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When Wake woke up he didn't immediately open his eyes. Instead, he let the light warm his vision so he saw shades of red and orange behind his closed eyelids. The boat rocked back and forth the same way as it did when he fell asleep the previous night, but it was a new day, and with a new day came approach, and he felt optimistic. How far did I float? Where am I? He rubbed his eyes and sleepily sat up.
"Top of the morning buddy," he nodded at Hunter who perched on top of the mast.
Getting into "active mode," he rigged up the sails, and then using the direction of the current and the position of the sun he pinpointed their location. "About five miles North of the Island," he said aloud. With a favorable wind, he set off back towards home. The boat streamed over the calm ocean, and Hunter flew beside it, diving into the water every now and then to emerge with a beak full of fish. The osprey-dove placed half the fish in the bucket and devoured the rest.
Wake's happy expression darkened when he realized what he had to do when he returned home. His friend died, and he deserved a proper burial. "He would've wanted to be put to rest at sea," he concluded. It would be a solitary ritual, he figured, quiet and simple. He sat on the side ledge and tied the rope through the hole in the wood, so he could relax and let the wind carry.
White wash leaped and sprayed onto his sun-darkened skin. No matter what, Wake always smelled like the ocean, a sweet mixture of tangy salt. In a way, he eternally resembled a castaway at sea; his wild hair tied back with a white cloth, his tanned back scarred over countless times, his hands and feet weathered and rough. Reclining in the back of the boat, he adjusted the rudder every now and then to stay on course, but other than that he didn't really have to do much. Sparse white clouds dappled the blue sky above, and the light penetrated the misty salt water. Looking closer, he spotted dark kelp forests rippling slowly in the warm water currents. He could only catch glimpses of the underwater life as the boat sped by. Fish scales shimmered briefly and faded into the depths.
Efficiently cutting through the water, the boat covered a great amount of distance, but as he neared the shore, Wake noticed something odd. The usually clear water grew murky and obscure, and the closer he got, the blacker the water became. Dipping his hand, he examined the residue, a soggy mixture of wet ashes. Hunter dived unknowingly into the water and emerged tainted and dirty, his feathers grey with ash. Ruffling his feathers, he choked and coughed as he tried to clean himself. What happened here? He peered out towards the approaching shape of the island.
As it neared, his heart dropped into his stomach. The sandy shores coated black with ashes, and the trees no longer existed, replaced by dark mounds protruding from the ground. Usually he could see the dense green forest from the sea, but all that remained were a few thin tree trunks, devoid of vegetation. Closer, he saw the huts were burned down, but the worst part was the overbearing silence, a deathly quiet. The sounds of the island, calls of sailors, the banging of pots and pans, and laughing children were nonexistent, save for the methodical crash of the waves on the begrimed shore.
Hunter flew off as Wake pulled into the abandoned dock. There was nobody around to greet him, to say anything: there was nobody. With each footstep towards the hut, the truth became clearer and clearer. He gulped. The little hut made of straw lay flat, burned to the ground. All around, the rest of the huts looked the same, piles of cooled charcoal. He examined the remains of Inasahan's hut; a few remnants of fishing line and the structure of the table were visible, but everything else was gone. "No," he said under his breath. Shivering, he turned away and ran a hand through his hair, trying to keep his composure.
He remembered staying up late at night, carving into pieces of driftwood to practice his writing. The candlelight flickered inside the small walls of the hut, filling him with a sense of comfort, a sense of belonging. When he was a kid, the Old Man's snore could be annoying, but it was also reassuring, a constant reminder he had someone to rely on. He remembered waking up to the early morning light breaking through the cracks in the straw and Hunter staring unblinkingly at him from his perch. It was as if those memories, too, were reduced to the grey rubble in front of him. He stared at the remains of the hut until he couldn't stare anymore. Without speaking, he paid his final respects to Inasahan.
In a cracked voice he said, "Even if I don't remember it, thanks for picking me up when I was a baby. It's weird not knowing who I am, but you never really cared. You let me make my own decisions and shape my own destiny. While I was so concerned with all the uncertainties in my past, you were always there as a constant presence. I'm not sure if anyone else but you would've carried off an odd baby from the shore and raised him as your own."
He reminisced about all the times they shared together. The memories brought slight tears to his eyes, but he blinked them away, refusing to sadden the Old Man who was surely watching from above. "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to grow up, to live and see the world. You always supported me, offered me shelter when I needed it and let me go free when I wanted to leave. As a kid I didn't realize it, but you taught me a lot of things, not just about sailing but about life in general."
He paused and gathered himself, and then he continued in a strong voice, "But now you're gone, and here I am picking at shattered pieces of burnt childhood memories, and I don't know what to do. I wish you were here to give me some kind of advice or point me in the right direction at least. I never told you this, but even if I act like I always know what I'm doing, I'm actually afraid. I'm scared to go out into a world that's so big and so unpredictable. I used to always go to your hut when I got scared, usually from thunder or animals rustling in the bushes, but now the hut's gone and so are you."
"I don't know if spirits are real. I don't know if there's such a thing as the after life, but if you're out there, please don't leave me. Please watch over me and keep me on the right path." At a loss for words he finished by choking out, "I don't really know what to say anymore. Goodbye old friend." Unable to look at destroyed hut any longer, he turned away without looking back and made his way into the village.
The huts surrounding village square resembled the remnants of broken wood after a bonfire. He bent down to examine a pile of rubble. Sifting through the ashes, he picked out a piece of hardened wood, but as he looked closer he found it wasn't wood at all, but a human bone, burned black by fire. Upon this realization, he immediately threw it away, and saw that all around him similar piles lay in disarray. Images of burning people and sounds of dying shrieks filled his mind. He grimaced at the thought of people screaming and writhing in pain, their bodies cremated into the piles littering the village square. The blood in his spine froze. I can't...I can't believe something like this could happen.
With each step his feet blackened from the dust coated ground. Wind blew across the island and whipped up the ashes. They curled and twisted in the air and then settled again. A part of him wished it was simply a bad dream and that he would wake up in the boat, but cold reality set in with each passing second. He couldn't think, couldn't make any sense out of any of it, and couldn't bear to open his eyes to see the remnants of death all around him. There was nothing left, nothing at all.
His fingers and toes numbed with grief, but he couldn't cry. The shock was too much that he couldn't even cry. Instead, he shuddered. What kind of hell is this? What could have caused so much pain, so much death? Why? Why did something like this happen? So many innocent people, good people were gone like ashes in the wind. He desperately cried out, "Is there anyone out there!" - No response.
His body trembled and shook in sorrow. Smiling faces of former friends flooded his minds. Only yesterday, mothers hung clothes out to dry from the line and children played hide and seek in the maze of wet clothes. Only yesterday the music and cheer of the festival filled the air, and now there was nothing but a mute sense of dread. So many individuals gone from this world just like that. The fact that the children will never grow up and have families. The fact that mothers and fathers never got to see their children grow older. They never got to enjoy all life has to offer, to experience love, friendship, trust. Well, maybe they did, but there was so much time for more; that's the worst part.
He couldn't feel his legs or arms as he walked back towards the boat, unsure of what to do next, but something caught his attention, the slightest sound, a variation in the grim silence. Skeptically, he followed his ears and stumbled upon the remains of the house next to the rice field. Buried beneath the wreckage he detected a small movement. Digging through the destroyed structure he uncovered a person. The girl with white hair was covered in charred dirt, unconscious, and barely breathing.
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