Sylf died. The miraculous power of the forest of healing herbs couldn’t save him. That’s how it goes sometimes. Kazanda would miss him. She’d come to look forward to their encounters. Every couple of months he’d turn up, catch her by surprise and stash her in some death-trap so that she couldn’t interfere. Of course she would always escape, burning through the ropes and arriving at the last minute to stop him. She’d lock him away for a while, but he was as difficult to restrain as she was. They were opposite sides of the same coin, possessed of the same qualities, but facing in different directions.
She took his body to the clearing where they had lain together that one time, the one time they had put their rivalry aside and told each other secrets they had never spoken aloud. She took him to their spot, the ground still scorched and blackened, and lay his body down. She called up her mind’s fire and watched him burn.
She cried for a week, holding herself tight around her shoulders. The fires inside her asked to be let out, but she ignored them, held the flames inside and instead released her sadness and confusion, letting it run out of her until there was nothing left of either.
Thoughts of Sylf would enter her mind on occasion. A sneaking suspicion that it had been his voodoo-duplicate lying broken at the foot of the Tiger Queen’s throne, and that the real Sylf was still chained to a rock at the bottom of Flaming Lake. Memories of the time they had worked together to stop the Elephant Prince from becoming God-King of Hidden Africa. The faraway look in his eyes whenever he had bragged about his latest foolproof plan.
Rumours spread that she had joined Paul and Aileen back in civilisation, that she had immolated herself like an Indian bride on Sylf’s funeral pyre, that she had changed form into a lioness and become the mate of the great white lion whose pride lived in the far south.
None of these rumours were true. Kazanda mourned for a week and then she went on living. People still came to the Lost Continent and got themselves in trouble. People still fooled around with forbidden idols and uncovered ancient mysteries in ruined temples. People still hunted elephants for ivory and gorillas for novelty ashtrays. People still hid arcane super-weapons in the densest jungle as part of their plans for world conquest. Alien ships still crash-landed. People still fell into quicksand.
That’s where Kazanda came in. Appearing out of nowhere for the inevitable rescue, brushing aside talk of reward, only tangentially acknowledging threats of reprisal or vociferous thanks as she grabbed another vine and swung up into the treetops, heading for her secret hideaway.
Some say she has a sad and empty life, repetitive and violent, bereft of joy and creature comforts, but those people are judging something they don’t understand by standards that don’t apply. It might not be a life that would make you happy, professor, with your business-class ticket and your wood-panelled office, but you’re not Kazanda. You haven’t felt the wind on your face as you swing through the trees, grabbing onto the next branch at the last possible moment. You haven’t heard the secret voices of the fire, haven’t given substance to those voices, watched the flames emerge from nowhere, crackling, hissing, singing in the cold night air.
You haven’t spent weeks tracking a single antelope, following it to the hidden waterhole where animals speak to each other like humans. You’ve never taken a lover from the warrior tribe of Lon, held him under you as his tongue traced words in forgotten languages across your skin. You’ve never seen the jewelled caverns of Kaban-Go, where the true story of where the Gods now live is written, carved into fifty-foot high walls of pure diamond.
You haven’t seen these things. You can’t imagine their existence. But Kazanda has. That’s what she does. That’s who she is.
So gather up that stack of comic books and put them back where they belong. Sit back and read your newspaper and leave the fantastic and the absurd to your children, whose laughter even now cascades through the open window and threatens to break your concentration as they busy themselves with their childish games in the golden sun-drenched yard.
I’ll be Kazanda. You be Sylf. Let’s play.
Bonus extra unasked-for authorial statement:
Kazanda the Jungle Girl, Sylf, Paul and Aileen are all characters from an old Australian comic series that I came across as part of a research project into the pulp fiction collection of the State Library of Victoria. Kazanda is perilously obscure and all but forgotten these days. Even the intramanet is uncharacteristically unhelpful when it comes to providing any information about her.
This story was published in Meanjin a year or so ago, but I was never happy with the way it was printed. The editors I dealt with insisted on running it alongside my odd little “NeoPulp ManiFesto”, which I was okay with, but for one reason or another the story ended up being included as a part of the manifesto, rather than an entity in its own right. It was also printed entirely in italics. So on the one hand I finally cracked it for publication in Meanjin (yay), but on the other had the story ended up misrepresented and almost unreadable (boo).