I had just finished an apple (they seemed the size of melons now) and was scouting the dark waters ahead when I spied another black spot approaching through the murk. It was not long before I was able to make out its shape, dimly silhouetted against the dull glow in the east. It appeared to be a log raft. Its square sail hung limp, for there was no wind, and I could hear the muffled sound of oars slapping the wave-tops in the distance. Not a lamp nor a lantern shone upon it, but I was able to discern the shadowy figures of men moving about the flat deck. In particular, I could see the man at the steering oar and hear his voice as he shouted out orders to the others.
More out of habit than anything else, for I fully expected to hear the voice of the small gray bird at any moment telling me to “let it pass,” I waved my lamp from side to side above my head and hailed the men on the raft. To my surprise they saw me and steered in my direction. They rowed up rather close and hove-to a short distance away. Their faces appeared strange and ghoulish in the yellow glow of my clay lamp.
“Who are you and what’s your business?” called the steersman, leaning on his steering oar and jutting his huge bony jaw at me over the water.
“I am heading into the sunrise of Christmas morning,” I answered, shading the glare of the lamp with my hand so as to see him better. “The Firebird brought me this far. I am seeking him whom the Watchers say is to come.”
A murmur drifted to me over the waves from the dark figures aboard the raft. The steersman grunted, rubbed his chin with the back of his hand, and looked grim.
“This is no sunrise you’re headed for,” he glowered. “The sun is running away from you! That’s the sunset – not the sunrise! You’re travelling west – not east!”
West! The thought of it struck me speechless. What could I say in return? I could not deny that my own observations seemed to bear out the truth of his words.
“And that’s not all,” he continued. “It’s not just the sunset you’re headed for – it’s the very end of the world! If you don’t turn back, you’ll soon fall over the edge!”
“If Leviathan doesn’t get you first!” muttered one of his companions.
“That’s right,” agreed a third. “That’s why we’re rowing as hard as we can in the opposite direction!”
* * * * * * * * * * * *