DargonZine 30, Issue 2

A View From Above: The Island

This entry is part [part not set] of 7 in the series A View From Above

Simon woke because there was a foot in his face. It was a small foot, and placed without malice, for the owner thereof was still asleep himself, tucked under Simon’s left side. It was Bighair, one of the village boys. He had managed to get himself flipped end over end, and one of his feet was under Simon’s nose. This was not an unusual way for Simon to wake up on the island. He gently pushed the foot away. Bighair twisted a bit and pulled his legs in but did not awaken. Simon gathered his thoughts in the dark, feeling the moist tropical air waft in under the woven wall of the giant grass hut that had become his home. It took just a moment for his reality to come back to him. He was a sailor. He was marooned. No one here spoke his language, no one was coming for him, and he had no way off the island.

He hadn’t been on the island terribly long before the village children adopted him as one of their own. This was not surprising since most of the adults treated him as if he were a child, most likely because of his inability to speak their language. Indeed, in this strange land with its strange ways, almost any child older than eight was more useful than Simon when it came to doing chores. Not that there were many chores — life on the island was simple. Simon lay there, unmoving, waiting for the child at his side to wake up. The sun was still hidden beyond the horizon, but outside of the great house some of the wives would already be stirring, preparing to light the great fire for the day. Soon the men would be looking for food and then prepare to set sail in their long boats, off to fish for yet another day. Simon would join the children and older men in casting the fine nets into the shallower waters, work more suited for the weak of body or feeble of mind, or tongue. It was humbling, for sure, but it was a place to be.

How long had he been there? He wasn’t sure. Seven days? Nine? He had lost count, and there was no one who cared to remind him. No one had much cared where he came from, or what his plans were. As a village, they had taken him into their great house, and as a village they had shown him how to fish with the nets. It was as if they expected to find mute men stranded on their shores occasionally. And perhaps they did. Simon was glad that they hadn’t killed and eaten him, as he had heard tales of. He was new to life on the sea, but the journey south had been a long one and there had been many a bell to fill with stories and songs.


Hardly a mene went by before Bighair stirred. Simon pushed the child gently out of his hammock and got up himself. They were in an untidy corner of the great house, behind where the lesser families slept. While the little one stretched and moaned, Simon tied on his belt. Like all the locals, Simon used the belt to carry a knife. Also, like the locals, it was his only item of clothing. He still hadn’t figured out where the rest of his clothes had gone. Indeed, he still hadn’t figured out where “here” was.

He remembered the terror of the storm, the despair of being cast alone into the deep, and then awakening to see dark curious faces peering down at him. He did not understand their speech, nor they his. They accepted him as he was, though, and so he didn’t worry about the whereabouts of his trousers. With his belt firmly in place, Simon walked through the great house towards the nearest door. Many of the villagers were already up, but many also still lay in their hammocks with spouses, friends or assorted children.

He walked to the latrine to relieve himself, pausing a moment to touch the totem at the door as he had been taught. Bighair had followed him out to the latrine and made his own contribution to the collection of urine in the great collecting basin. This done, the two stepped out of the rough hut to find another village child awaiting them. This was Danni. Bighair and Danni seemed to be Simon’s designated escorts. Simon wasn’t sure of their ages. The villagers tended to be a shorter race and both children followed that trend. Simon guessed that Bighair was about ten and Danni was about eight. Bighair had earned his name by his habit of tousling his hair into a puffy mess throughout the day. What his actual name was Simon was not entirely sure. On the other hand, Simon was fairly sure that he had Danni’s name right, for her mother often called for her, sending the little girl running obediently home for some chore or other.

With the morning ritual done, Simon grabbed his nets and headed right down to the water, his matched pair of small locals in tow. They had been teaching him the right fish to catch, and he had been teaching them various ways to mend the nets. Together they had been learning the right places to go to find the best fish. While Bighair and Simon went straight to the water, Danni detoured past the great fire and fetched some breakfast for the trio: dried fish and roasted root. Simon ate sparingly. The fish was pleasant enough, but the root just wasn’t to his taste. As they ate, Simon explained to them how the nets were made. He was sure they didn’t understand him, but he told them anyway.

This morning the fishing was good. Simon had been doing it for several days now and had only caught small fish. But this morning he and the two kids pulled in several larger fish in addition to the usual batch of small fish. He let Danni thread them onto a twine and keep them while he and Bighair brought in the smaller ones. Once the smaller fish were safely contained, Simon swapped jobs with Danni; he took the bigger fish and let her and Bighair take in the smaller fish. The two children dragged the net with the smaller fish off to the village, and Simon followed along with his string of fish. When they headed down to the great fire, he instead looked around for a good place to gut his catch. Spotting a set of benches in the shade of a canopy of trees, Simon decided one of the benches would make a good work table, laid the fish out atop it, and set to work cleaning his catch.

Simon had just about finished when he noticed one of the village women coming toward him. She had a distressed look on her face. She came up within a dozen feet of him and then stood there, pointing at him and talking. She seemed agitated about something, but he understood none of what she was saying. He listened for a moment, then got up to go, assuming his absence would improve matters. He hadn’t gone more than a few feet when she suddenly started jabbering even louder and moved to block him. The sound of her words brought other women over. Simon tried to leave, but she blocked him again and was joined in her efforts by another woman. After a mene or so of their pointing and yelling it occurred to Simon that they were pointing at the fish guts he had laid on the ground beside the bench. It occurred to him that perhaps the women were offended by the innards, and so he scooped them up and moved to take them away. Improbably, this seemed to somehow make matters even worse. The women began to scream and shake their hands at him and slap their bare chests. Some even fell to their knees crying. Simon stood there paralyzed, totally at a loss for what to do. It was as if all the women had suddenly gone insane. Even the children had crowded around, weeping and wringing their hands.

The commotion drew the attention of one of the men, and he was now striding purposefully towards the crowd. Simon felt a sense of relief, at least in part because the man was not running, but was just walking purposefully forward. As he approached Simon held up his bloody burden and shrugged his shoulders, to show his confusion, but the man just glanced at Simon. He looked instead over Simon’s head, at something behind Simon. Coming straight on, the man simultaneously slapped the fish guts from Simon’s hands and gave Simon a hard shove that sent him to the ground. Simon was so startled he just lay there. The man scooped up the innards and carefully arranged them on a small bench, just to the side of where Simon had been sitting. Simon watched, dumbfounded. The man remained in a bowed posture for a long moment, saying something, and then the crowd of women echoed his words and he stood. He approached Simon with a hand extended and lifted Simon quickly to his feet. Simon was about to thank the man when the man promptly grabbed him by the elbow and roughly propelled him away from the area. They cleared the circle of women and the man released him with a small shove, motioning him away dismissively. Simon stood there, absolutely confused. The man started walking away, looking back over his shoulder and saying something in a calm but annoyed tone and shooing Simon away. He said something to the women, and they all walked back to the huts, leaving Simon totally befuddled. For a long time, Simon stood there, indignation warring with fear and confusion in his head. What had just happened? He wasn’t sure what to do. Should he leave? To go where? What should he do now? The crisis appeared to have passed, but what had the crisis been in the first place?

While he stood there, he noticed a small figure detach itself from the shadows around the huts and move towards him. It was Bighair. The boy walked up to the spot that Simon had been sitting. He took the last fish, the one Simon hadn’t finished cleaning, and deftly gutted it. He laid the entrails with the others and made a small bow towards the bloody pile. He then took the cleaned fish and Simon’s knife and carried them over to Simon. He handed Simon the knife, said something with a shrug, and walked back towards the huts with the fish.

Simon watched the lad go. The beginnings of understanding were growing in his mind. He stared at the small arrangement of benches where the incident occurred. He could see now that it was actually a small pavilion. Where the entrails had been laid, there was a small wall or trellis erected. Being careful not to trespass any closer than the women had, he moved around for a better view. It was difficult to see into the shadows. Simon had not had any reason to investigate this spot before and had never noticed it, but now he could see that there were things up in the canopy, suspended from the trees. Simon squinted against the glare of bright daylight on white sand. Those things were sharks. Most were small, but one was large enough to be menacing, even dead and dry as these were. Simon could feel goose-flesh on his arms. The sharks had been skinned and stuffed and hung from the trees. The large one was as long as he was tall. Its mouth gaped wide, a toothy rictus of death. For the first time in days, Simon felt naked, his exposed balls shriveling despite the heat.

It was at that moment that Simon felt eyes on him. He turned around, and there, standing several paces behind him stood an old woman. Simon recognized her as the village healer. She held a large bag woven of fronds and was staring intently at him, frowning. She said something to him, which he did not understand. Simon shook his head. She repeated herself, louder, as if by raising her voice she would be more comprehensible. Simon again shook his head and shrugged. She made a clicking noise with her tongue, shaking her head in disgust. She bent down and took some sand up in her hand, leaving the bag on the ground. She slowly straightened and started chanting in a strange, high-pitched tone of voice. Simon looked around, but there was no one else there to help him with the old woman. She had a leather pouch tied around her neck on a cord, and she now took this pouch and tapped it against the handful of sand. She then suddenly flung the sand at Simon. Even though she was at least five paces away, he suddenly felt the grit in his eyes. Simon staggered, reeling. He turned away from her, wiping at his eyes, and staggering away. When he could finally open his eyes again, she was gone, completely out of sight, even though he had closed his eyes for only a dozen heartbeats. Feeling suddenly lost, Simon took his bloody blade and walked away up the beach, away from the village.

Not for the first time, Simon considered how he could get off the island. It was unlikely anyone from his ship would be looking for him; he was almost certainly written off as lost at sea. If he was to ever get back to his home in the colder north, he would have to do it himself. The question was how. Almost as soon as he had seen the men pushing the long boats into the water Simon knew that he would have to secure a place in one of those boats. He had tried, the first few days he was on the island, but had been rudely driven away. He considered making his own boat, but he had no experience making boats. Simon had resigned himself to learning the language well enough to ask for passage.

A day passed since the incident with the fish guts with no other great incidents, and things quickly settled back into a routine. Simon was sitting on a small woven stool in the shade of one of the few trees around, cleaning his last catch of the day. He couldn’t help but notice that most of the men and many of the women were gathered around the great fire. Simon could hear animated conversation. He wasn’t quite sure about what, but he did notice that after the incident at the shark altar he seemed to have picked up a few of the local words. He sat and listened, trying to piece together the gist.

After a while, Danni walked up to him and motioned him to follow her. Simon did, and she led him to the group. When they arrived, they found a circle of men seated in the center of a large group of women and children. Danni’s father motioned Simon to sit at his side. Simon did, and Danni’s father proceeded to launch into a long speech that seemed to be about Simon. At the end, Danni’s father pointed at Danni and motioned her forward. He started talking again, this time pointing at Simon and Danni. After a few moments, several of the men began to nod in agreement. They all then looked at Simon. He looked back at them, and then shrugged and shook his head in confusion. Everyone just laughed. Danni’s father said a few words, and everyone got up and headed off to their various places, leaving Simon and Danni and her father. Simon stood as the man approached, but he ignored Simon and spoke instead to the girl, speaking confidently to her, then patting Simon familiarly on the shoulder and walking away. Simon stood there with Danni, alone. She looked up at him and said something slowly and confidently to him, which he did not understand. She then surprised him by saying, rather understandably, “come on,” gesturing for him to follow and walked toward the great hut. It was then that Simon knew what had happened: he had been given a nanny.

The next day started the same, with a small, smelly person sharing his hammock. Now, however, it was Danni, not Bighair, whose foot was in his face. He gently plopped her out onto the floor and unwrapped himself. A quick stretch, a wrapping on of the belt, and they were out for the day. Danni did not leave his side but followed him, talking and pointing the while. When he stopped in the latrine, she followed him in and just stood and waited, still talking and pointing at things. There was only one latrine, and he had gotten used to the women and girls being in it with him, but he was not used to this much attention. He shooed her away, but she shook her head, still talking. Now she was pointing at him. Simon shrugged and took aim. For a long moment, nothing was happening: Simon was not used to a running commentary on his performance. Then the casualness of it struck him, and the day began to flow again.

His business done, Simon left the latrine, Danni in tow. Bighair appeared from the great house, they all got some food, and they headed for the water. Soon he and the two children were fishing again just like the day before, albeit with more talking. Simon finally realized that she was teaching him her language, and so he started teaching her his. She would point at random things and say something, and he would respond with his own names for them. The day went by quickly, and from that day on Danni was almost always by his side. No longer did her mother call her away, and from then on she slept with him, ate with him, fished with him, and walked with him. And the whole time she talked. She talked and talked and pointed and gesticulated and touched things and herself and even him.

Several days later, at evening time, Simon took a walk up the hill. The village was set on a beach with a wasteland of scrub brush behind it. There were trails leading inland through the brush, and not too far from the village, the land rose to a peak. It occurred to Simon that from that peak he might be able to see any other islands in the area, so he struck off toward it through the thickets, Danni in tow. As they walked Danni chattered on, pointing and waving her arms and touching everything. Simon was starting to understand the cadence of the language, and was happy to learn, and teach. Soon he had taught her the words for bushes, and trees, and the sky, and hands and feet and eyes and the path and walking and running. He realized that she had a child’s natural knack for learning, something he no longer had. He concentrated his effort on helping her learn his language.

As they climbed higher and higher Simon would find vantage points to mount: boulders and outcroppings and even tree stumps. Gradually he was seeing the layout of the island. As he learned the layout he grew more and more appreciative of the durability of the natives. The island was almost all scrub. As they walked and occasionally ran, Simon and Danni came across a fair number of large tree stumps, but very few large trees. Many of the tree stumps were charred, but not all. Simon considered what he had eaten on the island. Except for the roots and some greens, he didn’t recall much in the way of non-meat food at all. Another thing Simon soon noticed, even in the growing dimness, was that in several places the water around the island grew deep fast. Simon knew that heavy seas liked deep water, and he wondered fearfully when the storm season was. He hoped not to be on the island when it hit.

As the pair walked higher and higher Simon noticed that Danni talked less. The sun was lowering on the horizon, and the sky was growing darker. There could be no large animals on an island so small, Simon reasoned, but he expected that his young tutor had little experience being so far from home. Finally, he stopped climbing and just looked around. He saw no ships, and no other islands, although he saw some clouds on the horizon that could have marked one. After a good look around, he let Danni lead him back down the hill.

Dawn found Simon already awake, thinking of the boats and how to get a ride off the island. He went to the shore, as was his new routine, and threw the nets with the two children. As they fished, Simon stole glances at the men preparing the boats for the daily fishing trip. He wondered how long the village could survive without the fish caught each day. He suspected not long. He also wondered how far out the fishermen ventured, and if they traded with the other islands. He hoped to ride out with them as soon as possible. Simon was not the only one watching the boats, either. Bighair watched them prepare as well. Simon thought him too small yet for the boats, but Simon could see at least one boy on the boats that was not a lot older. Considering the scars and injuries Simon had seen on some of the fishermen, the use of such young boys on the boats surprised Simon. As the boats launched, Bighair ran out as far into the water as possible, shouting to the men on the boats. Simon assumed he was wishing them well. Only when the boats were well away did Bighair return to his nets.

The tides lent a natural rhythm to the day. Simon, like the few older men of the village, fished while the tide was high and the shallows were flooded. As the waters ebbed he and the two children followed the waters out until the steepening drop-off threatened. When the waves grew too rough and close to handle the nets he would retreat. The other men would nap, along with the women and kids. Simon took that time to explore. Previously Danni and Bighair had napped with their families, but now Danni followed him. Together they hiked out into the brush, pointing at things as they went. Danni remembered many of the words from the previous day, but Simon was still rather lost. It was obvious to him that she would have to be his translator. He just hoped he could pick up enough words to go out with the boatmen soon.

They hadn’t gone too far when Simon noticed the stone block. It was rather obvious, as it was lying right in the center of a footpath. In fact, the footpath split and passed equally to either side of it. Danni hopped up on it as she passed. Simon immediately noticed how regular it was, and realized that it had been cut. There seemed to be some sort of markings on it, but he could not make them out. They continued on, and Danni took the lead, picking her way through various forks in the road until the path petered out in an area of thinner undergrowth. While Simon watched, she gave him a small dissertation that seemed to be centered on something that the villages came to this spot for, then she got down on her hands and knees and started digging. In a short while, she had unearthed a root like the ones the villagers ate. Simon looked around him. There were no obvious signs of cultivation here, but he could see that people had been digging there for a while. Having gotten one root, Danni quickly unearthed a few more. That done, she handed a few to him, and then led the duo back to the village with their cargo.

Back at the village, the locals were up from their naps and milling about, preparing to get back to the business of the day. Danni carried her tuberous treasure to the great hut, where her mother was flaying fish. Simon also handed the woman his roots. As he did so, he noticed that she sported many fine lines drawn across her flanks. He hadn’t noticed these on any of the other villagers before. He didn’t want to be seen to be staring, but when the mother turned away to store the roots he got a good look. The lines seemed to be drawings of fish scales. He filed that away in his mind for future reference.

Fishing resumed with the return of the tide and continued until the return of the fishing boats. Bighair ran off to join the villagers in welcoming back the men and to see what they had caught. An interesting variety of fish was unloaded. Simon noted that one man was injured, apparently on his shoulder, and was taken aside by an older woman to have his wounds tended. Simon watched them walk up the beach, wondering how a man could get such a wound on a fishing trip, but decided that was one more island mystery that would have to wait. With fish in tow, the village retired to the great fire for supper. When the eating turned to singing, Simon and Danni slipped away and headed back up the hill. This time they made better time and stayed to watch the sun touch the horizon. They arrived back at the village just in time to join Bighair in Simon’s hammock for bedtime.

The nets that the island people used were woven of thread that they made from a local weed. Simon quickly learned how they broke apart the stems and twined the threads together. It wasn’t the strongest fiber Simon had ever used — if he could find his own shirt he could unravel it for better — but it was serviceable. The nets required constant repair, and thus it was that Simon was sitting in the shade of the great house with Danni and a heap of dried weeds, repairing nets. Together they were working to entwine the fibers into thread and tie the thread into the net to fix the tears.

It was as they were working that Simon suddenly felt a sharp pain in his backside. It felt like he had suddenly been poked with a red-hot poker. He leaped to his feet, his hand on the offended spot. To his horror, there was something stuck to his bottom, and it was moving. He ripped it away and flung it on the ground, dancing away. It was a large black insect of some sort, or crab perhaps, and as he watched it rapidly buried itself in the sand. Danni had already come to her feet, and she was on it in a flash, stomping it until it was a damp, flattened smear. Simon looked at his hand, and it was bloodied. He could feel blood running down his right leg now. Danni came and looked at the injury, which Simon himself was having a hard time seeing, due to its location. Danni said something in a worried hushed tone, then ran away.

“Danni,” Simon said, starting after her, but to his surprise his right leg folded under him and he fell to the sand. It felt as if someone was stabbing him there still, almost as if there were a spine still stuck in the wound. He pressed his hand against the spot, probing, but there was only the wound, which was now throbbing. Simon looked about for more of the accursed pests, but there were none, something he was grateful for. He got up, favoring the injured leg. Simon pressed his hand against the wound to stop the bleeding and was worried when it would not stop. Now he could see Danni running back to him from a small hut set off from the great hut.

“Come you on,” she said, waving to him, then turned back towards the far-off hut. “Come you on.”

She had picked up many of his words quite quickly, mostly the ones he used on her. He obediently arose and began to limp after her, following her across the hot dry sand to the hut. He had seen this hut many times; it was the hut of the village healer. It was smaller than the great hut and cluttered with all sorts of totems and fetishes. Of all the locals, the healer was the only one who seemed to own any clothing. She could sometimes be seen wearing a large shawl made of woven fronds and a straw hat. He had mostly avoided her, as she seemed a somewhat erratic person, prone to sudden fits of speech. He, of course, could understand none of what she said, and he suspected that in truth none of the villagers could either.

Simon entered the hut and stopped. He stood in the door, peering about, feeling the throbbing from his leg. As his eyes adjusted, he could see several of the village women also seated around. He was in a room that seemed to take up less than half the hut. At the back of the hut was a wall with a small round door, through which peered several young female faces. As he looked back at their curious gaze it occurred to him that he hadn’t seen many teen girls in the village. Now he knew why — they were all in here. How that happened, he didn’t know.

The healer approached him, her hands caked with some sort of colorful mud. She waved and pointed up at the roof and chattered at Danni, who seemed to be considering her words.

“Please up roof you hands,” Danni said.

“Tacho?” Simon replied, using one of the few words he did know. It meant “what?” He tried to keep the impatience and panic from his voice. His leg was going numb.

Danni mimed for him, as she spoke. “Up roof hands, you up hands, roof, please.”

Simon hesitantly lifted his hands up to the roof, looking askance at Danni. She nodded, then shook her head. “Here,” she said, stepping over to the center post of the hut. She pointed up at one of the poles that supported the roof, and she jumped up a bit, looking at him. He hobbled over to the spot and reached up, taking hold of the pole. He could feel the eyes of all the women on him. Danni hopped up and down, saying “up” over and over again. He pushed up, but the pole didn’t move. Then he pulled up, lifting himself off the ground, and Danni nodded and smiled. When he did that, his right leg suddenly convulsed, flopping wildly. That frightened Simon and the women collectively muttered and sighed. Fear seized Simon’s chest, but the old healer just nattered dismissively at the others. She stepped up to Simon and held up her hands coated with the blue mud, then stepped around behind him and planted both her hands squarely and loudly on his backside.

When she did this it felt like her hands were made of hot steel, and Simon yelped and tried to pull himself up and away. His right leg flopped around again and he hissed in agony. He kept his grip, though, expecting this was somehow therapy for the bite. The old woman turned away to a large pot and plunged her hands in. She yammered something and the other women got up and joined her at the pot. One of them brought a tall jug and poured some liquid in, and another dumped in some powder from a sack. They all plunged in their hands and kneaded the mix. Simon’s arms grew tired and he eased himself down. His right leg felt like it had fallen asleep and was just now waking. Still, the pain was lessening, and he was feeling a bit safer. The old woman came back, her hands now coated with red. She barked a command, and Danni and another woman cleared away the various stools and sacks and things from where he was balanced precariously on one leg. Then the woman seized a large jar and splashed cold water on his backside. She and Danni began to wash off the mud the healer had put on. Danni got the right side, he could tell from her lighter touch, but every time she touched the wound he wanted to squeal with pain.

Once the initial application was gone the healer motioned upwards, and Danni said “up” again. Simon hauled himself up off his feet, and all the women swarmed in around him, smearing him with the red paste from his armpits downward. The paste had a heady aroma, redolent of alcohol and spice. Almost immediately he could feel his strength fading, and simultaneously his arms locked in place. It was as if he couldn’t move, but he would soon lose his grip and fall. Meanwhile, a dozen hands were swiping and slapping and wiping and smearing every inch of his dangling body. Not normally a ticklish person, he found himself twitching and lurching at the invasions, especially when they treated his loins, an event that he felt happened far more often than it needed to. He could hear his heart beating louder, and could feel the blood rushing to his head. It felt like his eyes were swelling shut. His strength was gone now, and he could not even feel the rest of his body, but he could not let go. Now the hands, disembodied like ghosts, stopped their motion and just attached themselves to him, pressing harder and harder, crushing him. The fumes were overpowering him. He couldn’t see. The hands were shaking him, pulling him sideways. Night closed over him, as he heard Danni saying, over and over, “let go.” Finally, he let go, and the world closed shut.

Simon was already watching the woman as she watched him before he realized he was awake again. He was lying down on the floor of a hut. She was standing there, one hand on the center pole of the hut, staring intently at him, and he didn’t know what she wanted. Then he saw the girl. The girl was kneeling beside the woman, facing her, touching her on the leg. That’s Danni, his brain told him. Oh, another part of his brain replied. And that’s her mother, the first part said. Simon decided this was all too complex, and closed his eyes again.

Later, when he opened his eyes again, his leg hurt. He wasn’t sure which one hurt, but it hurt. In fact, his back hurt too, and his arms, and his balls, and his belly. Even his jaws hurt. He tried to rise, but that proved to be a very hard thing to manage. He was so heavy. His skin felt thick. That woman was still there, and so was Danni. She was still staring at him, and Danni was still kneeling, drawing on the woman’s leg. Simon realized that the woman was Danni’s mother. She was tall, and very broad, even for a native. The old healer was there too, walking around the two and muttering and touching Danni’s mother. After a bit, Simon realized that the old woman was also drawing on Danni’s mother, who was covered in a webbing of fine black lines. Danni’s mother could not take her eyes off him, the expression on her face almost like hunger. She said something, half smiling, and Danni looked up at her, then over at Simon. Danni smiled and came to Simon’s side.

“Simon,” she said and kissed him. Simon suddenly felt flooded with a terribly unexpected emotion — gratitude for the girl’s love. He tried to rise, but Danni put her hand on his forehead and held him down. He was surprised at how strong she was suddenly. He looked down at his too-heavy body and saw that it was caked with the red mud, which had been swirled and sketched on his body in arcane runes, and which was now cracking and falling off. His head started to buzz, and the world started to tilt. He lay back again. Danni leaned over him and put her hand on his face. She said something, but he didn’t understand what.

The sunlight was orange when he woke up again. He felt weak and woozy and even a bit nauseated, but he was so stiff he had to move. He also had to pee like mad. He sat up, then waited for his vision to return and for the world to stop moving. When his eyesight cleared, he saw Danni beside him and the old healer sitting in front of him. She said something, slowly and clearly. He didn’t quite understand the words, but the tone and attitude seemed comforting and affirming as if she was saying he would be all right. He nodded. Danni helped him as he stood. His right leg was still quite weak, and Danni handed him a big cane. He limped outside, squinting in the sunlight. The day was almost over now. Villagers milled about in their usual post-dinner languor. The healer was at his side, and Danni, and the healer instructed Danni. Pointing at Simon and making walking motions with her hand, Danni nodded and looked at Simon.

“You walk please, much, please,” she said.

Simon nodded, understanding that some exercise was therapeutic now. He limped towards the brush. He caught sight of Danni’s father near the fire pit. Their eyes met for a moment, then the other man nodded and moved on. Simon and Danni made their slow way towards the scrub, Simon shedding flakes of red as he moved, Danni slowly and carefully explaining as best she could that walking was good. He paused at the first big bush to relieve himself, not even considering waiting until he could reach the latrine. He then followed Danni as she led him along the trails. Sure enough, as he walked he could feel his strength returning. His leg ached, and there was a sore spot on his rear where that thing had bitten him. He was just glad it had picked his broad backside and not something smaller and more tender.

Simon’s whole body was trembling with weakness as he limped along. He was grateful the natives had a medicine for the bug bite, and that he had been in the village when he got bit. He wondered how many men hadn’t been so lucky, and how many survived their greater misfortune. As he walked Simon also wondered where the healer had accumulated her many potions and drugs. How many did she have, that she had just the right antidote for the thing that afflicted him? Were these things so common that she just had the treatment handy? Or was there some magic that she applied to make a common cure fit an uncommon malady? And what was the meaning of the lines on Danni’s mother? None of the other women in the village wore them. And as for how she looked at him, he didn’t need to ask what that meant. He had not seen that look often, but he knew it. Simon worried that the woman might try to act on the feelings behind that look. That was not the sort of trouble Simon needed to court.

Danni proved to be a stubborn taskmaster. She led Simon up and down the trails as the sun set. Apparently, she had been given the command to make him walk, but had not been told when to quit. Finally, they ended up in the yam patch and Simon sat down on a block of stone in protest. Danni scolded him for a bit, then wandered off. As he rested, Simon carefully scanned the ground around for more of those black beasts. He saw none. He did see many of the stone blocks, though, and he quickly realized that they were laid out in lines. After a bit of rest, he stood and wandered among the field of blocks. Tracing them, he came to see that they seemed to form into rectangles. Here and there he spotted chunks of burned wood, and he realized that the blocks had once been buildings, which had burned down.

Some of the blocks further afield were still stacked one atop another. Simon got up and hobbled over to look at them. He stooped and looked at the carvings on their sides — markings that looked like people and boats and fish. The symbol for the shark figured prominently. He climbed atop the blocks and looked about. There were enough foundations for a village. He could also see Danni returning for him, carrying food and water. He sat down on the stones and let her bring him the tucker, eating and sharing with her. When he was done, she lay her head in his lap and held his hand. He patted her on her head, then together they walked back to the village.

The next day Simon stood in the shallows and watched the boats go out to sea. He studied their clean lines and took note of the way the men handled the oars. He knew that the only way off the island was by water, and he needed to be ready to take the opportunity to go when it arose. His leg still hurt from the previous day’s incident, and his skill in the local tongue was still very poor, so he knew that he would need to work harder on learning the basic words. It would no longer be good enough for Danni to translate for him — he needed to start speaking for himself.

“Danni,” he said. She looked up from her net. He held up the net and said “Apa ini,” which he understood to mean “what do you call this?” Danni knew this game and had great patience with it.

“Bersih,” she replied. “Net.”

Simon pointed out at the boats. “Apa ini?”

“Perahu. Boats.”

Simon then leaned down and splashed his hand through the water. “Apa ini?”

“Otas. Water.”

He opened his mouth for the next word, then paused, momentarily lost. He was standing naked in the middle of the ocean, net fishing, and he had just asked the words for “net”, “boats”, and “water”. He was out of words. The pause lasted only a moment, though. As he held up his hand. “Apa ini?”

“Lengan. Hand.”

“Lengan,” he repeated. “Apa ini?” he asked, tapping his thigh as he cast his net.

“Kaki. Leg.”

“Kaki. Apa ini?” he patted his stomach.

“Perut. Belly.”

“Perut. Apa ini?” He thumped his chest.

“Dada. Chest.”

“Apa ini?” he asked, patting his head.

“Rambut. Hair.”

“No, I … never mind. Apa ini?” he asked, taking his head in his hand and rolling it a bit.

“Kepala. Head.”

“Kepala.” Thinking of heads of hair, he pointed at Bighair, who was staring out after the boats, his neglected net drifting in the swells. “Apa ini?”

“Jotuko. Bighair.”

“No, well, yes,” he said. Simon had recently learned that “Jotuko” was Bighair’s real name, but that wasn’t the word Simon was looking for. He was looking for the word for “boy”. He hesitated, embarrassed, trying to figure out a polite way to indicate gender, then gave up and tapped his own groin, then pointed at Bighair, then pointed at her groin and shook his head, then pointed at himself and Bighair a few times rapidly. “Apa ini?” he asked, tossing out his net.

Danni cocked her head to one side, a blank look on her face. Simon felt his face flush, but then she nodded. “Laki laki,” Danni said, then paused. Simon filled in the word: “boy.” She pointed to herself, with a quick gesture towards her own loins, then said, “Gadis.”

“Girl. Laki laki, gadis,” Simon repeated, then touched the knife slung on his belt. “Apa ini?”

“Pisau. Knife.”

“Pisau,” Simon said, pulling in the net. He could feel some resistance this time. He pulled up a middling fish. “Aha!” he called, seizing the wriggling catch. “Apa ini?”

“Makanan,” Danni replied, coming toward him with the holding rope. “Supper.”

The language lesson continued throughout the day. When the villagers took a break for the noonday nap, Simon and Danni took a tour of the village, pointing out things. In the afternoon, as they fished, they practiced some common sayings and polite salutations. By the evening both were growing weary of the task. After supper Danni stayed close to her family hut, playing with the other children. Simon hiked back out into the scrub, to where he had seen the ruins the day before. He wandered around in the scrub for a while, allowing his thoughts to drift, replaying the words and phrases over in his mind. He noted the layout of the foundations, recognizing streets and alleys. More than once he found various artifacts lying half-buried in the sand. Some he recognized as household goods, or tools, or even weapons. Some of them were strange, looking like they came from a different place, while others could easily have come from the village that very day. Many were burned.

As the sun set Simon lay down on a line of stones, his head awhirl. There was so much to learn. He did not feel anywhere near ready to tackle the task of asking for a ride off the island, and yet he felt lonelier now than he had in a sennight. He needed to be home in Dargon. Even the sound of the insects in the brush was wrong. As he lay there, the sound of voices caught his ear. He rolled a lazy head to see who was coming. It seemed that in his wanderings he had circled back around to one of the paths. At first, he could see nothing, and then a hint of movement could be discerned through the brush. Figures drew near. Simon couldn’t make out faces through the leaves, so he shifted himself until he had a better view. The interlopers consisted of three women and a man.

The four people were chatting and laughing happily, their speech far too fast for Simon to follow. He realized that Danni had been speaking slowly for him for quite a while. They stopped not far away, and the women stooped and dug. Simon realized that his meanderings had led him back to where Danni had first brought him. The women handed the tubers up to the man, who was carrying a basket. Their mood was high, and they were laughing and chatting in teasing voices. Some of the tubers ended up tossed at the man, who had to catch them while balancing the basket with one hand. More than once he got a playful slap on the behind, which he only half-heartedly tried to dodge. Simon felt no need to stand and identify himself. Hidden behind the screen of brush, he could observe invisibly. Simon felt no obligation to rise and help. He had no objection to work — he could watch people do it all day in fact.

The natives, none of whom he could definitively place or name, were as industrious as they were giddy. The basket filled quickly. Finally, the women stood up and stretched. One put her hands on the basket the young man was carrying and pushed down, talking loudly. He protested good-naturedly, and the other woman put her hands on his shoulders and jumped up onto his back, her legs straddling his hips. He almost collapsed, but still managed to keep his grip on the basket. She jumped off, laughing, and the others all laughed as well. Simon felt their reflected good humor, and almost chuckled himself. It was good to watch the happy interplay, even from the shadows. The two women then started walking back towards the village, leaning on each other and calling back as they faded into the distance.

The man stayed, still holding the heavy basket. The remaining woman watched the other two women walk away, then turned to talk to the man. With a shock, Simon recognized her as Danni’s mother. She knelt again, digging, and he stood with the basket and replied. Danni’s mother, still kneeling in the dirt, tossed a tuber at him. It bounced off his chest and missed the basket. He protested too loudly, and she laughed happily. She tried again and missed again. After several tries, she finally landed the tuber in the basket and went back to digging. He gave her a mock tongue-lashing, which she seemed to return with mock gusto. The next tuber she also pitched at him. This time it bounced off his belly and off the bottom of the basket. He screeched joyously at this show of ineptness, castigating her haughtily. She pitched it again and caught him right in the privates.

The force of the tossed tuber hitting his genitals wasn’t hard, and Danni’s mother made sympathetic sounds as he winced and staggered back. She put her hand on his hip to steady him and patted the offended area once gently with apologetic words. He flinched a bit at this but seemed none the worse for wear. She placed the tuber in the basket carefully and leaned back on her haunches. He stood with the laden basket in his hands, bouncing from one leg to the other in latent discomfort as they exchanged comforting words. He seemed to be explaining something to her. Her tone turned mischievous again, and she tossed a pinch of dust at his belly. He laughed mockingly and replied in a haughty tone. She pitched more dust at him, this time directly on his privates. Simon felt a thrill in his belly at the tone she was taking. The last of the sun was tinting the tops of the bushes and gave the man a golden crown of light. She was in the shadows still. She was talking, and threw a handful of dirt, again at his pendulous genitals. His tone grew boasting. He hoisted the basket up over his head and arched his back, thrusting his hips forward. His words were great and swelling and proud.

With a sudden move that left Simon breathless, Danni’s mother reached out with both hands and seized the proffered privates in a firm grip, coming up from below and encircling them at the base. Caught, the man gasped and rose up on tiptoes, trapped between his heavy tuberous burden and his captured genitals. She answered him, laughing with each syllable, wringing her hands carefully back and forth for an ever-tighter grip. Simon could feel his own manhood stirring in sympathy. The man replied, breathless. She continued, not laughing now. She was obviously pressing upward with some force, for Simon could see that she was lifting him a bit, but the sounds of his tone were not those of pain. She asked him a question. He did not answer, and so she squeezed harder and asked again, more insistently. He started to reply, but she cut off his answer by leaning forward and engulfing his engorged member in her mouth. He shook and gasped. Simon watched, aghast, frightened and fascinated, as she ingested his member again and again. The man’s breath grew ragged and heavier, and then suddenly she released him. He staggered back, the basket still in his hands, his privates bouncing free. She leaped to her feet with a laugh and ran almost directly at Simon, who froze. As she passed him by, unaware, he caught sight of a tracery of fine lines on her naked hips, marking out the pattern of fish scales. The man, left behind, hesitated only a moment, then dropped the basket of tubers and dashed after her, his manhood a hand-span ahead of him.

The frenzied pair crashed off into the bushes, going down in a tangle just out of sight. Peals of laughter rose up, along with gasps of discovery. There was a hurried, breathless conversation, then the sounds of coupling erupted. Simon put his hand on his own staff, and as their voices rose to a crescendo he joined them. In an instant he was done, but their own celebrations continued. Drained but not satiated, he lay there, listening to their ongoing music, his own body still bothered but unable to respond. Not wanting to be discovered himself, he rolled to his feet, turning away from the sounds from the bushes. He stood … and immediately saw Danni standing not a stride away.

Danni was standing stock still, a blank look on her face, her finger dangling from the corner of her slack mouth. When Simon stood she looked his way, her gaze pausing for a moment on his waving flag, then she looked back towards where her mother went, her expression unchanged. Simon suffered a wave of confusion as embarrassment washed over him. He put a hand over his privates, to cover himself, and headed for the village. He looked back, and she was still standing there, unmoving, staring off into the bushes after her straying mother. Simon went back and picked her up. She let him, wrapping her legs around his waist and slowly putting her arms around his shoulders. He carried her back to the village, arriving just as darkness settled in. He took her to the great house where the other villagers were gathering. He placed her down into his own hammock and sat down beside her. All around the other villagers settled in for the night. Simon watched until she fell asleep, then sat alone for bells more, listening to the sounds of the night.

The next day, Danni seemed little worse for wear after the incident at the tuber field. Simon watched her, to see if she seemed angry or sad or even upset, but she was her usual self. He wondered if she had witnessed such events before. The language lessons continued, as did the fishing. Bighair was ever more distracted by the boats and their coming and going, and the trio was finding fewer and fewer fish. Simon moved their fishing grounds a bit further from the village, and their catch improved. When they broke for the mid-day pause, Simon wandered the village alone. He avoided her parents, unsure of what he or they would do had he confronted one or the other. He wondered if Danni’s father knew, or even cared.


Several days after the bug bite incident, Danni hauled Simon back to the village healer during lunch. She explained in a mix of tongues and gestures that the healer wanted to see if Simon was healing well. He had been stiff and weak afterward, especially the third day, but was now feeling better. The healer was again seated in her hut, with the teenage girls peering out of the wall at them. Simon submitted to a thorough exam of poking and prodding, after which the old woman chased them both out of her hut. Simon assumed that meant he would be fine.

“Who are those girls in her hut?” Simon asked Danni as they walked back towards the main body of huts.

“Girls hut?” Danni asked back. Simon repeated the question with hand gestures. Danni watched for a moment, then considered.

“Girls not women,” she said. “Girls sick at night alone. Want be good night alone, girls go women now.” She nodded to affirm her own tangled statement. Simon considered this for a moment, trying to decide if it was worth deciphering. Before he came to a conclusion, Danni posed a question of her own. “You go night alone boy go man?”

“What?” Simon asked? “Night alone? Boy go man?”

Danni nodded. “Boy go man,” she repeated, miming with her hands something small getting larger.

“Boys grow up to be men,” Simon said. “Girls grow up to be women.” He added his own pantomime, throwing in what he hoped would be gender appropriate gestures. Danni seemed to understand. “Night alone?” He asked next.

“Boy go night alone, boy go man,” Danni said. “Girl go night alone, girl go woman. Simon go night alone?”

“Simon already go man,” Simon replied, unsure. “Simon not know night alone.”

Danni looked puzzled over this. She looked off into the distance, then back at Simon. She pointed at something, possibly the hill. “Simon go night alone there?”

Simon shrugged in confusion. Danni looked at him, at the cluster of huts, at the sun, then beckoned him to follow. With her in the lead, the two headed off into the brush, following the same path they had taken days before up the side of the hill.

As they walked Simon considered the events of the previous night. He was no stranger to sex, but it had unnerved him to get caught by a child while peeping an illicit rendezvous, especially when the child was the daughter of one of the participants. He had been longing for his clothes, feeling particularly naked that day. Danni seemed no different, though.

The hike up went quicker than before, probably because Danni knew where she was going and they were not stopping for sightseeing. They passed the point they had reached before and continued higher. Along the way, Danni chattered as usual. It occurred to Simon for the first time that for all her talking Danni did not seem terribly interested in listening. He remained silent and let her talk. He watched the beach fall away below. It was relatively empty. There were some children beach-combing the rocks and a man and woman a bit further ahead. Simon thought he recognized the children, being a few that slept near him. Simon felt that familiar itch to be out at sea rather than trapped on the island by his poor language skills.

The scrub was thinning out now, and the path getting stonier. Danni was slowing down now, looking around more. She was looking for something.

“What are you looking for?” Simon asked her.

“Look hut rock night alone,” she replied.

“Of course,” Simon replied sardonically. As she paused to scan a nearby rock field, he looked about, his gaze raking the horizon. He could see the characteristic clouds again, the ones he was sure marked an island. He also could see another cluster of clouds further to lee. Glancing down at the beach he could see that the children were clustered around something of interest in the rocks. The couple was wading through the surf around a rocky outcropping. Looking ahead he could see that there was a sort of plateau up ahead. Danni was moving on, so he followed.

They came to a spot where the path was bordered by a cliff on one side and a field of rock on the other. Danni stopped, looking up the cliff. She started to climb up, but Simon called her back.

“We don’t have time for climbing,” he said. “It’s too steep anyway.”

“Hut rock night alone,” Danni said, pointing upward. “Boy go man hut rock, maybe.”

“We need to get back to fishing,” Simon said. “Kita harus memeluk ikan,” he said roughly.

Danni snickered and covered her mouth with her hand. “Ikan terlalu dingin untuk memeluk,” she replied and laughed. She then turned up-slope and pointed. “That I you here look, maybe, strong,” she said, looking back at him. She stood there waiting, and hung her finger negligently from the corner of her mouth like she had back in the tuber field. Simon turned away, suddenly embarrassed. He pointed up to where the path continued up the hill.

“Let’s go up,” he said and started up. Danni looked back up the cliff, then up the path, then back up the cliff, then shrugged a frustrated shrug and followed.

The plateau was a bit further than it looked, but they made it. Simon was surprised to find a clearing swept in the dust, ringed by placed stones. At the cardinal points, there were small pillars of rock. Outside the circle of stones were larger mounds of stone. At the base of these pillars were placed various objects. Simon could see what looked like palm-sized pads of leather, and headdresses of feathers, and various clubs and knives and spears. He expected that these were some sort of tribal fetishes so he did not approach them. Danni stayed outside the circle.

Simon wondered about the odd spacing of the pillars. He stood in the center of the ring and looked at each, curious. Then he looked past one and understood immediately. On the horizon past each pillar was a cluster of clouds, the type that marked the location of an island. There were not one or two islands nearby, but dozens. It was obvious that the circle was a map of the archipelago. Simon stood, stunned, looking at each in turn until Danni called him back to reality. He followed her back down the path, his mind awhirl at the opportunities. He now knew for certain that he had to get on a boat. He determined to go back up after supper and figure which island was closest.

As he walked down the path Simon could see the children on the beach moving back to the village. From such a distance Simon could not tell the gender by the usual reliable method, but by their gait they appeared to be boys. Simon’s gaze followed the children to the huts, then retraced their steps looking for the couple. He spotted them just past the rocks, in the shade of a small boulder. It was obvious even from a distance that the couple was hot in the middle of lovemaking, concealed from the village but not from above. Simon felt a stir in his loins. For a moment, Simon thought the woman might be Danni’s mother, and he had a flash of both panic and odd desire. He covered himself for a moment until he realized that Danni was too far ahead to notice. The passing shrubbery soon concealed the amorous couple, leaving Simon to ponder his own awkward response.

That evening Simon again went up the hill. Danni stayed behind, but Bighair came along instead. He was good company, although less talkative than Danni. He also paused at the cliff, pointing and talking, tapping himself on the chest. He talked faster than Danni, though, so Simon did not get as much from the conversation. Together they climbed to the plateau. Bighair surprised Simon by immediately starting a sort of ritual, singing out a chant as soon as they reached the circle and going to each of the four cardinal points. At each pillar, he would touch them and sing something to them. What surprised Simon, even more, was how he treated the pillars for the other islands. He threw a stone at a few, he hit one with a stick, he spat on a couple. This done, he motioned to Simon to follow suit. Simon performed a rough imitation of the routine. With the initiation done, Simon could study the scene. One of the pillars that represented the islands indeed seemed closer. Simon pointed out each in turn, allowing Bighair a chance to expound on each. Mostly what Simon got from the expositions was that none of the neighboring islands was as good at fishing. Simon thought he learned the names of each. When there seemed to be nothing more he could learn, Simon led the way out of the circle and home.

As had Danni earlier, Bighair eventually took the lead on the path down. This time the beach was empty, and Simon found himself staring at Bighair as they descended. Simon actually knew little about the boy. He wasn’t sure who the lad’s parents were. He mentally inventoried the locals, trying to make a match. If he tried to pick out a parent for the boy based on the adult’s behavior, none of the adults matched. There were plenty of local women who could be the mother; it seemed that most all the adult females were either pregnant, nursing, or chasing around a toddler, so there were plenty of women who were the right age.

The list of men who could be Bighair’s father was shorter. Simon ran through it a few times in his head. There didn’t seem to be as many men in the village as there were women. There didn’t even seem to be as many men as there were pregnant women. Simon wondered at that. Could they be on a journey to one of the other islands? Simon considered the boats he had seen so far. While they were large, none were as large as the ship that had brought him to the tropics. By his standards, none seemed terribly seaworthy. From his travels, he knew the folk on these islands usually had larger craft. It made sense that these larger boats were away, possibly on a trading expedition. Simon could feel excitement building inside himself at the idea of a larger boat returning and taking him off the island, for surely one of the other islands had a deep port and a connection to the outside world.

Simon let Bighair run ahead to the village. The sun was lowering but not yet down, so Simon sought the solitude of the empty beach he had seen from above. He walked down to the rocks where the children had been scavenging, then waded around the rocky outcropping to the free beach beyond. Simon slowly and cautiously moved through the scattered coral boulders until he was sure the previous occupants were truly gone. Simon could still see the disturbed sand where they had tussled. He pushed on, walking until the sand was undisturbed. Taking care to avoid the loose sand, for fear of other black bugs, he sat down on the beach and watched the waves. He let his thoughts wander far, back to the home he had left and the ports he had visited since leaving it.

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Dargon Things

Things are Dargon-specific characters, places, or items unique to the world of Dargon. The Things below appear in this story. You may click on one to see its definition and the stories in which it appears: