Fox IslandChapter 5
FREEDOM LAY IN THE DISTANCE, on the far side of the ocean’s belly. His boat salvaged, his store prepared, his water collected, but no matter anymore. He hadn’t his watch and it drove him mad. It was his only keepsake that mattered. Without it, his nightmares were torrent. Could he even survive? What now did it even matter? He was nothing more than a bird of the air or insect squashed. He was one of the fruit monkeys that stole his supplies, fancying them as toys rather than tools—a half-witted child or simpleton. It occurred to him that his lack of skills to repair the watch—this whole venture in surviving just to survive—absent from legacy and purpose—he had become nothing but an animal. What business did he have with the watch? He didn’t deserve it; he didn’t even know how to use it. And now, without it, it made sense that he shouldn’t be with it.
No! It was his watch. One of the few things that washed ashore with him. He hadn’t a memory, but he had a memorial, and it was stored away, broken for sure, locked inside the gears, metal and leather of the machinery. No one should have it but him. And it was worth fighting and dying for.
Liberty in the belly of the ocean was a pipe dream. But his watch was a necessity. It gave him hope. He needed to know he could lay it beside his head at night and wrap it on his wrist in the day. It was proof that he had a past, and if he had a past, he had a future, and if a future, a purpose. He settled on traveling west; into the jungle, passed the cenote and the bog, to find whoever or whatever stole his watch.
The journey to the cenote was methodical, one he had many times during the arduous task of retrieving his boat from the jungle. But he hadn’t yet returned to the cliff where he first encountered the native. He made his way up and looking down saw the first lily-pad, only a few feet below the bluff. It was wilting; shades of brown crowned the edges; but it was still tough. He climbed down and recovered it, unrolling and cutting a piece to use as a hat with a length of dogbane.
He looked at his map, and for only the second time, stepped beyond his boundaries and toward the bog. His hike dragged more than his first frantic chase through this part of the jungle, and he felt the calming beauty of it. The sun came out from behind the canopy. The marquee trees diminished. Short pepper trees, bottle palms and cypress flourished; he would be at the swamp before long.
He could smell it preceding its arrival, helping him locate it. And when he did, discouragement and reluctance fell upon him. The land was underwater some twenty-four inches. He bound his loafers to his ankles with a piece of rope and found a large walking-stick. Stepping into the sawgrass, he left behind all the shelter and confidence he ever knew. But he must retrieve his humanity.
The land was lifeless save a few marsh-hens and coots cooing as he approached. Throughout were dozens of dead banana trees, hanging low, some bent and broken, covered in mud and webs. The sawgrass intertwined and choked them.
After a few hours of sloshing through, solid ground came under him. He crawled out of the marsh and onto dry ground, thanking God for the disgusting business to be behind him. He leaned on his walking-stick and looked about. The tree-line appeared cultivated, pushed back hundred of meters in every direction. Before him, a wide open field of bahia, eighteen-inches high, with two dozen scarlet ibis eating grasshoppers and arachnids. He watched the flock; one solitary black ibis stood in the midst. It didn’t move like the clutch, but stood staring at him, like a buck defending his does, a stallion watching over his mares, a captain commanding his platoon.
The Traveler brushed the flakes of mud from his chest, legs and shoes and continued west. Curious—to find such cultivated land. He imagined he reached the native’s territory. If they were farmers, it took away the terror of violent cannibals.
On the other side of the bahia, at the edge of the jungle, a flurry of song and commotion greeted him. Macaws squawked in the canopy, songbirds delighted in flight, finches peeped on the ground, blue herons rattled in the distance; it was a raucous welcoming into their kingdom at what he assumed was the center of the island.
He came upon a hill of coquina. On it was the most disturbing thing he had discovered on the island yet—a monolith. A great totem of distinct shapes and carvings towering twenty-feet over him, and staring, full of power and might. It was a thing of instrument and technology, carved by the hands of purposeful men. Whether it told a fable, history, or warning and alarm, no matter what, it showed that many people inhabited this island, and were doing so for a long time.
It was made of limestone, creamy white turned brown and green long ago; its importance yielded to something now unkempt. After staring for a considerable amount, he deciphered what the images were—the faces of four animals. At the top was most recognizable as an eagle, though the wings were broken off. A storm or time eroded the attachments away, though he couldn’t find them on the ground anywhere nearby. The second animal, he never made out. It was a mammal with pointed ears and long snout, wearing cunning eyes and a devious expression. This second monument was damaged as well; one side of its face, including half of the snout and one eye, were missing altogether like something large smashed into it. The third was a large crocodilian; its teeth were meticulous, and its eyes marble. At the bottom, was a picture of his fiendish friend, the monkey; its head was round and rather silly looking, weakly compared to the other powerful archetypes.
He sat under the gaze of the monolith and had lunch. He pulled a pair of mangoes out and chewed on some nuts while he peeled the rind back. In the distance, he saw a flash of red, darting low at the ground. It halted, and he recognized it as a small red fox. The animal was only twenty yards from him.
The two peered into one another’s eyes. He marveled at the complexity of the creature. It was a predator, but not in the slightest dangerous to him. King of this forest. It sat on its haunches for nearly two minutes, observing the Traveler before its sheen and pristine back winced and the animal darted away into the underbrush. It no longer needed to study.
As he finished his meal with a bit of squash, he pulled his map and began drawing the monolith. For the first time, he was inclined to draw a precise representation of what he found. He did his best to mimic the eagle with broken wings, the wily creature underneath, the domineering crocodile next, and the doltish monkey at the bottom. He smiled at the monkey who he gave crooked eyes and a cocked smile.
He stored his leftovers into the sack, stashed his map inside the pocket, and threw it all over his shoulder. When he turned from the monolith he faced five men, clad in sackcloth hanging over their shoulders and tied around the waist. He clenched his jaw. Fear filled him, and his spirit deflated. One was the native he encountered in his foot race weeks before.