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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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