I picked up another stone and tossed it out into the gray blue waters. It made a tiny splash, and then all was silent again. Small ripples spread and grew and disappeared just as quickly as they arrived. How many stones had I tossed now without a response? I leaned back, let my legs dangle over the edge, let the subtle waves lap at my feet. All around this tiny island was nothing but water and sky. It was nothing more than a tiny crag barely tall enough to keep from being buried underneath the endless ocean.
I grabbed another stone, let it plop into the waters.
This was my favorite spot. Follow a worn out path until it wears out completely, cut through a shadowy canopy of trees, up one small hill and down another. It spat out into a tiny haven, an edge without any shoreline. The waters were bottomless as soon as you stepped into them. No gradual declination here, just a bottomless pool beneath your feet. As I looked out and saw only a great and overwhelming nothing, this spot made me feel like I was at the edge of the world itself. I came here often.
Another stone, another plop in the same spot.
The clouds swirled and churned overhead like the concoction of some dark potion. Not terribly different than the waters below, I thought. Endless sky above, endless waters below. Trapped between two infinities, both full of wonder and power and destruction. The thin line in the distance where the two met seemed to blur more and more each day. Perhaps that far off into the horizon they are one and the same, not that anyone on this tiny rock would know. When was the last time anyone left? Or, came back after they did? I couldn’t remember.
Maybe they weren’t coming today, I thought. Oh, well. I could lay here for a while either way and ponder my plan for tonight. One last throw and then I fell back, resting on the ground with my hands behind my head and watching the sky as if waiting for it to speak.
I heard a slightly bigger splash than the ones my small rocks had made. Then, one landed next to my head as it bounced and rolled behind me.
“You called?” said a gurgly voice I knew well.
I sat up. “I didn’t think you’d come,” I said. “Almost ran out of rocks.”
“Have I ever once missed a day when you called?” The squid lifted several tendrils out of the water, each holding a stone. “I couldn’t help but try and catch as many as I could on my way up. A game of sorts. Have to find enjoyment where you can, no?” The squid then deposited the stones onto the ground next to me in a neat pile. “For next time,” it gurgled.
“I hope there’s a next time,” I said, gazing up at the sky. “A great storm is on the way. Probably tonight.”
The squid rubbed its temple as if trying to decipher a riddle, and then disappeared under the water. It resurfaced a few seconds later several feet away. “Yes, probably tonight,” it offered. “But I dislike your choice of words.” It dove under once more, popping up in a different spot. Moving around seemed to help gather its thoughts. “There is always a next time, and this time is no different. You’ve seen plenty of storms, have you not? Same as always. You know how to handle a mere tempest. You air-breathers are a resilient lot.”
My plan when a storm was brewing was always the same--I had discovered a tiny cave far up the isle, elevated beyond what most people explored. I’d gather some wood for fire, enough food for the night (perhaps some berries, or a piece of fruit), and stay hidden away. Then, wait for it to pass. Each and every time I’d done this, and survived thus far.
“Yes,” I said. “I know how to handle one.”
“Of course you do,” the squid agreed. “Then why so frightened?”
“This one feels different.”
The squid disappeared under the water once more. Several seconds passed, but it had still not resurfaced. The seconds stretched on. Still nothing. What had happened? Was something wrong? Had I misspoke? The wind felt like it was picking up. I thought I felt a raindrop. I wondered if the creature hadn’t left altogether. But it wouldn’t--?
A sudden splash and the squid was back, apparently having gathered all its thoughts.
“It might feel different, but that doesn’t mean it will be.”
I said nothing back.
“Look,” the strange creature continued. “I’ve come to look forward to these talks. As always, I look forward to the next one. You surface dwellers are such odd folk. I still have so much to learn about you and your kind! Don’t let one tiny little tempest stop my quest for knowledge.”
“Yes, well, I’m jealous of your kind whenever a storm hits up here. What trouble is water falling from the sky if you live beneath it anyway?”
“Don’t worry,” the creature said. “The seas are full of their own terrors.”
We sat in silence for a brief moment. “I should probably prepare for tonight,” I finally said.
I stood up to leave, but tossed one last thing into the water. The creature quickly scooped it up in a tentacle and examined it like a treasure hunter appraising a rare jewel.
“What might this be?” it asked.
“A berry. For eating.”
“A berry,” it said barely above a whisper. “Fascinating.”
I made my way back through the canopy of trees, back onto the worn out trail as I ventured inland. The wind had picked up noticeably by now. Tree branches looked like flailing limbs trying to tread water as they bobbed up and down in the gales. The sky grew darker, and a heaviness was settling onto the air.
After some time I stopped to rest my feet. I sat on a large rock on the side of the path and munched on a few berries. Not too many--had to save the rest for tonight. My small bag was still roughly halfway full, which was enough to get through an overnight storm.
A rustling behind me. I quickly tied up my sack of food and turned around. Through the tall and wavering grass and brush was a figure approaching my way. I could hear slashing and then crunching underfoot as it made its way towards me.
An older man emerged from the brush. His face was bitter and weathered and reminded me of the craggy cliffs where the waves crashed the strongest. He huffed and cursed as he finally made his way out. He held a large knife in his hands.
“Damned overgrown brush,” he muttered. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” I said quickly, avoiding eye contact.
The old man huffed again like a tired beast. “Storms brewing. A bad one. I always know these things. Feel it in my bones. Bones never lied to me yet. Only thing I can trust anymore.” I said nothing back, offered up a slight nod.
“What’ve you got there?” the man asked, pointing at my bag with his knife.
I hesitated a second too long, wondering how to respond. Tell the truth and he might try and take my only food for the night, tell a lie and he might become suspicious anyway.
“Only a few berries for the night,” I coughed up.
The man grunted. “Not worth the trouble, then,” he decided. “Be glad you answered honest, child. Another thing I can always tell--whether someone speaks true or not. The trick isn’t in the words themselves but how the words are said. The voice, the language of the body, the eyes. You look too frail and frightened to speak falsely. Wise choice, young one. If you’d have even answered ‘Nothing’, I’d have snatched your bag away by any means just to sate my curiosity. Never know what you might need for days like today, what might come in handy for survival. A bad storm approaches, indeed.”
I opened the bag and held out several berries in my hand. “You can have some,” I offered.
The man’s face scrunched up in confusion. Then, he laughed madly. “You’re a fool, you know that? Say--now that I think about it, you’re that odd child that’s always running off and speaking to strange creatures aren’t you?”
I said nothing back. My eyes gazed down at my dirty feet and collapsing shoes, waiting for the man to continue. A drizzle had begun, barely noticeable except for the tiny dots of darkened ground appearing beneath me.
“Yes, yes you are,” the man continued. “I see it now. Not many of us left here, I’m surprised I didn’t realize it sooner. All alone, you find company and conversation in the oddest of animals. Truly, a fool! You shouldn’t trust the words of man, let alone the words of strange beasts. Best to brush off any advice they give you, whether it be the beasts of the air or of the deep. Nothing good comes from either.” The man spat out a single syllable of coarse laughter, apparently realizing something amusing, and added, “Not that anything good comes from the surface, either.”
The man began to stride off in another direction. “Keep your berries,” he called out over his back. “Our tiny rock will be washed away by the morrow, anyway.”
I walked for a great deal of time, switching to climbing when the elevation made walking impossible. This entire section of the island--where my hidden sanctuary from the story resided--was ignored by most of its inhabitants. Aside from the elevation which made the journey difficult and tiring, rumors of its dangers had spread. Murmurs of strange poisonous creatures, sinister things that lurked in the shadows of its thick trees and in between the rocks of the jagged cliffs, of traps and loose ground, had reached the ears of everyone by now. My own experiences taught me these were all false. Certainly, there were strange creatures and patches of difficult terrain but I’d never had a problem with either. The journey wasn’t so much dangerous as it was draining.
The rain was picking up, now a step above a mere drizzle. A palpable heaviness permeated the air as if the entire sky itself was about to plummet. I had snatched some pieces of wood along the way to make a fire. Hopefully they weren’t too wet to be of use by the time I reached my destination.
Finally, I reached my destination. Dead center in the middle of the section everyone else ignored. My legs felt as if they might collapse underneath me. The cave was small enough that I had to duck slightly to get inside. It wasn’t much bigger on the inside, either. Much closer to a small hut than an expansive cavern. Only a tiny fraction of remaining daylight peered in. I set about making a fire--it took some time, the wood being slightly damp in places, but I finally got it started. I warmed myself, and waited.
Night had arrived. I could see leaves scuttling by in the winds as they grew stronger, branches swinging back and forth, plunging up and down like they were weak ships being tossed about by mighty waves. I sat motionless for I don’t know how long. Waiting.
When the sky did finally crack open with a piercing bolt, it felt like there would be no sky left by the time it was over.
A curtain of heavy rain blocked the exit of the cave. I felt as if I was at the bottom of the ocean inside a tiny bubble. Branches were ripped apart and thrown about. Flashes of blinding white light illuminated the sky followed by bursts and explosions nearby.
A new fear entered my mind--what if someone else found this place? Would they attack me? Try to take my little bit of food left? Kick me out forcibly?
Another explosion outside, the sound of something bursting into pieces.
Nobody had found this place before, but that didn’t mean that wouldn’t change today.
What if the storm never stopped? If the skies emptied themselves out, dry as sand, until the waters reached even my hidden sanctuary? What if that man was right, and the storm buried our island underneath the waves?
Another deafening crack.
What if? Anything was possible--which made me think back to my conversation earlier...
“It might feel different, but that doesn’t mean it will be.”
I thought about that strange creature’s words. Perhaps if anything was possible, that meant it was possible that this, too, would pass. The worst case scenario could happen, but that also meant a multitude of other scenarios could happen instead.
Those words rang in my head as I leaned back against the hard walls of the cave, drifting off as the flames danced around my shelter from the storm.