Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Land to the North - Chapter 20

We drifted with the current in the river and while it had brought us into this world, I had the feeling it would also take us out. All we had to do was let it run its course. I had no idea how long that might take, nor did I have any real idea of how far we had come on our journeys. We had been forced to march in so many different directions that we might have made a huge looping turn and been near our original entrance, or we might be at the far end of this world, near another entrance to it. I just didn’t know.

In the last several days, or rather, in a long period of this eternal light, I had little opportunity to sleep. What little that I had was not as restful as it could have been. It seemed that there had been so many crises that there was no rest. We had been fleeing so many captors in so many places, that rest was not possible. Too much happening too fast.

Christine looked so peaceful in the bottom of the boat, lying so that she avoided the little bit of river water that was sloshing around. Her right arm was up, over her eyes and her legs were stretched out, away from the water. She didn’t move and it was difficult to see that she was breathing, though she was.

I sat with my back against what would be thought of as the stern, through there was no real difference between the front and the back of the boat. Fore and aft was determined by the direction the boat was heading, and I was sitting so that I could see the river in front of us.

I didn’t feel drowsy at all. My eyes didn’t burn, my eyelids were not heavy and I wasn’t yawning. I was tired, really tired but not drowsy.

It was the fog horn that woke me. I started and grabbed for my pistol when I realized I couldn’t see much other than the gray of the cloud bank we had drifted into. I could hear the distinct rumbling of an engine, a mechanical devise, and I could hear the mournful sound of the fog horn somewhere out there near us.

Christine sat up suddenly, frightened. She stared into the clouds around us, and then looked back at me. “What is it?”

I waved a hand to silence her, but there was no reason to do that. I knew exactly what it was, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from in the fog. The sound seemed to reverberate as it bounced around, seeming to be all around us.

Then I heard a faint splashing as the bow cut through the water and new that it was very close. I drew my pistol and pointing it straight up, fired it three times, hoping that whoever was on the boat would recognize the distress signal that I have learned in the Army. Three spaced shots meant you were in trouble.

I thought I heard the engine slow and the splashing seemed to be quieter. I said, “I think they heard us.”

Christine stared at me and I didn’t know if she was frightened or just confused. There were no engines in her world and no real fog like this. Just the ever present sun, some haze created by the humidity, and a fight to stay alive every minute.

The splashing stopped and the fog horn blasted three quick times. I raised my pistol and fired three more shots. Then I heard a voice that sounded as if it was close.

“Ahoy there. Where are you?”

For an instant, I didn’t realize that the voice had spoken English. It was the first time in a long time that I’d heard someone speaking English, other than Eric. I suddenly knew that we had escaped from that inner world, though I didn’t know where I was nor how we had done it.

I put a hand next to my mouth and yelled, “Out here in a small boat.”

“Can you see my light?”

I tried to figure out the direction to the voice and stared into the fog. I saw nothing for a moment and then a dull glow that looked like the sun on a cloudy, rainy day. Just a small smear of brightness in a dull background.

“I have you in sight,” I yelled.

“Can you come to us?”

If I had been planning, if I had not been running from those on the Spanish galleon, if I had not been fleeing that inner world, I might have looked for oars when we found the boat, but we were in such a hurry, we just jumped in and took off.

“I have no motor,” I said, hoping that would be sufficient.

“Hang on,” said the voice.

I didn’t know what they planned. I didn’t know how big their boat might be. A freighter could easily swamp us or run over us before they managed to get organizated. I heard nothing for several minutes.

Christine said, “What is happening?”

“I think we’re about to be rescued.

She stared at me and then shivered. I realized that it was chilly in that fog. Not really cold, as you’d expect above the Arctic Circle at any time of year. Not the cold that could seep in and kill you in minutes. Just chilly and uncomfortable, given where we had come from and how we were dressed.

I heard a distance splashing and then a voice. “Can you give us a direction?

I didn’t know how to do that because I didn’t know where I was or the orientation of my boat to theirs. I yelled, “I can give you a long count if that would help,”and then, not waiting for an answer started counting upwards.

In seemed as if an hour had passed, though I hadn’t counted nearly high enough for that when I heard their oars in the water. A moment later, the boat appeared out of the fog no more than twenty or thirty feet away.

The crew were bearded men wearing heavy coats. Four were pulling at oars while one in the bow was searching for us and another was in the rear steering.

“I see them,” said that man in the bow and pointed.

Their boat turned toward us and as it came along side, the men pulled their oars in. One of the men reached out and grabbed the side of our boat. He started at Christine.

“How in the hell did you get out way out here?” he asked.

Christine didn’t move. She looked frozen with fear. I reached out and took her hand, pulling her closer to the rescue boat.

One of the men was stripping his coat and held it out for her. She didn’t know what to do. I pushed her closer and the man leaned over, draping his coat over her shoulders. She understood then and wrapped it tightly around her.

In minutes we were on their boat, standing on the bridge, both of us wearing coats provided by our rescuers. The captain stood staring at us and said, “What in the hell were you doing way out here?”

Once we had been given warmer clothes, gotten something to eat, and had a chance to relax, the captain joined us. He looked us over carefully again and then asked again, “And how did you find yourselves out in the middle of the ocean?”

“That’s a very long story,” I said.

“We have some time now. We can’t be making our observations in the fog.”

He explained they were a scientific expedition that had a task of observing the glaciers in the Arctic Circle with an eye to figuring out a way to predict the way the icebergs were formed and the drift pattens that sometimes affected the maritime world. Their research was an outgrowth of the Titanic disaster some years earlier.

Given that they were on a scientific mission, I told him that I had been part of one as well. I explained about our attempt to penetrate the Earth’s crust to reach the interior world and that we had been searching for the father of Eric Jensen who had originated the journey. I told him that Christine was a resident of that world.

I could tell that the captain didn’t believe much of our story, though we had been dressed for a warmer climate, we had been in a boat that was clearly manufactured from tropical type plants, and there was no other explanation for us being as far north as we were. I suspect he believed that we were deluded in some way and had somehow assembled the elements of that delusion into a little bit of physical evidence. He was just too polite to mention it.

When I finished my tale, he slapped his hands on his knees as if to push himself out of his chair and said, “It’ll be several days before we return to port. Until then you have the run of our boat. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”

As he left, I laughed and said to Christine, “I don’t think he believed me.”

“Then where did we come from?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose it all depends on exactly where we are now.”

“What are we going to do?”

I smiled at her and said, “Stay warm and not worry. We’re safe here, unless the weather turns bad and we run into a storm.”

When I saw the look on her face, I quickly added, “But I don’t expect that to happen. Besides, this boat isn’t all that large so I don’t think we’re all that far from land, either Greenland or Canada.” I didn’t explain to her what Greenland or Canada were and she didn’t ask.

In talking to one of the scientists on the boat, I learned that they were documenting everything they were doing. Eric and I had sort of planned that, but given the way our expedition worked out, I had lost everything except for my pistol and the clothes I was wearing. Our maps, charts, photographs, and anything else that would prove what we were doing was gone. I’d lost Eric in the process and we hadn’t found his father or sister. We had failed, or rather I had failed, in everything that we were trying to accomplish.

All I had to show for it was Christine who could, of course, tell about her life inside the Earth, but then, no one would believe her either. They’d just believe she was an actress hired to prove the point or that we were both suffering from the same delusion.

I convinced one of the scientists to give me one of the spare journals and set about chronicling the expedition as best I could. I spent the ten days putting down as much as I could remember about the expedition in the order that it happened. I knew as I was writing it that everyone would see it as a work of fiction, but I thought it important to put down as much as I could. Someday it might be seen for what it was.

We have now arrived in Nova Scotia and we have been put off the boat. I cabled home for money from my father and he sent it along. I was able to buy train tickets for New York and since we were in Canada and came off an American boat, everyone believed we were Americans. I told customs that Christine was my wife and that we had lost everything at sea. Given everything else, given the way ships were damaged and people were sometimes stranded, they believed us.

My goal now, is to return to the Inner Earth with a proper expedition to find Eric’s relatives and to prove that it can be done. Christine isn’t sure she wants to go with me, and that is up to her. She said that there is nothing left for her there, but I think she’ll change her mind if I can get another expedition, a proper expedition, together.

If I succeed in returning to the Inner Earth, I want my family to know what happened and where I am. I leave this record, for the family and not for science. Someday, if I have gone but not returned, maybe one of you will follow me...

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