Fox IslandChapter 4
THE NEXT DAY, he returned to the cenote with his knife and rope. He intended to find a quicker way to the bay and hoped the canoe was in working order. It took fighting through brambles and thorns before he arrived at the lower end of the pond, covered in scratches from cheekbone to ankle. The vessel had a considerable amount of rot and rust; nevertheless, it was promising.
At the water’s edge, he found budging the thing quite impossible. No matter, that’s why the rope. He tied the bow of the small boat and threw the other end over the branch of a nearby oak. With all his might, he wrenched and moaned to free the thing from its lodged position. It wedged between several rocks and set in clay. He thought it gave when the bow of the canoe splintered and the whole front side snapped off.
He cursed his luck. Regardless, the wood was too much a resource to leave abandoned. He changed his tactic and ventured forth into the pool, hoping in mind to remove some stones from the backside and push it free.
The water was brisk and startling; he hadn’t felt a surge of coldness in a lifetime. It froze him for a moment, but he continued forward, letting his body slip into the water and rise above his waist, then chest, and then shoulders. Now that he was in the water, a fresh sense of fear crept down his spine. The deep, black water was holding him, and he was a frog splayed out on the surface waiting to be pulled under. Fish were already nipping at his toes and the freckles on his back, but he wondered if something large was in the unknown.
He dove under and made quick work, pushing and pulling the rock formations from under the stern. They came out easily enough. He wedged himself between a large stalagmite and the stern and pushed with all his might. The boat gave way and moved about eighteen inches. It satisfied him, and he was confident to pull the rest from the broken end. He crawled out of the water and in his heart felt like he was escaping rather than leaving. He couldn’t shake the sensation of something lurking out there under the lily-pads.
The lily-pad! He forgot it on the cliff.
He tied the front of the broken boat to the rope and over the branch again. This time being careful to pull methodically; no sudden jerks. The sand slid, and the boat was free. He used his knife to cut the vegetation that was growing over one side and pulled it away from the bay. He stored the bow of the ship (that had broken off) into the boat itself. With significant effort, he turned the boat round and tied to the stern.
Now to get his lily-pad. The same problem lay as before; his previously recovered pad would take hours to retrieve from the other side. He would need a new one. He dipped back into the water and slowly pushed himself forward to the rock face. He grabbed hold of the limestone and made his way down to the pads. With every few feet along, he imagined how deep the cenote really was. He could not feel any sort of bottom underneath him at all. It might be hundreds of meters to the floor. The water was clear like crystal, but black in the shadow of the cliffs.
He reached the lily-pads and his knees hit an outcropping. He stood up, out of the water, ankle-deep, and took hold of one stock. With all his might, he pulled and discovered how lucky he was to get his first one so easily. It wouldn’t snap. While on the bay, he thought he was wise for keeping his knife away from a blundering drop. Now, he just wanted to be out of the water with the lily-pad. He panicked and jerked the thing wildly. It would not move.
He let go of the stock and stood erect on the outcropping. His neck stretch and chest expanded. Bending down, he tried another stock. This time he had more luck. It budged, cracked and snapped off. It wasn’t as large as some others, but was a godly four feet in diameter.
As he pulled it out, an explosion of water erupted in his face. He bolted to the side of the cliff, shaking his head and wiping his eyes. A large black tail splashed the water and retreated from him. It was the resting place of some large aquatic animal.
Now he stood, frozen on the side of the cliff, his feet shivering on the outcropping, and some 15 meters of deep dark cavernous water between him and the shore. He had no choice but to face his fear; his only option was to make it to the shore. He wouldn’t live on this small rock forever; it was live or die in the water, but staying in fear was not an option. He clenched his teeth, grabbed hold of his lily-pad, and with some newfound bravery, fell into the water.
He rushed along the edge, never taking his eyes off the surface of the pond for any movement or irregularity. When he came to the shore, he rushed up onto the sand and gave a fifteen-foot gulf between him and the water. He thought for a moment he saw a pair of eyes peering at him from across the cenote, but wasn’t sure. It was nothing but black in a moment.
It took him a week to get the vessel back to his homestead. Every day included cutting vines, and breaking branches to make his way along with the broken boat. And when he found himself in the thickest of the jungle, he had to find another way north or south, zigging around massive trunks until he made an easterly path again.
But his home was coming along. He wore his bright and ugly windbreaker at all times now, because he fashioned his large lily-pad into a satisfactory network of gathering rainwater. The water fell through the ceiba, guided by pieces of the pad, and collect in a sizable group of smooth stones and flat woods, making a bath of potable water. It all took him about as long as getting the boat back.
He was quite common at using dogbane and dragon fruit roots to fashion moderate ropes which he used to repair the rucksack and the boat. The latter of which was the key to getting off the damnable island. He could live as long as needed with his supply of water and fruit, but the boat would be his way home. He used the ropes to tie up the broken pieces and found a cropping of rubber trees to the northwest, which he broke and drained, cultivating the latex sap onto pieces of wood lined with the lily-pads. Patching up the wounds of the boat with the latex, he went to sleep every night, knowing he was one moment closer to freedom.
After four weeks of working, he lay down to sleep, fancying the notion that he was only days away from venturing into his greatest challenge yet—the unknown and worry of what lay outside the island, under the blistering sun, away from his fruit trees and fresh water; away from the birds’ songs and reptilian friends’ scampers; and of course, away from his beloved ceiba.
He took off his wristwatch, per routine, and tried to imagine how long it had been since it worked. What would any person back home think of him if they found him the state he was in now? Hairy, unkempt, ugly and battered. Alas, he was also stronger, braver, and more resourceful than he ever imagined possible.
He sneered, not even knowing what “back home” was. Merely knowing that the watch was the relic that he had one. He placed it on the root next to his head in its sacred place, just as always, and fell asleep.
A terrible irritation woke him—the nuisance of golf-ball raindrops beating the side of his face and soaking him through. The crack of lightning and thunder pierced the sky, shattering his reverie. It was another terrible storm, not unlike the first he encountered weeks before. He pulled himself up close to the tree-trunk and cowered under the windbreaker’s shield.
The wind howled at him, full of angry vengeance, mad that he was still alive and thriving. It punished him on the beach and he lay down, hugging a root, waiting for the tempest to relent. He glanced about at his food store and water structure; they were under the canopy, intact. His boat was filling with water, but nothing effort wouldn’t repair.
He tried easing his mind, telling himself it would abate soon. Then he looked and saw that his wristwatch was no longer beside his sleeping area. He rushed to the root it lay on and looked about every which way. He brushed leaves, water, and mud aside, trying to uncover where it had gone.
At once the rain stopped. And out of the darkness, somewhere deep in the jungle, the horn blown again. The same metallic, breathy scream from machine or animal that he heard on his second night in the midst of the first frightful storm. It took his breath away, his heart lodged somewhere at his esophagus, and before he could tell himself to relax, it blown again. And again a third time, the loud dull scream of some monstrous dragon or giant elephant, unlike anything he had ever heard or imagined. It was out in the darkness, calling for him, and somehow he knew it had his watch.