I might have known Friday night was going to be a disaster. I thought that finding myself next to the Hendersons at the Captain’s table during dinner was to be the height of my misfortune that evening. The ship running on a rock and sinking rather put things in perspective for me. And so Mr Henderson, with his bad breath and coarse manners and Mrs Henderson, with her endless stock of stories about her various ailments, have both gone to the bottom of the sea. So it appears. I shall shed no tears for them, at least, although there are others of my fellow passengers whose passing I shall regret. The ship sank with remarkable speed. One minute I was studying the menu, with an eye to ordering fish, the next I was swimming amongst them, whilst the vessel that I had called home these last few weeks vanished below the waves. It did so with a vast belching heave of dark water, leaving only a few floating spars to which a survivor might cling. And so I clung, exhausted, terrified, throughout the hours of darkness, until the first light of dawn found me cast up gratefully on this gentle shore. An hour or so of wandering dazed along the beach revealed that this was a very small island indeed. So much I concluded as I approached from the opposite direction the floating wreckage that had been my salvation. Nor was I the only survivor from the wreck. A little way away was a second raft of wreckage, lodged amongst some rocks. Upon it, quite unconscious, lay a wolf wearing a lounge suit, the handle of a smart attaché case firmly grasped in his outstretched paw. Gold embossed lettering proclaimed the owner to be ‘BB Wolf’. It seemed that we would be sharing this island.
Upon regaining consciousness, Mr Wolf proved to be uninjured, except for a lump on the back of the head. “What does that stand for?” I asked, indicating the initial letters on his attaché case. “Not Big Bad, I hope?” I asked this with a laugh, but he seemed not to see the humour in it. He told me that his name is Bernard Balliol Wolf, and that he is legal advisor to a firm of textile manufacturers operating from Bengal. He seems a perfectly decent fellow, a little hairier than the average castaway, perhaps, but I suppose I shall be increasingly hairy myself unless we are rescued soon. We spent the best part of the day exploring our shared refuge. There seem to have been no other survivors. No bodies have been washed ashore, only a few pieces of timber and a metal tin, containing a banana skin and the crusts from a sandwich. Quite why such items would be stored there remains a matter for speculation. We set these aside for use in emergency, should assistance not arrive in the course of the next few hours. In the meantime, in between scanning the skies for aircraft and the surface of the ocean for rescue vessels, we set out to explore our new home. The island proved to slope gently upwards towards the centre and to be roughly ovoid in shape, with lush vegetation inland and some tall trees towards the higher parts. There are beautiful exotic flowers everywhere and the clearings between the trees hum with insects and with the most exquisitely coloured butterflies. It is indeed a tiny island paradise. It would be entirely charming were it not for the fact that there is nothing here that one might eat. There are no fruit trees of any kind, nothing else that seems likely to provide for a wholesome meal. We must hope that we are rescued soon.
I climbed the tallest tree on the island, as high as I dared, the better to survey the face of the surrounding ocean. There was nothing to be seen. Mr Wolf and I reassure each other that already we are missed, that the airwaves are humming with urgent speculation as to our fate, that ships and aircraft are searching somewhere close, a little way beyond that distant blue horizon. We have attempted to build a shelter, a little way back from the beach, made from fallen branches and from some of the larger leaves and fronds. Mr Wolf is a powerfully built fellow. Stripped to his shirt sleeves and with his vest set aside, there is something about him that I find disconcerting. And yet when we share our midday meal of bread crusts he talks with such assurance of planning regulation that he seems the most civilised fellow on earth. “You should not believe everything you read in the media,” he tells me, when the topic of wolves and their reputation is touched upon later in the afternoon. “I believe you are referring to events in my father’s time. He was tragically slain as a consequence of a misunderstanding. This was in regard to a visit he was making to an elderly person. As a responsible member of the community he took a keen interest in the welfare of his neighbours, particularly those of advanced years.” A tear came into his eye at this point. “I would prefer not to discuss it further, if you don’t mind. You will understand that the topic is a painful one for me.” And so no more was said, and I chided myself for my insensitivity in raising it in the first place.
Still no sign of rescue. We have found a small spring in the high ground from which we have been able to slake our thirst but there is nothing at all to eat. We waded in the shallows and searched for fish but they are all too swift and nimble to be caught. I have never been keen on shell fish but the urgent prompting of my stomach might yet cause me to reconsider. Numerous small crabs hurry in and out of the water. Mr Wolf is less particular than myself. He has taken to scooping them up alive and crunching them in his jaws, little waving claws disappearing between his teeth. What big teeth he has - and what big eyes. Towards the end of the day a particularly fierce glint animated these as we argued over the banana skin and the small browning piece of fruit it still contained. I took the view that I should be entitled to this, as he had been eating crabs all afternoon. He argued that the crabs contained little of calorific value and that I was perfectly entitled to take my own share, were I not so pernickety in my tastes. He told me that we should need to be less discriminating in such matters, if we were to survive on this island. Harsh words were spoken, words that I regret now. He glared at me in a manner that caused me to feel deeply uncomfortable. Later in the evening we shook hands and resolved that temporary differences should not stand in the way of our cooperation. Indeed, we must cooperate to survive here until the time of our rescue.
We thought we heard an aircraft this morning. Mr Wolf stood for a long time on a rocky outcrop, the very picture of alertness, ears twitching as he scanned the empty skies. What big ears he has. But no aircraft appeared in sight and presently he came to sit gloomily in the entrance to our shelter, looking fixedly out to sea. Later we found one of the ship’s boats, wedged in a cleft in some rocks below a headland. It was half filled with water but contained a few items that someone had thrown in as they prepared to abandon ship. Of the occupants there was no sign. There were a few tools, including a saw ,an ax, and some nails that may prove useful in improving our shelter, but nothing at all to eat. I think it is fair to say that a change has taken place in our relationship. He has little to say to me now and I fancy that he stares at me in a hostile manner when my back is turned. Hunger gnaws at us. I find myself fantasising about steak and fries. Although I tell myself I am imagining things, I worry that I have my own place in Mr Wolf’s fantasies. During the afternoon he went for a walk on his own in the woods. So he announced, in the first words he had spoken for an hour or so. Later, I found his suit and shirt thrown carelessly into a bush. I found this circumstance oddly unsettling. Why should it matter that Mr Wolf is clad only in his own fur? The climate is warm. My own suit is folded neatly in our shelter and I wear only my shorts. And yet surely a wolf in an Armani suit remains a wolf. Why should I fear him more au naturel. It is late now. Mr Wolf has not returned. It is night. An eerie howling can be heard from time to time from the high part of the island. I shudder. I fear Mr Wolf is not the person he was when first we came here.
The sixth day of our confinement on this wretched speck in the ocean dawned to find me alone. Mr Wolf is nowhere to be seen. I called for him until my voice was hoarse but he does not reply. Why? I dread to answer that question. I feel that I am being watched, that his eyes are upon me from the undergrowth as I make my way up to the spring to drink. I fill my stomach with the icy water but my stomach demands food. I regard myself in the reflection of the pool and see a gaunt, hollow-eyed shadow of the man I was, unshaven, hair unkempt. How soon one becomes a savage. The trees and bushes harbour unknown horror. I hear his laughter somewhere distant on the other side of the island. Why does he laugh? It is not a cheerful laugh. It is a mocking laugh, intended to unnerve me, and unnerve me it does. Shadows lengthen and the night comes on. I fear that a crisis approaches. I fear for what the night may bring. I dread the lengthening shadows outside my shelter.
I cannot recommend the taste of wolf. There is a gamey quality to it and the meat is disagreeably stringy. But needs must, I suppose, and eating the flesh of my erstwhile companion is preferable to starvation. The wolf came in the night, as I had feared, and his teeth were bared, glinting in the moonlight. We fought. I prevailed. Coincidence, bizarre coincidence, is so often a part of human experience, is it not? Likewise, our genetic make-up plays a vital part in defining us. Our genes, as much as circumstances direct our behaviour. So it proved. My father made his fortune with a sawmill - but before that he was a wood-cutter.
Whilst all the world stands still, Alex Trueman wanders alone in the silent streets of the city. All around are the motionless figures of his fellow citizens, caught in a moment, solid as marble. “He’s a Daydreamer,” states his school report and no one who knows Alex would disagree. But this mental state, this condition of temporary disassociation from reality is one that Alex has immersed himself in once too many times. He has daydreamed himself unwittingly into the strange world of Intersticia, a world outside of ordinary time that exists in the slender intervals between instants. At first it seems that he alone is free to wander these hushed streets with their motionless cars and people. But he is not alone. Alex soon discovers that he shares this world with others and that he has a rare power with the potential to change future, past and present.
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Click here to view an excerpt on Chapter 1 from Caught in a Moment