I stumbled up the beach after drifting several days on the open sea. I didn’t know if anyone else had survived or what their fate might have been, but I could scarcely consider it because my mouth was so parched and dry from thirst. Ahead of me there was nothing but a grove of trees, but to the north I saw a break.
Hurrying toward it, I came to a stream where I fell to my knees. I took deep swallows of fresh, clear water. The moon would soon begin to rise and would find me without shelter, but, in my mind, being on dry land more than compensated for this. I washed the salt from my face, cleaned my beard, and ran my hands through my long hair.
The sky changed quickly from midnight blue to black. My shirt was dry and whipping against my chest as I sat beside the stream. My hair had dried also and blew in the stiff wind. What struck me was that the birds seemed to quiet as night fell. The insects, on the other hand, could not keep from chirping and humming in a cacophony.
I felt utterly alone on that stretch of sandy beach as the stars pierced the night. As I looked up into the heavens, I recognized the constellations and that gave me a vain hope that I was not too far from home. I was still under the same sky. This hopeful thought may have allowed me to fall asleep, but my sleep might also have been the result of exhaustion.
Soon after, I was awakened with a jolt. A man stood above me. I jerked back and wound up scrambling into the stream where I stood in knee-deep water, looking around frantically. There was no one there, but I was sure I’d seen a figure of some kind. My heart pounded in my chest and I was chilled. I narrowed my eyes and stared deeper into the grove, then back out over the ocean where the moonlight shone on the rippling waves.
As I sat back down, I was sure that I had dreamed the man. But had it been a man? In the darkness, it was impossible to tell. In fact, it had appeared more like an apparition or living shadow with the height and shape of a human. After I laid back down and was just about to close my eyes, I saw the fiend again. And this time there were two.
I stood, saying, “Who’s there? Who goes there!”
There was no answer, nothing but the moonshine and faint light of the stars. And as quickly as I blinked, the fiends had dissipated. This did not stop me from moving quickly to the grove and rummaging around in the brush until I’d found a broken limb that I could use as a weapon. I carried the stick with me back to the beach where I sat and began to wait out the night.
My nerves were now playing tricks on me. I saw dark movements all along the sand, which slowly led me to believe that this was all I’d seen–some kind of shadow play on the beach. It was simply that my eyes had deceived me. I had taken on too much salt water and it had made me dizzy. Therefore, I had to remind myself that it was just a dream and that I was needlessly working myself into fits. But, at that very moment, I felt someone or something standing behind me. I jumped to my feet again and turned, and when I did, several of these figures darted off in varying directions.
I wielded my stick screaming, “Stay back!”
It didn’t matter what I said because they did not retreat for long. Instead, they moved quickly and overtook me. I was lifted into the air and taken through the nearby trees. I didn’t understand how these men could move so fast. They carried me, each holding an arm or a leg, running inland like jungle cats. Tree limbs and fronds slapped against my face and arms as a burgeoning terror began to swell in my chest.
When they dropped me to the forest floor, I found myself flat on my back in the sand. Upon sitting up, I tried to regain my bearings. In so doing, I saw something ghostly white before me. I picked it up as I stood. Then, I moved toward a clearing, noticing that the object wasn’t heavy enough to be a stone and felt more like a giant seashell. Moving slowly toward a part of the clearing where the moonlight shone more brightly, I searched for the dark figures that had carried me but did not see them. When I came to the light, I held what I thought was a piece of a white conch shell up to it and saw that what I was holding was actually a fragment of a human skull. I dropped it and nearly cried out, but was stopped by the harsh sound of tree limbs breaking near me.
Staring into the dark jungle, I said, “What do you want! What do you want from me?”
I now understood these were ghastly figures–not ones I could reason with. What I did not know was if they were ghosts or just painted islanders. Standing there, I began to believe I’d stood a better chance surviving at sea. There might have been another island that was not filled with cannibals or devils that I could have come upon. But that had not been my destiny, and I did not think it much mattered how I felt for I would soon be dead.
* * *
I woke up in the clearing where I’d found that piece of skull. As I climbed to my feet, the sun shone bright and high in the sky and I realized there were no bones to be found. There were also no dark figures. Alone in the grove, I saw for the first time a small path. One that seemed to be used by animals given the fact that I could see fresh tracks and droppings. As I followed it, I wondered if I could escape this island by building some kind of raft.
But I still wondered if I’d imagined all of the events from the previous night. Had I carried myself through the grove by sleepwalking? This is exactly what I asked myself as I meandered back to the shore. I also thought that this was a strange island and that I was severely disturbed. Of course, I was assuming it was an island. I had not seen enough to be sure. I knew only the passage we’d taken and that after twenty days and nights at sea we could not have reached mainland.
I found another limb and sharpened the end with a rock. Then I waded into the stream to spear a fish. I spent most of the morning fishing and eating my catch. I even dozed in the warm afternoon sun on the island, planning to walk around it once I woke. Without much hope, I’d decided I should attempt to learn if anyone else had survived. Perhaps then we could escape together. But I must admit that I did not have high hopes. It had taken a good deal of effort to stay afloat for as long as I did. And I had been lucky enough to find a charred piece of decking to hold onto.
After drinking from the stream and waking from my nap, I began down the beach. I walked until the sun began to set. The beach went on to a vanishing point that I could not reach. And as I headed back to my stream, night began to fall. I walked as far away from the grove as possible at the upper reaches of the crashing waves. I slept under the same stars that night but felt a little further from home than I had the evening before. I also woke continually expecting to see the fiends, but there was no one. It made me question even more whether or not I had dreamed the entire episode.
I worked on a raft the next day, but felling trees proved difficult without any tools with which to fell them. I wasn’t sure it mattered because the chances of rescue were minuscule. My raft’s progress was also limited because the task of gathering enough food took up a great deal of sunlight. I managed to produce a lean-to to give myself some shelter but it would not keep out the animals or anything else for that matter. The lean-to was also knocked over by the wind several days later during a heavy rainstorm. Finally, I decided to return to searching of the perimeter of the island for other survivors. I went much further than I had the first time and slept on the beach but found that I was utterly alone. However, other pieces of the ship had washed ashore. I rummaged through them finding no usable supplies.
I returned to the stream where I first washed ashore at dusk. I could scarcely believe it, but I saw the figure of a man sitting by the stream just like I had been a few days before. As I was about to call out to him, I saw four fiends emerging from the grove. These rushed toward the one and picked him up just like they had me. As the apparitions carried this unfortunate soul into the woods something came over me. If someone else had come to shore, then I needed to help him. Perhaps I was too late to warn him, but I still rushed through the underbrush chasing after these shadows.
I quickly found that I was running along the trail I’d followed several mornings before, crashing through the foliage. When I came to that same clearing, I saw the man sprawled out in the sand just like I had been. Approaching him slowly, I glanced side to side searching the darkness for those which laid him there.
Kneeling beside the body, a sickening feeling came over me. The man’s face was turned away, but I recognized the clothing. It was my body still lying here in the clearing. I reached for my head and turned it so I could stare into my own dead eyes only to find that my skull had been crushed. The entire left side of my head was caved in, forcing my left eye to bulge slightly from its socket.
I turned my gaze in disgust, but, not a moment later, I wondered why I should be so disgusted by my own death. The tragedy was not that I was a deceased castaway. My fate was far worse. I had been condemned to an island of fiends, seemingly destined to become one of them.
Justin Meckes is the Founding Editor of Scrutiny. Find out more at justinmeckes.com.
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Photo by Cristian Grecu