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A sharp splash to his left drove Matt out of his reverie. Startled, he cast around wildly for the source of the disturbance. A spreading circle of ripples in the water on the port side of his vessel caught his attention.
Oh crap, that must’ve been a fish or something. For the past ten minutes he had been too preoccupied to concentrate on anything other than the simple process of propelling himself and his meager cargo through the ocean. Now he remembered the purpose of the trip. So far he was coming back nearly empty handed, except for the cause of his consternation.
Again there came the sound of water being expelled from its original position. Matt was just in time to see a blue and black speckled fish slipping back beneath the surface. He gazed down into the blue depths after it, intending to be furious with himself for letting such a golden opportunity escape. However, his anger remained purely hypothetical. It’s not a big deal, still got enough food back home…there are a lot of fish in the sea! Ha-ha.
Matt’s feelings, lifted momentarily by his little jest and the realization that he could forgive himself for this lapse, sank back into the bilge water on the floor. He couldn’t stop thinking about the little girl who would so innocently entrust her dearest treasure to the waves. What happened to her sister? She’s obviously dead, but why? What’s gonna happen to the little girl when the truth smashes its way into her mind?
These and other questions plagued Matt as he rowed his way blindly back to his cast-off point. Upon reaching the beach, he pulled his makeshift watercraft higher up, out of reach of any larger waves that might develop. Ordinarily, he would have taken a few minutes to appreciate the sunset slanting across the Pacific. Today, he didn’t even notice it.
Matt trudged up the winding path leading from the top of his ridge to the shore. He had partly found, partly excavated this trail from the hill soon after his arrival here. It was still littered with rocks and other natural debris, but nonetheless served as a reliable footpath.
It emerged at the top of the ridge about a quarter of a mile from his stony domicile. His feet measured out the distance as his mind extended far beyond the world visible from this high green point. The light was fading fast, and he had already learned his lesson on straying far from home at the close of day. He would be an insomniac tonight.
Grass slick with dew provided no traction for his worn out sneakers as he moved away from home. The sky was studded with distant points of burning light on one half. The blackness of the other half was washed out by the nearly full moon. It illuminated unevenly, stretching shadows to twice their normal length. Everything recalled the word ‘moonscape’, as though light reflected the moon could transform terrestrial objects into otherworldly things.
Water soaked through his shoes, drenching his feet and threatening to numb them. Leaves and branches smeared across his face and arms, leaving the skin wet and irritated. Matt still did not stop, driven on by the tormenting thoughts consuming his mind. He kept thinking of the note and the doll, but there was more than that.
Matt had always enjoyed contemplating the deeper matters, as many teenagers do. But ever since the fateful discovery of the doll and the note, those thoughts had raged out of control. Life, death, and what happened after death.
On and on he went, raising a cacophony of noises in his wake. He smashed through groves of pines that blocked his way, showering the soaking ground with equally wet needles. Ordinarily Matt would have felt remorse or even guilt for his destructive actions, but now his only thought was to move. The doll haunted his home with its eerie stare, and the note called him like a message from a loved one.
Roosting birds, surprised by this unnatural intrusion into their natural world, took wing and squawked away through the moonlight. In a place silenced by the dark of night, Matt was the sole source of life and movement.
The forest ended without a warning, drawing its boundary along a lofty strip of grass. All was invisible several meters away. Matt, in his frenzied exodus, had unwittingly been climbing the whole way. He now stood on what he knew was the highest point he had ever ascended to in this part of Chile.
It was breezy, and the wind carried none of the usual salty tinge. The prevailing wind was off the Pacific Ocean, but tonight it was coming from the southeast. The aroma of fresh water, pine needles, and snow were wafted to him instead. Even in his confused state, Matt had a vague notion as to what this scent meant. Snow. Winter’s coming, probably almost here already.
Ordinarily, this would have struck a more noticeable chord with him. Tonight, however, nothing was ordinary. Everything seemed surreal, as if seen through the eyes of someone with a scalding fever. Stationary things slid up in his peripheral vision. Matt’s face felt hot, his feet very cold.
He took a few more stumbling steps, and the ground evaporated in front of him. Matt was standing on the edge of a narrow ravine that gouged the hillside with its ragged line. Waterfalls triggered by veritable floods of earlier rain pounded down the sheer walls to collect in a pool a little farther down. He could go no further in this direction without descending into the dark unknown gorge. For the first time since leaving home that night, Matt stood perfectly still. His heart yearned to keep going, but his disheveled head told him that he did not have the wherewithal to go rock climbing just now. He sank from his feet to his knees and from his knees to his stomach. The cool, itchy grass greeted his face as his senses fled.