(…) Two weeks later, incoherent and disoriented, Wolfgang crawled to the edge of the dinghy and peered out. Through the sheet of driving rain and mist he saw a wall of dark trees rising out of the water and yearning towards the clouds. The current swept him around and alongside the mountain and towards another peak, with the narrow channel between them dragging his vessel forcefully through to a range of wild, damp vegetation beyond. As the tide of water swept him towards it, the rubber boat snagged on something below the water and shuddered and sagged. Wolfgang whimpered in panic and fell backwards, realising that the dinghy was ripped and deflating rapidly. He heaved the remaining supplies onto the wooden platform, cut the canopy loose, untied the cords lashing the vessels together, and crawled moaning and exhausted onto the raft. He dared not fall into the water. He could not swim.
“The sun no longer shines,” he croaked hoarsely, and paddled gingerly towards a gap in the trees. He struggled onto the rough pebbled ground, was overcome with a wave of nausea, and collapsed, clasping deliriously at the sheer stillness of the earth beneath him. He tied the raft securely to an exposed root then sat leaning against a tree trunk, peering up the steep incline into the woods. He sensed brief, fluttering movements in the branches of the trees and saw wet silent birds looking down at him, resetting their wings, and moving under the heavy, hanging leaves searching for shelter from the rain. Wolfgang crawled back to the raft, ate what he was able and then staggered up the slope and fell unconscious in the shelter of a large boulder, the wet and cold canopy wrapped around him.
When he woke, darkness was falling down through the trees towards him and sweeping across the water behind him. He left the soggy mess of the canopy where it lay and lurched into the woods and up the mountainside towards the summit somewhere above him. He struggled to stay on his feet, willing his damaged hands to grasp at the branches in front of him and drag his ruined body upwards. He stumbled and slipped on the muddy ground, once and then again, and stayed on his hands and knees wracked by a sudden violent coughing fit. He gasped for air, suffocating and spitting to clear his throat, and saw dark red splashes of blood on the wet leaves. A large black bird pecked at the ground beside him and hopped away from his groping desperate fingers. “The birds no longer fly,”he murmured.
Wolfgang could only crawl, struggling painfully over the rocks and roots, feeling his way in the enveloping darkness up towards the clouds. The air burst with thunder and lightning, and the rain fell harsher and wilder. He could sense the power of the black churning water below, creeping upwards through the trees, engulfing and swallowing his little raft and possessions. He crawled blindly upwards into the storm, into the fury as a supplicant and an offering, until its punishment was spent and the wind abated, and the gloom of a dreadful grey morning touched his bowed head. He looked around and saw that he was huddled at the summit in a rocky clearing.
He slipped in and out of consciousness, blood seeping from his body, coughing fleshy moist pieces of his destroyed lungs onto the stones. He forced himself to his feet and saw the monstrous sea consuming his tiny mountain island. It tore away the earth and debris of rotten trees, surging insatiably towards the summit. The weight of the storm clouds pressed him to the ground and he lay on his back, arms and legs spread, and finally opened his heart and memories to the insistent rain.
“The Earth is no longer round,”he gasped.
He had woken one morning, the sun streaming through the bedroom of his ground floor apartment. She lay beside him facing the wall, her long soft hair spread out over the pillow, the warmth of her naked body glowing under the sheet. Wolfgang moved slightly to caress her, but she twisted her shoulder away and sat up.I don’t love you any more, she said, averting her eyes and standing up. She dressed, packed her bags in silence and left forever, returning to her home in the mountains. He lay in the destruction of his bed and felt the heart of his world jerk sickeningly sideways. A chill shadow darkened the room, and though he could barely turn his head, he saw dark grey clouds cross the sky and soaring birds scatter in the stiffening breeze of an approaching storm. Grief overwhelmed him. (…)
© andrew wheeler