Welcome to the third chapter of the novella titled "Manu of the River", which tells a tale of a humble fisherman's relationship with the Great River that covers his entire world, and surrounds his island home of Janua. Januian legend is filled with tales of adventurers who had achieved godlike powers after exploring of the unknowable expanse beyond their island home. However in modern times, the Great River has been a deliverer not of adventure, but of crippling fear. With its swift currents and turbulent storms, many have been swept away. None have returned.
It had been two long years in the making, but here he is on the verge of a triumphant return back home to Janua.
But, if Manu had to be honest with himself, his elation has just as much to do with escaping from this God-forsaken island.
"Why would anyone ever want to leave Fallum? Especially to go back up-river." Was the seemingly rehearsed response from any who learned of his intention.
How could he blame them? After all, this was 'The Land of the Chosen' for those who had allowed themselves to believe it.
Manu remembered the shock of first learning that Janua wasn't the only island that existed upriver. There were dozens more with peoples of all colors and customs. And, just like Janua, they were all blissfully unaware of each other.
He was initially enamored with his new home, especially at how they welcomed any who had been carried downstream by the Great River, regardless of their origin.
But, it wasn't the Fallumese people that troubled Manu, it was the fog they lived in.
Everyone agreed that only best and brightest were selected to come here. This belief threatened to eat Manu from the inside out. Any person of reason knows that life cannot be put into a hierarchy, for the power that animates everything is equal.
Then there was the shared belief that Fallum must be heaven. "How could it not be?" They'd ask him. "When we have everything we need." Nothing could dissuade them of this 'truth', not even reality. Blinded, they were incapable of seeing that the absence of struggle, and of unmet desires, had a way of turning them into something that was not entirely human.
Most troubling was the reverence they all felt toward the Great River, like it was somehow a God worthy of blind devotion. They believed the river was living and had a will of its own. To Manu, the prayers and offerings they gave to earn the river's good graces felt like an abandonment of personal responsibility.
Once he saw this place for what it really was, every interaction became triggering. But, over time he realized that there was nothing he could do. These people would never release the false enchantment that promised a better life than reality.
Now, as he prepares to say goodbye, he understands that this is how it is all meant to be for these kind and generous people. His opinions have always been not only inherently self-centric, but also irrelevant.
Being the only one to see through the fog, Manu felt surrounded, yet utterly alone. He wanted nothing more than to be back with the people who saw life for what it really was.
Death was more attractive than being lulled to sleep, which made escaping from this heavenly prison his singular obsession.
His two years of toil brought him here, aboard his own motorized boat with directions back home, and marveling at the tenacity it took to get here.
The boat had been comparatively easy to acquire. The Fallumese willing exchange life for worthless symbols, which they turn around and exchange for the right to put their names on things. At first, Manu was appalled by the system thinking it looked a lot like children fighting over sticks.
However, it didn't take long to use the system to his advantage. What better way to exchange his current lifelessness than to make claim to a boat that promised to deliver him back to the land of the living? Two years of labor felt like a minor sacrifice for salvation.
The directions to get back home were significantly harder to obtain. With no one bothering to explore the Great River, in particular what lied upstream, directions back to Janua simply did not exist.
Having exhausted all other avenues, the fiercely practically-minded Manu finally broke down and visited the Great Seer of Fallum. While the visit made Manu's skin crawl, it was successful. With little difficulty, the Seer told him of a five pointed star cluster that would show him the way.
Manu is elated to find his beacon burning brightly in tonight's sky.
Fittingly, in the land of excess, the Seer gave him more than he'd paid for. He not only received the guidance he'd purchased, but also an unsolicited warning. "Only a fool attempts to betray the will of the river."
Being a man of singular purpose, Manu took great care to mind the directions he'd paid for while discarding the free advice.
It is now sunset. The time has come. Manu double-checks his preparations, unties his boat from the dock and begins his journey filled with anticipation.
As he approaches the harbor jetty, Manu spots a familiar boat approaching. A boat going the right direction, back home to Fallum.
"Manu, Master Fisherman of the Janua! It's so nice to see you my friend! Where are you off to?" Yelled Sid as he waved.
"Back home, to Janua." Manu replied as he noticed a bloodied young pale girl on the floor of Sid's boat. Of all the people he'd met here, Sid was the top of his list. He alone took pleasure in exchanging his life for its real purpose, to breathe it into another's.
Sid laughed. "Ever the joker! Only a fool attempts to betray the will of the river. And Manu, you're no fool."
Manu offered no reply other than to return Sid's smile and wave.
Am I a fool? he wondered.
Chapter 3: A long awaited escape