Welcome, hello, and good day, faithful reader! Welcome back to another installment of Left of Midnight. That newest of novels that I’m currently in the midst of calibrating and making ready for consumption by your critical eye! I’m Timothy Scott Purvis (as if you didn’t already know that!), and I’m hosting this next offering. Hopefully, you’ve been following along. And hopefully you’ve been enjoying the writing so far.
Alright, let’s get into it!
NETI STUMBLED THROUGH the forest. His feet tried to come out from under him as the entire earth seemed to quake. He paused and looked around him. The forest was dense and full of all manner of foliage from flowering plants of the most magnificent variety of blues, greens, and reds inter sprinkled with yellow bulbs bursting forth across a myriad of ferns, and vines, and bushes lining the forest floor, (They filled him with a sense of wonder. He’d never seen plants of this kind before; Anything down in Urudiin was fairly mute with colors of brown, and black, and ochre; Here, it was a kaleidoscope of brilliance and he didn’t know how to handle the way it made him feel) to the towering trunks of trees rising as high as any temple in all of Urudiin or the subterranean cities.
And the sounds he was hearing. Every sort of screeching, mewling, cawing thing surrounded him. Yet he’d only seen a few birds here and there. It was as if all the wildlife had been instructed to stay away from him and not hinder his passage. He could hear the great sea far off to his right pounding the shoreline as if a great creature trying to claw its way onto land. And the air was a salty, briny, cooling breeze against a staggeringly hot day.
Then the earth had started to shake. He paused for only a few minutes longer. The fauna had gone quiet and slunk away into whatever shadows they were fond of. The breeze even seemed to still. And then the boom echoed forth from some great distance. A boom of a sort he’d never before encountered. He felt that if that boom had transpired in Urudiin, all of the city would have been destroyed.
In fear, he raced across the forest floor, plowed through hindered vines, and pushed himself as hard as he dared. His breath came to him in ragged heaves and his robes (that he’d removed and wrapped around his waist) were reaching out to entangle in any sort of clutch that was reaching out for him. After a time, he just ripped his robe off and left it behind. Then he raced even faster. Time passed in a slow cadence. At least, so it felt. And then he was out of the great forest and at the edge of an even greater desert stretching out for a hundred miles. A thousand. He couldn’t say. It went all the way to the horizon where a great mountain range was just barely visible peaking up and into the sky.
In the middle of it all, he saw a great tower. It was thick at its base and would have tapered into a conical point were it not for the fact the great structure looked only half complete. And zooming in and out of view all around this tower, were vessels of some sort. He couldn’t say what they were. Only that they seemed brightly lit under the glare of the sun. In one moment, they were little spheres, in another, arrowheads shooting straight for the tower. And great heaving flashes of light were speckled all across the sky as the things darted back and forth seeming to strike the tower with their exhausting spectacles of light. And every time the light struck the tower, the earth shook violently.
They’re attacking it…
Neti looked around. It was like something or someone had spoken in his head. Yet, no one was around to be seen. He had no idea why this thought would come to be. He had no reason to think that the tower was being ‘attacked’ as the voice had said.
‘You’re almost here…’ another voice spoke. This one was deeper and full of authority. Not the sense of wonderous observation the other voice had been filled with. ‘You will not have to cross the whole desert. Just a part. Walk and you will be preserved. You will come to a place that looks like a mountain shattered and torn asunder. At its base, you will find a cave-’
A scream filled Neti’s head and he fell to his knees. He grimaced against the pain of that scream (a wail, really) and tried to focus on that other voice. The one full of authority.
‘—and there you will follow the river.’
Yes. I got it. I think. I know what I have to do. But what on earth was that scream?
He’s in pain again. I have to go.
What? Who…? What is going on?
AVERY LEAPT TO his feet and wiped the sleep out of his eyes. He’d been getting more accustomed to leaping out of his sleep no matter what insane thing he’d been dreaming of. This time, it was that cave dweller again. The one following voices and trying to save his people.
Just like you, right Ave? Just trying to save everyone even though you can’t even save yourself. He looked over and saw the Japanese pilot flailing about in his sleep and almost to the raging campfire at the edge of the alcove.
Avery jumped up and raced over to the man before he could set his pants on fire. He gripped the man to his chest and pulled him away from the flames. His screams filled his ears and he didn’t even need to feel his forehead to know that the fever had returned and in force. The man was writhing about too much for him to try and get him into the lake again so he attempted to hold him down as best as he could until the pilot had worn himself out.
“Come on! Just calm damn, buddy! Just calm down! Nothing’s here to get ya!” Avery cried out. “Not even me!”
“You don’t understand!” the man came back. “It’s already here! He’s already here!”
“Who!? Who’s here!? Who!?”
“The void! The void! Bel Zhe Bor!”
Avery didn’t understand what he was screaming and didn’t think about the fact that every word he spoke was suddenly understandable. He wouldn’t think about anything of this event until the next day. In the meantime, he held on with all of his strength until the man went limp. He kept holding for a moment longer and then looked down at the man. He wasn’t breathing.
“Hey! Goddamnit, you son of a bitch! If I wanted you dead, I’d do it myself!”
Avery picked him up and raced towards the lakeside. There, he repeated the process from before. Rinsing the cold water over the man and shaking him. There seemed to be no life coming from the pilot and his fever was only growing hotter.
Hey, how about you try something?
He didn’t think about this voice either. It wasn’t Janus. It wasn’t that Neti guy. It was young. Like a little girl’s. Only he had no idea why he’d now be hallucinating a little girl. But an image came to mind and he shook his head. That didn’t make any sense. Yet, somehow, it did. So, he went about pulling the man to shore and then wrapping one hand over the other to start compressing the pilot’s chest. After several thrusts, he went about covering the pilot’s nose and then breathing into his mouth. He did this several times before going back to the compressions.
After a few moments, the pilot started hacking and coughing and rolled over onto his side. Then the screaming started again before he passed out once more.
“What the flying fuck is going on, on this island!?”
Avery felt the man’s head. It was cooling off. He put a finger under his nose. The pilot was breathing steadily once more. Even his chest heaved in a steady pace. He slumped onto his buttocks and leaned back onto his hands breathing heavily as he watched the pilot showing stronger signs of life.
He shook his head and stared back up into the night sky. The stars glittered brilliantly and he saw the expanse of the Milky Way galaxy stretching from one side of the sky to the midway point. His own heart was racing and his mind was a murky swamp. Avery didn’t want to think anymore let alone dream. Of course, given how hard his heart was beating, he didn’t think he’d get much more rest that night.
However, he flopped down onto his back and was asleep before he could even mutter the word ‘fuck’ lingering on his lips.
SHŌTŌ SAT IN Seiza, his legs drawn up beneath him, his buttocks comfortably atop his heels. He was back in his peaceful meadow. The mountains loomed large on the horizon and encircled this valley of plains full Shiroibara (…white roses…) until they crashed into the edge of the meadow where Shōtō sat in contemplation. The meadow being almost completely engulfed in red Higanbana (…red spider lilies…).The only place bare of red or white flowers was the base of the Sakura tree, of which Shōtō had his back to. There, a ring of dirt surrounded the now leafless, flowerless hulk of tree.
…Oh, oh no… poor Shōtōsan…
Shōtō opened his eyes. Not quickly by any means. But he still felt a deep startled sensation in his stomach that made him question where he was and why. He could have sworn he heard a little girl’s voice in his thoughts. He tried to look around, but was unable to move his gaze from the distance. It was like he was in a trance yet there was a calm resolve now enveloping him. One that was more powerful than any thought that what he was experiencing wasn’t right. Was against everything he’d been raised to accept. Even the flowers around him felt… troubling.
‘Now, there is only one task for you to fulfill, young Ryūgawa,’ the voice boomed in a gentle cadence and all of his doubts melted away. ‘The American must not be allowed to set foot into Farediin.’
Farediin? What’s that?
‘Irrelevant. Keep him where he is. Already too much time has passed. The Great Conflict is almost upon us all,’ the voice spoke evenly and Shōtō’s eyes remained fixed on a string of mountains far on the horizon. ‘However, if it will simply your task… Come nowhere near… here…’
Shōtō saw an image draw before his eyes. The horizon shifted and then he saw the breadth of the island he was on. The legion of tropical forest and at the island’s head the great and ancient volcano slumbering there. It was as if he were back in his plane zooming towards the magnificent feature. And then he was back staring at the horizon. He hadn’t moved an inch.
‘You are now healed of your ailments. Keep the American away,’ there was a deep commandment in the voice he was unable to turn away from and a smile crept across his face. ‘Should you accomplish this, Shōtō my son, you will find eternal grace in my kingdom.’
Shōtō’s smile broadened and a tear fell from his eyes, There is a God…
And he felt the very last vestiges of his fever vanish at the thought.
AVERY WAS BUSY at work finishing cooking a fish he’d caught earlier that morning. Skinning and preparing the thing hadn’t taken nearly as long as it would’ve when he first crash landed on the island. But now he felt that he was near becoming a fishing legend. Makeshift wooden hooks and thinned down vines were easier to make into fishing instruments than they would have been in his youth and he felt ever more accomplished by the day for his ingenuity.
I should enter a tournament when I get home, he grinned to himself as he turned the fish filet over on top of the metal tray. It was likely a piece of the Japanese pilot’s plane, he realized. Something the clever little bastard had forged into a cooking utensil.
Hope he gets better soon. I could use some pointers on how he manages to accomplish all of this, he nodded to himself seeing that the fish was pretty much ready to go. He retrieved the two wooden platters he had nearby as well as two wooden bowls. All of which the man had himself carved out at some point after crashing himself. All of which was as useful as anything he’d ever seen an outdoorsman make. He was impressed alright as he dipped the fish out on the plates and then placed a concoction of roots and vegetables that grew around the ravine. He knew these were the edible ones, though. He’d been experimenting and only found a few that would make one violently ill. Avoiding those plants was priority one on his list. He didn’t know what these things were, but some of them tasted like green beans (complete with the tiny beads inside the leafy stalks but were too hard to eat themselves) and others were a chewier, meatier type yet still pretty good when boiled long enough.
He’d also made up a sort of stew involving the pilot’s favorite veggie, that nasty seaweed stuff out in the lake. He prepared the pilot’s plate, then walked over to the man. He seemed to be doing better but he’d yet to regain consciousness. Avery was just glad he was breathing well enough and that the fever had pretty much disappeared. For the last few days, in fact, he’d managed to get some soups and other food down his gullet. Now, Avery tried a spoonful (made from a spoon he himself attempted to carve out; it wasn’t pretty—in fact it looked like a splinter factory—but it did the trick) of the soupy lakeweed stuff and the pilot seemed to take it in subconsciously, slurping even in the process despite his eyes being closed.
“This is going good,” Avery placed the bowl down and picked up the plate of fish. He chopped the fish up into pieces and then grabbed the spoon from the bowl making sure there was a little bit of the broth in it. He added some ground bits of the fish into the spoon and then absently grabbed a piece of the fish to chew on himself. It was delicious, if he did say so himself.
“And I do!”
Avery picked the spoon up and put the tray down. Then reached out with his free left hand to grip the pilot’s chin as he guided the spoon towards the man’s mouth. The pilot’s eyes opened then and he stared straight at the chewing mouth of Avery who was hovering just a head’s breadth away. The pilot made a shout of some sort and knocked the spoon away as he pushed backwards and leapt to his feet. At first, Avery was stunned. The pilot lurched against the back wall of the alcove, hitting his head on the ceiling in the process, and started spitting out what was in his mouth in rapid succession. Then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, staring at Avery in disgust.
Then it dawned on Avery what the pilot must be thinking and started laughing. Some of his fish flew out in the process as he himself came to his feet gripping his stomach.
“Oh my God! You, what, you think I was chewing my food and spitting it in your mouth!?” Avery laughed harder and turned back to his own plate awaiting him and then sat down by the campfire. The pilot watched him cautiously. Avery picked up his own choppily hacked spoon and put the tray of his own food and soup on his lap and started eating. Then pointed his spoon at the pilot’s tray when he saw he was just standing there glaring at him. “Relax! I didn’t do that. That’s disgusting! Look, I was just feeding you your own mash. It’s good. At least I think so.”
The man looked at the plate with the fish and the soup and looked back to Avery. Then slowly worked his way back to the meal and sat down to pick it up. He took a hesitant bite and found the fish acceptable. Then scarfed it down.
“I’d take my time eating, if I were you,” Avery said nodding towards him. “You’ve been out of it for almost a week now. Not sure if you’ll keep it down or not. But, I’m glad you like it.”
The pilot paused and stared at him for a moment, then said, “Thanks.”
Avery paused for a moment thinking back to how he thought he’d heard the man speak English before. Now he was positive he’d heard the man correctly, “What was that?”
The pilot took in a spoonful of the soup, didn’t seem to grimace (at least, not too hard), and looked to him. “Aerie got toe.”
He said it so fast, Avery wasn’t entirely certain what he’d heard but he tried it out anyway. “Are e gat too. That means, ‘thanks’?” The pilot only looked at him as he took another spoonful of his soup. The fish was already gone. “Yeah. I think we might be beginnin’ to understand one another. Great! To that degree, let me just say, I think we’ve spent too much time here already. Once you’re feeling up to it, I think we should move on.”
The pilot didn’t say anything. Only focused on eating. He made a few grunts here and there, but for the most part only offered Avery a few careful glances.
“You’re right. We can afford a few days,” Avery chuckled. “It’s not like either of our countries have made a concerted effort to come find our asses. I’m assuming you tried your radio? I was coming for you to get yours. But, you’re here, right? So, what does that tell us? Well, I know what it tells me. That neither one of our illustrious nations gives a damn whit about what happened here. So, it’s up to us to make a living for ourselves. I’m thinking, we make shelter somewhere up along the passages leading topside. Then, we spend a few weeks exploring that old volcano northward. What say you?”
The Japanese man finally spoke. But it was in that rambling way of his that Avery couldn’t quite put together but he felt that there was a meaning he was vaguely understanding even if he didn’t know the whys and hows of it all.
“Let me guess. You think staying put will net us the best chance of being found?” Avery looked over to him after taking a few spoonfuls of his own lakeweed concoction. “Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Japanese guy, they ain’t coming for us. No, sir. Not coming for us at all. It’s just you and me on this useless backwater.”
The pilot lowered his plate to his lap and spoke again. This time his face expressed a well of passion for something. But again his words were a jumbled mess to Avery but he thought he understood they’re meaning.
“You’re right, my friend! It is the only chance we have. We’ll take a few days. Then, build up our shelter up yonder. Find a nice cavern. Well, I mean, I’ve already found one that I think would make for a real nice hidey hole. But, after that, I think we need to really head north for a spell. Probably won’t find anything. However, I just need to know, you know?” He watched the man for a moment and then smiled with a nod. “Okay, then. You finish up. I’m going to go wash myself off. I feel like a sticky mass of congealed honey. Wish I smelled like it.”
Avery stood up and waved at the man as he headed towards the lake. The pilot only watched him walk away. A look of despair on his face.
And here we are once more at the end of another selection of Left of Midnight! I hope it continues to enthrall you and I thank you for continuing to read. I look forward to bringing you more next week! Read to you again soon!
~Timothy S Purvis
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