The Most Beautiful Thing

by Duncan Jones

One day, long ago, a group of men were walking through the jungle. Maybe they were soldiers. Maybe they were explorers. Maybe they were hunters. Those jobs were often one in the same, so it doesn’t really matter. Whatever they were, they were far from home, and they didn’t know it at the time, but they were being followed. You see, way, way up high, way above in the trees, moving as smooth as the breeze, the swingers and climbers were swishing along looking down, invisible in the leaves.

This continued on throughout a large part of the day, signals being sent all around in a language of movements and hidden sounds that the men missed completely. And in a very short time the jungle knew everything about them, and they knew nothing about the jungle. (Even those men who lived in the jungle missed much, and so they had to walk in big groups and play with spears to feel safe.)

While walking one of the men stopped to look at something. The others stopped as well, and they found him lost in thought staring at a line of leaf cutter ants, thinking to himself how he was also marching through the forest doing his job. So excited and amazed he was that he pointed this out to his companions, who seemed uninterested until one saw something else. It was very shiny and definitely got the attention of the rest of the men. And soon they were all on their hands and knees looking for more of the beautiful shiny rocks. The one man however, couldn’t have been less interested in the rocks and followed the ants over and under and around.

And it was during this hunt for the rocks and the ants that the jungle began to close in, specifically the climbers and the swingers from above, who came down and took the men’s guns and climbed high, high, high, disappearing into the leaves. And then came the giants, and they circled just out of site and made huge walls, and from underneath their high stomachs came in even closer the ones with the teeth and the claws and the eyes.

By the time the men were aware of anything, the sun was going down, and they were surrounded by the jungle. And when the men backed up, the jungle came closer, and when the men backed up more, the jungle grew darker. And then, from under the teeth and the claws and the eyes, with truly no sound at all came the jungle law. They wore their black hoods, and they rose up as tall as the men and looked them straight in the eye. And soon could be heard the ones who laugh in the night, and the ones who scream from far away, and one by one and then all together the men realized what was going on …

So they found themselves in a tight circle, and the cobras calmly came in very close to say, “Helloooooooo … we see you have taken an interest in our jungle, and so we have taken an interest in you. Seem fair? Good. And while we are quite flattered, we must see to it that you are all on your way.”

The leader of the men spoke up, “Forgive us, it’s just that we found these rocks, and they are the most beautiful thing we have ever seen. Do you have any idea what these are worth?”

“Ahhh yes, those rocks. Very well, take them with you and be gone,” answered the cobras, who had no use for the rocks, and who knew that when the rocks were gone, the men would be gone too. But then they noticed that there was one man who did not have any rocks in his hands. “And what of this? Did you not find any rocks to your liking?”

“Forgive me,” answered the man. “I must have lost myself following the ants, it’s just that I am here for the first time ever, and they are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”

And with that the cobras paused, turning to the teeth and the claws and the eyes and then to the giants. And very subtly all nodded. “Yes,” said the cobras, “the ants are quite beautiful with their leafs, sailing along through time. We all have great respect for them.”

Then back to the whole group the cobras hissed, and again could be heard the ones who laugh and scream in the night. “It is time, you will be leaving now, and to be sure of it we will see you to the edge of the jungle.”

“Fine!” said the leader of the men, scared and eager to agree, and the others nodded with him.

And so with their pockets and bags full of the beautiful rocks the long walk began. Eyes watched from every direction, and the laughter and the screams could be heard all around. And the men were not sure, but the sounds seemed to be following them.

At the back of the line the man who had taken interest in the ants was quickly grabbed and held high and dropped on the back of one of the giants. And just as he was about to protest one of the climbers dropped down in front of him on the giant’s back, standing with his fists slammed down and his enormous shoulders blocking all of the man’s view. The climber leaned in and smiled, showing enormous and sharp teeth, “Save your strength and be quiet, because first of all (and he raised up high as he said this) you would lose, and because secondly (and he leaned in close again slamming down his fists) you will need all of your strength for what’s coming.” Then without even looking he grabbed a low hanging vine with an absolute smoothness and strength and was gone into the night. And the man stayed very quiet, and kept his head low, riding along high on the giant’s back while his companions marched with their rocks.

They continued on like this throughout the night until finally, as the sun was coming up, they stomped loudly through the last of the bushes and the trees and suddenly stood staring at an endless sea of yellow grass. And the men looked out and saw the horns and the stripes, all of which were far bigger than any of them had ever imagined, and all of which looked very fast and very strong. “Here you are,” said the cobras, “the edge of the jungle.”

“But we are nowhere near safety!” answered the leader of the men, who despite being exhausted was wide-eyed as ever.

“Safety was not part of the discussion,” smiled the cobras, rising now taller than the tallest of the men. “And it is not wise to push your luck.”

Then the cobras turned to the man who had taken interest in the ants as one of the giants now shoved him forward, “There is a river beyond those hills, and a man’s village along the banks. We do not speak for the grassland, for it is another kingdom entirely with its own rules. But as a last bit of advice might we suggest that this time you keep moving? … The eyes in the grasses are not typically so patient or curious as we are, regardless of your intentions … May not want to be stopping for any more rocks out there …”

When the cobras lowered themselves, the men could all see that the giants and the teeth and the claws and the eyes were gone. And the screams and the laughter could be heard no more. Then again the climber from the giant’s back dropped out of the last of the leaves, landed next to the men, and slamming his fists down he smiled to show his enormous and sharp teeth, “In the blue ocean you swim, through the green ocean you climb, and out on the yellow ocean … you RUN!”

And the men turned to the cobras but the cobras were gone, and when they turned back again the climber was gone too, and the jungle was silent, and the wind swished in the yellow grass, and the men were alone.

And there was one of them who had a better chance than the others.