning to suspect that Napok had been more right than wrong about the Alienorks, back when he first came to live with us with his wife and daughter. Indeed, our situation had changed much for the worse since the appearance of Amok.
In that time before the final decision of the Council, and on the first morning after the new sliver moon makes its brief appearance at nightfall, I went over to meet Amok, to ask a point of clarification for another member of the council. I also wanted to ask him if he was indeed telling me the truth when he had told me that The Alienork Way means peace. He met me at the edge of the circle of stones, but he did not invite me across it. I was astounded to see that the circle had been enlarged to at least one hundred paces across, and there were now more than two hands of huts, and many more men and older boys, all of them with swords in their sashes! Not only that, but I recognized two young Notork men among them, men who were now wearing the black robes, the red sashes, and the sharp metal swords of the Alienorks!
A crowd of these young men sauntered up behind Amok, and began saying words in the Alienork tongue that made me feel very much afraid for my safety. Some half-pulled their swords from their sashes, and others made the gesture of slitting their throats with a drawn finger, then pointing their fingers at me. One of the boys cried out, Notork — monkey-dung! These were the first words in our tongue that I had heard spoken by any of the Alienorks except for their elder, Amok. Obviously, Amok or one of the Notork men now dressed in the Alienork manner had taught them the insulting words. The other boys took up the chant: Notork — monkey-dung! Notork — monkey-dung! Notork — monkey-dung!
I said, Uncle, Elder, how can this be? You yourself said that The Alienork Way is the way of peace! Amok said to me that if we obeyed The Alienork Way, we would be able to live in peace. I said that our people did not want to live in The Alienork Way, that our people preferred to wear the cool and convenient wraparound pareo which dried quickly, and our women did not want to wear the black blankets and stay inside their huts. He said, then we will not have peace. Only if the Notorks comply with The Alienork Way, can there be peace. We Notorks must also live according to The Alienork Way, there is no choice in the matter. That is what Amok said.
Then I was burning with angry rage, but the newly-arrived Alienork men behind Amok were half drawing their swords, so I had to keep a calm face. From behind them the boys began to pelt me with pebbles and small stones, and they all chanted Notork — monkey-dung! at me, but I did not run away, instead I walked as normally as I could back to our village, pebbles striking my back and even my head, while inside my heart was filled with terror. Indeed, as Amok stated, their circle of stones now included the Alienork side of our very own village, snaking its way around a hand of our huts!
Napok came to see me urgently. He said that I must assemble all of our men and somehow produce or create or invent new weapons. We had no metal for swords, only sharpened bamboo stakes could be made quickly enough, but he said that we should nonetheless make them, and prepare to violently battle the Alienorks now, no matter the cost! What a shocking thing to say! Napok was clearly losing his mind again, due to the sudden stress of dealing with increasing numbers of our new Alienork visitors.
I immediately took the issue to the Council of the Wise. After much discussion, it was decided that the Alienorks could retain the newly enlarged circle for their own territory, but that they must not enlarge it again, not by even one more pace, ever! And I was to encourage the Alienork men, by way of Amok, not to harass our women anymore, and in return, our women would wear a doubled pareo, high to the neck and down to their knees. (Our women very strongly did not want to stay in their huts under black blankets.) The Council of the Wise decided that we would meet The Alienork Way in the middle, and make a compromise. And that we would not sharpen any bamboo spears, because if the Alienorks found out, this provocation would only cause them even further anger.
After nightfall, all of the Alienork men did their wildest moon dancing yet, twirling and whirling and howling like demons. This lasted most of the night, until the moon fell near morning. Some of the villagers nearest the circle of stones, who had gone over to watch, reported that the Alienorks threw large rocks at them, and indicated that Notorks must never witness the moon dance, but rather that we Notorks must stay inside our huts during their moon dancing times. This was also part of The Alienork Way. The witnesses of their moon dance were told this in our own tongue, by our own Island of Plenty men, the ones who had followed Amok, and who had joined the Alienorks. Of course, under the First Law, this was their belief, and their choice, and had to be respected.
The next morning we arose in the village at the normal time, even if our sleep had been disturbed during most of the night by the wild dancing and howling of the Alienork men and the shrill Lalalala-ing of the Alienork women. But after dawn when the normal morning noises of village life began, we all at once heard angry Alienork shouting, and rocks began raining down on our village! Our many visitors cried out that we must not disturb the sacred sleep of the Alienorks, after their long night spent performing their sacred moon rituals! It was The Alienork Way, and under the First Law, we had to respect their beliefs! And under the Second Law, we had to extend them full bounty, and since they now had many new Alienorks among them who had fled the wars and hunger in Far Plenty, we needed to bring double the amount of fruit and vegetables and fish that we had been bringing. And while the boys chanted out Notork — monkey-dung! the older men shouted that we must continue to obey our two laws of belief and bounty, and nothing further would be said on the matter!
I made my way nearly to the edge of their ring where it was close to some trees, calling out, Amok, tell them to please stop throwing the rocks! This is not right! We are sorry for waking you up, it is a misunderstanding! In a moment the rocks ceased raining down. While I was there, Napok accosted me from a bit further back in the trees, beseeching me, begging me, to assemble the men, sharpen many bamboo spears, and prepare to fight them all, no matter what the cost!
So back to the reassembled Council of the Wise I went. We met very quietly, whispering and tip-toeing from hut to hut and over to the bluff by the sea. The extra fruit and vegetables would be no problem, but double the fish would be more difficult to acquire in a short time. It was decided that just in case, in secret, a separate group of men should be set to making and hiding spears from sharpened bamboo poles, as Napok had been suggesting. As the sun went down, we all feared the events of the coming night with increasing dread and terror.
The wild moon howling of the Alienork men and the Lalalala-ing of their women set our hearts to thumping. Napok came to my hut, terrified and furious at the same time. He said that it had been reported that his daughter Nona had been taken and carried off, screaming, by two hands of Alienork men, while simply walking from the upper pool to the market. He said that we must prepare to attack the sleeping Alienorks the next morning soon after dawn. We could slip inside their ring of stones and kill many of them with our spears even while they slept. Then we could seize their swords and have a hope to win the battle and wipe them all out. And then he could find his daughter, and bring her home.
I told Napok that I would meet the Council very early the next morning, but a dawn attack was impossible. It was not a decision I could take on my own part. I said that I was very sorry about his missing daughter, but nothing could be done about finding her, not while the Alienorks were in their wild moon-dance frenzy. When the moon finally set, the Alienorks fell silent. The next morning when I awoke, rising very quietly as the Alienorks demanded, I went outside to the center of the village to draw a gourd of water, and I almost fainted. The headless and naked body of Napok was erected in a sitting position against our ceremonial platform, legs out. His bloody head was placed on the ground between his bare legs, facing me!
When the people of the village, and soon all the people of Near Plenty heard of this unbelievable atrocity, and saw the body of Napok which we quickly covered, the Council met at the bluff in front of the entire gathered population. It was difficult to keep the discussion at a quiet level, so as not to awaken the now-sleeping Alienorks. It was decided that when they awoke, I must go to Amok to discuss this atrocity, and what it would mean for our two peoples. I was shaking in fear, waiting at the edge of their enlarged circle of stones for them to awaken at their normal hour in the late afternoon, but it was my duty.
Amok saw me and came to the edge of the circle of stones, standing on the inside across them from me. Perhaps he saw the fear in my face, but now he spoke in haughty disregard. He said to me I don’t think we will have any more problems, because now we Notorks all understood The Alienork Way. Our Notork women must wear the black blankets and stay in their huts, and our Notork men must stop and bend low and look down at the earth when an Alienork man passes by. A Notork must never strike an Alienork, even if an Alienork man or a group of Alienork men are enjoying an hour or two of pleasure with a Notork girl or boy or woman. And if any Notork man ever strikes any Alienork, for any reason at all, a hand of Notork girls will be taken, and a hand of Notork men will be beheaded in the manner of Napok. And there must be no more talk of sharpened spears, as a spy from within the very Council had already reported to Amok before Napok had been killed.
I was shaking in fear and disbelief, but still I asked him if he had been lying to me when he first came into our valley, and told me that The Alienork Way is the way of peace. He said it was not a lie, because a lie only had meaning between Alienork men. To lie to Notorks about The Alienork Way was also a part of The Alienork Way, and thus, it was not a lie at all, but an even greater form of truth.
I suddenly remembered pretty Nona, the daughter of Napok, and asked after her. Amok said that she had joined the Alienorks, and therefore, I was not allowed to see her or to speak to her ever again. The men and the boys did not awaken this time with Amok, to draw their swords or throw pebbles at me or curse me as a Notork monkey-dung. Amok said that it was a very good thing that we Notorks had finally learned The Alienork Way, and that he was finally hopeful that our two peoples could now live side-by-side in peace. He also mentioned that we needed to provide them with much more food to keep up with their growing numbers, especially fish, in accordance with our Second Law of Bounty, which would be retained in full effect.
Instead of gathering the Council to report Amok’s new demands, I took my wife and my two small sons to the beach behind the higher rocky point, where we kept our village sailing canoes, because they were protected there from the waves. They are the boats that we used for fishing on the deep waters, and also for going out to meet the occasional even larger boats visiting Near Plenty from far away. We took gourds of water and baskets of food, and we set out downwind. After sailing two hands of days, we came to this island, your island, Happy Island as you so truthfully call it. And as you have seen, my two sons were in a condition near death when we arrived, and my wife has not spoken a word for a hand of days even before we landed.
I am happy that our tongues are not so different, and also that you are very kind and generous people here. And now I am asking your people, your Council of the Wise, your Assembly of Elders of Happy Island, if my family can please stay here, to live in peace, while my sons grow stronger, and my wife returns to her mind. When my sons grow to be young men, I will teach them to be warriors, and someday we will go together back to the Island of Plenty, to fight against the invading Alienorks, if that becomes possible.
But in the meantime, I am also before you to warn you, in the direst terms, that you must not, under any circumstances, never, ever, allow even a single Alienork to place his feet upon your beautiful Happy Island. For if even one single Alienork comes to your island as a visitor, and is allowed to have a hut within a circle of stones, and to dance and to howl to the moon, and to carry a sword about him on a sash, with each passing moon there will be more Alienorks upon your island, and they will badly mistreat your women and your girls, and they will force you to submit to The Alienork Way, and to serve them, even though you are not Alienorks like them.
Thank you for your consideration. Now, I will retire to the hut you have kindly provided to my family, to await your decisions.
The next day, the decision was announced by the Assembly of Elders after much discussion and reflection. The visitor Naku had stated that he had come from a place called the Island of Plenty, and he had then proceeded to spin a most bizarre, terrifying and even disgusting tale about a group of people called the Alienorks, whom he said behaved more like demons from hell than like any of the people who inhabited Happy Island. All of the members of the Assembly of Elders agreed, unanimously, that the Alienorks could not possibly exist, except as a twisted and damaged part of the visitor Naku’s mind, probably due to the privations of the long and difficult sea voyage he had endured to reach Happy Island.
Therefore, it was decided that Naku could remain in our village, but only if he obeyed the One Law of Happy Island, that only happy thoughts and ideas may be expressed in public. He must refrain from blurting his darkly provocative and frankly insane imaginings among our good people, lest he upset the successful formulation for maintaining social peace that had been learned over many generations, ever since the last wars among our distant ancestors.
It turned out that Naku knew a very useful way to make foot coverings from bark and vines, much better for walking on the sharp rocky shore than our old coverings of dried sea kelp. He soon became a very useful member of our Happy Island society, except for a few dark asides randomly whispered about his imagined demons, the Alienorks. His frail wife passed away. His sons grew quickly, running and swimming with the other youth of our valley, popular among the boys and the girls alike. And everybody was glad for the better foot coverings that Naku taught us to make for ourselves. Otherwise, life went on as it always had.
Until, that is, the day that a small sailing canoe came into view, with a single man steering it. He was an older man with white hair and a white beard, it became apparent as his boat drew closer. His sail had been spotted near the horizon, so the Assembly of Elders was able to go down to the beach to greet him, even before his canoe touched the sand. The old man on the boat did not look much different than the gathered elders of Happy Island, except for his white hair and beard, and the unusual black robe that he wore. As he stepped ashore from his beached canoe he was smiling, his arms and hands open in a symbol of peace that invited a warm welcome.
But then suddenly from behind I was roughly shoved aside, knocking me to the sand, as Naku, our off-island guest of many years, dashed at full running speed toward the old man while screaming Amok! Amok! Amok! And as we all watched in complete horror, Naku plunged a sharpened bamboo spear straight into the heart of the visitor, driving him back over into his sailing canoe! Naku, still in a mad frenzy, screaming about Amok and the Alienorks, pushed the canoe back through the small waves, turned it around, jumped aboard and filled the sail, trimming it flat and sailing around the second rocky point and out of our view. We were in such a state of shock that almost none of us dared to speak of the matter. There was not a single happy way to describe the terrible incident, so we did not, in accordance with our One Law of Happy Island.
A few days later, Naku returned to our village afoot, and he was soon pulled and pushed by several of our strongest men before the quickly gathered Assembly of Elders. Naku freely admitted that he had killed the old man, and that he was glad that he had done it, and that he would do it again if another Alienork ever appeared on our shores. He said that only by his swift action had he saved us from a great disaster, a true calamity for the good people of Happy Island, and he begged us to believe that every single word that he had ever spoken of the Alienorks was true. He was even so bold as to suggest that we should actually reward him for his unprovoked and insane brutal murder of a single, harmless, elderly visitor!
Our worst punishment was banishment from our valley on Happy Island. The Assembly of Elders decided that Naku must depart and climb the sharp ridges to the next valley, and then go quickly on to the next, and the next after, and that he should not tell any people that he met along the way anything about his paranoid and dangerous so-called “Alienork Way” conspiracy theories, which, after all, only existed in his severely damaged mind.
— Matt Bracken, January, 2016
Matthew Bracken was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1957, and attended the University of Virginia, where he received a BA in Russian Studies and was commissioned as a naval officer in 1979. Later in that year he graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, and in 1983 he led a Naval Special Warfare detachment to Beirut, Lebanon. Since then he’s been a welder, boat builder, charter captain, ocean sailor, essayist and novelist. He lives in Florida. Links to his short stories and essays may be found at EnemiesForeignAndDomestic.com.