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Ah, shit! The words rang through his mind as he popped into this new world, falling. His eyes squinted as he moved face down toward the blue tinge of color coming up to greet him. He tried to bring his elbows in to counter the force on his face, but it was too late. Seven feet under and drifting further below the surface, his body rolled, stunned from the extreme stop.  

Cold and unyielding, the water embraced his body, accepting everything about him. Its dark tendril grasp pulled hard, sucking him further toward the abyss. John's mind lulled, hesitant in responding as if a light had gone out in his subconscious. Sink and be done with it, a voice encouraged him. But instinct reacted where John's mind had yet to. A burning fire raged in his chest. His lungs longed for air, and the energy inside ignited. John's eyes flew open. The electric blue hue of his sclera shone in furious form, and dark energy erupted from everywhere and nowhere. Its sinuous form swirled about his body like a serpent and began to lift him upward. There would be no giving up. The power had decided for him. With tremendous force, he was thrust free from the aquatic abyss of death, and his body hovered above the water like a ragdoll before collapsing back into it. The aura had faded, and his eyes soon returned to normal as he scrambled to swim and breath.

What the? John tried to fathom what had just happened while he tried to stay above water. His body felt exhausted already like something had sucked every molecule of energy from his system. Breathing felt forced. He gasped several times before getting a hold of his rhythm. The waves rolled over him twice before he found an equilibrium between breathing and treading water. Finally, at some level of ease, he heard the squawk of seabirds overhead. Their flight path veered to his right, and he decided to follow.  

How the hell did I let this happen? He wondered, beginning to swim. Oh, yeah, the portal. Stupid me, jumping through, not knowing what might be on the other side. But the reality is, this is better, I think. He laughed begrudgingly. If it isn't one thing, it's another, he surmised and shifted his direction as the birds veered a little further right.

In his peripheral, an island appeared. He squared himself to the island. A long swim, he thought, but he'd done worse. God, I hope there are no sharks around. My splashing could cause them to investigate. I guess it could be worse, he mused. There could be a Kraken. He smiled faintly, hoping for no such thing.

Strangely, he hadn't felt the bump of any fish yet. He had been used to certain species coming to nibble at his skin in the rivers back home. Granted, those fish were all freshwater variants, but it still begged the question of what aquatic life existed. John pushed aside those thoughts quickly, tiring of treading around and wanting to get out of this ocean.

His speed wasn't anywhere how he would've liked it. The drag on him from his clothing made the swim heavier and heavier with every stroke. Damn, this is tough, he grumbled. His boots didn't help much either, but he dared not lose them as trekking without them later would be unwise. As he got closer to land, he finally saw some evidence of fish. Most darted away as he pulled near them. Only a few stayed within a meter of his position as if wondering what type of creature he was.

For a moment, he relaxed, letting his forearms stay in motion to maintain his head above the water. Gentle pushes from the waves slapped at him, nudging him a little closer to the island. It wasn't long before the shine of a sandy beach caught his eye, and away, he went toward that golden patch of dirt.

Several minutes later, John sighed in relief. His boots had contacted the bottom, but he wasn't out of the water yet. He still had about thirty feet to dry land. The waves slapped at his back, pushing him forward, and though he fought with the tide to stay upright as his energy waned, he trudged onward. It was at about the ten-foot zone that a rogue wave knocked him off his feet. Unable to upright himself again, he crawled out of the surf and onto the dry shore. Heavy breaths rose and fell within his chest as he stayed on all fours for a few seconds longer, then he rolled and sprawled out onto his back, letting the sunlight steam the water off his skin. Sleep tugged on his consciousness with every passing second. And knowing he wasn't completely safe, he couldn't stop it. The sun's warming rays felt wonderful and nudged him closer to that end. He felt aches in his arms and shoulders ease as he started to drift. One thought kept him awake, though—the time. Squinting, he checked the sun's position in the sky.

"High noon?" The sun seemed to beam directly down on him. "Ugh, I'm gonna be a baked potato after this," he mumbled and slid into unconsciousness.

#

 

 

A vision of cold rain ran through his dream—ice and drifts of snow resting along a valley of trees. Something dark and tall ruptured the canopy. A glowing stone shined within his mind. The hair of a maiden-long and raven-with a drift of white in her bangs flowed across his visual field. Her smile beckoned to him. He'd had this dream once or twice before, long before he had started having his insomnia. She was always there, but the other things had only started in his recent dreams. In the sporadic moments when he could and did fall asleep, it always ended in darkness. He never knew if it meant his death or something else. The books on dreams he'd read always point toward the first, but he kept wondering if it was more literal.

His mind stirred some more. Fire and heat poked through the fragments of his nightmare. The face of a horse with glowing eyes and the chittering click of something that nearly curdled his nerves lingered in the background of the dream. John's body trembled in its lain-out state as he witnessed the last parts of this terror. He always calmed in the end as darkness waned over it. Only this time, something reached out and rested its hand on his chest, and he sprang up.

 

#

 

John's body jerked straight up. The plodding thump of something hard hit the sand, and he glanced downward. A crab, large and gnarled, stared back at him. It rose its claw in protest—sure it had been entitled to John's chest for a throne. John shifted his weight as if to get up, and the would-be crab king scurried back into the water. He watched it swim away, glad the crab had woken him as several waterfowl nearby were no doubt eyeing him as their latest dish. Then, he glanced at his watch.

"Damn, waterlogged!"

Slightly miffed, John searched the sky, hoping the sun's passing here was similar to Earth's. It hadn't moved too far. Maybe two or three hours, he guessed. Patting himself down, John noticed his front side seemed thoroughly baked.

"Yep, frontside, definitely toast. Backside soggy bread." He laughed, noting the damp and encrusted sandy feel upon his back.

Finally, he stood, stretched his limbs, and decided he needed fresh water and to dry out entirely in fear of a chilly night. The ferns tickled as he slipped through them to go beyond the trees. Trekking inland about forty yards, he heard it before he saw it—the trickling sound of flowing water. A small clearing bathed in a speckle of sunlight welcomed him into its surroundings with a few ferns, some small palms, and a host of flowers and shrubbery that seemed more dream than reality. John almost froze in the scenery, taking it all in like a stunned spectator. He traversed its sporadic foliage where it allowed, leading him around to the small stone formation at its center. The water he saw barely bubbled up and out of the top stonework, flowing across its black, quartz-like surface and into a cool porcelain white basin that glowed with a faint marine blue tint. He didn't know if this was man-made or crafted by gods based on its intricate nature, and the surreal nature made it feel more celestial than anything a human could do.

A trap? John hesitated and wondered, looking around for a possible ambush. But it didn't matter; the water beckoned. Crisp and clear, it called to his senses, and he drank. The cool liquid slid down his throat like a rush of energy flowing into him. The taste had been clean and pure. Better than any tap water he had ever tasted. Perfect, he thought. Well, this covers the water issue, he thought while slowly sipping more from his cupped hands. He rubbed a little over his face and felt the tingling sensation of his skin ignite with pleasure.

The tightness of his face eased from its dried, baking time in the sun. Healing properties well, that's a boon, he thought somewhat surprised, and slumped back into a stump that stood nearby. His mind roamed as he rested, admiring the dreamy quality of the foliage. The white lantana reaching over from the back of the spring soaked in the sun's rays, and some Sesuvium nearby displayed its orange and purple with high vibrancy. He felt at peace like maybe he belonged here. Several minutes must have passed before a shifting breeze rustled the ferns surrounding the area, and John realized he needed to prep for the night.

Back at the beach, he decided that his clothes needed to dry out once again. This time though, they have a better chance of becoming truly dry before he had to reclothe, he hoped. Seeing several small limbs and twigs pressed into the ground not far away, he gathered them up and fashioned a crude but capable rack to hang his garments on. And then removed everything—his shirt, shoes, socks, pants, and underwear, removed any remaining sand, and laid it across his rack.

"This breeze feels nice," he uttered, noting that with the wind and sun, his stuff should dry and air out much better this time. "But I'm not working without something on," he said, "I'm not going to get burned out here any more than needed." Immediately, he began gathering leaves, twigs, vines, and small branches from the edge of the tree line. He grabbed anything that seemed suitable to fold, bend, and layer by hand for making a skirt, hat, and shirt for his currently naked body. A large piece of burlap buried near a grouping of palms served as the perfect chest and back cover. He even had enough to fashion a sling for rock-throwing. Something he felt might come in handy for hunting or self-defense, maybe. He also made sure to rinse the burlap in the nearby surf as the sand wouldn't feel too good against his body while working on his next project—housing.

"Yep, that'll work." He uttered, thinking the sling worked pretty well, and flung another shell toward the tree nearby, smacking some bark off the right edge. "A bit out of practice, I'd say." He laughed and looked at his watch out of habit. He frowned in thought. It had been a gift from a friend.

"Damn, looks like a crack along the seam." He said, inspecting it closer. "That's too bad. I really like this watch." He reached to unlatch it but thought better of that decision. It'd feel weird without something there, he thought. And she'd probably hate me for leaving it to rot. His mind wandered for a moment, but the wind from the ocean blew across his face shaking him from the memory.

"Shelter," he reminded himself. And back to gathering and collecting, he went. This time he needed sturdier and more robust materials. He stayed in the shade as much as possible, pulling vines and limbs from the brush at the edge of the wooded area. A few times, he paused to check on his clothing. The burlap and leaves were doing their job, but the feel of it brushing across his skin didn't feel as comfortable. He also returned to the water once or twice to keep hydrated. Despite the shade and clothing, he was sweating quite a bit. The ocean's breeze helped some, but it didn't come as often as he'd like to make things more pleasurable. The whole process reminded him of making camp back in the Rangers, only that it went more smoothly with all the hands available to help. Of course, it was for a whole group, and he'd hardly ever had to do so for himself once the skills had been learned.

Even now, he didn't waste much time, though. Posts for the lean-to, he shoved as far as he could into the sand, digging out as far as he could with his hands and back-filling firmly after placement. Everything was tied together firmly at every notch and cross with vines and small bendable limbs. Large palm leaves and ferns helped waterproof the top and walls. Each one overlapped and tied to the framing with small strips of palm leaf and vine to secure its bulk down. He tried to rush but needed a solid structure; he didn't want to be exposed to the elements no more than necessary. Hypothermia posed the biggest risk, but there were other dangers to consider as well. John kept the angle of the structure perpendicular to the beach--this would help keep the winds from taking hold of the frame and blowing the top off. A few large limbs intertwined through the leaves with extra on top helped to ease his mind of that possibility.

As he finished, his hands ached and burned from all the tying and digging. In the end, he had fashioned a flap on the front to prevent wind from getting in to be secure with two small U-shaped branches he'd found during the hunt earlier. A bedding of layer leaves and twigs helped elevate him off the ground, separating him from the cold earth underneath—a trick he'd learned while in the military. His last bit of digging involved a pit in the ground a few feet from his structure. Thankfully, a half-hulled-out coconut helped in that regard. Here he layered the remaining branches and twigs and started a fire. The wind wall he built in front of it kept the wind from blowing it out and kept the heat directed toward him. One last trek to the jungle oasis helped ease his soreness and rehydrate him for the night. Returning to his camp, he mused for a moment at his handiwork.

Damn, I love it when a plan comes together, he thought. Satisfied with the thickness, the sturdiness, and no evidence of creepy crawlies, he relaxed.

"Whew, glad that's done, now to check my clothing."

 Everything had dried out as expected, all but his socks and shoes. Inspecting for critters, John picked up his briefs. No bugs allowed, he thought. Then he slipped everything back on.

"Oh man, that feels much better." John sighed. "Guess I'll have to leave these out overnight." He picked up his shoes, squeezed his hand inside them, checked the moisture level, and placed them back on the rack beside his socks.

John stood silently for a good while, gazing at the waves as he thought about his current predicament and the nightmare he'd not long left behind. The darkness, the insects of all sizes, and his body emitting light all bewildered and unnerved him. His last image of that world haunted him immensely—a giant insect devouring him alive. It hadn't happened, but he'd seen the face of it. He shuddered. He remembered throwing the maces back toward one large shadow, reaching out with grasping claws.

"Man, those maces were sweet. I wish I still had them," he lamented, looking at his open hands. They had had a perfect feel in his grasp as if they had been made for him. John shook his head. They had been relics, possibly legendary, he mused. He looked back up at the open ocean. The waves in the distance rose and fell rhythmically. The sun's gleaming orange edge had begun its emergence into the horizon. White drift clouds took on the hue of gold, orange, and purple in spectacular fashion as stars started to sparkle through the veil of blue. One shimmering vertical sliver hovered over the water. John knew that had to be the portal he fell from. Tomorrow would be the hunt for the other one.  

John squeezed his toes into the sand under his feet. It felt good to enjoy this last bit of sun. The breeze was gentle and wafting in the smell of ocean air. He felt like he was back on Earth and wondered for a moment exactly where he was in this new place. These portals and the sites he'd been through already felt so odd yet familiar, and he couldn't help but wonder why.

He shook the notion from his head and turned toward his camp. The fire still blazed in its pit but had died down from some neglect. He went toward the trees once more, grabbed as many limbs and small logs as he could carry, and brought them back to a small pile not far from the flames. He chunked a few of them onto the fire, stoked the embers with a long stick, and sat down on a small berm of sand he'd fashioned while he dug the pit.  

From here, he continued to watch the sunset. Its colors danced along the surface of the waves like diamond sparkles. He hadn't seen many sunsets in his time, but this one had a special touch of adventure to it. One he hoped would be good.

His gut groaned as he started to move toward his tent. John placed a hand against his abdomen. The growling seemed highly rebellious, and he realized he hadn't eaten for some time. The scavenging for wood and water had seemed more important initially, and all the energy expenditure had drained his energy and intensified his hunger. He'd have to find something tomorrow first thing. Going hungry with that level of activity would end him faster than the sun baking his innards.

John checked the vines he'd tied once more, satisfied he then slipped inside his temporary abode. Coaxing the fire with his stick, it flamed up, swelling the area with heat, and he stretched out, taking in the warmth. He laid there for a while before deciding to stop fighting his eyelids. As its embers glowed and sparked, he took one last look at the night sky, hoping the rest of his journey would be adventurous and fulfilling. And as he closed the cover, the lights of a billion twinkling stars smiled back at him.

 

 


Submitted: October 02, 2022

© Copyright 2023 A.K.Taylor. All rights reserved.

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