Chapter Nineteen

Fox Island

Fox Island

Chapter 19

He couldn’t tell what time of day it was. A black cloud expanded from horizon to horizon. The ocean glistened like onyx. He reached for his oar and tried to make sense of which way was east. The rainfall was deafening. It was an endless barrage of numbing noise dancing on the water and low growls of thunder in the heavens. 

The rain on his back was harsh. It bitterly tore into his sores and scars, ripping into him like knives into leather. The waves soaked his hair and beard, laying it flat against him; he looked like a wet, dying rat.

Lightning scratched across the sky like electric fingers and briefly lit the ocean. He glimpsed a large wave roaring toward him at starboard. He dug the oar into the water port-side to face it. He stroked as quick and painfully as his body would allow. A giant spray of foam came over the bow and knocked him off his seat.

He picked back up, and another wave knocked him back down. A crack of lightning snapped the sky and an ear-splitting roar sent him cowering from his seat and into the hull of the canoe. He cried out in fear for his life. 

A gargantuan wave lifted the boat up into the air. Up and up he went and thought he may never come back down when finally the boat leveled, and next moment, he raced downward into the black ocean. 

He grabbed at his supplies in frantic commotion, guaranteeing he tied them to the frame of the boat. All were secure and just in time. Another wave lifted the boat up. He could feel this one was even larger. The vessel was vertical now. He held tight to the seat in the back, slipping underneath it, completely upright as if he were standing on the ocean. Lightning flashed, and the ocean illuminated under it. He stood floating above it like a bird hovering over the world of water, fifteen feet in the air. He screamed in horror. He felt the boat would give in to the deluge any second—crack, splinter or flip—something to destroy his hope.

It held firm. He felt the boat level and gravity came under him again. His arms braced against the hull; his hands clenched to the sides. He was falling down the other side of the wave. He was in the trough now, getting tossed each direction by little flurries of water and rain.

Up and down he proceeded, but the waves grew less prominent after each passing crest. He could sit up now without the pain of falling down or the dread of falling out. He saw that the boat was damaged in  many places and leaking a considerable amount of water. 

He went to fixing the broken planks with strands of dogbane and large handfuls of the rubber tree latex to plaster the cracks. It was arduous; the process of being pushed down by the unsupported surface, up and down, left and right, tipping and topping. He floundered about, trying to keep his hands steady and tie the small strands of rope into proper bowlines. His hands were wet, the rope was frail, and his body trembled everywhere. The rope tore many times, and he feared he would run out of usable strand before finishing. As soon as he secured one end, a wave would crash, throwing him to the stern and tearing the rope in his hands. It was horrible and lasted hours. But in the end, he felt happy that the canoe was mostly secure. As long as the storm didn’t pick up again like it had before, it should last a good while. 

He used his pack to scoop the water and bail it out the side. He never could properly plaster the cracks without first freeing them of the water they drowned in. This part of his task infuriated him. As surely as he removed water, the boat drank more in, both from the rain above and the ocean below.

He gave up at the fruitless endeavor and tried gluing the boat in the water—hands held out in the darkness and fumbling in the flotsam. It felt completely ridiculous, and he cursed himself many times in the process, but at least a few of the holes were patched enough to slow the incoming water.

In the following hours, sunlight occasionally fell through the black clouds. There were even lulls of no rain hitting him. He discovered the placement of the sun in the early afternoon of what he presumed was the same day. It warmed him and dried out his body, pulling the saltwater from his skin. But it didn’t last for long. The rain began each moment he became dry. 

Rain. Sunshine. Rain. Sunshine. 

During the times the sun was out, he laid across the stern and rested, sipping the rainwater from whatever puddle the salt hadn’t sullied. And while the sun wasn’t on him, the endless game of bailing water was at hand. In this manner, he never paddled or made any headway. He wasn’t sure if he was being tossed into the east any longer. He may just be floating in circles. 

His stomach twisted inside his body and he feared he was at the end. From all the moments he believed death was upon him, he now realized it were only a whisper of the thing—a shadow that blocked out the sun and removed his hope for a moment. But now, he understood that the thing was actually on him now. There was no hope left. The sky thundered. Lightning stretched from cloud to cloud like a spider’s web. He fell for the last time into the hull, facedown beneath eight inches of water. He had nothing left in him—no more throwing the water out—no more paddling to his destiny. He was at the end and ready to let his body finally die. 

With his last bit of strength, he turned over to listen to the rain and watch the sky fall. He wasn’t sad or hurt anymore. His sores were healed or numb enough that they couldn’t feel. The sun disappeared behind a black cloud and all the world became dark again. The waves were rocking him to sleep, and the rain was cleansing his soul. 

He turned his head from side to side and experienced the unquestionable sensation that he was floating in a black abyss like the bottom of the cenote again. He recalled the first time he felt scared and the last time he felt brave. He was happy to have seen the flowers on the lily-pads one last time and the sunlight coming through their long stretched arms. He closed his eyes and smiled. 

A great whirring and metallic horn exploded from the darkness. Gravel and ancient rivets collided and reverberated. The blast of organs and guttural breaths rising and falling, oscillating and decaying all at once and all over again. He opened his eyes. It was the terrifying horn blown that he had heard all his life.

His heart pounded, and fever shook him. Now, he wanted to die. He wished the thing that had been hunting him all along would hurry up and find him already. No matter how far he journeyed up the mountain, and into the depths of the ocean he sailed, it was always there hunting him. 

He opened his mouth to cry out into the darkness, but his voice failed to speak. A silent ache left his lips.

The trumpet blasted again.

His voice came weak as a whisper, “Hullo?”

Then there was silence, and tears filled his eyes.

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