The Book of the Siamese Crocodile
By Lawrence Clarke Hilton All rights reserved © 2004 De Villiers Hilton Partnership
Chapter 03 ~ What a difference a day makes
That summer morning 12 months ago to the day was going to be a scorcher.
Grace Grant groaned as her mind tried to find its way back to consciousness. The 9.30 AM sun was still struggling to break through the fog that enveloped the Sandy Bay beach. Twelve hours of exposure to the elements had left Grace dehydrated and very groggy. Grace's short blonde hair was matted with blood from the gash where her head had struck the rock the night before.
The silver sea heaved under the wall of white fog that enveloped the rocks and floated over the beach. Sandy Bay remained one of the most exquisite and somewhat isolated beach just a half an hour's drive from Cape Town Central.
The rising waters of the Atlantic Ocean had caused the once smile of a beach to retreat further up the mountain into just a little grin of white sands that curled up the face of the mountains.
It still took visitors a good 15 minutes to clamber along the mountain path and over the rocks to reach the beach.
Surprisingly it had remained undeveloped over the last 10 centuries. Although this could have been about to change with the plans being laid by the Sans brothers.
The full tide sighed as it rolled up the steep slope of the shore. Short waves -dumpers- slapped down thunderously as they flat-handed the beach and burst up the shore. The sands of the beach were left steaming after each wave as the cold waters receded.
In an hour or so when the sun finally broke through the fog, the sea would become the most translucent green blue and like a giant mirror it would reflect the huge boulders that had been strewn across the shores eons ago.
On the opposite side of the beach to where Grace lay, a helicopter swooped in low as the pilot completed one leg of a search grid pattern. Under the chopper a team of rescue workers and some holiday makers who had volunteered to assist, had formed a line and were now slowly walking across the paths between the rocks and boulders as they attempted to locate Grace.
Grace gasped as she felt cold water hit her and then moaned as she tried to prop herself up. Her tanned feet struggled to find a footing and her arms although defined from years of working outdoors could not find the strength to bring her to fully sit up.
'What the hell.....?" she mumbled and looked into the dune forest. She thought she might have just glimpsed the back of someone pushing there way into the bushes as they retreated, but she was not sure.
She was not sure of anything anymore.
Her head throbbed and a sudden overwhelming pain caused her to lapse back into semi-consciousness.
Her thoughts became jumbled and disconnected as they rolled around her mind.
Grace had always felt that one day she would discover something really important. She'd had a couple of false starts already.
As an archaeologist Grace had preferred to throw her focus further back in time than the modern academia seemed to encourage.
From her point of view, recent history say for the last one thousand years had been somewhat uniform, a pretty much of a muchness, with one ancient shopping mall being found beneath the foundations of the earlier one.
This had led to a slew of new malls and casinos being named after their ancient fore-runners. Their names were easy to work out as they were found everywhere on the signage that had survived the 33rd World War. And so it was that North Gate Mall, Caesars palace and even a place called 'The Lost City' were no longer lost and now again rose from the ashes, sometimes built on the very foundations of their predecessors.
Many new developments found themselves briefly stalled as archaeologists did a quick cursory once over before the construction could continue. To show at least the minimal respect, developers were forced to commission statues or build memorial gardens and these would take pride of place at the opening ceremonies in the center courts to pay some homage to the long gone shoppers of ancient times.
Some development excavations had discovered rows of corpses like those that had been uncovered like in Pompeii -their final moments were forever frozen in time following the volcanic eruptions that had caught them off guard.
But in these cases, it was long cues of the solidified remains of shoppers who still stood almost a thousand years later at the ancient tills where they had perished. They had been not even been able to shout out as whatever disaster had engulfed them. They had stood still for hundreds of years still waiting to ‘buy now’ and now without ever having the opportunity to ‘pay later.’
Some had been frozen in their cars during the Great Freeze of 2200 with their mobile phones stuck to their ears, as they waited to drive out of parking lots in traffic jams that had lasted 800 years. Next to them giant billboards where you could still make out the slogans like, ‘You can take your number with you if you ever change service providers!'
Sadly these shoppers would never be able to do the switch as they were no longer in an area where there that sort of signal coverage was available.
Grace often would comment to her students that over the last one thousand years archaeology had become an academic faberge' egg that just revealed mere copies of itself as one dug deeper into the past.
One could now gain a degree in Consumer Historical Studies. The course would take as one of its main considerations that ancient Rome had reached the pinnacle of its societal development with the invention of the credit card. Anthropology had now taken as its main thrust - the study of the evolution of man from human to 'consumans.'
Grace was not alone in her view as a few still found it absurd that modern society had come to set this ability to consume as the bench mark of human existence.
Some of her peers had been shocked when they listened in to her lectures after complaints by some parents had been laid. She delighted many of her students who would whoop and applaud as Grace would pour scorn on the modern world more specifically the Sans Corporation.
Miss Grant's end of first term lecture had become legendary on campus and many students who were not studying her course would still cram into the full lecture hall to hear it.
'The very fabric of society,' Grace's green eyes would flash as she wrapped her first term lecture course. 'Yes, the very fabric of our society has been now treaded by the needles of marketing and advertising which now pierce our very souls.'
Her first year students would now look in shock and then glee at the outspokenness of it all. By this time to say anything against the system or to even suggest improvements was viewed as highly subversive activity.
'This constant bombardment is nothing short of corporate brainwashing in which we are forced to lose sight of ourselves - our true human natures - as we are moulded into 'consumans' who tacitly accept the giant ball of elephant dung being pushed up and down our throats by those at the Sans Corporation.'
Most of her students would be standing by now and cheering - not all - but most of them.
Grace would grab her bag and make her way towards the exit then turn and shout 'And its your responsibility to change it. Have a happy holiday!'
Many of the students could not believe that this was the same Grace who had once been married to Robin Sans who she had met while studying at the University of the Cape City. If ever any student tried to bring this up Grace would just say, 'I was young and foolish!'
Grace had initially fallen for Robin's dry humour and thought at the time that opposites may be able to maintain their attraction. But it was not too be. As she became more outspoken against the Sans business model, Robins initial need to have a beautiful woman on his arm to prop up his confidence quickly dissolved, as she was to his mind a PR disaster. The final straw was when she was quoted as saying in his own Sans News feed that
'By the year 2998 this advertising onslaught has become essential to big business - not only as a exercise in marketing to encourage consumption, but also as a distraction from the true awfulness of the concurrent destruction of the planet and many of its life forms that is inevitable with these extraordinary levels of usage of the earth’s resources. This Sans ethos of creating a perpetual sense of need for often frivolous items has been adopted as the pivotal meaning of life on earth as most work involved trying to keep all the Sans balls in the air to ensure that their game could continue to be played.'
To Robin's mind this was the ultimate betrayal. The divorce was bitter as one can imagine and Robin in private referred to Grace as 'that treacherous bitch' At the press conference he played it down and described their partings of ways as merely 'putting a healthy distance between their inherent differences of opinion.'
Grace then slowly began to go out as a single woman again but would often bring a cocktail party to a standstill when she would find herself arguing loudly to anyone who would listen and state that she was 'against a system being accepted just for an archaic and unfair economic system to survive which wish to maintain an equally unfair status quo that made it essential for consumans to keep on consuming.'
Grace would sometimes wake up and think, 'Oh not again' as she remembered that the night before she had upset the hostess by screaming that she no longer be part of this capitalistic cannibalism that was literally eating itself to death.
Grace has completed her masters with a paper that dealt with how for individuals this constant need to keep up with the Jones had left most in a state of perpetual anguish.
Even for the fortunate small upper stratosphere of society who knew how to play the game, enough was never going to be enough, and there was never going to be enough to be enough.
Consumans had been sadly born to shop.
Grace had been mentored by one of her beloved lecturer who had been the dean at her first university. Miss P Eaton although always flatly sardonic had opened her eyes to the difference between a human need - essential things like water and oxygen and consuman's often addictive wants - fizzy pop and nicotine.
She believed that psychoanalytical evaluations of the problem had became an entire separate industry as people were asked to lie on the couch and go though self-inflicted mental torture as they tried to deal with the existential crisis that living with this limited rationale to exist had brought upon them.
The process of psychiatry could be now be likened - as Grace used to love to explain to those who had not yet moved away from her, still caught up by her captivating manner and beauty at parties - it could be likened to people on a sinking ship completely ignoring the urgent problem of the water pouring though the portals.
Instead of doing things that were required to survive and using the time that could have saved them as a call to action, they ended up rather using this time to rather call their psychologist who would start asking questions about how they felt about death as opposed to screaming down the phone that they should live in the 'now' more and head for the closest life raft and change the system.
It was with all these thoughts swirling in her mind that Grace groaned as she again tried to gain full consciousness.
She could hear the threshing sound and felt the strong draught of the chopper blades blowing down on her. Those in the search and rescue helicopter had yet to spot her as she lay in the shadows of the Port Jackson bushes that tangled their way along the dunes.
“Water!” she mouthed and winced as her parched lips cracked with the effort. She was delirious and her thoughts scrambled again as she slipped in and out of consciousness.
Earlier two hikers had made their way past Grace as she lay unconscious.
Unfortunately for Grace they presumed that she was just suffering the after effects of the party that welcomed in 2999. They perhaps could have made more of an effort to investigate her plight but respect for other’s privacy overrode real concern for others. Had Grace be able to witness this side-step of conscience by the walkers she would have quickly identified it as another perfect example of how the more terribly convenient the modern world had become so some basic concern for others became an uncomfortable inconvenience.
Suddenly Grace's mind took her to one night when she was arguing with Robin.
Robin had listened to Grace so often rail against the civilization that was about to summit again and like mountaineers of old - once in the stratosphere it was every man or woman for him or herself.
Initially he had found the discussions stimulating as no-one had ever stood up to him like this.
But when she would go on and on about the fact that, 'The responsibility for the state of the planet had over the years been placed firmly at the door of the individual whilst at the same time they were encouraged to lounge round on some of the last pine wood settees in a vague state of concerned lethargy as they watching the television or gazed at their laptops in a state of moral frigidity!' Robin knew he was going to have to extricate himself from this marriage.
To Robin, Grace had become a fanatic. Grace would follow him into the shower shouting above the noise of the water that 'Governments were fine with it. Passing on the responsibility had become a government's ultimate survival tactic.'
Okay he would have to grant Grace that one, as he recalled that children's party games now included a variation on the ancient game of ‘pass the parcel.’ In the modern game 'Pass the buck' the loser was the last person left holding the buck when the music was switched off.
But all the laying blame on him and his corporation had became the national past time.
To Robin humanity had become a species of couch potatoes who would pass comment on the ills of the world but were to lazy to do anything. They were lucky they had someone like him to try and hold it all together. Grace would argue that they had been made to feel powerless against the scope and extent of the problems that life on earth now faced.
Previous governments had been fine with this because it helped keep everyone's attention away from the real problems that lay behind the catastrophes that were to inevitably occur. There was a universal hankering to previous simpler times and this was reflected in modern architecture plans calling for extensions of the budget as fortunes were be spent trying to make new monstrous developments look as if coming from the past for their inspiration.
Grace too had sought relief from her disgust at modern historical studies that she had begun to try and spread her attention further into the past to look at the origins of man. Grace had concentrated her energies towards the belief that man had not climbed down from the trees but had first found habitat close to the coasts.
She believed that our bodies were far closer adapted to life in the water as opposed to our ever having been tree-dwellers. Our body fat composition, the possibility of webbed fingers, and our natural ability to swim and feed from the ocean swayed her opinion.
But even these alternative theories of our origins were thrown into disarray as she stared at the curved rock that had injured her forehead as it made hard contact with the ground.
The sound of the Christmas beetles buzzed in her head as she wiped the blood from the rocks sharp point.
It was about twice the size of an Ostrich’s egg, with a crack that had over the centuries become a fissure that had recently reached a degree of separation that with just the knock from Grace's head as she fallen, had been enough to break into two almost perfect halves.
As Grace looked at the rock which lay now open and as she wiped the mucous from her eyes and tried to focus that it looked like it had formed a mould in which two diametrically identical shapes had formed in the centre of each.
She picked up the one half and was too dazed to be startled when the centre section fell in front of her. She reached over to the other piece of the rock and gave it a light tap.
Again now the other centre of the stone fell out.
Grace had initially thought that perhaps it was just another flint stone used for fire making in prehistoric times.
She slowly turned over the two pieces in her hand.
Vaguely remembering that this was not exactly the correct archaeological dig procedure - tampering with artifacts whilst concussed - she noted the indentations of what seemed to have one been holes lying in pairs up the arch of the stone. But what were the rope-like ridges that had once been intertwined as if laced across the top? Although now fossilized these still seemed to hold the stone together. Five hollowed out marks spread around the broader ends of the stone.
She was aware that her disorientation might stem from the cut on her head, but she was almost sure that she had seen a group of tall figures standing around her as she came to. And why did she feel wet as if someone had just poured ice cold water in her face.
Her foot itched where a beach ant had just bitten her. She idly scratched it with the point of the stone, still warm from the sun. It was then she realized in a glimpse of clarity. This looked like it could have been some sort of ancient foot ware. The five hollows were almost a perfect fit with her sun burnt toes. She winced vaguely realizing that she might be severely concussed. Her head stopped throbbing for a moment.
She stared at the two rocks, her eyes slowly gaining better focus and pressed the halves together. In fact, she thought this was beginning to look like ...
'No it couldn't be...' her mind rejected the idea
But then again she thought the sharp point and length of the heel does look like a ....
'It's a prehistoric shoe or sandal' she thought she realized.
Grace had seen similar at other digs but not with this extended heel.
But the more she gazed at it even with her vision blurring, it looked to her more like a prehistoric stiletto.
Grace groaned as the sun's rays broke through the trees and glinted through the half-opened lashes of her eyes.
She was able to realize that her mind might be some in hallucinatory over-drive, but she looked at the rock again and then let out a pathetic giggle as it still looked like a high heeled shoe.
Finally the chopper made a sweep over the forest where she lay and at last she was spotted. They found her still giggling and incoherent.
'Its a prehistoric stiletto!' she mumbled to the paramedics that first attended to her.
He quickly noted to his colleagues, 'She's seriously delirious!'
'What was she doing at Sandy Bay last night anyway?' his assistant shouted over the sound of the chopper now waiting on the beach as he inserted the drip into Grace's arm. The other just shrugged and waved the two carrying a stretcher to come forward.
Grace has not yet been able to notice that the 'shoe' - if that was what it was - was imprinted with the fossils of some of the earliest life known to humans.
Tiny fossilized spirals of early life on the heel showed that at some stage in history it had been encrusted with early sea life. It was a small mercy that she hadn't noticed this as these would indicate that the 'shoe' would predate human life on earth. That thought would have been too much for Grace's current fragile hold onto reality to bear.
Her fingers tightly gripped the stone as the paramedics strapped her to the stretcher and carried her to the waiting medical chopper that was churning up a small sandstorm on the beach.
As it took off, many of the holiday makers were left scrambling to catch their umbrella's that were being flung across the beach by the propeller’s downdraft. By this time the sun was approaching midday the point where UV levels now became life-threatening.
Umbrellas really were a matter of life and death. This added to the tourist's urgency as they chased after the brollies, with T shirts thrown over their heads as they tried to shield themselves from the harsh sun.
It was so bright that it gave the beach and the sea a near nuclear ultra-violet after glow.
"Oh God!” she thought as her stomach lurched as the chopper lifted and swung back into the direction of Cape Town, “Here we go again!”
At the same time as the sedative took hold and Grace’s body went limp, over a thousand miles from Sandy Bay, an elderly woman was lifting a heavy book onto her lap and turning the first page which she then began to read aloud to those who gathered and knelt at her feet.
All rights reserved © 2004 De Villiers Hilton Partnership