A sailor peeled off a leech and flung it into the embers. Out of the woods came two others shoving another man forward. He was yanking his pants up.
"Caught this one trying to fuck a dinosaur! We're supposed to be hunting ‘em and he's out fuckin’ ‘em!"
They all laughed at the man.
The sailor sitting by the dying fire tied a piece of thin rope to a branch to use as a makeshift fishing pole. He dipped his legs into the water again to wait for more leeches to use as bait.
The others jostled the man towards the dinghy, suggesting they were going to send him back. Make a trip for him. "We can't go back empty handed," one chimed.
When the captain's crew washed up they must have thought they hit the Lost World; dinosaurs bathing in the salty inlets, enormous dreary ferns. The only things breaking the scene were giant black falcons like phantoms grating into the unknown.
Walls of the valley climbed up all around the crew. Steep cliffs covered in seaweed, flowers, and ocean mist. Every step was a new discovery.
Small lizards on two legs with bright feathers. A sailor swore he saw an elf climbing in a sweaty palm tree. They glanced one last time at the ship, at least a source of home.
Their hearts vacated many things on that shore. Sentiments of what home could be, dreams of living, stuff unrelated to survival. The ship hovered outside the reach in a halo of hollow grandeur. The vessel tottered on choppy waves. The small boat they brought to shore sat idle in the sand.
Bird sighs, grunts, and crashes of thunder leapt from the jungle heat. Sunlight seemed to dance and hide in the trees like the elusive palm elves. Vines, flies, and spiders crept at their feet.
"This island is creepy. Let's get out of here while we still can."
"And tell the captain it's haunted?"
"Bring him back a dinosaur and he'll understand us."
Faceless. Wrapped in vines. A statue in the middle of the jungle. They stood astonished. Blood leaked from the groin of the statue. Two men dropped to their knees and prayed to the statue. Deciding it was a sign from Mary? Others more skeptical of the statue's blood. All frightened by the omen. Too afraid to leave. They camped near the icon.
In the night, whispers from the woods. Even when they were sleeping.
They lost sight of it in the rocks. The sails of the great ship beating in the moonlight. An outline transparent against the low-lying night.
From the sea came what looked like ghostly reflections of wolves. The ship was gone. It had left, vanished completely into the darkness. Maybe it was still there? Only a trick of the night? But the stars fell uninterrupted into the perfect-cut waves. The cloud of wolves stood between the sailors and the mysterious vessel. Their salvation was gone. What value was the dinghy without the ship?
The metallic sun beat down.
A thin stream of blood poured out and spread into the wet hair. He put the leech on his penis.
His foreskin was shriveled and cracked, the glans burnt. Washing in the tide on the black rocks was the makeshift pole.
The sailor leaned back against the jagged rocks. His wasted paunch was scribbled with brittle tattoos. Bony fingers worked across tender, sunburnt, and bleached skin, pale but for leech blood.
Behind mummified lips, teeth gnawed at daylight. His eyes fell into his skull. Now the sea wind blew into empty sockets.
Like a sunbathing lizard, the sailor crawled down into the shade and into warm sand.
He was found tugging his penis in the bloody sand. They left him there. When they came back the next day, he was gone.
"Likely to have parasites."
"After enough days."
"Cook it up."
"Hungry enough you'll eat."
The crew ate anything that looked familiar. Coconuts, octopus, mice, birds. Scavenging, sometimes they'd find logs with honey. No dinosaurs. Some still claimed to see elves. One attested to a vampire.
"It walks in the jungle at night. Tall and covered in fur. It hovers above the ground on air."
They found dotted trails of blood from the camp some mornings. No one knew where they went, though. There were no marks on their bodies.
Finally, they awoke to find a crew member nearly dead. Blood from his anus soaking through his clothes. He was in shock, shivering, ice cold and white.
His eyes drifted back into his head.
That day they packed up their things, got in the dingy, and sailed around to a different part of the island. They hoped more islands were near, but the horizon was vacant. Floating for several days, they fainted until a high tide washed them into the trees on the dark side of the island.
The crew saw glittering streams running down the sunken banks rimmed with mangled roots clawing into the metallic sand. Black water sloshed, and the mud mixed to make twilight. They poured it into the palms.
The trees waved as if afraid. Their streaks of branches clung to the clouds for salvation. The boat edged along, gliding on rainbow water, settled on an abyss. Huffing diaphanousness, flowing through the branches, leaving trails of speckled goo, a transparent ape with thin red strings inside invisible skin. It clung to the shaking branches—among brown grime and swampy flowers and vines choking majestic trees, forgotten in the sky.
The crew climbed up the glittery banks but slipped—the worms were eating away at the pale orange earth, porous and home to the worm broods. Sloshing mud fell away in chunks, and the stench of rot and ammonia stung their eyes. A blister in the roasted sky could see them bronze on bile-ridden soil. It watched them struggle, their feet twisting in the thousands of centipedes, talons of eagles, rags. Gripping mud, the sheen of multivariate and beet and slime, like a movie, crept over their fists and dripped down their wrists.
Cats in the trees with sparkling eyes, long musty fur like raccoons, stone claws tearing rapid into green branches. The trees shuddered, mistaken for wind bristling past—a howling ache at the core. In a bay choked with smoke-grey mist, a boat sat still, hypnotized to the water, the weeds, the calm.
The outwitted remains of the dismantled and discharged sailors went into the woods hopeless, with fervor, the boat frozen in grace. It was cold, and thick-rimmed clouds seemed to carry a heavy load—perhaps of rain, hail punishment, or dreams. The dark held its take with pride and luck.
They had nowhere to go toward, away from; where was the statue? Vampires? Did anyone else see the walking log? And it let them climb on. It walked on two legs, shucked a heap of jungle, lunged on feet of roses and viridian thorns. They gripped its back trunk slimed with mulch, worms, and grubby insects. Climbed onto moss-grown boughs—it took them away into starlight like children in a wagon. A road to unknown realms, where there may be the sun, may be stone. Would there be a clearing? Away from the ocean?
The log lumbered on for hours. Until barely day rose early over the fen serene and the tree laid down again on top of them, burying them underneath.
Jawbones washed and hacked and teeth stained into wood, petrified, gripping terror by the grain. And quick terror diminished to falling, to running like in a dream—they were awake for certain and unable to breathe, but the log was the least of their worries.
The realm, the dream, was collapsing around from every direction.
They could almost touch each other. Crushed by the sleeping log. They could feel the worms and maggots already reaching their skin.
Ocean swells flooded in, returning the boat to its passengers. It crawled over trestles of ferns, vines, the sleeping fog rotting its stern. The boat reached into the water and could almost touch a vacated arm, hand rising like a lofty apparatus, a tower of babel under the sea, reaching with no intention.
Carnal stillness. The hand bending in lifeless gesture, kicked by the underbelly’s rippling wells. The boat sank.
Overflowed by the sister sea, the river was taken in by the trees. The boat was already gone. Its transom stood out, above the surface, black-green sodden in disgrace, permanently given to the water's deep. Under the reaches of the canopy bubbled its weight in flightless conjure with the sea, to be swept into eternity sordid flake by flake, dust into wet ash and mud. Boat dreams of earth night, sunk into an even deeper dark—it is very cold, and it holds you commandingly still.
Sean Cazzell is an artist living in Oregon. This is his first publication.