I’ve been experiencing a hiccup with Ambergris, the play I’m writing set on an island off the Queensland coast. [You could call it Almost-Stradbroke.] The problem involves the disappearance of a girl, Lily, about seven years old, who ventures off with some hay to feed a horse and never returns. The play is set three years later, and the issue of the girl’s disappearance is important, but not central.
I’ve hammered out most of the plot, but what happens to the girl has been a sticking point. I haven’t been able to work out an appropriate fate. It can’t be too boring. And it can’t be too weird. [I’ve resolved myself to making this play a little less bizarre than my previous work].
There’s a dog named ‘Chunk’ who was with Lily when she disappeared. He knows something; he keeps returning to a certain place, but no one can figure out why. I also want to suggest, only vaguely, that the girl was ‘taken’ by the island. [with no similarity whatsoever to ‘Lost’] She is innocent, a child of nature. You know what I mean. Fodder for The Green Man.
Anyway, I’m getting close now. I’m thinking about the preservation of corpses.
I was at the Melbourne Museum yesterday with Polly and Lynne, attending The Bee Circus – a weird composite of bee information seminar and circus skills exhibition, performed and devised by kids from circus school. [Polly loved it.]
If I am to preserve Lily, I must decide how. At the Museum there was a replica of some corpses from Pompeii, but that’s far too violent a death. There was a mummy too, but that’s artificial – although the natron is a possibility. [Natron is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride mined by the Egyptians in the Natron Valley. Just as salt sucks red wine from carpets, natron sucks juices from corpses.]
I need something slow and painless. I’m thinking of having her explore a cave system. After falling asleep, she could be gently gassed by some venting of the Earth, some mysterious Gaian afflatus, or else drugged by a dripping mineral opiate.
Then the processes of nature would set to work. Recognising the unique beauty of her spirit, the Earth will opt not to putrefy her, but to preserve her - with moss, limestone, lichen, rust and roots. Or might she be bitten by a snake or a gold and turquoise spider with preservative for venom?
There are a lot of factual options for preservation. Certain soil conditions can be responsible. Aridity. Ice. The twelfth Pandito Hambo Lama achieved preservation through ‘a form of meditation known as shunyata, or emptiness’, [Fortean Times #184], ‘coupled with prolonged starvation and slow self-suffocation using a special belt that connects the neck with the knees in a lotus position’ [Wikipedia]
Doctor Glob’s ‘The Bog People’ is a book dear to my heart. It deals with the marvellously preserved corpses found in European peat bogs. ’There is a strange power in bog water,’ it is said, ‘which prevents decay’.
Perhaps some of the chemical processes may be useful, but not the violence. A lot of these Iron Age preservations were human sacrifices found with garrottes about their necks.
Nowadays we have cryogenics, formalin and Gunther von Hagens' ‘s plastination technique, but perhaps there are natural analogues. My fictional island is rich in minerals, after all …
The most intriguing thing I encountered at the museum was this:
Lynne made the connection. Somehow, she has always been able to track the way my mind wanders. I could easily imagine Lily encased in something like this formation of amethyst, flesh transmuted into gemstone, like something from the pages of Ballard’s The Crystal World.