I was shipwrecked, and nearly drowned; I was swallowed by dense tropical forest, and nearly consumed; I was trapped among spires of jagged, sun-beaten rock, climbing ever upward because behind me, below me were the murderous seas and insatiable jungle. I climbed and scaled and split my feet and hands on the stony shards until I reached a plateau, where I stopped, and fell, and lay on my back, a rack of a man draped in rags and tatters. I could not pull enough air into my lungs.
Life Among The Savages
Often in the days before I began my travels to the earth’s most distant and often inhospitable regions, I had heard preposterous tales of the remote and mysterious Land of R______, and could not determine if the nation was the victim of serial embellishment by scores of seafaring glory-hounds, or merely the product of drunkards’ fancy. And later, once my wandering had started in earnest and my own home was a distant hazy memory, the tale of R_______ grew no more consistent. The stories were sensational, hyperbolic, and seemed to describe forty different countries rather than one. The people of R_______ had eyes on the back of their heads, or nestled in the palms of their left hands, or they each carried lizards on their shoulders that saw for them. They were nine feet tall with blue skin, or four feet tall with silver skin, or of exactly average height with skin of beige or taupe, depending on the quality of light at the time.
Whatever ailments afflicted him, Captain Stagg was punctual and enthusiastic. Only the faintest tendrils of rosy light had pushed their way through the eastern clouds when I arrived at the pier, yet he was waiting for me at the top of the gangplank, holding an open golden pocket watch and beckoning me to embark in a most voluminous fashion.
“Come on, my boy, come on!” he yelled. “You’ve wasted forty-seven seconds. The day outpaces us already!” Then the Captain barked out a rough and mighty laugh that so startled a passing laborer he fell off the pier.
Therefore, even as I felt an uneasiness begin to flutter in my chest as the scratching within the widow’s cabinet became not only more insistent, but more rhythmic, I welcomed this new happenstance and its accompanying fear as an opportunity, rather than cursing it as misfortune. “Let this mysterious box be an enlightening candle, not the torch that will ignite the brambles at my feet as I am wrongly burned at the stake for witchcraft!” I thought, and perused my surroundings for avenues of escape.
“I apologize,” Jones said to me, handing me my hat (which had been dislodged in the activity) and examining the back of my skull. “That could have gone very badly. Lucky for you, it was just a glancing blow.” Jones reached down and retrieved the implement. The tool was a length of iron about two feet long, curved at one end and notched at both.
“On the good side, you found the crowbar,” Jones said.
“That was indeed lucky,” I said, wincing. “A inch or two and I would have been struck stone dead!” I laughed at the miraculous timing of my walk, and then my head hurt.
“One’s name,” Father would intone, leaning against the mantle and speaking to a wall perpendicular to my brother and I, “can be many things. A stepping stool. A crutch. A truncheon. A comfortable chair. A SWORD!” And here, my father would suddenly yell and point at us, to make sure we were still attentive to his words.
“He’s having a seizure, we must hold him down!” Captain Stagg exclaimed and surged toward me. Jones put out his arm so that his pipe-bearing hand held back the overenthusiastic Captain, an act for which I was most grateful.
“No, no, Captain, no seizure, no attack of any kind,” said the man whom I did not recognize as he cleaned and then re-applied his spectacles to his nose. “The boy is merely waking up. Aren’t you, son?”
I attempted to nod and felt I was generally successful in doing so.
And, given the circumstances of my time out of port and the unsettling situations I had already experienced in my short few hours aboard the ship, yet another unexpected occurrence did not bode well for me or my person. To put it bluntly: I greatly feared another blow to the head.
“Worried?” I exclaimed. “Surely they were being needlessly dramatic. My wounds were not so grave.”
The doctor finished with my eye, and moved his hand to the side of my neck to monitor my heartbeat. “In my initial estimation, no. And now I am certain you’ve made a complete recovery. But your convalescence was a bit more… protracted than the others expected. Not me, of course, I’m a man of science.” Dr. Blight pulled out a handkerchief. “Now spit into this rag. Really clear yourself out.”
Confident in my faculties, I responded to the voice. “Indeed I do feel your blows against the bedframe, sir, and I would request that you explain yourself, as I have grown weary of your ill-mannered entreaties!” I said, with great sternness in my voice, so as to further dislodge the owner of the voice from the intimidating position in which I imagined he sat, or laid, depending on his size and bodily arrangement.