Fox IslandChapter 16
The canoe touched the water, and the weight lifted from his legs. He fell into the center and let the waves beat him about. Back and forth, back and forth, the current pushed and pulled, taking him ever further and closer to the island, but always a little further than closer, until he lifted his head over the stern and saw the island a few hundred meters from him. Rain was falling on her; she looked beautiful in the absence of his accusers.
The ceiba was as strong as ever. A flawless monument of power and protection. Seeing the beach from a distance, he saw there was no place he could ever have ended up but under the shadow of her limbs. It was the perfect place to rest and grow, and he pined for leaving her. Just to the north was the rocky enclave he struggled terribly to pass, and the bay where he arrived and found his loafers.
And there, as he knew it would be—like a monument itself sitting in perfect harmony and revelation, like a thing meant to be and never otherwise—there on the beach sat the island fox. Nobly staring and pondering his exodus. He raised his hand in farewell, and then drooped it, feeling silly. The flash of red and orange, brown and gray vanished. Gone back to its secluded home somewhere in the jungle.
Then he collapsed and fell asleep.
He didn’t wake until the next morning. He was lost now, far enough into the sea that the only sights he saw were the grand blue oceans, beneath and above him. Mist shrouded the sun. His canoe had a considerable amount of rainwater in her, which he gladly fell forward into and drank. After, he laid backward and fell asleep again.
On he went like this—waking, drinking, and sleeping—while his energy recovered. At some point, though he couldn’t remember when, he fashioned strips of the giant lily-pads into bowls that could catch and store the freshwater in their rubber hands.
The next morning, his strength returned enough to clean himself. His wounds weren’t bleeding on his back, but his side was in a bad sort. He had to wrap the gash, but thought to suture the wound first.
The Liberi used an ant with large mandibles as sutures. The ants weren’t at sea with him, but a colony of small relatives were living with him at the front of the canoe. He collected a few and began the awful endeavor of letting them bite him on his open wound. The ants could never reach around the end of the cut, and the mandibles were far too pitiful to do anything but send stings into his side. He gave up, cursing himself and the little insects for his miserable undertaking.
He made do with a thin strand of dogbane and a splinter of wood to run it through the skin. It hurt like hell and he passed out several times while tying it up. He was never positive it helped or made matters worse for him. He dressed the wound with grass and pieces of rubber tree latex and lay back to rest again.
He was sure he was sailing to his death. But part of him knew he was doing that for some time. And the notion of being unencumbered—choosing his life and choosing his death—was far more exciting than any silly dance the Liberi had each night. Perhaps Watano was right for his acceptance of death’s eventuality. If, at least, nothing else.
When he had enough strength to do so, he sat forward and threw his joy into the east, watching the waves and smiling grandly. Every moment was terrifying, but he no longer feared the terror. It became a friend that greeted him with every wave. And in it was joy, the feeling he had survived and escaped the terrible fate the island had for him. He didn’t worry or wonder if his death would be that day or the next. At least it wasn’t at the hand of Watano. Through that alone, he felt victorious.
It was best to sleep during the day when the sun was at its highest, hiding under his lily-pads and letting the waves take him wherever they desired. But in the cool evenings, he paddled onward, using the stars for guidance.
His first night awake, and second at sea, he looked skyward and matched his heading to what he believed to be east. It was a garden of colorful stars, planets, and our galaxy’s edge arching its way across our globe and disappearing into infinity. There was no trouble seeing in the moon’s and stars’ light. A meteor shower danced on the stratospheric terrain; each one zipped from the cosmos into his world overhead.
He paddled for a few hours until starving. His only sort of ration was a collection of dried persimmons. They were bitter and absolutely terrible to eat. But they filled him. The rest of the rations spoiled, and he feared they might make him sick.
Luck fell when he saw a black mass floating in the ocean. It was a large patch of seaweed sifting its way through the water. He grabbed heaping piles of it and threw it in the center of the boat. If the grass were to dry out, he could eat it. What’s more, krill and minnows were trapped in the web and came into the boat with it.
It wasn’t the best meal, but it was food. He munched on the fish and shrimp, distracting himself from the slimy and crawling texture as he went back to his paddling. Near sunrise, he settled back into the center of the boat under his lily-pad, and fell asleep.
He woke up in the late afternoon, famished, but happy to find the seaweed dried out. He ate liberally and stored more for later. It was stringy and tough, but he found the stuff better than the raw minnows and shrimp. He drank from his bowls of rainwater and prepared for his second night of paddling.
Late in the evening, he had a terrible fright. While watching the skyline and transfixed on his heading, he heard a loud animal call from the darkness. He leapt down into the boat, and for a moment feared that it was the same beast that cried out during the storms on the island.
He peeked over the bow; there was a monstrous shadow cutting through the night, covering the stars as it moved. It was an enormous three-pronged claw coming out of the ocean, some appendages rising higher and another dipping underneath. It ambled toward him, but was so gigantic that it was at the boat’s side in moments.
He struggled to fathom what sort of monster this hand belonged to—perhaps it wasn’t a claw at all—but the body of some sea monster, swimming through the water, like Scylla, whose only purpose was to beset sailors. He thought of her angry damnation in the depths, always looking to attack and take some lost soul down with her. Pictures of sea-dragons and serpents flooded his imagination, and he cowered lower in the boat.
The shadows crept closer; water glided down the rough edges of the monster. And then one claw arched itself high into the air and sprayed a fountain of watery mist thirty feet up.
The sound rang, and he realized it was not the booming horn he had heard many times before; rather musical and sing-song in nature. One claw turned itself over to show a white and stranded belly, while another slowed down behind the others and he saw them detach.
His heart leapt when he realized he happened upon a pod of humpback whales, three in total. He blushed for getting frightened. He paddled their direction; surprising them in the dark.
They became inquisitive of the little man floating in the middle of the ocean. They sang to each other, aspiring to understand what he was and why he was at sea. Their voices were a symphony; sliding strings met plucking harps, and booming trumpets shook violent vibrato, squealing and thunderous echoes for miles in the midnight sky.
He entirely lost himself in the untamed song. It wrapped around him and he felt happiness. He laughed hysterically. It was the first time since sitting by the fire with Arvor. He sat back with paddle across his lap, smiling and staring at the stars. It tempted him to jump into the sea and swim in the starlit ocean with the beautiful beasts, but worried he may never get back in his boat.
They were majestic and articulate, as if they came to find him at this moment and minister to his soul. Every breath and whisper from their deep voices lifted his spirit higher, and he thought he may have sailed into another world—one that did not know things like hatred, deception and exhaustion.
As quickly as they were inquisitive, the whales became disinterested and moved on from the boat. He thought of following them, but something about the idea seemed wrong; like staying with the majesty too long would only make it grow routine and ruin the surprise of the encounter. Instead, he enjoyed the glory for what it was—a moment, and a moment alone, when he became enraptured by the delicate song of three of earth’s mightiest and honest creatures.
As they swam away, their song continued, and for this he was very grateful. He fancied that they appreciated their privacy, and with it gave their melody in gratitude. The song lasted for hours, dimly disappearing into the silent ocean—a memory of grace and power—until all he could listen to was the quiet smacking of the water against the boat, wondering if he could hear it still or if it were only his imagination.