Louis Grillon woke up to find himself on an island roughly half the size of the now-shipwrecked frigate that had placed him there. It was a barren slip of black rock devoid of any life, save a few barnacles.
What was worse, in a way, was the huge lush island that lay next to his sea-splashed rock, a mere fifty feet of swirling white water away. The trees there were tall and shady and he could see little streams of water trickling down to the shore from the high interior. It looked like a paradise.
It was late afternoon and the sun sat just above the highest peak of the island. Louis lay down and closed his eyes, listening to the crash of the waves and smelling the distinctive brine and sea-rot smell of the shoreline.
“Hello? Who are you?” Louis heard a tremulous female voice calling in English. He looked across the narrow channel and saw a young girl kneeling on the rocks on the far side, leaning towards him.
“Who are you?” Louis asked in French, and he heard a muffled gasp and a sob.
“Oh, thank God! Thank the Lord you’ve come. I’ve been so lonely and scared here. You’ve come to rescue me at last,” the girl said, switching to French.
“I am afraid I am not in the position to rescue anyone. I have been shipwrecked here myself,” Louis said.
“It is no matter,” the girl said. “You are here, at least, and can protect me and keep me company. What is your name, sir?”
“I am Louis Grillon, a sailor in the French navy. I was shipwrecked last night and floated for hours before I found myself here. And who are you, little girl?”
“My name is Isabelle. I—” She suddenly broke down in tears and could not continue speaking for several minutes.
Through scattered words forced out between sobs, Louis learned that Isabelle had been shipwrecked with her family some time ago, but they had all disappeared and she had been left on her own. She had no idea how long ago it had been. Louis could see that she was wearing an old-fashioned style of dress; when he asked about it, Isabelle thought that she had gotten it from her mother.
“I am so glad you have come, Louis,” Isabelle said some time later, when she had composed herself. “You have no idea what it is like, to be young and alone on a wild island like this. But why do you stay over there, on that little piece of rock? Will you come over here, with me?”
Louis looked at the water crashing on the barely-submerged rocks in the channel. It would be suicide to cross it at that time, in his condition. “I cannot now,” he said. “Perhaps at low tide.”
Isabelle nodded vaguely. “You know, there is a monster on this island,” she said. “It stalks me every night. I usually sleep in the trees where it cannot find me, but once I could not find a tree before sunset and I ran all night, hearing its heavy footprints right behind me. If you came over here, could you defend me against the monster? You are so much stronger than me.”
Louis’ throat was burning from thirst and the dehydration was beginning to creep into his brain, making it hard to think. “Yes, yes of course I would defend you from anything, if I could,” he said. “How can I get there though?”
“You must swim,” she said. “Look, the sun has just gone down behind the top ridge of the island. It will be dark very soon and then the monster will come out to hunt. You must hurry.”
“Water . . . I need water before I can try. I floated for so long.” His head was beginning to swim.
“There is plenty of water over here, Louis. Once you are here, you can have as much as you want. Look, it is not far. A minute of work and you will be here and can relax.”
Louis nodded. He knew she was right. A small struggle and he would be there. Still, he sat there as the light continued to fade, unable to force his aching muscles to move.
“Louis, you must hurry,” Isabelle said. “Please, come quickly. I need you here; I am so lonely, with no one to talk to and no one to play with. Come to me, Louis. Please, come.”
“I—I am coming,” he said. He slid a foot into the water, grimacing at the cold shock. He felt a rock below the surface and used it as a foothold. Internally, he prepared himself for the ordeal and frantic swim.
“Louis?” Isabelle asked. He looked up. “You won’t leave me, right? You’ll stay with me?”
“Yes, I’ll stay with you, Isabelle. Don’t worry,” he said.
“Do you promise?”
He nodded. “I promise. It will be okay.” The sound of the rushing water was filling his ears and he looked at the swirling water. I can’t do this, he told himself. I will be killed. I can’t do this, but I have to.
Twilight had fallen and the upper ridges and treetops of the island glowed pink with the last rays of the setting sun. Suddenly, Isabelle screamed.
Louis looked up and saw a large shape coming towards them down the beach. It was a large as a horse, with what looked like long fur and horns. It walked with a shambling gait.
“Louis, please! It’s the monster. Louis, help me. Help!”
Louis threw himself into the water. He did not know how he was going to defend this girl against a huge beast like that, but he did not wait to contemplate it. The water closed around him and he flailed his weak limbs, trying to move forward and stay above the surface.
The water took him, spun him with its terrible strength, and sent him slamming against the rocks. There was no pain, just a sickening concussion that shook his whole body. Even as he was pulled down by the undertow, he kept swimming feebly, like a mouse batting at a tornado with its paws.
The monster on the beach stopped walking and then, slowly faded from view. Isabelle sat staring at the place where Louis had disappeared, a look of anger and disbelief on her face. Then, slowly, she too faded from sight.
* * *
It was 1996 and Tom Nedimyer was sailing his yacht solo through French Polynesia. It was about noon when he saw an island appear on the horizon, off to the right. The chart showed it as uninhabited, so he steered towards it and took the inflatable in to the beach. It would be good to get on land again and maybe hunt some wild game.
He was pulling the boat up onto the beach when he saw movement among the trees. It was a little girl wearing an old-fashioned dress. He waved at her and she took a step towards him.
“Où est Louis? Est-ce que vous le connaissez?” she asked.
“Sorry, miss. My French isn’t too good,” Tom said. “Do you know English?”
“Where is Louis? Do you know him?” she asked again.
“I don’t know any Louis, sorry. I’m alone and I haven’t seen any other ships today.”
“He promised he would come be with me and protect me,” she said. “He promised and then he just left. Will you stay with me? I’m so lonely and afraid.”
Tom put up a hand. “I can’t stay more than a couple hours, I’m afraid. I’m expected in Fiji in a week or so. I can send out a radio bulletin to look for him, if you’d like.”
“There is a monster on this island, you know,” she said. “It stalks me at night if I don’t climb up into the trees. Can you please stay with me and defend me. I’m so afraid here by myself.”
“I’m sorry, I need to get back to my boat,” Tom said, moving back towards the inflatable. “I’ll be sure to put out a bulletin to look for your friend Louis and I’ll get someone to send a rescue vessel to pick you up.”
From behind him, he heard a sudden cracking noise and whirled around. Something large and hairy had risen out of the sea and was clinging to the side of his small yacht. As he watched in horror, it grasped the gunwale with a clawed limb and tore a huge section from the hull. It did this again and again until the ship listed and capsized.
“I told you there was a monster,” the girl said. “It broke your ship. But now you can stay with me here and keep me company. I’m so lonely here by myself. What’s your name? My name is Isabelle.”