“ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”
Monthly Archives: February 2014
Chapter 1: The Story of David and Cecilia
He heard a rustle, then a rough scratching noise, like sawing through wood, accompanied by ghostly moans and what sounded suspiciously like stifled giggles. David pulled the blanket off his face and looked searchingly around the dim room until his eyes alighted on the window beside his bed. He saw a shadowy form holding what looked to be a twig, which it used to drag against the window pane, as if seeking to arrest his attention. He attempted to shed the heavy weight of slumber that still struggled to overpower him.
He groaned as he became more lucid and wondered to what lengths his patience would be tried again tonight. This nightly ritual, which started a few months ago, caused numerous and certainly avoidable problems in his daily life as he labored to stay awake and focus on his duties in school and at home.
“Cecee I can’t tonight really,” he moaned as he slid open the window to reveal the evanescent form of a sixteen year old girl in her bare feet beside his first floor bedroom window. “I’m still tired from last night. How do you have the energy?” he asked drowsily.
“Power naps,” she whispered, winking at him with her brightly alert eyes and huge grin. “Now come on we don’t have all night you know. The crabs wait for no man…or little boy.” She giggled as she showed him the basket and held up the flashlight.
“Why do I do this to myself?” he asked wistfully.
“Because you love me ever so much!” Cecilia then backed up into the inky blackness of the night until her form was slowly enveloped in darkness and she disappeared completely. David, donning the necessary garb as quickly as possible, crawled out of the window and swiftly darted in the direction he knew she was headed. He soon caught up with her, discerning her figure along the moonlit road leading towards their chosen destination at the southern tip of the island.
“You know, for someone attempting to stealthily go crabbing in the dead of night, your dress is awfully luminescent.”
“My, what big words you use,” she said mockingly. “I can study the dictionary too if I had nothing better to do with my time.”
“What better do you have to do? Your days are about as event filled as mine so you might as well be productive.”
“What makes you think I’m not? I’ll have you know the crabs I catch are all going to be used for dinner tomorrow night.”
“You mean those oh so elusive crustaceans that you have yet to catch after months of trying? It’s not that difficult you know. A four year old could do it. Too bad you’re orientationally challenged,” he teased.
“Is that even a word?” was her witty comeback. There was a breeze from the ocean, besides which it was peaceful and quiet except for their whispered voices wafting in the wind. Her white dress fell loosely below her knees and swished around her calves as she moved.
The two teenagers kept walking slowly along the main road until they came upon a dirt path leading deep into the bushes where Cecilia hoped she would be able to catch the crabs despite her prior futile attempts. She was bored with her life and this was one of the few distractions from her constant daydreams. David, despite his lack of enthusiasm for most of her schemes to defeat her ennui, was her one and only friend. Cecilia preferred his quiet harmless company to the more demanding requirements of girls her own age, of whom there were very few to begin with.
“I think so…” responded David wondering himself. He made a mental note to check the dictionary as soon as he got home. “Regardless I cannot sneak out with you so many nights in a row, as you well know but choose to ignore. I do have other things to do. I have some ambition to get out of this place and see the world. I know you do too so I don’t understand why you refuse to take school seriously.”
“Stop preaching. I have a plan.” She had dreams but had no clue how to realize them. David knew this but could not convince her to try.
They entered a dense patch of mangrove trees with tufts of grass here and there in between mud and puddles of water. Myriad unknown plants were dispersed throughout the area and David maneuvered around them as best he could, fearful of touching anything poisonous or barbed. The combination of gnarled branches, loose vines and buzzing insects seemed like a surreal murky dream in which he was trapped. He was a little scared despite the fact that he lived there all his life. Nighttime made everything unfamiliar, almost dangerous. He was worried there were drug smugglers hiding in the furthest cover of darkness, ready to pounce on the duo as they approached nearer their supposed hiding place.
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” he whispered to Cecilia. “What if one of those drug dealers we heard about on the news shows up? I can’t see past the length of my arm!”
“Stop being such a wuss! Nothing will happen. What self-respecting dealer would come here when they have so many better islands to choose from? Besides, I have my flashlight. I’ll point it straight into his eyes, disorient him and you can run away quite easily.”
“Aren’t you going to run?”
“No, I can handle him myself. I know a move or two that could potentially knock him senseless,” she boasted, her chest pushed forward with a snarl on her face. She violently waved the flashlight back and forth above her head.
David sighed. There was no reasoning with her. If she was actually able to protect herself he would have left already but he knew she was all talk. So they busied themselves scouting the ground with flashlights pointed and bags ready to grab the first crustacean in sight. By the end David caught about ten while Cecilia claimed she caught a monster crab a foot wide with giant claws that pinched her awfully until it slipped out of her bag and scurried away into the water never to be seen or heard from again.
“A likely story,” said David resignedly. He was much too exhausted to argue with a kooky girl in the wee hours of the morning as he thought of the steadily approaching day that had yet to bring with it the toil of school and dizziness from lack of sleep that he’d been suffering from lately. The two split up at the short pink concrete wall separating her house from his.
“Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” she cried out in a lilting voice. The notes gathered in the air about his head and seemed to come from all directions. He shivered at the eerie sound. It seemed to presage danger. David was not superstitious but sometimes his fancy did fly into unknown heights and reality seemed more like a dream. The breeze from the ocean opposite their houses had that preternatural effect on sounds. David still felt trapped within the murky dream-like atmosphere he felt earlier in the evening.
“Don’t let the crabs bite,” he growled almost angrily back at her. He had given her all of his own, the appeal of them not being the same to him as for her. She loved crabs. He loved her. He was angry that she loved the crabs more than him and now he was worried about her as well. She seemed even more distant than usual, as if reality really was a dream for her.
“I need a girlfriend” he muttered to himself as he trod the few steps to his porch. He glanced over to her house and noticed that she crawled in through her window, which she left open for that purpose, rather than use the front door like a sane person. Her parents were fast asleep and would not have minded either way. They were more like absentee parents to Cecilia. She was too flighty to ground and they were nothing if not well grounded people. So she wafted in and out pleasing herself and they toiled at their jobs and socialized with their friends and neighbors.
Chapter 2: A Party
Cecilia awoke on Saturday to someone loudly pounding at her door. It was pink like everything else seemed to be on the island. Flamingo colored to be specific, since the island was known for its flamingo population that congregated at the furthest ends and outer edges of the island.
“Enter!” she called majestically with a muffled voice, still half slumbering, her right foot dangling on the side of the bed. Her blanket was askew and her arms spread to the right and left of her body while her head lay hidden under her pillow.
Her mother immediately came in. She was a short, constantly moving force of nature always with a business like air, even with her daughter. She immediately came in and started picking up socks and clothes lying in disarray on the floor and across the sofa near the window. The white curtains billowed from the ocean breeze as her mother lifted the mosquito screen to air the room.
“Cecilia honey did your father mention that we’re to have a party tonight in honor of the new family that just arrived on the island a few days ago? What are you planning on wearing?” She pinned up the curtains to let in the sunshine as it was almost noon. “It’s such a beautiful day out! Why don’t you call David and go for a walk by the pier? You need some sunlight and those nighttime excursions of yours needs to stop before you become completely antisocial.”
Knowing her mother’s slight dislike of David, Cecilia was surprised to hear her suggestion. Although he was her only friend so Cecilia supposed she had no one else to suggest. Mrs. Ward kept talking and tidying while her daughter lazily yawned and scratched her elbow. Cecilia turned over slowly and blinked rapidly as the bright sunlight hit her eyes. She murmured something sleepily.
“Speak up Cecilia I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”
She yawned while speaking. “I said mother that I don’t have a thing to wear so I might not go to the party.” She shrugged her shoulders and nestled again under the pillow.
“Cecilia Marie Ward how dare you say you have nothing to wear! Look at this,” she pulled out a white satin dress from Cecilia’s closet all wrinkled from her carelessness. “Well this needs to be ironed but what about all of these other dresses we just ordered? You haven’t worn any of them and I don’t want to hear any excuses. Here, now this will be perfect.” She smiled complacently as she reviewed the black halter dress that flowed from the hips and danced merrily as the breeze blew in from the open window.
“Fine I’ll wear it and go to the party as you wish. If for no other reason than that I have nothing better to do. Is David invited?”
“Of course he is,” replied her mother a little irritated at the implication. She wanted to like him but as she couldn’t understand him she preferred to ignore him altogether. “All of the teachers and their families are invited. The doctor and his wife will be coming as well as Mrs. Brown and her sons.”
Mrs. Brown was their neighbor to the right of their house who owned the newly built hotel up the road (the island’s first). Cecilia could never understand the need for a hotel in an island with barely any people and even less visitors. She was however typically the object of Mrs. Brown’s kind attentions and generosity. Mrs. Brown had no daughters of her own and so spoiled Cecilia from childhood with sweets and clothing and presents from her frequent overseas trips. Cecilia liked listening to her stories and imagined herself in every place Mrs. Brown ever visited (and even a few that she didn’t visit).
Everyone on the island traveled to other countries but Cecilia herself had only been once to the big city on the main island. She dreamed of traveling the world and leaving the tiny, isolated, boring island for adventures in Africa or Europe or anywhere else. She read avidly in preparation for the outside world, so different (or so she imagined) from her own quiet and exceedingly uneventful life.
“So our house is to be inhabited by what is deemed the upper crust in this miserable small place and we must dress the part and act the part and partake in insipid conversations with people we see everyday at other events in which we again don the proper attire and say the same things. So this new family is to add some spice to our lackluster lives one would hope.” She drawled the speech and thought how little she cared about anything. Not even the possibility of a new acquaintance (a rare circumstance in their remote lives) could penetrate the torpor that enveloped her in the height of her adolescent life. She was sixteen, almost an adult, almost done with school.
“Stop being dramatic and tidy up your room today before the party. The Millers will be taking over Mr. and Mrs. Jones’ former positions and the son will be in your class so you should make him feel welcome.”
“A son you say?” She was intrigued. “Have you seen him yet?” she inquired of her mother, curious to know if he was anything to get excited over.
“I have not. His parents are very nice people so I’m sure he’ll be a pleasant boy.”
“I’m sure he will. Pleasant. Hmph!” That’s all she could hope for. Too many romance novels but not so many handsome chivalrous heroes in sight. She suffered from the common sixteen year old girl disease of romanticism tinged with the bitterness of reality and a modest helping of hope to get through those tumultuous years without being too badly scarred.
Chapter 3: A Better Acquaintance
“Cecee would you make up your mind already? I’m sick of being in here with you when there’s a party right outside!” David was lounging on the pale blue sofa by the windows in her room, his head turned to the window while she switched outfits.
She was trying on her fifth one at the moment. She spun around looking radiantly at David with a huge grin. “This is it!” she exclaimed victoriously. It was the dress her mother chose earlier but which she had forgotten about the next moment. It hung loosely about her knees and had a halter top that was very flattering to her girlish figure. “I look like a woman,” she said and winked at him arrogantly.
“Well you’re acting like a child. Now hurry up before your parents come to check up on us. Your mother doesn’t like me as it is. I certainly don’t want her to accuse me of hoarding you all to myself.” A scowl spread across his face as he said this.
David knew Mrs. Ward thought him far too grave a character for her vivacious daughter and viewed his presence more as a nuisance than otherwise. Her father had no opinion either way. All teenagers appeared the same to him. His own daughter simply floated in and out of his vision and thought as a butterfly. Its color and brightness attracted him for an instant before he again became immersed in his own thoughts. He was himself what is considered an intellectual, his wife was a social climber and his daughter a recluse and daydreamer. She reacted against both her parents and became a dilettante at life.
“Dahling I have no time for such petty concerns and minor obstacles in my search for love. No doubt this son will be all that a teenage girl stranded in the middle of nowhere with a grumpy best friend, nonentities for parents and superficial acquaintances could hope for.” Cecilia tended towards sarcasm and was conscious of her position and emotions as typical of one her age. Regardless, the feelings were still there so she tried to cope as best she could by indulging in fantasy for the most part.
She lost some of her exuberance in this diatribe and became absorbed in contemplation of her image in the mirror. She saw dull brown eyes, lackluster black hair and too pale a complexion for the tropical climate she inhabited. She looked at David in the mirror and saw a smart good looking boy with a bright future, but he was too serious for her taste. She felt she needed someone lively and as fearless as herself in life. She wanted someone to float with her in the heights of her imagination not drag her down to a dull and often painful reality.
David watched her out of the corner of his eye while pretending to read. He saw beauty where she did not. He saw in her the opposite of himself and loved her for it, as he realized early in life. He knew she was too distracted to notice him other than as a friend so did not entertain any romantic hopes for himself. She was the Isabel Archer to his Ralph (he just finished reading Henry James so of course applied Ralph’s unuttered love of Isabel to his own situation). He therefore loved in silence, although sometimes efforts were made to otherwise engage his affections.
Unfortunately the list of alternative candidates was very short on their island, though not completely deficient in possibilities if he chose to start a campaign. His victory was almost certain but he never attempted more than a fleeting thought. He focused on his studies instead but was now finding that well of happiness almost dried up. His books no longer held the comfort he used to find in them. Now he wanted the experience of the real thing rather than the vicarious imaginings of youth.
“Okay let’s go. I couldn’t rouge, powder or otherwise besmear my natural visage any further if I tried.”
David followed silently, hoping desperately that the son was a bucktoothed hirsute troglodyte and cursed the hormonal hell of teenage years in which he had the misfortune to dwell. “He loved with a love that was more than love” and was becoming damned tired of keeping it to himself.
Chapter 4: A New Friend?
They followed the almost ghostly sound of music down the long narrow pink and white hallway to the well lit living room. A large chandelier sparkled and tinkled above their heads, the air causing the hanging crystals to move gently back and forth. The living room had French windows that were left wide open for the party and people straggled in and out, going up and down the steps to the front lawn. One or two gazed at the ocean opposite but most gathered in conversation. Their laughter rang out and mingled with the musical tones of the piano music playing on the old fashioned Victrola in the corner of the room.
“Do you see them anywhere David?”
“Well, keep a lookout. I’m going to see if I can scrounge up some alcohol somewhere. We can sneak out to the beach and have some fun of our own!” She walked off to the kitchen leaving David to fend for himself. He strolled towards the lawn with everyone else and joined one of the groups in which he recognized a friend of his. The lights from the living room illumined the lawn in the dusky evening hour. It was not yet dark enough for the moon’s light to penetrate the few remaining rays of the sun.
In the midst of conversation David noticed a red car pulling into the gravel driveway. An older man, about fifty or thereabouts, and his wife exited first then a tall lean young man followed behind. David looked crestfallen when he saw that the boy was extremely good looking. He looked obviously intelligent, not with the careless arrogant look of a typical teen as David expected but thoughtful and mature. Maybe having older parents had that effect on the youth.
Mr. Ward walked up to them and started the introductions. When his turn came round David tried his best to maintain a smile though his heart wrung inside at the thought of losing Cecilia as surely he must. A deep, manly voice issued from the gallant form of William Miller. David thought how childish he must look compared to this Adonis and waited impatiently for Cecilia to emerge from the house and seal his fate. He couldn’t understand what kept her so long.
Meanwhile David observed William standing aloof from a crowd in which his parents were occupied answering the many questions posed by the locals of the island. The other teenagers, the few that were present, loudly chattered about a midnight excursion to the beach opposite for a swim but most were unwilling so the idea was dropped. They were too busy to notice the new boy so David reluctantly strolled over to keep him company. He was curious about him in any case, a tall, erect, seemingly proud figure but exuding kindness also in his demeanor.
“Hi.” Great start he chided himself inwardly.
“Hello.” William smiled and looked appreciative of his company.
David cleared his throat self consciously, feeling more like a green schoolboy trying to make friends on the first day of school. “Can I..um..get you something to…[cough]…drink?” he stammered with bent head and shuffling feet.
William assented and they walked up the stairs to the living room for ice and soda. They were engaged in the preliminaries to a better acquaintance back on the front lawn when Cecilia made her appearance. David had just found out that William’s parents chose to live on the island for a brief period with a view of removing him from certain unwelcome affiliations he picked up while in school and also to see if island living might not be a future option for retirement. If all works out, they may even stay permanently when William begins college. Since he was almost finished with high school, William had no objections to this plan, wishing to redeem himself in the eyes of his parents as well as himself.
Chapter 5: Cecilia
As William was complimenting the view of the ocean visible from the front lawn, David looked up towards the front stairs. There Cecilia stood, a statuesque figure, with her hair and dress fluttering in the evening breeze and her skin glowing ethereally as the music wafted all around her from inside the house. Her hands were behind her as she peered into the semi-darkness searching for David’s well known form. As soon as she spied him, she ran down towards them, a sly grin on her face. William’s back was turned towards her but at her voice calling to David, he turned around. David glanced at him from the corner of his eyes to gauge his reaction. He seemed immediately dazzled at the youthful vision running rapidly in his direction.
“I have a wonderful idea David!” She brought forward her hands and showed her prize. “I poured some of daddy’s brandy into this flask,” she whispered this to them, naturally including William as if part of their coterie, winking sneakily all the while. “Now we can go to the beach and have our own private party. I have a lighter too; we can make a bonfire and go swimming after! I’ve my suit on under this dress. Well, what do you say?” looking from David to William and back again.
“Cecilia, meet William. I’m sure, William, you are curious to know who this charming and ever so polite creature is before agreeing to her whims.”
“Indeed, the thought did occur to me.” His eyes gleamed inquisitively. He reached out to shake her hand but she immediately ran off, beckoning them to follow her whether they wanted to or not.
“Just a word of warning William, she can be exhausting, so pace yourself.”
William grinned and strode after her, his lithe body disappearing quickly in the shadows. David followed.
They strolled leisurely down the beach, shoes dangling in their hands, in comfortable silence, as if their friendship was already a given thing. They could see Cecilia’s skinny frame running about as she gathered dried twigs and branches for the bonfire. They both ran over and helped to gather the necessary amount for a towering flame.
After a shaky start, what with the ocean breeze putting out the flame and the wind seeming to attack it from all directions, they finally succeeded in lighting it. The heat bathed their faces as they stood gazing at their creation, enraptured by the glow and almost eerie mystery of the fire. Their shadows seemed tall and menacing, morphing from one strange shape to another in the rapid movements of the flames. David finally forced his gaze away from the fire and glanced over at William. He was staring at Cecilia as if she were the only flame that could draw his scrutiny. David transferred his eyes to Cecilia and was struck again by the ethereal quality that seemed to comprise her very nature, not only her bodily frame. Suddenly he realized that she was gazing back at him curiously then looked away when she was caught.
She passed the flask to David. “So anyone up for a swim?” She threw off her dress as she said this and ran into the water without waiting for an answer. The boys could hear the splashing of the waves against the beach and on her body. It was really quiet as David and William sat on the sand close to the water, taking turns with the flask and gazing into the darkness and at the gray moon. They could hear the music from the Victrola in the distance mingled with subdued voices and clinking glasses. The fire crackled and grew dimmer as they conversed softly about the island while Cecilia still swam back and forth before them, her dark form barely discernible against the horizon.
Chapter 6: Fast Friends
Within a month the three were fast friends. They went hiking, fishing, swimming and crabbing; in short, they did everything that the island had to offer. Warm summer days were spent mostly by the beach; days and nights star-gazing or exploring. No school meant almost complete freedom. William lived near enough to ride his bike over and his parents were as unconcerned about him as Cecee’s parents were about her, given the island’s dearth of dangerous influences.
The trio however sought ways of endangering themselves out of sheer boredom. There were no movie theaters or malls or any shopping whatsoever. Groceries came by boat every Thursday, which was an adventure in itself for them as almost the entire population of two hundred and fifty people or so turned up at the harbor. The harbor was beautiful to behold. A deep recess of rock shaped into a semi circle, by nature or man they knew not, created a space wide enough for the fifteen foot boat to drop anchor. The water was deep enough there and iridescent in the sunlight. It sparkled so much Cecilia’s eyes were often blinded by the light.
One particular Thursday loads of cars could be seen shimmering in the sunlight, reflecting off the sea, creating a mirage of light, distanceless it seemed. Cecilia roamed around in her bare feet on the jutting rocks, far from the din of noisy locals shouting greetings and directions to the crew and each other. While David and William joined the crowd she wandered off to gaze into the sea with its array of colors ranging from the deepest of blues to the lightest of greens with some reds and yellows making an appearance here and there.
She knelt by a shallow puddle at the edge of the promontory. There was a bright yellow little fish, she knew few of them by name, swimming along the outer edge of the pool. A couple of snails were stuck to the rock walls and she could discern one arm of a little starfish on its sandy bottom, the rest was embedded in the sand and hidden from sight. She reached over and felt its rough skin. It felt as if she was rubbing a poppyseed bagel. It tickled her fingers.
She turned around towards the sound of someone shouting her name. It was David waving to her and shouting that it was time to go.
The three friends were having a picnic later that day at the beach opposite Cecilia’s house. Her mother packed the basket and off they went around ten in the morning. David was swimming in the warm sea, doing the breaststroke and showing off his muscular seventeen year old body. Most of the inhabitants were in great shape. Every activity they did was necessarily physical in such a place.
There were of course a few exceptions. Mrs. Tate for instance could not rise from a sitting position without the aid of Mr. Tate or some other strong body to pull her up. Mr. Tate was a wiry quiet man. You would hardly think him capable of such a feat or such a wife. She talked for both and ate for both it seemed to Cecilia. They invited the Ward family over often for conversation and cake after church on Sundays.
Church was another activity on the island. No one, except the true native islanders, not foreign natives who have lived there for a long time, was truly religious. But attending church was imperative, if not for gossip then for debuting new outfits, especially hats. The ladies seemed to be competing as to who could wear the widest, tallest, most fantastically decorated piece of millinery creation. Cecilia admitted to herself that she did enjoy the duty as she could indulge her penchant for dramatization. Last Sunday she wore a baby blue strapless dress with a white sash around the waist, white gloves with pearl buttons at the wrist and a blue and white pair of shoes. Her head was adorned with a classic wide brimmed pale blue hat with a white ribbon that flapped in the breeze as she walked to church. It was a ways down the road and she loved parading there in her fabulous outfits. On that island there were more churches than any other buildings.
That afternoon Cecilia and William ate some grapes in silence looking at David tirelessly swim laps. William was nervous at being alone with Cecilia. He could think of nothing to say so ate mutely by her side on the gigantic beach towel they shared. She had on a navy blue one piece suit with a wide floppy white hat partially covering her face. He could not see her eyes and wondered what she was thinking as he fidgeted and wracked his brain for something interesting to say.
“You’ve lived here all your life haven’t you?”
“Do you want to leave?”
“Desperately.” She looked up at him with such yearning in her eyes he was taken aback.
“Why can’t you?”
“I have to finish high school first.” She did not want to attend college and she knew her parents would not support any other scheme so she needed money also. David wanted her to go with him to college in the States so he can make sure she stays out of trouble. She opposed his plan. She wanted complete freedom, even from the kind but watchful eye of David. He often judged her severely and she didn’t like disappointing him.
Chapter 7: The Legend of Pirate’s Well
“Do you know why this settlement is called Pirate’s Well?” she asked William as David strolled up to them, glistening with seawater and splashing droplets on them as he shook the excess off his almost sunburnt skin.
“Not again! Will you please stop trying to convince everyone of the vast amount of treasure to be found? The island’s been inhabited for more than two hundred years. Wouldn’t someone have found it by now?” David was exasperated at her insistence that pirates from the old days stored their booty somewhere on the island, or on the tiny isle just off the main island.
“Not if they weren’t looking and were non-believers like you! Anyway I was addressing William. To continue, there is a legend associated with this particular settlement since it was the known haunt of pirates on their way to Nassau, their home base. This island was passed on their route and was considered a safe haven to those on the run from the weather or the law.”
“Is that true? That’s fascinating.”
“Of course it’s true,” she pouted, as if accused of falsity unjustly. “This is an ideal hiding place, one of countless islands where no one would guess there was treasure, buried or otherwise, to be found. There is not much written about it that I can find in this godforsaken place but I’ve heard stories from the locals. Sort of like folklore. But they treated them as nothing but stories. Why can’t they be true? No one of real adventurous spirit has ever really searched this place thoroughly. There is a fortune out there to be had and I will be the one to find it.”
David scoffed at her. “I’ve been with her on these treasure hunts, if you can even call them that. Futile attempts they have been and will always be.”
“Fine you don’t have to join me. This will be a novel experience for William. What else have we to do?” She addressed William. “We’ve naturally explored the wells scattered about but no luck so far. I figured the name is misleading so we should branch out, explore other areas. I know for a fact no one has been on that little island over there for at least the fifteen years I’ve inhabited this place and I’m sure for a lot longer than that. It’s nothing but birds and stones from what I’ve gathered, just the place where no one would think to look!” She pointed to the small isle barely discernible in the distance. A white mass was all that could be seen with birds circling overhead. They looked like dark spots in the sky, circling the isle, as if waiting for death to beckon them to land. David shivered. He always had a presentiment of doom when looking at that island.
“I have to say it all sounds really exciting. We should plan our first expedition right now! I have a boat we can use. We sail a lot and my dad figured I’ll need it for fishing too.” He seemed extremely taken with the idea. Cecilia’s enthusiasm, not to mention personal charm, infected him.
“You two go ahead. I’ll be here living in reality.” David prepared himself for a nap as he said this, laying on his stomach away from the two friends excitedly discussing the possibilities for the execution of their plans.
Cecilia elaborated more fully on the stories she had heard as a child from the elders of their village. “According to legend,” she inched closer to William and affected a spookier voice as she went on, “a pirate by the name of Jenkins, Jolly Jenkins he was called by his crew, used this place quite a bit during the period of time he pillaged the Spanish merchant ships.”
“Wait why was he called Jolly Jenkins?” interrupted William.
“Well, the story goes that the sight of gold inevitably brings an irrepressible smile to Jenkins’s face. A slow grin overtakes his countenance and by the time his hands actually touch the gold the most enormous smile, all teeth and gums, can be seen planted as if permanently on his face. His avarice knew no bounds, so much so that he was the most secretive of pirates. Not even his closest men were privy to his hiding place. He distributed their share and, unlike most pirates, kept the bulk of the fortune to himself. They were kept in strongly hewn sacks made of hemp and tied by ropes of the same material. He must have amassed a number of those sacks by the time he died.”
“I thought pirates usually stored their bounty in trunks?”
“Usually yes but Jolly Jenkins was no ordinary pirate. His greed was such that he became adept in secreting his goods to his unknown hiding place and I figure the sacks were easier for one man to transport than a trunk. At midnight, when the moon was fully risen, Jenkins would sneak away from the camp his men had set up with his precious burden on his back. He would disappear and reemerge without the load. Sometimes, depending on the success of their last expedition, he would have to make several trips in one night.”
“Did no one try to follow him to see where the treasure was hidden?” William’s curiosity had by this time reached its highest pitch and he was intrigued beyond measure by the girl’s fascinating tale.
“Of course. A few attempts were made to no avail. Jenkins’s greed made him wary of his own men and he would take the greatest precautions on these trips. He was also of almost herculean stature, standing taller than most of his men, and had a swarthy muscular frame. His long black hair clung to his face and obscured most of his visage except for his steely gray eyes.
Those eyes were mesmeric according to his men. He could make them do his bidding by one look from those eyes, as if hypnotized by their intensity and grayness. Anyhow, one night Jenkins knew he was being followed so he dropped his sack in a safe place and retraced his steps to intercept the follower. He lay in wait in the shadows as the figure approached. As soon as the shadow reached the spot he sprung and attacked the man, slashing his throat with the cutlass that hung on his waist.
He returned to the camp, dragging the body behind him. The trail of blood was ghastly to the sight. His men woke in the morning to find the decapitated head of their comrade on a spike stuck in the sand in the middle of their campsite. It was an unmistakable message. Any who dares another attempt to find his booty can expect the same result. Needless to say, after that no one disobeyed their leader. Their fear overcame their greed.
Thus did Jolly Jenkins rule. Through terror and violence he retained power and commanded his men to successfully plunder merchant and private vessels. He was as a demon in the high seas, a dark and imposing force with a name belying his true self. No one knew his origins but popular opinion among his men was that he was found washed up on shore when he was a child by criminals and raised by them until he eventually became their ruler. He took to the seas naturally and found it easier to fulfill his thieving nature. The truth is probably much more prosaic although it is a fact that criminals, the poor, and other outcasts resorted to piracy as a means of survival.
The mystery of his birth was never ascertained and the men satisfied themselves with inventing such tales or exaggerating facts until they were no longer discernible as truths.”
“Wow! He sounds terrifying!” His eyes practically bulged out of their sockets. Cecilia was elated at finally capturing someone else’s interest in the tale.
“I know!” she cried excitedly. “That’s not the end of the legend either. It’s rumored that his love of gold did not perish with his eventual death. His ghost is thought to wander Pirate’s Well, retracing the steps to his hidden treasure every full moon and terrorizing any that he finds in his path. After midnight on those days each month I stay awake hoping to see the apparition. I can sometimes hear ghostly whispers but can never make out what they say. David argues that it’s the wind but I think it’s Jolly Jenkins murmuring to himself as he roams around. The sound is eerie and obscured by the rustling leaves and splashing waves.”
“Did you ever try following it, the sound?” He sounded anxious.
“I did a few times but David didn’t want to come with me and as I could never find anything I stopped trying. Plus it does get a bit scary in the darkness among the bushes, what with the croaking of frogs and those darned bugs making the most obnoxious sounds. Scary.
Anyway, I think Jenkins used a canoe or some sort of small vessel to transport the sacks under the cover of night to that small island where he knew no one would think to look. He disappeared for long enough and was on foot. In the length of time between midnight and first light of the morning he could have made the trip. Any other place would have been too far away to travel on foot, especially with the weight of the gold and silver, not to mention of other jewels, that would weigh him down.”
“That seems to make sense. And you’ve explored this area?”
“I’ve looked around the vicinity for any place where he would have had time to complete the trip in that time frame but, nothing so far. My mother freaked out and banned the search since I twisted my ankle one night exploring.”
“I’m guessing that didn’t stop you?”
“It did. Until my ankle healed at least.” She winked coyly at him.
Chapter 8: The Calm Before the Storm
The three friends went home after their picnic to nap and relax for their excursion to the only army base on the island. Cecilia planned on an evening under the stars with some beers she bought from a local boy in her grade. She was still brimming with enthusiasm over the Jolly Jenkins story and the possibilities with William’s boat. They were to finalize the plans that evening. William was just as excited and craved to prove his manhood to Cecilia. He too had an adventurous spirit; it was that spirit that made his parents move to the island. He couldn’t keep out of scrapes no matter how hard he tried. He wanted to live, and if that meant incurring danger then so be it.
Cecilia stood in the front porch, staring longingly at the sea for she knew not what. A melancholy feeling would sometimes pervade her entire frame, making her listless and tired. She sank into the hammock on the right of the porch and lazily swung back and forth as her eyes scanned the view in front of her. She saw the sky looking pale contrasted with the cerulean sea. It sparkled like so many diamonds, decorating the crests of the constant waves. There were seagulls cawing above the water, some skimming the surface in quest of fish. Some paraded the shore, promenading like couples enjoying a walk on the beach. Wings flapped heedlessly, as if they were arguing and gesturing in anger.
Cecilia so amused herself and whiled away the afternoon, dozing for the most part in the hammock until her mother woke her for dinner.
“Fish again….hooray.” She always awoke in a bad temper. It was hard to shake off the sleepiness enough to function politely.
“Finish your dinner quietly if you have nothing nice to say,” her mother scolded her.
Mrs. Ward frowned at her while her father’s nose was buried in the newspaper from the mainland as usual. “So what plans do you have this evening?”
“Oh nothing as exciting as what you have planned I’m sure,” she drawled sarcastically. “David, William and I are riding our bikes up to the army base in Buccaneer’s Bay. We’re showing William some of the sights.”
“Well that’s nice dear. Although I’m not sure night is the best time to show anyone anything.”
“Don’t worry we have flashlights. The ones that wrap around your head, kinda like what miners use. David bought ’em for us.” She laughed at her mother, knowing her answers were not what she wanted to hear.
“Well be careful on those dangerous stairs leading to the roof. There are no rails to hold you and the darkness might make you disoriented.”
“If I fall it’ll be deliberately.”
“Do not joke like that Cecilia!”
Cecilia shook with laughter at her mother’s angry expression. She was a mischievous girl with a penchant for torturing her mother, not vindictively so much as a hobby.
“I hear a storm’s coming,” continued her mother resignedly, “be careful. Those things can change directions in a minute and head straight for this island. I don’t want you far from home if that happens.”
“Don’t worry, we’ve only had a single major one that I can remember. And I know all the best hiding places to weather the storm in any case. If it turns into a hurricane then we might have problems.”
After dinner Cecilia went to her room and fantasized about finding the treasure of Jolly Jenkins and living her dream as a world traveler. As she lounged on the sofa by the window absorbed in thought, she heard a tap before David’s head popped in.
“What’s up?” she asked inquisitively, wondering what could have caused the usually proper David to climb clumsily over her window and tumble onto the couch.
“I have some news,” he said hesitantly. He avoided her eyes. “I’m going away for a bit. My aunt invited me to visit her in America. For at least a week……if not longer. I can check out some colleges while I’m there.”
David’s decision to leave came as a reaction against the rising tide of jealousy that was slowly beginning to envelop him. He could not stay and watch their romance blossom all summer long, sitting idly by while he lost what he thought was his one true love. It would not be easy but he needed to take himself out of the equation and let the romance develop as it would without him as the third wheel. He thought it was awfully noble of himself and his pride swelled a little at the thought.
“O.” She had never been away from David for more than a few days and wondered if she would survive without him. Then she thought about William…maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. “Okay…I suppose me and William will survive. You won’t be gone for that long and I’m sure we will have made a significant discovery by then.”
She was warming up to the idea more and more as she thought his disapproving looks will not hinder her this time. She’ll have to rush her plans so that she and William can make the trip before David returns. She couldn’t wait to see his face when he sees her discovery.
“So when are you planning on going?” Her mind was already reeling with plans so that she could hardly focus on his answer.
“Tomorrow.” David was disappointed at her seeming indifference to their inevitable separation. He was more than disappointed, he was heart-broken. “I should go. I should start packing. I’ll see you and William later tonight.” He crawled out through the window again and walked rapidly home and didn’t stop until he got to his bedroom. He shut the door, sat on his bed, and stared at the floor with his hands on his head, painfully holding back tears. Is there anything worse than unrequited love? David pondered the myriad novels and plays he read on the subject but couldn’t think clearly in his disheartening state. He would have to learn to deal with his disappointment before he saw the two later at the pier where the Army base was located.
At around eleven that night David rode up to the base, his flashlight illuminating the path to the pier. Its reflection reached the water and caused shimmering lights to appear in it as his bike swerved up and down along the bumpy path and moved it back and forth. It was a full moon so he could see very well even without the flashlight. He heard Cecilia and William’s laughter as he rode up to the darkened doorway of the lone white concrete building. They were lying on the still warm wood of the pier, feet dangling off the edge. Cecilia was laughing at the shapes they made in the water with their flashlights. The two had already started drinking. Cecee laughed at everything after she’s had a couple of drinks, thought David. She called to him as he strolled up to the end of the pier.
“David, where’ve you been? We started without you I’m afraid.” She smiled at him. Her smile was infectious. He smiled back.
“I’ve been packing.”
“Oh.” She was starting to get up when David offered her his hand. She looked up at him like a lost child and his heart stirred with love. She felt very warm to the touch but he grasped her hand for only a few seconds before she started brushing the dust off her dress. Her bare feet were dirty and she never seemed to fear stepping on glass or anything. She was too used to running around the island without shoes, a habit her mother tried in vain from her childhood to cure her of. Mrs. Ward eventually accepted the lesser of two evils and thought at least she stopped running around in her underwear.
She looked up at him this time with the light from her miner’s flashlight on. It shone so brightly in his face so that he could only see her silhouette. “I will miss you David.” She spoke very softly and her voice sounded sadder than he expected. Then she ran off and was lost in the darkness of the building. He saw flashes of light as she and William ran up the dangerous stairs heedlessly till they reached the flat roof. David followed carefully until he caught up with them. They were staring off into the dark night, their lights turned off. He switched his off too and listened to the soft clash of the waves on the wooden legs of the pier and the rocks along the edge of the shore. The breeze felt cool on his skin and his hair blew back slightly as he faced the seaward side of the building. He observed the waves climbing up the beach in foamy playfulness and running away again with the sand, leaving furrows all along the edges. In the dim moonlight shining on the beach they could just make out the tiny crabs scampering up and down the beach, avoiding the waves and disappearing in their little holes. The friends communed in silence with nature and David felt as if their lives would never be the same again. The moment felt ripe with significance, the three of them against the world it seemed. He looked at the two and wondered what was in store for them. He felt like a helpless observer and he wanted to shout to her, to them both, to be careful and not to pursue their mad scheme. But he said nothing except: “Life’s a thing of beauty isn’t it?”
Cecilia glanced at him briefly and asked, “Is it?” then returned her gaze towards the sea.
Chapter 9: The Storm
After David left the island his heart felt a heavier burden to carry. It took all of his self control to stay away and he barely had anything to say to his aunt or the people she introduced him to. He wandered the streets of New York, where his aunt lived, in the evenings, sat on park benches by the water, and stared at the same moon and stars that she did. He thought for days and nights but no solution to his pain was presented. He had to go back, to be near her, to make sure she was safe, even if for someone else.
While David was gone Cecilia busied herself with plans for her and William’s expedition. Now there were no obstacles. She missed David more than she cared to admit but her monomania engulfed her. She dreamed of bigger things. Reality was not nearly enough for her fevered imagination. She drew William in with her enthusiasm for adventure. He needed much less prompting than David and eagerly joined her plans with a zeal of his own. He had the boat all ready; had such provisions as food, water, and rope and of course flashlights for any emergency. They got blankets from their respective homes, materials for patching holes, and a compass. The island was small enough they thought for a thorough search in just four or five hours, maybe even less. They had matches for a fire in case they got trapped on the island and a tent. They thought of everything, even a first aid kit for cuts and bruises, should there be any. Not least important of course were their reinforced sacks for carrying the gold they’d find.
Since David left on Friday, they decided to make their journey early Saturday morning and hopefully be done by nightfall. They met at dawn and rowed to the island, following the route prescribed by the fishermen on the island who often pass there on their way further out to sea. They informed the two friends of the best spot to anchor their boat. The little isle was on the northwest end of Mayaguana, where Pirate’s Well settlement was located. They headed out there alone on the calm sea, the morning sun just rising and warming the air. The birds were just waking, starting their lilting thrills and morning gossip. They could spot all kinds of colorful fish beneath the transparent water. One could see clear to the bottom of the sea in some spots. It seemed deceptively shallow. Cecilia was a strong swimmer after years on the island and had no fears of the ocean, other than sharks of course. Those things scared the living daylights out of her but luckily they weren’t much around the island. That sparsely populated place did not have tourist attractions like shark feeding to lure the fearful creatures near it as much.
They reached the isle in about twenty minutes and circled round to the spot where they were to anchor. Cecilia quivered with excitement and ran off the boat the second they were close enough for her to jump out.
“Wait up,” shouted William. He was just as excited to get started.
As he walked up to her she said, “I think we should go on one of those rocks to get a better perspective of potential hiding spots.”
“Sure, there doesn’t seem to be much more than rocks here though,” observed William as his eyes skimmed the desolate isle. No one had ever really explored it that they knew so they had no idea how large it was or how potentially dangerous.
“I say we simply circle the entire thing first and then check out the middle. It’s small enough that we can see each other in the distance so do you want to split up?”
“Okay, I’ll start on the left.” He smiled and winked at her confidently as he strode off in that direction.
She watched him go with interest, wondering why he appealed to her in such a different way than David.
After three hours of patiently pacing up and down the rocky shore, examining every nook and cranny, tirelessly watching for signs of a hidden vault or a big x to mark the spot or something, anything, out of place the two friends plopped down on the picnic blanket they brought and eagerly ingested much of the food they had brought with them.
“It’s getting cloudier,” Cecilia said as they lay down on their backs staring up at the now grayish day. “Looks like the storm may have changed direction.”
“Do you want to go back?”
“Do you?” Cecilia was not afraid of a little storm. She was still sure there was something to be found and knew that they might never have the desire, or the opportunity, to come back if nothing turned up this time. She wanted to leave no rock unturned, literally, if this was going to be her last chance.
“How about we give it another hour or two and if nothing turns up we go? I’m not such a good sailor that I can guarantee I can navigate us back home and this place doesn’t have any shelter to offer at all even if we wanted to wait it out here.”
This time they decided that two heads were better than one and maybe together they would stand a better chance of spotting a clue. After another hour of fruitless searching the tired duo sat on the rocks, filled with disappointment; Cecilia more so of course. She saw her dreams shatter in front of her and felt that David could have comforted her much better than William.
“Wow, I didn’t notice how much darker it is and it’s only 2 o’clock. The wind has picked up a lot. I think we should get going. I don’t like the looks of the water. It’s much too rough for our little boat.”
Cecilia looked up at the now dull, cold sky with the gathering clouds that portended a storm. She heard the rumble of thunder in the distance. The weather seemed a reflection of her own mood. She knew it was over now. Her dream was no more. They gathered their gear as quickly as possible and headed back to the boat. It seemed flimsy in the rough water. The rain started pouring heavily as they pulled off from the isle and headed in the direction the compass indicated. It was too dark to see far ahead of them. The change from the morning had been drastic. She had forgotten about the storm in her excitement and now it might be too late. Fear slowly gathered force within her and she watched William to see if he felt it too. They were being tossed helplessly in the strong current and did not seem to be making much progress towards the main island. William looked at her as the winds whipped their hair in their faces and the rain soaked their clothes. He tried to look brave for her and gave her another wink and smile, just as he did earlier in the day. She smiled back at him and thought of David. He calmed her. She saw the boat filling with water and knew they wouldn’t make it back. The motor flooded after a few minutes and conked out in the middle of the tumultuous sea. The boat was tossed high up the waves; she felt her heart stop as she realized it was going to capsize. “William!” Cecilia shrieked his name as she saw him fly off the boat into the sea as she herself fell in the opposite side.
She flailed about in the water, struggling to keep to the surface while it splashed in her nose and mouth. She gurgled as some went down her throat and still kept screaming his name. Memories began to assail her as she gasped for breath with the salt water stinging her eyes and the cold penetrating through her to her very bones. She never felt so cold before. She closed her eyes and the memories clouded her thoughts. She recalled the warmth of summer, of ten year old David, of lazy days by the beach searching for seashells and other treasures washed up on the shore. She could hear David laugh at her antics, recollected their adventures in the sea, and missed him terribly.
She opened her eyes and saw William’s hand poking out of the water a few feet away from where she was. Her hand reached out to him from the distance as he disappeared from her sight. Her arms and body were getting tired. She knew she was struggling in vain and wished she had been nicer to her parents and to David. She felt calm as she realized her death was fast approaching. She couldn’t live with the death of William on her conscience in any case. She thought of his parents and their sadness. She thought of her own sadness and remembered the last line of one of her favorite poems as she sank beneath the overpowering waves: ‘Till human voices wake us, and we drown’.
Chapter 10: Aftermath
A year later, the very next summer, David was finished with high school. He had come back to the island from New York a day too late. They never found her body or William’s. The two lost souls were mourned by the entire population; their death hung heavily in the air, even after a year. David became even more of a loner. He barely spoke and wandered off alone, searching for something, even he didn’t know what. He felt as if his heart was being squeezed by an iron grip; like he would suffocate from the pain.
He would have to leave for college in a week but felt too attached to the island, to memories of Cecilia. She had a place in every significant memory from his childhood, he didn’t know how to say goodbye to her; he still wasn’t ready. He decided to go to the isle. He had not gone after their deaths, no one had. Superstition played a major role in the minds of the islanders and no one ventured to that now cursed isle. He hoped that he would be able to find some closure there. His guilt at leaving her only increased as time passed.
It was close to noon when David stepped onto the rocky islet. He leisurely wandered up and down in an attempt to retrace her steps. Then something unusual happened. Maybe it was the sun, or the lack of food, or the extreme depression he was suffering under ever since her death but he saw something that day; something that his realistic nature strove to deny. He saw, or thought he saw, the ghostly form of Cecilia beckoning him to where she was, by a giant boulder at the northern end of the small isle. He closed his eyes and tried to appeal to his common sense. It must be a hallucination. When he opened his eyes she was still there, seeming to laugh at him in his hesitance. She was always laughing at him. He heard her giggle as she was wont to do, gesturing faster for him to follow her.
He slowly walked over to the rock. He climbed the precipice to where her figure was but as he got there she disappeared. He saw footsteps right where she was standing. Her bare toes left tiny little dots in the sand. The footsteps went to the edge of the rock. He peered over it and what he saw shocked his very foundation. He saw a sack in the corner of a ledge a few feet below the spot where her prints ended. The ledge had been formed by the waves eroding the side of the boulder. The sack was aged, looked as if it sat there, waiting to be found, for too many years to count. It was fastened onto the ledge by a rope, through a hole in the rock where the rope could be entwined. David stared in disbelief, not only of the fact of the reality of the treasure, but of the apparition that stared back up at him from the ledge.
She smiled at him. He remembered the first time she ever smiled at him. She was four years old. Her parents had just moved to the island and little irrepressible Cecee had wandered over to his yard while he was playing with his microscope, pretending to be a scientist. She thought that was a silly boring game and smiled at his lack of imagination. Then she ran away, leaving him dumbfounded and in love. He reached out to her again, as he did in childhood, but this time she faded away, disappearing into nothingness, leaving him empty and alone again, alone and rich. She proved to him she was right one last time. He smiled at the thought and knew he could leave now. He would take her memory wherever he went and live for her, for them both.
“beauty is the great seducer of men” (57)
“Well, why don’t you go to Mecca now?” asked the boy.
“Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That’s what helps me face these days that are all the same, these mute crystals on the shelves, and lunch and dinner at that same horrible cafe. I’m afraid that if my dreams are realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.” (55)