He acknowledged to himself immediately something that he had not wanted to think about. As the dugout passed the two jaws of the little bay that he had briefly called home port the current made a violent attempt to grab him and propel him again downriver. It took all of his strength to bring the boat around with its bow in the direction he wanted to go – upriver. There was going to be a constant battle with the power of the current.
With some skillful fluttering and flailing of the paddle he made a transit more or less ninety degrees to his desired direction of travel. On the surface of things that maneuver would seem to have been little more than an abject admission of defeat. Ninety degrees wasn’t backward but it wasn’t forward either. And all the while he maintained that attitude he was being inexorably swept downstream. But there was an advantage to that maneuver which years of experience on the river had revealed to him. By hugging close to the bank he avoided the massive strength of the current in the central heart of the river. Close to the bank he could gain maximum advantage over a less powerful current, and a current whose eddies and whirlpools and various diversions sometimes even flowed opposite the main direction of the river. In those moments of respite he could rest and gain maximum advantage from his efforts.
As he kept the bow of his boat at an angle to the main current he rather rapidly got into the calmer, slower water of the left bank, that bank being the left side from the viewpoint of the downriver transit that he had made to get to the island. He brought the bow around and began the tedious task of finessing the weaker but capricious currents in the direction that he needed to go.
There was one other advantage to hugging the bank when going against the current. And that advantage had long been a thing that he savored. That advantage was that creeping along in and out of the sunken logs, protruding fingers of land and in and out of little scallops of beach and bay was a perfect way to see the vast variety of creatures that lived at that convergence of land and water, or came there to drink or to hunt. His love of all of these creatures and his intense interest in their habits always made the dreary task of bucking the current less dreary.
There were Blue Herons. There were ducks of many sorts, some with plumage so gaudy that they looked as if they had been invented by some mad shaman. There were turtles and frogs and a vast array of fish that abounded in those shallows. There were deer – the large red type was especially exciting to see – and once he saw a bear. Skunks, badgers and hedgehogs were commonly seen in various stages of eating, drinking or hunting.
And so it was on this transit up river.
And the day passed and the sun made his course from up to down river and in less time than it would have seemed possible another day was ending and another camp needed to be set up. But this one could be less well planned since he was only going to overnight and then be off again,
As the sun was about to dip redly out of sight behind him he flared his paddle and glided into a tiny bay with a little beach and a small creek running into the main stream.
As the little boat scraped bow on to the beach he jumped out. Splashing in the shallow water he pulled the boat up far enough beyond the water line to be safe from any errant currents and solid enough on the land to serve as his bed for another night.
He rummaged in one of his bundles and extracted a spear. He had just enough light left to spear one of the large fish that were lazily meandering around the little bay and to build a fire.
When the flames had burned the wood down to a bed of coals he put the split fish gut cavity down onto the coals and waited impatiently for the telltale bubbling white stuff to begin seeping through the skin signifying that the fish was ready to be eaten.
The white bubbles finally appeared.
He ate greedily and fully.
With a stomach full of barbequed fish he prepared his bedding in the dying glow of the fire. Before getting into his bed he put the remainder of the driftwood that he had gathered onto the coals. It flared up and crackled and sent sparks skyward. He heard, or at least sensed, some creatures that had drawn near the dying fire pull back. And that was good. He hoped that the remainder of the firewood, now on the coals, now producing flames of some magnitude, would keep the various night creatures outside the circle of light while he slept. He crawled into the dugout. He was asleep in moments.
A rogue gust of wind rattled the casement against the wooden dowel holding it open. That dowel has a screw eye in each of its butts and is of such a length that, when the eyes have been planted in each of the vertical and ancient spear shaped shards of metal – one on the casement itself, the other on the wall of the building – a rigid triangle is formed, keeping the window open against the various blasts of wind that pop up at all times and under all weather conditions off the river. It would take a heavy gust to even pretend to test that triangular state of openness.
Such must have been the gust just past. The window was flapping from full open to nearly shut having been popped loose from the dowel.
That awakened me. I apparently drowsed along with the tribesman. It had been, after all, nearly three in the morning when I read the words of the beginning of his journey back.
Luckily the end of the dowel connected to the wall of the building was still in place. I was able to engage the other end with the window’s connector and re-establish the triangle.
I hoped that there would not be another such blast of wind.
The calvados was mostly gone from the glass. In the light floating in from the river, and from the horizon and from the street below, it glittered with an amber redness. I had a passing thought that it might be bearing some sort of chromatic message but I decided almost immediately that that was whimsical beyond even the sort of occurrences that I have recently been willing to accept as normal reality.
I did, though, have a really unsettling revelation.
Based on what I have read from the journal, including the part I have so far read about the tribesman’s return, I have tangible evidence from some past life that I somehow have a connection with or knowledge of the back story for everything that has been happening to me since I have been here in Paris.
“I am not at all certain” I just thought to myself, “that I want those pages to remain in existence”.
It was a fleeting thought, but other things are demanding my attention. Almost immediately after wondering about destroying some of the journal’s pages I had to finally deal with something that has been making increasing demands for attention.
All the time that I was reading the journal, before dropping off to sleep with the boatman, I ignored the pulsing amber light coming from the dinner table.
That pulsing was still going on. In fact it seemed to be gaining intensity and frequency.
But it was the sound – a new thing – the sound that forced me to cease ignoring it.
At first the sound – sounds really – was a barely audible babble. But then it began to take on a fully audible level. And I could begin to recognize the nature of the sounds.
I heard the sound of men. It was the sound of men shouting in anger. No identifiable words were discernable, but the nature of what the words probably were sounded as if they were of the same sort that I had heard only hours before when I had passed to the other side of the door outside my apartment. They had that same Gaelic flavor. But those words had dripped with solemnity. These words were replete with intense anger.
I got up and went to the table.
Both pieces of flint were pulsing. Both were emanating sound.
I looked into the glow.
I was immediately drawn in, visually, to a full scale presentation of what was occurring. It was as if I had been sucked into the events occurring within the glowing flint.
It was the beach that I had seen twice before, once from being on it, once from the description of it in the journal.
It was the man that I had never actually seen but whom I felt as if I knew intimately. He was clad in skins. He had apparently just drawn up his dugout to the sandy shore and had just stepped upon the strand and had just begun walking in the opposite direction from that which he had come, leaving the dugout behind.
The noise was, obviously, coming from the boatman’s direction of travel. There was a crowd of men who were clad similarly to the boatman. They were running down the beach toward him. In the lead was one who was so familiar to me that a pang went through me. It was Gargantua of recent pigeon drop fame.
At this point I almost quit watching. I almost convinced myself that I was in another of the intense and bizarre dreams that had been dogging my existence for weeks; but I kept watching.
As the two contingents came together, the boatman from one direction and the crowd from the other, the boatman did an odd thing.
He stopped dead in his tracks. He raised his hand. That hand was holding something in its curved finger tips. I could not see what that something was.
One of the two pieces of flint on the table became brighter and brighter and brighter. It almost went to a blue white level of intensity. I was thankful that I wasn’t seeing smoke arise from the table. Apparently the intensity was of a nature that had no heat associated with it.
That was good.
I could not see the scene in that piece of flint any more.
The other one had a different scene, a familiar scene. It was what I had seen when I had entered the other door on my floor only hours before. Recent though that had been it now seemed now to be from and in another lifetime.
It was the same scene except that the woman and the dog were not there. There was only the circle of fires, and this time, there was a group of men in rustic robes of skin and fur. And at their head was again, Gargantua. The table was there but there was no one on it.
I turned away. I dropped my head into my hands and started crying, deep heaving sobs.
“You have only one chance left” came into my head.
The first flint, the one that had gone blue white and had ceased yielding images began to glimmer down.
As it reached amber, I could see a scene again. The boatman was still standing with his left hand raised, fingers arched, and something held aloft in that arch. And I could see the reddened squirrel skin of the tip of the middle finger.
Gargantua and the others were closing on him.
He didn’t move a muscle or an inch.
Gargantua had some kind of weapon. It looked as if it were a Club somewhat on the order of a very large baseball bat. Instead of being completely rounded it was flattened leaving it with two broad faces and two narrow edges. It was made of wood, probably oak. In the narrow leading and trailing edges were mounted – four on each edge – large spear points. They were probably flint. The tip was adorned with its own even larger spear point. The thing was a Club bristling with murderous penetrating and slashing devices. Gargantua raised it vertically in front of him as he ran, closing on the boatman. The others, running behind, raised their similar devices similarly.
But it was Gargantua who got there first. He swung the thing – the weapon – in such a manner that the large front mounted spear point crossed the boatman’s wrist and severed the hand. The hand fell to the sand. It looked as if some sort of death grip of that hand had retained whatever it was that had been held aloft. Nothing bounced forth upon the sand from its grip.
The crowd behind Gargantua finished the boatman.
He was chopped to bits and left for the carrion birds of morning.
When the sun began his daily loop that beach was alive with large birds making even smaller pieces of the shreds.
As I watched the birds I tried to ignore the need to scream out in pain. With intense concentrated effort the need passed but the memory of the need will, I am certain, never leave me.
And all of this I saw in the flint.
But I saw it all in my time. I have no idea what the time was when it happened. But I was somewhere suspended in a time slice, neither mine nor that of the events that I had seen in the flint. From the viewpoint of that slice there really was no time.
And that left me the time to see the other thing.
And that other thing was what then happened in the other flint.