Tag Archives: historical

The Circle of Unbeing, Part 1

An unusual Saturday post! This is the first story in what I’ve decided to call Invitational Prompts. This is where I ask one person to give me several prompts they’d like to see made into a story. This set of prompts is provided by my good friend, Sharmishtha Basu. Go check out her stories and thoughtful posts here, here, here or here.

The prompts were: a vampire, a small town, an old castle, and a scary tone (more mystery and spook than gore)

Sincere apologies to Sharmishtha for taking so long to finish writing this.

ruined castle

The town of Nerakrist slept, but on the overlooking hill, four figures picked their way up the overgrown track to the moldering ruins of the castle. The lead figure, a boy, carried a lantern to light the way. The contrast in their clothes was striking: the boy shivered in the fierce wind that whipped through his patched rags, while the three men behind him wore rich furs and thick woolen cloaks. They were the leaders of the town: the mayor, the thane and the master of lands. The boy’s name was Pavel.

They reached the rotting gate of the old castle and Pavel held the light for the men to enter through a gap in the timbers. They walked straight to a low door in the right-hand gate tower and the mayor unlocked it. Then they stepped inside and closed it, leaving Pavel alone.

Pavel hated the castle, but as the servant of the mayor, he had to accompany the Inner Circle whenever they held their midnight meetings there. He huddled on the ground, hugging his thin jacket around him. The lantern burned feebly and the deep shadows of the barren courtyard outside the circle of light seemed to hold creatures just beyond his vision. The castle was surely haunted, if not with spirits then with dark history. He hated being there, not because he felt he did not belong, but because he was terrified that he did.

Fifteen years ago, Pavel’s grandfather had been the viscount in the castle. His mother never talked about it, so Pavel had only the rumors and gossip of the townsfolk to rely on. They said his grandfather was a monster, a sorcerer, a devil-worshipper who captured and tortured the peasants of the region. They said that the viscount even murdered his own son, Pavel’s father, in the highest tower of the castle, even as the revolting peasants were breaking through the gate. So they said, at least.

Pavel heard footsteps outside the gate and he stiffened. No one would be foolish enough to come to the castle at any time, let alone during one of the Inner Circle’s midnight meeting. Not unless something was seriously wrong.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” a fearful voice called.

“You can’t be here,” Pavel said, looking through the gate and holding the lantern up. It was Sergiu, one of the mayor’s house servants, looking cold and scared. “Go, quickly.”

“I was sent by the mayor’s wife. His daughter Crina has taken a turn for the worse. She may die.”

“I will die if I go down there and disturb them at whatever they are doing,” Pavel said. “Wait here, if you want, or I will tell him as soon as they come back up.”

“What do you think he will do to you when he finds out his daughter died while he was away because you withheld the message?” Sergiu said.

Pavel looked towards the closed door. “It’s probably locked anyway,” he said, although without conviction. He tried the latch and door opened.

“Go! Tell him now,” Sergiu said. “He will not mind an interruption for this.” Both of them knew this was not true. Sergiu disappeared and Pavel heard his running footsteps disappear down the slope.

The mayor would be furious—it was inevitable at this point. All that remained was to determine which action would make him less angry. The Inner Circle had many meetings here, perhaps several a month, but the mayor only had one daughter and Crina was the world to him. Pavel stepped inside the door.

The inside of the tower was a barren, circular room with stairs going up and down. The Inner Circle’s cloaks hung on hooks along one side of the wall and tracks in the dust headed towards the descending stairs. There was a very faint odor of old decay that hung in the cold air.

Pavel started down the steps slowly, holding the lantern above him. The steps curved down to the right and then split, with steps going left and right. There were no tracks here and the air was totally still as if he were sealed in lead. After a moment’s hesitation, he took the left-hand stair.

It descended, straight and narrow for almost a hundred steps until Pavel reached two heavy wooden doors. One was locked, but the other was only barred with a heavy bolt slid across it. Pavel stopped and listened at the door. He should not have come. It had seemed the right thing to do, to warn the mayor about his daughter, but now that he was actually outside the chamber where the Inner Circle held their clandestine gatherings, he knew it was foolish. Any interruption for any reason would be punished harshly. But it was as if he were sliding downhill, with no way to stop. Pavel placed the lantern on the stairs and carefully slid the bolt back from the door.

The door did not squeak, which was strange for a ruin, but a blessing for him. As soon as the door had opened a crack, a vile stench of rot and death hit him and almost made him sick. The room beyond was dim, lit from somewhere far beyond. He could see black bars ahead in the gloom and voices talking.

“Please, please let me go! I’ll do anything you want. For God’s sake, think of my family.” The voice was thin and cracked from dehydration. Another voice spoke further off. It was fainter and Pavel took a few steps in to hear better.

“We are the executors of justice,” the second voice said. “The keepers of righteous violence. You do not want us to think of your family as well. You were brought here because of wrongdoing. It was you who were supposed to take care of Crina’s horse. When she was out riding, it threw a shoe and she had to walk back in the rain. It is because of you that she is gravely ill.”

Pavel moved forward and found the way blocked by a barred door, standing ajar. Through it, he could see a wide arena bordered with more dark cells. In the middle of the area knelt a man in ragged clothes, his face upturned in supplication. Fifteen feet above, three figures stood looking down from behind a breastwork of stone. They were robed in white and wore masks, but it was clear to Pavel who they were.

“Mercy!” the man cried. “I did my best. I could not have known that the horse would lose its shoe.”

“Nevertheless, the damage was done and because of your actions, my daughter may die,” one of the masked men said. He took off the mask and Pavel saw the mayor’s face contorted in hate. “There is only one thing you can do now, Iosif: die and ask God Almighty for mercy. You will get none on this earth.”

Iosif, Pavel thought with a shock. He recognized him now. Iosif, the mayor’s stableman had disappeared the night after Crina had gotten sick. They said that the wolves of the Dark Forest had gotten him as he was bringing a load of hay back to the barn. That was four days ago.

One of the other masked men, reached up and pulled a rope that was hanging from the ceiling. Across the arena, there was a click and a barred door opened. Iosif gave a moan of dread, as if he knew that the moment of judgment had come, although not its form.

Something moved in the darkness of the cell. It shuffled forward into the lamplight and Pavel saw with horror a blighted and hairless scalp, stretched thin and tight over a protuberant skull. The monster reached out a ghoulish hand towards Iosif, pulling itself forward with the other, as if it were not used to walking. Iosif turned and ran, stumbling into the gloom towards where Pavel was hiding. The creature paused for a moment, then leapt with claws outstretched onto the unfortunate man’s back. The last thing Pavel saw before he ran was the monster’s lips pulling back to reveal long, stained fangs. Pavel fled back into the hall and up the steps, not bothering to rebolt the door he had opened.

(to be continued)

jail cell


The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 4)

Read the original: Isabelle’s Island

The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 1)   (Part 2)   (Part 3)

(This final installment picks up at the end of both “The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 3)” and the end of “Isabelle’s Island”)

 

Just as the man was going for his boat, the monster rose out of the water and tore the boat to pieces. And just like that, the man was there with her on the island, just the two of them. Isabelle was overjoyed.

 

The man let out a cry of horror and rushed to the small boat he had taken up to the beach. The larger boat, the one with the sail, was lying mostly under the water a few hundred feet from the beach. The monster had disappeared back into the water.

“You can’t go now,” Isabelle said, leaping forward. “The monster just sank your boat. You have to stay here with me.”

The man whirled around and there was something strange about his eyes, as if he were seeing but not understanding what was happening. “Who are you anyway?” he asked.

“My name is Isabelle,” she said and gave him a small smile. “What’s your name?”

The man turned and jumped into the small boat, rowing it frantically out to the wrecked ship. “There’s a monster there, so be careful,” Isabelle said, but trailed off as he ignored her. “You have to protect me from it . . .”

Isabelle watched as the man dove into the water and began pulling up waterlogged bags and containers and throwing them into the inflatable boat. All afternoon, he worked, salvaging things and bringing them back to pile up on the beach. Isabelle watched him uncertainly. He looked like he was planning to stay, but still he wasn’t paying any attention to her.

As the sun was setting, the man built a fire and heated up something from a can. Isabelle approached the fire and sat down to one side, looking at him.

“What’s your name?” she asked softly.

He looked up. “Tom. Tom Nedimyer.” Then, indicating the pot over the fire, “You want some?”

“What is it?”

“It’s food—beans. Are you hungry?”

“I—I don’t know,” Isabelle said, in confusion. Tom shrugged and spooned some onto his plate.

“What was that thing, anyway—that thing that crushed my boat?” Tom asked. “I was afraid it would be waiting for me down there, but I didn’t see any sign of it.”

“That’s the monster,” Isabelle said. “It’s always around, threatening me. I’m glad you’re here to protect me from it.”

“Why would it sink my boat though?”

“It wanted you to stay here”

Tom gave her a sudden, hard look that startled Isabelle. “How the hell would you know what it wants? What is it anyway?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Isabelle said, thrown into confusion by his tone and language. “It’s just the monster. It wants to hurt me.”

“Does it? Has it ever hurt you?”

“No, but . . .” She didn’t know how to finish.

Tom began to eat. “Are you here alone? When I first saw you, I thought you were here with a cruise or something.”

“I live here,” Isabelle said. “I came with my family but I can’t find them now.”

“How long have you been here?” he asked. “I mean, just look at you.”

“Why? What about me?”

“Well, the clothes, the hair. How do you do it?” He saw her look of incomprehension and with a noise of irritation, he pulled a mirror of his survival kit. He held it up so she could see.

Isabelle looked into the small piece of glass and saw herself for the first time since she had been on the ship with her family. She looked just as she remembered herself, a thin, pale face with dark hair pulled back into a neat braid. It took her a moment to understand and then she felt a sudden sense of horror sweep over her. She looked so clean and neat—every hair was in place and her face and clothes looked as scrubbed and spotless as if she were on her way to church. Yet she had not touched water since the day she had climbed out the pool she had fallen into.

She turned away quickly and felt her hands trembling. “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

“How long have you been here?” he asked again. “Do you remember the date?”

She thought about it. The time on the ship, the time on the island—it was just time, with no demarcations to separate it out and make it countable. “I can only remember one date,” she said finally. “My birthday.”

“When is that?”

“July 26,” she said. “July 26, 1789.”

There was a silence as he stared at her. It made her afraid. “What’s wrong?”

“Today is August 14, 1996,” he said at last. He moved a little away.

“No . . .” she said. “No!” But she knew he was right. With rising terror, small details that she had not understood or had not thought about came back to her. Without another word, she got up and fled into the jungle.

That night was the worst that Isabelle could remember. It began to pour in the middle of the night. She hid under an outcropping of rock where she always did when it rained, shaking and trying to keep the rain off her. Now, though, her mind kept screaming at her and she could not quiet it.

I’m . . . I’m . . . She could not even bring herself to think the word. There was no other possibility though. Her appearance had not changed, she could not remember eating or drinking anything since she had fallen into the pool that night, not even sleeping for that matter. Why had she not thought of it before? Her mind was such muddle of fear and loneliness. And if what Tom had said was true, that it was over two hundred years after her birth . . .

I’m . . . dead.

The pain and fear welled up inside her until she broke down in sobs, covering her hands with her face. Then she stopped suddenly and pulled her hands away from her face. She had no tears. She felt hollow, a shell of the person she had been.

Her family was truly gone. Some part of her had known that when she had seen the graves and decaying houses, but she could not accept it. The rain pattered on the leaves all around her, embodying the ethereal prison she now felt trapped in.

Over the next few days, Isabelle watched from hiding as Tom hauled wood to the beach and built outriggers onto his small boat. She watched as he loaded it with fruit and coconuts and containers of water. She watched him prepare to go and leave her. She did not try to stop him. She did not really want him, or Louis for that matter. She wanted her father and he was gone.

She was worried about the monster though. She was worried that it did not want Tom to leave and that it would sink his small boat if he tried. For the first time, she wondered what the monster really was. She had always thought of it as her enemy, but then it had become her ally against the scary and annoying people who had come to the island. And it had kept Tom on the island. But now . . .

The next morning, before dawn, Isabelle watched as Tom pushed his boat out on the high tide. The full moon was sinking down towards the horizon and shone with a ghostly light on the water. Tom jumped into the boat and then looked back. Isabelle raised her hand in farewell and he returned the salute.

Tom turned back towards the open ocean and started to paddle. He was about a hundred feet from shore when Isabelle saw what she feared the most: the monster, rising out of the water just behind the boat. Tom did not see it; he was concentrating on paddling between the rocks near the shore. The monster was going to smash the boat and maybe drown Tom. It hated Tom for leaving Isabelle there alone.

She had to stop it, somehow. “No,” she said out loud. “Leave him alone!” She felt the monster hesitate and she said it again. For a while, she held it there, in the water just off shore, as Tom’s boat got further and further away.

Suddenly the monster gave a roar that echoed off the rocks near the beach. Isabelle had never heard it make a sound before. It turned and leaving the water, it charged up the beach straight for her. She could not control it now. It would not stop. She turned and ran into the jungle.

For the first time since she had seen the monster first step out of the jungle, she was truly terrified. She heard it crashing through trees and breaking rocks behind her as it pursued its furious course after her.

Whether by accident or unconscious desire, Isabelle realized that she was heading for the lagoon on the far side of the island. She reached it as the eastern sky was lightening with the dawn. The rowboat was still there, and the man as well, but he was not fishing now. Instead, he was sitting up, looking intently in her direction.

“Help!” Isabelle cried. “The monster is coming. You have to protect me from it.”

“I will,” he said, “but you must come here. It’s right behind you. Once you’re in the boat, you’ll be safe from it.”

Isabelle stopped at the water’s edge. “I can’t,” she cried. “Can you come up to the shore?”

“I’ve come as close as I can,” he said. “It may be uncomfortable, but the water will not hurt you.”

With a roar, the monster burst out of the forest and Isabelle stepped into the water. Instantly, she felt that same clutching panic that she had experienced in the deep pool, but she kept walking, looking straight ahead to the boat. The water rose to her knees and then her thighs and she bit her lip to keep from screaming. Then she reached the side of the boat.

The man put his hands under her arms and, as if she were a child, lifted her effortlessly into the boat. He smiled at her. “You’re free now. You’ll never see that thing again.”

Isabelle lay in the front of the boat, crying softly from exhaustion and relief. She reached up and felt real tears on her cheeks, which made her cry even harder.

“Where are we going?” she asked, as the man began to row.

“Away from here, first of all, then to somewhere better.”

“Will I see my family?”

“Soon enough. Now, just relax. I’ll do the work now.” He began to row, with strong, even strokes, out of the lagoon. They headed east, into the rising sun and slowly, the island disappeared from sight.


The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 3)

Read the original: Isabelle’s Island

The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 1)   (Part 2)

The strength was leaving her hands. “No, no, no. Papa, help me!” Her hands slipped off the root and with a scream, she fell, down, down into the blackness. The last thing she remembered was the sensation of her body hitting water.

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Isabelle opened her eyes to see colors and shifting patterns of light. She tried to move her limbs and found that she could move quite easily. Then she realized she was underwater.

She stood up and paddled her way frantically to the surface. The water was deep, but clear as glass. At the surface, she found that she was in steep-sided hole, like a well in the rock. It had vines trailing down its sides from far above, where the high sun made everything glow in shades of emerald and gold.

Isabelle remembered something about falling, although then it had been night. She pulled herself up by the vines, shaking off as much of the hideous water as she could. The very touch of it repulsed her now, as if it were a prison that was still reaching out to capture her.

Her body had become very light, or she had become strong, and she found herself climbing easily up the vines to the jungle floor. The air was still, with only the occasional birdcall breaking the silence.

The path through the jungle was so overgrown that it had entirely disappeared in places. She forced her way to the beach but more riddles were waiting for her there. There were two cabins there now in place of the lean-to but both looked abandoned and dilapidated, with their roof palms rotting and their sides sagging into the sand. On the edge of the forest, she found two graves, their rudely made crosses bleached and overgrown with weeds.

Isabelle tried to think, but her mind was not working properly. Where was her family? Had they just gone away and left her? Her father had promised he would come back for her, but now they were gone and she was alone.

“Papa?” she said. Then, in a scream of terror and despair, “Papa!” She collapsed on the beach, sobbing.

“You have to protect me from the monster, Papa. You said you would. It’s big, as big as a horse and has long fur and sharp claws and I saw it and it’s real you have to protect me you promised you promised you would come back for me please please papa please…”

She looked up, hoping to see her father—anyone—there on the beach. But no one was there. If the monster were real, her father would have to protect her. She could imagine it peering out of the underbrush at her. Then, as if it were perfectly natural, she saw it, just as she had described and just where she had imagined it. The monster.

It took a step out onto the beach, looking at her menacingly. It was real.

“Papa, you have to come save me. See, I wasn’t lying. There really is a monster. Papa, please.” But no one came and after a while, the monster disappeared back into the trees.

For Isabelle, days became a torture of loneliness as she wandered around the island, looking for any sign of her family. Sometimes she thought she heard their voices or saw a glimpse of one of them through the trees. Then the monster would appear and threaten her and she would cry out for help, but help never came and the monster would disappear again. She was terrified of water and spent the nights in the trees for fear of falling into it accidentally.

One day she went so far that she reached the far side of the island. Here she found a long, curving lagoon that formed a natural harbor. In the middle sat a small boat at anchor. Isabelle saw with a shudder that it resembled the rowboat that they had come to the island in, although this one was newer and cleaner. There was a man lying in it with his feet up, fishing. For a moment, Isabelle thought it was her father or one of her brothers and her heart gave a leap of hope. But it was someone else.

The man straightened up when he saw her and he put down the fishing pole. “What are you doing?” he called to her.

Isabelle hesitated. “I’m—I’m looking for my family. Have you seen them?”

The man nodded. “You won’t find them on that island though.”

“Do you live here?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“Then how do you know?”

He smiled. “Trust me.”

“You know, there’s a monster on this island,” Isabelle said. “It hunts me and I have to run away from it. Come be with me and protect me.” At that moment, there was a crashing in the trees and the monster appeared partway down the beach. “Please, come rescue me,” she said.

The man kept looking at her steadily. “You know,” he said, as if a thought had just hit him, “if you waded out here to my boat, it wouldn’t follow you. If you really want to get away from it, that is.”

“I can’t,” she said immediately. “I can’t go in the water. I’m afraid.”

“You’ll be fine,” the man said. “It’s not much above your waist, even out here. Come on, I’ll help you.”

“I can’t!” Isabelle cried. “I’ll never go in the water again. Who are you anyway? You don’t know anything about my family. I’m going to go find them.” She stormed off into the jungle, not even looking back to see the monster fade from view.

For a long while—days, weeks, she could not tell—she searched the island for any trace of her family. She secretly knew that they were not there, although where they had gone, she did not know. Still, she told herself that they could be on the move. It was a big island—they could be always missing each other. She walked the whole island again and again, except the sheltered lagoon on the far side. She did not want to see that strange man and his penetrating gaze and strange smile.

One day, just as the sun was going down, she caught sight of a figure on a rock across a narrow channel from the island. It looked like her father and her heart flamed with hope. He had come back for her. But as she approached, she saw that it was someone else. He was younger and wore strange clothing. Still, he could protect her and stay with her.

She crept closer to him, getting as close as she could without touching the water. His name was Louis, she found out, and he spoke French. Suddenly she was very glad of her tedious French lessons.

Louis said he would come to the island and protect her but he hesitated to. She made him promise he would come but still she was nervous. The sun was going down and she could not go over to him. What if he disappeared in the darkness, just as her family had done? He was so close, yet so far as well.

Just before the sun went down, the monster appeared, coming down the beach towards her. She screamed for Louis to protect her and he jumped into the water and started to swim. But then he sunk under the water and did not come back up. After a while, the monster disappeared from view.

Isabelle was crushed. Louis had been so close, but then he had escaped her too. Still, she felt hope. She had fallen into water and had come back out of it, so maybe there was hope for Louis. After all, he had promised. Every day, she went to the rocks and looked down into the churning water, hoping to catch some glimpse of him.

Time passed and other people came to the island. Some were groups of men, who sat and drank on the beach or crashed through the forest, making noise and cutting down trees. She hid from these sorts of people—they reminded her of the crew of the ship and she feared what they would do to her if they found her.

Sometimes, couples would come to curl up together on the beach, eating and drinking and kissing. They paid attention to no one but each other and they would never pay attention to her. Isabelle hated these people, especially the women.

But Isabelle discovered a very interesting thing: the monster hated what she hated. When these couples—or other people who made Isabelle feel uncomfortable—came to the island, the monster would crash through the trees or throw rocks into the water. It did this especially at night until the people got scared enough to leave.

But then one day, a man came to the island. He was about her father’s age and he came alone. She looked at him from the jungle and then, for the first time since she had talked to Louis, she decided to talk to him.

He was nice. He seemed kind and wanted to help her, but he had a boat and she knew he was going to leave her again soon. Suddenly, she wanted him to stay there, wanted it more than anything she had wanted since her family had left. She knew the monster wanted it too.

Just as the man was going for his boat, the monster rose out of the water and tore the boat to pieces. And just like that, the man was there with her on the island, just the two of them. Isabelle was overjoyed.

(to be continued)


The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 2)

Read the original: Isabelle’s Island

The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 1)

David and Humphrey helped their father build a lean-to while Isabelle and her mother collected fruit and firewood. They camped that night on the beach and the first mate entertained them with tales and myths from the sea. For the first time since they left England, Isabelle felt happy.

Then the first mate sickened. His leg became infected and despite Isabelle’s mother’s ministrations, he died a week later. They buried him in the forest and Isabelle’s father and brothers set out to explore the island. They went for days at a time, coming back exhausted and discouraged.

Two months later, they had explored most of the island and concluded that it was truly uninhabited. Isabelle’s father masked his disappointment by throwing himself into work, hauling rock to build a better house, making tools from wood and stone and hunting for food. David and Humphrey disappeared on hunting and exploration trips more frequently now and were gone longer.

Isabelle was left back with her mother, who sunk slowly into herself. She would spend hours staring out at the ocean and would break down in tears with no provocation.

One day Isabelle found her father sitting among some rocks, trying to braid rope from plant fibers.

“Can I help you, Papa?” she asked, reaching for his hand. He pulled it back, still concentrating on the rope he held between his knees.

“I don’t have time now, Isabelle dear,” he said. “Go help your mama.”

“I saw something in the forest,” she said. “It looked scary.”

He looked up at her and she saw sudden interest in his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“It was big, as big as a horse,” she said quickly. “And it had fur and long claws. I heard it making a weird grunting sound.”

Her father stood up, dropping the rope and picking up the club he had made. “Show me where you saw it.” He took her hand.

Isabelle led him into the jungle a little ways. “It was around here somewhere,” she said.

“Let’s keep looking,” her father said and squeezed her hand in a comforting way.

All afternoon they walked through the jungle and up on the low hills, looking for a monster that did not exist. It was the happiest Isabelle had been in a long time and she hung onto her father’s hand and reveled in his warm presence.

The next day, Humphrey and David returned from a two-week expedition. They carried part of a wild boar they had killed. As they were all eating together, Isabelle’s father mentioned the monster Isabelle had reported.

David laughed. “We’ve been all over this island and I’ve never seen anything like that. She’s just making things up.”

“It’s not true!” Isabelle said. “I really did see it. Papa and I hunted it together.” She reached over and grasped his hand.

Humphrey shook his head. “There’s no way, little sister. You must have seen wrong.”

Her father withdrew his hand from hers and looked at her. “Is it true, Isabelle? Did you really see a creature like that? Tell me now, did you really see it or were you lying to me?”

“I really did see it! Why would you believe them over me?” she cried, bursting into tears. Her mother reached for her, but Isabelle shook her off. “I’ll go find it now.”

Without any plan, Isabelle ran off into the darkness of the jungle—past their latrine, past the place they gathered wood and into the dense underbrush. All she could see was the distrust and disappointment in her father’s eyes. She could hear her family calling after her, but she kept going.

She hit a tree in the dark and bright points of lights exploded in front of her eyes. She kept going, pushing ahead of her with her arms outstretched. Then the ground disappeared beneath her feet.

She screamed as she fell, grasping blindly in the darkness in front of her. She felt tree roots and clutched at them.

“Isabelle, where are you?” It was her father, calling from somewhere above her.

“Papa, help me please! I’m down here.”

“Hold on, Isabelle.” She heard grass rustling and tree branches cracking somewhere above her. Then, she heard breathing and fingertips brushed the very top of her hands where she clung to the roots.

“Pull me up, Papa! Please, I’m going to fall.”

“I can’t, Isabelle. I’m reaching down as far as I can. If I go any more, I’ll fall too. Hold on, I’ll go get some rope.”

“No! Papa, don’t leave me here! Please!”

“I’ll be back for you, don’t worry, dear.”

“Do you promise?” Isabelle asked. Her hands were trembling and her arms ached.

“I promise. I’ll get you out of there. David and Humphrey are on their way too.” She heard him crashing through the trees, moving further away.

The strength was leaving her hands. “No, no, no. Papa, help me!” Her hands slipped off the root and with a scream, she fell, down, down into the blackness. The last thing she remembered was the sensation of her body hitting water.

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(to be continued)


The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 1)

(This story was written as the companion and sequel to one of my previous stories, Isabelle’s Island. However, this one turned out to be much longer, so I had to break it into four parts, which I will be posting over the next four days.)

Isabelle Stapleton hated the ship that had been the home of her and her family for the last four months. Life was hard and tedious and she was the only female on board besides her mother.

She would not have cared except for the crew. They were rough and uncouth and her skin crawled at the way they leered at her when she walked past on deck. She was never allowed outside of their cabin without her father or one of her two older brothers, David and Humphrey, there to guide her. Her mother never said why this had to be, only that it was not fit for a fourteen-year-old girl to be seen alone in public. This had been in the case in their home in England, but Isabelle could guess the reason as the looks from the crew became more open and obscene the longer they were at sea.

Each day followed the same routine. Get up to a breakfast of hard bread and tea, tidy up their small cabin and then do arithmetic, French and Latin lessons until lunch. More lessons in the afternoon and then supper and bed as soon as it was dark.

Life was stifling and isolated, but even within the walls of the tiny cabin and on her briefs visit to the deck, Isabelle could tell something was changing. The crew was angry. There were shouts and sounds of arguments. More crew members were flogged on deck for small infractions. Isabelle was always bustled inside during these punishments, but Humphrey would come later and describe them to her, how the sailor had cried out and how the man later had to scrub the blood of his punishment from the deck.

Then came the night when Isabelle and her family were awakened by gunshots. Her father barred the door while more shots were fired and people pounded on the door. Isabelle hid under the covers with her head pressed into her mother’s lap.

The door opened and then closed. “They’re going to let us go,” her father said. “Gather up everything you can carry. Come on, we cannot count on this rabble staying civil for long.”

“Up, Isabelle!” her mother said. They rushed around, gathering clothes into trunks, until her father said they could only bring one trunk. A minute later and David opened the door and they filed out onto the deck.

It was a chilling sight. They walked out into a circle of torchlight. The whole crew was there, surrounding them. Their looks were terrible. The leers and lascivious winks were now replaced with open lust and Isabelle almost expected them to all rush down on her at once.

But none of them moved. Isabelle and her family were instructed to climb down over the railing into a small boat below. There were already two men in it: the captain and the first mate. Both had been shot and the captain was not moving. Once they were all in, the ladder was pulled up and they were set adrift.

Isabelle dozed, but woke up in the middle of the night to hear her parents speaking softly.

“It had nothing to do with us, Mary,” her father was saying. “The captain was a cruel despot. We were just caught in the middle. They wanted Isabelle, and you too, but the second mate would not let them. Let us thank God for that.”

“What will we do now though?” her mother asked, her voice on the edge of panic. “We are set adrift with no food or water. They may as well have shot us and gotten it over with quickly.”

“God will provide,” her father said.

The captain died during the night. Isabelle’s father said a short prayer over him just as the eastern horizon was lightening and then they consigned his body to the ocean’s care. As his body sank into the depths, Isabelle looked up and saw land rising just above the waves on the eastern horizon.

That day was the hardest of Isabelle’s life. The sun was hot and there was no food or water for the six of them in the small boat. The first mate had been shot in the leg but was still able to row. He and Isabelle’s father and brothers took turns rowing towards the low island that refused to grow any bigger all through the long, torturous day. Finally, after the sun had gone down and the black sky was crowded with stars, Isabelle felt the boat’s keel grate on stones and she knew they had made it.

“We must thank God for this miracle,” her father said the next day as they surveyed the island that had become their new home. “We set out from England to find new places and share God’s word with unreached people and we can do that here just as easily as Tahiti or Fiji. We can a make a life here for ourselves.”

David and Humphrey helped their father build a lean-to while Isabelle and her mother collected fruit and firewood. They camped that night on the beach and the first mate entertained them with tales and myths from the sea. For the first time since they left England, Isabelle felt happy.

But then…

Continued in Part 2


Isabelle’s Island

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.”


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