Johnny Castaway

The mutineers cast the mate away upon an atoll, and set their sails for port. He stood, forlorn and unhomed, atop the atoll, feet bare and blistered against the coral, with seawater washing over them. When the ship dropped beyond the horizon, nothing broke the glassy surface of the sea, nor ship, nor island, nor curling plume of smoke, and his loneliness threatened to swamp him like the rising tide. He slipped and slashed his feet to the higher part of the atoll and stared across the calm surface of the lagoon as the tide rose to his hips and dragged at him. He tried to say his name to himself, to remind himself of his individuality, but it had slipped away, beyond the horizon, with his ship, and so he was nameless.

For four months, as near as he could tell, he lived on the atoll, snatching sleep and food when the tide dropped low, struggling awake and upright when it rolled in and over the coral. He was lucky; for on the highest part of the atoll, where the high tides came only to his knees, there blossomed a spring of fresh water that ran clear and sweet before the tide turned. This unlooked for bit of fortune kept him alive. He lived mostly on molluscs and seaweed. He had no line, nor hook, nor sharp and darting fishing spear, nor way to make one.

After four months he ceased to reckon time, for what was time to the nameless? And what was time upon the featureless, unchanging, unconstant surface of the sea? Each day was new, each day was the same: same tides, same fish, same springs, same cycles. He knew the stars from years past, and knew the phases of the moon, and by these great cycles could perhaps have kept the days, but calendars are predicated upon the hope of change, and he had none. It had gone with his ship, the vanished ship, his ship, the ship of mutineers, the ship that had taken his name.