Stone Man

While hunting he’d often look into the horizon. He would do this while fishing, and cooking, and eating. He would sit and stare for so long the people in his village began to call him Stone Man. He did not mind.

Stone Man was building a boat. He wouldn’t tell anyone where he was building it, just that he needed to borrow this knife, that hammer, or so many feet of braided rope. One time he was gone for three days straight. The elders prepared to go look for him. Not out of concern for him, but for the tools.

They assembled, grumbling a choir of “This is the last time I let him borrow my…” It was not an easy search – he was strong and fast when he wanted to be, and he knew the nooks and crannies of the island better than most. They found his camp on the morning of the second day. It was on a narrow beach of a thin backwater that connected to a sort of delta, and then the ocean. There was a half-heartedly constructed fire ring and a pile of food he’d brought but not eaten. Stone Man was nowhere to be seen. The search party fanned out around the camp and collected their belongings from where he’d abandoned them. They had turned to head back to the village when he breezed into the pond at the rudder of a twelve foot catamaran, lashed together with rope made of bark fiber and oars carved from drift wood. He tied the vessel up carefully, and rushed to pack his things and join the group for the return trip to the village.

He slept early that night, then rose before the sun the next day. He packed food and water for eight days and left his village with his customary lack of goodbye. One night at his beach camp was all he needed to stow his gear and check all the lashings holding the boat together. On the morning of the longest day of the year, he shoved off from the beach and pointed his prow in the direction of The Three Sisters – they still sat chatting in gray sky of the early morning.

On the seventh night there was a storm. He clutched his remaining food and water barrel to his chest to save them from the greedy waves. In vengeance the wind tore the oars from their hooks, and after the storm sank back into the water, he drifted.

Stone Man floated without direction another five days. After his water ran out, time slowed to a crawl. When the heat of the sun managed to stop it, to attach time directly to his boat so it could neither advance nor retreat, Stone Man felt the air bear down on him. He cursed the sun until it cursed him back. It raged, crawled under his skin and burned his eyes from the inside out. Time, or the sun – he couldn’t tell which – whispered to him that if he had loved one person in his tribe, that person might have stood up at his departure and said No, please don’t go.

The Wind and the Sun may not have been finished with him, and Time certainly wasn’t, but the Tide took pity and delivered him back to the island.

His villagers found the catamaran on the beach. Stone Man was almost dead.
He crawled back to life. It took him a long time to shake the weight of his near death. Someone would come to push boiled vegetables to his lips a few times a day, but he couldn’t hear or smell them. It was several days before he could properly open his eyes, and when he did he saw with vision of a newborn baby. Light played against his dried out irises, and shapes resolved slowly.

Stone Man’s hearing was the first to recover fully. He was fascinated by the voices of those around him. The brassy tone of the elders, the green sound of the children, the sharp yet measured tone of the parents. Even after his long recovery, he marveled at the delicious pure taste of rainwater. Of shade. Of soft fur rubbed against his skin. He smiled at everything.

They said to him, Stone Man, you went all that way and almost died, and only traveled in a big circle. Why do you act so happy? They asked because now he talked to everyone and had many friends.
To this he would just stare past the horizon and say nothing, and the people would shake their heads and to themselves say, Some people never change.

The people did not know that Stone Man actually had succeeded. The storms and time and dehydration had blown him to an entirely new island. When he looked to the horizon, he was looking towards the island he’d left. It lay over there, and he knew that if he looked long enough he’d end up there again, so he’d just shake his head after a second and chuckle. To his son one day he would say, I am happy because the horizon is much closer than I thought.

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