Fox IslandChapter 3
HE OWNED A GREAT SENSE OF ADVENTURE the next day, one like a man succumbs when he realizes he has no other option than to be excited about what lay ahead. It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, that he felt silly for his prior fear. He promised himself that the next storm or unexpected thing wouldn’t cause him such dread. It made the next few days more pleasant, and frankly, he had a lot of good fortune. Food was easier to come by; within a day’s journey, he had bananas, mangos, passion fruit, nuts, and even squash.
Early on, he was tempted to create a store in his ceiba tree, but quickly learned the error in his ways. One morning, a group of monkeys raiding his cache and throwing the remains everywhere woke him. His watch, rope, and knife were considerably interesting to them and it took him an entire day to collect them back from the jungle, after being dispersed by the monkey’s eventual lack of interest. When he returned, ants invaded his home, devouring whatever the monkeys left behind. He decided it was best to only keep at his tree-house whatever he planned on eating before the day’s end.
Nonetheless, his first week was not too difficult, nor did it overwhelm him. Save the second night, when he heard that awful booming horn in the storm, he felt relaxed and accomplished with the passing of each day on his island. In the mornings, he put on his watch, strapped on his loafers, and walked out into the jungle. And every evening, he awakened the embers of his fireplace and enjoyed a piece of fruit with his feet up against the ceiba’s roots. He even began drawing a map using parchment and a cinder. On it had the location of his favorite fruit trees, the rucksack-tree and corpse, what he imagined were the whereabouts of the thieving monkeys, and even another beach like his own to the north.
One afternoon, while the sun was it at hottest, he came upon a cenote. It was on the side of a limestone and coquina rock-face. It sat awkwardly at the bottom of a twenty-foot precipice, lined with roots, leaves and loose soil. Its water was enticing, glistening in the heat, calling him to its blue and green vibrance. At three sides, the rock-face enclosed it, but the side furthest him came low and created a sort of bay. He could imagine himself walking up to swim at it.
He had in his pockets a collection of nuts, and half-eaten banana, for his trip back. He knew that if he swam, the wildlife would ruin his meal and cause him an even harder journey home that night. He thought better of it and planned for another time.
Along the edges of the cenote, giant lily-pads grew in the water. He had the idea of taking one back home as a canopy to shield from the rain and better catch for freshwater; he could finally have his windbreaker back on his shoulders. The jungle grew very thick and cumbersome along the cliff-side; he would have to make quite the travel up the rock-face before coming back down to the other side where the bay was. He knew if he approached the cenote from another angle entirely, it would be much easier to avoid this task. He made a note on his map, but for now the journey appeared too arduous.
He decided rather to climb down the rock-face where he stood, as it seemed just as profitable as going around, and far less time-consuming. He held on to the roots as he ventured downward, trying his best to keep his loafers from slipping in the loose sediment. He couldn’t quite reach the edge of the water, but lay down on a portion of the bedrock overhanging the spring. He reached for a grand six-foot lily-pad and pulled it out. It was difficult to break the stock, but it came out easily once the base snapped from underwater. He slowly rolled it up and put it over his shoulder to make the climb back.
Before doing so, something caught his eye on the bank. From this angle he could see a large mass of brown and black sitting on the edge of the water at the far side of the cenote, some 200 yards from him. The underbrush of palm trees covered it. His heart leapt as he saw it was a boat wreck—something like a canoe of birchbark. It was probably rotten in many areas, but he was too excited to care. This could be his way off the cursed island.
It would take him hours to hike around the other side through the thick jungle, but he planned to return from the other side the following day to examine its durability. He collected his lily-pad and made his way up the precipice.
When he pulled himself up from the side of the cenote cavern, he was taken aback, nearly falling down into the hole he just climbed out of. A man was only thirty meters from him, dressed in far less clothing, and his body tanned like leather. The Traveler startled the native, who dropped to a prone position, ready to run at any moment. The Traveler took a step. He greeted the native, but his visitor took flight as soon as he spoke, running through the jungle quickly and quietly.
His mind flooded with questions, postulations, ideas, confounded by his own ignorance and foolishness; but he had no time to sort through any of it if he were to catch up to the man. He engaged in the foot-race, leaping over tree limbs, rocks and the underbrush of the jungle, attempting to catch the man who clearly knew the jungle better than he. Every moment he thought he was catching up to the native, he would come upon some impassable brush or large tree that made him diverge and waste precious time. The sound of the jungle grew loud—the wind, trees, birds, and insects, as well as the blood coursing through his veins hindered his hearing. He couldn’t tell where he was and soon doubted any idea of where the native had fled.
He stopped running and calmed down. His chest was pounding; his legs worn out; he hadn’t exhausted himself in this way while on the island, and his diet of fruits and vegetables made him easily fatigued. He looked every which way around him. Then suddenly, a burst of noise, somewhere in the distance to the west. Heavy footsteps like someone had fallen, and then the sound of sloshing water.
He realized the native must have been using the trees to get around. He grabbed hold of the limb of a dead banyan tree and lifted himself up. He climbed above the underbrush and scurried through the branches, gazing into the distance. He saw the brush moving and a figure running to the northwest.
He dropped back to the ground and took off. He came out of the jungle upon a large sea of sawgrass; recently forming a marsh. It was only a few days old; he surmised the heavy storm was its culprit. In dryer days it would have been navigable; but now he hesitated. He couldn’t see but a bit in front of him; the grass towered eight-feet high and thick as weeds. He knew the native had escaped through it. A few ugly and irresponsible tracks were left at the edge of the bog; caused by a man who was more concerned with fleeing rather leaving a sign.
He took a careful step into the bog and his foot sank a few inches in. Another step and he knew that it was impassable. His ankles were under the wet soil. He tried stepping again but fell promptly back onto his rump. He reached back to the dry ground, using the leverage to pry his feet free. When his foot came through, the loafer stayed behind; he quickly lunged his hand into the mud to save the shoe before the earth ate it. It took him a few moments to get the loafer free again, and by the time it was in his hand he had resigned any notion of catching the native. He was too inexperienced and too unaware of his surroundings to venture forth.
But the whole affair really surprised him. He knew now that he was not alone on the island. And like any man that runs from a new encounter, they run back to what they find comfort in. There must be more natives on this island; perhaps a village. It was all very fascinating to the Traveler. How did they arrive? How long had they lived here? Was there a way to other islands or perhaps even the Mainland? Were they indigenous or marooned like him?
But the longer he sat on his haunches in the mud, far from his beach and ceiba, the more uneasy he felt. Man was treacherous. Stories of natives and wild jungle-men flooding his imagination; stories of cannibals and witch-doctors told by those more educated and world-weary. Perhaps it was best that the native got away. After all, the native may well have been leading him to a trap, rather than fleeing for his life. What did he have to offer that was frightening? What was so alarming about his own appearance that would make someone else run away at first encounter? Was it his pale skin, disheveled beard and awkward brown deck-shoes? No, it must be a trap.
Now the bog grew ominous before him. The smell of the filthy earth and dead grass was unsettling. He wanted to be far from this place and never return. He stood erect and located the east. He assured himself that the distance to his beach would help conceal his location in the future. Pulling the map from his pocket, he quickly scribbled a general location of the marsh and moved on.