Authors: Mark Tuson
Having to hold the sticks together made it difficult to cast with his improvised two-stick, but it was better than nothing: now he had a means to cast simple spells. He took one of the other bamboo tubes out of his pocket and poked the pith out of it with one of the thinner sticks, and rested it on the sand, kneeling over it as he slowly and carefully began his attempt to make a purifying straw out of it.
He was working on the fly, with a tool that was very far from ideal, but Peter had an idea how the spell might work and how he might implement it. After spending ten minutes planning and polishing, he spent nearly half an hour casting, getting it wrong, scrubbing it all, and starting over. Eventually, however, he was confident that it had worked, and he went to the edge of the sand to test it.
Leaning over the edge, he put one end of the straw into the water and one into his mouth, and sucked. The water tasted clean enough; at any rate it didn’t taste salty. He drank desperately for a moment, and then remembered himself and stopped. He stood up and slid the straw into another pocket, so as to know it was that one – and not one of the others –with which it was safe to drink.
He knew he needed to find food as well, which would be a bit more of a problem because he wasn’t entirely sure what kinds of plants grew here other than the trees he had already seen, and none of those were fruit-bearing trees. Likewise, he didn’t know what kinds of animals would live here, which meant he may have to resort to catching fish from the sea. In a way, he was excited by the idea, but he also appreciated that it wasn’t just going to be a couple of weeks that he was going to be here.
He started to walk around the island. He found a way back up the cliff soon enough, and as he walked he kept his eyes open for anything that might be viable as a food: he was now getting to the point of
hunger rather than just accepting its inevitability.
There wasn’t much he could find right at that moment, however, and it was going to start getting dark soon. Just as he didn’t know what he might use for food, he didn’t know what might come out at night. Food would have to wait until morning; if nothing else there would be fish in the sea. In the meantime, however, he needed some kind of shelter: there were vague noises in the growing night and he didn’t particularly want to find out what they were.
Never before had Peter known fear like this. Not long-term fear; the closest he had ever come to this before was in his old life, when letters came from the bank telling him he didn’t have any money – a sort of “what am I going to do” feeling with a little “shit, I’m going to be dead by morning” thrown in.
He stood still, looking around: no more progress was to be made moving around than standing and gathering his thoughts. He wondered if he might be able to make a few crude walls out of branches, and spun on the spot slowly, looking for any branches that might be long enough. He was feeling weak with hunger now, and his fear was getting a deeper grip on him, but he had to make sure he was going to be safe before anything else.
There was another sound, much closer. It sounded like something between a howl and a scream, and in a fraction of a moment all thoughts of food and shelter were driven out of Peter’s mind: he broke into a sprint. As soon as he saw one that looked suitable, he climbed up a tree as high as he could, and stayed there.
Peter didn’t sleep at all that night. When dawn broke, the combined sleep-deprivation and hunger made him feel as though he might faint at any moment. In fact, he wasn’t convinced that he hadn’t already, for a few seconds at least. He felt cold and scared, the same feeling he had had before, when he had been ill as a child.
Eventually he convinced himself that there wasn’t anything waiting for him at the bottom of the tree, and he slowly began to lower himself out of the branches to the ground. The air was still and cold, but it had a heaviness, which suggested it was going to be hot, like it had been yesterday.
He made his way back to the beach to get a drink of water, and while he was there he decided to see if he could find some fish to eat. He knew of a spell that might help him see small lifeforms such as fish, and another that might make it slightly easier to catch them, but he wasn’t entirely sure of how effectively he could cast them in his current state of sleep-deprivation.
Maybe this time he would have to do it the old-fashioned way. So, after stumbling to a low-hanging branch a few tens of yards before reaching the cliff, he hacked a branch off what looked like some kind of pine tree with his knife, and sharpened one end to a point.
‘Rough, but it’ll have to do for now,’ he said to himself.
He walked slowly, allowing himself to lean a little on his improvised spear as he hobbled along the cliff and looked for a gentler slope he could walk or slide down.
After a few minutes, he found a place where he could slide down on his backside, and when he had he made straight for the water. He threw himself prostrate before the water and drew his straw from his pocket, and drank as though he might never drink again. He hadn’t even known he was this thirsty.
When he felt like he had drunk enough, he sat up. He was going to have to go in, now, and look for fish. He took off his jeans and shoes and left them on the beach.
It took him most of the day to find anything. By the time it was starting to grow dark again, he had only found a handful of small fish, but they looked like enough to keep him going. Once he had eaten and slept, he thought he might be able to work out some of the magic he would need to be able to find and catch them more efficiently.
He wasn’t sure what kind of fish he had caught, but there were six of them impaled on his spear, and each one was about six inches long. Now he thought about it, that wouldn’t make a bad meal. Lifting himself out of the water, he stuck his spear in the ground next to his jeans and walked a short way to collect a few pieces of driftwood: he was grateful that putting light to wood was so easily, both magically and not magically.
Within ten minutes, he had enough wood in a small pile a few feet from his spear and jeans and shoes, and had managed to execute a small spell to make them take light. A few minutes later the fire was crackling away happily, and he was roasting his fish over it, feeling very pleased with himself.
As he ate, he felt his strength returning to him, little by little. He still felt light-headed from the tiredness, but now he wasn’t hungry any more, he felt like he actually could survive. Once he had eaten, he buried the bones and innards of the fish in the sand and put his jeans and shoes back on. It was getting dark again, and while he felt more human, he was still terrified of what might come out at night.
At least he felt more capable. He stood and stretched his arms high above his head, and looked over toward the cliff. Maybe that was where he should build his shelter. If he put it there, he would have food and water within a short distance, and surely all he would need to do in that case would be simply to continue for a year.
He climbed up one of the gentler slopes back up into the wood above the cliff, and started hacking ad tearing branches off trees. There were a number of familiar kinds of tree here, and he kept his eyes open for hazels and willows, because they had the long, more-or-less uniform branches he was looking for. In fact, looking at the willows, he suddenly realized that that wood might be ideal for making a wand that he wouldn’t need to spend a year studying in order to be able to use.
By the time it was fully dark, Peter had gathered a healthy pile of wood, and had even found a piece ideal for making a wand. He wanted to build now, but he was too tired, and it was too dark. He was full of fear, and was almost not daring to allow himself to believe he might get through this ordeal.
All he did know was that he had to at least try.
The following day he awoke, noting the position of the tide for the first time: it was quite a way further out than he had noticed it being the previous day. He had slept in a foetal position on the sand, next to the wood he had collected, and his first thought was that he should build his shelter: this was now his third day here and he hadn’t yet built a place to live for the rest of the year he was to be exiled here.
He went to the water for a drink, and then returned to his pile of wood, removing the bark from each piece and splitting it from one end to the other. He had enough wood here that he was going to be peeling and splitting it for a good hour or two, so he decided that eating once he had finished splitting it all would be a fairly good idea.
By the time he had got half-way through it, however, he was already feeling hot and heavy and hungry. He was going to have to go and find food now, otherwise the feeling would distract him just enough that he wouldn’t be able to work efficiently.
Using the spells he had thought about the previous day, he quickly found and caught a few more small fish and cooked them. As he ate them, he thought how this might well be all he had to eat for the next year. It wasn’t unpleasant really, though he knew he would get bored of it. He didn’t want to get to a point where he never wanted to eat fish again; he liked fish, he always had. A slab of bacon would have been nice, though.
Once he had eaten, it didn’t take long to finish preparing the wood. He went and whittled a few stakes, and then set about weaving his wood around them, working from vague memories of watching people on television, years before, building houses out of wattle-and-daub. Daub was going to be hard to make here, though, he thought. Unless he used grasses and roots rather than straw.
It took about four hours to build the walls, and Peter was tired from all the stretching. His fingers were sore, but he had to carry on or else he would end up never finishing it off. When he did finish, he stood back and looked at what he had done. The structure was all of six feet tall – he had taken the parable of the man who had built his house on sand into account and found the longest branches he could to use as stakes to weave around – and around eight feet square. There was a gap facing outward, toward the sea, for a doorway, and no roof. He would attend to the roof later.
As the days wore on, he found it almost excruciatingly difficult to retain his sanity: between the loneliness and the uncertainty as to whether he was going to survive long enough to wake up the following morning, he felt lost. Eventually, however, he began to acclimatise to his new surroundings, and as his shack – which, in his head, he called his “Hovel-on-Sea” – came to be more complete, he began to feel a little more comfortable. He had a supply of water, food and a place to live. He had even made a simple flute from a spare piece of reed, and was teaching himself to play.
However, not all of it was plain sailing: he found out what the noises in the night were after being in his exile for nine days. It was wolves, and they were wild and angry. The first night he saw one, he saw far more than one.
He was surrounded; there must have been half a dozen of them. They initially just watched him, but in his fear he ran, as he had on his first day, and they then gave chase in earnest. He happened to have the small willow wand he had made with him, and he had sat with it, studying it, but he wasn’t sure that he was ready to use it.
Either way there was nothing really for it: he realized almost as soon as he had started to run that that had been the wrong thing to do, one of the first things he had learned about dogs as a child. He got his wand out of his pocket and began attempting to weave a spell around himself to prevent the wolves from seeing, hearing, or smelling him. Stealth was a difficult branch of magic, however, and he was struggling to get it to work. Eventually he saw he had to give up on that, and chose instead to climb up one of the trees as he had done before, and attempt to make the wolves fall asleep.
He got up into the lower branches of a tall tree and started weaving the spell on the first wolf. They were all furious now, scrapping among themselves to climb up after the tree after Peter. But the first spell came off successfully, and the wolf he had targeted simply passed out. The others’ reaction to this, however, wasn’t all that encouraging: they seemed suddenly able to jump higher.
It was ten frantic minutes of weaving and casting and hyperventilating, but he managed to rob all the wolves of their consciousness, thus freeing himself to jump down, out of the tree, and go home.
It was all an adventure. He came up with novel solutions to a number of problems, and but for the odd event that came along and put the fear of God into him, he was having fun. He had eventually found some fruit trees around the other side of the island, and in the process became well-and-truly lost, which terrified him greatly considering all of the effort he had put into building what was now a pretty complete house, however small it was.
He spent almost an entire night finding the house, however; he was grateful for having taken the decision to build it near the beach, because now he found that he could find home simply by walking in an arbitrary direction until finding an edge of the island, and then following the edge round until he ended up on familiar ground.
That wasn’t very satisfactory though. It was nearing dawn when he eventually found home, and he was incredibly tired. The house was a grateful sight: he had made a roof for it out of the same thing he had made the walls from, and then pasted it all with his variant of adobe, inside and out. He had a door, and a fireplace. He even had a rudimentary oven out of a carefully dug and lined hole in the ground, in the fireplace, with a large flat rock on top. And, most importantly of all, he had made a bed using cloth he had woven out of fibres he had magically separated from pieces of wasted wood and bark and bamboo. It was rough, but it was a bed he was happy to sleep in.