Having still not fully regained his strength, Max stopped near the top for a breather. Feeling better, he chowed down another half of a ration bar, and of course gave the cat a few bites. He was still surprised at how hungry he was, and it took an act of willpower to put the other bars back in his bag to save for later.
Deciding to rest a little longer, he dug out the clothes in the pack, remembering something. The clothing was a military uniform bearing foreign insignias whose significance was unknown to him. The two symbols that stood out to him most were a patch that read U-553, and a round one that bore a sign that looked like a bent-up X. That same bizarre symbol was indelibly marked on the bag, as well.
Max was sure that the uniform and the bag, at least, had come from that mysterious submarine Slash now controlled. He remembered that one of the sub’s insignias had been painted over with Slash’s clan’s emblem, and he wondered where this U-553 had drifted in from. There had been something about that sub, and something about this symbol, that just gave him a bad feeling.
Though there was nothing he could do about the symbol on the bag, he ripped the insignias off the uniform. He was in unfamiliar territory, and decided it would be best not to hold any visible allegiances (especially not hinting loyalties of unknown implication) here until he knew who else was about. While on the matter of concealing affiliations, he also flipped over his headband, hiding his family sigil.
Max spent a little while longer playing tug-of-war with the cub before he chewed the strange patch in half. He was amused at how playful this little creature was. Marveling at how easily amused the cat was, Max kicked a bunch of dirt over the patches. The more he looked at them, the less he liked them anyway.
After about an hour or so up there, Max and his little friend found their way back out onto the beach again. It was rocky at first, but it quickly gave way to sandy shores once more. By now he was becoming more and more confident that he was soon going to come back to the place where he first started. Though the shoreline was very wavy most of the way, he was fairly sure they had almost come full circle.
But as the hours wore on, and the sun began to set, Max’s confidence began to waver. It would soon be dark and he still hadn’t found his way back to where he came from. More and more, he wondered just how big this island was. After all, according to most tales, deserted islands were supposed to be fairly small.
He stopped, just gazing out to sea as the sun set behind him. Deciding to set out again at dawn, Max prepared to spend the night here. And if he didn’t get all the way around the island tomorrow, he would decide then whether or not to turn back.
Lying down in the warm sand, well back from the tide, he settled in for the night.
Though, exhausted as he was, it would be a while before he finally fell asleep. He was still lost in unfamiliar territory, he still had no idea what he was going to do, and he still felt the events of the last few days ringing in his ears. He was tired, but he was also both excited and afraid.
The cub, who at first had kept his aloof, feline distance, finally came over. And, seeming to sense the boy’s misery, curled up right next to him.
Max had searched all day and held it at bay. But now, as he faced the darkness alone, it all came flooding back into his head. The whole nightmare. All alone, even with the cat curled up at his side, he finally broke down.
The cub looked at Max with a mixture of curiosity and concern, as a cascade of tears streamed down the boy’s face as his heart cracked all over again.
“No… Dad…” he sobbed, his voice little more than a choked whisper.
Later, he wouldn’t remember exactly when he finished crying himself to sleep.