Island Among Elsewhere

V

I awoke in the late noon to a bitter taste in my mouth. The tide was rising, and I was half submerged in its ascent. The salt of the tides had entered my mouth and nose as it did so, and I snorted them out as I quickly stood and stumbled up the sand. Behind me, the raft was trembling uncertainly; then it yielded to the comforting roll of the surf and fell back into the sea, an artificial island swirling about on hidden currents. I watched my sole means of conveyance heave left, tilt right, and roll with the waves for what seemed like an age, unsure if I should rescue it from the ocean’s hand or let the ship burn at the hand of the universe. Then it was swept deeper out into sea and was lost forever.

Soon after, I was quickly reminded of how terribly thirsty I was. I knew from a simple knowledge of biology and several dull novels I had once read that a human being could survive for more than a month without food, but only 3 days without water, though there was no method of comparison between the passing of days on Earth and this new planet. Perhaps there was some standard of time I might have kept, say, via a watch upon my wrist, and then compared it to the dawn and dusk of the alien world. But I had no such preparations in mind when I set out on this, a mundane task. I laughed silently, heartlessly, at my observation. I had no options left but to hope to whatever god or chance had created this world that there might be some source of fresh water deeper inland.

I struck out in a northerly direction – if such a direction existed on that planet, though I decided if I kept the rising suns on my right I might make for myself a non-arbitrary means of navigation. Close to the shore was a line of trees, and I had to cut through several hundred feet of foliage and brush before I felt that inner sense of distance feed my intuition that I was indeed making headway into the unknown. I was grateful for the trees. Looking down at my skin, it was burned and peeling where the radiation of twin suns had stared down upon me. I was not a creature made for this planet.

I heard a noise a few yards in front of me. Whatever made it, it was loud, but I couldn’t see it for the large fronds and thick trunks of trees spreading before me. There again, a raucous squawking, like a crow with many throats, or a lark with guttural aspirations. I crept slowly around bush and tree, hoping to see or even catch such a creature and make a meal of it. A third time it cried out, and then I saw it. It had four wings, each shaped like an elongated V, and a beak much longer and thicker than any terrestrial fowl. Its eyes gleamed a dangerous green, and then it saw me. It stared for a moment as I stared back. Then, in an inexplicable and frantic motion I grabbed a stone beneath me and heaved it weakly at the inquisitive alien bird, which fluttered gracefully from its perch and settled just a few branches higher up. I shouted at the bird, but it did not move. I took a small pebble, thinking myself some great David – though of less noble instinct – and tossed it into the air. The bird merely sidestepped and cocked its frill of headfeathers in a mocking gesture. I screamed in exasperation and lunged at the tree. Then I noticed the weakness of my grip, the flabbiness of my limbs, how ill-prepared I was even to live, much less to catch a meal. Nevertheless, I was angry, and with that strength I lamely pulled myself up the rough undulating bark of the tree to the first branch, and rested there panting. The bird looked down. I clasped the sides of the tree again, expecting another rush of adrenaline to bring me to the throat of my would-be prey, but instead I found myself sliding down the tree. I clawed and groped and shouted and fought, but I could not slow the descent dictated purely by the weakness of my body. The four-winged bird tilted its head at me, squawked a final cry of insult, and then fluttered beyond the trees and into the free air.

The dryness was now almost unbearable. Where was water? There must be some on the island. I could not live without water. Here was a rock, but it had no water. There, a pile of mud. No, it was the dung of some large animal. I had a vague sense of uneasiness looking at the size of it, but it was soon forgotten amidst the growing desperation for moisture. I don’t know how long I spent shambling through the beautiful, shaded greenery of the unknown world. I had survived the crash, hadn’t I? I had seen Death and yet lived on. I of all people deserved to live. I would live! I, the product of centuries of man’s greatest achievements, would not be so easily destroyed by the laughable dangers of nature.

There! A fruit of some kind. Surely it would satisfy the dryness, without the infernal salinity of the mocking oceanic body which surrounded this bulwark of sand. They hung, hundreds of them, in something like a natural grove, and the first I plucked from the branches was large with a translucent green skin, revealing just within a pulpy blue interior. I bit into it, squelching into sweet flesh, watery fruit gushing out of my mouth and down my lips. I ate another. And another. A fourth, a fifth. I had to be satisfied. I would not be thirsty, or hungry, and here were a hundred or more fruit hanging for me alone to eat and to enjoy. I belched loudly with contentment, drying husks of the unnamed fruit about me as I settled into a cushion of brush and loam, my eyes heavy and slowly closing.

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