CHAPTER FIVE : Of the Mant

The tall man regained consciousness. The shore was absolutely nowhere to be seen. It seemed to be some time late in the morning. The sky was as grey as the sea. The tall man looked all about, trying to find something to move towards. He could find nothing. He was human driftwood, at the mercies of the watery flow beneath.

But hark! The tall man quickly remembered the oar and began to row. He rowed in one direction. He soon stopped, and decided to look where he was rowing towards. Nothingness. He began to row in the opposite direction. A similar fate met him. He looked all about, and saw nothing but the horizon plummeting out of visibility in every direction.

"Curses." Muttered the tall man to himself.

The tall man sat and pondered his crisis for a little longer before valiantly deciding to row in a single direction until he happened upon some form of land. He began rowing immediately. He rowed neither too fast nor too slow. He had brief experience in how to gauge velocity to safety earlier with horses; he knew exactly how fast to go.

Boats and horses are terribly dissimilar. The tall man soon grew very tired from this rowing. His hands had become blistered by the wooden oars; his back ached from the continued strain. He sat back and rested his body. He was simultaneously both starved and exhausted. He dared not fall asleep again however, for if he did, he would very likely not make his way to any manner of shore.

After his brief hiatus, the tall man resumed his rowing, at a much more relaxed pace. He soon took up his whistling once more. His timbre rang gorgeously throughout the vacant sky. He whistled a masterful melody that kept time with the flowing ocean and the rowing motion. A beautiful harmony of sound and movement that was without any audience save for the tall man.

This activity made the way far more bearable for those involved (the tall man). He continued thus for hours. The tall man gradually became cemented to the system. He could scarcely cease whistling or rowing, even if he had so desired to. But he did not. The tall man was almost to the unthinkable point of enjoying this excruciating labor, for this is what it had become. The joints of his long and thin body were sore and worn. His body was as a machine that had been left operating far longer than it is proper to. Yet his perfect whistling compelled him, and thus propelled him to what he could not see out on the sea. Truly, his dilemma seemed incurable. Bound by his own skill to eternally toil in his efforts to save himself.

But all of a sudden, the oppressive command his sound once carried was slowly being dulled. The tall man began to wonder the source and found it. His whistling was being interrupted. But by what? Surely enough he could hear another whistler. But the source of this other whistle seemed foreign. As he whistled, the sound came back to him not only from his own mouth, but from a different area as well. Surely it wasn't an echo, for there was nothing in sight for the noise to bounce back at him from. But for what other reason would his unmatchable whistling skill be thus duplicated?

He ceased whistling. Similarly, the 'echo' also stopped.

He whistled a single note. Hardly a second after he had started this, he could hear his note being whistled elsewhere. He quickly ran up and down the scale in a flurry of musical ability. And this too could he hear repeated perfectly. Once more he stopped whistling. He looked about feverishly for some plausible reason for this 'echo.' None could be seen. He stopped rowing, and tried to remain absolutely silent.

He remained thusly, sitting in his boat and listening to the wind for a very long time. The sea made no noise. The silence was absolute. But it was broken. The silence was skewered upon the single sound of a whistled note. The tall man immediately became obsessed with locating the origin of the sound. As the sound of the whistle had completely obliterated the silence, so too did the black speck on the horizon obliterate the bleakness of the water.

The tall man was shocked to pieces by the sight of this small object after hours and hours of raw emptiness. He immediately took up his oar and began to row towards it. But as soon as he did, the whistling had stopped. He had hardly noticed, but began to whistle excitedly. He rowed feverishly, and glanced over his shoulder to reassure himself of the presence of the object. It had vanished.

The tall man scoured the horizon for it, he whistled madly, trying to illicit a response. Nothing. The tall man slouched in his boat. But he soon corrected his posture at the sound of the whistler whistling once more. His look darted about and he once again found the object. It was in a different place this time than it had been previously. The tall man attributed this to the boat spinning slowly. The object seemed even clearer and larger this time; the tall man redoubled his efforts to row towards it. But again, it soon vanished.

The tall man waited once more for the whistle, and the subsequent appearance of the object. Surely enough it happened again, and in a yet different area on the horizon, even larger than it had been previously. The tall man fervently began to row towards it, but it had vanished the moment his oar touched the water. He paused, and waited for the return of the whistle and the image. The wait seemed prolonged. It came very quickly, and the tall man jerked his head around to find the dot. The dot was no longer a dot, but the distinct shadow of something. It had drawn eerily closer, it now appeared to be as large as the tall man's thumb from his current perspective. It seemed to be in the vague shape of the letter T. The tall man slowly began to row towards it. He made sure not to take his eye off of the shape. He rowed forward very slowly. The shape in the distance seemed to jump towards him. Was he moving very fast towards it, or was it moving towards him? He touched his oar to the water, but did not move himself forward. The figure remained stationary. He moved it a half inch so as to propel himself the most minute distance forward, the shape increased in size by one and a half times. The tall man was taken aback. He whistled ever so silently. The shape vanished instantly and it was as if it had never existed. The tall man began to row madly. He then stopped and once more awaited the other whistler.

Suddenly, he heard it once more, spun around to find himself within easy rowing distance of a very large tree. The tree was enormous. It rose from the water mightily, with its branches spreading to umbrella all that was beneath its massive span. The tree looked excessively healthy, its bark was a deep and rich shade of reddish-brown, and the leaves were a dark green and hung majestically from their limbs. The tall man rowed over to it immediately. Its beauty became even more evident as he drew nearer to it. And it seemed to be approaching at the natural physical rate. He hazarded a whistle. The tree whistled back and did not vanish. The tall man was thusly encouraged and rowed closer. The tree was vastly larger than the tall man had expected. The extensive branches cast an extensive shadow about the base of the tree. He was nearly beneath it now, and a strange sense of satisfaction washed over him.

As he rowed, he desired intensely to touch the trunk of this tree. The trunk was positively gigantic. It measured nearly twice the length of the small lifeboat. The tree was very large, yet not terribly tall. The aspect of its size that stood out was the girth of the trunk and the sheer diameter of its umbrellaic branchery. The tall man was now standing up in the boat, trying to grasp on to the tree for a brief rest beneath it. He clasped it as well as he could, considering its width. Its solid and unmoving structure comforted the tall man after his lengthy travels on the inconsistent ocean.

He wanted very much to climb onto the tree and rest for a time, but he was fearful of leaving his boat unattended. He decided that he would attempt to use his oar to bring down a branch, and use part of the branch for rope. He picked up the oar, and began to reach as high as he could to try and touch the branches; he tried several times before success was attained. With difficulty, the tall man struggled to lower the branch. The branch was in no way inclined to sling itself back upwards, but rather, it bent itself to the will of the tall man. The tall man fastened it firmly to the lifeboat. He then slung his oar over a branch, and used it to pull himself upwards. He wanted to take his oar with him into the tree because if his boat somehow managed to free itself, he would at least have a piece of wood to float on.

The broad limbs of the tree facilitated climbing very well. The tall man had no trouble finding his way to a very comfortable branch. He sat himself down and gave way to the fatigue of rowing and drifted off to sleep.

He awoke to find that if any time at all had passed, his environs did a poor job of showing it for there was exactly the same amount of light as when he first became asleep. He took a few moments to take in the sound of the ocean and the soothing nature of his tree. He saw his oar, and decided it best to get back to rowing. The tall man looked down at his boat. Alack! There was something in the boat. There was someone in the boat. There was something in the boat. The tall man was sure that the boat was in some manner occupied. It appeared to be some kind of humanoid body. However the shape of it was slightly incorrect. It appeared to be wide awake and looking around eagerly. The tall man tried to creep slowly about the tree to gain a closer look at this figure. He made minimal noise, but the thing seemed to have heard him, and it immediately tensed up. In one swift motion the creature had leaped from the boat into the tree. It had disappeared from the tall man's view. He listened attentively to see if he could divine the location of this other body in the tree, but he could not. He held his breath, but then he remembered that such actions had only yielded less than desirable results in his past experience, so he stopped holding it. He was in a state of minor panic, wondering what could possibly be in this tree with him. He decided that he would try to make his way back down to the boat. The tall man slowly eased himself along the branches towards his vessel.

The tall man felt himself being pushed from his perched and into the water below. The water was lukewarm and quickly soaked the tall man. The tall man flailed his arms in an attempt to swim next to the boat. The tall man hated swimming quite passionately. As he made his toilsome way to the boat, he heard a high-pitched laugh coming from up in the tree. The tall man scrambled onto his sea craft and looked up to the branch he had fallen from. Sitting there on its haunches was what appeared to be a man. However there were several inhuman qualities to this figure. Firstly, the head was far too circular and large, secondly, the man had four arms, and thirdly, the man had an overlarge mouth that made him seem like a puppet when he opened it. However shadows fell over his body, obscuring any further means of identification.

"H-Hello?" Ventured the tall man.

"H-Hello?" Said the tall man.

However it was not the tall man who had said it, rather, the voice appeared to originate inside of the creature in the tree. This puzzled the tall man. However, he decided that further diplomacy was one of his most auspicious choices, considering that he had left his oar in the tree.

"Hello. Do you know where I am?" Asked the tall man.

"I am?" Came the reply, mimicking the tall man's last two words.

"I am a man, trying to get to the body plant." Said the tall man slowly.

"I am a man, t." Sounded the tall man's own voice, but from this foreign throat.

"You are a mant?" Asked the tall man.

"I am a mant." Came the reply, this time the words were not as the tall man had said them, but merely in his voice.

"What is a mant?" Asked the tall man.

"I am a mant. I am a mant." Said the mant.

The tall man shuddered. Certainly those who repeat themselves in this manner can possess no great intellect. The tall man stared quizzically up into the tree towards this shadowy mant. He pondered his next move carefully.

"May I have the oar, so that I might leave and be on my way?" Inquired the tall man.

"May I have the oar?" Asked the mant in response.

"No. You may not have the oar. It is my oar. I will need it if I am to leave you and continue on my journey. If you keep it I will not be able to do this." Explained the tall man, making sure that the mant understood him.

"It is my oar. You may not have the oar." Growled the mant, still using the tall man's voice, but no longer sounding exactly the way the tall man did.

"No, it is mine!" Snapped the tall man.

"Mine!' Countered the mant.

The tall man groaned in his frustration. The mant let out a high- pitched juvenile laugh.

"Do you understand me?" Asked the tall man; patience waning.

"Me?" Asked the mant back.

"Of course. Is there anybody else here?" Asked the tall man rhetorically.

"Is there anybody else here?" Came a woman's voice from the tree.

This female voice took the tall man by surprise. He was entirely unsure as to what he was speaking with. Moments ago it had been something that only mimicked. Then it became something that mimicked him selectively. Now it was a woman who was mimicking him. The mocking mimicry of the tree-dwelling mant was beginning to frighten the tall man. He decided to attempt to clarify the identity of the mant.

"Would you care to come down to my boat and discuss this matter further?" Asked the tall man slowly.

"Of course." Came the tall man's own voice.

The shadowy four-armed figure flew through the branches of the tree with arachnid agility. Its body disappeared from view as it went higher into the tree. With a startling suddenness the mant had flung itself from somewhere within the tree into the water like a bullet. The tall man got to his feet and searched the water surrounding him for a trace of the mant. The traces which the tall man sought were not to be found in the sea, for as the tall man looked he was soon alarmed to find that the mant was sitting directly across from him in the boat.

The mant was a frightening creature. Most notably frightening was its head. It was inhumanly round, as though it were a ball. Equally round and bizarre were its three eyes. They stood in a staring row across the upper center of the tall man's face. Each eye was easily the size of the tall man's fist. The eyes were stunningly white with small pupils that dashed about in unison. Below his eyes there was no real nose. Two small reptilian nostrils could be seen on either side of his face. The mouth was perhaps the most frightening of all the mant's features. When closed, it appeared as a thin line that traced it's way nearly two thirds of the way around the beast's head. When opened, it became a gaping waffle-iron like structure rowed with sharpened teeth and inhabited by two slimy and wriggling tongues. Due to the size of the mouth on the mant, it appeared puppet-like when it spoke. Its rotund head was topped by a balding greasy smattering of jet black hair. Drool stains seemed to live on its chin; its lack of lips and abundance of tongues to blame. It's body was much more human in it's structure. It had two normal human arms, and from just beneath his armpits, a second pair emerged. They both looked reasonably human. It's torso seemed a bit longer than normal, but still retained very humanoid qualities. It's legs seemed a bit shorter than normal, but also were very human. Its skin looked very pale and cold, almost as if it were dead. The tall man would have more than likely thought it to be dead, were it not for the hissing sound of breath coming from its serpentine nostrils.

Being quite afraid of the gruesome mant, the tall man ventured a greeting, "Hullo." Said he.

"Hi!" Said the mant in the tall man's voice.

"Er, do you speak English?" Asked the tall man, trying to retain politeness.

"Yup!" Said the mant continuing to use the mimic the tall man's voice.

The tall man was suddenly at a loss for anything to say to this man- beast, this mant. He had already tried asking for the oar, to no avail. Certainly the tall man could not continue by sea without that oar.

"Well, how has your day been, Mr. Mant?" Said the tall man rather sheepishly, in order to break the awkward silence.

"My day may has been as yesterday had been." Came the tall man's voice.

"And how was yesterday, Mr. Mant?" Responded the tall man politely.

"Yesterday had been as tomorrow will have been in two day's time." Was the response the tall man was given from his own voice.

"I believe you are avoiding the question." Said the tall man with the edge of one who is irritated.

"I believe you are asking stupid questions." Said the mant with a similarly irritated edge.

"Humor me." Was the tall man's flat response.

"No." Came the equally flat counter-response.

"May I ask why not?" Asked the tall man.

"May I ask why you are so interested?" Said the mant.

By now it was becoming evident to the tall man that the mant was by no means as stupid as his beastly appearance made him look to be. The mant was a creature of quite remarkable cunning. The tall man, noticing this, decided not to make an enemy out of the one personthing that may be his only chance to escape the grey sea.

"I was merely trying to be polite. If this has offended you, I apologize." Said the tall man as nicely as he could muster.

"Manners in conversation are like eyeballs on blind people; a needless formality that allows those who are weak to cope with the harsher realities. Tell me, man, are you weak?" Said the mant in a new voice. One which was lower than the tall man's. It carried such a venomous timbre that the tall man was immediately afraid of the creature with whom he was seated.

The tall man began at a stutter but was immediately cut off by one of the most profound harrumphs in recorded history. Perhaps the mantly biology allowed for superior harrumphing ability, for surely no human could create a more truly belittling, condescending, and disapproving noise as this mant had just displayed. The tall man was now certain that the mant was evil. He was also certain that in the three eyes of the mant, he was weak.

"Man, for what purpose have you come to my lair?" Demanded the mant.

"I came by no desire of my own to your lair. I was running away from some pirates and became lost on the ocean, I heard your whistling, and thought perhaps that you might be able to point me towards safe harbor." Explained the tall man, using all of his available courage not to stumble on his words. He did not enjoy appearing weak.

"My, my, my, my, my." The mant tsked and shook his head. "You are weak indeed, man, you cannot control a simple sea-vessel, you are fleeing as a coward from a group of harmless insects, and you require ." The mant shuddered, " .help." The word sent a shiver of distaste through the bizarre body of the mant.

The tall man went ghost-white. How did the mant know that the pirates he had mentioned were insects? He did not remember saying it, and surely the mant wasn't much of a traveler. The tall man decided to pretend he was running away from actual pirates, rather than the insects that he was actually trying to get away from.

"What do you mean insects? I run from a band of murderous-"

"-cockroaches." It cut him off. "You cannot lie to me, human."

The tall man decided that perhaps being defiant would earn him at least some degree of respect from this grotesque figure.

"I can lie to you all that I please, mant. For what reason should I waste the truth on one such total stranger as yourself?" He challenged.

"Your courage is as pointless to me. You may bluff all you like, but it will get you nowhere. You see, you are stuck here with me, forever. There is nothing you can do to leave this place. You may very well die here, but the odds are in favor of you surviving for all the remainder of eternity." Said the mant rather quickly.

"I am not stuck here." Said the tall man defiantly. "When I get my oar back I shall simply row away."

"No." Spat the mant. "You would be unable to. Everything that comes here is stuck here." You will be no exception."

"How could you possibly know that? There are no other boats around here and clearly you are the only living thing other than myself."

Another esteem-shattering harrumph emanated from the throat of the mant. "Am I?"