Fox IslandChapter 8
It was early morning. The sun hadn’t lifted over the eastern horizon. Blue fog hung in the cool air. Fox was three hours to the northwest of the village with Arvor and five other men carrying torches. They stood on the edge of a precipice, overlooking a freshwater river—the source of water for the village. Here in the jungle, a cropping of thirty-foot-high papayas grew on the edge of the world, eight-hundred feet up the rock face.
While the villagers made light work of the papayas, the sun peaked its face from below the ocean and covered the island with light. Fox dallied on the cliff in a brown study, fantasizing of his ceiba back on his beach.
He had grown comfortable with the Liberi in the last month, but it didn’t come without a share of grief and regret. His home was gone, and unfortunately, he couldn’t conjure up a need to ever return to it. It no longer seemed wise to attempt his escape from the island.
What was waiting for him that he couldn’t find here in safety? He had not a name from out there anymore, nor a home from wherever he came. It’s possible that there was a family on the other side of the ocean that he belonged to—but it was just as likely that there was nothing at all.
When he was on the beach, there was adventure in him and it called him to do the unthinkable and risk his life in the ocean. But now he had a place to lay his head, and food to fill his stomach. He had comrades and conversation. It was the sensible thing to stay. If he left knowing what he knew now, he was a fool and walking into certain death. The adventure was gone—
That thought tasted bitter. He told himself the adventure was still here, just different. He mourned at the sight of the horizon, remembering the ceiba had kept him safe when he felt like all was lost.
No matter how much he told himself it was wise to stay, he struggled with an uncomfortable conviction that something was strange about the Liberi—he recognized that he would never be one of them, only one among them. Perhaps he could learn to appreciate their culture and religious entanglements. Perhaps he could help them grow in science and history, like Wells’ Time Traveler desired for his Eloi.
By now, his ceiba would be nothing but a remnant of some lost soul struggling to survive on an island long ago. And it would be a pitiful sight if he were to see it now—nothing compared to a village, fire, drink, food and bed. No doubt, those incessant monkey destroyed his store and make-shift watering system by now; and what else did he even have at that place save his watch and rucksack bag?
Yes, his watch. He had forgotten. It was the thing that reminded him he belonged somewhere else. The thing that told him he belonged to someone else. Where was it? He had chased an idea into the center of the island and forgotten what it was.
He caught himself from his stupor. There was work to be done. He made his way toward a papaya tree when a flash of familiar red and orange caught his eye at the edge of the forest. It darted along, just beneath the tall grass; a beautiful island fox. It stopped in a glade and stared him in the eyes. It was unnerving; everything about it was the same as the one at the monolith. Direct and obtrusive, like a friend that was lost and trying to make you remember its name. Yes, he was certain now! It have to be the same from weeks prior.
An explosion of sound came from down the ravine where Arvor was collecting fruit. An immense boulder had shouldered itself out from under one of the papaya trees and crashed down into the river below, scaring a flurry of white and blue herons.
Arvor was inside the tree that rested on the rock, and it had tipped out over the ravine from the weight of his body. Fox ran alongside the edge of the cliff and came to the base of the tree, now jutting out, leaving Arvor dangling fifteen feet over the crevice.
He was screaming and crying for help, trying with all his might to get his body back up into the tree. But his sweat was making his hands weak. He gripped the ridged exterior of the tree and swung his body with all his might, trying to grab the trunk with his legs. With every swing, he grew more tired until he looked down below him and knew he would fall.
Fox was in the tree, crawling up the trunk, out over the ravine. With every creep he took, the tree shook and shuddered down the cliff. Arvor’s face was smothered in fear, and his forehead was bleeding from falling against the large fruit and branches.
The tree’s root system was halfway out of the soil, and the trunk itself was horizontal. Fox laid down on the trunk, wrapping his legs around it and reached for Arvor’s hand. The tree would not hold the weight any longer, and the trunk cracked and snapped in half. It came crashing down, attached by splinters and strings, slamming the two men into the side of the cliff. Trumpet vine covering the side of the cliff broke their collision.
A shower of earth rained down as they maneuvered and grabbed hold of the trunk in whatever way possible. The trunk splintered. The leaves rattled in bloody violence. Sweat and life dripped from Arvor’s face. Fox shimmied down and with every movement, the tree bowed and crackled underneath him. He dropped, letting his stomach bend over the upper branches. He reached and took Arvor’s hand.
Arvor was silent; fear wore him like an animal in the jaws of a wolf. He was a child again, and his arms flailed viciously at Fox, scratching and bruising his forearms. He pulled with all his might and nearly took Fox off the branches with him. Fox reached for a strand of trumpet vine and steadied the two men.
He groaned and fought, pulling the dead weight of the frightened man over himself. The trunk moved again and the whole cliff side gave way to an enormous mouth of dirt and vegetation—sent sailing down the ravine and crashing into the river below. Fox inhaled, gave half a curse, before clenching his jaw and using every last strength to climb to the base of the tree above the break.
The tree base was hanging perpendicular to the ravine. With each breath, clumps of earth and rock fell from underneath it; the roots shuttered and wormed from their underground burrows, catching the light and throwing their arms up into the sky over Fox’s head. Dirt and clay blinded him. He shut his eyes and reached for the cliff, finding rock behind the vine. He held onto it with all his might; the break gave way and the top of the tree sailed to the river below.
The two pressed between the base of the trunk and gripped the trumpet vine, praying it would not tear. Clay matted to Fox’s face. He scraped his face into the vine and rock like a madman. The clay fell off; blood smeared across his nose and cheeks.
He looked at Arvor. He was a stunned and pitiful shell of his former self. Nothing in him knew what to do as he prayed words that Fox didn’t understand and wept out of control. Fox spit in his face in an attempt to calm him down.
“Look at me!” Fox yelled at him. “Look at the edge,” he said, gesturing his head upward. “Get to the edge.”
Arvor began climbing the vine, and every movement made the tree groan and the earth quake all around. The vine tore and crunched inside the men’s grasp, but the weed held together. They reached the top of the cliff and rolled onto their backs in exhaustion.
Arvor fell at Fox’s feet, kissing his hands and arms like a puppy to its master. His weeping turned to laughing, and before long the man made no sense. Fox was not amused. He wiped the blood from his eyes and looked down the ravine at the river wrinkling upon itself and swallowing the rest of the tree. He turned away from the cliff and the sobbing, hysterical Arvor, to see the five other Liberi men standing motionless nearby. None spoke; they stared like children paralyzed by the unknown.
He saw them for what they were. During his time among them, he convinced himself that he was the stranger and foreigner, therefore in need of submitting to their culture, acquiring their habits, and becoming a resident. But now he saw them for what they were. They were cowards. Through and through, true and simple cowards. Unable to do anything necessary when it required bravery. Men becoming farmers and losing the will to hunt. They never fought—accusation, theft, and deception were met with cowardice and submission. Slaps on the wrist sent them running home; things out of place made them frozen in fear. And a man in certain death made them confused and quiet.
The men turned and began picking fruit from the trees.