Fox IslandChapter 14
He rose to his knees. With face bent downward, he drank the rain sliding down it. He collapsed again and gasped for breath. He held his hip; blood seeped through the fingers, and he wept. He caught his breath again and stood. Four-hundred yards of grasslands lay between him and the manor. It was a distant dream, an old landmark from a lost adventure.
An arrow whizzed by his head and landed ten feet behind him. Before he knew what was happening, another came flying and stuck in the tall grass. He fled to the tree-line. Another arrow landed, some thirty feet behind. He was out of range, but he was being hunted.
The tree-line came, but reason did not. He had no idea where he was. The trees, branches, leaves, flowers, grasses, weeds—they thrashed into him, passing in a fiery blur, whipping him with lordly anger. He was a pest. The forest was angry. The blood was spurting from hip to thigh.
He was in a panic, adrenaline racing in his veins, pushing him beyond his limitations. The ground was moving underneath him. He looked and thought for a moment he might be flying, before slipping in the mud, catching himself and falling into a branch. He kept his feet, continued running, stumbled once more, and put his soles on the forest floor. His toes squished in the soil, and sticks scratched and chewed at them. He must not stop running. The leaves kept slashing. The rain made him heavy.
His head hurt, and he couldn’t see well. A thought crossed his mind that he could rest and lay down. The grass looked sweet, and the bushes were a bed. What was the point in running, if only to be slapped by these branches? No, he needed to keep running. He couldn’t remember what, but something was after him and the only way on was forward into the jungle.
Wasn’t he supposed to be looking for his watch?
He felt naked. He was naked. Why was he naked? What had happened to his loafers? When did he wake up on the island? When did he first meet the click beetle and rest under the ceiba? He was a native now, running in the jungle, naked, hunted, alone, doomed. The blood kept spurting.
He ran through a field and rested in a copse of verawood trees. Their yellow flowers showered down on him and he leaned against the trunks. He thought of laying down and dying, but his legs continued moving and bounded onward. The rain was filling the valley with water. Moorhens and coots were grazing in the wetland. His legs felt as if they were no longer moving. He could see the ground rushing passed him, and his heart exploded in his chest, but he wondered why he wasn’t going fast anymore. It was as if his mind was already on the other side of the valley, waiting for his body to catch it.
Through the trees he went again and wondered if anyone was after him anymore. Something horrible beat in his chest—an idea that he could never stop. He was unworthy, and now he needed to leave the island. The blood kept spurting.
Firs, pine, fruits, dandelion and cactus collided into one another in a memory underneath his feet. He was running downhill now because blood covered his shins. He arched his back and tried to steady himself before falling forward. Vines and branches helped to steady him as he crashed through the jungle.
A horrid stench swept up in the wind and he thought it was his own corpse running without stopping to die. But the smell was not rotten flesh, rather like a great cesspool of animal filth. He turned toward the smell and came from under a weeping willow into a clearing.
It was the bog. He started writhing his way through the sawgrass and banana trees. The waterline was at his waist. The mud and grass were impossible to ford. Every sinking step was a grave to bury him; every blade of grass a noose to hang him.
He had to stop. He couldn’t keep running forever. He leaned back on an upheaval of mud and caught his breath. He waited so long he believed he wasn’t being pursued any longer. It’s possible the bog was the line they feared crossing.
He woke when he heard voices. The sun was in a different part of the sky. It was no longer raining. He couldn’t tell from what direction the sounds were coming, but he was sure they were in the swamp. Whispers and mysterious calls bounced around. They were the sounds of hunters undulating through the grass blades. With every utterance, the group grew closer, tightening the circle. He wasn’t sure if he should flee or stay still. Hide, fight, or give up and die.
He moved his legs beneath his body; the water was manageable now. The mud settled to the bottom after the rain ceased. He leaned his body forward and began swimming through the marsh, pushing the grass out of his way.
He came from under the long drooping arms of a dead banana tree and startled a family of moorhens. They cackled at his presence and scurried away. The hunters cried out, and he heard thrashing water.
He let go and dove under the water, grabbing grass blades at the root and pulling feverishly through the mud. He held his breath until consciousness left him and came up for air. The group of hunters was somewhere behind him, at the spot where the moorhens ratted.
He continued, unsure of which noises were his own or the hunters. A few more yards and he felt the ground come underneath him. He stood on his legs and ran again. The noise gave his location away, but he was putting hundreds of feet between himself and the others.
The jungle was around him. Trees and branches flitted passed. His legs could move again. He remembered why he was running. He remembered Arvor and Watano and most of all he remembered his beach. He feared hope was deceiving him—the belief that he knew where he was in the jungle. Trees looked as familiar as his hallucinations.
He tripped on limestone, kept his footing, corrected his step, and continued on. He was climbing now. Using branches to steady himself over large rocks and stone. He came through a clearing and stopped. He was on a ledge. The edge of a precipice made of sharp limestone. A large ficus bent down over him and threw her streaming limbs over the edge. At the bottom were walls and caverns scaling upward and encircling an enormous cenote covered in giant lily-pads. A beach lay to the north where an old canoe used to sit.
He smiled and prayed out loud, weeping in exhaustion.
The next instant someone was on him. He fought him tooth and nail and kept from being tied down. They threw each other onto the ground, beating their heads against the limestone. He tripped the man and found a tree limb to smash into his breast. Biting at each other’s legs and ears; tearing hair from scalps, arms and legs. Sweat, blood, and saliva soaked the two in a silent fight of desperation. They locked onto one another and one slipped while the other lost footing. They were falling off the cliff.