Bewildering Stories

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Chapter 5, “The Island”
conclusion of part III

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88.
Part III, installment 1 appears in this issue.

Their day to day existence had necessitated a daily gathering of food and fuel, with no time left for exploration, so they still did not know much about the island. Thinking about the need to do it in future, though, they decided been putting aside a certain amount of fish and seaweed, drying it out in the sun. These they packed now, together with the rest of their belongings, ready to carry everything with them. Neither Dar nor Nunez thought they would ever come back to the Temple.

By the time they finished the packing, the crows were showing signs of advancing in a certain direction along the shore. Nim carried the blanket, Dar the backpack full of what was left of the provisions, and Nunez carried the rescued planks from the boat to be used either as a provisional shelter or as firewood.

At midmorning, after a walk of two to three hours along the shore, they stopped for a breather. Across the stretch of water that was the lake, the sight of the faraway mountain range rose clear before their eyes, as it had had while Dar and Nim had been walking along the river. They had not noticed it so clearly across the piece of land that was the island. The range filled the whole horizon on that side, under the lowering sun of autumn, telling Dar it was south. They could be quite sure now it was bordering the lake, situated on the opposite shore from where Nunez’ town used to be. Nim and Dar looked at it favorably, as if renewing the acquaintance of an old friend.

“But where those crows have gone to?” Nunez’ question pierced their happy thoughts.

Dar looked at the sky, empty except from gathering clouds. “They have done their job, showing us where to go,” she replied, quietly.

“We still don’t see any volcano,” Nim pointed out.

“All we need to do is keep walking along this shore and we’ll find it,” Dar answered confidently.

They continued their walk until evening, which came rather suddenly. Stopping on the barren shore, they had some dried food for supper, with water from the lake, then erected the three planks into a meager shelter. That was apt, because toward dawn they awakened with a heavy shower soaked to the core. It was obvious that the makeshift shelter would prove a mockery against a real rain. Luckily, the rain was only of short duration, and morning was near. So, they just waited a few moments till the shower was over and they could rise, shake themselves and be on their way.

The day remained cloudy, with heavy fog lying on the lake; fresh wind carried strips of the foggy substance, making them unable to see the distant range of mountains. They could only discern sights close by.

“Did you see that?” Nunez said suddenly, breaking his long silence and pointing at an area on the lake in front of them, along the shore.

“What?” The two women asked together.

“There!” He pointed; “here it is again!”

After a while they could see it too. Some of what seemed like fog or cloud seemed now as a column of smoke, moving not only horizontally but sometimes upward. Now and then, she could see a bursting flicker of fire.

“I see it! I can see it!” Nim exclaimed.

“Do you think that’s the volcano we’re supposed to go to?” Dar asked Nunez.

He shrugged. “How should I know? But I don’t see anything else that could be it,” he answered, a little irritatingly. An abrupt flicker of inspiration told Dar that the irritation might have directed at the mystery created by the apparition rather than at her.

“I am sure it is!” Nim cried, dropping the blanket as if she was readying herself for camping.

“Let’s get closer to the point opposite the source of smoke and fire,” Nunez suggested. “We’ll be able to see it more clearly, as well as how we could reach it. It does look like a volcanic flare, but we need to know where it is located, exactly.”

The others agreed in silence. Having refreshed themselves with a cup of water and a munch of some dried fish, they marched on for a couple more hours, until reaching a spot directly in front of the volcano. A layer of mist filled the distance between them and the mountain.

“It does not look very close, does it?” Dar commented as she shrugged off the backpack.

As the other two put down their load, the rain started again. A few separate drops at first, which gathered volume shortly to become a downpour. The situation looked desperate.

“I don’t think we can build any shelter from these planks that will be of much help,” Dar said. At that time she noticed Nim was bending over.

“What is it, child, what’s the matter with you?”

“I am not feeling very well,” the girl said, weakly, suddenly retching.

Dar hurried to take hold of her. She was very pale and her sweat mingled with the raindrops.

“Have you eaten something bad?” She asked, not worrying too much, as the girl was strong and healthy.

“I don’t know,” Nim said, miserably. “I’ve been sick earlier too, when I went to — you know, relieve myself in the morning.”

“Are the fish making you ill, perhaps?”

“Don’t mention fish to me, please!”

“I don’t think it’s the fish,” Nunez said, quietly, and Dar looked at him, searchingly.

“Oh! Blast!” She was not in the habit of cursing, and she felt angry with herself. “Come on,” she said gently to the girl; “come and sit here, on this plank. You’ll be all right soon. Don’t worry; we’ll look after you, Nunez and I.”

“But what do you think it is?” Nim looked at the physician, the tears streaming down her cheeks. “I don’t like feeling sick!”

She had never felt so vulnerable before, not physically, anyway.

“You’re not really sick, you know. I think you’re probably pregnant, which is quite natural, the way things have been going on.”

“Pregnant!” It was obvious the girl had never thought of the possibility. It would not, of course, have happened before the catastrophe; a girl of her age would be immunized immediately after her first bleeding.

“Have you been immunized at all?” Dar asked more out of curiosity than any practical purpose. It did not matter, the way things were now.

Nim blushed, and Dar thought she was rather young for her age. Not everyone had sex by the age of fifteen, but the experience was not that rare. “I — we — you know how things were, with me and my mother wandering about. She did not seriously think about it, we never stayed long enough for me to make real friends...”

‘She couldn’t have done much serious thinking altogether,’ Dar thought angrily. Then she forcefully calmed herself down. There was no point at being angry with people who were dead and gone... “Well, it’s too late to worry about it now. So, we’ll see that you take it easy, and give you any help you need.” Then a thought crossed her mind, ‘I myself could get into this situation...’ The blood rushed through her body and she sent a furtive look at Nunez. Obviously, he was not the old useless man they had thought him at first. To have another child, to replace those who had died... But not now, she would not think of it now.

They took the three planks and, under the pouring rain, Dar and Nunez managed to arranged them in a kind of shelter, mainly over Nim’s head. The world was getting very wet and chilly, and the three of them huddled together on the one blanket, covering themselves with any clothes they could find. None of them was thinking much of eating; it was a good thing they had plenty of water to drink at that moment. What more was going to happen to them before they reached any kind of proper refuge — there was no telling. At least, there was no point in thinking further until the rain was over...

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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