by David McLeod
Among the Ancient Stones
"Tyler?" Jon mumbled. The boy's face swam dimly in the near darkness. I'm on my back, Jon thought. What happened?
"Jon, you're okay!" the boy said. His tears condensed the faint light into stars that rolled down his cheeks. "You were quiet for so long . . . Where are we?"
Jon sat up and looked around. Light shone through a series of narrow, vertical windows high on one wall. Bands of bright light illuminated the opposite wall. The wall appeared to be made of large blocks of stone. Jon carefully ran his hand over the floor on which he sat. Stone, as well. And that's likely moonlight coming in the windows, he thought.
"How long have we been here?" Jon asked. "How long was I unconscious?"
"I don't know!" the boy said. "Hours, maybe."
"Then how far did the bands of light . . . the ones on the wall . . . how far did they move?" Jon asked.
"Huh? They didn't," Tyler said.
"That's moonlight. If it hasn't moved, it's only been a few minutes. Were you ever unconscious?"
"I don't know. It was dark. I fell on top of you. I sat up. I looked around. Then you woke up. I'm sorry. I was afraid," the boy said.
As Jon's eyes adjusted, the moonlight revealed a doorway in one wall. Jon lifted himself to his feet. He led Tyler across the floor, and then stepped out of the building. They were in ankle-deep grass that extended perhaps 100 yards before meeting a forest of dark trees. The moon was behind the building. They stood in shadow. Stars pierced the sky.
"Oh," Jon said. "This is not good." His head turned from side to side, scanning the sky for something–anything–familiar.
"What's not good," Tyler said. "We should get away, before they come back!"
"They?" Jon asked.
"Whoever brought us here," Tyler said. He took Jon's hand and tugged on it. "Come on . . ."
Jon grasped Tyler's hand firmly. "Tyler, look at the sky. Tell me what you see. Point out a constellation to me."
The calm in Jon's voice stilled the boy's protests. Tyler looked around. "I don't see any that I know, but that doesn't mean anything."
"Let's go around the building and look at the moon," Jon said.
Sensing the boy's reluctance, he added, "Come on. Humor me."
Tyler gasped. "It's not the moon, is it?"
"It's a moon," Jon said, "but it's not the one we know. It's a lot different. Older, I'd guess. Wonder how it got there?"
"Where are we?" Tyler whispered. Unconsciously, he had taken Jon's hand again. "I'm afraid."
"I don't know, Tyler," Jon said. "Don't be too afraid. Together we are strong." He squeezed the boy's hand.
The gibbous moon, which had been about 20 degrees high, had set. Jon and Tyler sat with their backs to the building, waiting for dawn. The sky began to pale with pink and salmon. Jon nudged Tyler, who had fallen asleep.
"It's morning. Time to start looking around," Jon said.
Tyler started and snorted, and then his eyes snapped open. "Ow!" he said. "Cramp!"
He massaged his arm that had been bent under him and glanced at Jon. "Oh." His eyes widened. "Your face . . . it's . . . it's different."
Jon ran his hands over his face. "Different how?" He looked at his hand. It was black with . . . what? Short hairs covered his hand. It looked like he'd rubbed his whiskers off his face.
"You just rubbed your whiskers off," Tyler said, softly. "How did you do that?"
Jon wiped his hands on the damp grass and wiped them across his face. More hair. He wiped his arm, and left a bare streak where light brown hair had once been. Slowly, with Tyler watching breathlessly, Jon wiped the remaining hair off his left arm, and then the right. Rolling up the legs of his scrubs, he wiped hair off his legs. Opening the shirt, he wiped the few hairs on his chest away. "Okay . . . enough. This is getting disgusting. There's probably a stream over there . . . see the tree line? I've got to wash this stuff off!"
Jon stood in a pool where the stream had carved a depression in the rock. He completed the process of exfoliation begun earlier. The hair under his arms joined his pubic hair in the swift-moving water of the stream. Tyler watched intently. Although they'd been having sex for just over a year, Jon was conscious that he was naked in front of the boy, and thanked the cold water of the stream for preventing an erection. This is not the time or the place, he thought, no matter how it might comfort Tyler. Me, too, for that matter.
"I don't want to be bald," Jon said, "but I've got to know." He reached up and rubbed his head briskly. The hair on his head, brown and a good deal longer than the military crew cut he'd sported for several years, did not come off.
Jon laughed weakly, "Well, at least I don't have to worry about a sunburned scalp…"
He looked at the boy. "Come on. It's happened to your hair, too. I can see it on your arms. It can't be comfortable . . ."
"Your scars!" Tyler said. "Your scars are gone!"
"Yeah," Jon said. "I wondered why I didn't feel any pain when I woke up. You didn't see me reach inside my scrubs to rub my leg. I couldn't feel the scars, then. That's the first thing I looked at when I took off my pants."
"But . . . that's impossible," Tyler said.
"Red Queen," Jon said.
Tyler froze. Jon had taught Tyler more than medicine. He had encouraged Tyler to read "all the books you should have read in high school, but didn't." One was Alice in Wonderland followed by Through the Looking Glass. Tyler knew what Jon meant. In the latter book, the Red Queen had said, "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
"It's impossible, but it is, so it must be possible," Tyler said. "But if I see a rabbit with a pocket watch . . ." He giggled, but the humor was forced.
Tyler took off his clothes and stepped into the stream. The water was cold, and he shivered. Then he wiped hair off his arms, legs, and pubes.
Jon dipped his scrubs in the water, swirling them around to loosen the hair that had stuck to the cloth. When he was satisfied that all the hair had washed away, he stood and wrung out the clothes. Then, holding the waistband of the pants, he snapped them to shake out more water.
Something odd about the pants caught his eye. He held the pants up to the sun. "They're dry," he said. "Totally dry."
"Huh?" Tyler said.
"Watch," Jon instructed. He hung the pants over a bush while he snapped the shirt. This time he saw droplets of water fly from the shirt. Holding it out to Tyler, he showed the boy that it was completely dry.
"Something about the water, I suppose," Jon said. "Surface tension . . . adhesion between water and cloth? I don't know."
Tyler snapped his own pants. "It didn't work," he said, reluctantly, feeling the cloth. He snapped again, with the same results.
"May I?" Jon asked.
Tyler clutched his shirt to his stomach, covering his genitals. He was painfully aware of the erection that had formed when he left the cold water. Jon snapped the pants, frowned, and handed then to Tyler. "Dry . . . I don't know…"
Tyler quickly put on his clothes. "That's three impossible things. Four if you count our being here."
Jon raised his eyebrows, a sign that he wanted Tyler to continue.
"We're here; that's one. No scars; that's two. And, I don't have an appendectomy scar, either. Wonder if I have my appendix. Hair falling out; that's three. How you dried the clothes, and I didn't; that's four." The boy's voice broke. "Jon, I'm really scared."
Jon put his arms around the boy, and hugged him tightly. "Hey, Tyler. I'm a little scared, too. I don't know why we're here, where we are, or how we got here, but . . ." he looked into Tyler's eyes, "I'm glad you're here with me. Wherever we are, whatever we've gotten into, I don't want to face it alone."
Tyler returned Jon's hug. "I'm glad, too."
"Your face looks–I don't know–smoother," Tyler said after the hug. "It's not only the hair, but the follicles are gone, too.
"Why do we have body hair, anyway?" Tyler continued.
"Didn't you study the apocrine sweat glands?" Jon asked.
"Um, yes," Tyler said, although it was clear that Jon's question was not the answer Tyler had wanted.
"What's the difference between the apocrine and merocrine glands, then?" Jon asked.
Tyler thought quickly and then grinned. "Actually, teacher," he said. "There are two significant differences. Each of the merocrine glands that produce the watery sweat that cools us is connected to a pore in the skin. They distill water from the blood. The apocrine glands produce sweat by exocytosis but they don't have their own pores; they dump into hair follicles in the groin, armpit–axilla, that is–pubic crest, and perineum. That sweat reaches the skin through the hair follicles."
"Excellent," Jon said. "I'd add the beard to your list of places with apocrine glands–if I had a beard, that is." He chuckled. "And, the purpose of the apocrine sweat?"
"Sexual attraction," Tyler replied. He paused, but Jon merely looked expectantly at him.
"The hair collects the sexual scent! That's right, isn't it?" Tyler asked.
"Collects it, concentrates it, aids in evaporation, all that," Jon said. "That was very good."
Tyler blushed. "But the rest of the hair? It doesn't have apocrine glands. So why do we–did we, I mean–have it?"
"The other hair follicles do not have apocrine glands," Jon said. "You're right about that. The hair on our head helps guard against heat in hot weather, and against heat loss in cold weather. You know the brain has a huge blood supply. And, you know that the bones of the skull and the thin scalp do not make a good insulator. In most mammals and in other primates, body hair helps regulate body temperature.
"In all but humans, hair standing up on end also serves as a warning. When we evolved from our ancient ancestors–ape-like hominids with a lot of body hair–we lost those capabilities, even though we still have the tiny muscles that make our hair stand on end. They're vestigial–they've lost their purpose."
Jon paused. "Class dismissed!" he said, and then continued in a more sober tone. "We need to decide what to do."
"This place," he said, waving his hands at the stone building in which they'd wakened, "looks like an abandoned ruin. The room we were in is the only part that's still standing. It's not likely that anyone from the Med Center will be coming here to look for us. We'll find water in the stream, but there's no food, unless you count the wild strawberries by the stream, and the mushrooms by the foundation.
"On the other hand, this looks like it might have once been a road," he pointed to a slight depression, about six feet wide, in which the grass grew less tall. "It may lead us to civilization. Shall we see?"