Verbosity21's Blog
Short Stories by Ralph Proenza– mostly Fiction, but some based on true events

** THE ISLAND (Chapter 1)


[A romantic novella dedicated to two young ladies in the family]

Chapter 1

 

The ocean splashed gently, frothing against the side of the schooner, as it dipped and swayed in many fathoms of water the color of sapphire.  The man’s hollow eyes followed the ship’s wake, then turned away abruptly, not wanting to cast his look upon the horizon where the island had been only two days before…HER island.  He shuddered at the thought.  The warm South Pacific breeze ordinarily a pleasant sensation dried the burning tears that were blurring his vision, but not his memory.

I can’t believe it all really happened, he thought to himself.  I must still be in a daze.  A delirium.  Yes, of course, from a bad fever brought on by malnutrition, and a…a…broken heart.  NO!  I must not think of that.  I must…push it out of my mind, forever.

“Erik.  Erik, old boy!  Are ye quite alright?” came the distinctively British voice of Captain Oliver Blakeshire.  Rik suddenly realized he had been pounding his fist on the deck railing.  The captain’s words roused him into awareness.

“I’m okay, Oliver.  I…I guess I’m just not over the whole thing.  I may never be over it.”  The captain let out a sympathetic sigh and handed him a glass of brandy.

“Rik, my old friend, ye will get over it, and life will go on for y’ laddy.  Y’ know, y’ were out cold when we found y’, lad.  I’m glad to see ye up and around ag’in.  We really haven’t ‘ad a chance t’ talk much either.  When word got to me about th’ sinking of the Lady Glasgow, I bloody well feared y’dead, Rik!  But I just ‘ad ta come lookin’ for ya.  Tell me, lad, what the devil ‘appened to y’ out there on that godforsaken island?”

“Oliver, you saved my life, but right now I wish I were dead.”

“But why…and how the hell did ye end up on that deserted island in the first place?”

Rik visibly tensed up.  “My friend, I carry with me a great sadness.  You see I left someone very dear to me on that island.”

“Ye left someone behind…on the island?  But we saw no one else there, laddy!”

“Let me try to tell you the whole story…if I can…

 

It was the beginning of summer of 1832, just over two years ago now, that I signed on to be First Mate of the grand ship Lady Glasgow.  And a grand vessel she was, Oliver, made from bow to keel of the finest robust Scandinavian hard oak.  After my apprenticeships aboard several other ships, I wanted some adventure in my life.  After all, I wasn’t married or tied down to anyone, what with both my parents gone.  The voyage was to be a bold one – to sail across the Atlantic to the coast of Brazil, then ‘round the tip of South America, and northward across the vast Pacific.  We were to dock at several islands along the way, and end up at Tahiti.  Then later if we are up to it, as far as the Orient.  I questioned the ship captain’s sanity, yes, but I was ripe for adventure.

The voyage was surprisingly unremarkable, except for running thin on supplies on a few occasions between ports, and the usual fist-fights between the crew.  We even managed fine around the cold, windy, and treacherous Straits of Magellan.

After sailing many tedious weeks in Pacific waters our luck seemed to change. We made an unscheduled but necessary stop on the coast of Easter Island, some two thousand miles from the South American mainland.  Pitcairn’s Island was still too far to the west.  While there we restocked up on plenty of fruit and small game to help stretch our provisions.  We found the damndest things there – large, grim looking stone faces, like idols, carved from rock and mysteriously planted throughout the island.  They were very old and unexplainable, thus the men feared it was an omen of bad luck to have stumbled upon these strange uncomely monuments.  There was also a dead volcano at the north end of the island and the men became certain it would erupt at any moment and kill us all.

Somber stories of superstition and doom started to circulate amongst the crew, fueled of course, by the Jamaican rum they drank.  Finally, while somewhere south of Pitcairn’s Island a serious altercation must have erupted.

Some time in the middle of the night I was awakened by a sailor yelling of a fire in the hold of the ship!  And the two hundred pounds of black powder we had stowed there took care of the rest…

 

“Good God, Rik.  The Lady Glasgow must ‘ave looked like a bloody Chinese New Year what with all that powder goin’ off!”

“Indeed, Oliver…and she went down it seemed in a few minutes, like she were made of lead.  I remember barely sitting up in my bunk when a thunderous noise deep within the bowels of the vessel shook my cabin.  The tremors grew in magnitude until the walls seemed to rip apart about me.  I got caught up in the din and chaos of smoke and flying lumber, then suddenly a wall of gushing choking sea water came at me.

The force of the water tossed me out through a large breech in the side of our vessel, fortunately, well away from the remaining explosions.  This was the only reason I survived, because every time the fire touched another powder keg yet another section of the ship was consumed.

I managed to climb atop a floating door in time to hear the screams, and see bodies separated from their limbs, spewing blood and entrails, and being flung in the air…it was horrible.  I was thankful to get out of these shark-infested waters and onto this raft.  It was then that a heavy object hit my temple and everything went black.

I recall a throb in my head when I opened my eyes again.  The position of the sun indicated I had been without consciousness until the following day.  Miraculously, I was still on my temporary raft, and there was nothing around me but endless sea.  I was totally alone!  No food, no water!  I realized then how merciful it would have been to have drowned with the rest of the crew.  Yet here I was, as if sentenced to die a slow grueling death from starvation, exposure, and lack of water.”

 

Oliver poured some more brandy.  “That thought alone ‘as driven many a sailor into lunacy, y’ know.  Here, lad.  Y’ve earned some more of me best brandy.”

“Thanks.”  Rik sipped and continued his saga…

“By the third day on the raft I did indeed believe delirium was setting in.  The scorching sun was blistering my skin; my lips were parched and split.  Oliver, I would have given my arm for a drink of water.

By now my vision was blurred so as to make me doubt the sight of a darkness that had taken shape in the distance.  The ocean currents were slowly taking me in that direction.  The dark mirage became a coastline, a smoky solid mass of rock and trees appeared, and finally it looked like I saw white sand.  Now I dared to hope.  To my joy it was not a hallucination but, in fact, the place of my deliverance.

I found sufficient strength to paddle slowly with my arms toward shore.  When I thought my arms could go no further I saw the sandy bottom.  I rolled off my raft and landed in a few feet of warm ocean.

Painfully I half-floated half-crawled, carried helplessly by the foamy waves the rest of the way to dry land.  I recall digging my fingers into the wet sand—something I thought I would never do again!  With every bit of strength I could muster I managed to drag and claw myself away from the surf lest the tide steal me back to a watery grave.

Now my exhaustion was both agonizing and complete.  The salt water burned my cracked skin.  There was not a place on my body where I did not perceive pain.  The emptiness of my stomach mattered little now.  Mercifully, my pain and my surroundings melted into the welcomed blackness of unconsciousness.

While I slept—if you can call that sleep—I recall having strange dreams, or more accurately, nightmares, of drowning, of explosions, of being eaten by sharks.  I even dreamed of being lifted off the sand and dragged, of drinking cool fresh water and warm soup, and of a long-haired lass standing over me.

 

“Ye poor bloke.  It was the delirium of no food or water for so long!”  The captain missed the almost imperceptible smile that broke across Rik’s handsome face.

 

When I came to, I had some difficulty in opening my eyelids though I could hear the sounds of the waves, now strangely at some distance from me.  I sensed somehow  that time had passed.  I forced away the fog from my mind, trying to bring some clarity of thought.  My muscles felt like mush and my bones ached, but I was able to sit up.

What a startle to have found myself both alive and within the confines of a primitive dwelling of some sort.  It was structured out of a sapling frame, palm tree leaves, branches and vines, interwoven into a tight latticework for walls and roof.  There were turtle shells of different sizes, sea conches and the like, sitting all around.

Good God, I thought, could there really be some civilization on this island…or was this the abandoned abode of a deceased beached sailor in much the same predicament as myself ?  It appeared they left all their belongings behind as it looked uninhabited.  I slowly moved my sluggish limbs but could not yet stand erect.  I looked about me through still foggy eyes.  The silence and surrounding tranquility told me I was indeed alone.  Thankfully in my delirium I must have been able to wander around and encounter this place of shelter.  I must have walked in my sleep quite some distance and in the right direction so it seemed.  What incredible good fortune!

It was then that I heard leaves rustling directly behind me.  Turning as rapidly as my feeble body would move I saw that I had been premature in my speculations – I was in fact NOT alone on this island!

 

[to be continued…]–If you wish to read on, go to: http://ralphfictionblog.wordpress.com/the-island-chapter-2/]

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