I awoke with a start on the sandy shoulder above the sea cave, hearing a noise in the night. Wide awake. A silver crescent moon hovered to the south, and a thousand sparkling eyes spread over the Great Sea like a bejeweled blanket.
Since coming to the Edge of the West, I have been a little wary of being a stranger in a strange land, not knowing the customs of the seaside people. Surely, someone had seen the dragon upon arriving. I had no idea how people might react, so tried not to bring attention to myself.
But what I heard was like no animal or person. It was coming from the sea.
Something was in the air, a steady rhythm, sounding like the beat of the cosmic heart above Written across the dark night sky. My pulse quickened. A feeling circulated within. Like love, but different than what I’ve ever felt before, seemed to be pouring into and out of me, waves after wave.
I swear I saw a constellation in the shape of a heart. Then again, I didn’t have my glasses on.
I slowly drifted back to sleep.
When dawn arrived, I was thoroughly soaked from the mist floating off the ocean. I was convinced my night-time soundscape was but a dream, as I had many images visit me in the night.
Ocean waves crashed upon the shore, sounding like a surprise guest, knocking on my door. If I had a door. I felt a bit under a spell, almost like a hangover.
The first thing I saw looking out on the water was a sea otter floating on its back, having a little breakfast. Further out, I saw a whale surface and spout water.
But even above the percussive pulse of the tide, I could still hear that sound, sometimes a melody, sometimes a murmur, soft but strong, sounding a bit like wildfire from the sea, wrapped inside a mermaid’s siren song. As if I knew what a mermaid’s siren song sounded like.
Having done the Ritual of Release last night and set the sacred fabric on fire into the tide, I felt ready to try my chances on the Great Sea, with or without the advice of the HeartSeer. I’d begun to trust my instincts. Often struggling with doubt, I nevertheless had trusted the call to search for the Fire Dragon, trusted the 7th-Born Bunny (even after its brethren led me astray), trusted my search for its cave, trusted myself to pull the dagger out and lead it into the pool, followed my intuition into the sea cave, trusted myself to continue seeking the HeartSeer. why stop now?!
Something about that spiral pattern of those rocks I had seen from the air when we first arrived was calling me. Whether it was my intuition, or a siren song or a bewitching spell, I don’t know, but I was determined to explore those rocks. In particular, the center one.
Of the many tales I heard from villagers about the HeartSeer, one was that she was a mermaid, whose siren song lured hapless men to their death. So that possibility had been percolating in me all month.
I could be one of those hapless men! I knew that, and yet I was still drawn to follow the sound I heard from the sea.
However, if there’s anything I’ve learned since I first set out on this journey many moons ago was that rarely do things unfold in the way that people say or think, myself included. From the fallen redwood trees and silver waterfalls to the puzzling conversation with the strange woman of the north who left a cryptic note in the sand about the Fire Dragon and my Rainbow Home, it has all unfurled quite unpredictably.
This was also one of those days. I had a plan. Yet the plan had its own plan.
My goal was to explore that rock archipelago in the shape of a spiral, which spanned roughly a mile in circumference. I would find my friend the Fire Dragon and he would take me out there.
Short, sweet, safe, and simple.
I went down to the sea cave. No sign of Fire Dragon. Nor was his form as the little boy playing in the waves, which is what he had been doing everyday since we arrived.
Change of plans: I would rent a boat and launch seaward. I would rent scuba gear and explore the waters around the rocks. Though the all the bunnies in the blackberry brush had said that the Obsidian Key had been thrown into Great Sea and settled to its very bottom, I thought that since the source of the sound I keep hearing seemed to coming from the rock at the center of the spiral, that would be a good place to start.
I had no other ideas on how to dive deeper into the ocean, let alone where in the ocean to explore. Based on the word of the villagers, the Great Sea was without end. That sure makes for some long odds for finding something that can fit in your hand.
I searched for a boat to rent. I was informed that as this was Quarter Moon Day, no one took to the sea. It wasn’t exactly forbidden, but at the very least bad luck. I was willing to take my chances, as I didn’t really have an alternative. Walking further to the north, I eyed a fisherman loading gear into his vessel from the dock. He must have been either ignorant of or unconcerned about the Quarter Moon taboo.
I waved towards him. He didn’t see me.
“Hey!” I yelled, waving frantically.
He promptly ignored me and launched his vessel in the opposite direction.
I had missed the boat. Once again, I updated my itinerary: I would swim.
The distances between rocks was significant, especially for a lake-swimmer like me, not used to the strength and rhythms of the sea. I would have to swim to each rock, rest and catch my breathe, and continue.
I continued to hear the murmur, floating on the sea-blown wind. It now sounded like a drum, or a humming thrum, like it was calling mountains to the sea. Like it was preparing for dancers to emerge and twirl on the waves.
Well, here goes nothing, either I’m finally been drawn by a mystic song to my death, I’m imagining things, or else I will meet the person or creature who will help me dive deeper in the Great Sea. If it’s the former, I hope I at least get a good look at the source of my demise. If it’s second, then I’ve got worse problems than death. If it’s the latter, which is my hope, then my problems may just be starting, not ending.
I fashioned myself a staff from drift wood. Finding a bottle on the beach, I cut it in half, and tied it on one end. The other end I sharpened to a point. Around the stick I wrapped my inflatable sleeping pad. The stick would serve as spear, paddle, flotation device. I called it my Sea Staff.
I launched myself into the waves, with my Sea Staff ahead of me, kicking doggy-style in earnest toward the first rock. Not a glorified way of entering the Great sea, but so far effective.
Within twenty minutes, I arrived at the first rock, a dark chiseled block covered sporadically with bright green moss. It was sharply cut from the sides, there was no way for me to find purchase on it.
I was forced to continue paddling without rest to the second rock, a distance of a few hundred yards, cutting a wide arc. Then the third and fourth and fifth, similarly spaced, neither of which presented anything out of the ordinary.
The sixth, which formed the outer limit of the spiral, was approximately two miles from shore. No source of a song found. No creatures other than the occasional black cormorant and empty shells glued to the surface that had been picked clean by birds.
I was getting tired. My body was tempted to cut across horizontally, but for some reason my mind prohibited the idea. I felt an overwhelming need to trace this spiral. No shortcuts. Even above the steady drone of the waves, I could still hear that same enchanting murmur. My heart swelled with a love unlike any I’ve felt before. My muscles strained, and so cold, it was this sound that kept pulling me forward.
The wind picked up and the waves began to swell. I feared I was getting in over my head. That I jumped in feet first to something way bigger than me, something I didn’t understand and didn’t have the capacity for, that would swallow me whole. That I had made one colossal mistake after another, doubting I going to find anything out here. That I should have just stayed in the redwoods, better yet, stay in the House of Willows. I could have just as easily done the Ritual of Release anywhere else but the Edge of the West, could have just as easily built a fine home in the forest. Could have easily not set out to find this HeartSeer. Could have easily ignored this sound from the sea.
Why did I leave the safety and comfort of the village?
I swallowed a mouthful of seawater. I held tight to my Sea Staff to stay afloat.
Suddenly, something brushed my feet. Seaweed, I hoped.
Then, I realized, it WAS seaweed. I was in the midst of a seaweed forest, its flowing leaves wrapping around my legs like tentacles.
And entangled among the sea plants was a stray fishing net with hooks.
I tried to fight the instinct to thrash about, but it was dragging me beneath the surface. with every kick I became more entangled. One of the many barbed hooks on the net caught me in the heel of my left foot.
I attempted to use my Sea Staff to pry it loose, and managed to tear it loose, leaving a bloody gash where the hook was.
Then one of the hooks punctured the sleeping pad around my Sea Staff. What buoyancy I had was immediately lost, and I struggled to keep my head above the waves.
The mind does funny things when it is panicking. Time slows down and all sorts of thoughts race through, an odd combination of pure survival instinct and the mundane.
This was it, I was going to drown here, just miles from shore, I thought. Did I remember to send that letter? Perhaps I could survive on just seaweed. Would anybody find my body? And if so, what would they think I had been doing out here?
Either way, surely my bloody wound in my foot would attract a shark or an orca. Or just get nibbled to death by smaller fish. I think I’d rather my body go to feed larger numbers of creatures than just one big creature. I’m undecided. I’m just grateful its not by squirrels.
“Wilson, I’m going to kill you tell you’re dead, I’m going to punch you in the eye!”
For some reason those Phish lyrics and three pelicans gliding not far above me were the last things in my consciousness before blackness.