Rich green reeds brush the palms of my hands. My toes fist the crisp woven matt of trodden grass beneath them. A sweet sea breeze washes past, softly stirring the grass like the brush of beautiful dress upon a fair woman’s skin. I inhale deep, aware of the wind, the grass, everything, like the lingering aura of a recent love.
My eyes open slowly and slightly, into the warmth of noon-day sun. Some hair brushes past my gaze. It is long now, along with the scruff of my face, as neither has been kept in some time. Casualties of circumstance I suppose. A long time alone can do things.
From this plateau above the bluffs, my gaze falls upon the lee-shore of my recent home. A brown sandy beach stretches below me as though a great painters brush has left a single stroke upon the ocean, who’s clarity and hue mirror that of the clear tropical sky above it. The inland side of the stretch of sand is lined by the edge of a thick green forest, which continues a mere half mile to the base of the gray cliffs that contain this small cove of the island. All that is accessible without climb or swim are the beach, the trees, and this small grassy point.
Where the trees meet the sand, I spot the small brown shape of what once was my noble craft. Overturned and dismantled by our ungraceful arrival, her hull now makes the bulk of what I now call home. A small trail of smoke rising from one side reminds me of the fish I left to cook by the fire.
“Home” I mumble. Or as close as it gets here.I laugh crassly inside. My time here has been so long, I’ve taken to thinking aloud if only to have a voice to hear, even if its my own. How long has it been? A year, maybe two? Has it been that long since I washed upon these shores? I try to think of the time.
My eyes drift to the enclosing grey cliffs as my memory drifts to the failed climb a few months after arriving. Having explored the accessible lands enclosed here, I was desperate to find more of the island and had determined to scale the cliffs, with nearly fatal results. I shake my head out of the memory and look down to see myself unconsciously cradling the forearm that was broken in the fall. It never did heal right.
I continue to think of time. My forehead furrows in angry remembrance as my head turns to waters at the far side of the cove. They too had shown me little mercy. Some time after my arm had healed, I resolved to build a raft of available timber and pass around the clear side of the island. I had made what I believed to be a sturdy craft of several lashed logs and a paddle of broad leaves lashed to a pole. I had expected the waves passing out from the lee of the island, but it was the minefield of coral rocks around the bend that battered the raft to kindling and me along with it. I don’t have to look down to feel the twinge in my leg, feel the bumpy scars on my thigh, and remember the bloody swim back to shore.
9 months maybe? It could have been that long since then. Time passes evenly here. Only the sun and moon note the difference from one month to the next. Little else changes. Catch fish, keep the fire, walk to the bluff to think. These have been my days.
The nights have varied some on the other hand. Initially my nights were fretful. Dreams of home, nightmares of the storm that brought me here, images of dark creatures emerging from the thick growth of the cove to hunt me in the night. I soon took to spending the light scouring the woods for any sign of predator and the nights peering into the darkness for lit signs of rescue. Neither appeared. After some time the fear and hope both faded, and with exception of suffering from my failed exploration attempts, sleep found me again.
At least it had until a few weeks ago…
As often happened as not, I found myself rousing from my sleep to stand beside the lapping waters and do some late night business in the cool breeze. Blurry eyed, I studied the dimly lit moon for some time until it slipped behind a passing cloud, and my gaze lazily fell to the horizon… and there it was. A small flicker of orange among the deep blue-blackness of the sea. It blinked… I blinked… it blinked again… I blinked again. My mind tripped over itself as it questioned if I was awake. Then my mostly exposed skin gave a quick shiver as if to respond. Definitely awake.
In a flurry of sand, I turned and ran towards the woods, half stumbling, half crawling, towards the shelter and the makings of fire kept within. Grabbing the nearest wood and embers, I dashed back outside and started to build a flame, cursing as I spit out sand and wiped it from my eyes. My hands shook uncontrolably and it took me twice what is should have to start a flame and eventually a fire worthy of a signal.
Then I ran, stumbling, back onto the lower beach and stared wide eyed at the black horizon. I thought it gone until my eyes recovered from the light of the fire. Unchanged, unmoved, it sat flickering faintly in the darkness. I was ecstatic! My heart was beating furiously with anticipation! I was silently dancing on the sand in newfound glee! I was freezing to death half naked on the open sand and quickly scurried back to the warmth of the fire further up the shore.
I watched the light, unwavering, unmoving, until the light of dawn quenched it from view the following morning. What had it been? Had there been someone there? Had they seen my signal? Would I finally be free of this place? I could know nothing. Only hopes kept me moving until the next night fell.
I sat silently waiting on the beach as the sun slipped from the horizon. Embers and fuel at the ready upon the shore, the sky turned black as my eyes peered outward. Darkness fell, and time passed. I saw nothing… just the blackness. For what felt like hours, I strained into the darkness in the hopes of something, anything, to give me hope that it had not all been a figment of my long solitary imagination. And then it appeared. Slowly at first. Small and barely a glow upon the black expanse of the sea, but then, eventually, a flickering orange beacon as before. I lit my fire in response, and sat watching it through the night once again.
Every night since, a few hours past the onset of night, a signal has appeared far upon the horizon, and I have responded in kind. Some nights I have sat and stared at it in the blackness, wondering what or who it is. Some, I have simply set my fire and gone to sleep on the sand. But not a day has gone by since that my thoughts wander far from the light on my horizon…
A strand of unkempt hair passes before my gaze again. Evening is falling. I peer back along the stretch of beach, noting the pile of wood on the sand for tonight’s signal. “It should be enough”, I note. I turn and look at the slightly smaller, but still large amount of wood piled behind me. I’ve spent better part of two days collecting it and hauling it up the precarious path to this spot, my only vantage above the sand. “It will have to do”.
Tonight, there will be two fires. One upon the shore, one upon the hill. There will be two fires tonight, and then there will be none. I have received no response from my light on the horizon, but I am convinced someone is there, and have resolved to reach them. Tonight, there will be two fires, and tomorrow night there will be none. Two fires will be my signal of change. Two fires before I put all that is left of my energy into a means to leave these shores. Two fires to signal that I am leaving here, my home, my prison, for so long. Two fires and I will collect timber for these signals no more. I will collect them to create my new craft, my means of exodus, my hope of salvation. I mean to make the light on the horizon… or die trying.
I light the fire behind me just as the sun slips behind the hills and the sky begins to darken. Assured it is securely lit, I glance momentarily at the battering surf just off shore that has kept me here so long, and then beyond it to the black horizon where light will flicker again tonight. “I’m coming” I hear myself say, my voice clear and steady for the first time in so long. In silent determination, I turn and begin the long trail back down to the shore. Tonight there will be two fires… tomorrow there will be none.