In the Fading Light of Sundown
by Nancy Fulda
The sun hung low and red beyond the island, and Tobis' boat was sinking. Brackish water
slopped through widening cracks in the frame, glistening in the sunset. Welts rose where the
spray soaked past his leathers.
With a snap like thunder, another live-wood plank split from the hull. Tobis ripped his gaze
from the jutting topple of cliffs that was his goal. He placed ungloved hands against the timber
on each side, willing it to hold, but the endless slap of salt-poison waves had leeched all strength
from the wood. Cut off from the nourishment of the mainland, it could no longer maintain the
shape his thoughts demanded. The strained timbers gave a weary groan.
If the boat lost cohesion, Tobis knew, the poisoned water would kill him before he could swim to
He had not spared much thought for death, these past decades, although he supposed at his age
one ought to. Dying itself didn't scare him much. But to have gathered his courage . . . to have
finally begun the journey he had contemplated every sunset for twenty years -- and then to die
without ever setting foot on the island . . . Now that would be unbearable.
Salt-poison spray blew across the bow, stinging where it touched Tobis' face and hands. He
tugged the brim of his hat and gripped the bailing bucket one-handed. The fingers of his free
hand kept contact with the live-wood, urging it to grow.
Perhaps the boat, cut off from the soil, was able to draw sustenance from Tobis' body. Perhaps it
was just dumb luck, but the boards held.
Tobis' muscles ached when the rough ocean waves at last turned to glimmering ripples of
sunlight near the island. He steered around a stony bluff and let the current drive the boat into
When he could make out the shadows of stones beneath the glare on the water's surface, Tobis
leapt from the collapsing boat and pulled it to shore with both hands.
The bow sprouted roots before the stern cleared the water. Milky tendrils shot from the planks,
scrabbling like sightless worms at the soil.
Ruthlessly, Tobis shoved the boat farther ashore, snapping the tender roots and sending up
sprays of gravel. The boat collapsed into a jumble of planks, creaking and groaning, desperate
for sustenance. Roots coiled piteously, grew thicker, and clawed into the dirt like the grasping
fingers of a mortally wounded soldier.
Tobis kept on despite his exhaustion, pushing the sagging timbers past the tide line, beyond the
contaminating reach of the salt-poison. When he judged he'd gone far enough, he sank, gasping,
to lean his back against the splintered wood.
"There y'are," he panted, patting the jumbled timbers like a beloved pet. "Eat up. You've