Welcome back to Left of Midnight! Here we have the next several micro-chapters. I won’t bore you with a bunch of meandering descriptions and unnecessary banter. I’ll just get right into it. So, leap back into the tale, dear reader! And feel free to share your thoughts about this work in progress in the comment boards below!
AVERY SAT ON a log, binoculars in hand that had still been in his knapsack. He’d found it about two hours earlier. Not exactly in the trees. But high enough that he’d had to climb for it. Being stuck in the chasm, he wasn’t quite sure what else to do about it all. So, he’d spent some time examining the place. There were animals about, that was true. Some even possibly dangerous. But most seemed content to stick to themselves and not offer much by way of annoyance to him.
Now, here he was, using his binocs the way he hadn’t needed to before. Mostly because he’d been by the sea and all there was to see was the beach and the tops of the trees surrounding said beach. Well, he’d pulled them out once to take a gander at Mount Ancient (that volcano to the north of the island) a few times. He’d been curious just what was up there and if he shouldn’t see about trying to reach the great mountain. Instead, he’d gotten distracted by a little thing called survival.
And speaking of survival, Avery mused, his sight fixated on a cave tunnel about halfway up the far side of the chasm. I see one of the most dangerous animals on earth.
He lowered the binoculars to his lap and growled low to himself. He could still make out the cave tunnel up there. But the man just within its reaches was now invisible. He’d been in sight for all of a minute before turning back around and heading back up into the interior of the cliffside.
“Fucking Jap.” Avery clenched his binoculars tighter, the plastic on them threatening to split as he twisted it in his palms. “Survived the crash after all, did you? Well, tomorrow, we’ll see if you can survive me.”
THE MORNING SUN rose brightly across the ridge of trees far above the chasm. Shōtō was up bright and early and making a small fire to roast some dried seaweed and reeds with water from a container to make a sort of broth for breakfast. He sat with his legs crossed before him sipping from a small bowl he’d crafted from a clump of wood and watching the light brighten to a point that the pit was glowing more defined in view. Still, a heavy mist lay as a hazy blanket across what treetops he could see from his position. Not clear enough for him to want to risk traipsing down into the cavity just yet.
So, he sat and waited until the sun was visible above the horizon line of the forests lining the pit summit. He waited even longer for the mist to vaporize and diminish. It only took a few hours. When he was able to see the lake at the center of the pit, he gathered his belongings, put out the campfire, and set off down the incline leading along the edge of the cliffside and curving down towards the body of water ringing the interior forest below. Nearer the bottom, he saw another path leading up and across from his position. He stopped and stared up at a tunnel cleaving straight upwards and through the cliffside on the opposite side. If he had to guess, it led somewhere to the surface above. If not into a labyrinth of caverns that crisscrossed until one eventual let out up there, that was.
Shōtō turned his view from that tube and put his focus back on the strange ring of forest and the lake within the pit. He wasn’t certain what he was looking for but there was this sensation that he should explore the place a little before moving onward. Maybe he’d find some more resources to gather and keep him alive that much longer. However, he was being stymied by the fact that there didn’t seem to be any sort of bridge over onto the forest ring. He walked to the edge of the stony floor and it dead ended at the edge of the water that flowed away from him in a multitude of directions. There were five waterfalls that he could see from his vantage (two barely visible on the opposite side of the chasm floor; the ringed forest allowing just the topmost portion of them to be visible).
He looked to his left. There was a semi path leading under an outcropping of the rising cliff. It looked like a worm had eaten its way around the edge of the cliff where it met the water but didn’t want to go too deep into the rock. That pathway was open to the water that was splashing up onto its shelf. Were he to follow it around to where it disappeared around the forest rings border, he felt he stood a good chance of slipping off into the water. If that were the case, he might as well just swim over.
He looked to his right and saw that the way he had come cleaved straight down over the stony wall of the cliffside and down onto this narrow shelf in which he stood. There were no paths there. Behind him, he saw that the cliffside rose up to a curving ceiling that rolled up and only flattened out once it reached the curving cliff climbing to the summit above. The mist from the waterfalls was now clinging to his bare torso and he found himself uncertain as to what his next move should be.
Do you really want to explore this interior? Maybe I should just continue onward and up into that lava tube running up to the gods know where? Shōtō sighed to himself and gripped his knapsack tighter. It’s a lovely view, but, I’ll just press onward.
Shōtō turned towards the lava tube and was nearly up a few feet the incline there when he paused, sweat beading his forehead in little rivulets. There was a feeling, a sensation, whipping across his body and it was coming from somewhere deep within the chasm. He took two steps back and angled himself to stare back into the pit’s interior.
You sure you want to just move onward? Isn’t something in there? Something you desperately need to find? Shōtō frowned and his heart quickened. There can’t be anything in there I would need… He thought but the urge to move into the great expanse of the chasm was incredibly great. Maybe there is… you’re running low on food supplies. Roots, vegetation, fresh water. Look at all that fresh water. Much cleaner than what you’ve been drinking from the edge of the delta marsh where too much salt was still present. Sure, not enough to kill you, but it tasted like mud.
“It did taste like mud…”
He found himself walking over to the water’s edge and kneeling down. He placed his knapsack to the side and cupped his hands to place into the body of liquid roiling up to the edge of the stone. He saw how clear the water was as he brought it to his lips and sipped. It was the freshest water he thought he’d ever had the pleasure of tasting. And clarifying. His thoughts were less muddled now, his conscience more focused. A smile came to his face as he leaned back onto his thighs and stared off into the forest interior. Several exotic birds cried to one another and took flight. A brightly colored rainbow one glided along the trail of the encircling river and out of sight around the bend.
So, how would I get across then? There’s no bridge? His thoughts trailed off as he looked back to the slippery path rolling around the edge of the river and ringed forest’s view. That’s too tricky. What if I slid off? He shook his head. What if I did? It’s not like I can’t swim. And there’s nothing in my bag of any value beyond just being edible. The blade certainly wouldn’t get damaged.
Shōtō stood up and grabbed his knapsack. He strapped it around his waist and started off towards the semi-cave wrapping around the cliff’s base. He placed his left hand on the smooth, moist surface of the inner curved wall and slowly made his way along its slick surface. The floor was bumpy yet still smooth, its incline only a few inches up and towards the wall but likely enough to send him plummeting into the cold water if he wasn’t extra careful. Within fifteen minutes he was at the first waterfall he’d seen coming down the declining path. The three quarters round tunnel led behind the falls and onto a wide stony path. The floor here rose up and down and led to a tall wall at the back of the alcove that curved up and around to the ceiling and ended at the cliffside where the water was pouring over.
He was careful with his footing even here despite the rocky terrain not spilling directly out towards the roaring place where falls met body of river. Instead, the floor drifted lazily at a backwards angle until it melded into the alcove wall. The stone surface looked like they’d been stacked. One flat wide stone atop another until it peaked in the center and formed an almost conical design. Not quite to his waist were he to stand to the back walls, but high enough to make falling and hitting his head a constant worry.
Shōtō worked his way around the stony floor and across to where the tunnel picked back up and away from the waterfall. He continued onward for almost twenty minutes. The roaring from all the waterfalls quite loud and magnified all throughout the basin. Yet, he could still hear the mewling calls of some sort of beast deep with the ringed forest. He wasn’t sure how deep that ring of woods was (a good hundred feet from circular river to inner lake, he was sure) and he had no inclination as to why he was so hellbent on getting over to it. Yet, he continued onward until he came to a sight that made his heart leap with joy. He could see another waterfall several dozen feet beyond the next bend in the river, clearly visible delivering its payload into the chasm. This made him momentarily wonder where all the water was going if it was flowing down into this hole in the earth. Wouldn’t the pit be completely filled to the brim by now? The thought was fleeting though as he looked down to his feet and stopped walking.
Here, a risen section of pebble strewn bank coming out of the water formed a triangular point bar lowering down towards the water some half dozen feet. Water lapped over the tip of this deposit (which formed a semi-bridge out into the river towards another sight of some relief) as Shōtō’s gaze fell on a heavy, branchless trunk laying halfway out into the river. Its tip sunk deep into the water and he could see that the result was a narrower section of the river where sand and grit and other detritus had gathered a few feet beneath the current steadily streaming across the what he guessed to be nine foot opening over the top of the natural and somewhat submerged bridge leading to the other side where the ringed forest awaited.
The current doesn’t look swift enough to knock me over if I walk across. He pursed the corner of his lips and looked both ways of the river. It wasn’t precisely real wide. Maybe just under twenty feet at any given point, but there were no other indications of an access point like this that he’d seen or could see from where he stood at the central point of the tiny sand bar. There was just this reef of fallen debris that didn’t look too slippery but made him instinctively cautious nonetheless. He looked back down and could see all of the materials clearly for the pristine water flowing across it. A steep angle of sand, branches, stone, and other unidentifiable debris sloped down until it disappeared into the depths of the river on the right side. On the left side, the natural detritus bridge fell steeply into the water beyond. A few heavy branches stuck out of the other side of the sandy soiled slope of riverbed, and beneath grew to a bluish black. He couldn’t see the riverbed from either side elsewise. Okay. It looks like this will go about to my knees. I really hope it’s stable enough.
Shōtō cautiously took a step forward and down the sloping triangular bank and onto the two-foot wide collection of sediments and ancient wood. His booted foot sunk down a few inches into the giving sand and then found solid purchase. He took another step, the clear water flowing around his feet steadily but not roughly as one would find in rapid waters. He found his eyes following the flow of the river and paused mid step. The current caused slight ripples on the surface and those ripples kept a forward motion until it swerved hard to its right about halfway up the bend and then hit the ridge of the cleaved off grassy ground of the forest ring. Branches hung over the water through that ground and into the river itself. There, the river seemed to puddle and swirl while bubbling as if it seemed to be pulled under the ring of land. From the other direction, the river currents there did the same thing. Both pulled and attracted to that one spot. A spot that might have been nearly as wide as his plane. He could even hear the gurgled, gargling protests of the water as it splashed against the shoreline and swirled around the bubbles and down into the abyss of whatever awaited at the river’s bottom.
Note to self, don’t fall off. And if you fall off, don’t get sucked into the bubbling vortex of terror… Shōtō pulled his eyes away from there and continued onward. Step by step, the water grew higher along his legs. At first, it was just his boots. Then, it rose above his footwear (the sloshing liquid finding quick purchase along his feet freezing his toes), and then up his calves. Eventually he came to the center of the submerged bridge and (as he suspected) it came just above his knees. A slight sense of vertigo came to his head as he held his arms out to his sides focusing only on his next step and not on the river rushing right past and around his legs gaining some sort of strength he hadn’t anticipated. However, he managed to find the end of the fallen tree (which was three times as thick as his body he had to note) and started his quest of making his way up its girth and across to the land just ten feet away now.
He made his way up the wood and continued balancing himself. With no branches to assist his progress with, he just hoped his balance was up to the task. Three feet up the slight incline of the tree, his foot slipped off the side and he fell straight down. Shōtō wrapped his arms around the trunk and clenched his thighs against the old wood. It was surprisingly still sturdy even though it seemed to have lain there for decades.
Shōtō twisted his face away from his right (the river water was splashing up into foamy waves as if slapping his visage just for the fun of it) and clenched his eyelids twice. He spit out a mouthful of water and then remained there until he had his heaving breath back. After a few minutes, he crawled forward a few feet, and tested his footing once more. He found it slightly drier moving forward and was able to come back to his full height. The rest of the distance he made fairly quickly and was tempted to throw his lips to the ground to kiss the soil when his feet clomped to the surface of the ringed forest. He didn’t, of course. Mostly because he preferred the taste of fresh river water to gritty soil in the mouth.
He did unstrap his pack and let it fall to the ground, though. It slopped to the ground heavily having holstered some of the river water when he’d fallen to the trunk. He stood just letting the sun run across his face for a long moment, eyes closed and sighing breaths calming his presence. After he got to a centered place, he knelt down and unclasped his knapsack. Water rushed out in a wave bringing some of his seaweed with it, as well as other items he’d been stowing. Some jerky from one of those water racing lizards he’d tried to escape from which seemed ages ago (now it was a limp, water logged mash), several bits of reed that were growing a dim white as opposed to the vivid green they’d been the week before, and bits of scrap metal he’d pulled off his plane to help him carve up food and trim down whatever needed trimming. He tipped the bag completely over and just let everything fall out.
Alright. Screw it. I’m just going to start over again. He sighed and pulled his sheathed knife out the rest of the way to lay to the side. Then turned his bag inside out. He was going to have to find somewhere to let it dry. Which would probably prove challenging given his current location at the bottom of a waterlogged chasm. He let the remaining water churn itself out of the bag, then did his best to twist his knapsack around until it was as dry as it was going to get (not by much) for the time. He grabbed the metal shards from his plane and his blade still in its now soaked sheath, shoved them all into the inverted portion of the knapsack and rolled the whole thing up into the palm of his hand where he gripped the cloth causing it to hang loosely as if a clutched blanket, and then marched into the interior of the ringed forest.
An hour later, Shōtō was at the lake edge looking across its expanse. There were ripples here and there across its surface. A fish leapt across the way crossing a splash that echoed across the way. Birds chirped, cheeped, and cawed all across the interior. Insects hummed their incessant vibrating calls. And a cool wind breezed across the entire environment. The hazy mists were gone (for now) and the sun was nearly directly overhead. The bright greens and blue greens of the leafy foliage adorned the canopy of the forest and the thick cumulation of vegetation at their bases, and the colorful aquamarine edge of the lake flowing around its center like a bright iris surrounding a blue black pupil, all worked together for almost the most serene landscape he’d ever seen (some of the mountainous places back home just could not be beaten in terms of serenity). And all around this lake, a wide fifteen foot or so rim of beach and grassy land allowed for plenty of spots to make camp.
“Okay. This is a good place to call home,” Shōtō smiled taking it all in. “Right now, then, I need a spot just to relax in. The parachute’s a total loss and all I have is this nearly empty bag.”
He looked down at the bag clutched in his hand. He’d had to leave his parachute behind on the cliffside near the ocean because it’d been pretty much tattered during the last storm. Now, he had no shelter and no food. Shōtō looked up to the clear blue skies and laughed. He laughed hard. His chest heaved and the knapsack fell from his grasp as he clutched his gut and fell to his knees, face still pointed upward and eyes closed. He laughed and it echoed all across the lake and up into the circular cliffs surrounding this isolated lake in the middle of an unknown island. He laughed because if he didn’t he cry harder than he ever had in his life.
He remained like that for a good five minutes until he was gasping for air and his throat was raw. His heartbeat started beating slower and he fell towards the ground, his hand bearing his weight and stopping his face forward descent. He let his elbow weaken and he collapsed to the ground. His face lay on his right cheek and he breathed in deeply for several long moments just staring out over the breadth of the lake. He both felt at peace and completely lost in that moment as his lips moved steadily as if he were speaking, but no words were coming forth. He also thought he must look like some freshly caught fish and this thought caused him to chuckle deeply. But he couldn’t muster any more laughter. He was too exhausted. Too spent from just getting to this place. Too wore out and wishing it was just all over now. He let his eyes close again.
After a while, Shōtō drifted off into a deep slumber.
“TAKING NAPS NOW, are we?” Avery mumbled from deep within the cover of a copse of trees.
He’d been watching the progress of his enemy. Had seen him walking down the cliffside. Had, in fact, been observing him since nearly six in the morning. The last thing he wanted or needed was some Jap assassin putting him down in the night. Did the man know he was there, hiding in the chasm forest? Praying not to be found to the spirits? He wasn’t sure. Didn’t think so. But best not to take chances. Sure, he could go after the pilot now, if he so desired. But what would he achieve in doing so?
Nothing. Nothing at all. No, the son of a bitch is up to something, mark my words. He came here. For a reason. For me? Oh, I doubt it! Avery dropped his binoculars to his bare, tanned flesh and grimaced. His lips almost a sneer. He knows something. Something I don’t. Oh, yeah! He knows how to get off this godforsaken island, doesn’t he! Oh, yes, he does! And he’s taking his time. For what? Capture me? Take me prisoner? Show me off to his heathen masters? Maybe, Ave, maybe. But I doubt it. No, he’s here for a reason. Best to find out what that reason is. Oh, yes, we’re going to find out what that reason is. I can feel it in my bones. He’s here for a reason. A reason. A very important reason. I just hope you’re not too late. Not too late at all. Rest assured, I’m you’re very important date.
Avery brought the binocs up to his brow once more and chuckled deeply. Soon he would know everything he needed to know about his hated foe. His lips curled up into a smiling snarl full of contempt and gleeful joy.
And that brings us to the end of today’s offering of LOM! Hope you enjoyed it and let me know your thoughts below! Come back next week for the next selection and stay tuned for more postings coming in the future!
~Timothy S Purvis