LEFT OF MIDNIGHT SECTION 1: MICRO-CHAPTERS 1.17-1.19

So, here we are again, my faithful readers. I’ll be putting up the next few micro-chapters for your reading pleasure. I don’t have a lot to say here, so I’ll just let me work do the speaking all around. I may do some other posting soon so stick around for that!

1.17

LATE APRIL 1945

UNKOWN PACIFIC ISLAND

CLIFFSIDE SHŌTŌ’S CAMP

THE WARM SUN caressed his cheeks as Shōtō marched back along the marshy shoreline towards his campsite at the cliffside summit. From there, he could see a wide breadth of beaches far to the north of his position that gave way unto a thick section of forest flowing from the beach edges into the island interior. The wide marsh itself was mostly a delta full of dozens of tweedy islets and knee-deep mud. He should know. He’d spent weeks plodding through and across the interior of the marsh. There, he’d found a plethora of unusual critters to whet the appetite. Unlike a certain native pilot of the American persuasion, though, Shōtō wasn’t apt to start naming them. He just didn’t have that kind of imagination. He’d much rather just mention them by bodily features such as ‘razorback’ or ‘slackjaw’ and then go about trying to capture them. The slackjaw was rather juicy and gamey tasting, but the razorback had much more meat on its bones. But what he really preferred were the fishes just off the coastline. However, his makeshift poles and lines were lacking in the most part of quality.

  So, meaty inland creatures had been of much more comfort towards his cuisine recommendations. And he was fine with this. For the most part. He wasn’t a vegetarian by any means (despite his despising of blood and guts), but he did enjoy more leafy greens in his diet than meat. Regrettably, the only edible greens he’d discovered were some sort of reed growing out of the marsh and an abundance of seaweed along the shoreline. However, both worked pretty well with what the island had to serve up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  It was getting later in the morning hours yet it was still early enough for the sun to still be low on the horizon line. A stiff breeze was kicking up the scent of salt water and showering it into Shōtō’s nostrils. It wasn’t altogether unpleasant as he worked his way up along the trail he’d beaten into the earth with his constant forays into the marsh below. At the summit, he turned towards his now somewhat covered campsite (he’d found that his parachute made for an excellent tarp and he’d managed to brace it up over the alcove of stone to make a sort of makeshift home. The stones did a great job of mitigating the storm winds, and the thick limbs he’d found were sturdy enough that the canopy had yet to take flight. Of course, it helped that he’d anchored the limbs with buried stone all around their bases). Once there, he slapped down two small birds he’d sniped with a sling and placed a makeshift basket (made out of his old portable radio which for some reason didn’t pick up any signals anymore) filled with their eggs to the side of a large, flat stone. He went to work plucking and skinning and started a fire. After less than two hours, he had himself a decent breakfast.

  The day was looking to be a clear one as he sat at the edge of the cliff eating and staring out over the ocean. Waves lapped tenderly at the cliff base and along the shoreline further along. The wind continued to be a coolness against the growing heat as the month turned towards its later half and into May. Behind and beyond, he could hear the forest rattling under the brisk breeze, the leaves a symphonic crackling constant wave of roaring rasps racing through the island interior. Within them, the creaking twist of branches (sometimes breaking in loud cacophonous crashes) created a wooden tremor to join in with the orchestrational ministrations of nature’s finest musicians.

  A smile crossed Shōtō’s face and he straightened up, his meal still upon a flat sheet of metal he used as a plate, a pair of chopsticks he’d been fortunate enough to pack along with his clothing resting in his grasp. His eyes fell closed and he felt a peace he had yet known in his life. It was a peace that reminded him of his mother and the times they spent together in his childhood. Always she was a constant presence in his life. Like a swift breeze on a cool day coming off the ocean. Always there to tend to his needs and keep him safe from those who meant him harm. Her gentle, smiling visage and tender kisses always a comforting space. Her arms always a warm and welcome hug embracing him and keeping him whole in a world continually fractured. Her short, raven hair sometimes falling into his eyes during those times of tickle wars, his laughter nowhere near contained.

  But she’s gone now, a voice came unbidden. She’s not here to hold you tight and keep you safe from what bites in the night.

  Shōtō’s eyes shot open and he lurched to his feet, what was left of his breakfast clattered to the dirty, stony ground with a muffled clatter. He hardly noticed as he twisted towards the island interior and took three steps away from where he sat not even aware he was nearing the edge of the cliff. He stared into the island. To the forests. His eyes took in every square inch of sight. He followed the forest line from the south where it dominated the view all the way to the north, broken only by that tattered mountain far across the isle where he’d first flown upon the isolated earthen monument to silence and contemplation. And his eyes continued passed that now clearly seen but no less far away mountain and to the northern most point where the volcano rose far into the sky.

  It’s a volcano… it must be… Shōtō thought then, his eyes taking in the behemoth that was, for once, clearly visible. Not even one sullen cloud or misty whiff huddled near its summit. A summit that was flat from this perspective but that he instinctively knew harbored a great caldera sunken into its depths in its center.

  She’s not here, the voice continued. Shōtō squinted his eyes, narrowed his brows in contemplation. Why were these thoughts coming to him now? Why were his peaceful ruminations to be interrupted even here in his place of isolation? She’s not here, because the men of war, those beings who deign themselves greater than yourself, eagerly wage chaos and destruction in the name of glory. They care not for you or yours. Only for your subservience. They deem you little more than an asset in which to fight on their behalf. They think nothing of your family, your friends, your needs as a man.

  Shōtō took another step back, closer to the edge of the cliffside, his eyes widening as his heart pounded a soliloquy of fear and frustration. What am I thinking? He gripped his forehead and temples with his palms and tried not to cry. Okasan… you are always with me, you are always with me, you are always with me…

  No. They took her. Just as they took your father. Remember him? Remember the man who fought and died in service to the great empire of Nihon? The man who was one of the few pilots to fight the Russians in Mongolia? They took him too. Because he was useful. A useful fool to the cause.

  No… No, no, no! My father was a hero! Awarded the cross of Napon in 1925! Led us to victory in 1931! He died a hero! The grip on Shōtō’s head deepened and he took another step back.

  There’s no place for heroes any more, Shōtōsan… His mother’s voice came to him and he fell to his knees clenching his eyes tighter. The whole world is led by monsters. They killed your father. Just as they killed me.

  Shōtō screamed and dropped his arms to open his eyes and stare out into the clear world around him. His eyes fixated on the dead campfire in the center of his new home. A home that he thought was full of peace and free of strife. The home he never wanted to leave again but that now was swimming with ghosts. He saw his mother standing in the center of the pit. His father was at her side. His father’s hand was about his mother’s waist (wait, father would never show such emotion!) and his mother’s hands were to her face covering her eyes in shame.

  You have brought much shame to our family. You should have let Fumikosan punish you. Let him put you in the grave to join us in the land of our ancestors, his father chastised him, his eyes glaring down his nose as if he’d just smelled the most egregious scent. You let them use you as they used me. We have no family. Not anymore.

  “I never wanted to fight your wars!” Shōtō rushed forward, pebbles and dirt slipping backwards two inches to flit over the side of the cliff. “I am not you, Otōsan! It is not my life! Our family was strong! Until you went—”

  Sent…

  Shōtō stared at him for a long moment saying nothing and then, “Fine, sent. Sent to… to… defend our great nation!”

  Like you? If that’s the case, why do you cower on this ledge? Why do you hide from your responsibilities? Who are you now, child? His father’s voice chided and Shōtō turned from him to stare out at the sea. Tears streaked down his cheeks and his heart pulsed under his heaving chest. Why was he hiding here? Why did he want to stay here? Was he content to remain in some small encampment for the rest of his life? Waiting for either his own people or the Americans to come find him?

  Shōtō shook his head and turned around to face his parents. “I…”

  Only, they were gone. It was just himself standing there staring into the sunken pit of an extinguished campfire. His heart hammered blood through his veins, his breath was a riotous spasm making him feel faint. His parents had never been there. So why had he suddenly called them to mind? His eyesight fell on that volcano once more and he forced himself to be calm once more.

  There’s an evil aura about that place, Shōtō thought and took a step back. He paused and swung around to stare at the edge of the cliff not even a foot away from him. By the spirits! I… I could have fallen! What’s gotten into you, Shōtō?

  He stared down into the abyss crashing into the cliffside below. It seemed to have picked up aggression. Smashing more forcefully than it had earlier. As if the seas themselves were churning in anguish. He took two steps back and rubbed his face with his hands.

  Get a grip. Stop losing it. The isolation must be getting to you. He rubbed his temples closing his eyes tight willing away the negative emotions cascading through his soul. He didn’t want to feel anger or hate. He just wanted to be left alone. Do you think that pilot escaped unharmed?

  Shōtō let his arms fall to his sides and he went back to staring out at the ocean. Yeah… did that American survive? If he did, wouldn’t it be my responsibility to ensure to his survival? After all, it’s because of me that he’s out here to begin with.

  He turned towards his campsite and paused, his sight to the ground before him but his inner eye to a place unseen. Is it my responsibility? I never demanded he come chasing after me. But… would he’d been chasing me if I hadn’t swarmed his ship?

  He wasn’t certain what the truth of the matter was. All that he knew without a doubt was that he could no longer sit along the cliffside ruminating on his newfound peaceful existence. It’d been tainted by the ghosts haunting him and he had to move somewhere. Anywhere. Perhaps, he figured, it would be best after all to see if maybe that pilot did survive. Maybe head towards the caved in mountain across the island. See if he could find a crash site?

  And if the pilot did survive?

  Kill him.

  “What?” Shōtō shook his head frowning. “Why in the hell would I think such a horrible thing? No. I’ll care for him. Or, if he’s healthy, try to befriend him. Maybe together we’ll survive longer.”

  The constant voice eking its way into his mind subsided and vanished into some dark corner. Shōtō found himself smiling and nodding.

  “Yes. We can work together. I’m certain of it.”

  Shōtō headed towards his makeshift camp and began searching for materials he would need for a journey into the island interior. Having something to focus on was an actual lifting of his spirit. Especially in the face of the heated hate he’d found himself experiencing. Now, there was only the future to look forward to.

1.18

EARLY MAY 1945

UNKOWN PACIFIC ISLAND

A GREAT KARST PIT

AVERY FOUND HIMSELF staring down into the greatest pit in the earth he’d ever witnessed. He wasn’t sure what exactly he was looking at in fact. Well, he thought maybe he could but that it still didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  He’d been marching through the island interior for the better part of the last two weeks. Using his machete to hack through dense foliage and forge his own trail. Eating of the land (sometimes insects, other times roots and moss, and still others whatever strange creature he happened across. Like the crabbits. Ostensibly, they were some sort of crustacean. But they had long earlike limbs above their bulging eyes that rose up like the ears of an armored rabbit. Creepy to look at but tasty to ingest) and drinking of the river that he was following towards its source. Here was its source. And it defied all logic. The river itself flowed towards the ocean. Yet, here, it fell down into a massive circular ravine. A hole in the earth hundreds of feet deep and thousands of feet across. And there were five such rivers forming waterfalls falling into the depths of this pit that defied the physics that he’d known for most of his admittedly short adult life.

  Each river was nearly equidistance from one another encircling the pit. Where they led, he couldn’t see. The rest of the view was mired in the girth of the island forest roiling off in every direction. From where he stood at the edge of this waterfall filled depression, he couldn’t even see the tall volcanic mountain to the north. What he could see clearly, though, was a massive lake at the center of the depression with a moat along the base of the pit cliffs and a ring of forest dividing that moat from the lake. Only two rivers connecting the bodies of water showed any way through the foliage.

  “Where in the hell am I?” Avery muttered and not for the first time.

  Aside from the trail he’d chopped and hacked making his way forward until unceremoniously coming to a halt at the edge of a three hundred foot drop off, Avery couldn’t see any other way forward. The circular cliffs were too sheer to climb down (why in the hell would I do something like that?) and the vegetation looked as tightly packed as he’d seen anywhere else on the isle. Not that he was in any hurry, but he’d at least like to have a notion of where it was he was heading. And to not accidentally fall into the chasm at his feet. Making his way along the edge would prove dangerous at best.

  “Alright, mutthead, now what? Think, Ave, think…”

  He couldn’t just stand there the rest of his life and he had no intention of returning to that cave on the beach. The one that already felt like a dream that he’d inhabited a million years ago. His view drifted across the great pit. A cool mist wafted across his face and he noticed for the first time the ring of haze rising up around the moat where the waterfalls were hitting the surface. Paying closer attention, and allowing his shock and awe to fall away, he discovered he could clearly hear the roaring collapse of water into water and the splashing waves formed roughing the shoreline of the landscape in the center. Exotic birds flew across the forest canopy landing at the lake in the center. Something (or things) roared, growled, and grumbled all across the interior of the pit, yet he could only see the birds of whatever wildlife was sequestered down below.

  Not that I’m going down there… His eyes looked towards the crystal blue skies once more. Not a cloud in sight. Don’t have to worry about shelter for the time being. That’s good. Better than trying to hide under that copse of leafy brush during that last storm. I got soaked nonetheless. Okay. Enough lollygagging.

  Avery started to his left and began hacking his way through the brush where it was thinnest doing his best to keep the ravine on his right just within view. If I can get directly east of this chasm, I might be able to find the other side of the island where it meets the ocean. If Captain Kamikaze is anywhere, it’ll have to be there. His machete ground through a thick cluster of vines as he pushed through the crunching network of undergrowth. Something small and furry squeaked and raced off deeper into the forest and away from the chasm. It made a lot of noise for something so small. Well, at least it wasn’t a goddamn snake. I hate snakes. Good eating, though. Especially the bastard that got me last week. Spirits, am I glad it wasn’t poisonous.

  Thoughts of his swollen ankle permeated his mind then. He’d spent a good two days holed up in a cove of trees where he’d found a lair of sorts that some animal had carved out sometime before. He hadn’t been paying attention when the creature had struck out at him and pierced his pant leg. Fortunately, the bite hadn’t been deep. Unfortunately, it had been a bitter, painful affair. But he’d gotten his revenge by cleaving its fanged muzzle right off its neck. Then he’d had it for dinner.

  He could hear one of the rivers up ahead of his position. Maybe twenty feet or so. A crunch through the woods behind him brought him up short. Avery stared back and waited as still as he could for a long moment. Then he heard the low growling of a predator. He thought maybe it was one of the cougats. Not a creature he wanted to tangle with. He already fought one. It looked like a sacrilegious crossbreed of a billy goat and a cougar. It was furry like the feline, yet its feet were hooved (with claws piercing the hooves like some sort of biological mace) and its tail was short and fluffy. Its eyes wide yet irises squinted and snout long and bearded. However, its teeth had canines the length of a full-grown man’s hand and those could pierce deep. He should know. He’d taken one to a bicep that went bone deep and it’d taken a week to heal up properly.

  Stand still it’ll go— and there it was. Its head poking out from underneath some ferns not even a dozen feet away. Avery turned and raced towards the river. The cougat gave chase and heard its braying growl hungrily lusting after his flesh. Somehow he pushed through and over a thick cropping of vegetation narrowly avoiding a clawing hoof that got entangled in that brush. The cougat howled in rage as it tried to remove itself from its sudden imprisonment. Avery didn’t look back as he hacked away several crisscrossing vines and kept leaping over stony outcroppings and old logs. So engrossed with escaping his almost ignominious fate, he didn’t see the edge of the river until he was spilling out of the forest and into the water. A split second later, the cougat was at the river’s edge howling after him. Avery splashed and waved his arms trying to right himself into a swimming posture. Yet the current was too swift and fierce and the next thing he knew he was flailing into the air hundreds of feet above the moat below.

  “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttt!!!!!!”

  His knapsack went sailing out beyond his reach and flung outwards towards the encircling forest below. He had just a moment to contemplate where he was going to land as he reached desperately for his supplies. Too late. He plunged downward as he watched his bag flying through the mists and into wherever. He, however, was lucky enough not to go flying so close to land and instead tumbled head over heels down towards the wide moat awaiting his unrequested descent. He tried to get his feet below him as he neared the water’s surface and managed to put his rear water first as he slammed into the moat and submerged nearly a dozen feet below. The water was piercing cold and the waterfall hitting the moat formed an undercurrent trying to pull him deeper still.

  Avery found his feet striking something rocky and he twisted his head upwards and thrust off the stone. His arms came out and pulled at the water around him desperately. Eyes widened to take in as much as he could, air leaking from his nostrils in bulbous exhales he tried to hold within. His legs churned the water beneath him and with slow, determined lunges he managed to swim back towards the surface and away from the whirling currents clawing at him from Poseidon’s abyss. He breached the surface with great gasps and didn’t bother trying to catch his breath as he made an awesome push towards the shoreline just half a dozen feet beyond. One tired arm raised up to grab the edge of the muddy shore that rose up as if it were the roots of a forest cleaved away by years (centuries even!) of constant watery punishment. Several clumps came away as he continued to claw. His hand wrapped around a root hanging out of the tortured terrain twisting down towards the moat. He pulled himself up, clinging with all his strength. The root was slick and his grip wanted to give at any moment.

  Yet, he managed to gain a foothold and pushed himself the rest of the way up and over onto his back where he lay gasping and coughing. His eyes fell on the waterfall (inverted in his eyesight where he lay nearly head first towards where his recent flight of survival had taken him). It looked even higher from this perspective. And yet, by some miracle, he’d survived the fall and plunge without a broken bone or scratch to show for it. At least, not that he felt. Maybe when the adrenaline wore off, he considered, that might be a different story.

  He burst out laughing and his body wracked as his chest heaved and his arms wrapped around himself. “The roots of a forest cleaved away by centuries of water!? Of course, it is, Ave! Fuck, you ass! Of course, it is! It’s a fucking forest at the bottom of a pit! What did you expect? A sandy beach?”

  His laughter grew more boisterous and longer as he rolled from one side to the next. He couldn’t explain why he was laughing so hard. None of anything he was experiencing was funny. Or maybe, he considered, he was just relieved to still be in the land of the living. His body wasn’t even hurt. At least, not that he yet felt. He let himself cut loose for a full minute before rolling back onto his back and recatching his breath. Exhaustion ate away at his bones and it took several more minutes before his heartbeat returned to normal. Off in the distance (far, far above), he could hear the braying howl of the cougat. He pushed himself up onto his knees and leaned back onto his haunches to stare up towards the waterfall which had deposited him so lovingly into the forest chasm.

  He took in a deep breath, and then shouted, “Fuck you too, bitch! I hope you starve!” he sighed and coughed. “That ain’t fair. I know it. But, fuck you anyways, ya bastard!”

  Then he laughed again.

  After sitting for another couple of minutes, Avery got to his feet and stretched his back. A pop echoed out but was overridden in volume by the waterfall nearby and the cooing gaggles of whatever awaited in the forest beyond. He looked into its depths. The forest edge was only a few feet away from where he stood. Perhaps at one point, he figured, it’d been all the way to the edge of the stony base of the cliffs rising so high. Of course, that had to have been millennia before.

  Jesus, how does something like this form? Avery let loose another sigh. Fuck. Now I have to figure out where the hell my knapsack went. It’s got my Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth baseball cards still in there… He let loose another laugh and shook his head. He looked back up at the waterfall and this time paid really close attention. When he’d gone over and twisted around, his bag had flown straight across from him and towards the pit interior. He put his back as flat towards the waterfall as possible and looked inward. He raised his arm, palm vertical and flat, his fingers pointing straight outward as his arm set a level way towards the direction he figured his knapsack had flung towards.

  “So, what? A few hundred feet?” Avery shook his head. “No. Not that far. A few dozen, maybe. But it was headed pretty sharply thattaway and down.”

  His destination set, Avery began his trek into the ring of forest hoping that he’d be able to spot his knapsack in quick order. If it hit the ground, it would probably be among the shrubbery and ferns. If it got caught up in branches or the canopy, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He was hoping the hope of the most fortunate that the article had just taken the plunge to the earth itself. Elsewise, he was going to be, ‘shit outta luck’.

1.19

EARLY MAY 1945

UNKOWN PACIFIC ISLAND

MOVING INTO THE ISLE INTERIOR

THE WAY FORWARD wasn’t as thick as he’d suspected. Shōtō had been thinking that he was going to have to use his long blade far more often than he had. However, the way forward had been pretty easy going so far. Most of the forest interior was clear of the foliage and vegetation so rampant on other parts of the island. As such, it was like walking through some of the bamboo forests back home for him. The trees rose up high into their canopies, the light streaming through casting a greenish hue across all the landscape making the world almost alien as Shōtō continued his trek. The forest interior was vast and imposing. The way from which he’d come long since vanished from sight. Now, there was just a sea of tall unending forestry with clutches of undergrowth sporadically growing here and there. And a crisp wind rustling the canopy far above. He could feel it against his cheek roiling slightly.

  Shōtō continued walking across the mostly exposed landscape all around him. He heard birds up in the leaves above (and a few hoots that might have belonged to some small simian) but saw little else by way of the fauna. He had no particular destination in mind. Only the urge to continue moving. He felt that if he stayed still too long, the monstrous voices would return. The ones trying to convince him to give in to violent urges and seek out the same sort of destruction that was currently bringing the world as he knew it to its collective knees. That was something he wanted nothing to do with. Ever.

  So, he walked.

  His booted feet clumped across the moist soil and occasionally a small stone went skipping off into the brush scattered intermittently. He walked like this for hours or more until a great cackling caw echoed out into the thin woods. He sought cover behind one tall trunk and looked around the forest. The light was high overhead still, sunlight streaming inward at angles and taking on the color of a yellow green. He saw nothing anywhere he looked save for the standing trees and scrubby foliage. He shook his head and sighed and was about to exit his cover when he saw a tall shadow moving around far across the distance. It must have been four to five hundred feet away. He hunkered low into a crouch and kept an eye on the shadow. Its head swayed left to right and when it focused his sight in his direction, he leaned deeper into the cover of the great trunk. What struck him with fear were two blue eyes glowing in the shadowy forms face.

  Shōtō clenched his eyes shut and heard the beastly visage make its incessant cackle again. Then he heard the subtle shuffle of foliage and he dared to sneak another look. Whatever it was had moved away and vanished. He remained behind the tree for a long time. It wasn’t a certainty, but he thought he stayed put for around twenty minutes before venturing back out into the open and taking a few hesitant steps forward. He heard nothing. Not even the birds. Not even the wind. It had all gotten as silent as a crypt and he started shivering as he began walking once more. The forest seemed to be growing darker as he continued onward, the light from above dimming perceptibly every step he took.

  Five minutes passed and he had the sudden sensation he was being watched. Shōtō stopped and looked around and behind him. The shadows were growing darker along the edges of the forest where his view dimmed to nothing. The silence was broken then by a strange sort of whisper.

  No, whispers… What is that? Shōtō craned his neck upwards and saw that near the canopy reaches, where branches rose upwards toward the skies above, there were now thousands of shadowy figures glaring down at him. All of them hanging from the branches, their almost human like feet clasping the trunks beneath them as they dangled by long, black arms. Their eyes that same glowing cobalt blue. A dim aura of blue light glittered all along the underside of the forest canopy and he saw that the sunlight had completely vanished.

  ‘Come with us…’ the voices said in his mind. Their voices he knew with a frigid awareness that numbed his soul. They spoke with a unity he could never have fathomed before. There were innumerable voices. Yet, they sounded as if they were one. And all of them were in his head. ‘What you’ve lost, we can fulfill. The void isn’t empty. It is everything.’

  Shōtō let loose a blood curdling scream and turned towards the direction he’d been headed and raced across the dirty forest floor as swiftly as his feet would take him. He didn’t look up to see if the things were giving chase. The things with the horns on their heads. Yes, they had horns. He was sure of it. Long, curling black horns. Devil horns. The sort of horns only demons were crowned with.

  The whispering continued as the forest all around him grew darker. No! No! I won’t be trapped here! I won’t! He darted between and around tree trunks nearly ramming into several as he picked up speed. He ran hard and far and it felt as if he ran for thousands of feet. Miles even.

  An eternity later, he was falling down a rocky hill. His hands flung outwards as he sought to find the ground in the blackest night he’d ever experienced. And then he found himself plummeting into a great creek bed running to both sides of himself and he spilled out into a narrow stream of water that wasn’t even knee deep. Yet he found himself diving into it head first where he rammed his head into the creek bed bottom. He pushed himself up and turned around until he was on his bottom and thrusting his legs outward and plunging backwards fearful of the things giving chase.

  Shōtō stopped, his chest heaving in great puffs, and he stared up from where he’d fallen from. The forest still rose high above. Only it ended at the creek which was more of a narrow river not even three feet across and a foot deep. Water sloshed around his chest from where he leaned against the creek wall rising up to another embankment leading into more woods. Above, a river of sky divided forest from forest and followed the twisting bends of the creek to where it led off and around another bend leading somewhere deeper into the island. The sky was full of sunlight. Its color crystal blue and clear. He could see light streaming through the leaves of the canopy to the forest he’d just thrust himself out of.

  “Okay. I’m not going back through there,” Shōtō muttered and pushed himself back to his feet.

  Nothing was following him. And the birds were once more cawing and squawking as they bustled about the forest interior. The wind brushed across him harder and firmer here. It was refreshing after his hasty retreat from whatever fear had been haranguing him. He turned away from the forest interior he’d vacated and looked down to his clothes. He was soaking wet and covered in mud. His white tee now looked brown and saturated with mud stains. His army pants that were once green, were now a filthy olive brown. His boots he couldn’t see. They were still down in the murk of the creek. Shōtō sighed and looked at the bank rising five feet up and out of the creek. He sloshed towards it and felt along the sides of the muddy wall. It seemed solid enough. He found several roots sticking out of it and used them to climb up and out of the creek. Feeling around his hips, he was relieved to find that his satchel had not been thrown loose. With all that was transpiring, the last thing he needed was to be without his supplies. What little there were.

  Being so deep into the island, now, the concern about finding new sources of food arose unbidden. He sighed again and glanced back to see the other side where the forest of darkness stood. It was full of yellow green light once more. There were no signs of the shadowy creatures hanging all along the forest canopy for as far as the eye could see.

  Maybe I hallucinated it all… He thought it could be possible. But he wasn’t so sure that he’d fallen so far down the psychological depravation hole as of yet. Still, he was something he would have to bear in mind moving forward. He turned away from that side and found a clear path leading deeper into this side’s forest. Here, the foliage was considerably denser and the trees closer together. It was going to make travel more problematic. Of that he could readily see. Shōtō pulled his hatchet out and started down the narrow passage between trees, ferns, bushes, and the standard detritus common along forest floors. Particularly tropical ones.

  More hours passed as did the majority of the day. Shōtō marched through the dense forest, passed several thick enclaves of rising stone encased in mosses and ferns and vines and thickets of strange foliage that looked spiny and not the least bit pleasant to touch. He worked his way through darkened patches of forest so thick he could barely see and beyond meadows in clear patches of grasses and weeds forming islands of brief relief from constant woods and stifling heat (his tee he’d eventually just pulled off; he hated doing it, though, as the mosquitos—or something very nearly like them—were dense shrouds of hungry insects poking and prodding his flesh until the itches were more mental than physical).

  Eventually, he came to the edge of a great chasm. A pit in the earth. He had walked through a cavernous tunnel that was a dozen feet tall and the pathway there led down a dirty floor until it reached the mesa edge lining the inner edge of the chasm. Below, he saw a great ring of forest surrounding a wide lake. Around him, the cliffsides rose up in a circle a few hundred feet. He’d walked down a decline and was almost halfway down the pit to a point he was nearly level with the ringed forest itself. A hazy mist was blanketing the entire chasm to such a degree he could hardly see across to the other side. He looked up into the sky. The crystal blue had given way to a darkening cerulean. Night was fast approaching and he’d yet found shelter.

  Shōtō furrowed his brows. I can make camp here, I think. The tunnel isn’t very far back and offers enough of a roof that should it rain I won’t get washed out into the water down there. I hope. He turned back to the cavern he’d just vacated and went to plop his dirty satchel down and pulled his parachute free. I can just explore this pit tomorrow morning. Maybe by then I’ll have an idea of where I am heading.

Thanks for reading and I’ll read to you all again soon!

~Timothy S Purvis

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