Fox IslandChapter 20
When his eyes opened, for a moment he thought he was floating in outer space, surrounded by stars, for all he could see above and below were the flickering lights. Then he felt the canoe was still under him and noticed the water lapping the outside hull. Above was a brilliant crescent moon gleaming, and below another waved delicately. He wasn’t in the stars; they were the reflections floating on a peaceful ocean glade. It surprised him. He thought he’d have died by now.
Then, from the darkness, came a whisper that chilled his spine. He lunged into the frame of the boat and pulled his face under the seat of the canoe. There were voices out there and they were speaking with one another in a language he hadn’t heard in a lifetime.
He shut his eyes and swore he must be dead. A new horror crept onto him. He wasn’t dead; he was back on the island. The storm must have taken him back to where he first began, just as it always had. He washed up on the beach and was starting his journey all over from the treacherous beginning. They were waiting for him. Come to take him back to the place he had escaped—back to the land of sacrifices, deception and death. He whimpered in the boat and begged for insanity to come upon him and the hallucinations to return. But the voices were real, and they said things that he did not create in his mind.
What was he searching for if not a voice to hear and speak to him? And now, as it found him, he could only shudder and dread.
The voices murmured, and then he heard a clatter like an alarm. And then footsteps and metal scrapes. Now someone running on boardwalks. And finally, an Englishman screaming.
“Man overboard! Astarboard!” The voice hollered in the darkness.
Tears rushed to his eyes. He sighed heavily, yet shaking, and his breath floated above him in a frosty cloud. His muscles relaxed. He began sobbing as he looked up and saw a man sitting upright in a small vessel, lowering down to the water’s edge from the top side of a large bulk carrier. Blood rushed to his head, and he passed out.
He was laying in a larger vessel now—a wooden rowboat with two locked oars at starboard and port. A gray wool blanket wrapped around his shoulders. His body was prostrate on a seat at the bow. Men were hollering from above and a single man just beside him was yelling back orders.
“—I don’t know,” the man nearest him hollered up.
The boat tipped awkwardly, and the stern shot up violently. It slammed itself into the side of the ship.
“Christ!” The man yelled. “You just rammed the deadlight—get your act together—you’re acting like the first time you ever dropped a dinghy.”
A voice hollered from above, “Captain! The carrick bend’s coming loose!”
“Bollocks,” the Captain murmured to himself. “Get us onto that bloody ship before that squall hits again!”
The boat yanked about wildly.
“Get to the bloody bulwark! What are you waiting for—Good, now grab this chap. Yes, I know, he’s at death’s door. In a bad shape. Gonna need stitches on his side. Looks like he tried to make do, but made a bloody mess out of it. God, it’s a shame what he must’ve been through. No! Don’t bring that old thing, get him a proper crib from one of the quarters! Good, now—Oh God, did you see his back? In shreds.”
He was lowered onto a cot with white linens and a burlap pillow under his head. Someone came close to him. The smell of fish and liquor was on him. Suppertime, he thought. He opened his eyes and saw a burly Englishman with a long brown beard.
“My God, lad,” he said. “How long were you out there?”
He shook his head and closed his eyes.
The Captain gave orders, and a shipmate went running for antibiotics.
“What’s your name, sailor?” The Captain asked.
He opened his eyes again to look at the Captain. He was rough, but kind in the eyes. He did his best to remember his name. He searched distraught for a memory. It was lost out there in the sea.
“I don’t know,” the Traveler whispered.
The Captain looked away and took the antibiotics from the shipmate who just returned.
“Who is he, Captain?” Someone asked. “Where did he come from?”
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is he’s safe.”
A great trumpet blew from a foghorn sitting at the bow of the ship. It was breathy and metallic, like the voice of a dragon, rising and falling, and ringing in his ears.
Someone hollered from afar. “The squall is coming back, Captain.”