Hollowed Memories, chapter 8, part 7

April 19, 2015

It felt like first light when he woke up, with the pale sand matted in his hair, but a quick glance up at the sky showed he was wrong.  It was midmorning according to the sun.  Yarec found something soggy in his sticky wet trouser pocket.  He shoved half of it into his mouth, made a face, and tossed the rest away.

Looking out over the bright gray water, Yarec saw no sign of the ship.  The crew might have regained power and sailed away; or the ship might just have drifted out of sight; or the problems might have turned out to be even more serious that they had seemed, so the ship could have taken on water and sunk.  It was easiest, Yarec found, to imagine the last possibility.  As far as he was concerned, the Three Penny Queen and its crew were dead.

Yarec gazed left and right, following the curve of the beach.  Suddenly he felt a pang of fear.  I hope this isn’t an offshore island, he thought.  Another swim, to a distant mainland, felt like more than he could handle right then.

He stretched and paced.  For the moment, the best plan was to follow the beach.  The sand was a beautiful crystalline white, except where it was discolored by the streaks of rusty black and red exuding from the sporadic hunks of steel that had washed up along the shore.  Little flea-like critters squatted in tight clusters.  They were  still, apart from occasional twitching, until Yarec’s foot hit the sand a few centimeters away.  Then the bugs started springing in all directions.  They brushed past Yarec’s legs and kept on hopping until they reached a safe-seeming distance.

It was a long, tedious walk past all those skittering little things.  The shoreline curved toward Yarec’s left as he walked approximately south.  Eventually, he reached the tip of a south-pointing promontory.  As Yarec approached the point, a line of rocky hills had marched closer and closer to the water, leaving only narrow strip of sand between the gray bluffs and the warm, rolling surf.  Yarec found himself holding his breath as he reached the spot where the rocks and water finally met.  If he was on an island, in a moment he would know.

He scrambled up three or four meters of smooth-weathered rock and saw a welcome sight waiting to the east.  The rocky point was not the southern tip of an island.  On the other side of the promontory, the ocean had carved out a rounded bay, like a bite chomped out of the coastline.  It looked like a poor harbor, and there was no sign of current habitation, just some blocky concrete ruins peeking out of the tropical vegetation halfway around the bay.  It would take Yarec an hour or two  to circumnavigate the bay, but then he could continue along a broader beach that continued south by southeast.

It would be shorter to swim across.  Yarec considered the possibility for only a moment, before discarding the idea.  It would be more dangerous; there was only a little time to be saved that way; and he was thoroughly tired of swimming.

Yarec turned and started north again, following along the curve of the shoreline.  Suddenly, he was being pelted with raindrops.  The drops were large and warm, bursting against his shoulders and hair and emitting a rancid odor.  When they were only a few, Yarec batted at them pointlessly, but soon they became a torrent.  It’s like being bombarded with rotten blueberries, he thought.  As a child, Yarec had learned to find blueberries in the mountains near his home.  They grew in those rocky ravines that were still watered by streams, and they actually came in many colors—blue, purple, black, and even red.

Yarec’s nostalgia for the times he had fed himself on those tiny sweet berries distracted him from the rank-smelling rain.  He almost ceased to notice it, until he realized that the downpour was coming to an end.  The gray-brown storm cloud over him was being borne out to sea on the trade winds, leaving its stink on the wet sand.  Yarec hoped he would not smell too strongly when he met the locals.  He was soaked through, now with a strange-smelling mixture of seawater and rain.  Yarec was pretty much immune to ordinary discomforts; he processed the feelings of cold or nausea or headache and set them aside unless they were extremely severe.  However, if Yarec smelled as rank as he felt right then, anyone he met might not be inclined to treat him amicably.

He finally found a road just a few hundred yards inland.  It was sheltered in the lee of a line of dunes from the roughest effects of any storms that hit the sea.  It was unpaved, but Yarec could see that the strip it followed had once been the site of a concrete superhighway.  When it was brand new, the highway must have glittered in the sun—white like the fine local sand—but it had either eroded away completely in the salt-tinged air, or its surface had been harvested by local builders.  Rectangles cut from old, strong roadways were cheap, strong, and durable.

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