“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” – Terry Pratchett
All he saw when he opened his eyes was a bright light. He closed them again. When he reopened them, he saw the oak’s green leaves above. He heard birds chirping. There were few clouds in the sky that was blue like the depths of pure ice. Flowers surrounded him and engulfed him in life. The blessed curse. He moved his hand and then his arm. The skins on his body were stiff as he stirred. He reached and touched his neck. There was the noose. He sat up and looked out over the surrounding fields that were bursting with life. On the surface of the lake floated waterfowl of many kinds. At the bottom of the hill grazed a herd of deer. There was a squirrel in the foliage above. It watched him as it gnawed at an acorn. He removed the noose, held it in his hand, and looked at the tree where the broken rope dangled. His gaze was dreamy and distant.
The sun warmed his shoulders as he phased back and forth. He alternated between staring at the surroundings and the tree with the dangling rope. Then the noose in his hand. He threw it as far away as he could and started down the hill. The deer took off into the forest when they noticed him, and the fowl flew away in a cloud of feathers and quacks. He squatted down and drank from the lake’s water. As the surface became still, he saw his reflection. Under his beard and long hair, his skin looked like thin leather pulled tight over a skull void of fat and flesh. His eyes were deeply sunken and tired. He punched the reflection, and water splashed onto his face.
He walked until he could not walk any further. Where the lands ended, and the ocean began, he built a cabin of mud and reeds. He crafted fishing hooks from bone and nets from braided plant fiber. With a log and a stone ax, he made a canoe from which he fished.
With time, he dared himself out further onto the sea, where he saw the giants breach the surface and expel torrents of water high into the sky. Their songs seemed more like ether than air. He made a harpoon and hunted them too. Their naiveté sealed their doom as they swam past him unknowing and tranquil from being the emperors of this realm of the sea. He could see in their eyes the curious intelligence far beyond an ordinary beast. The harpoon of the sharpest flint did not care about sentience as it cut through skin and blubber. Barbs of bone made it stay lodged as the animal pulled against the tethered canoe.
The water turned red in their wake, and he tightened his grip around the rope attached to the harpoon. He let the beast pull him along as its lifeblood pumped out the wound one heartbeat a time. They could have towed him into his death somewhere out in the high seas and pulled him under. Never did they venture there. For what he did not know. For what he did not want to know. The others of the same kind followed helplessly along while their kin slowly succumbed to blood loss and exertion. Unable to comprehend what was happening, they sang their ethereal songs of sorrow as they swam in the bloody wake.
When the animal was dead and floated motionless in the water, he towed it to the shore, followed by the others. The canoe slid well over the wet stones, honed smooth by the waves as he pulled it onto land. He climbed over the beached carcass like an ant over a caterpillar and cut it into hundreds of pieces laid out to dry in the sun. The rest he left to rot and be eaten by the birds circling above or the other scavengers congregating out of sight.
The kin of the dead sea-beast lingered for days before they moved on. He could see them jump and breach in an attempt to get a glimpse of their lost kin. Yet, they always moved on. Yet, they never learned.
Some days later, he put the dried meat in wicker baskets, loaded them into the canoe, and pushed it back into the sea. Behind him, he could see the beast’s carcass lay swollen on the shore covered in feasting animals. Then began the journey home. Navigating was simple. All he had to do was to keep paddling along the beach back the way he came. The shoreline was smooth and unbroken, without any islands or bays for him to become lost. At night, he pulled the canoe onto land and flipped it upside down, and slept under it. In the morning, he flipped it again, pushed it into the sea, and continued his journey.
He came home to a cabin ransacked by animals daring to visit in his absence. Every morsel of food was gone, and the door lay trampled on the ground. There was scat on the floor. He carried the baskets from the canoe and hung them in the ceiling. It began to drizzle as he fetched the last one, and he went back and flipped the canoe. He hung the basket by the others and kneeled in front of the fireplace.
The ashes were cold for the first time in a while. There were no embers to start a new fire. He looked in the little basket where he kept his kindling and firestones. It was empty. He searched the vicinity of the fireplace but found none. The rain became heavier, and it began to drip from the ceiling. He got to his feet and went over to the baskets where he kept his things. They stood as he had left them, but items were missing. Odd things like knives, firestones, needles. Things about which no animal would care.