Stranded in a cave, the author meets more natives of this place, but not all of them are like the feral runaway.
Gradually, strengthened by the subterranean water, I pulled myself back together in the dimly lit grotto. Though it was sparsely, to put with a mild sense of humour the exaggeration, decorated, it was evident this cave had been lived in for some time. While nothing existed to cause one to believe a civilized person called it home, the twigs, moss, and leaves were arranged in such a way that suggested some areas were used for rest. A pit against a wall, near where I first saw the wild woman, led upwards to a fissure in the ceiling. A low rock wall surrounding the pit showed this was used for fire. My indulgent stone bed was posited against the wall opposite the fire pit. Nearby, the aforementioned stream trickled from the ceiling—which was thick with falling stalactites—roughly twelve feet above the ground, falling to the middle of the floor and out in a sinuous stream to my left towards a brightly illuminated part of the cave. I took this to indicate the mouth of the cave. This entrance was opposite the direction the woman had fled.
The air was thicker than before now, and I noticed that at the entrance, where the stream trickled out, a pool of water lapped gently. I shambled over to the water—after surveying the path the woman had taken into the depths of the cave—and carefully tested it. It was warmer than the stream water, and the seaweed and salty aroma suggested to me that beyond the entrance lay the expansive ocean. I smelled my fingertip to confirm my suspicion. Judging by the layout of the room, and the proximity to the gathered accoutrements, this was likely to be high tide. The water appeared shallow around the bend of the cavern entrance, which had shrunk from its height inside to just slightly taller than my measure. From the light that shone brightly on the dark rock of the right wall, an opening to the outside existed ahead and to the left.
I found myself faced with three options. Ahead of me lay an opening to the sea and whatever hazards awaited me out there. It was clear from her direction that my companion did not believe this to be an attractive option. Behind me, a room devoid of all but a stone-age culture—and water—awaited the possible return of either the woman or our captors. Beyond that beckoned an unknown cave system and perils I could only imagine.
No choice shone forth as obvious, but I decided to go towards the light. At the very least, I would be able to try to ascertain my position. Though stable and safe, the unknown cave to which the woman fled repelled me, as did a fear of dark, unknown passageways. My sore feet and ruined shoes contributed to negating that option. I carefully plodded forwards towards the entrance. I inspected the water with the tips of my toes and bent over, checking for any sharp objects or sudden depressions into which I could fall. I could see, but still I proceeded as though blind, feeling every nook and cranny of the portal, alert to every flicker of light from ahead or slosh of a wave behind. With each step, the reverberating waves grew in volume and the sun’s rays grew brighter. The thick, musty smell of the cave gave way to a light sea breeze as I reached the mouth of the cave.
I squinted at the bright sun that reflected both agonizingly and with a resplendence I can scarcely describe. As I acclimatized to the bright daylight, it finally occurred to me that I was alive. A discombobulating mess of emotion struck me at that moment. Once more I realized I had lost track of time. Its relative passing was a forgotten memory as I stood and digested some of the fates that had befallen me. I suppose in my dumbfounded stupefaction at my good fortune, I was vulnerable to the same people from whom I had just escaped in the cave. I had a moment of clarity as I thought about what my survival meant and wondered what my survival meant to the others from the plane. I knew some, or maybe all of them, would never be seen again, and I paused, unable to wrap my head around the magnitude of my thoughts.
I surveyed the scene, and I found myself on the right side (looking to the sea) of a horseshoe-shaped cove. The near side of the cove presented a rocky cliff a few metres tall, craggy and jagged. Somewhere around the horn to my right, invisible to me, I heard a small cascade of water fall into the sea. Apart from my rocky perch, the cove was surrounded by a thick deciduous forest. A sandy strand ten metres wide separated the water from the trees. The opening of the bay was about half a kilometre wide. The water was the colour of a robin’s egg, and a slight breeze created only the smallest waves that licked at my feet and the sand all around the beach. In the distance, two-thirds of the way around the harbour, at the edge of the forest and the sand, was a dark pile of rectangular cubes and rope. The only apparent anthropogenic disturbance in sight was this eyesore of debris, this jumble of wreckage. It was amongst the most beautiful sights I had ever seen, my salvation from the sea.
Several metres beyond my seat-raft, out of the thick forest, something astonishing appeared. A red-brown horse stepped from the brush onto the beach and slowly performed his own reconnaissance. He swept his gaze gradually from left to right, and as his gaze passed about halfway around the cove, his attention was drawn to the detritus. He did not spot the human interloper on the far side of the beach but cautiously moved towards the heap of aeroplane seat cushions.
I apologize to the reader. My knowledge of equines is not extensive. To my eyes, the horse’s behaviour seemed unusual for an animal of its constitution. He moved around the pile calmly and deliberately, warily keeping an eye on the forest, as if expecting something to disturb the discovery. The horse settled to the ground with his hind feet positioned forward, as a child sits to play with a new toy. He reached forwards and grasped one cushion with a hoof. He held the pillow between the hard part of the hoof and the softer top, which I have since been informed is called the pastern. He looked at all sides and was clearly confused and awed by its composition. I marvelled at this great creature and gasped at the display of dexterity by the beast and the careful, studious nature it was demonstrating.
An eagle called out from the skies above me, and the horse glanced over in my direction. It seemed to me he was acknowledging the bird’s presence rather than showing alarm. The horse noted me and rose confidently to its feet. The sorrel walked with no great urgency across the beach. I felt it unlikely he would be able to manage the steep cliff around me. I decided to work my way towards the animal.
It might not have been the wisest decision in my current state to try to scale an unfamiliar cliff face on an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean with not a soul around save a curious horse and a strangely behaving wild native woman who had fled into a dark cave. I hope the reader will excuse the folly of my action at this time. It would have been wiser to wait until the tide was low and instead explore the relative safety of the cave from which I had come. My curiosity overcame reason, and I set out towards the beach. The water directly beneath the bluff was shallow. Like the cliff above the tide, the rocks were sharp and slippery, covered with barnacles, seaweed, mussels, and a variety of other marine life to which I remain ignorant to this day. My brine-soaked hands blistered quickly and were cut upon the rock. My feet suffered no better fate as each hand and foothold proved treacherous.
I would love to report I handled the cliff like a seasoned climber and scampered to the beach without incident. I’m afraid that wasn’t to be. After about ten metres of scaling, hands and feet aching and bleeding, an important foothold suddenly gave way. Flailing with both arms, I failed to grasp anything more solid than a gnarled tree root that tore from the escarpment easily and caused me to crash with great impact on the acuminous shelf a metre below. A peaked stone scythed through my pants and thigh. Several smaller gashes covered my arms, leg, and back. The shallow water of the ridge, not more than a foot deep, changed hue gradually to a crimson red. I tore the left sleeve off my already haggard white uniform shirt and tied it over the cut on my thigh as a bandage to stem the bleeding.
From this vantage, I could see that the cliff dove deep into the water at this point along the rock wall. I decided rather than continuing the punishing crossing, I would dive into the water and swim for the beach. It was roughly two hundred metres to the nearest sand. In spite of the throbbing of my hands, feet, and mostly my thigh, I swam as hard as I could towards the sand. I picked up speed when a large fish brushed in front of my leg and I realized I was a glowing beacon for sharks if the water was deep enough. In a rare turn of good luck, there were none around. Still, I swam for shore as a man being chased by an armada of great whites. I suppose fear and the associated rush of adrenaline helped to push aside the pain and got me to shore faster than my swimming skills would otherwise have allowed. The beach shallowed for the last fifty metres, and I was able to touch the ground and keep my shoulders above the water.
Ahead on the beach, the horse had made much faster time than I and was watching me intently from the shore. I could hear it neighing, but each sound had a distinct tone and rhythm, not like a normal neigh and whinny, but something entirely more complicated and intelligent. As I emerged from the water and incrementally celebrated my burgeoning security, both she, for I could at this point see my mistake in believing the horse was a male, and I were measuring each other thoroughly. I found myself focusing on the noises she was making and the poised, assertive position she took on the shore. She seemed to focus on my clothing and hair. As I drew my waist and leg above the water, she seemed to whinny a word that most closely resembled “Yahoo.” Had I not thought I knew better, I would have said she was voicing the word with astonishment.
As I approached the animal, I adopted a cautious pace. I had ridden horses before, but only a handful of times. I was certainly not an expert in dealing with wild mares. I grew ever more conscious of my size and capabilities as compared to the powerful beast before me. By my estimate, I had the advantage of mind and dexterity, while my counterpart possessed size, strength, and speed. I approached the horse with humility and caution and spoke in soft tones I intended to be soothing. I did not succeed in soothing the sorrel nag. As I whispered, she reared back and repeated the same word, “Yahoo,” with an even greater tone of awe and incredulity. I put my hands up to simultaneously show I wasn’t a threat and to defend myself in case she was to strike. She settled her front legs back on the ground and stood a few feet outside of my reach. I suppose I expected a wild animal, this close up, to smell something between a zoo and a wet dog. The horse possessed no ill pungency but rather an almost faint flowery fragrance.
We stood apart for a moment or two more before I took a step forwards and staggered to the ground, stung by the pain in my leg. She swiftly closed the gap and stood over me. I reached up, intending to use her leg to stabilize myself and stand again. She batted my hand away and neighed to me in a manner that convinced me she was telling me something; again, I made out the same word as before, but with a note of contempt. I cowered in fear, completely at her mercy. She stood over me, a tower of flesh and muscle.
Still she continued to neigh with various inflections and tones. It seemed crazy to me even in the moment. I felt like the noises she was making were a form of language unlike I had experienced before. Repeatedly, I picked out the familiar word. As she pawed at my shirt with curiosity and confusion, I endeavoured to replicate the word. I translate the word into a Latin script as “Yahoo,” but the sound involves the passing of much more air through the mouth and a sort of assonant stutter around the soft consonants. I mimicked the sound as best I could, but in a typically Indo-European manner, I added a raised inflection at the end to indicate a question. This spooked the horse more than I anticipated. She pulled back a few feet from me entirely. She and I stared at each other again, and she repeated the word almost perfectly as I had, inflection and all, while bobbing her head. Suddenly, thrusting her head forward, she repeated it in the tone she had used before while pointing her front left leg towards me. I interpreted this to mean she wanted me to echo her. Still at her mercy, but more amazed than afraid, I obliged as best I could, with the upwards inflection. This to me indicated an uncertainty. As I later discovered, it had an entirely different meaning to her. We practiced this several times. Each time, she bobbed her head and thrusted it forwards with the correct resonances. Gaining confidence, I dropped the intonation and spoke it most compatibly with the way she had.
I had risen to my feet by this point, though it caused great pain to do so. It occurred to me that she was identifying me. I was to discover later that my entire species were Yahoos. At the time, I took it to indicate her identification of my person. I pointed to myself, recognizing that her front leg was likely pointing not to me to take a turn, but to indicate she was referring to me. Once more I repeated the word to her, and she stomped her foot twice on the ground and expelled air through her nostrils noisily, as if exasperatedly saying, “Finally!”
Amused by this exchange, and utterly incapable of walking away both literally and figuratively, I pushed the issue a little further. I pointed my right hand towards her and said, “horse.” She looked at me with derision but immediately sensed what I was doing and bent her leg in such a way that I had never before seen a horse do and pointed towards herself and said “Huhuneem.” If it pleases the reader, I will skip the intricacies of the pronunciation. It is difficult to translate to a written script such as this. It will have to suffice to say it took a great deal more practice before I achieved the foot stamp of approval.
I had formally been introduced to Huhuneem, or Hue, as I came to think of her. Not your average name for a female horse, I believed, but much easier to wrap my tongue around. The question arose, what to do next? I was in too great a pain to stand up straight, much less walk, and here I found myself face-to-face with a magnificent and obviously intelligent horse on an unknown island somewhere in the South Pacific—I would suppose—Ocean.
Not more than a moment later, a sort of horn sounded. Hue’s ears, which had been lying flat back on her head, perked up and rotated towards the forest, from whence the sound had come. She was in a hurry as she lifted a hoof towards me and importuned me to follow her. Out of instinct due in part, I credit, to my injury, I reached towards her back, either to try to ride her or to use her as a crutch. I can’t specifically recall my intent, but this drew a sharp rebuke, and she struck my hand forcefully. The blow caused me to cry out in pain, and having lost my support and being unable to catch my weight on my damaged appendage, I once again fell to the ground. Hue looked back with a mixture of tenderness and abhorrence, as though somewhat sorry for causing injury but unimpressed at my exasperatingly frail condition.
The horse apparently decided I wasn’t the greatest priority. She left me crumpled on the ground like my cushion raft. It seemed likely, through all I had been through, that I would see this animal again. After all, how many people could be in this place near enough I could hear the horn blast that called her.
I rested on the beach as the wind picked up and the waves grew into small breakers. The tide receded some, revealing the entirety of the sharp shelf upon which I had been gored. My poor beached body, having washed ashore, been laid upon a slab, and shredded and pulverized by the cliffs, deserved a rest. I dragged it towards a large chunk of driftwood, lay back, and drifted into a pleasant afternoon nap on the sandy beach.