The word echoed across the valley as word spread among the People of their visitor. They verbalized this word as a shorthand for these new people from the sky, who stood thin on two legs and made wondrous machines. The tall-men called themselves "Humans" but J-toff, based on what they called their village, was easier to pronounce, and easier to give inflection -- as greeting, as cheer, as concern, as scorn.
The latter two applied, as this was a sacred gathering of the extended clan, to fellowship under the three moons in Perfect Triangle. This was a time for just the People. No visitors. Only one of the J-toff (the first) had ever stood with them on such a night, and not all agreed then.
Aasha sensed she had made a great error, but made herself keep walking forward, all four legs in steady motion, hoping her trepidation didn't show. Her human friend Jeffrey shuffled nervously alongside her, growing fear in his expression. He had never seen so many of her kind in one place, and was not prepared for their reaction. The crowd parted, as these two children of different worlds, yet born on the same, slowly made their way deeper into the multitude. "I don't think this was such a good idea," the boy whispered. With a forced smile, she gestured with her head towards his hand upon the middle of her back, to say "keep it there; stay with me."
The sound silenced the crowd, as all attention turned to Great Flatrock. The herald stood there, sacred paint upon his face, knots of rank tied to his slender ears. In his nasal appendage ("trunk" Jeffrey's people called it, but to Aasha the word sounded like a silly sneeze) he held aloft the carefully hollowed log that was his instrument. He brought it down upon the rock again for three soundings of three. Aasha stood still (Jeffrey, too, froze) as did all in the valley but one. As the herald made the sounding again, Elder Kholra, high clan matriarch -- and Aasha's grandmother -- strode to the rock. The paint on her face and shoulders were a few simple marks and glyphs; more elaborate knots upon her ears declared her rank almost as surely as her attitude. She reached the rock at the end of the sounding, bringing her front feet down on it with the ninth beat, adding a thunderous KRAK! to the last BOM! that seemed to blend together in the echoes. She then stood fully upon Great Flatrock. Though it barely elevated her, she seemed to tower over the valley.
"Welcome all!" she said in her language, a combination of verbal sounds and trunk-gestures. "Receive all this night of three lights harmony..."
"All? No!" a male elder exclaimed. "J-toff!"
Kholra scowled at the interruption, then turned to look upon her granddaughter and the boy, standing with no one within several bodylengths of them.
"This is a time of story and song," the matriarch said. "My Aasha has brought her story. I would like to hear it."
"She can speak without that thing," the elder retorted.
"Speak no more this way!" Kholra said with a scream. "Our tradition is hospitality. Our way is sharing." She pulled one of her knotted cords from her right ear and threw it before Jeffrey. "Take it, honored guest," she gently added. "Both of you, come forward."
The elder sat down in disgust, but none noticed as all eyes were on the two youths standing by the rock. In turn, Aasha and Jeffrey looked over the crowd, only slightly less nervous.
"Share, Aasha, please," Kholra said.
The youngster summoned her courage. "This is..." she hesitated to ensure she pronounced the name correctly, as humans do, "Jeffrey Gale." A gasp went through the crowd, as they recognized the clan name of the first of his kind who they had discovered. "He is of the tall-men of the sky, but he is of this land. He is of there, and he is of here. He is a stranger, and he is my brother."
The crowd was stunned. Subtle gestures among them communicated doubt. Feeling the growing unrest, Kholra said, "Jeffrey..." -- the boy started at her speak his name -- "...if you are to be one of us, share with us a story."
For a long moment, he stared at the knots in his hand. He then looked up to see the gathered clan staring back at him. All his life he had known these native creatures -- which his family, accidental emigrants from another world, had referred to as "eledonks" -- as friendly, not threatening. But he had only seen a few at a time, and this encounter had been overwhelming. Still, with the encouragement of the matriarch behind him, he again recognized in the faces before him expressions of sincere curiosity that he was accustomed to -- multiplied a few hundred times.
"A story," he said, repeating the accompanying gesture with his hand. "Well,..." and as he opened his mind to recall a tale, he felt it empty like an unplugged bathtub. "I..." His hand became melted rubber as he held it up. He couldn't come up with anything -- in either language!
Aasha sensed his distress. "It does not have to be a long story," she told him. "It can be a little story -- a little humor story!"
Jeffrey felt slightly encouraged. Aasha loved his jokes, perhaps others of her kind did, too. "Oh, OK," he stammered, "I'll try... He struggled to remember one. "A joke," he said to the crowd, which stared back, confused. "A... a little humor story, for fun -- to laugh." The silence pressed on him. "Like, um... why did the grackle cross the stream?"
"To arrive at the other side," someone in the crowd replied flatly.
"Right..." Jeffrey struggled, "and... but that's the... I mean..."
"Tell them another one," Aasha said, trying desperately to help. "That one I liked yesterday?"
"What? Which one?" he turned his focus to her, desperate for assistance.
"You know," she blurted, like those two words were enough. He shook his hand in desperation. She tried again. "You know, the little riddle, about the half-dozen..."
"The half-dozen, what?"
"How the half dozen are afraid," her eyes pleaded with his to remember, "they fear the seven, for those seven consumed even more..."
"You mean?" he suddenly remembered. "But no, that only works in my language! How my words have two meanings. How numbers, symbols, act like people but they're not people so it's funny."
"Yes, it's funny!" Aasha exclaimed.
"Yeah, but will they understand?" he pleaded. "Your people don't count the same way."
"Yes we do."
"Not the same words, or it doesn't make sense," he said, visibly frustrated. "It doesn't make sense then, to understand that six is afraid of seven, because seven ate nine!"
Startled, Aasha and Jeffrey turned to the sound.
"Nork, Nurr-rr-r-r-unk!" the elder who spoke earlier thrashed on the ground, overcome with laughter. Suddenly, another "Nork!" and yet another "Noork!" popped up from the crowd, and before long, the whole valley was rumbling with laughter.
Jeffrey looked over the pandmonium, unsure what to feel. Then he noticed Kholra had reached down and lifted the knotted cord from his hand. As he looked up to her, she gently placed it on his small human ear.
"Yes, you are her brother," she said gladly.
- - - - -
Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Week 1, Topic: Jayus, defined as "“From Indonesian, meaning a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.”
This is the third entry from the world of Ojutof, which started here, and revisited here, much later than the first story, but shortly before this one.
Big thanks to the_dark_snack for the beta-read. For her entry: Give her some candy.