The man emerged from the ocean naked as the day he was born. Drips of salty water still clung to his dark body, glinting in the strong and interrogative light. These were the only remnants of whence he had come. The water had been cool, yet was quickly frazzled from the surface of his skin. As he walked up the gently sloped beach his feet left soft imprints in the moist sand, squeezing the water from underneath him and leaving a velvety smooth impression.
The beach was ten body lengths long from the water to the beginning of life on the island. In front of the man was a strip of vegetation which grew from the fringes of the beach and reached god knew how long into the island. It stretched around the visible perimeter of the island; the second lowest scoring ring on the target. The bulls eye was occupied by a tall sand dune, rising from sea level to twenty times the height of the tallest tree. The dune was conical, shaped from the wind licking all sides equally like an eager child does an ice cream.
Having taken in his surroundings, the man immediately got to work. He walked with caution to the line of the forest and entered tentatively. His feet snapped dry twigs and crumbled soggy wood. Under the canopy was cool and the man stood still for a while, embracing the respite from the heat. Light sneaked through the leaf cover, tracing the forested ground with golden lines. He crouched on his haunches and smelt the earth, rubbing a handful of soil on his face, before delicately licking a sample. To his side he heard the scurrying of rodents in the parched and wrinkled leaves. Once again, darting off in a different direction. The man noted their path, not rising from his squat.
He found a recently fallen fresh stick and bobbed it up and down in his hand to gauge its weight. It was adequate. One hand over the other, he climbed up a tree using his thick toes for support, the stick was clamped between his teeth. Breath came out heavily from his nostrils in steadily shortening increments, spittle slobbered onto the stick. He soon arrived at a split into branches and perched, once again on his haunches, surveying the scene below. He did not use his eyes so much as his ears to track the movement of life. To track the movement of his food.
The breath had calmed to the steady pace of bellows. The stick had been taken from his mouth, dangling spit as it came and freshly imprinted with the mold of his incisors. He lowered it down onto the surface of the tree without taking his hand from it; silently, slowly. His ears pricked at the sound of little feet rustling in the vegetation; they seemed to come from all directions. He picked one and honed his eyes onto it. Ears surfaced when the rodents paused, gathering information like a pair of sonic periscopes. They then submerged themselves once more to continue their plans. The man found one, he locked on, he leaped.
Before his body had left the split branches the rodent shot off in anticipation. But the man saw this coming, he had calculated this into his plans. He swung through the air and drew the stick up behind him. It blurred through a swung arc; at the same time as his feet landed with a crunch, the stick clubbed the rodent’s hidden body. Stillness. He drew up his weapon. The rodent’s spine was broken, a gulley left in his back from the impact. Blood seeped out from its body and was lapped up gratefully by the thirsty leaves. The empty veins now ran red. Any other animals ran off repelled by this foreign and violent appearance.
The man picked up his trophy and sniffed it, rubbed it on his gums. He did not hold it from its tail but rather clasped it in his hand letting the matted fur and red mush squeeze through his fingers. The pair went towards the water, back into the heat of the beach. A trail of blood dripped its way behind them, mapping their route in the sand. He plunged it into the ocean and clumsily scrubbed it clean. Then, with his nails ripped open the treat and peeled the skin from its neck down like a banana. He smelled it again and bit it, chomping and gnashing at the bloody meal.
When he had had his fill he flung the carcass into the sea where it floated still. The head still remained. The lifeless eyes gormlessly stared out to the horizon, tailbone pointing from whence it came. The man wiped blood and spittle from his lips and wiped his hands clean in the ocean. Murky water emanated from him, suspended like some evil silk. He got low, and laid down on the beach with his arms behind his head, face to the sky. The soles of his feet were gently tickled by the water.
He looked up at the sky. It was different to what he knew. An azure radiance embraced him, a perfect compliment to the blonde sand. The light was brighter than when he first alighted on the island. In the sky were two suns, one receding behind the other. Both were of a brilliant purple; the foremost was duller than the other, but even this more subdued sister hummed with energy and beauty. They had made slow progress across the heavens since he had come, yet as he lay there the eclipse of the brighter sister was almost complete. As it bade goodnight and closed the gap the man fell asleep. His belly was full and his mind was curious.
He awoke in the same position. The brighter sun had just returned to full prominence in the sky; it and the other were two snooker balls at the moment of impact. He raised his head and looked out over the ocean. The man was transfixed by the view, the coming together of the two vast blue masses at an indiscernible line in the distance. The dead rodent in front of him remained equally as mesmerised. He arose from the sand and dusted some clung grains from his back.
The cool of the forest once again enticed him, he entered and stretched his freshly-awoken body. Breakfast. The killing technique was repeated and a new rodent was flung to rest with his brethren in their watery grave. The man stood back from the forest and with his hand held firm against his forehead he found the highest tree. He gulped down some ocean water then set off towards it in slow and measured strides.
He hoped that this vantage point would give some information about the island which he had found himself upon. Little knowledge was available to him from the beach, nor from underneath the thick mesh of greenery. He climbed steadily, some forty metres to the top. It was not easy; there were few footholds or branches to aid him. When he slipped he managed to grab his hands around the trunk like a randy puppy on its owners leg. Firm and oversized muscles tensed, corded, and squeezed. At length he reached the top, his forearms were sliced in every direction and blood feebly dribbled from the red lines. Holding onto the weak and leafy top branches he stood at the summit and poked his head above the canopy. To his sides he could see the forest stretching out in a loop around the island; always about ten body lengths from the ocean, everywhere as verdant as where he was standing. Beyond this lay sand to the middle of the island. Dunes whipped up in a frenzy gave the land the texture of ruffled water. As he looked further from the trees the dunes raised higher and higher until they culminated in a peak in the centre of this spherical island. Even from this height however, he couldn’t ascertain anymore useful information. The central dune was his next way point. His brain told him this was the correct way to go.
He hopped down into the crunchy leaves and branches and entered the heart of the island. The sand on the inside of the green ring was dryer making his feet slip as he treaded it. Wind blustered around the inside blowing up the loose particles into the air around his hips. He waded over the dunes until he reached the base. The twin light of the suns beat down on his back, he could see a slimmed shadow in front of him. Broad shoulders were silhouetted as a nimble stick, his fingers barely distinguishable from one another. He kicked at the sand but the shadow did not go; it just gained a new dimension, a new hole for the light to flood.
The climb was arduous but mercifully short. His face pained at the exertion in the heat, exacerbated by the weak foundations beneath his feet. He capitulated near the summit and fell on all fours, reaching the top in this position. His body resembled that of a prisoner chained to the wall, too weak to stand and a face crying out for respite.
The view from the top confirmed his estimations. The island was perfectly round and divided into three uneven sections. A ring of beach, a ring of forest, and a huge pile of sand upon which he stood. He looked to where he had come from and could see no traces; either they had been cleared up or they were too far to see. On the other side of the island he could see movement. Figures, bigger than the rodents he had killed were moving around. Some were in the water, some seemed to be milling in and around the edge of the forest. The man retreated and creeped down to the other side of the sloping peak. He peered over the edge and observed them, fear pulsing from his eyes.
The descent was a lot easier. The island was not big enough for hiding and the man was aware of this. He sidled over the top and began to lumber down the hill. Great slides of sand preceded his feet. The grains whistled down the face of the slope before remerging with the whole after their brief escape. Steps soon became too difficult and clumsy; the man dropped to his side and began to roll. His speed accumulated until he was tumbling down, whipping up grains of sand with his fork like toes. The hill’s gradient slowed him down as he approached the bottom where he was safely delivered to a complete stop.
Picking himself up he made his way over the dunes to the new patch of vegetation. He was aware that if the figures hadn’t seen him at the crow’s nest then they almost certainly would have seen him bouldering down the hill in a flurry of limbs and sand. His cover was blown, and he hoped these creatures were kind. The suns’ relentless pounding continued to fry his back and neck. Sand from the fall took away any remaining moisture in his mouth and only gave back the miserly gift of crunchy teeth.
He entered the vegetation cautiously, hunched over from exhaustion with a faced that had aged a year over the span of one hour. In the shade he saw the figures which he had spotted from the peak. They looked much like he did, however all were female. There were seven of them under the trees. One of them, an adolescent, was pregnant. Between the tree stumps he could see a few younger ones chasing each other around on the beach. Those under the canopy looked up at him upon his entrance. They had familiar faces, familiar expressions. He stood staunch, palms open in an amicable pose. He did not move, expecting them to sidle up to him and sniff him out. Find out how dangerous he was. However most viewed him with the interest normally reserved for a falling leaf. No welcomes were made and indifference emanated from their faces.
A circular clearing had been made in the middle of this congregation. The undergrowth had been cleared leaving a patch of sand which they surrounded either sitting or reclining on the cushy leaves and twigs. The man stood still for a while longer once their gazes had been averted. He began to move, to amble towards them. As he approached he noticed lines and shapes in the sand. One of the younger ones was drawing a line with her finger, gracefully pushing along sand to make a shallow groove in the surface. The others followed her finger with intrigue.
He sat down by them in a clear space, surreptitiously sniffing their alien smell. His nose was satisfied and the nostrils calmed back to normal sizes. He felt no danger from these people and so joined in watching the girl trace more lines. When she had finished their heads raised from the show and they all looked at each and everyone. The man was awarded the same attention as everyone else. He reciprocated the hospitality and intimately looked them all in the eyes.
He made sure they were done before he made an introduction. He leant into the clearing and drew three intersecting lines. He didn’t know how he knew how to do this, but the knowledge was undeniably in his head. The others read his message; ‘No memory’, and one again looked up to gauge the others’ reactions. They seemed unfazed by this admission, as if it was to be expected. A woman directly opposite the man leant in and dashed aside previous messages with her palm. She had a scar on her left arm leading from her finger to her elbow. Her scarred finger drew three small circles all equidistant from one another. From these points, she drew three lines which focused into a meeting in the centre. ‘Stars in place’. All looked up and switched gazes with each other until their eyes rested on the man’s own uncomprehending face.
The children rose and went to frolic and splash in the ocean. The rest of the women save the one carrying child stood up and picked up various instruments. The man remained seated, observing this alien yet familiar scene. The women, now numbering three each climbed their own trees, instruments in hand. Much like he did, they found a perch and crouched on their haunches. Their froze and listened for movement. The man did not need to be told to stay still. One by one they leaped, bringing death to the oblivious little creatures. Over a few hours they went up and down many times in front of the two man audience. They resembled spiders sliding down webs before returning to a haven from which they can silently observe their prey. Any tree offered them protection, and the whole forest floor was their territory to ambush. The man watched, eyes filled with awe at their efficiency. The pregnant adolescent had lain down on her back in the meantime, fingers stretched over her bulbous stomach. By the time the women had dropped their weapons there was a pile of around twenty dead rodents in a pyramid by the clearing.
After the women had finished they went to drink from the ocean and came back to lie with the man. The child had also by now retired to the covering. They sat like this for some time; looking out to the ocean with no messages being given. In the distance small specks became visible in the ocean. They were coming towards the island. The man’s face was struck once again with fear. Of the unknown, of an attack, of something different. He searched for empathy in the others’ faces but none even returned his gaze. Their lack of concern mollified his angst and he turned back to the ocean. The specks were now individually discernible; six forms swimming towards the beach.
Before they even emerged from the ocean he could tell they were men. They all walked up the beach in unison with enormous shoulders occasionally bumping into one another. They too looked almost the same as the man. The same species no doubt. However the gaps between the man’s fingers and toes were filled in with skin. As they entered the shelter they too paid the new man no heed. They collapsed on their backs, lungs rapidly shoveling air through their throats. After a short recuperation they sat up on their buttocks. One stood up and went to the pyramid of food. He doled the rodents out according to the size of the recipient; the adults received two each, children one. The man found two freshly killed rodents in his hands, still sticky with blood. He tucked in.
Once they had finished eating the air had become cooler. The brighter sun had once again begun to hide behind its larger sister. They ventured out into the pleasant dusk air and lay on the dunes. The children once again frolicked in the now sweet air; they chased and tumbled in the sand, they jumped and rolled, they punched and snarled. The adults lay with each other for the most part. Some rose and strolled through the bush and some went for a brief foray into the ocean. The man stayed close to the scarred woman. She seemed to welcome the company; at least, she was not repelled by it. With the eclipse soon to occur the tribe congregated on the dune where most had stayed, children and all. They lay in families; a man and a woman in each others’ arm with a child or two off to the side or at their feet. The dune was tilted in such a manner that their noses pointed directly to the purple suns. The man remained with the scarred woman. As the smaller sun made its exit, all eyes closed for the oncoming night. Sleep had come.
The tribe awoke together in the same position as they had fallen asleep. They scraped sleep from their eyes and gently rose en masse. Starting with the eager youngsters, they strolled to the forest to escape the now blaring double heat of two suns. Under the canopy they ate breakfast, chewing on the remains of the rodents from the day before. The bones were once again discarded into piles once they had been stripped of the flesh.
The men strode from the canopy once breakfast had finished. The largest and broadest stood at the waterfront. His brown hair was matted and flew down to his shoulders. Its colour counterpointed his mahogany skin. He pointed to each man and then pointed out to the horizon in different directions. They all looked on at him and showed their understanding by taking up their position by the water. The leader walked into the ocean and the rest followed. When the water reached his waist he began to swim, the others followed his lead.
Under the canopy the women sat and watched on from the clearing. Some children were playing. The youngest were nuzzling to their mothers’ breasts, calm in the early morning shade. The pregnant lady’s belly had swollen to three times the size of yesterday; it was visibly squirming under her skin. She was encumbered by her seed; she lay on her back, face to the sky and shook her legs from side to side. Once the young had detached from their mothers’ nipples, all the women rose save the one with child and the scarred. They moved slowly and picked up their weapons. Four of them in all, each choosing their own tree from which to hunt. After the first leap and kill of the day, the scarred woman arose, and took a young boy in her arm. They walked out from the shade and drank before heading into the centre of the island.
The man stayed amongst the trees and watched the symphony of the kill. Up and down, smash and death. He sat by the pregnant woman in sympathy. Her stomach was growing in its rumbles like a pot slowly coming to the boil. In the centre of the island the scarred woman and the boy had sat down together under the lip of a dune. The man could see she was drawing in the sand with her finger. The boy was observing attentively, sporadically interrupting with some comments of his own. After each message had been written the pair looked to the skies, eyes following their outstretched pointing arms.
The man decided to explore and entered the ocean at the same point from which the men had embarked earlier. He felt safe and welcome now, but still curious about how he came to be in this position. No memory, and little to suggest it would be coming back to him. He swam along the coast, hugging the beach front. His swimming was fluid; he was faster and stronger in the water than the native men of the island. He could see the figures amongst the trees slowly falling away behind him as he made steady progress around the island. He wanted to investigate the area where he had arrived. Going across the sand would be quicker, but the swim was cooler.
He knew he had made it from the markings that were left. In the beach were his footprints, still embossed into the sparkling wet sand. They had crumbled slightly, lost their previous form but clearly his nonetheless. He took a drink and went to rest in the forest where he had first tried to make sense of where he was. He arose and strode once more into the sea. Under the water the land sharply angled down into darkness. Down the slope he could see a bubbling, it enticed him and drew him in. There were rocks piled together in a ring, an abyss stood strong in the centre; seemingly endless and freezing. The man was curious yet afraid, he placed his hand in it and sharply recoiled from the cold.
He swam back to his companions. In his heart was a deep fear. There are two types of fear. The first is what one feels when faced with a brandished knife, a primeval pupil-dilating reaction, kicking your brain into sudden alertness and excitement; fear. The man who is staring into the oncoming truck will feel this, they call it fight or flight. Often there is no time to ponder on the situation which is going to end in soiled pants. Or one can feel the other, deeper and humbling fear. The type which is only enhanced when it is given thought. The fear of being alone, the fear of lost love, the fear of the infinite and the unknown. The Japanese have a word, yugen, which describes the ineffable emotion felt when pondering on the universe. When staring out into the dark night sky who does not feel the infinite sink into their skin and chill their bones.
By the time he returned to the tribe the men had come back ashore. They were all lying on the beach with their faces to the heavens and chests pumping up and down ceaselessly. There were only two women under the trees, next to the pile of discarded bones. He edged up to the greenery and stood, watching. The one with child was on all fours like a dog, panting and convulsing. A head was slowly emerging from her, slipping out and in like a piece of flotsam ebbing in a harbour. She did not scream, her face didn’t wince from pain. Her panting mimicked those lying on the beach, tired but controlled. No one paid any attention to the soon to be mother. The baby squeezed out under her contractions like a squirt of toothpaste, attached to the tube with a slimy cord. The mother remained in her position, deflated and calming, glancing once or twice over her shoulder to look upon her child. Her eyes showed indifference. The other woman present, who had been chewing on her toenails, looked up upon hearing the plop and crunch of the wet child on the forest floor. She clambered to her feet and strolled over. Picking up the cord in her mouth, she ripped it with her incisors, spitting out little chunks along the way until it had been split and disconnected the baby and mother. She walked with the baby out of the forest. The man watched their progress onto the beach, past the resting men and to the waters edge. When she reached the shore she dunked the child’s head under the water, not paying attention to its feeble struggle. She showed no compunction. Gradually the baby stopped squirming and began to float calmly on the surface of the water. The woman brought it back to the clearing and flung it onto the pile of bones.
The tribe awoke to the sound of scurrying animals in the undergrowth. The sun beat down on them through the gaps in the leaves. The wind carried the crusty smell of salty sea water into their nostrils. As they slowly rose the twigs split under the weight. To the side of them lay the pile of bones. The baby, born only yesterday was there. Most of his flesh had been gnawed away. All that was left was the skin around his toes and knees. No one gave him even a cursory glance, not even the mother. The man looked at him in horror, he raised both his hands to his head and stared.
Having noticed his concern, the scarred lady picked up a twig and sat herself down by the clearing. She scratched some diagram in the sand; “We big.” The first sign said, shown by a large circle. “Food small.” The second, a smaller array of dots. She glanced at the skies and sighed heavily. The men left to swim, still no invitation had been given to him to join in the journeys. Grabbing him by the hand the scarred lady led him out of the forest. It was just the two of them, laying down footprints into the sand. She led him a little way into the centre of the island, there they stopped on her command and sat down opposite each other.
They stared at one another for a long time. Two greatly different entities, tied by their corporal form. There was little compatibility between the two creatures, the language was a barrier in of itself. Their culture varied enormously, the man could not even remember his own, all he knew was that it was different. But in the gaze there was an understanding, one that can only come from such different people. One that says that these people accept each other despite their differences. Beneath both their eyes was a suspicion running strongly, the inherent distrust of the different, hope also ran, and contested in both of their minds for the control of their will.
The woman pointed to the skies, at the suns hanging over their heads. Her finger gracefully traced the edges of the suns, her eyes peeled away from his and locked onto the heat seeping down from above. She hunched over, making to write something in the sand, paused and then used her finger to do so. She drew a circle in the sand, encased by another larger one. The sign read “Today.” She moved in closer to him, not averting her gaze, their knees bumped together. Her hand reached out tentatively and held his penis. She squeezed it and it filled out her hand. She split her view between the man and the sign she had drawn in the sand. The man was different, but not so much that he did not grasp her intentions. He tried to kiss her but she blocked his lips with her hands.
Later that evening, after the men had returned, the tribe huddled under the trees amidst a pleasant atmosphere. The spoils of the day were doled out to everyone, most made themselves busy munching on their food, oblivious to the others around them also absorbed in the feast. Many bones were discarded onto the pile, and many bellies were rubbed with satisfaction. The scarred woman interrupted the daydreamers by standing up. She grasped two handfuls of sand and flung them into the air, it hissed as it flew into the leaves and slunk back down onto the beach. With everyone’s attention she grabbed the man’s penis once again. He became hard quickly, a puzzled and bashful expression played across his face. She encouraged him, guiding him into her, in the middle of a crowd all watching. She flung more sand into the air, this time more vigorously, and the onlookers joined in. Each man took his mate and followed suit.
Waking up as embracing couples the men quickly stretched, ate, and went off on their morning swim. The scarred lady took the man by the hand and led him to the centre of the island, where they had been the day before. They sat down on the sand and held hands together. The man was curious, he pointed to the swimming men, still faintly clear in the sea bobbing like driftwood. Squinting eyes expressed ‘what are they doing?’ She smiled and began to draw in the sand; two humps connected by an oscillating line: “We find new land.” The man stared deeply at her, still confused, yet his curiosity somewhat satiated. Since last night the woman’s belly had grown into a small mound, she stroked it with her free hand, the man lowered himself to the ground and placed his ear against it.
By night time her belly had grown to the size of a ripe watermelon, and wobbled with the swishing sound of the waves. The other women, also impregnated last night had similar bulges growing from them. These women did not however seem interested in their own future children. All the attention was on the scarred women, they came to touch her and to stroke he belly. They did as the man did and placed their ear to it to hear the gurgling mumble from inside her.
The men returned and took their place next to their respective woman. In a seemingly choreographed movement the woman got onto all fours, their man placed one hand under their bellies and one at their rear, ready to help with the extraction. The first moan escaped the throat, followed by a convulsion in her body. In a chain reaction all the woman began to tremble and moan, deep guttural noises. Small fingers, toes slipped out from their behind. The men clasped these protrusions and pulled, with their other hands they pushed up on the bellies. The man helped the scarred lady, learning what to do from observation, however lacked the experienced confidence which the other men showed. He was adequate and the baby, a girl, squirmed and scratched in the red sand below her mother. The man looked on in confusion and love. As had happened the day before, the babies were discarded of quickly and efficiently. First they were taken to the water and drowned, then flung onto the pile of bones to join the already rotting baby from before. The man looked on in horror and picked up his new born. With panic in his eyebrows he clutched it and cradled it. It was protected from harm. The scarred lady looked at her man in deep affection.
Several years had passed since the birthing ritual, and many more children had been born since then. For the man there were now two daughters and two sons. Amongst the rest of the islanders there were a handful of new recruits. The daughter from the before was now an adolescent, physically mature, and hunting like her older mentors. Like her father she had some slight differences to the other islanders. Her fingers and toes were webbed and she was surely more beautiful than any one else on the island. The girl and the rest of the children were the mans life, the scarred woman was now dead, her skull placed at the point in the centre of the island. The point from which these people watched the stars. He had immense love for them, freed up love now that the scarred lady was no longer. Every day he went to the skull to pay his respects and to teach his children the knowledge imparted onto him from his deceased lover. His eldest son was the most knowledgeable of all on the island, his head was rarely fixed on the ground, it was permanently stuck gazing into the heavens.
One day, huddled around the skull the boy took his fathers hand and a look of great exultation came over his face. He hurriedly grabbed a stick and sketched into the sand: “Stars aligned.” The man looked at him with an immensely joyful calm, the looked at each and smiled a smile of a deep understanding. The made their way down to the beach and waited for the men to return from their swim.
When they returned the boy once again wrote in the sand the importance of the day, and the men were injected with a bubbling energy. They picked up the eldest of the man’s girls and carried her into the centre of the island. Great whooping and hollering trailed behind them and there was happiness on everyone’s face, not least on her fathers. They carried her to where the man had landed, through the forest and onto the beach. Here, they placed her down on the sand, each one in turn kissing her and giving her their blessing.. The girl looked lost but proud. The man held her hand and not hesitating they walked into the sea. The water slowly gulped at the waist until they were forced to start swimming. The man had been here before and what he had to do was suddenly so clear in his head. He and his daughter were placed above the abyss he had discovered all those years ago.
Small, fizzing bubbles trickled up to them from below. He caressed her face and stroked her hair. Clasping her skull with his hands he kissed her on the cheek and gave her a nod. The girl obediently submerged herself. After ten seconds the bubbles stopped and the man felt a short tug on his feet. It seemed very quiet, his people on the beach were deadly still. A tear dropped from his eye. His daughter was never to be seen again, she had gone home.