Sunday, 12 May 2013

Escaping The Dragon (original microstory)

The tiny island I'm marooned upon keeps its true name to itself. I call it The Dragon. Rattan palms dot this speck of sand floating on the Atlantic. Their trunks are loose bandages wrapping a red resin called Dragon's Blood. It's a dye, pigment, and medicine. It's also my means of escape.

"Time to check the laundry," I inform Wilson.

I dust the sand from my tattered clothes as I rise. The wooden tribal mask snarls at me from his perch. I considered decorating his face with resin, but Wilson's ugly enough without war paint. It's baffling why anyone would send me halfway around the world to collect such a butt-ugly prize.

Papers flap in the warm breeze, fastened between bamboo poles. I touch one. The page from Huxley's dictionary is now completely dry. Twelve yellowed leaves. From a book of thousands, only they contained just the right arrangement of letters buried within Webster's orderly three columns.

Huxley probably memorized the pages by heart. In lieu of a formal education, he read the dictionary religiously. It was his co-pilot. Since discovering it on the beach, it remained a constant reminder of its erudite owner, forever entombed in a watery grave with his Cessna.

After the meet with my client's contact in Dakar to obtain the mask, we skirted the African shoreline, heading due north for the Canary Islands, destined for Morocco. Flying between the Sahara and the North Atlantic, Huxley chose to stay over open water after the plane suddenly went dead. His expert landing kept us afloat long enough for me to escape with our prize, but without time to save his life. Once the Cessna took on water, it sunk fast. I could do nothing, except swim from the undertow.

I washed up here, somewhere south of the Canaries, west or northwest of Dakhla. The tide deposited me along its way to remote shores, discarding me with hopes hinged upon its constant flow to points elsewhere.

I leave Wilson to mind the camp and travel down shore to a boulder crowned with an eroded basin. Weighted palm fronds protect its contents from the elements. The coconut oil, extracted from the meat through a process of heating and fermentation over several days, has reverted to a white mash. It's ready.

Wilson maintains his silent vigil, eyeing me bitterly as I return to his side with the dry pages and a small branch. "What are you looking at?" I grumble. "This means your freedom, too."

Ignoring his stern disapproval, I hunker down and carefully punch out my message in the papers, easing the branch through them one tiny letter at a time. A message for each column, arranged vertically along a chain of removed letters. Nothing too extravagant. Don't want to damage the paper too badly. Just a few choice words, per column:

H-E-L-P   M-A-R-O-O-N-E-D

S-O-U-T-H   O-F   C-A-N-A-R-I-E-S

D-A-V-I-D   B-I-L-L-I-N-G-S   U-S

The process takes most of my day. I examine my finished handiwork, hoping my punch card message isn't too cryptic. I can't trust anything else to weather the journey.

By late afternoon, I'm ready for the next step. Hunger growls in my belly, yet I can't stop. I stoke the flames of my campfire. Wilson glares at me. He's going to hate this part, but I need him.

I gently scoop the coconut oil into the open curvature of his back. To this, I add a small amount of Dragon's Blood resin. Like a shaman concocting a magic potion, I cook the mixture over the flames – carefully, mindful that the rocks supporting Wilson keep him from the worst of the heat. Inside his hollowed shell, my potion slowly melts, infuses together, and transforms into a gel wax the color of dried blood.

Wilson smolders. I remove his burning face from the fire, almost losing a week's effort in the process. I dip each page into his paraffin-filled gut, coating each sheet with a waterproof barrier. It's hard work. I have to be quick, yet careful.

In the end, I have only enough wax for four pages. This time.

I clean up Wilson as best I can. His nose and frown are ash. My client is out a small fortune, and I'm returning broke. But at least there's a slim chance I'm returning.

I finish as the sun fades upon another secluded day. I'm starving and exhausted, yet strangely satisfied. Tomorrow, I'll test my handiwork. If all goes well, I'll release my paraffin-coated prayers to the fickle tides. 

copyright © 2013 - J.B. Cameron