Westpoint Tales

by Kiwi

Entangled Tales - 97 - A stranger in a Strange Land

A surge of new life. Here, a leaf unfurled and opened for the first time. There, another leaf broke free and fell, tumbling through the forest canopy.

A million, ten, twenty million small changes happened everyday. They added up and cancelled out and the total was the same as it ever had been.

Timeless and unchangeable, the hills stood as they had stood for a million years. Steep and tall, mist-swirled, rock-faced and tree clad. Dark and mysterious, massive earthworks, ramparts on the sea, with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the beaches.

In the midst of the uncharted wilderness, miles away from any human hand, there was a bay - a mere cleft in the long, long, cliff wall.

A small stream threw itself down the face of the cliffs, sparkling where it flashed in the sunshine. Tumbling and cascading, it fell down the hill to rest at last in a wide, still pool trapped between the feet of the cliffs and the gravel bank at the back of the storm-swept beach where the dying waves still tossed in their fury at the immovable land.

Dozens of birds cruised sedately on the water of the small lagoon - a resting place in their journeying, a haven from the storms.

A small, fan-tailed bird, flicking about in its never-ending quest for food, soared across to the edge of the water and came to rest on a bloody lump on the shore. As its claws grabbed for purchase, the lump twitched, and then it moved. Scared off, the bird flew away.

He awoke on the shore of the lagoon, lying half-in and half-out of the water. Bruised and battered, bloody and beaten, he dragged himself up out of the water and dropped, to sleep again, in the sunshine on the small round stones. A stranger in a strange land.

Hours later, he woke again with a raging thirst. He scrambled around and dragged his mouth back to the water. He drank deeply of the fresh, but slightly brackish, water. Rolling on to his aching back, he looked up at the clear, blue and now slightly pinkish, sky.

Where was he? He didn't have a clue. Where did he come from? Who was he? He didn't know. There were no answers in his fuzzy, hurting, head - no memories at all. But he hadn't dropped from the sky. He must have had a life, a name, before? He didn't know.

He was here and this was now. How would he survive? The stranger sat up and looked around at his strange land. The water was almost cleared now as the birds were settling down for the night. So should he.

He got on to his knees, and then slowly rose up on his feet, gasping and waiting while his head cleared from the confusion of the change in altitude. One arm hung uselessly by his side. A long wound in his thigh had opened and was bleeding again. That would have to stop.

Looking around, he could see along the beach, and into the lagoon, a line where the greatest extent of the storm had cast its debris. It was mostly driftwood and seaweed, but there were also bright patches of colour where man-made materials had landed.

Dragging one foot behind him, he made his way over to the jetsam in search of a bandage for his leg. The best he could find were long strands of dark-brown, rubbery, seaweed. He sat and untangled some, chewing at it and then pounding with a fist-sized stone to cut it free. He bound it tightly around and around his wounded leg, tying the end in a rubbery knot and hoping that it would stay in place.

Then he dragged himself over to what his searching eyes had found. He sat pulling away the bits of driftwood from the pile and freeing a treasure - a faded, damp, torn and worn old woolen blanket. Now it was his and it was his heart's delight. He stood again, pulled the cold and clammy thing around his shoulders and looked around for somewhere to sleep.

There was a cave under the cliffs - a small hole in the wall under the massive overhang. It was open on three sides with a floor of sandy gravel. But it was roofed and it was high and dry. The late afternoon sunshine lit the hollow, filling it with its feeble warmth.

He made his way over there and spread the blanket on the ground. He sat down, lay down, and rolled the blanket over himself. He went back to sleep - a stranger, at home.

The screeching of the birds woke the stranger in the morning. His eyes opened and surveyed the scene as he lay still and tried to remember - nothing.

The hollow lay in the shade of the hills and the morning air was chilly. He climbed to his feet and lurched down to the water. The seaweed unraveled and fell off his leg as he moved. At the water's edge, he dropped down and drank again. Then he stood and opened his ragged pants and pissed on the stones.

"At least that bit still works."

He tied the seaweed to his leg again and returned to the cave to drag the blanket out to spread and dry it in the sunshine. Then he went back to his sea-side supermarket to see what he could find.

There was something on the rocks at the far end of the bay, but it was too far away for now.

Some strips of blue plastic, pulled apart, made strings to tie the seaweed more securely to his leg. There was some movement in his right arm today. It was stiff more than sore now. At least the hand was working fine.

A plastic bottle - it would make a water carrier; and a blanket! Another, well, half a blanket. Half a treasure. More and more sticks of wood, shells - empty shells - and seaweed. The green stuff was edible, he thought. Heaps of vitamins anyway. People need vitamins, and food. Food? There didn't seem to be any shops around.

Something was shining on the sand above the waves. A fish. A dead fish, of course. And another, and another - hundreds of them. Fish washed up by the storm. Food. But, dead? Which was worse, starvation or food poisoning? Starvation, definitely! The seagulls were eating them anyway.

He collected several of the herring-type fish and took them back to the lagoon. Sitting at the edge of the water, he washed them and sliced them open with a shell-blade. He ate his fill of the cold, white, fish-flesh.

Sitting quietly watching the ducks on the water gave him an idea. He stumbled and lurched around the lagoon until he found several nests in the reeds, all full of eggs - food.

Back in the sunshine, he carefully cracked some eggs open with a stone, and drank them. He drank more water and lay back, in the sunshine, to sleep again.

Later, he collected more fish - as many as the birds had left. He split them open, gutted them and spread them out to dry, hopefully, on the rocks around the sides of his cave. With his shell-knife, he cut handfuls of reeds to make a better bed. He spread his half-blanket over them, covered himself with the whole blanket, doubled over, and slept. Exhausted.

Next day, he slept all day, rousing himself only once to empty his bladder and to refill the water bottle. He slept.

The following day he was awake, wide awake, long before the sun rose. The fish was off; not even the birds would eat it now. That was a waste of time. So, he stole some more duck eggs. They were horrible too. His taste was returning, he must've been getting better.

What was there to eat? Seaweed? Shells? No - shellfish! The shells had come from somewhere; there must be shellfish on the rocks. What was that at the end of the bay anyway?

Stumbling closer, he could see it was a boat, a fishing boat, lying up on the rocks, broken and battered.

"Like me. Is that where I came from - the broken boat? Maybe there'll be something there to remind me."

Partway down the beach, he stopped and renewed his seaweed bandage with some wider, flatter stuff that he found. The wound was scabbed and closed now.

"Every day, in every way, I'm getting better all the time."

There were shellfish on the rocks. Thousands of them. Mussels mostly, small but getting bigger lower down near the water. The tide was down and getting lower. He sat and cracked some open and ate them.

"Bloody salty. Why didn't I bring the water bottle?"

There was fresh water anyway. A small trickle was coming down the rocks. He caught and drank some handfuls of that, and then went on to the broken boat.

It was lying on its side, thrown up high on the rocks above the sea and smashed beyond any hope of repair. But, the wheelhouse and cabin were intact, the windows weren't even broken.

He couldn't get up on the boat, it was too high. With great difficulty, he scouted around, collected bits and pieces and constructed a flimsy, makeshift but adequate ladder.

"This thing could have been sitting up there for months. No, it hasn't, not if I came off it. I haven't been here long or I'd be dead already."

He made his way up on to the boat, carefully.

"If I fall down and break something, I'll be right up the creek without a paddle."

Crawling his way in through the open, sideways, door, he found a treasure trove. In a huge, jumbled, smelly, wet mess, he found clothes, boots, coats and bedding - lots of bedding, mattresses even! There were heaps of soggy paper and stuff and tools - knives, forks, spoons and things. Pots and a frying pan and food! Wonderful, glorious food.

A song played in his head as he rummaged and found more and more. "Food, Glorious Food."

There was a refrigerator, dead of course, lying on its side. Water ran out when he opened the door. The milk inside was off! But, there was beer and coke and orange juice. They were fine but he didn't like the beer much.

There were various foods in plastic containers. The raw meat was off, but the cooked was all right. He ate some of that and some limp coleslaw as well. The bread was gone - just a doughy mass.

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