The author awakens in the care of a strange woman on a strange island.
The measure of time can be a fickle thing. Compared to the ghastly excitements on board the carefully engineered vessel that was my previous conveyance, the gentle oscillations of the egregiously named, “Pacific Ocean,” seemed an apprehensive tedium. I bobbed about the waves in a state of alert sleep, as though sleepwalking but while not fully asleep. With little upon which to focus but an endless azure field and surrounded by a wet cocoon of jetsam, I drifted in and out of consciousness. Vaguely, I was aware of my own consciousness, but dragons and krakens, in my current state of mind, would have been no more or less surreal than the sight of a ship or land. The fight had long since left my wearied limbs.
I floated in these conditions for hours or days. With honesty, I cannot truly say whether it was the former or the latter. I was sustained only by the small ration of water in the bottles and the meagre shelter provided by the raft.
My first clear memory—and I pray you believe me when I say it took some time for me to accept that this was indeed a memory and not just a ridiculous dream—was of sensing my leather-upholstered swaddle no longer surrounding me. Heavy, dark air and a solid, slanted deck had replaced the bright, wet environment. Activity around me informed me I was not alone.
Dimly, it became clear I was in a small cave and was being attended to by a small but strong woman. My lips were burnt and parched from the sun and dehydration. I knew I had been given water. A point to note, however: if you happen upon an unconscious person in your travels, you should not give them food or water. They are most likely to aspirate rather than revive. In my circumstance, somehow, I had been resuscitated.
The woman in the cave was clearly attending to many disparate emergencies, of which I was apparently secondary concern. As she flitted about and fiddled here and there, I adjusted to the light that entered the cave through numerous fissures in the rock. I took an estimation of the woman as I could not yet ascertain if she was my saviour, captor, or companion of circumstance. She was short, but with defined musculature like that of an athlete, and was thin and unkempt, with long, messy hair. I hesitate to print this, but in the interest of full disclosure, she was also completely naked. Her back was marked by numerous scars, with cuts and bruises, which suggested to me we were imprisoned together in our subterranean dungeon. She stood stooped and crooked and possessed long, jagged, untrimmed fingernails more resembling an animal’s than a well-groomed human’s.
Sensing there was nobody else around and I was not in any immediate danger, I endeavoured to prop myself up with the ultimate intent to quietly rise to my feet. At almost the first movement, before I thought I had even made the slightest whisper, she whipped her head around and glared at me like a deer in the forest upon the slightest snap of a twig. She and I shared a long, breathless stare as we both took the measure of the other. I could see the bruises on her back continued to her front, on her face, arms, and legs. Her entire body was covered with hairy, almost fur-like matting. One might draw the impression from this description that she bore the appearance of a Neanderthal. I can’t claim to have ever before seen one in person, but she seemed to me more a feral human, with delicate features like a small nose and a flat, near vertical forehead camouflaged behind a tough façade.
I had barely managed to lift my body centimetres off the slab and had found the exertion of staying here was proving too great for my current physical condition. My arms gave out on me suddenly, and with a light, but solid, bump, I fell back onto the rock upon which I had recently laid. My cavewoman companion was at my side almost immediately, raising and funnelling a liquid towards my mouth with a large leaf. She spoke in a sort of whisper saying, “way-o, way-o, way-o,” showing me I should drink from it. Unable to put up a struggle, I reluctantly complied and drank the water. It was dirty and thick with what I still hope was just silt from the stream. The water fell into the cave, not far from my bed, through an algae-plugged hole in the ceiling. Despite the taste and texture, I could not help but drink deeply and greedily from the proffered cupped leaf. As I finished the beverage, which I spilt embarrassingly onto my once again soaking wet clothes, she offered me another and another, repeating “way-o, way-o, way-o” each time.
Finally, I pushed the leaf away, and as gracefully as I could, thanked her but refused any more. Though I thought it unlikely she would speak English or any other language to which I could stake any claim, I could not foresee her reaction to my voice. Her eyes and mouth burst open, and she jumped back, without making a sound, into the stream on the floor. The sudden violence of her action startled me as well, and I jerked away from her. We returned to the stare we had shared before. This time she was noticeably shaken and apparently as afraid of me as I was of her. She silently exclaimed a single word, “Huhuneem.” I’m certain the look on my face was one of pure confusion. My brow furrowed and I repeated back, “Huhuneem?” Her eyes stretched wider as she turned and fled deep into the cave, ducking under stalactites and veering around stalagmites as she ran out of sight, leaving me alone once again in a strange cave, lying on an inclined rock.
I tried to lift myself up to explore the cave but found I could not muster the energy and lay back down to rest. The wild cavewoman didn’t return, and I fell back to sleep on my rock on the floor of the cave.