Blue Across the Sea

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BLUE ACROSS THE SEA

by Dave Cline

90,000 words









Copyright © 2016 Dave Cline.






CHAPTER ONE

Storm

“We missed the leaving! And now this? I’ll have to fish alone.” The boy’s sharp words left no mark upon the man’s addled mind.

“You spent too long at, at early-meal,” the man slurred. “Wasn’t my doin’, I been here since, since las’ night, fixin’ the net.”

The lad pulled the snarled net from the hold of the boat. “This? You’ve been fixing this?”

“Don’t you raise a, a dust with me, boy! Tain’t my fault yer lazy.” The boy’s father sat on the beach watching his son struggle to shoulder the boat into the water. Pointing to gray skies above the sea, the father declared, “Them clouds look to be draggin’ a storm. I don’t, I don’t care how rough it treats you, you fill those barrels!”

With a final shove, Tillion freed the skiff, setting it to drift. “I’ll fill your barrels. You! You treat Dallia kindly while I’m gone.” With a leap he boarded the craft and pulled tight the main line. The sail snapped taught, and he grabbed the tiller. The boat heeled in the growing wind, and crashed through the breakers. The lad twisted about and yelled, “You be kind, I say!”

His father’s last words blew away in the wind as the youth settled in to ride the waves out to the fishing grounds at the southern end of The Bonneville Sea.

~~~

Tillion searched for the other fishing boats from the village, but they had either turned back in the rising seas or headed east toward the Watchers. He debated whether to take their lead or sail out to where he was certain he could fill the barrels. “Damn these barrels,” he spoke to the wind, “I’d just as soon dump you as fill you.” He let his anger fester in the gale swiftly building around him. But thoughts of his sister soothed his disgust. Her sad eyes and thankful ways would suffer if he surrendered to his temper. “Dallia works too hard for me to complain,” he mumbled to himself.

The young sailor worked the tiller, tacking back and forth looking for the shoals of silver darters that provided their trade. The bright, erratic fish, the size of his hand, could be caught by the hundreds, even in their ancient tangle of a net. And where darters swam, stripers followed. Big fish, as long as his arm, chased the darters, often sending the frantic bait skipping over the surface to be free of the gaping maws that pursued them.

“Ha, I remember when they jumped as a mass to nearly fill the boat,” Tillion said to the sea. “Dallia was along then. Oh, how she squealed to see them flying at her, like shining stars in the daytime, dancing in the light.” The lad’s attention wandered as he reminisced of better times. Times before their mother had vanished.

“Where are you Maddur? Dead, they say? Or do you watch us? Do you watch for Dallia when she cries?”

The net he’d been dragging snapped to the side jolting the boy out of his nostalgic dream. The ‘Our Boat’ tilted, the net’s weight heeling the small boat over. Tillion glanced at the rusty knife embedded in the bench beside him. To cut the net away would lose them precious weeks of fishing while they worked to make a new one. He let the knife be. The boat righted itself as the school of fish that had slammed into the net swam past.

Looking up, his chest tightened to see how close the storm had come. The waves now rose above his head. Tillion’s dedication had taken him farther north than he’d normally go. “I follow the fish. I have no choice,” said the boy, justifying his decision.

He wound the net’s main line around the primitive wooden wheel that served as a windlass and hauled up the snarled mess of a net. It tumbled over the side, spilling a bushel or more of spastic fish into the rain water that sloshed around his ankles. Trapped, they flailed about dashing themselves on the planking and ribs of the small craft.

Tillion shook the few stragglers from the tangled net, tried to straighten it as best he could, but finally flung it over the side with a curse. “Bah! ‘Fixing the net’ he says. The man couldn’t fix a hole by falling in it.”

He let the net’s line slip through his cold, numb hands until he judged it to be deep enough and tied it off. Setting an open barrel between his legs he began to scoop the fish into it. When the dulled fish brimmed the top he took a lid from behind him, set it right and gave it a twist to seat it. “Two, two filled and four to go.” He shook his head in defeat. “Maybe I could catch a sturgo or a thief shark, cut it up and fill these barrels in a single go.” Large sturgo, deep-sea bottom feeders, lurked in the shallows during breeding season, sucking fresh water shrimp and mussels. Thief sharks, Before-time Bull sharks, had been released into the waters of the inland sea ages ago thriving on stripers and bait-fish.

The storm rose fully around him now, and the boat’s sail, furled to a third, proved too much in the growing wind. Tillion scrambled to take down the rest of the ragged canvas. Swells, now more than twice his height, heaved the small skiff up to tilt precariously in the gale. Once there, the boat slid down the face of the waves, burying her bow deep in the troughs.

At the crest of each swell Tillion searched to the east where he sought the familiar peaks of the Watchers. But storm clouds fouled the view. He scanned for any signs of land, but the heaving horizon showed only sea. To head home he would have to fight the southern storm winds.

The waves stacked and quickened. Barrels, freed from their lashings, rolled and bumped in the boat’s hold bashing at Tillion’s knees. Just then a wave twice the size of any other, sent the skiff high into the storm winds. The net’s draw line tugged again to his left and wrenched the ship, tilting her edge into the churning water. Reaching frantically for the boat’s high side he grabbed the crude blade with his free hand and slashed the net away. But the boat’s edge sucked deeper and as she slid down the backside of the giant surge, her stern pierced the bottom of the bowl. Barrels pummeled the lad as the whole vessel lurched and capsized, tipping him into the sea.

Flailing in the water, Tillion kicked off his rough hide boots and shrugged from his slicker. Gasping for breath, his skills as a swimmer came back to him and kept him afloat. Spying the upturned hull he swam near, but could not heave himself upon it. Noticing the empty barrels drifting away he recalled using one to play on as a toy in shallow bays near his village. Reluctantly, he released his grasp of the hull and swam out to retrieve a barrel. He knew that staying with the capsized boat was no option. Yet, surrendering to the open water both scared and tempted him. "If I just let go, gulp this cursed water, slip down and down, would I see Maddur again?" he wondered. A bump from behind shocked him from his desperate thoughts. One of the paddles had remained near and tapped him like an old friend. "Could I use a paddle and make a float from barrels?" he wondered.

From the tormented sea he managed to retrieve a second barrel. Putting either end of the paddle into separate barrels he found he could float by sitting on the middle of the staff. With one arm shouldering each wooden float he decided he wouldn't yet drown. But he had no control over his drift. As the waves drove into his back and the swells rolled beneath him, he turned, and with a sense of aching loss watched as he drifted away from the lap-planked hull of his family’s precious Our Boat.

The storm, the first major of the season, drove Tillion and his barrels farther across the Bonneville Inland Sea. It drove him farther than he or any of the local villagers had yet dared to travel. For generations, storms like this had raged across the Western half of North America. During the winter, the ice would form at the edges and the ever-rising levels of the sea would drive it thick into the shoreline where it ground stones to sand and shredded the trunks of inundated trees. Ancient buildings and artifacts from Before also succumbed to the grinding power of the ice. Generations ago the ice collapsed walls and toppled homes and buildings. But more recently, the sea warmed and great shoals of fish could be caught.

Night came and went, twice again. As he drifted, Tillion imagined all the sunken towns and cities that lay submerged on the bottom of the sea. Nearly a thousand feet below him the ancient towns of Salt Lake and Wendover, Provo and Dugway rested in their sodden graves.

On the second day, the storm abated, but the relentless wind continued to drive him northward. On this final overcast dawn, with no heat from the sun to warm the nearly comatose youth, Tillion struggled to remain conscious. Fortunately, the sea, its water only slightly brackish, was drinkable, and he had sipped it throughout his ordeal.

The great waves undulated smoothly now; the winds, a steady pressure that nudged the barrel-bound lad along the vast surface of the sea. In this lull, a spastic commotion started up around him. Hundreds of flashing darters leapt up around him, a few jumping so high as to slap at his head and chest. Even in his groggy state he knew that this meant that large dark shapes of predators would be swimming just beneath his unclad feet. The fear shocked him awake. He thrashed about seeking some nonexistent weapon. As he flailed, he noticed a spit of land before him. A low beach appeared to be connected to a set of rocky hills and they, in turn, to a few rounded mountains. He’d drifted all the way across the sea.

A heavy thump against his leg stunned him from his amazement. He glanced about. The water was now filled with dozens of sleek striped bodies lancing out of the sea in pursuit of the silver darters. He spun his head around in worry. “There, damn,” he swore to himself; he could see two large fins cutting toward him. With the shore still some distance away he bolstered his resolve and, maintaining a bare grip on the paddle, slipped down into the water and flipped into a pushup position. With all the energy left in him, he kicked toward the land.

“Can I come all this way to just now be taken by a shark?” he laughed maniacally to himself. “I sailed the sea on a paddle, but land was stolen from me by a thief.”

In hot weather thief sharks entered the shallows in search of food, often lazily weaving between swimmers and bathers. Tillion recalled that one older man had lost a leg below the knee to a large shark, a shark that had been nearly a third as long as one of their skiffs. This thought spurred Tillion into frenzied activity. He felt additional bumps from below, but the thrashing on the surface had moved off to his left.

Thankfully, the fins headed off to follow the roiling bait and the youth relaxed, exhausted, nearly spent. The wind continued to help his progress and he soon ground into the sandy beach. Crawling up to the highest surf line he dragged the paddle with him. Once there, he collapsed into unconsciousness.

~~~

Eventually, the afternoon sun broke through the tail of the storm and the heat of the season returned. The warmth penetrated Tillion’s thick wool sweater and his soaked canvas breeches. With his face pressed into the sand he opened his eyes and blinked, dazed. “I live, Dallia. I made it. I…” he said, emotion choking his declaration.

“My barrels?” His reliance on the barrels not forgotten, he glanced around for them. Abandoned at landing, he realized they must have drifted out of sight. “You were cursed things. But I give you my thanks,” he said aloud.

Weary, Tillion clutched his paddle as a staff and began to walk west along the beach. For now, he knew, his home was lost to him, although he could easily determine its direction, south across the sea.

The storm line along the beach was littered with colorful debris. Objects of a bygone age, randomly sucked by storms out of flooded homes and buildings, floated to the surface and collected on the beach like trash from a celebration. Colorful plastic containers, sealed foam, tattered toys and cooking utensils all combined to provide a cache of potential utility to the boy. Most of it, though, revealed itself as ancient, decayed or fouled debris. Big storms extracted the greatest variety from the sunken buildings. Even after these hundreds of years, things like shoes, bottles, dolls and seasonal ornaments, preserved in sealed burial, had escaped their rotting capture down below, floated to the surface, and drifted with the wind.

Tillion searched as he walked, knowing he might find coverings for his feet. Sand covered the beach, and being freshly cut from the hills, contained sharp gravel which nipped at his bare feet. Beneath a crumbling paper box he found one lace-up shoe, green with algae, and of a size that would fit his right foot. As the afternoon wore on, plans began to emerge from his foggy mind. He must find shelter from the night and from beasts. And, most importantly, kindle a fire.

Tangled in the low branches of a gnarled tree, one being relentlessly washed away, Tillion discovered a pair of slime covered, spongy-soled shoes, their laces entwined. These fit him closely and once scrubbed, shown brightly colored. He could make better time gathering wood for a fire. Walking farther west, he came upon what had once been a small dry canyon, but with the sea’s rise had now become a protected cove. At the narrow end, an overhang of rock proved to be a place where he could shelter.

In his village, the absence of fire was rarely a thought. One always kept a fire burning, not only for cooking, but to keep the huts and hovels in a continuous state of evaporation. The altered climate afforded only brief periods when the sun could be counted on to dry the mud paths and moss covered roofs and walls.

As for fire, each child of the village had endured the survival lessons, a different one taught every month, fire being the first. The idea being that when they explored out in the growing wild they would be prepared.

“Prepared,” thought Tillion out loud. “Prepared for this?” Grinning at what he now thought of as his fortunate misfortune, he patted a buckled pocket of his canvas pants and smiled at the solid length he found there. He could recall Bannon, the guide, speaking to him in his quiet but insistent way. “A sharp steel knife is not just a toy to play risk-a-toe. With it you can also skin a meal, gut a fish, or, with flint, strike a fire.”

Dry tinder would be the challenge now. No doubt the storm had soaked almost everything he might find to burn. The guide’s words continued to echo in his memory. “Wood beneath will be dry though the bark be soaked.” The guide had then shown how seasoned wood remained dry inside. Fortunately, the high water line bristled with twigs, branches, and limbs of trees that had succumbed in the battle of water versus land. Gnarled pinion pine stumps could be broken apart revealing a dry core. Within the cove he found a plentiful supply of these stumps, and, after lugging one up beneath the overhang, he broke it into pieces.

Now that he had a pile of damp, but combustible fuel, and having used his personal knife to shave curls of dry heartwood from the root of a pine, he patted his other buckled pocket to discover it flat and empty. He’d lost the flint chip he normally carried. “No, not lost,” he whispered to himself. “Dallia has it.” She had needed it that morning. No, not that morning, a morning three days ago now, he thought. “Oh, Dallia, I’m sorry.” Memories of his sister, oppressed by their father, her face never smiling, her tears near constant, clouded his mind. He had been her protector and champion. He realized that now her future would be dim with him assumed drowned, and their boat lost.

“I need new flint,” he said to himself, shaking the dreary visions from his mind.

The landscape surrounding his shelter had been arid and barren in the distant past, but was now filled with grass and shrubs that grew between rocky outcrops. Tall spruce and cedar and groves of cottonwood and oak grew in pockets all over the hills. But, Tillion knew that despite the verdant landscape, flint, chert and obsidian could be found, evidence of past volcanic activity. He needed a new piece of glassrock he could use to strike his steel knife. Hundreds of rocks and boulders dotted the hills, mostly composed of slate or sandstone. He needed one both hard and sharp. He thought that he might find a collection just above the debris line that had tumbled down the hill and landed on the flatter parts of the beach.

As he scanned the ground, a jagged shimmer caught his eye. Examining the swirling brown and red lines in the fist-sized rock he now held, he figured it to be a lobe of chert from a larger chunk farther up the hill. He dashed the rock on another, splitting it into sharp fragments, proving its type. Retrieving these fragments, he pulled his knife from his pocket and struck a fragment of chert across its backside. Satisfying sparks flew into the air.

Back at his makeshift camp he formed a bowl of dry wood shavings and then struck the stone against the back edge of his knife. A tiny sliver of iron peeled off, caught fire and landed smoldering in the curls of shavings. A light breath and he had a flame to kindle his pyramid of branches.

Tillion’s spirit, waning until then, lifted with the flames. The evening had deepened and the light from the fire cast out a glow across the cove. The light allowed him to gather additional logs to keep the flames going throughout the night.

His blaze now towering, Tillion stripped from his still damp sweater and pants and hung them on stakes around the fire. Freed from the chafing and itching, he bathed in the intense heat radiating from the flames. It finally cured his aching chill. He would welcome a warm night’s rest, even on hard ground, were it not for the gripping knot in his stomach. He’d gone days now without food. Water sipped from the cove helped. But the smell of smoke, and the absence of other hardship focused his mind on his empty stomach.

“Some of those cursed fish would be handy now,” he said to his fire. “I know where there are a couple of barrels full of tasty darters,” he laughed, “way, out, there,” he called loudly, pointing across the sea.

A faint echo returned to him. “OUT, THERE.”

He cried again. “I’m HUNGRY!”

“Me, too,” he replied to his own echo as it came back to him. But nothing could be done until morning. He donned his dry clothing, and spent the next hour gathering more wood and stacking a wall of sandstone rocks around the far side of the fire to help reflect the heat and ward off the wind.

By morning, Tillion’s gnawing hunger had risen to torment. Yes, he did know where there was food. If he could find line and a hook he could fashion a fishing pole from a long branch or the paddle he had kept. During the prior day’s confused march along the beach he thought he recalled the sight of a twisted nest of line.

With the fire stoked, he retraced his steps and did indeed find a ball of tangled fishing line. Degraded by the sun, most of it was useless, but when he tipped over the board on which it lay, he found more line wound around a wooden spool. He determined this must have recently bubbled up from some ancient buried vessel. He cut away the spool, being sure to scan for lures. Finding none, and with spool in hand he returned to the cove, all the while searching the flotsam for material to use as a hook.

He found what he needed in the form of a lumi-can. Beachcombing as a child he had collected these shiny cans, scoured free of color. The captured key at the top, once removed, split and attached to a line, would serve as a hook and take a small fish without deforming. Half a dozen keys, strung from leaders in a series, would be even better. Soon enough he’d collected four cans, filled two with water, and returned to camp. After prying off and splitting the top loops, he set both water-filled cans in shallow coals and tucked sprigs of pine needles into each. Needle tea, an early memory of his mother, was bitter, but comforting.

Toting his spool of line, makeshift hooks, and a short dry branch, he walked out along the right side of the cove to the point formed at the entrance. He cast out the branch--tied as a throwable float--as far as he could. With his four hooks spaced apart and strung up from the float, Tillion gave them slack letting them drift deeper. He tugged teasingly at the line to simulate the movement of wounded minnows.

After casting, retrieving, and moving farther along the beach, a quick tap, tap, tap and he knew he had a bite. Winding back the line he whooped aloud when he saw not one but three bright flashes in the shallows, and jerked them onto the beach. Freeing the fish and recasting, he took five more hand-sized darters from the school before it moved out beyond his reach. Over his catch he murmured a quiet phrase of thanks. Then with his knife he cleaned and strung them along a supple branch and returned to his now glowing mound of coals and steaming tea.

Straight onto the coals went the fish. And the tangy drink, once cooled, served to quicken his appetite. The roasting aromas tortured his appetite and he burned his mouth nibbling at those most done. He devoured the crisped skin and flaky white meat until all eight of his stringer lay as skeletons charring in the coals. The evening came and Tillion lay down to snooze in a satisfying slumber.

~~~

The wind, now just a breeze, shifted its source from the west to the south. It carried the tantalizing odors from Tillion’s fire up through the canyon and out across the hills. Like an invitation to a feast, the scent called to any carnivores that lurked downwind. Miles distant, the smoky aroma streamed into the sensitive nostrils of a pack of African wild dogs, triggering their persistent appetite.

After the sunshock, Before-time zookeepers released their charges to fend for themselves in the chaos rather than abandon them to starve in their cages and enclosures. African wild dogs had flourished in the North American wilds.

An alpha pair, followed by fifteen soldier dogs, making their living on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, nosed into the wind and tracked down the scent of Tillion’s camp-roasted silver darters.

In thirty whistletunes of trotting they came to the top of the canyon below which Tillion now slept. The lad, wary of animal threats, had banked the fire and gathered fuel to see him through until morning.

Using their skill raiding other human encampments, the alphas split up, each taking half of the soldiers with them. The two groups padded quietly down each side of the ravine. When they came even with the overhang, the alpha male crept up to the level ground on which Tillion slept.

Deducing only a single human slept within this camp, the male felt emboldened to strike out. An errant yip from an inexperienced dog shocked Tillion awake, but not before the male alpha darted in and grabbed the youth by his left foot. The dog’s fangs failed to sink deeply, as he gagged on the rubbery sole of the shoe. Still, he drew blood, and the lad cried out in pain and anger. Having kept the paddle within reach, Tillion snatched it up and whacked the male in the head, spinning him off and down the slope.

The female and a pair of cadets rushed in from the other side. Backing farther up under the overhang, Tillion fought with his wooden paddle, beating back the female. But now dogs appeared from both sides. There had been no packs of these painted dogs anywhere near Tillion’s village. Coyotes, yes, and some wolves, and packs of domestic dogs.  Tillion hardly believed the calculated tactics of these canine predators. He could see the cunning eyes of the leaders pacing outside the ring of firelight and the low stone wall he’d built.

“Haa,” he yelled as one dog came in from his right, while another dove in, biting at his canvas breeches, tearing them at the calf. As he looked out, a dozen pairs of menacing eyes glared back at him. If he could get to the water, he could swim out of reach. But the water was twenty yards away. “The fire, yes!” he screamed at the dogs, dashing up to the still burning blaze where he grabbed the end of a flaming stick and threw it hard to his left. The log bounced off the side of one dog, sparks blasting into the night.

“Seven left,” he said to himself, counting the branches he could grab and throw, clearly not enough.

Standing nearly within the coals himself, Tillion began to load the fire with all the fuel he could reach. The dogs now started to yip in unison, running full-circle around the fire. With the paddle’s wide end the boy began to push the coals and burning parts out and into a semi-circle, half toward his right and back against the cliff face, half to the other side. He’d made a meager ring of flame in which he now stood.

Though safe from direct attack, he’d spent his extra fuel. Once a part of the fire began to die he had no way to replenish it. So there he sat, roasting within his self-made oven. Knowing he wouldn’t last the night.

Sure enough, the side from which the male had first come, dwindled and exhausted its flame so that only coals now glowed there. The alpha male returned, staring at him, observing without malice, but with an intensity Tillion shivered to witness. Mottled tan, black and brown, with a white patch around one eye, the male, cautious now, watched for an opportunity.

As the trapped youth waited for the attack, he startled as an arrow appeared in the side of the alpha male. Shot through, the dog collapsed without a sound.

Then a great yowling sprung up from another dog, an arrow had pierced its thigh. Searching out across the dying flames the boy caught sight of a vessel, its triangular sail folded to the side and two archers standing, front and back, firing arrow after arrow into the pack of dogs. Next, the alpha female took an arrow to the neck and went yammering off into the night. The pack split in disarray, leaderless. The unwounded vanished up and over the ravine rim. Tillion then took his paddle, stepped from his ring of fire and dispatched the three wounded dogs that twitched in the dirt. A violent bash to the skull for each and their whimpering ceased.


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