Butterfly's Dream - excerpt from chapter theta
June 22 — I wake up at sunrise, weak and dizzy. My wounded leg feels numb while lying down. However, as soon as I try to stand up, thousands of knives seem to cut in pieces my shin and ankle. My head is burning and I understand quickly that my wound has become infected during the night and I’ve got a fever. There is no chance for me to survive in this state in such an isolated place. I need heat, sunrays, and herbs to heal my bitten flesh. I can’t waste any time, I have to get out of this valley while I still have some strength left. In this desolate landscape, in this realm of loneliness, in this sad adventure, there is only one more character left for me to meet: Death.
In spite of my weakness, I push myself to stay active. As a first step, I work hard to untie all the vines still holding my cave door. Then I employ them for strengthening the structure of the small raft, with the door’s frame reused as a base for it. Sometimes I hear voices around me, but I know they are only hallucinations produced by my fever. All my body is in pain, yet any rest is going to generate a further delay in my departure. This could be fatal. I avoid putting my wounded leg on the ground as much as possible and use an improvised crutch to move around.
I start a final fire here and force myself to have a big breakfast from the remaining meat of the killed lizard, despite my lack of appetite. There is still enough food for almost a week. When I’m done, I put every useful thing in my vine basket. All my luggage is then tied carefully to the raft.
It is already noon when I’m finally ready to go. This tiny floating platform won’t keep me dry, still, when I am carried by the stream towards the sea, it will be useful to protect my body from the stones and boulders that fill the river’s path. I jump into the water, riding my improvised craft as if it were a horse and letting the flow drive me through the narrow canyon.
As I sit on the heap of wood with a long stick as a makeshift oar in my hands, I sink occasionally into the water down to my stomach while my small raft is balancing precariously on top of the furious stream. The waves feel very cold in the beginning, but I get used to them a few minutes later. I’m shaking from fever and can barely sit straight. My throat is sore, my nose is runny. Frequent bursts of coughing explode from my lungs whenever I expect them less. Still, in spite of my precarious state, I have to escape from this bare wilderness before it’s too late.
At first, the river speed is about two miles per hour, but triples thirty minutes or so later. I’m carried by the flow faster and faster, sliding between two never-ending vertical cliffs. Both sides of the canyon look imposing, rising to a height of about a thousand feet. The river width itself is no more than a hundred feet now. Here and there, big boulders make the navigation difficult. Luckily, so far I manage to avoid them in time by using the oar in my hands or my legs deeply immersed in water to adjust the direction of my tiny and fragile craft. And so I continue to slide at high speed, like shot from a giant sling, through this narrow gorge sunk in gray twilight.
When the sky above begins to darken, I know it must be late afternoon. I’m already moving with a speed of about seven miles per hour. Even the temperature of the water feels warmer and more comfortable now. Is it possible that some hot springs mix up their streams with the river flow in this area, like in the swamp where I hid from the soldiers for two days? My rough estimate is that I have already covered almost twenty miles with my raft. I still hope to see the end of the canyon today and decide to continue my trip until nightfall. My body is getting numb from cold, in spite of the warmer water. Nonetheless, I trust it can bear this harsh punishment for a little longer.
At dusk, the cliffs move away from each other and the canyon widens appreciably. Patches of grass, trees, and flowers are visible again on the dry land. They’re marking the landscape on both sides with vivid spots of green, red, white, blue, or yellow. With my last drops of energy, I turn the raft towards the left bank and step out of the stream.
There is plenty of dry wood available here. I take my clothes off and squeeze out as much water as I can from them. Then I make a big fire, trying to warm my sick, frozen body. While the pleasant heat of the flames is caressing my skin, I let my gaze wander through my surroundings and see a couple of trees with orange-like fruits nearby. I need about one hour of rest until I can stand up again on my healthy leg. It’s already dark when I finally manage to cover the distance with the help of a stick and pick a few of them.
In spite of my weakness and lack of appetite, I force myself to eat some lizard meat and fresh fruits, then I wrap my wounded leg in the large leaves of the trees within my reach, hoping they might have some healing qualities. Surrounded by the warmth of the fire and with my partially dried clothes back on, I soon fall into a painful sleep under the emotionless gaze of the stars.
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