“Disagreed?” I said stupidly. “Disagreed about what?”
“About turning back.”
I freed his hands, wincing at the sight of his rope burns. Gingerly he rubbed them together over the yellow flame of the lamp.
“I don’t know what they’ve told you,” he continued in a moment. His voice, deep, resonant, and seasoned, seemed ill-matched to his frail body. “I have no idea what they’ve said or how they persuaded you to come aboard. But the truth is that you and I would be better off by far if we could only throw ourselves into the sea.”
“In this storm?” I said in disbelief.
“Yes. This raft is headed in the wrong direction.”
I could only stare. He was obviously suffering from pain, weakness, and hunger, and his face was as grim as his words. Yet his eyes seemed to twinkle somehow, almost as if he delighted in having found a listening ear.
“It’s true,” he nodded. “I suppose you’ve been told that the other way leads to the end of the world and certain destruction. But the truth is just the opposite.”
I was quiet for a moment, pondering his words.
“When I started out,” I said at last, speaking very slowly, “I believed as you do. I believed that I had been led this way and that someone had instructed me to throw myself into the sea. I was convinced that if I did so I would eventually come to the place of the rising sun and Christmas morning, and that the rider of the eight-legged horse would meet me there. But in time I found that my hopes were false, just as these men say. So I bargained with them for passage back to land.”
“Your hopes were not false!” he said earnestly. “It’s all true, I tell you! Every bit of it!”
“But they said that I was traveling west, not east – toward the setting sun, not the rising sun! And everything I’ve experienced thus far seems to bear out the truth of their words. I’ve floated in the ocean for a very long time now and never once have I seen the slightest change in the approaching daylight, nor any sign that the sun is indeed rising. I have felt for some time that the sun is actually moving away from me just as rapidly as I’m pursuing it. And that’s exactly what the men said!”
“Ah!” he responded, stroking his beard. “In that they were absolutely right.”
He must have read the confusion in my face, for now at last he smiled and laughed out loud.
“Yes,” he said. “Once you cast yourself upon these waters there is only one way to reach the sunrise: by going straight on into the sunset, right through it, and out the other side! To turn back is certain death.” He moved closer and dropped his voice to a whisper. “This raft’s present course leads only to sheer glassy cliffs against which the furious surf pounds unceasingly. If we continue to travel in the direction these men have chosen, this raft and all aboard will be dashed to pieces at the foot of those cliffs. There is no going back that way!”
I had to acknowledge that these words rung true. I remembered looking down from the top of those glassy blue cliffs. As I pictured them in my mind’s eye, I realized that no sea-going vessel could possibly find a safe landing there. And yet I was reluctant to believe it somehow. There has to be a haven or harbor somewhere! I thought. Besides, this idea of plunging into the sunset and out the other side is preposterous!
He shook his head and clucked his tongue. “I tried to tell them,” he said, his eyes glowing, “but they wouldn’t listen. Though they knew the truth, they could not bear to hear it. So they silenced me. But now, together, we can escape from this doomed raft! This is our chance! Under cover of the storm we can slip into the sea and be saved!”
This was too much for me. “Are you crazy?” I hissed. “Can’t you hear the wind and the rain? Can’t you feel the tossing of the waves? And you really want to jump overboard? Why should I trust what you say? How do you know all this?”
We stared at one another in silence as the raft pitched sickeningly down the slope of a wave. The twinkle in his eye became a burning flame.
“Don’t you know it yourself?” he asked quietly. “If you don’t know these things for yourself, why are you here at all?”
I could not answer him.
* * * * * * * * * *