Jandrax 64

Suddenly, I was scared.

I took out my flint and steel. I wanted no fire; I abhorred the very idea of fire. How could a man desire a fire in this sunny glade?

I struck flint to steel.

The presence was there, sitting unseen beside me in the grass, somewhat irritated but also greatly intrigued. I could feel its curiosity at my acts. Involuntarily, I turned my head but found nothing.

I lay back in the sun and slept.

I woke shortly to find that my kindling had burned down to ash. Why had I slept? Was it exhaustion or had I been ordered to sleep so that the fire would die?

Suddenly I wanted no more of this island. I took up my cane and turned back toward the shore.

The dilwildi were arrayed in a crescent, barring my path. There was neither anger nor hostility in their expressions. Rather, their entire attitude was of sorrow and hurt. Still they frightened me, lined up against me as they were, and I reached for my rifle.

I could not find it.

For the first time since I had built it, I had forgotten it. It lay with my belongings near the gig.

I turned downslope toward the dilwildi. They closed about me, mewing with the soft cry I had heard in the night, a heartrending cry of sadness entirely unlike their exuberant “dilwildi.” They closed about, gripping my legs, restraining me gently. In fear as much as in anger, I struck out with my cane. One of the dilwildi was bowled over, bleeding from parallel cuts where the antler tip had caught him.

Instantly they retreated, ringing me with a wall of shocked horror. The presence was likewise horrified.

I fell to my knees, tears streaming, my insides torn and twisted at the thought that I had harmed so harmless a creature. I fell forward and buried my head against the earth. There was cold on my shoulders and I looked up to find the sun obscured by clouds – clouds on a planet that knows no clouds. Fear was in me, but more so a load of guilt so great that I could not bear it. I buried my face again.

They surrounded me then, burying me in a mass of soft, furry bodies, each tiny creature radiating good will and forgiveness. I slept.

(Guilt before God. Innocence in Eden. Is there anyone alive who doesn’t recognize the Judeo-Christian tradition here? And there is nothing wrong with that. Our common heritage is what makes literature comprehensible between us.)

***

When I woke the sun was up on a new day. I had slept warm under a blanket of living fur and only now did the dilwildi stir themselves and rise. One lay near my face and as I rose he looked inquiringly at me. I could see the twin weals across his belly. Raising his tiny hand, he touched my face and traced down to my chin. I drew myself awkwardly into a sitting position and faced him, ready for whatever message he bore, but if he was a messenger, he was mute. He waddled up and slipped into my lap like some huge cat, stretching and watching me with an intensity that provoked my laughter.

All that morning we worked our way higher and inland until at noon we had reached the barrier presented by great balks of stone set into what I knew to be a pier. How I knew, I could not have said, but it came to me that they sat at the edge of a fossil ocean and that the jungle I had traversed was the floor of some long-dead bay. more tomorrow

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