Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Age of Pandora: Day Four

I am participating in the Age of Pandora fitness program from darebee.com. These posts are a fictional representation of the workouts that I do each day. I list my actual workout in parentheses at relevant points.

Previously in this story...

(Or start from the beginning.)

Day Four

Despite my protests, Ermis had insisted that I sleep in his bed and he sleep on the floor in my bedroll. When I awoke the next day, he had already put away my bedroll neatly beside my backpack. Sun streamed in through the windows, the storm having long since passed. My arm throbbed painfully, but not as badly as it had the night before. I sat up in bed, clutching the blanket close to me for warmth, and scanned the room for a sign of where Ermis had disappeared to. After a moment, I spotted him on the balcony outside, tending to a half-dozen stout fishing poles, the lines stretching over the side of the railing.

Pulling the blanket around my shoulders like a cloak, I joined Ermis outside. My shirt and sweater flapped in the breeze as they draped over the railing; they were still a bit damp to the touch, so I contented myself with just the blanket for a while longer. "How's the arm this morning?" Ermis asked me.

"Better. I think," I said, holding it out for him to examine. A trace amount of blood had seeped into the bandage; when he unwound them to check the sutures, I got a close look at them for the first time. Four jagged rows of black stitches - two on the top and two on the bottom - ran crosswise on my arm, with myriad smaller, shallower cuts surrounding them. A deep purple bruise bloomed across the area as well.

"No sign of infection yet," Ermis said with some satisfaction. "But keep an eye on it. And that arm is definitely out of commission for a good while." He patted me on the shoulder. "C'mon, let's get you inside and change the bandage - "

A loud buzzing caught our attention, and we turned to see one of the fishing rods rattling as it unspooled its line. "Oh, hell!" Ermis shouted, darting over to grab the pole before it disappeared over the edge of the balcony. He struggled mightily for a moment or two, the tip of the pole bending in a parabolic arc as the fish struggled to free itself.

I leaned over the railing just in time to spot a huge, muddy-gray carp break the surface of the floodwaters and begin its long journey up the lighthouse by the hook in its mouth. "You got it!" I shouted. "Here, I can - "

"Oh hell no, you're not touching that fish with your arm like that," Ermis grunted. "You'll undo all my hard work. C'mere, take this from me! I'll grab 'em."

Dropping the blanket I'd drawn about my shoulders, I braced the butt of the fishing pole against my leg and used my good arm to stabilize it. Every time the fish flailed, the rod jerked and shook in my hand, but I managed to hold tight and keep the reel from unspooling. (Three sets of: 15 sec side leg raise hold (per leg), 30 sec calf raise hold, 30 sec side splits hold. Then 5 min raised arm hold, 5 min speedbag punches)

Ermis reached over the railing - so far I feared he'd topple over the side - and snagged the line, hauling the carp up and dropping it on the balcony floor. The fish, easily as long as my entire arm, flicked droplets all over the area as it desperately tried to swim away in water that wasn't there, its large mouth gaping. Ermis grabbed a club that was leaning next to the door and slammed it down on the carp's head, stilling it for good. He looked over at me. "You doing okay?"

My arm had started bleeding slightly. Shivering from the wind hitting my bare torso, I put some gentle pressure on the wound and raised it above my head. "I'd really like that fresh bandage now, if you don't mind."

"Yep, yep, come along." Ermis hauled the fish away from the edge, the hook still embedded in its lips, and held the door open for me. "Sorry about that - if I leave them on the line for too long, they get torn apart by the others, especially once the floodwaters start to go down. You should probably apply the bandage yourself. I still have fish juice on me. The kit is over by the table."

I awkwardly wrapped fresh gauze over the wound as Ermis cleaned the fish, washed his hands as best he could, and retrieved the fallen blanket. By the time he was done, I was sitting with my legs dangling down the ladder opening, peering down at the soupy mess of water below. He tossed my shirt and sweater, which by now were dry, at my back to get my attention. "Pretty necklace you got there," he said.

Instinctively I reached for the dog tags hanging around my neck, but I said nothing in reply. Ermis knew where I was from, or at least had an inkling - that much was sure. But for some reason he didn't press the subject. Maybe he didn't want to know more. The desire for knowledge had driven his friend crazy, after all. I pulled on my shirt and sweater, leaving the dog tags hidden against my chest, and stood. "You said that the Resistance would know where Jotunn is? Where can I find them?" I asked as I examined the sleeve of my sweater. There was still a faint, dark stain on it, almost a shadow, and two ragged holes about an inch in diameter.

"Their camp is a long ways north from here, way up the coast. It'll take you a day or two to get there. And you're not going anywhere until the water recedes a bit." Sensing my frustration, Ermis finished smoothing the blanket out on his mattress and, reaching underneath the bed, pulled out a flat piece of wood and two small bags. "But hey, at least I finally have some company! I've been looking for an opponent. You play checkers?" He set the flat piece of wood, which had a grid of squares crudely carved onto its surface, on the table and opened the bags to reveal smooth stones - light in one bag, dark in the other.

I did know how to play checkers, I realized, but I had the inkling that I wasn't very good. My hunch was confirmed as Ermis proceeded to beat me four games in a row. He was kind enough to point out when I was making an exceptionally stupid move, but that small mercy wasn't enough to save me. Before I got too discouraged, Ermis suggested we try something else. "I don't suppose you've ever heard of Go?" he asked.

"I... have, actually," I said, my brow furrowed as I gently teased the knowledge out from the tangled mess of my brain. "You put the stones on the intersections like this, right?" I placed a dark stone on the board to demonstrate.

"Yep, that's it," Ermis said, placing a light stone on the board in response.

The board was much smaller than a proper Go board, so our games went quickly. I beat Ermis three games in a row; apparently I was much better at Go than at checkers.

"Damn it all!" Ermis said. He wasn't used to losing, I suppose. "How the hell can you remember how to play this so well but you can't remember your own damn name?" He stopped and looked up at me. "I'm sorry. That was unkind," he said, softly.

I shook my head. "I was wondering the same thing." We decided to take a break and cook up the fish we'd landed earlier, supplementing the meal with one of the apples I'd brought.

"You're not so odd, really," Ermis commented as we sat on the balcony and watched the sun begin to set behind the mountains. "Brains are mysterious things. Back in my Resistance days, I knew a kid who fell off a cliff while we were trying to string up a rope bridge. Cracked his head right open. We thought he wouldn't last the night, but he did. Pulled through, eventually, and went on to live for a few more years." He flicked a fishbone from his meal over the railing. "But the funny thing was, ever since, whenever he tried to say something, another thing would come out. His brain would think one word, but at some point the wires would get crossed and his mouth would say a completely different word. He could still understand what people said to him just fine, but damned if he didn't sound like a word salad to everyone else."

"How'd he eventually die?" I asked.

"Harvest," Ermis said. "An early wave of it. He got caught right outside of camp. Tried to call for help - tried to warn us - but we just couldn't understand what he was trying to tell us."

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