Jandrax 59

When dusk came, the crooning resumed, alternating with an airy cry of, “Dilwildi, dilwildi, dilwildi.” I searched the trees for the sources of the noise and saw patches of deeper darkness sitting at intervals along the larger limbs. Occasionally one of these would move, but I could not make them out. Alpha rose, with her tiny red companion Gamma in train. Beta, our third moon, would not be up for hours yet, but these two gave a silvery sheen to the lake, highlighting the darker gouges of the long, sweeping rollers. One of the patches of darkness detached itself from a limb and sailed seaward. I tracked it with my rifle, an instinctive, defensive action, but there was no reason to fire. It flew, but somehow I did not think of it as a bird. I followed it with my eyes until it was lost in the distance.

I slept too soundly that night. I had seen no carnivores, true, but there must be such or life here would quickly overpopulate. In the morning I slipped the oars into their sockets, cast off, and worked my way out of the inlet. I was in a foul mood, for rowing cost me much pain in my leg, yet I dared not set the unpredictable sail.

I rowed out into the lake a half kilometer to better survey the island, then turned west to follow the shore. The wind was against me, making the task harder than it need have been. From this distance I could see how thin the fringe of jungle actually was and how rugged were the hills beyond. Except for the shore, it was a forbidding and utterly inhospitable place.

I rowed for several hours, searching for a proper anchorage. I also filled my waterskins for the first time and set the line out to catch some fish more palatable than rocod. I had given up the idea of finding large game, but if I could get ashore and build a fire, cooked fish would be a delicacy by comparison.

At one point a flat plain no more than five meters above water level extended several kilometers inland. Here the jungle too thrust inland. There was an inlet into which I rowed.

It was not a river, of course, for there was nothing to feed it, yet it no doubt carried snowmelt from the mountains during the melt. Now the inlet was merely a thin arm of the lake, first a halfkilometer wide but soon narrowing to a dozen meters. My passage was silent but for the cutting of my oars, and the birds were in full song. Trees soared overhead, their branches intertwining to make tunnels of the smaller channels off the main stream. Twice I saw the large flying creatures overhead, but they passed quickly from sight.

I paused to check the charges in my rifle, for with a section of jungle this large I would have to revise my earlier assumption that there would be no large animals. It was my seventy-sixth day of raw fish.

The inlet continued for several kilometers, growing gradually narrower until trees began to meet over the main channel. I tied up to a tree and worked my way across the steps that its roots provided onto dry land. I staggered and nearly fell, so unaccustomed was I to the firm, unswaying earth.

*****

As I prepare this for serialization, I am struck by how much 1979 me doesn’t sound like 2016 me. It sounds more like Andre Norton, or H. Ryder Haggard, or Edgar Rice Burroughs. I grew up reading old books which were trapped in the amber of underfunded libraries, and started out writing like their authors.  more tomorrow

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