Fox IslandChapter 2
WHEN MORNING ROSE, it came with the revelation many have experienced after falling asleep from exhaustion before taking the time to find a suitable resting place. His lower-back and side were in pain from the large root running underneath him; his neck was sore from being pressed awkwardly against the trunk of the ceiba. He loved his new tree-house, but his first morning with it was less than admirable. He lay for some time under the shade of it while he listened to the morning; birds and insects sang from every direction, and he was altogether happy enough to never move again.
Opposite the sea, he faced the morning sun as he slowly stretched the kinks from his muscles. The air tasted stale and bitter. It made the world around him hazy and slow; not truly awake yet. He pondered if the stars and moon ever felt tired, and if so, were it possible to see one slow itself enough to rest on the horizon. He opened and closed his hands rapidly, trying to grab at the horizon and shake it awake; he scowled in disappointment. He understood it wasn’t the world was tired; it was that he was thirsty; his mouth, eyes and fingertips were weak. It hadn’t occurred to him the entire day before, that if he didn’t find water, he wouldn’t be here much longer.
He bent down and found his watch on the root next to where he lay asleep. He secured it to his wrist, and elected venturing a new direction, hoping to find a source of freshwater. To the south was the trail and the mango tree, but beyond it, the jungle was far too dense to manage; that left north and west. He presumed he would eventually journey north, and hopefully find a way beyond the bay, but his reason for discovery was no longer bent on civilization or geography; he needed water, and it made sense that the further from the beach he was, the more likely he would find it. He packed his last two mangos in his pockets and started west into the jungle.
The jungle was not near as difficult to wander this time; he broke limbs off small plants and threw flowers on the ground, as a visual path for his return to his beach. He was grateful, not for the last time, that he had his loafers as he kept finding ants and spiders running along them when he rested; he could only imagine what his feet would have to endure if they were bare. Although he heard a constant ringing noise of birds and insects, it surprised him how little life he actually witnessed besides these and the plants. He wandered across scat and digs but didn’t have any idea what beasts they came from. The jungle, it seemed, knew how to hide itself as he lumbered through. He struggled to imagine any deer living out here, so he presumed pig or capybara were the culprits behind the trails he stumbled upon.
His luck increased when he found an abandoned rucksack jammed in the crook of an oak tree. The worn leather was nearly useless, but he imagined he could find something of use inside. He had a rather difficult time getting the thing free, as it was just at arm’s length, and the tree itself was too wide for him to climb; his violent jerking tore the leather and fabric. Finally, after wasting an exorbitant amount of energy and fearing that it wasn’t nearly worth the effort, he freed the thing from its cradle. To his delight he found a pocket knife, a box of matches and windbreaker. A field guide was inside, but the weather destroyed the material ages ago. The thing that excited him most was a long piece of rope; he imagined he could make a proper shelter. The jacket wasn’t fashionable and looked altogether ridiculous on him, but he was happy to have something protecting his skin from the flies and sun. He stuffed the rest in his pockets.
He decided this was the end of what he could do today, and it seemed fitting. His body was weak and dehydrated; the work of retrieving the rucksack furthermore exhausted him, and he knew his trip back would be twice as arduous. While turning away, he tripped and fell backward on a large object hidden in the grass. The fall took the wind out of him. He felt silly turning himself over; he knew if he weren’t so exhausted he wouldn’t have stumbled. He searched around in the grass for what tripped him, and to his disgust, found a corpse. The decomposition was many years old; wildlife had eaten much of it, leaving only the frame of the torso, head, and one arm. Its head was thrown back and looked frightful.
It possessed him with a fast and senseless fear, one borne from disgust and that absolute thing inside of us that death is coming and time is always against us. He wondered what had happened to this islander. Was he a native or someone like him, abandoned or shipwrecked? Had he died from starvation and thirst, or something sinister in the jungle? And if it were something sinister, why would it leave his corpse here in the open, slowly eaten by small wildlife, rather than taken back to some hole or den for storing and eating at leisure; perhaps, something evil but not altogether animalistic was on the island. He hated his thoughts and resolved he best leave it alone. He thanked the body for his pack and supplies, and presently left, but not before wondering if he should bury the corpse and honor the dead; at this, he forfeited—what use was it to honor the dead when you may join them for doing so? He was at wit’s end and needed to get back to food, shelter, and hope he stumble across some source of water along the way.
He followed his trail back to the beach, but not before stopping at the mango tree. When he arrived at the ceiba, he partitioned an area inside its large roots, intending to light a fire. Using some parchment he collected from the rucksack and dried brambles along the way, he was able to start one. The two days he was on the island left him with feelings of highs and lows. He found a source of food, equipment and now the power to protect and warm himself; but he missed the sound of a man’s voice, and even his own in conversation. He attempted speaking to himself, but it only made him feel lonelier.
As soon as dusk came, a large gale swept up from the west. The wind and rain howled, deafening him. He cowered in the largest nook of the roots and covered his face with his jacket. There were no more birds or insects singing now; only the scream of thunder and lightning, pounding frightfully and blinding the heavens above. He was grateful to have the tree at his back, but was miserable, nonetheless. He could only enjoy his fire for an hour, before it was extinguished in a moment.
As he lay cowering under his windbreaker, hugging tightly to the tree, the rain slapped him. Harder, fiercer and at quicker intervals the storm flurried at him, like a great hand slamming him into the side of the trunk. Water collected on the leaves of the ceiba and trickled down onto his head. For whatever reason, it hadn’t occurred to him that this is what he spent his whole day searching for. The violence of the storm made him blind to its purpose; the rain had come to give the island nutrition, and everything on the island was benefitting it. When his lips felt the water dribble onto them, they opened and his tongue drank zealously.
He almost laughed at how he had been hiding from the rain, as if something inside of him was still telling him he ought to be dry and comfortable. He scurried out of the cover of the tree’s limbs and shot his head up, drinking as much as the sky could offer. He took the windbreaker off and fashioned in the sand a sort of bowl. It filled with water.
Lightning cracked from the sky and set him off his feet. He sat back at the base of the tree and watched his bowl slowly fill. Beyond it, the horizon was bleak and imposing. It stared at him like a black amorphous monster, only lit by the irregular strike of lightning that illuminated different shapes in the dark clouds. It was unsettling. He imagined the storm a thing that was lower and closer to earth than the sky would allow; that it was threatening to crawl to the island and face him head-on—though it wasn’t something that would walk or crawl. No, it would glide or swim along the surface of the earth and attack him in his lungs.
A new sound frightened him. It was like a horn blown from the lungs of some mammoth creature; metallic, but breathy. It shook away any silly imagination or frightful nightmare, because it was not imagined or dreamed. It was a real thing, something tangible and therefore all the more disturbing. Something far out there crying aloud its low, boisterous call. Was it at him? The sound of distress? The sound of communication? His mind thought of dragons and monsters lurking in the shadows; something large and powerful at the top of an unseen and unfound mountain, that was declaring its descent and hunt.
He tried to steel his nerves, though every second he was feeling more like a child, lost and afraid. He was no longer proud of his success with the rucksack or the water-bowl. Fear humiliated him and found his place where it ought to be—at the bottom, in the dirt, hugging the base of a tree-trunk, covered in foolishness and horror. He fell asleep in his torment.