DargonZine 33, Issue 1

A View From Above: The Sky Above

Mertz 14, 1002

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series A View From Above

     Simon’s feet slapped on the sand in a rough multiple of the waves that washed the beach. The thin bundle on his bare shoulder bounced in time, and the water that erased his footprints splashed over his equally bare loins. He thought he could hear the sounds of the village behind him still, but he did not look back. There was no reason for anyone to be following him as he had not told anyone that after living with the natives for sennights he was leaving the village for a life alone, a stranded sailor far from home. His only two friends did not need him. Bighair, the boy who had been one of his helpers, was dead, presumably killed in a raid on a fishing boat. Danni, the girl who was his other minder, was now in mourning, supposing that her mother, like her friend Bighair, was dead. Simon, like most of the villagers, knew this was not true, but how do you tell a little girl that her mother had abandoned her to become a blue-skinned, scaled monster who lived in the ocean? No, she was now better off with her family.
     The last few sennights had been almost like a strange dream. Simon had been bored almost to despair, had almost been seduced by a strange sea-spirit with the body of a woman and the teeth of a shark, had fought in a battle he had no idea he was joining, and had been accused of an affair with the wife of the village elder. The fact that Danni’s mother had been involved in two of those events just made it all the weirder.
     It was after the event with Danni’s mother that Simon finally decided he could no longer stay in the village. He simply could not be a part of their pirate raids, nor did he want to benefit from them. He certainly did not want to face Danni’s father and his club again. That afternoon he gathered up his long-lost clothes and the one net he had made himself and headed out. He felt a pang of guilt over abandoning Danni so soon after the loss of her mother. He stopped by the healer’s hut to see the girl. From inside the hut Simon could hear Danni’s voice, wailing that her mother was gone, was dead. When he tried to enter, the old healer appeared at the door and shooed him away. She was joined by several of the other village women, who apparently were inside consoling Danni. They pushed Simon away, nattering angrily at him. Saddened but resolute, Simon walked away up the beach.
     The island itself was not terribly large. Simon knew that if the villagers wanted to find him they eventually would. He counted on them not wanting to find him. He walked up the beach to where the trail came down the far side of the hill, and then he headed up into the scrub. He hiked in to where the ruins were, and then cut in off the trail. He walked in to where the old carvings were, and climbed up on the wall. From that vantage point, Simon saw what he had come to suspect. The ruins stretched further into the scrub, almost to the water’s edge. The shore on that side of the island was rocky, with many outcroppings, and would be difficult to walk. The islanders apparently avoided this side, either for fear of the ruins or because of sheer inconvenience.
     Simon spent the last of the morning wandering down through the ruins to the shore. He saw several the black bugs, along with the detritus of war and the remains of the city and its inhabitants. Along the way, he appropriated a series of sticks, spears, and clubs, upgrading whenever a better one came along. Whenever he came to a foundation he would take the stick or spear or whatever and dig near the doorway. More than once he found the remains of a mat buried there. Eventually the scrub gave way to beach again, this time between two rocky outcroppings. Simon hiked back up along the one outcropping, and over to the next little inlet. He progressed this way along the beach until he found a spot where there was a small seep of fresh water from the island down into the sea.
     Once he found a source of fresh water, Simon again started investigating the foundations. Climbing the taller ones, he could see that he was approximately two hundred yards downhill from the yam fields. Scraping around the doorways of the local foundations Simon found enough matting to cover the floor of a smaller foundation. He built a small fire-pit where he felt he could conceal a small fire, and he wove a small lean-to as best he could. He took his net and fished in the shallows. He got nothing in the shallow inlet below his new home, but the next inlet over was filled with coral and not sand, and there Simon had better luck. He took his catch and ate, and spread some in the sun to dry, as he had seen the women in the village do. Spying his new-found clothes next to the fire, he suddenly felt his own nakedness as he had not felt it for many days. He decided that if he was not going to live among the villagers then there was no reason to dress like them. He shook out his trousers and pulled them on, stuffing his stray members down into the stiff fabric and tying the drawstring. The blouse he also donned, noting several tears. He sat down next to the drying fish, shooing the flies away, and as he sat he started to weave together bundles of shrubbery. After working for several menes he stood, and took off the blouse and the trousers, and tossed them aside. Free once more, he set to work weaving. By nightfall he had already assembled two more bundles.
     Simon was gratified to wake up alive the next day. He immediately set to work fishing. The fish he had dried the day before was gamey and he threw it into the waves as bait. He was easily able to get as much again. Once he ducked back into the undergrowth when he heard voices, but it was the men leaving on the boats for another raid and rounding the island. He watched them go, emotions warring inside his head, and then went back to fishing. Once he had his catch he worked on a fire. He was able to start one, and using it he cooked his catch. He spent the heat of the day weaving more of the bundles of sticks and wondering if Danni was still crying. Thinking of her reminded him of her mother, and his conflicting responses reminded him of the yam field. As the heat of the day was fading, he left his catch under a broken bit of pottery and crept up into the yam field. Keeping an ear and eye out for villagers, he scouted about until he found a yam plant. He dug it up and took the tuber back to his hideout.
     That afternoon, after the boats returned, Simon ventured out into the waves with his bundles of sticks. He tested each for buoyancy. He was disappointed to find that of the four he had, only one would float, and poorly at that. He went back to work, sorting out which types of wood would float and which would not. He cooked the tuber and ate it with his smoked fish and then he went back out and fished some more. He fetched water in a small unbroken pot he found, and he cooked the fish using the non-floating wood for fuel. Finally, he slept.
     It was late the next morning when he heard the voices. He was out fishing, and when he heard talking from up the hill he walked back up into the scrub and hid. It sounded like some girls. He crept around the outcropping to get closer. It was two teenagers from the village. They were out hunting for snails and chattering happily. He watched them for a while, hoping that they would not cross the outcropping and see his footprints in the sand. As he crouched there in the shadows, listening to their giggling, he wondered if Danni would look like them when she was older. Suddenly, he knew what Danni would look like. She would be long of leg and broad of shoulder, with wide eyes and dusky skin. She would look exactly like her mother. Simon recalled the last time he had seen Danni’s mother, and shuddered.
     The girls were as industrious as they were gabby, and covered the outcropping with quick efficiency. Simon wondered what he would do if they crossed over the next outcropping and discovered his secret base. Fortunately, there were a lot of snails on the first outcropping, and they eventually left. He went back to his own little cove and erased his footprints as best he could, and hid for a while. As the heat of the day grew, he hiked back up to the yam field. Staying to the edges, he found more yams and brought them back to his hideout. He waited and wove and watched, and that evening he built up his fire and cooked the yams. He vowed to be more careful.
     The next day Simon was up early. He knew from his days in the village that the villagers tended to stay close to the village in the morning. He spent that time picking up his few belongings and relocating further into the ruined city. He reasoned, based on the lack of trails worn into the scrub there, that the villagers did not go into the old city, but stayed at the edges. He found a usable foundation not too far from the beach and cleaned it out, keeping an eye out for interlopers. This foundation was larger, and had higher walls. There were carvings on the walls, but Simon was too busy to investigate. It took three trips to get all the matting transferred over. Simon was happy to spot a damp spot in the sand near the beach, as that indicated a spring seep where he could possibly get fresh water.
     Once the move was made Simon settled in for a bit. He ate some of his fish and what was left of the yams. He gathered some of the floatable wood and took it back to the foundation. He worked on weaving the bundles until he thought he could hear voices. Climbing the foundation, Simon looked around. He spotted the boats, again making their daily journey to sea. He waited until they were well away before venturing out into the water with his net. He made a quick catch, which he took back to his hideaway. He wrapped the catch in some wet seaweed and placed it in the coals of his fire. While it cooked, he worked on his weaving. On one corner of the foundation grew some weedy bushes that gave Simon some shade from the sun. Once, while he was working, he thought he heard his name being called from a distance. He stopped and listened silently for a while, but did not hear the voice again.
      At midday, when the sun was hottest, the locals all lay down for a nap. Simon knew this from his time among them. He chose that time to go up to the yam field and dig. He tried to spread his digging out so as not to arouse suspicion. He knew this was a bit silly; the villagers knew he was on the island, and if they wanted to find him they just had to follow the smell of his fire. Still, he didn’t want to remind them of his presence. Afternoon was the reverse of the morning. Simon wove until the boats returned, then fished and cooked. As dusk was settling he took his bundles to the water to test them. This time they all floated just fine. Simon dragged them back to the foundation, pleased. He planned to make a boat or raft from the bundles and sail off the island. With the villagers’ boats no longer an option, this was the most likely way off the island and back to the mainland.
     The pattern for Simon’s day was set, and the next day followed it almost exactly. In the late morning, Simon again heard his name being called. This time it was repeated. Simon did not recognize the voice. It seemed to belong to someone female, but it did not sound like Danni. He listened silently while the voice drew nearer, then faded off into the distance. He considered both going out and revealing himself, and moving to another place even more remote. He rejected the first on the same basis that he had used to justify his self-imposed exile, and he rejected the second on the basis that he was already as far away from the village as he could get. He again waited until midday to head up to the yam field, and he again waited until almost night to test that day’s production.
     Simon’s new routine left him plenty of time to think, and recent events gave him plenty to think about. He found himself flinching at shadows, remembering the big black bugs. His time in the shallows was watchful, always looking out for dark shapes slipping through the waves. He considered what he would do if he encountered a blue-skinned woman in the waves. Thinking about Danni’s mother left him either nervous, or aroused, or both. The ever-present silence of the landscape gave him little escape from the recurrent bouts of remembrances.
     It was in the early evening that Danni finally found him. Simon was sitting in the foundation, weaving a netting to cover the bundles of wood, when he heard his name called simply and clearly. The voice was instantly recognizable. Suspicious, he took up the mostly-whole war club and crept down to until he could see her. She stood alone on the beach, hers the only footprints in the sand. There were lines painted on her body in black and blue, and she was wearing a string girdle like he had seen her make once. She stood staring up into the scrub, as if she knew very well where he was. Simon walked down to where she was standing and waiting, and was surprised, when she ran forward to embrace him, to find that he was crying too. He held her tiny body close until their sobs stopped.
     “Simon,” she said, “old mother says Simon must talk her today.” She nodded, and then took his hand and pulled him up towards the scrub. Simon stood fast, though, and shook his head.
     “Aku tidak bisa pergi,” he said. “I cannot go to the village.”
     “Old mother not village,” Danni said, tugging his hand. “In not village. In here.”
     Simon let Danni lead him forward, around the rock outcropping and to a tiny path that led up from the beach and into the scrub. Simon knew he must have crossed over the path several times already without even noticing it. He chided himself for his carelessness. Danni walked up the path in the fading light and Simon followed her, alert for signs of others. The path came to the place where he had shown Danni the carved mer-people, a place he thought of as a temple of sorts. On one of the blocks sat the old healer, her out-sized hat hiding her face.
     “Ada anda,” the old woman said.
     “She says, ‘there you are’,” Danni translated.
     “Yes, here I am,” Simon replied. Danni climbed up on the block and sat beside the old healer. Simon was struck at the resemblance. He realized that they must be related somehow. The old woman was probably Danni’s grandmother. “What do you want from me?” he asked.
     “Aku tahu mengapa anda telah meninggalkan desa,” the old woman replied.
     “Old mother know why you go village,” Danni said.
     “Anda harus mengambil ritus dewasa seperti anak.”
     “Old mother says you night alone if boy and,” Danni said. “Boy to man.”
     “Sampai anda apakah anda akan pernah meninggalkan pulau.”
     “Old mother says …” Danni paused with a sob, covering her face. Simon stepped forward, hand out to Danni, but the old healer covered the child with her own arm first. After a moment, Danni spoke again.
     “Do night alone or stay here all day, all days all.”
     She began to cry, and she hopped down off the block and ran to him, hugging his knees. “Simon stay Danni all, all day all. Simon stay.”
     Simon stood helplessly, looking first at Danni then at the old healer. The darkness was gathering, and he could not see the old woman’s expression. Finally, the old healer eased herself off the stone and came and took Danni up in her arms. Danni buried her face in the woman’s breast and wept. The old woman pushed back her big hat and looked up at Simon.
     “Besok,”she said, and carried Danni off with her into the scrub. “Tomorrow,” Simon understood the word to mean. He walked back to the beach and to his exile home, wondering what the next day would bring.
     All the next day Simon was listening for Danni’s voice. At evening, he was back up at the temple ruins. On schedule the old healer appeared, with Danni in tow. In one hand, she carried a torch.
     “Ikuti kami,” the healer said, and turned away. ‘Follow us’ was the meaning Simon got, and so he followed. Danni took his hand as he walked, and after a few steps Simon picked her up and carried her. The healer led Simon through the dusk to the main path. Simon looked about nervously, but they had the path to themselves. This was normal — the villagers rarely left the village after dark. The trio wound their way up the hill, past the plaza, and partway down the other side. Simon was getting ready to stop, to explain that he would not go back to the village, when the old woman stopped.
     Simon looked about. It was hard to see, but they appeared to be in the same place where Danni had wanted to scale the hill so many days earlier. The old woman said something, and Danni wriggled free of Simon’s arms and dropped to the ground. She stood next to the old healer, two pale blurs in the dark illuminated by the flicker and flare of the torch.
     “Di sini adalah di mana anda memulai perjalanan anda ke kehidupan,” the old woman said in a sing-songy cadence.
     “Here you go big, go man, boy to man, walk away long and,” Danni said, although Simon got the feeling that she would rather not have to be part of this transaction.
     “Di sini kita melewati obor kehidupan anda,” chanted the healer, and extended the torch to Simon.
     “Here we go torch, to you giving,” said Danni. Simon took the torch, and the healer turned and clambered up the hill. Danni looked confused a moment, then followed her up. Simon hesitated a moment, then followed as well. They climbed up the loose slope a dozen yards, and then Simon was surprised and pleased to find that the slope leveled off at the base of a short cliff wall. An area was paved with flat stones, like up at the plaza. In the light of the torch he watched the healer fade away into the face of the cliff. Startled, Simon stepped forward, and saw that there was an opening in the wall. He held up the torch, and saw the healer waiting for him in a short alcove. She beckoned to him, and he stooped and entered. He found himself in a cave. Danni came in also. The healer walked up to Simon and handed him a flat packet wrapped in a leaf.
     “Memberi saya obor,” she said, extending her hand. Simon understood that simple phrase, and obligingly handed her the torch. The healer started to walk around the cave, which was roughly tubular and twice as high as Simon was tall. She chanted and swung around the torch as if warding off invisible enemies, and her words seemed to carry that very message. Simon noticed a pile of wood lying down on the cave floor in the dim distance, and he noticed a smaller pile of wood at their feet. The healer returned and touched the torch to the wood, setting it afire.
     “Anda harus cenderung api sepanjang malam,” she said.
     “Ummm,” Danni thought for a moment, “fire you must, all night, must good you fire and, all.” She nodded to herself, satisfied with the effort.
     “What?” Simon said. “Say that again?”
     “Simon must fire good, keep, all night,” Danni amended. She stood with one leg crossed over the other, her finger in her mouth, not looking at either of the adults.
     “I’m supposed to keep the fire going?” Simon asked.
     Danni nodded.
     “Jika api keluar anda akan mati!”
     Danni looked at the old healer, startled. “Mengapa dia akan mati?”
     The old woman looked at the girl. “Hanya mengatakan apa yang saya katakan!” she chided Danni, pointing at Simon. Danni stood stiffly and repeated her question. “Itulah hanya bagaimana ini bekerja. Jangan khawatir dan mengatakan apa yang saya katakan,” the old woman insisted.
     Danni looked around the cave, and stepped closer to the two of them. “Fire keep Simon if Simon die all, night keep fire or Simon die and.” She looked around the cave again, then stepped to Simon and hugged his leg.
     “So I have to stay here and keep the fire going, right?” Simon said. “Keep the fire or I die.” Danni nodded.  Simon looked at the old healer who also nodded. “Alright, I’ll play along.” He bent down and unwrapped Danni from his leg and kissed her, then pushed her gently back to the healer. The healer tapped the packet of leaves she had given to Simon. She pulled it open to reveal a crumbly black substance that smelled very sweet. She mimed eating it. Simon nodded, and then the healer pointed back to the back of the cave. She held up the torch, and pointed at the shrinking fire at Simon’s feet. He understood. Dropping the packet beside the fire Simon walked back and got some wood. He carefully nursed the fire back to life, noting that the pile of wood he left behind was not all that large.
     “Tinggal dengan api sampai pagi,” the healer said.
     “Stay at fire go morning,” Danni said. Simon nodded, and the two walked off into the dark.
     The cave itself was largely unremarkable. Simon could see the walls of the tube clearly in the firelight. The rock was black, and looked as if it had been partially melted. Some of it had even hardened as it dripped off the walls, forming spikes of stone. Here and there crystals glittered. Simon wandered down the tube, past the pile of wood. The floor was covered with hard-packed dirt, but the further back he went the more loose rock there was on the floor, and the narrower the floor itself grew. The light also grew dimmer the further from the fire he went, and Simon was forced to go back and feed the fire as it burned lower.
     Simon understood what he was undergoing. As a sailor, he had been subjected to a ceremony aboard the ship when they passed a particular port on their voyage south. It was a way of inducting the new sailors into the rough brotherhood of the sea. That ceremony was much more raucous than this one, and had involved acts both degrading and public. Simon suspected this was what Bighair had gone through before he had gone off on his first “fishing expedition”. The thought of the young boy being taken into battle angered Simon, and he went back to the door of the cave and considered walking back to his hideaway and rejecting the ceremony. Then he considered that the healer had come alone. This was quite possibly her idea, not the village’s, and there could be some special significance to it.
     He walked back to the recently fed fire, and sat down. The dirt floor was cold on his bottom, and his testicles dragged through the dust as they shriveled and drew up into his belly. He saw the pack of leaves the healer had given him, and he opened it. He tasted the paste. It was sweet, and not unpleasant. Although it had an odd aftertaste, it was quite edible. He ate it all, licking it off the leaves, then put the leaves in the fire. Being green, they did not burn, but the smoke they made was sweet also, and lent some warmth to the air. Simon did notice that the air in the cave was cooler than the air outside. He wished he had thought to bring his clothes, although the oversight was understandable given the unexpectedness of the activity. He wrapped his arms around himself and held his legs together and moved closer to the fire.
     Looking up at the roof, Simon realized that someone had drawn pictures in the soot. He stared at the images dumbly for a long moment before he realized three things. The first was that people must have used the cave a long time for that much soot to have accumulated on the ceiling. The second was that someone had gone to a great deal of effort to draw pictures higher off the ground than he could reach. The third thing he realized was that some of those drawings were very old, for he could see where stone had somehow grown out of the rock wall and covered over some of the drawings, traces of which were still visible under the thinner portions of mineral. Simon stared until the cold from the dirt reached his belly and his teeth started to chatter. It was then that he realized that the fire had gone out.
     He leaped to his feet in alarm. There was no flame left, just coals. Simon cursed himself for woolgathering instead of tending the fire. What would they think of him if he couldn’t even do what a seven-year old could? Then he realized that he had no intention of going back to the village, regardless of what happened in the cave or of the villagers’ opinion of him. Why should he care about a silly fire? He should go back to his hidey-hole and sleep. Somehow he could not, however. He was too curious about what the old healer was up to. Simon pushed the few remaining stick ends into the fire, and while they flared up he walked back and got more wood.
     With the fire again burning Simon began to pace. What was he there for, anyway? What could the old healer have in mind? And why should he care? The islanders were pirates, that scourge of every honest sailor’s life. Thieves at best, murderers and slavers on average, they were to be killed on sight and avoided if at all possible. How had he fallen in among them? The answer was obvious, of course. Simon had awakened in their midst, and had only discovered their true nature when he went “fishing” with them. On the island, they behaved as normally as any other of the local tribes had. Had he not gone on the boats he would still be blissfully ignorant of their true nature, fishing with Danni and believing that Bighair had been just another youth claimed by Cirrangill for his celestial galley. Or at least until Danni’s father had discovered that Danni’s mother was making a bed-sheet of Simon’s clothes.
     Simon shook his head. How had that come about? He had been as naked as a baby when he washed up on shore. How had she come upon his clothes? Perhaps she had found them on the beach while out walking. Or perhaps she had come upon him while out walking, and had decided to sample the goods while no one was looking. Simon shook his head silently. He had enough sense about women to know how unlikely it was that a woman would undress a strange man while he was unconscious, no matter how good looking he was. Unless there was a very good reason, Simon considered. Could she have been doing it to help him? Perhaps he had been caught on some rocks, and she had to remove his clothes to free him. That might explain the tears in his blouse. Of course, that did not explain why he had no pants. Perhaps he was foundering in the surf, and she had found it easier to retrieve him naked than clothed. Except that did not explain the tears in his blouse. He tried to visualize her wading out into the waves and hauling him in to shore. When he did that, however, the image that kept coming to mind was of her blue face and sharp teeth hovering above his vulnerable manhood. He shuddered, and not just from the cold.
     Another image came to mind. Simon knew now that she could appear as a woman, as well as a monster. Which form had she assumed when she first met him? He could easily envision her gliding up underneath him as he struggled in the waves, swimming effortlessly around his dangling body as he thrashed about trying to save his own life. Had she helped him? Had she watched him, hoping he would drown? Had she perhaps even been responsible for the disaster that had separated him from his ship and his shipmates in the first place?
     The fire was again burning low. Simon walked back and gathered up more wood. The pile there was shrinking faster than he expected. Perhaps part of the point of the exercise was to see if the child (or Simon, in this case) was capable of enough maturity and forethought to not burn through the pile of wood before morning. Simon dumped his wood on the fire and stood there a moment watching it. The cold of the cave had all his skin pebbled with goose-flesh. Perhaps the point of the exercise was to see if the applicant was smart enough to step outside the bounds of the test. Simon stepped outside the cave. He could easily gather enough firewood in a few menes to keep the fire going all night. He considered this idea as he stood outside the cave. The outside air was warmer, and he could feel his body relaxing. He shook his head, and walked back inside. He wasn’t sure the exact point of the exercise, but he suspected that gathering wood in the night was not part of it.
     Simon carefully rearranged the fire to make the best use of the existing wood, and he walked back to the pile of wood and took inventory. His conviction of a few moments before thinned when he saw how little wood there still was. He walked back up and sat down beside the fire, taking some warmth from it. He still had time to restock if necessary. He leaned back and looked up at the figures drawn on the roof again. He once again marveled at the work required to draw them there.
     Simon studied the art on the ceiling. He could make out a series of figures, along with some stylized boats and fish. A suspicion seized him. Sure enough, with only a few moments of looking he could see the sharks in the drawing. He was not surprised to see that there were also drawings of the mer-people as well. Most of them were of fish-headed people with two legs, but at least one looked like a woman with a fish tail. He considered what he could recall of Danni’s mother. Her legs had gone blue, he thought, but had remained legs. He wondered what the drawings were supposed to mean.
     Simon watched the lights flickering on the roof, making the images appear to move. After a while the light grew dim enough that Simon knew it was again time to get wood. His legs felt especially heavy as he stood. It reminded him of the time when he had gotten stung. He stumped on back and got the wood and fed the fire, then looked up on a hunch as the fire flared back to life. It took a moment for his eyes to find it, but sure enough, there it was, off to one side: a drawing of a big black bug. Simon stared at the drawing. He admired how the artist had so realistically rendered it. The flickering of the flames made it look as if the bug was moving, crawling.
     Simon stood there, watching the flickering light of the flaring fire as it made the drawings dance. It wasn’t just the bug that seemed to be moving, he could see that now. The other figures were in motion as well. He watched as the figures did a jerky, slow-motion dance in the light of the fire. They seemed to be involved in a battle, with the mer-folk attacking the villagers and the villagers fighting back. He could see one of the larger human figures, a crudely-drawn ithyphallic male, exchanging blows with a shark-headed figure, also male although less well-endowed. Simon stood there and watched the dance over his head. It was as if the whole roof was jittering. He stood there, his eyes roving over the cave ceiling, until he began to shiver. He looked down again to see that the fire was again almost out. His legs were trembling as he walked back and got the wood. He coaxed the fire to life, shaking with cold. He stood and watched the roof again come to life as the wood caught and flared.
     This time the story was different. The figures were the same, but the action was much more real. Simon knew what the warning was in the mural. He could see it, drawn right under the dancing black creature. It was waving its envenomed claws over two figures traced in the soot. Simon didn’t need any light at all to see that one of those figures was Danni’s mother. She had been around back then, for sure; she was probably hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. She looked just the same, with the same long legs, proud breasts and broad shoulders. Right beside that drawing of her was another drawing, also of her, but blue. He could see the scales on her flanks, and the serrated teeth. He trembled at the memory of those teeth terrorizing him at the same time that his member stirred again at the recollection of her man-handling the native boy in the bush. The danger to himself was very real, he could see, foretold from the ages, for drawn right beside her in living color was a picture of himself.
     Further away he could see the village men in the boats, slicing through the water, leaving a trail of body parts behind. As their totem, they had mounted Bighair’s head on the prow of their ship. Sharks trailed behind them, consuming the dead and the living indiscriminately. Simon felt a wave of anger well up inside him. He seized a burning stick from the fire and hurled it at the sharks on the ceiling.
     “Haa!” he cried, venting his fury at the sharks in the drawing. “Haa! Go away! Leave us alone! Haa! Haaaa!”
     To his satisfaction, the great gray fish moved away from the boats, milling in a great sea of fins and tails at the perimeter of the light. Simon threw another stick at them and they pulled back even further. He stood and crossed his arms across his chest and watched the drawings milling in confusion. In the drawing of the boat, Danni’s father stood and looked at the sharks and shook his crudely-drawn club at Simon. Simon laughed at the impotent gesture. Further afield, the drawing of Danni’s mother ran to a nearby wave and dove in, vanishing. Simon knew he would need to keep an eye out for her. The fishing boats, clear of the sharks, dug in with their paddles and escaped. Simon saw a few more coming and tossed twigs at them to warn them. They veered off and vanished.
     The fire was burning low again, and Simon was losing his ability to see the sharks on the roof of the cavern. He turned and walked back into the cave to get more wood. The pile was really getting thin, and he decided that he would indeed need to go out and get more wood if he was to last the night. Gathering up the last of the wood in his arms, he headed back to the fire. The motion of his legs as he walked made him aware that he needed to pee, so he took a detour to the side of the cave to relieve himself. He directed the stream across the cave wall, ignoring the drawing of Danni who was waiting impatiently for him to finish so they could go fishing. He shook his head at her, and she shrugged and skipped off with the other children. Simon realized that without the fishing boats to raid the villagers would have a harder time feeding their children, including Danni. He would have to do something about that.
     Simon turned to the fire and took a step, and felt something sharp jab into the bottom of his foot. He avoided putting his full weight on that foot by twisting aside suddenly, thus avoiding injury, but at the cost of spilling the bundle of wood and landing on his hip on the hard, cold floor. Simon immediately remembered the big black bugs, and spun about, but he did not see any bugs. Instead he saw many, many sharp projections pointing up from the cave floor. With a jolt, Simon realized that they were shark teeth. Simon slowly stood up, his eyes tracing the rows of teeth lining the cave floor. From what he could see, they were only at the edges of the cave, not in the center where the floor was packed down. Simon looked up at the ceiling, and saw that the dimming fire was allowing the sharks to come back around the villagers’ boat. Simon hastily gathered up a few sticks and fed the flames. Again, the sharks drew back. He stood there and watched as the sharks consulted among themselves. He was relieved when they drew back further, until he saw that now there were villagers mixed in with the sharks. Simon watched in fascinated horror as the villagers mated with the sharks; women allowing themselves to be mounted, and men fertilizing the waters with their seed. Eggs were laid, and from these eggs came mer-people. This time it was not one here or one there, but hundreds and thousands of them, spread across the roof like milt in the spawning surf. They were small when hatched, but grew rapidly. They began to creep down the walls of the cave, shark-men and mermaids all working their way off the ceiling. Simon knew what they wanted; they were coming for him.
     There was no more wood for the fire, and Simon wasn’t sure that the light would stop them anyway. They wanted him out of the way. Up on the roof Danni’s mother was standing in the boat with Danni’s father, and they were talking and pointing at him. Simon had a sickening feeling in his gut he knew what they were planning. He looked to the north and saw a ship, a rescue ship sent from Dargon. Danni’s father pointed at it, and Danni’s mother dove into the sea and started swimming toward it. A swarm of mer-people turned and followed her. Simon knew they intended to board her, and subvert the crew, and take her back to Dargon, which would become theirs.
     Simon had to warn the ship. He looked around, and saw the drawings of the mer-people almost down to the floor all around. He knew that soon they would be nipping at his feet. He ran for the entrance of the cave, to escape, but it began to close, shark teeth instantly growing from the ceiling and floor. He dove over them, and rolled to his feet. He expected to be outside, but instead he was in another tunnel. He could feel the air coming at him from ahead, though, and he pressed forward. He could not see the cave walls in the dark, but he knew that the mer-people were still there, for he could feel them biting at his feet. He fell to his knees and crawled, avoiding the teeth at the cave edges. He crawled until he was outside, the moon shining palely through the thin, green clouds. He was panting, and cut everywhere. He leaned up against a rock and rested, staring up at the moon. The face in the moon smiled down on him benevolently. He smiled back, relieved that he had escaped the cave. After a brief rest, he would swim out to the ship and warn the crew about the mer-people. Then he could go back to his hut with Danni. He felt tired. He rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes.

     The moon does not glow green. On a tropical island, the sand is not icy cold, nor is it hard. And the air is never still and silent. These facts made themselves apparent to Simon as he awoke. He was still in the cave, and he was very cold. His head hurt, as did his feet and hips and shoulders. He rolled painfully to a sitting position, and stared wonderingly up at the walls and roof of the cave. He was not at the mouth of the cave, he knew that. What part of the cave he was in, that he did not know. He had never seen stone glow green before.
     Simon’s head was pounding. He felt as if he had been drunk for a sennight. His feet hurt as if he had stubbed every one of his toes, and judging by the pain in his hips and shoulders he knew he had fallen asleep on the hard stone floor of the cave. He did not know the time — all he knew was pain. He sat and tried to collect his thoughts. The brown paste must have been some sort of drug. He shook his head slowly. That crazy old woman, he thought. Simon stood with difficulty. His arms and legs were stiff with cold, and with the effects of the brown paste. Spots flickered in his vision, and he wobbled. He set his hand on the wall of the cave to steady himself, and drew it back in an instant when he found the wall to be wet and slick. Looking at where his hand had touched he could see a place where the wall glowed a bit brighter, and a bit bluer. He rubbed the wall again, and he could see that the glow was coming from the walls, and that the slime on the walls was green, and was diffusing the glow.
     Simon looked around. The cave was essentially a tube, narrower here than at the cave entrance. He expected that it was a straight tube, and that all he had to do was walk in the right direction and he would be back at the cave mouth. He shivered, wishing once again for his clothes, or for any clothing more substantial than the belt that was his only garb. If wishes were fishes, he reminded himself, turned in the direction of the brightest light, and started walking.
     The light from the walls was bright enough that he could see to navigate. There was a path worn into the floor, like at the mouth of the cave, but here it was narrower and littered with more debris, as if less used. Overhead there were some icicles of stone hanging down, and the ends of them glowed a dim blue. As he walked, he noticed spots on the walls where the blue light of the walls themselves shown through the green slime growing on them. These seemed to correspond to places where the stone drips from the roof had fallen, possibly clearing the walls of the slime temporarily. Not all the spots were stationary, though. Simon looked closer and saw that there were some worms on the walls that also seemed to glow blue, like fireflies. Simon shook his head in wonder.
     The walls of the cave widened, and the light grew brighter. Then the cave ended, in a wall of glowing rubble. Simon slowed to a stop, numb. To his right, he saw a dark blot on the wall about the size of a man. He stared at it for a long moment, trying to let his brain process the fact that he had obviously walked deeper into the cave, not toward the cave mouth. His eyes adjusted to the change of lighting, and he began to recognize the shape affixed to the cave wall. It was a copy of the shark totem that the villagers had made for themselves. It was nestled into a shallow shrine on the wall, and was shaded by dried palm fronds. As Simon studied it more, he saw that what seemed to be debris around the shrine was actually offerings. He saw more of those teeth-studded wooden clubs and spears and harpoons. There were bones, and skulls, human and animal alike. And there were the other things, leathery tokens taken from the victims of the pirate raids. Indeed, Simon could see a set of shriveled genitals hanging from the shark fetish’s mouth. They were small, like that of a boy. Simon immediately thought of Bighair, and his eagerness to join the men in their raids. Had he known what it was the men truly were hunting out there?
     As Simon stood there staring at the shrine of the shark god, sennights of anger and frustration boiled inside him, roiling his mind and soul. The pain of the night’s trial fed into this rage until he burst into an inarticulate howl. Seizing a broken club, he swung at the stuffed shark with a yell. The blade chopped a gash in the preserved skin of the long-dead animal and then bounced off. Simon swung again, and again, chopping chunks of dried skin free. He rained blows down on the shrine too, scattering bones and weapons and mummified body parts across the cave floor. The shark was reduced to a frazzled mass of stuffing and bones, with the head still hanging over the whole thing, black stone eyes staring down beside the gaping rictus. Simon tried to knock the head down, but blow after blow just shook the carcass. Simon finally threw the club at the head, then seized a post of the shrine itself. Howling incoherently, Simon yanked at the post, eventually wrenching it free. He stepped back, his chest heaving from the sudden exertion, and raised the post over his head like a giant spear. Charging forward with a scream, he thrust the post at the shark’s head. The head rolled to one side and the post struck the wall of the cave. The post sank into the loose rubble, and Simon fell forward onto the wall, which collapsed backward, dragging Simon with it.
     Simon had expected that the rubble was piled up in front of a solid wall of stone. Indeed, that conclusion was so obvious as to be not even considered. To his surprise, however, he found himself lying on a pile of rocks on the edge of a very large and dimly-illuminated area. He picked himself up and dusted himself off, looking around. He was in a huge cavern filled with an unearthly, dim, blue light. The air was warm, or at least warm compared to the icy cold of the cavern behind him. Simon wrapped his arms around his bare chest and stepped out onto the cavern floor. Turning, Simon looked behind him at the dark tunnel he had just been in. It was as if he had stepped through a door into another world. He could see the fragments of the shattered altar lying amid the bones of the dead in the dark and foreboding shaft. The cavern before him was high and airy, although still very much a cave. Simon studied the high ceiling. It appeared to be made of glowing boulders. Somewhere in the distance water dripped, the sound tiny and high in the huge area. Simon looked at the walls of the cavern, and saw that they also had been decorated with images. Simon stepped toward them, to see what the images had to say, and then he saw it. At first Simon thought it was a low wall made of rubble. Then his eye recognized that there was really only one stone that was close to him. Then he saw that that stone was not surrounded by other stones, or by anything else. Then he saw that the stone was slowly turning, end over end, and drifting gently to the right. The stone was floating in mid-air.
     Simon’s heart jumped in his chest for fright, and he gasped. He stepped back away from the apparition. Goose-flesh sprang up all across his body, and he could feel the skin on the back of his neck tighten. Every memory and inkling of sense told him that stones don’t float in mid-air, and yet right before him was a stone that was floating in mid-air. Simon felt his vision going black, and his knees wobble. The world spun around him.
     The impact of his bare bottom on the cold cave floor snapped Simon back to reality. He was still in the blue-lit cave, and it only took a moment for his gaze to find that floating rock again. Indeed, it found two, and then a third, and a fourth and fifth, and then he realized that the air in the cave was filled with floating rocks of every shape and size. Indeed, the boulders that Simon thought were part of the ceiling were actually just floating there. Simon got up slowly and approached the floating stone. He reached out a tentative finger and tapped it. It was hard and very, very light. It spun away from his touch, and he had to move quickly after it to catch it. It felt warm in his hands, and some of the edges felt sharp, like a shattered flint or shard of glass. Simon tossed it up, and it sailed away into the blue dimness. Simon caught another and tossed it up as well, then a third. He noticed that there were rocks lying on the ground that were moving in the drafts of air from his feet. He kicked one, and it broke apart. A quick stab of pain and a line of blood showed where one of the parts cut him. Simon took a hint and decided to look at the wall art.
     This art was very similar to the art on the walls of the ruined city above ground. He did notice that some of the images were much larger than the others, and seemed much finer than the others. Those images were set off in their own blocks, and were cut less deep into the cave walls, as if they had been made by an earlier, more talented artist. These larger images seemed to form a sort of narrative, almost like a play in stone. Directly below the carved images were a series of small niches just a few fingers wide and deep. Simon stooped to peer into these. Several were quite empty. A few others had scraps of something lying in them, but Simon could not quite make out what they had been. One, further down the row, had something larger in it. Simon took a quick step back when he recognized the decayed form of one of the black bugs.
     From a vantage point a few feet away, Simon examined the tableaux, which centered around a large central figure. He studied the pictures as comprehension blossomed in his brain. The carvings showed men and women gathering the black bugs and bringing them to the cave. The bugs were placed in the niches. After some period of time, the bugs were retrieved. There was some sort of event, and at least one person was eating a bug. Others were holding the bugs disturbingly close to other, more tender areas of their bodies. Then a change began, and after a period of several drawings the people had been replaced with mer-people. Simon shuddered. He continued to scan the carving, casting occasional glances at the niches below. Somehow the bugs were involved in the creation of the mer-people. Simon shook his head. He wanted nothing to do with that, and so turned away. Besides, Simon had an idea, and a new goal. He looked around the cave at all the strange, floating rocks. He had work to do.

     In a wasteland, it is surprisingly easy to conceal something, or someone. More than once, as he waited throughout the days on the island, Simon had simply sat quietly and watched as one or more of the villagers just walked right by him. Usually it was one of the village girls, out on a wilderness shopping trip for some sort of food to contribute to the common pot. Once it had been some men, armed with clubs, who were almost certainly looking specifically for him. Once it had been the old healer, sniffing about. Simon had been frightened that she would find him, but she passed him by. And once it had been Danni, walking along morosely and calling his name. That had been hard, because he wanted her to find him.
     Usually, however, Simon remained hidden because the villagers really weren’t looking for him. Life was busy enough without conducting a manhunt. There was enough food to go around, but it didn’t gather itself. The few times the village girls had passed Simon by they were carrying baskets of snails, or seaweed, or some other edible thing. They didn’t tend to be in a hurry; one time Simon had to wait while two girls sat on the beach and had an impromptu picnic lunch. Eventually they all went on their way, though, and left him alone again, which was fine. He spent most of the day sleeping, because he spent most of the night working.
     The discovery of the floating stone prompted a change of plan for Simon. He had decided to float off the island, not on the ocean, but on the air. He abandoned the wood, and the heavy netting, and began weaving light nets. He would gather the material at dusk, and spend the evening bells weaving. By the time the villagers arose Simon was already asleep. He had abandoned the ruined foundations near the beach in favor of a higher vantage point. Deep in the ruined city there was a natural outcropping of rock. It was barely tall enough to be seen above the trees, and about as long as a house. On the down-slope end stood a monolith. Long ago someone had carved steps into it, and planted a tiny garden on the seaward side, which had worn down to a simple strip of moss. Save for this small patch of vegetation, it was sheer, naked rock, and therefore offered some sanctuary from the crawling vermin of the forest floor. It had a small protected alcove carved into the stone where Simon could sleep, sheltered from the sun and prying eyes.
     Simon’s plan was simple, and audacious. The rocks floated on air, and so Simon would fill a net with them and fly off the island. Simon knew how to make nets, and there was plenty of material on the island to make nets from. The very night he had discovered the floating rocks he formulated the plan. He had rebuilt the rubble wall and repaired the shattered shrine, then limped home on his cut and bruised feet. He rested that day, gathered food that evening, and as darkness fell started weaving. He didn’t know how many rocks he would need to float in the air, but he knew it was only a matter of more net.
     The days ran quickly for Simon as he prepared. He did not want to risk detection. He hid his nets in various unvisited places, and was very careful to not expose his position. He knew he would need a simple harness to tie himself to his craft, and he realized after a day or two that he would need some way to make the craft rise and fall in the air on command. So Simon wove, and watched, and waited. As he waited, and wove, he pondered the village, and what he would do once he reached the mainland. What would he tell them? How would he describe the place he had been living in for so many sennights now?
     After days of weaving Simon realize that he need a better gauge of how many stones he would need to lift himself off the ground. He took a small torch and went back to the cave under cover of darkness and dug through the wall. Once in the great chamber he snatched up a floating rock, then paused. He bent down and pressed the rock against the cave floor, then released it. It bobbed back up, higher than his head, then sank back down, almost to his knees, then rose again, oscillating up and down until it reached equilibrium. Simon frowned. That rock could barely lift itself, much less him. He looked up. There were many rocks pressed against the roof of the cave. Perhaps some of them would be better. The problem was how to catch them. He wandered about, studying the cave, until he found a place where the shape of the roof had trapped some floating stone low enough to grab. To his delight, these stones had a definite upward force, requiring some actual effort to hold down. He gathered a few and carried them out. He buried them under a pile of loose stone as he fixed the wall, then carried them out to the open air.  Each seemed to carry a faint inner glow, unnoticed in the greater light of the great cavern but obvious in the unlit entry tunnel. Simon didn’t even need to relight the torch. To his surprise, the lift each one showed increased as he carried them out. As he rearranged them in his hands to carry his small torch better, one escaped. It shot upward, a dot of faint glow in the night that soon vanished.
     Simon waited until he felt he had more than enough net to hold the needed quantity of floating stone, and had a harness and ballast and even a cache of food and water before he ventured again to the cave. He had no desire to be discovered, and the mouth of the cave could easily be seen from the village. Simon slipped in just at dawn with a fresh torch. Working his way to the back of the cave didn’t take long, and dismantling the shrine and the wall was quick work. Once inside, however, Simon felt a bit daunted. He could see that it would take many trips to gather enough of the floating stones to make the small craft fly. He gathered up as many of the stones as he could catch and carried them out.
     It took twelve days to gather enough of the floating stone to lift the small craft. This gave Simon more time to prepare, and think.  Once, on a night when he came to the cave to gather rocks, he discovered fresh, bloody tokens on the shark shrine. The killing had continued in his absence, and Simon vowed to stop it. Simon decided to burn the boats. There was an element of self-preservation in it — he wanted to prevent the villagers from pursuing him as he escaped. More than that, though, Simon wanted to stop them. He did not know how many men and boys had died in the pirate raids, but he knew it was far too many. There was enough food on and around the island to feed the villagers, so Simon had no fear that the villagers would starve. With no boats the pirates would be forced to hunt and fish and gather for their living. Eventually they would build other boats, but by then perhaps they would have changed for the better.
     Simon hid the floating stones in the scrub, tied up in bundles of netting. On the thirteenth day Simon refreshed his stock of food and water and slept, preparing for the evening. He had been studying the winds from the time he had landed on the island, and he knew that they blew seaward from the mainland for most of the day. That was how the island stayed so dry. Only for a bell or so in the morning did they shift, and even then, they did not reverse. Simon would have to take his chances with those winds to ride off the island, and so he slept and waited.
     On the morning of the fifteenth day Simon awoke long before dawn. He had gathered all the bundles of floating stone together, and tied them to the harness he had made. One by one he released them to rise and tug at the harness, which he left tied to the ground. The winds still blew offshore, but they were slowing. Now was the time for Simon to make his final farewell to the villagers. He took his old clothes and put them on. Leaving the small craft in the wilderness, he took a lit torch and walked back to the village. He had thought long and hard, and he had decided what to do. As he neared the village he concealed the lit torch with a bit of wet matting. He came to where the boats were pulled up on the beach. Working quickly, he set each boat on fire. Once he was assured they were all quite ablaze he turned and made his escape.
     Simon was out of breath by the time he reached his camp, but he did not hesitate. He immediately strapped himself into the harness and checked his supplies and his ballast. The wind had already begun to shift. Simon rechecked all the lines, the held his breath and untied the ground line. He held tight to it as it released, and was both pleased and shocked at how hard it tugged. He was able to hold it in, and waited a moment until he realized there was nothing to wait for any longer. He let go, and watched the ground drop away.
     Flying was an art unknown to Simon, and to everyone he had ever met. He expected the wind to carry him, and he had made a large fan to act as a paddle in the air. He had provided plenty of ballast, and had made provision to release the floating stones in small batches, hoping by these two things to be able to rise or descend as needed. Now, as he rose steadily in the night sky, he panicked. He had no idea how high he was! All was dark around, and as the scrub fell away it vanished in the darkness. Fear seized him, and he reached for the release line to jettison the spare rocks, so he could return to earth. It was just then that he heard distant cries. The villagers had discovered the burning boats. Simon froze.
     Simon suddenly realized that he could see a light in the direction of the yelling. He was surprised to note that it was not from the direction he had expected. Apparently, the strange craft turned as it flew. Using the fan as a paddle, Simon was able to turn to face the village. The flames of the burning boats appeared from behind a dark shadow, most likely the hilltop. Simon could see figures moving about, no doubt villagers trying to douse the flames. There was no chance they would be able to save the boats — they had burned for too long. Most likely the bows and sterns would survive, but even if joined they would not make for a very good boat, much less a battle canoe. Simon smiled grimly in the growing dawn.
     The floating contraption continued to gain altitude as the sun rose. Simon felt no wind, but the island slowly slipped by beneath his dangling feet. He was glad he thought to dress before flying, because the harness chafed enough even through the canvas pants. He took his fan and stroked the air, but mostly just succeeded in making the harness twist a bit. He stowed the fan and just watched. Soon he saw the sliver of the sunrise, and realized he might very well be the very first person to ever see the sunrise while in the air. For the first time in a long time he felt free.
     So quiet was the passage of the floating craft through the air, and so captivating was the scenery around that Simon did not notice when the wind changed direction. It was only when he looked down and realized that the island was getting closer, not farther, that he realized that something was amiss. Further, the new direction the wind had cast him on was not directly back to the island, but was instead taking him at a tangent to the island, and further out to sea. Simon was beside himself, and at a loss as to what to do. He paddled at the air frantically, but again only succeeded in twisting himself around. The wind even picked up, and he was moving even faster. Simon wondered if the air was moving at the same direction lower to the ground, and he released a small stone. That object, once free, leaped away into the morning sky and quickly vanished from sight. Sure enough, the craft sank lower in the air. It did not turn back, however, or slow down.
     Simon watched in agitation as the island and the mainland drifted further and further away. The floating craft stopped getting lower, and Simon released another stone, a bigger one. As it floated up and away the craft sank, this time with alarming speed. The descent did not stop until Simon’s legs landed in the water. Still the wind tugged Simon seaward. In an effort to get up out of the water Simon released some ballast. The craft lifted and started to climb. The wind picked up, and Simon started to panic. He again released a stone, feeling that it would be better to wait in the water for the wind to shift than to drift helplessly out to sea. As he descended he caught a glimpse of a large, menacing shape moving through the water below, and decided to hold off on the descent. He dumped more ballast. He accidentally dumped too much, and the craft shot skyward. Simon released a few stones, and the craft dropped. Simon went to dump more ballast, to slow the fall, but there was only a handful left. With that overboard the craft was still falling. Simon saw the water rushing up at him and had a vision of himself caught in the twisted wreckage of the craft, trapped and drowning. He unstrapped and dropped free. He hit the water hard but did not hurt himself. He surfaced just in time to catch a last glimpse of the craft as it floated away into the sky. Simon stared after it only a moment, then started swimming toward the distant island.
     That evening was a painful one for Simon. He had spent most the day hiding in the shallow water on the backside of the island, listening to the shouts and cries of the villagers as they hunted him. Many times they swept across the scrub, shouting and yelling. The fall and the subsequent swim home had left Simon aching and battered, and the sharp spines of the rocks gave him numerous cuts and scrapes. Fortunately, he had fallen in the water inside the barrier reef, and none of the larger sea creatures had ventured a taste. Not daring to risk coming ashore and being discovered, Simon floated and watched and listened and waited.
     The cloak of darkness found Simon weak with hunger and thirst, and badly sunburned. He could barely drag himself off the beach and into the scrub. He took refuge in one of the abandoned foundations. From the far side of the island he could hear the shouting and wailing far into the night. He himself dozed off several times, coming awake with a start each time, fearing discovery. Finally, the shouting died down, and Simon fell asleep for real.

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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: