Bewildering Stories

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Chapter 5, “The Island,” part III
installment 1

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88.
Chapter 5, part II concluded in issue 106.


She was in the temple, and it was standing on its foundations instead of lying broken on the ground. Rows of brilliant white marble columns carried a high, vaulted roof. Through cracks between the stones, streams of daylight fell to the floor decorated with fantastic pictures in mosaic. Too astonished for words, Dar was unable to absorb the content of these pictures. Instead, her eyes were glued to the central, low, square column, with the receptacle on its top. In this receptacle a bright flame burned, sending up high tongues of red and orange fire. Inside the fire she discerned a human figure, but was unable to tell what kind of human it was.

Music sounded everywhere from nowhere. Dar looked around. A transparent, ghostly form moved among the columns, a woman dancing, meandering, her luminous arms stretched wide apart, her hair flowing around her head like a watery halo. Dar stood planted in her place, full of wonder, until the whole picture dissolved and she sunk into the darkness of sleep...

“I had such a wonderful dream,” Nim said as she woke up, stretching her arms, then leaping to her feet.

“What was it about?” Asked Dar curiously, minding her own mysterious vision.

Nim, moving her body in a morning exercise, paused and passed her gaze between the woman and the man, who had been preparing the fire. “You know, I’m not quite sure. But the witch was there, and some man I’ve never seen before, and he was — I think... I can’t be sure — burning...” her speech dissolved wistfully into silence.

Dar turned to the fisherman. “What about you, Nunez. Did you see anything in your dreams?” He looked at her with understanding. “You did, then, didn’t you?” She nodded, continuing to look at him as if waiting for his own story.

“I saw a volcano,” he said decisively.

“A volcano?” She wondered.

“You didn’t see the witch, then, in your dream?” Asked Nim.

Nunez looked doubtfully at the girl, as if not sure how far he could disclose his own fantasies to her — as if thinking she had been already too full of them. At last, he replied. “She was there,” he admitted, “but I was not sure what she was doing. There was a man on — or in — the volcano; the picture was not very clear. And that woman (he was clearly not going to call her a “witch”) was flying around the mountain. I don’t know whether she wanted him dead or alive...”

“No!” Nim cried in defiance. “She wants him saved, I’m certain of it. Like she saved us from the river! Didn’t she, Dar?”

“I suppose that’s true. In my dream — I was in the temple, not a volcano — I had a feeling that she was favorably inclined toward the man in the fire...”

“But what does it all mean?” Nim asked again and again, getting no answer from the others.

Still, they had things to do, and until they were sure where they were going next, they had to go about their daily business of keeping alive. Dar thought it was a good idea to keep themselves busy doing things, rather than pointlessly arguing about what seemed like an imaginary situation. So they went down to the shore close to the temple site; this one was rocky rather than sandy, as was the shore they had landed on. Many rocks jutted out of the water, similar to the one the “witch” had been sitting on in Nunez’ dream, as Nim had recalled. They did not see anyone sitting on them, though.

Nunez explained that it was a good place for fishing, because many creatures usually congregated in the small ponds among the rocks. Dar was able to see them clearly where the water was rather deep, quite close to shore. With the new rod Nunez had made, they managed to catch a few of those creatures before noon. They cleaned the fish on the spot, preparing them for cooking; then they went to another place Nunez had known, collecting some seaweed to add to their menu.

It was almost evening by the time they returned to their camp at the temple. As they relaxed by the fire, Dar felt hungry enough to eat their whole catch. She had to content herself with a third, of course, which she washed down with a drink made from dry soup. She found it very easy to fall asleep soon after supper, feeling not only satiated and relaxed, but also safe and secure.

There was a repetition of their dream at night, with some variations, as they told each other in the morning. The altar Dar saw in her dream had changed its shape, somehow becoming like a small-scale mountain, with the fire burning right on its top — the word “volcano” came naturally to mind. The dancing woman was circling round the small burning mountain, stretching her arms as if in supplication — ‘Or, perhaps,’ Dar thought in her dream, ‘she is trying to pull the burning man out of the fire...’

Nim saw the witch clearly, sitting as before on the rock jutting out of the water, combing her hair; but the girl thought the mysterious woman was pointing away from the island from time to time, mouthing words Nim was unable to understand. It seemed to her there was a ‘burning hill’ at the direction the ‘witch’ was pointing to, but she was not quite sure.

Nunez said he did not know what his dream was about, but he was certain this time the woman was repeating the word “volcano” again and again.

“But, do you know of any volcano around this island?” Dar asked and Nunez shook his head.

“There are no mountains, or even hills, on this island; it’s completely flat. It is quite obvious it hasn’t gone through any upheaval during the catastrophe, so no new volcano could have sprung up on it. Also, I haven’t seen any signs of smoke rising, or lava flowing or frozen, or anything of the kind. But I know nothing of the area beyond the island, I’ve never been on its side which is away from the one I came on it from.”

“There are two thing we could do, then,” Dar suggested. “We could stay here and wait for more elaboration on the idea of the volcano, or we could go in that other direction to investigate.”

They went to sleep that night without making a decision, and for a change, dreamed of nothing at all — a fact that confused them even further. Still undecided, they continued with their daily schedule, fishing and looking for useful plants to eat and dry grass for fire. There were no proper animals on the island unless they counted insects, and they had not been starving enough yet to eat those. Dar thought the time might come yet for that, because, though they were trying to save their dried provisions and use what was available on the spot, there was nothing much there besides fish. Nothing edible grew on it except some herbs, which could be good only for tea or soup, tasty but hardly nourishing. The provisions that Nunez had brought from town were diminishing, as were those found in the rescued backpack.

The supply of fish seemed a lasting one, but the fishy diet was gradually beginning to get on their nerves; also, the supply of firewood was very limited, and Dar was not eager to return to eating things raw as she had done in her first days of wanderings. She tried to recall some of the information she had acquired in the jungle about medicinal vegetation, but the similarity between the two environments was scant and vague.

In addition to the food situation, autumn conditions were rapidly advancing; a couple of mornings they woke up to a light rain, against which their shelter was almost nonexistent. Dar did not even want to think what they would do if they had to spend the winter on the island; neither shelter nor their clothing would stand colder, snowy weather. The nights had already become too cold for their single blanket, which, of course, was not big enough for the three of them. The travelers had warm sweaters, but no coats.

It became more and more clear to the refugees that finding the “volcano” mentioned by the mysterious woman of their dreams could be a good idea, not only in order to save some unknown person, but also as their only hope for survival.

A few more dreamless nights passed, but one morning the crows had appeared. Nim rose up, frightened and alarmed, at the sound of their croaks. She had been happy enough in her life, not thinking too much of what might lie ahead, not understanding that both Dar and Nunez had felt the need to look toward some kind of purposeful future.

Dar’s sigh was that of relief. “At last!” she expressed her feeling.

“What do you mean?” Nunez inquired. “Where have these birds come from all of a sudden? Do you know anything about them?”

“They’ve helped me before to find my way,” she answered, pleased for the first time in days. “We can expect them to show us the right way to go.”

“Should we pack, then?”

“Yes, I think it’s time we left to find what we are meant to find.”

Proceed to installment 2.

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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