Voyage to Brobdingdag IIBy Micromegas
Cold, wet and shivering, Cynthia rowed the lifeboat in and out of the jagged rocks. The north wind drove its cold fingers up her damp sleeves. Dead. Drowned. Many, if not all of them. Many did make it to the lifeboats, but in the turbulent seas hers had become separated from the rest. Her boat had come loose after she got in, and dropped into the water before anyone else could join her. That considerate and funny crewman who had shown her her quarters--did he make it? The lifeboat had bucked up and down, up and down, up and down in the stormy seas. A horrifying, nauseating carnival ride with no one to let her off except God Himself. She had hung onto the sides for dear life, praying over and over and over that the boat would not capsize. And it hadn't. The stormclouds went on elsewhere and the sea gradually calmed, leaving her trembling, sick and numbed. And with a headache. When she recovered enough from fright and exhaustion, she looked around and, to her relief, saw land to the south. A first-aid kit in the boat provided aspirin for her headache. So she took the oars and began rowing. Resting off and on, sometimes eating and drinking from the lifeboat provisions, she kept on until finally the nose of her boat ran aground.
She was so happy and relieved to be on dry land. "I--I'm never venturing out to sea again! Never! Never!," she vowed. Then thought better of it. "Except the trip home." Beaching the boat, Cynthia dragged it up the rocky, pebbly shore until it was well nigh past the high-water level. Deciding it would be more comfortable to sleep on the ground, she dragged it further up to the tall, very, very tall, grasses at the edge of a forest that sloped steeply up the side of a hill. Were those sequoias or redwoods? The trees were huge enough to be. She tugged the boat into the tall grasses, turned the boat over, crawled beneath the shelter of its hull, and tried to sleep as best she could. But with temperatures that felt like they were in the forties and the memory of the shipwreck and its endangered passengers fresh in her mind, it was a shallow, disturbed sleep punctuated with nightmares.
She had not actually seen anyone drown, but she had caught glimpses of hapless fellow passengers thrashing in the great waves. The sea was too rough--she could not help them...she could not..help...them. A hard lump in Cynthia's throat forced tears into her eyes, and she sobbed with grief. She hoped against hope that all had caught a lifeboat. But--she feared the worst. Her throat was not only contracted with weeping but raw with cold, and with coughing she kept awakening herself.
When morning came, Cynthia roused. Her jacket, sweater, turtleneck and slacks still felt damp. Loosening her barrette, she gathered her wild, windblown chestnut hair into a half-decent ponytail and pinned it again. She shivered as she ate some of the lifeboat provisions for breakfast and looked around. The grass of this unknown land was HUGE! So tall and wide were the individual blades of grass that she could not see the forest behind her, only the ocean in front of her. When she was done eating, she unfurled the lifeboat's two blankets and wrapped them around herself, and picked up the lifeboat food container, and pushed through the grass until she reached more pebbly beach on the other side. She tottered over the stones and pebbles until she reached the edge of the forest. Here, the leaf and needle litter was also huge. She could clearly identify fallen leaves as oak, maple, and elm, but as they were as long as she was tall and much wider. Walking on them was like walking on great veined sheets of crumpled cardboard. The trees that towered impossibly high above her were oak, elm, pine and maple, not redwoods as she first supposed. "Why is everything so HUGE?" she wondered. Now that she thought about it, there wasn't supposed to be a land mass here between Washington State and Japan--or she didn't think there was supposed to be one.
Walking up the grandly forested slope helped warm her up a bit, but she would not really be warm until her clothes were completely dry. But it was too cold to remove them to dry them. "Oh, for my nice, warm apartment," she moaned as she wrapped her blankets more tightly around her. As the possibility of no houses or people at all mocked the shivering shipwreck survivor like a grinning skull, she came upon the dead, dry body of an ant. It was unmistakably a common black ant, but it was nearly the size of a rat. "Oh, my word," said Cynthia.
Just then, she heard something whistle like a teakettle from above. The sound came from a red-capped bird in the branches above that was twice as big as a turkey or peacock, but looked like a finch. Everything she had seen so far was twelve times normal size, she guessed. Perhaps not everything was giant-size here, but she might need a weapon. She found several dry thorny branches that had dropped or broken off a hillsize tangle of briars, and selected a very thorny one two-thirds her length that had not become too dry or too brittle. Further up the mountain, an unseasonal white mushroom bloomed like a fairy stool in her path. The army rations from the lifeboat would not last forever. But, aside from the highly delectable e. casarea and morels, she couldn't tell edible mushroom from poisonous toadstool. But for several moments, she stood wondering whether to chance it. She quoted, "There are old mushroom eaters, and there are bold mushroom eaters, but there are no old, bold mushroom eaters." And reluctantly left the possible food item standing.
"I can't hunt and I don't know what's safe." For all she knew, she could be standing in the midst of an all-natural feast, but she couldn't tell it from what was poisonous. "Why didn't the good Lord have the decency to make everything edible? Or at least give us the animal instincts to know what's edible?," she fretted. Images of her slowly and painfully starving to death stalked like an unseen predator. Try as she might, she could not brush the frightful imaginings aside. "The Attack of the Killer Need," she titled her mental horror show. Such dire imaginings were always the reason she stuffed herself at restaurant food bars, even when the danger of starving was not imminent. Now that the danger loomed all too real--- "Guess these pounds I've gained will come in handy," she murmured. But those stores of fat would not last forever, and when they ran out...death would come, but first the malnutritional plagues of scurvy, pellagra, beriberi...her teeth falling out... her belly swelling up... She hated being scared. Nevertheless her intelligence and imagination scared her with one worst-case scenario after another--starving to death, thirsting to death, being eaten by a wild animal... or even a horrific combination of all three. First she would starve to death, then something wild and hungry would happen upon her emaciated body...
It was slow going. Sometimes she just HAD to huddle away in some natural shelter--a rock outcropping, a hollow log big enough to house a train--to try to warm herself before continuing again. Especially now she envied outdoorsy types who didn't mind the cold. Finally, after several detours around ravines and impassably steep rises, she reached the top. Here, the forest leveled out. The sun dipped low among the branches of trees to the west. In her own opinion, she had NOT made much progress. But there seemed to be an end to the forest about a half-mile ahead, for there seemed to be grassy meadow beyond. Giant grass. At the edge of the forest, she found what looked like a wide dirt road. So people lived here, after all. She still thought the giant flora and fauna she had seen so far was a local phenomenon, like the California's sequioa or redwood forests, that would peter out into normal-sized surroundings. After stopping to rest on a granite boulder to eat and drink, she decided to take the road west. She had gone a little ways when she heard a measured booming sound, like a series of explosions or a heartbeat, coming in her direction. She trotted off the road into the forest again. Whatever was coming up the road, it was big.
It was a giant that suddenly turned the corner ahead. Out on an evening walk, it seemed. Tree-tall, stocky, warming his hands in the pockets of his blue overcoat, lumbrously he strode, crackling dead leaves in his path, lost in deep thought. Until the sight of her startled him. His slightly lantern jaw went agape and blue eyes widened.
Sheer terror exploded in her chest like a bomb. This guy could crush her underfoot! She ducked into the underbrush. The giant incredulously peered and craned his neck until she disappeared from his view. He must have decided not to follow, for his mighty footfalls faded into the distance. This was the worst, yet. "Giant trees, giant bugs, giant plants, and now giant giants," she muttered. "Where on earth have I washed up?" After some thought she decided, "I'm taking my chances with the ocean." But not so close to dark. Hiding well under the tangle of vines and briars, and covering herself with a stack of dry, dead leaves, she curled up, wrapped up in her blankets and tried to sleep.
Next morning, she roused up dead tired. Sheer dread would not permit deep sleep. Eating and drinking from her rapidly dwindling provisions, she began heading south, toward the ocean. "Cynthia, Cynthia, you almost drowned. Do you really want to take that chance again?," she asked herself as she heard footfalls boom in the distance. Drat! Was that big fellow looking for her? While she had gone a way from the road, she was still too close to it for comfort. Then a foghorn, "Where aaaaare yoooou? Hello!" She turned a corner around a hill-sized boulder and came into view of a great fox several hundred yards away. Her heart exploded with terror again. At least the giant might be civilized. Backing back around the corner, Cynthia drew her thorny branch like a sword just in case the fox had seen her and quickly walked back toward the giant footpath again. It was just her bad luck that the fox HAD seen her, and came sniffing into view around the boulder. There was no place to hide. She hoped that either she could drive the great beast away, or that it would make her end merciful and swift.
"GET AWAY! GET AWAY!" she screamed.
Confused by her scent, for foxes feared man, it hesitated while she backed away. But it finally decided THIS man was bite-sized, and the wild and hungry monster ignored her protests and stalked after her.
"GET AWAY! GO ON! SCRAM!" she continued to scream at it.
She whipped it across the nose with her thorny branch when it got too close. As it reared away, she backed off. And tripped over a limb and fell on her back.
A pounding of explosive footfalls and a foghorn, "BRENGOL!"
A great hand came down heavily on her. She stared into the crooked crevice of the palm's lifeline. Though the hand terrified her, this was the first time she felt warm since the shipwreck. The hand was also between her and the fox. A great blue-clad leg crushed the nearby leaves as the giant got down on his knees. "REEEEES!" he roared.
THIS man was NOT bite-sized! The wild beast turned tail and fled.
This time, he was far too close and hope of escape too far away. Cynthia shivered and shook and hoped the big guy was friendly.
Shifting his hand so he could see her face, he smiled pleasantly. "Hello," he rumbled down at her in an odd accent as he gently took his hand away entirely. Neck-length hair hung like honey-brown drapes from both sides of his big billboard face. To Cynthia, his billboard face looked upside-down.
"H-hello," she answered back, all sorts of worst-case scenarios rearing up at once. Being eaten was one, though this big fellow looked too friendly for that. Being used and abused in horrible ways were others. He might not be as friendly as he seemed, after all.
He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small, red book with the titles in runes of his language, then "How to Speak English" beneath it on the cover. "You are scare," he said softly and gently. "I am big. Scary--to you."
The giant may have been articulate enough in his own language, but was uncertain and fumbling with hers. That was okay. He spoke English better than she spoke Giant. She nodded agreement. "Yes. Yes, you're scary all right."
Later, she would learn that others her size sometimes washed ashore. The giants, who only had one language and were intrigued with the idea that these little others used a different alphabet, words and way of speaking entirely, made a point of learning the little people's gibberish, then putting it down in dictionaries so other giants could learn it as a hobby if they wished. This fellow had learned some English and used it as a secret language with his pals in his youth, but he had not spoken it lately. Her sudden appearance in his wood had just as suddenly revived his interest in her language. He went home, found his forgotten English dictionary and phrasebook and refreshed his memory before trying to find her again.
He gently put his fingertips to his chest. "My name is Bartolo." So as not to needlessly frighten her, he continued to speak softly and gently.
"My name is Cynthia," she replied. "Nice to meet you, Bartolo." She rose and wrapped herself in her blankets again.
"Nice to meet you, Cynthia. You are small," he continued in his compassionate odd-accented rumble. "But you look like a person. I do not steal people, carry them home, so maybe it wrong, catch you, carry you home. But I thought, and I may be wrong to leave you outdoors. It is cold. So I come find you, and you are in trouble. Outdoors, you are in trouble, small person."
"I know I'm in danger, sir. But am I any safer with you?"
"I--I" he made a gentle driving-away motion, "--the fox for you? You see I protect you." She heard a wistful note in his impossibly deep voice. "If you no come home with me, I carry you anyplace? I take you anyplace."
"I don't know this country. I just washed ashore yesterday," she replied.
Placing both his big hands on his big knees, Bartolo kept smiling at her and cocked his head. "Have you eat?"
"Just this," she said, pointing at the food container, "and there's not much left."
"Come with me to my house. You be safer than out here." He fairly glowed with loving-kindness as he laid his left hand palm-up on the ground.
"I hope I don't regret this," she muttered too low for him to hear, and gingerly stepped on the warm flesh of his palm.
Cynthia was entirely wrapped up in a mass of great, warm fingers as he gently enfolded her to his chest and stood up. His heart pounded like a starship engine as he turned his steps home. It felt good to be warm. But it also felt like being pinned to the side of a walking building, albeit a soft, warm one, and she was sure she would be seasick if the walk lasted too long.
His large home at the end of the path was built of great blocks of hewn stone, with thatch on top. Smoke billowed from the chimney. Blessed heat rolled out at them as they entered. Bartolo placed his tiny guest on a great wooden table. Going over to his cast-iron stove, he tossed into its blazing interior a chunk of wood the size of a train car.
"Feeding one of those is a lot of work, poor guy," she thought as she doffed her blankets, then her jacket, which was still damp.
The great oak-paneled chamber appeared to be his living room. There were shelves of books in one corner, the stove in another, and a group of great wooden chairs around this table in the center. This society seemed pre-industrial, but perhaps on the verge of being industrial, judging from some of the curios and antiques on the shelves. The brass candlesticks on the table seemed to be made from molds.
Sitting down at the table, Bartolo held out to her what looked like a round whole-wheat cracker the size of a pizza. She took it, sat down on the rim of a brass candleholder and began nibbling. He watched, fascinated at her miniatureness. Even sitting, he towered over her like a three-story building.
"What country is this, Bartolo?" she ventured to ask.
"'Gulliver's Travels,'" she murmured. Her ill-fated trip to Japan had become a trip to Brobdingnag.
"How did you come here?" he asked.
"My--my boat--I was traveling to Japan--and there was a storm, and it sank. I--I'm afraid t-too many people died--," she choked and sobbed at the terrible memory. "I--I hope not. I hope m--most of them lived--somehow--b--but--" She found herself being picked up in gentle hands, and held against Bartolo's heart again. He rose from the table and settled in a chair before the stove instead, leaned back and let her cry.
Though Bartolo's action seemed rather intimate for a new acquaintance, it was also caring and comforting of him. She HAD just been through a terrible experience, and comfort was one thing she could use.
Later, he placed a small pillow near the stove, laid her down on it, and covered her up with a soft cloth. Then he went about his business.
When she woke up again that evening, he asked pleasantly, "You tired?" with a sympathetic raise of his brows.
"Yes. Very tired. Two nights I have slept out in the cold, and I did not sleep well at all."
Her new friend, Bartolo, made his living as a tailor. And on the side, his hobby was 'finding things,' as he called it. Which sounded like an amateur detective to her.
She helped him in his tailoring by sewing buttonholes, and doing the occasional embroidery on a garment. He in turn made a comfortable place for her in an out of the way closet, and shared his meals with her.
Days, then weeks passed as Cynthia got quite used to her big, gentle host, and gained confidence that he would never harm her. At least, not on purpose. There was always the possible accident, after all.
Often, he laid her on his great chest while warming his feet before the stove. "You have feeling just like we do," he would tell her as he tried to soothe away that awful night. Perhaps in time she would stop having nightmares. "Will you stay with me forever, Cynthia?" he asked one evening.
"I'd like to go back to my land, but I'd have to take my chances with the open sea. Chances are I'd probably starve to death or be drowned in a storm before a ship picked me up. Perhaps I should try, but I'm too much of a coward," she admitted.
"I fear death like you, so I am a coward, too," he said softly as he stroked her back. "I do not want you to die, Cynthia. Stay with me. I will care for you, make you new clothing and you can teach me more English. Is that good?"
"Very good," she said, patting his great hand.