On a boat to the end of the world, he cannot remember what he has lost.
The trees are white and the air is silent, frost covering his eyelids in a fine dust and freezing his gnarled fingertips. The waves lap and rock his boat, a nursemaid trying to charm her child to sleep; but his eyes are open and alert, though he lies there still, unmoving.
He has no concept of how long he has drifted, or how far he has come. In this boat there is only him, and the question of what he has lost. There are things he has forgotten to ask: how did he come to be on this boat? Who is he? What is his name? These are things he knows that he would rather not know the answer to—he needs to find what he has lost, the ache that stretches from the hollow of his collarbone to the sluggish depths of his stomach.
His thoughts return to the water. The water, the only thing that seems alive in the stillness, the immobilised trees, the unchanging blue skies above, nothing is as dynamic and alive as the water, though he cannot see it. He knows it is there, and that is enough.
An echo of his heartbeat splits apart and takes shape, a little heavier, a little more hollow than the rhythm of his body. It diverges into a myriad of intertwined symphonies: the rain brushing against the windowpane, the grind of pestle against mortar, tick-tock of unseen clock.
There is no past, no wondering about the future; there is only now, and the haunting loss of the missing.
He hears the singing before he realises that it has become a presence in the enclosed space of the boat, low and thrumming in the spaces that the sloshing waves leave for it. The melody rises through the air, lullaby turned nature, something unfamiliar and terrifying. His left leg twitches in time to the music, blood rising like the heave of a wave looming on the beach. There is a humming in his ears, growing louder and louder, until he realises that it is coming from his throat.
He closes his tired eyes, and is instantly transported to childhood, the sweet smell of barley and winter melon and all the safety it brings, as well as the longing for a home he has left far, far behind him now. He breathes in: freshwater and new snow. Breathes out: bone marrow and bad dreams.
The water laps higher, more hungrily at the edges of the boat, brushing boldly against his skin, creeping closer and closer like it wants to swallow the heartbeats of his ribcage. Something is singing to him, louder than all the sounds in the world, but he cannot make out the words. It pulls him under and—