Continuing an ancient yarn from the last century. Part One is here.
II. January 1911
I had been marooned on the island for just two days when I discovered the gigantic Bolivian architectural diagrams. They were spattered with blood, rolled up and jammed into a rotting wooden casket. I carried them back to my hut to examine them. There were about a dozen large sheets, rather frayed around the edges but perfectly legible. The top left corner of each sheet had been stamped with an official device of the Bolivian administration, showing an escutcheon, a ziggurat, the helmet of a conquistador, the hand of God and abbreviations in neat italic lettering. The signature of what I supposed to be a petty official had been scratched across each of the stamps in mauve ink. I could not understand why they were in such good condition. I tacked them up on the walls of my hut, where they rapidly grew so familiar that I no longer noticed them. I am no architect, and I had more urgent matters to attend to.
I have never forgiven myself for my stupidity. I had been warned not to row my skiff into uncharted waters near the Antarctic Circle. Oh, but did I listen as Captain Peabody harangued me? “You d—-‘d fool!” he shouted, his frosty whiskers twitching in the cold morning light. I turned for one last look at the ship as I guided my skiff into oblivion. I have not seen a human face since that day. Within minutes I was overwhelmed by chilling, poisonous mists. The hideous stench of crocuses made me sick to my stomach. I let fall the oars. The tholes, tampered with by my enemies, Glubb and Mufton, fell to pieces, and the oars floated away, out of reach. I drifted for hours. My anorak, with its hood of reindeer hide, froze solid, encasing me so that I was unable to move an inch. An auk, or some such feathery ingrate, shat on me repeatedly, hovering above my head like a malign shade. I could not move to shoo it away. Eventually – mercifully – I passed out.
When I came to I was surrounded by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. One of them, with icicles forming on the brim of his hat, was solicitously offering me a tin mug of brandy. I took a grateful swig, then noticed that his colleagues did not seem so friendly. They were glaring at me menacingly. One brandished a rather archaic halberd in the air and shouted horrifying words. All of a sudden I became aware that I was aboard a huge, shiny boat, its sails billowing, its decks scrubbed clean. I turned to look again at the Mountie with the tin mug. For the first time I took in his features. It was Mufton! My deadly enemy….
There were other hallucinations, other dreams. I shall not repeat them here. Hours, days, perhaps weeks after I had set out in my skiff, I came at last to dry land again when I woke to find myself sprawled on the beach of this island. Was it yet another phantasm? There were a number of ways to find out. I tried three of them. First, I beat my head upon some boulders. This caused what seemed like real pain. Then I shovelled handfuls of coarse sand into my mouth and attempted to swallow. This caused me to retch uncontrollably for some minutes. Almost satisfied, I conducted a third test. Taking from the breast pocket of my anorak a small phial, I poured a minuscule quantity of a decoction of sandalwood, cresol, gutta percha and pitch into the palm of my hand, held it aloft in the salty air, and mumbled incantations and gibberish. Sparks crackled in my hair, shot up into the sky, and brought tiny jewels of hail pinging down around me. Within seconds they evaporated, and were gone. But now I knew for certain that I was wide awake, no longer prey to visions and vapours. Being a resourceful sort, I managed to provide myself with adequate food, drink, warmth and shelter within a few hours. I began to search my temporary home, and found the gigantic Bolivian architectural diagrams. That was over a month ago. I found the remains of my skiff, crushed and broken, swept up on some rocks on the northern coast, which seems to be the wildest. I have been working hard at my almanack, and at keeping my beacons lit.
Last night, as I hurled dried and matted vegetation upon my northern beacon, I was attacked by a swarm of bats. They swooped at me one after another, squealing horribly, pecking at my flesh. I fought them off with a burning stick, but I was shaken. I ran back to my hut, and blocked up the doorway and some of the holes in the walls with mulberry paste. Tonight the bats are back, chewing their way frenziedly through the walls. I have on my rickety home-made desk a small bag of sulphur bombs with which I hope to fight them off. But timing will be crucial. I do not intend to perish.