The explorer lifted his hands toward the sky. “With the heavens as my witness,” he said, “if you do not release me, then I will respond by blotting out the sun…” He took a piece of paper out of his pocket, double-checked some numbers written on it “…starting exactly one minute from now.”
The savages snorted. The chieftain fiddled with the bone in his hair. “You no have power blot out sun,” he accused.
“My people possess great magic,” said the explorer. “And by threatening to eat me, you have incurred my wrath. So let me depart your country, or darkness shall fall over the land, starting…now!”
“Sun no get blot out,” said the savage chieftain. A few other savages nodded. “We think we stick with original plan of eat you.”
“The sun in so getting blotted out,” said the explorer. “Just a tiny corner at first. It’s hard to see. But gradually it’ll get bigger.”
One or two of the savages tried to stare at the sun, then averted their eyes after a moment.
“Definitely no blot out,” said the chieftain.
“You can’t see it because the remaining unblotted-out portion of the sun is too bright!” said the explorer.
“Not seem very good magic,” said the tribe’s shaman, joining in the discussion.
“Um. How about this. Do you have a cereal box?”
“What is cereal box?” asked the chieftain skeptically.
“Ah, frick. Um, bark. Do you have long and thin pieces of bark?” Some of the savages went into a hut, came out with some bark. “If you arrange them into a kind of box shape, and you cut a hole in that one there, and then you use it to block the other one, you…”
“Why we do this, again?” asked the shaman. “We hungry. We want eat you now.”
“Because,” said the explorer, “I’m trying to demonstrate that I’m blotting out the sun.”
“Me would think,” said shaman, “that if sun blotted out, maybe not need contraption made of pieces of bark in order to know.”
“I’m blotting it out really slowly! It’s too bright to look at directly!”
“Maybe you should blot out sun faster,” said the chieftain.
“I’M BLOTTING AS FAST AS I CAN!”
“Still not seem very good magic.”
“Oh, screw you, I’ll do it myself,” said the explorer, breaking out from among the warriors standing guard around his party. None of them moved to stop him as he sat down, took the pieces of bark, and propped them up against each other with sticks. He took a knife from his pocket and whittled a little hole into one of them. “See! The sun clearly has a little corner taken out of it.”
The savages all peered down warily. Finally, the shaman asked what all of them were thinking: “What supposed to be demonstrated by this?”
“Oh, for the love of God. It’s a pinhole projector. Normally the sunlight would come through this hole and illuminate a perfectly circular area on this other piece of bark here. But now, because I’m blotting out the sun with my magic, it’s producing this kind of crescent shape, with a bit taken out of the sun.”
“You able to blot out the sun with magic seem like overly complicated explanation for weird shape shadow,” said the shaman. “Maybe shadow made on bark always weird.”
“NO IT’S NOT,” said the explorer. “After I stop blotting out the sun, you’ll see it’s a normal circular shadow.”
“Okay,” said the chieftain. “Is good idea. You unblot sun now, we check for circular shadow, then re-blot sun again.”
“I’m not going to stop blotting out the sun just because you guys don’t understand optics!”
“Just unblot little bit, then reblot little bit. Not so hard.”
“Have you ever blotted out the sun before? No? Then stop telling me what’s hard or easy!”
“So when you stop blotting out sun?”
“After you release me!”
“So we only able to learn if releasing you necessary after you unblot sun, and you only unblot sun after we release you? Sound kind of like trick.”
“Look,” said the explorer. “I’m sorry about this. I really am. There are places north of here that are getting total sun-blotting-outs. If we were a few dozen miles away, this would be really impressive, I promise. But here, I’m only able to blot out the sun partially. Like, ninety percent. I just feel like, as demonstrations of power go, that’s still pretty impressive.”
“But definitely when ninety percent of sun blotted out, it big enough to notice, right?”
“Well…it will probably get darker. I think maybe the difference will be noticeable. And if you look at the pinhole projector…” He touched the contraption of bark and sticks, which promptly fell apart. He cursed and propped it back up again. “If you look at the pinhole projector, you’ll see that the part of the sun that’s missing is gradually increasing.”
The savages stared at the projector, dubiously.
“Look about same,” said the shaman.
“It’s not! Over the past few minutes, the ‘bite’ taken out of the sun has gradually gotten bigger!”
“Maybe should blot out whole sun,” said the chieftain. “Maybe then seem more obvious.”
“I’M NOT GOING TO BLOT OUT THE WHOLE SUN! Come on, can’t you tell it’s getting darker?”
The shaman squinted. “Maybe sort of look dark. Hard to tell.”
The savages started talking to each other. “Maybe look little darker than usual,” the chieftain concluded. “But maybe only because you give me suggestion.”
“Oh, come on,” said the explorer. “It’s clearly darker. Just let me go.”
The chieftain whispered something to the shaman. The shaman whispered something back to the chieftain. Finally, the chieftain turned to the explorer and nodded.
“Not sure if really darker or just power of suggestion. But you make sun come back, we let you go.”
The explorer gave a sigh of relief. He lifted his hands to the heavens. “In the name of the gods of my people,” he declared, “I command the sun to return to the sky!”
Nothing obvious happened. They waited a minute. Two minutes. Finally the chieftain shrugged. “Maybe little bit lighter,” he said. “Hard to tell.”
“Can I go?” asked the explorer.
The chieftain shrugged. Before he could change his mind, the explorer grabbed his pack and rushed out of the village.
Ten minutes later, he was back. The chieftain looked at him quizzically.
“Actually,” said the explorer, “I just saw the traffic on the road out of here. If the offer’s still open, I think I’d rather get eaten.”