by Michael Kingswood
Over the next week, Care-ul began acting strangely.
At first, her spirits were up, buoyed high by her find, whatever it really was. But then, on the morning of the third day after the discovery, she emerged from her tent distraught. Her eyes were baggy, with dark circles beneath them as though she had not slept, and her cheeks were smudged, the ever-present dirt streaked below here eyes by what could only have been tears. She carried the EE-oerb in her hand like a club, and wore her usual scrap of a top and tight loincloth that came down to her thighs.
Care-ul stalked across the village, past the fire pit and the multitude of huts surrounding it. Past the tanning tent and the cooks’ preparation area to the edge of the village. There she stood for a short while, her breath initially rapid but slowly becoming deeper, more normal.
Then, with a shout of frustration and…despair?…she curled backwards then hurled the EE-perb out of the camp, toward a steep drop-off that plunged several hundred feet to the base of the mountain. It was practically a cliff.
Yili watched as the object flew away, but remained silent. He simply walked toward her where she stood breathing slowly in and out. She did not acknowledge his presence for a long time; her eyes stared down the drop-off, looking but not seeing. Finally, after may minutes passed, she shook herself and turned away, her head erect and her lips compressed into a scowl, the kind of scowl that said she intended to fight to the end.
But fight against what?
Yili thought he knew, but what he suspected… It could not be.
Care-ul stalked away from him, never acknowledging his presence. She passed through the outskirts of the village, ignoring the tents, the firepits, the latrine holes, the stares of the people who had seen her outburst and now watched her the way a person watches a venomous snake: wary, ready to flee or fight in a heartbeat.
Then she disappeared into the woods beyond the village’s edge, her lean form quickly lost amongst the tree trunks.
Caeli would not see reason.
For whatever reason, she had grown attached to Care-ul over the last week or more. Barely half a minute had passed after she disappeared into the woods before Caeli pushed past the woman she had been working with and began rushing toward the forest where Care-ul had gone.
Yili managed to catch up to her and stop her before she got too far, but she fought against him. Actually pulled away with an angry shout. He tried to restrain her, to talk to her, but all she would say was that Care-ul needed help. That she was her friend, and she had to be there for her.
In the end, Caeli had squirmed free and dashed off into the woods after the god-woman, leaving Yili standing there, stunned.
It was Shumay’s voice that stirred him to action.
“You must go after her.”
Yili nodded. “Caeli does not know…”
“No.” The correction was blunt, almost harsh. “The woman.” Shumay’s tone was severe, cold. “She is grown unstable.”
“She is upset.”
Shumay did not reply. Though she stood behind him, Yili could see the doubt on her face. He sighed.
“What must I do?”
“What you have always known you must. Protect the people.”
Yili closed his eyes and took a long deep breath. Protect the people. Against the Beast that was an eternal threat to their well being. Against the god-woman who threatened to set the Beast free.
But she had not done anything to suggest she could, or would, do that.
“And if she waits until we are not prepared?” How had Shumay known his thoughts? “Then it may already be too late.”
The pain in his heart as Yili considered her words was as real – as agonizing – as the time he burned his leg in the fire pit. It had been weeks before he was able to walk again without living in a world of pain. If he did this, how long would it be before his heart healed?
He sensed Shumay about to say something more, but before she could, he hurried from the village into the woods.
The two women left little sign of their passing, but Yili did not need any. There was only one place Care-ul would go, and Caeli would follow her.
He ran to the beach, leaping past rocks and boulders along the mountain path and using palm trunks as support to prevent himself from overbalancing as he raced downward. He made it to the beach where he had initially seen Care-ul and Air-ick in record time.
The women were already there, at the tree line. Caeli spoke softly, urgently to Care-ul. The gloden-haired god-woman simply stared out at the breakers, so far off shore, her eyes filled with longing, with loss. Yili looked at the two of them and wondered why he ever settled for Caeli, so dark and withered she seemed next to Care-ul’s radiance.
Jola had forced him into it. If he had not died, leaving Caeli without husband, with twins to care for… It was his duty to watch over her and his brother’s children. Yili had welcomed the duty; Caeli was beautiful, far above the other women of the village. All the same, it had been difficult to change his thinking from that of a man alone to a man with a family and responsibility.
But oh, now that he saw what was possible, how that duty grated on him. Almost as much as knowing that he must remove the source of that possibility; she was too much a threat to the people. Wasn’t she?
Yili shook his head muttering something unkind about Shumay under his breath.
Caeli and Care-ul turned in unison, blue and dark brown eyes coming to rest upon him at once, with equal accusation in each pair.
“What do you say, Yili?” asked Caeli. Her voice was hard. Why?
In a moment of shame, Yili realized he must not have spoken the curse against Shumay as quietly as he thought. He flushed and lowered his eyes, shaking his head. “Nothing. I am just relieved to find you both well.”
“Well.” It was Care-ul who spoke this time. Her quick mastery of the language was amazing, but she did not need to speak the language to convey the bitter sarcasm of the single word.
Of course she would not be totally well, after all she had been through. Yili flushed again, embarrassment filling him. He looked up.
Behind the women – within the palm forest, not on the beach – a flickering darkness swept through his vision and was gone.
Yili stood frozen, dread turning his bowels to water as the realization of their predicament struck him.
Shumay was right. The Beast was loose.
He opened his mouth to scream, to tell them to flee to the safety of the village.
The darkness swept past again, closer this time, stealing the strength from his lungs before he could speak.
Yili stumbled backwards, but his heel caught on something and he fell down onto his backside. The impact was mildly painful, but he hardly noticed the ache. He managed a whisper. “Run.”
The women’s stern, almost wrathful, expressions moderated, becoming merely angry, but also confused.
“RUN,” Yili cried again, managing some volume into the warning this time.
Care-ul’s face remained confused, but Caeli’s took on an expression of stark terror. She knew well what dwelled on the beach, what the people dreaded would gain a foothold on the island proper, and doom them all. She shoved Care-ul forward, all the strength of her thin arms and wiry torso combining into a shove that was irresistible to the other woman, however powerfully built she may have been.
Care-ul stumbled several steps forward, looking confused, hurt, and infuriated. But when she righted herself, she saw. Just as Yili saw as the Beast’s darkness circled around them again. Care-ul’s anger turned to mortal fear, and, with barely a moment’s glance at Caeli and him, she turned and fled into the forest.
Caeli watched her depart from her position next to Yili. As the god-woman faded from view, she turned to him and he could see that regardless of her fear, and it filled her to overflowing, she trusted him to get them out of it. Part of him screamed in agony at the blind, almost rapturous trust she placed in his love while he lusted after another, an outsider who had only recently come into their midst. She trusted him; how could he betray her so?
Yili forced a confident smile to his lips. “Follow me,” he said as he grabbed her hand. Then, turning away from where he had last seen the Beast’s darkness and praying that It would chase after the god-woman and not them (and Gods did his heart burn to pray for such a fate to fall on to Care-ul’s fair form), he ran, pulling Caeli along behind him.
His heart would burn even more before they reached the slope leading to the village.
They found Care-ul crouched behind a tree near the start of the path leading up the mountain to the village. At first, Yili could not understand why she did not just continue up the path. At least there would be some safety, some shelter if nothing else, in the village huts.
But then he saw a flicker of darkness further up, along the path. The Beast had circled ahead; to continue that way would be suicide.
He dragged Caeli to a halt behind a clump of bushes, gripping her hand as tightly as he ever had. What were they going to do?
“By the Gods,” Caeli said softly, between gasps as she gulped down air. “The village?”
Yili shook his head. He could not know if they were safe or not, could not worry about it. For now, the village was beyond his ability to care for.
Caeli’s face broke, and he knew he had made a mistake. He saw tears welling up, and he realized she must have meant he thought the others…their children…were already dead. Cursing himself for a fool, he took hold of her shoulder and turned her so she looked him in the eye.
“They are safe,” he said in a fierce whisper, hoping he was not lying to her. “But we can’t worry about them right now. If we – ”
A rustle of leaves drew his attention, and he saw Care-ul shifting from the tree she hid behind to one closer to them. But she was making far too much noise; a twig broke under her feet before she reached her goal. A heartbeat later, darkness flickered between the trunks of the trees up the mountain.
It was heading toward Care-ul. Toward them.
Yili waved his hands frantically, gesturing for her to run away. But she either did not understand or was being bull-headed, because she only paused to take a breath before she left the shelter of her tree and sprinted toward their hiding spot behind the bushes.
The streaking darkness of the Beast drew her up short, in the open.
It was coming. Yili saw it clearly, or as clearly as he ever had. She could not escape.
He acted without thinking, standing and throwing himself at the god-woman. Her eyes widened in shocked surprise, then his shoulder made contact with her belly, and they both fell to the ground. Something – the Beast – raced through the space they had just vacated. Yili felt the air stir in its passage. It was both terror and adrenaline that brought the shiver up his spine, but he payed it no mind.
They had to keep moving.
Yili rolled off Care-ul and pushed himself onto his feet. She did the same, gingerly. But she wore a grateful expression. An improvement, and something that brought a brief smile to his face.
Caeli’s shriek drove the smile away. He turned around in time to see the Beast’s shadow sweep over her, sending her sprawling to the ground in a heap.
His heart lurched to see it. Then he went cold with terror as he realized the Beast was heading straight for him next. He braced himself for the blow, knowing it was futile, that he could not avoid it, or survive it.
But then the Beast was no longer there.
He blinked in confusion. What was going on?
The sight of Caeli’s sprawled form drove the question from his mind. He sprang forward, to her side. And had to avert his eyes. The blood. The way her head was twisted around so that her face looked over her back. It was too ghastly to look at.
Oh, the poor children. His poor boys. They were too young… There was no way to explain this to them; they were unready for such a blow.
Just as he was not ready for the blow that landed on the back of his neck. Surprised, shocked, stunned from the sudden explosion of pain, he collapsed to the ground. His vision was a blur of shapes and flashing stars, but he managed to blink the worst of it away and look up.
Care-ul stood over him, horrified contempt on her face. What was she doing?
“You!” she growled.
The last thing he saw was the bottom of her foot as she kicked him in the face. Then it all went black.
Pain was Yili’s companion as he awoke. Pain in his neck and head where Care-ul had struck him. But another, different pain as well. The muscles in his arms and shoulders burned, as did his wrists. It was confusing, until he opened his eyes.
He was in the village, within the hut they had used to house Care-ul when he first brought her there. But he was given no furs to sleep in. His hands were bound with ropes made of vines and stretched above his head to two of the ceiling corners. He had been asleep standing up, his weight on the ropes. No wonder his arms and shoulders hurt, and his wrists.
The confusion only grew stronger. Why was he tied like this? What was going on?
Sunlight streamed in the hut’s entrance; not too much time had passed. There would probably be a guard outside. He had to warn whomever it was. The village had to prepare in case the Beast returned.
Before he could say anything, a figure stepped into the entrance, blocking out the sun. It paused for a short time, considering him he thought, then moved within. As it left the sun’s glare, Yili could make out its features more clearly.
The old woman stood still, silent, looking at Yili as though at someone she had never seen before. More than the vines binding his arms, her stare made him uncomfortable. Fearful even.
Finally he could bear it no more. “What are you doing to me?” he said, his tone harsh, more harsh than he intended, than he ever would have dreamed to use with the wisest.
Shumay’s lips compressed slightly, as good as a scowl from another person. But she did not answer. She merely watched him, her eyes narrowed. He got the impression she was trying to stare right through him.
“Let me go!” Why was she doing this? “Shumay, the Beast – ”
She spoke quietly, but then she always did. But her tone carried an edge of command that screamed in its intensity. In spite of himself, Yili found his jaws snapping shut, the CLACK of his teeth meeting seeming to echo in his head.
Shumay stepped forward, stopping within arms-length of him. She had to crane her neck to look up into his eyes, but she nevertheless seemed to be looking down at him from the heights.
“Never in my lifetime has the Beast actually taken anyone,” Shumay said in a near-whisper. “Until Jola. And then the god-man, Air-ick.” She paused, her stare, if possible, growing more intense before she added, “And now Caeli.”
Yili had almost forgotten Caeli’s fate, so focused he was on his predicament. His heart lurched to remember, but not with hopeless pain, as he just a year ago imagined it would have had he lost her. It was more like a faint regret.
Shumay sniffed. “You are as un-phased now as you were with Jola’s passing. I thought then you were being strong for his widow and children. Now I am not so sure.”
“What are you saying?”
Instead of replying immediately, Shumay turned away from him and took a step toward the hut’s entrance. She drew a deep breath.
“You were very quick to marry Caeli after Jola died.” She was making a statement, but Yili could hear the question behind her words.
“It was the right thing to so. The twins…”
“You never had feelings for her before then? You never wished she had married you and not your brother?”
Yili recoiled. As far as he could, anyway. Yes, he had wanted Caeli. Wanted her more than any other woman in the village. But she had only ever had eyes for Jola, and who was he to get between her and his brother? But what did that matter?
Shumay waited in silence for his answer. When he did not reply, she turned back to him, an eyebrow crooking upward knowingly. “I thought so.” Her eyes flickered from his face to his hands, where they were bound, as though assuring herself he was secured. “The god-woman is beautiful,” she said, looking back into his eyes.
The change in topic confused him. Where was she going with this?
“Everyone has seen you staring at her, watching her. You always are there to do things for her.”
“I found her. It was a duty.”
Shumay nodded. “And I agreed with it. As did your wife. But in the last few days, even she began to wonder.”
Wonder? Wonder what? That he would be unfaithful? Never! He opened his mouth to protest, but Shumay beat him to it.
“What happened to the god-man, Air-ick?”
“What? I told you. The Beast – ”
Shumay made a dismissive gesture. “Yes, the Beast. You said. A being of darkness that never truly shows itself. And only you have ever seen. And that, within the memories of everyone in the village, has only ever taken someone who had something…someone…that you wanted for yourself.”
It was like falling from a tree and landing flat on his back. Yili felt as though the breath was forced from his lungs despite the fact that he had not been struck, so strong was the impact of Shumay’s words. “You cannot mean – ”
Shumay held up one finger. “You wanted Caeli, but she was married to Jola. Jola is dead.” A second finger. “You became enamored with the god-woman, but she was with Air-ick. They were strangers to everyone. Air-ick is dead.” A third finger. “She became more appealing to you than your wife. Your wife is dead. And you seem not to mourn at all.” Shumay closed her fingers into a fist. “The pattern is clear, Yili.”
“That is crazy! The Beast! It killed Air-ick on the beach. It followed us through the woods and killed Caeli. It’s loose! If it comes to the village – ”
Shumay made a soft tsking sound. “Ah, but it is already here.” Her index finger extended, pointing at Yili.
A chill of fear, somehow greater than the fear he had felt when facing down the Beast on the beach and in the woods, crawled down Yili’s spine. He shook his head in denial.
“The god-woman – ”
Shumay sniffed, then continued. “Care-ul has become rather skilled with the language, Yili. She told us what she saw.”
The fear faded a bit, replaced by a sudden hope. If Care-ul could tell it well, everything would be alright. Shumay and the other elders would see the danger and release him, so he could help defend the village. Somehow. But…wait. Why did… “Why do you trust what she says? You told me she was unstable. A threat.”
Now Shumay looked surprised. Shocked. “I told you to watch her, Yili.”
“No, no. Just today, when Caeli followed her into the woods, you told me…”
“These are the first words I’ve spoken with you today, Yili. The other elders and I climbed the peak early this morning, to commune.”
That was impossible. Who had he spoken with then?
“Would you like to hear what Care-ul saw?”
Yili nodded, unable to fully process what has being said. It made no sense.
“Caeli had just accused her of cavorting with you when you found them. You were frothing with rage, made no sense. You kept babbling about the Beast, as you had on the beach. She grew afraid and ran. Later, near the path up the mountain, she saw you holding Caeli down behind a bush. She looked terrified, so Care-ul decided to help her.” Shumay’s voice turned cold and her eyes seemed to glow with an inner light. Indignation, maybe. “You saw her coming and knocked her over, and then brought the stone down on Caeli’s head.”
“What? No. The Beast… It was coming for us, and I… I saved Care-ul’s life!”
Shumay just looked at him, condemnation in her eyes.
“How can you take her word over mine? You don’t even trust her.”
Shumay made the sign that invoked the Gods and inclined her head slightly, her eyes never leaving his. “When we spoke at the funeral site, what did I tell you?”
Yili frowned and tried to remember. The days…weeks?…since then were a blur. It was difficult to recall. Odd, that. He had always had a good memory. He felt sweat beading on his brow, and not just from the day’s heat. “You…” He could not recall. What had she… Ah! “You said she and Air-ick had been sent by the Gods, and that the Beast may try to thwart them. That I should watch in case she became a threat to us.”
Shumay’s eyebrow quirked upward. “I do not recall thinking she may become a threat, let alone saying it.” She drew breath and crossed her arms over her chest, in the manner the elders did during the prayer to ward off evil. “I said she might bring danger to us, because of the things the Beast might do in its battle against her and Air-ick. I wish that I had not been right.” She sighed, shaking her head ruefully. “Or that I had seen the truth of the Beast’s plotting sooner. If I had, all this may have been avoided.”
She saw the question in Yili’s eyes before he could voice it. Accusatio—no, contempt—in her eyes, she spoke again, clarifying. “You are the Beast, Yili. You.”
With that, Shumay turned and left the hut. Yili shouted after her, denying her words. Denying the accusation, but no answer came back in response.
Yili lost count of the number of days he remained there, tied within the hut. From time to time one of the village women would come in, bringing water or some food, or to clean up his mess, though that was less frequent. And of course the sun set and rose. All the while he expected to perish at any moment, because surely the Beast would come to the village, seeking Care-ul. Surely it would not cease its designs, and they would all pay in blood.
But that never happened.
Once, he thought he saw the flickering darkness that he had come to recognize as the Beast’s presence. It happened during one of his feedings. He thought sure Sala was going to be the first of many to die. He fought against the vines binding him, desperate to free himself so he could try to defend her, and the others. He fought so hard that she fled, shrieking in fear. But the darkness never re-appeared.
Even when two of the village men came in and thrashed him for, as they said, scaring poor Sala and never mind that he saw her in danger and was trying to help, the darkness never came back.
Through the pain of his chastisement, Yili nevertheless said a prayer of thanks that the village had been spared, somehow.
And yet, all those countless days passed without incident, except that he became ever weaker despite the food he was fed. It got to the point where he could barely raise his head to eat and drink. His shoulders and arms had long since gone through agony into numbness, and he seriously doubted he would be able to move them for a long time once he was released, assuming he ever was.
And it seemed he never would be.
Yili’s days became a blur of discomfort and despair, his nights a terrifying return to memory and fear-dreams brought on by his uncertainty and the accusations against him. Or at least that was what he told himself.
In his dreams, he killed Jola himself, breaking his brother’s knees with a rock and then roasting him alive over a pit of coals that he had prepared for that very purpose. He broke Air-ick’s ankles using a heavy stick he had brought with him from the beach. Then he bludgeoned the god-man to death with the stick and buried him in the sand before dragging his woman off the beach. And Caeli… The dreams of Caeli were the worst. Her looking up at him with trusting eyes, believing him when he told her the Beast was coming. The faith in him only fading finally when he raised the rock against her.
Always he woke with a shout of denial. And then he cursed Shumay, cursed Care-ul, cursed all of them for making these false accusations against him. And worse, for making him doubt himself. Making him begin to think maybe they were correct, and he really was the monster they claimed.
No answer came. And no visitors save those who tended to him, and they said nothing.
Until finally it all changed.
Not long after he awoke, he could only guess how many mornings after he had been imprisoned there, three men entered the tent. Two of them went to his hands and began working the vines that held them up while the third stood before him, a scowl on his face. Yili knew all three men, of course. He had grown up with two of them and had been mentored by the third. But for whatever reason, though he knew their faces he could not recall their names. It was as if they had become strangers to him, as he had seemingly become to them.
The vines loosened, then released completely and he slumped to his knees. Only the men’s quick action to catch him prevented him falling all the way to the ground. They boosted him up, one on each shoulder, and shifted around for a moment until they had him in a comfortable position ;comfortable for them, at least.
It struck Yili that he could escape rather easily, since they had made no move to tie him up again; they simply draped his arms across their shoulders. But he found that he could not move his arms at all, as he had feared would be the case; there was no need for them to bind him again. Of course, they had known it before he did.
The third man, the older one and the one in charge, nodded and said gruffly, “Bring him.”
They began a long trek down the mountain. Not long in the sense that it was any great distance; he had made the journey many dozens of times in the past. But never had he been so weak, so helpless, so crippled during the walk down the path. Even with the two other men’s support it seemed to take forever.
At the base of the mountain, they surprised Yili by turning left, away from the beach the people most often visited, the beach where Yili had met Air-ick and Care-ul. Instead, they circled around the mountain to the leeward side of the island, where the shore was more rock than sand and the breeze hardly ever blew except during the rainy season.
Finally, after a longer walk than Yili imagined possible given how short a distance it really was, they arrived at a small cove. Flanked on one side by outcropping rocks and on the other by a spur of sand that contained a few hardy palm trees and little else, the cove was familiar. Yili had come here with Caeli and the children many times before to watch the sunset. At the outset of the rainy season, all of the people gathered there for the feast to welcome the changing of the winds.
Indeed, Yili was surprised to note the winds were coming from the south, blowing past the outcrop of sand and creating a steady chop in the water. Had he been in that hut so long that the seasons had turned without his noticing?
Impossible, and yet the winds said otherwise.
All the people of the village were gathered in a loose arc at the cove’s central beach. The arc opened to admit him and his escorts—guards—and Yili found yet another surprise waiting within.
At the water’s edge was the strangest thing he had ever seen. Resembling the wall of a hut, it was a collection of logs that were lashed together with vines, but it lay flat just above the sand, supported by three larger logs beneath the wall itself. From the center of the flat wall, a single larger log stood straight up. Vines were tied from the corners of the flat wall to the top of the erect log, holding it in place.
Yili blinked, unable to comprehend what this thing was. But whatever its purpose, the three men guiding him dragged him toward it. That meant it could not be good. Yili tried to fight against them, but they were much stronger than he, and the battle was over before it was fought. Before long, he stood—was held—in front of the strange thing.
Shumay’s voice drew his attention to the side, where she stood along with the rest of the elders.
“This is a day we have spoken of for some time now. And though we disagreed at first, I believe we all agree this is how it must be if we are to purge the Beast from our midst while remaining pure ourselves.” Shumay’s eyes swept the crowd and Yili followed with his own gaze. He saw no sign of dissent. If anything, he saw admiration and agreement when people looked at Shumay. When they looked at him…only condemnation, derision, and beneath it, fear.
“Yili,” Shumay went on. He looked at her, giving her his full attention. Why not? “Many here thought you should be put to death for your crimes. But we decided your fate should be decided by the Gods.” By the Gods? How would the Gods… And then Shumay answered him. “Care-ul is building a thing, she calls it a raft, to bring her back to her lands. We have been assisting her, and it was from learning what she has taught that we built this for you.” She gestured toward the strange thing at the edge of the water. What was it she called it, a raft?
Yili looked incredulously at the thing. How was it supposed to interface with the Gods?
Again Shumay answered him. “Here the breakers are the weakest on the island. Here Care-ul will depart in two weeks’ time. And here you will depart today.”
Two men broke off from the crowd and carried objects to the raft. Coconuts, smoked meat from boars, a blanket made from boar’s hide. Waterskins, several of them. They set those things on the raft and tied them in place next to the erect log using vines that were laid out for that purpose.
If Yili had felt despair before, it was but a shadow compared to what he felt now. They could not be serious. He opened his mouth to appeal, but all that came out was a croak.
Shumay spoke again. “You have food and water for a week. Two if you are careful. Care-ul says it is possible you may find aid in that time, from other god-people who ride on the waves.” She crossed her arms over her chest, and the other elders followed suit. “If it is the Gods’ will that you live, that your punishment has been sufficient, you will. If not…” She left the rest unsaid.
This could not be happening.
The two men holding him up moved forward and dumped him onto the thing, the raft. The logs were rough, and he felt several stabs as protrusions from the bark dug into his exposed skin. He tried to push himself up. To push himself off the thing. But he could not move, only squirm ineffectually.
He felt the raft begin to move under him and turned his head. A half-dozen men were pushing it off the beach and into the water.
No! How could they do this? Man was forbidden the sea!
But they did not think he was a man anymore, did they?
A rustling from behind him drew his attention. He looked up and saw a single man standing on the raft with him. He was hoisting away on a vine that was tied to the top of the erect log. As he pulled, a triangular shape unfurled from the other side of the raft. It took Yili a moment to realize it was a collection of boar hides that had been sewn together, like a woman’s blouse except larger. What was it for?
The man—Toram his name was—finished hoisting and tied the vine off, then dropped the loose end. Then he jumped off the raft, landing thigh deep into the water. Was he already that far away from the beach? Yili was going to turn and look, but then the triangle made a WHOMP and filled with the wind that was blowing form the south. Almost immediately, the raft began moving faster, toward the breakers.
What a wonder was that?
From behind—far behind it seemed—Yili heard Shumay’s voice again. “May the Gods watch over you, and guide you to your fate.”
He glanced back and his stomach lurched to see how far away he was from the beach now. Fifty paces? Seventy-five?
The breakers were closer now, their continuous surf growing ever louder. Yili forced his hands to grab onto the vines holding the raft together. Perhaps he would not be thrown off. He did not want to be thrown off; he could not pull himself through the water the way Air-ick had.
He shuddered to think of drowning.
He looked back at the beach again. The people remained there, watching him drift away. No one moved to assist, to try to bring him back. Then, behind them, he saw something. A flickering of blackness.
The Beast. It had come finally.
Despite his dread, his heart leapt. They would see it. See that they were wrong about him. And they would come rescue him before it was too late.
“How?” said a voice in his head. He refused to listen to it.
The blackness danced across the beach to the people’s left, but they paid it no heed. Yili tried to call out to them, but again only a croak came forth.
Then water covered him. The breakers!
He held on to the vine, terror giving him strength he did not realize he could muster.
Again a wave hit. And again. But somehow he kept his grip.
And then the breakers were behind him. The raft was still afloat, the boar hide triangle still intact, and he was still making progress away from the beach. From the island.
The blackness flashed through the people now, but none of them moved. No one cried out, or even seemed to notice. It streaked over the water, crossing the lagoon and then the breakers.
Oh Gods, the Beast was coming for him! It was the Gods’ punishment personified, or perhaps their mercy. A quick death instead of starvation or dying of thirst.
Yili found that was little comfort.
The blackness swept closer and Yili cringed away, bracing himself for the blow he knew was to come. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see.
But the blow never came.
After a moment, he slowly opened his eyes.
There, sitting on the raft beside him, was a man. Except that he was a man made from the blackest of darkness. And yet somehow Yili could make out features beginning to form within that darkness. Gradually, the man’s face became clear, and Yili’s bowels turned to water.
He knew that face. He had seen it countless times when he looked into the water of the drinking pool.
The face was his own.
He screamed then, a scream of denial, of despair, of acknowledgement.
And the Beast, the darkness within him, his only companion left in the world, smiled at him as they sailed away to meet their fate together on the waves of the sea.
A collection of Michael Kingswood’s published stories are available here: