Fox IslandChapter 1
THE TRAVELER woke at the touch of wind and sand prickling his cheeks. It rushed over him and through the mangroves while imitating the sound of the waves crashing on the beach just beneath him. A click beetle made its way nearest him and perched on his hand. It clicked and jumped on his arm as he opened his eyes. He flicked his wrist and let the thing fall from the back of his forearm. A large wind swelled up again and the trees bent so loudly, he wondered if they would fall over on him.
Finally, he sat up, brushing the sand from his face and shoulders. He could feel the sun on his reddened bare-back. He wore only shorts and one brown loafer; a leather watch on his left wrist.
Something is in men that propels us forward even when we don’t know what is necessarily beyond us; the necessity to move on regardless of information or the lack thereof. Survival is what is important, and movement is rudimentary in survival.
He did not remember where he was, or how he came to be on this beach. He assumed he was a ship-wreck, though he couldn’t see signs of it. The waves were at his feet, and he rather not let the tide come in much further upon him, before getting up and deciding to camp for the night or scout for his company. He looked about, left and right, and found another shoe run up on the beach, some fifteen-feet from him. He stood to retrieve it, and as he did, he realized how unstable the ground was; or perhaps his own feet were. He fell over immediately; the sand shifting from beneath him, scaring the click beetle away.
He did his best to stand again, this time with more success; one foot flexed into the sand, letting it riddle his toes; the other foot sat awkward and cock-eyed from the loafer, like anyone who hasn’t yet discovered how uncomfortable it is to walk on a beach in shoes. He ventured forth, aiming to retrieve the other loafer, yet inevitably falling again only half the distance to it. He abandoned his idea to walk and quickly crawled his way to the shoe, promptly putting it on when he reclaimed it. He stood again with the feeling of accomplishment and humanity. At least he had his shoes.
The beach’s song was soothing, and its repetitive nature lulled him; nonetheless, he established in his heart that he was best to get away from it. Inside he knew that the beach he was leaving may be the thing that would save him, some vessel or shipmate, but for now it was a distraction; one that he couldn’t afford to rest near. He needed to know why he was on this beach, and furthermore, how he would get off of it. While he had energy in his muscles, he needed to use them wisely and not wasted on charm. The waves, wind and insects may have sounded pleasant and soporific, but they brought with them a disquieting and alerting sound—or perhaps, the lack of sound; one often takes for granted the reassuring human and mechanical noises in the world around them. But once they are gone, they take security with them. He felt underneath him an ugly sense of urgency.
Mostly it hid behind an almost optimistic and evidently steady perspective to work slowly and confidently at whatever lay before him, making camp, finding rations, and surviving for as long as he need like Robinson Crusoe. This led him to the sensation of adventure and fame—but underneath it, a thing reminded him he was much more simple and cowardice than he liked to admit; it was a lingering and ugly despondency that he may die here, or worse, may already be dead.
And it was an ugly thing, for it destroyed the power and beauty of the paradise he had awakened on. The water was thin and vibrant, slowly crashing against the bay. The outer ridges of his beach (for so he already began to think of it as his) spanned some two miles before bending harshly outward toward the horizon, and then flexing back again, before disappearing out of view. He decided the bay was too good to leave permanently, but that he should at least find his way to the other side of one of the ridges, or beyond into the jungle, in search of humanity or supplies.
Like any man at a crossroads whose choice doesn’t really amount to much difference, he made a religious choice to believe one way up the beach was better than the other down; he made that right was better than the left. It wasn’t only until much later that he realized his right may have been left if he were facing the other direction.
He tried again at walking, and this time his loafers did much better. He could tell there was plenty of life on the beach—crabs, gulls, insects and lizards—so the part of him that worried of survival hushed; at the least, he would need to grow fond of eating insects and raw crab, which men have had to survive with much worse. After a few grueling hundred yards, the shore came to a rocky enclave; the waves were more violent and punished him for trying to stand. He fell numerous times, breaking open his shins and ankles on the crag and barnacles, before retreating to the former side of the beach.
He realized that he wouldn’t be able to cross this portion of the shoreline without venturing deeper into the jungle. He had already made up in his mind that he would have to scour through it for supplies and food at some point, but it wasn’t until this moment that he realized he was just afraid of the jungle as he was of the beach. But his fear of the jungle was quite different. The beach brought with it a fear of tranquility and slowly dying in well-being; the jungle brought a fear of the unknown and the hunt out there. No one could possibly know what was on the other side of that tree-line.
He shook his fears, quit like a man, and proclaimed all that as nonsense and boyish imaginations. He stepped forward and found on the other side of the tree-line an open path that he presumed belonged to wildlife. He noticed at once, how much dimmer the ocean’s volume was on this end of the tree-line. The wind quickened and poured down from the canopy. Underneath the raucous wind, he could hear only the faint whispers of katydids and crickets somewhere far in the jungle and singing as loud as possible; intermittently a seagull’s caw would ring out. He continued on the path until it too became insurmountable, and forced him to find a less structured, meandering way through the jungle.
With great fortune that both felt random and predestined, he came upon a large mango tree. His heart elated as he raced to it and began eating promptly from the sweet nectar tree. None of the mangos were altogether ripe, and most were tough and meaty; nonetheless, it gave him hope again that he, until that point, hadn’t realized he was waning. He felt reassured that he wouldn’t die after all. But as soon as that thought crossed his mind, with it again was the fear that we were already dead. Why was this place so flawless, like one of the Fortunate Isles? Had his soul washed ashore after his body was lost at sea? Perhaps all of this was some trick of a lesser god and he was the pawn caught inside of it. The pathway was so simple, and it led him irrevocably to this mango tree.
The lack of humanity and purpose was driving him mad. It was a madness that few men experience—the madness of not knowing what to do when no one is there to tell you what next. He inadvertently looked at his watch. It was no longer moving. But it reminded him that somewhere out there beyond the ocean were men and women still ticking away at their clocks and regime. He would be okay. He just need to decide and take one step at a time.
It wouldn’t be good to fall asleep in the jungle, so he stuffed two mangos into each of his shorts’ pockets, grabbed a large handful of them, and set off back toward his beach. He fancied how many more he could carry if he had a shirt to haul them. But the idea was fruitless, and he thought it better for himself not to count his want but his gain.
He found the path in the jungle again with little complication. But soon discovered that it must have had multiple partitions, for he was now cutting harsher turns and alleys through the overhanging pepper trees, ferns, and palms, than he had on his first trek.
Much to his delight, it spit him out on the beach again, but at a different portion of the bay. He had already forgotten how painful the wind was here; the sand splintered his eyes and ears, bowing his head in submission. He had somehow found his way further down the bay, past the rocky enclave. He said a prayer of gratitude and again felt very accomplished of himself that he had not only explored half of the bay now but also found a viable source of food for days ahead.
Before him, just at the base of the tree-line, stood a powerfully massive ceiba tree. Its limbs were as thick as his torso and its roots widened out before uprooting and moving circular around the beach; instead of the harsh sand, tree leaves and dirt covered the center; this created a natural bedding that he could sit inside to shield him from the wind. He resolved it would make a fine shelter for him, both from weather and wildlife.
Night fell upon him, and its volume quite surprised him. While part of him knew that nocturnal animals would make sound to communicate and search through the darkness, nothing in his imagination quite prepared him for the cacophony. Tree frogs and dart frogs croaked, bats and geckos chirped, and monkeys howled at each other. Branches swayed, raindrops fell from the leaves they held onto all day, and invisible footsteps crunched in the darkness. Over all of it was the sound of the ocean rising and falling, crashing and sinking. It was deafening.
He ate a mango before laying his head down and resting. He stared at the sky in wonder of where he had come from. He involuntarily tried to tell time again by looking at his watch. Accordingly, time had stood still. He took it off his wrist and tried blowing any sand and water out of the thin metallic grooves. Unsurprisingly, it was no use. He decided to keep it. It reminded him that he didn’t belong here. He placed it on a large root next to his head, imitating the act of keeping house. Then he fell asleep.