I speared fish while the aquatic lizards swam through the seaweed close by. The nameless French lad rested beneath the palm trees. I stopped spearing every so often to make sure he hadn’t moved. I did not want him to sneak up on me again. He barely spoke of the pain and discomfort that plagued him, but I could tell it was horrendous.
One of the seals swam close to me, barking. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sweet-faced animal.
“Oh, you want me to jump in, do you?”
She twirled about in the water, beckoning me with her black eyes.
I brought the fish back over to our campsite and got a fire started. The French boy stirred in his sleep as our meal cooked. The roly-poly creatures barked as they played on the shore for most of the day. I wondered why he never asked me about them.
While the fish cooked, I studied my tanned, skinny limbs. Our steady diet of fish and coconuts would be enough to sustain us for a few months. I couldn’t bring myself to kill any of the seals, nor could I kill the gentle giant lizards. Perhaps one of the squawking birds with blue feet would do for a meal. There were so many of them.
The French boy woke up and we ate together in silence.
“We have yet to introduce ourselves,” he blurted. “My name is Dash.”
“I’m Max. My mates used to call me Pup.”
“Looks like you’re a rat now,” he said with a smirk.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Sixteen. And you?”
“I’ll be fourteen in three months.”
One side of his mouth lifted. “So, you are thirteen.”
“Not for long.”
“You are a sailor, then? Not a midshipman?”
“I was too poor to afford a young gentleman’s title, but I was part of a great crew until….”
“The storm killed everyone except for us.”
I winced. “Yeah. Are you a midshipman?”
“I was, yes.”
I hugged my knees, allowing my mind to wander back to the days leading up to the fateful night. I recalled how frustrated with routine I had become. How I longed to be back aboard the HMS Wind, scrubbing floors and listening to the seamen’s tales every night.
“Perhaps if you were a midshipman, you would have killed me,” said Dash.
Dash leaned forward with a shrewd grin. “Do you want to know a secret?”
I sat up straight. “Yes.”
“If I were in your place right now, I would have killed me.”
A chill ran down my arms, defying the hot sun beating down on us. His brutal honesty piqued my interest.
“Why did you tell me this?”
“I just prefer that we be honest with each other.”
“I prefer it, too.”
“You trust too easily. Such is the predicament of puppies.”
“I wasn’t the youngest sailor on board,” I shot back. “I’m not as gullible as you think.”
Dash suddenly broke into laughter, but winced quickly after. I wondered what made people laugh at me in that way.
“Are you in pain?” I asked.
“The wound feels tender tonight. Perhaps I should sleep.”
He woke up before me the next day. As I sat up groggily, he was facing me. Though he didn’t have eyes, I could feel him staring at me. I could tell that he was trying to read me by using his other senses, and that made me uncomfortable.
“Were you a happy child before the war?” he asked suddenly.
“You know Englishmen. We’re jolly sorts.”
“How about you?”
“I was good at everything I did. Music, athletics, academics, charming people. I had it all before the war. I sought to further my reputation by becoming a Lieutenant by the age of eighteen. My vanity became my downfall. Now, no one will want me like this.”
“I don’t believe that. Your abilities don’t wither away just because you cannot see anymore. Look at Beethoven.”
“Deafness will never be as debilitating as blindness.”
His demeanor shriveled as he collapsed to the sand with a groan. “I’m done talking.”
He turned his back to me. So much beauty surrounded us and he would never be able to appreciate it. I longed to be able to paint a verbal picture of what I could see, but that would never do it justice. He would only hate me more if I tried to help him see the strange world that surrounded us.
I imagined what he was like back in France, living in a fine house with a good family, and socializing with proper society. I was certain that he was the envy of most boys and the desire of all the girls. I could see even with the injury that he was very handsome. He came from a world that I would never know or experience.
I closed my eyes, hoping for fatigue to sweep me away from reality, but it never came. Instead, I lay staring at the starry sky. With a sigh, I stood up and ventured over to the water. The seals huddled together in large groups on the shore. I moved quietly so as not to disturb them and then sat on a boulder. I marveled at the moon’s reflection on the calm waters. I wondered if being at the end of the world was a gift rather than a curse.
Dash sat by the shore the next day throwing rocks into the turquoise sea while I caught crabs.
“Watch it. You don’t want to hit one of those poor creatures on the head with those rocks.”
He stopped. “What are you talking about?”
“I have yet to tell you about them,” I said.
“Do you hear those gulls?”
“Their feet and beaks are a brighter blue than the sea.”
“Yes, but I find the sea dogs far more fascinating.”
“Sea dogs? You limey.”
“Oh, you don’t believe me? Let me show you.”
I made a kissing sound with my lips and caught the attention of a playful one close by. It waddled over, barking.
“That’s right. Come closer. Introduce yourself to Dash.”
Dash stood next to me tensely. “They are seals, are they not?”
“Yes, but try not to ruin the fantasy. I have never seen a seal up close like this. They are as exotic to me as to anyone who’s never seen one before.”
“I thought that I heard barking, but I thought it was just the gulls.”
I laughed. “Stretch your hand out. Don’t worry, she’s gentle. They’re rather playful things.”
He knelt in the sand and stretched out his hand. The sea dog’s nose touched his hand. “That does feel like a dog’s snout … a wet one that is.”
He gently patted her smooth head, bringing it back down to her snout, feeling her whiskers.
“This is the oddest thing. She is like a dog.”
“She has flippers and waddles about. It’s adorable, really.”
She nosed his legs and he chuckled. “They seem like sweet creatures, but they smell like fish.”
“It looks like they don’t have any major predators on land, not that we’ve seen yet. That must be why they have no reason to be suspicious of us.”
“Are they fat? I hear them waddling.”
“They look that way on land, yes, but they’re rather elegant when they swim in the water. The giant lizards swim, too.”
Dash made a face. “Giant reptiles? How revolting.”
“They’re harmless. I thought I was dreaming when I first saw them. They sun on the rocks and then dive in, swimming like fish.”
Dash drew back. “I’d rather not touch a lizard.”
“They don’t seem to bite.”
“Well, they’re all a sight I will never see.”
“Can you imagine them in your mind?”
“I’d rather not.”
“I understand. I could use some help with our food gathering.”
Dash’s jaw clenched. “You mock me?”
“You are not an invalid. At least, you don’t have to be.”
He shook his head, turning away. “Tell me how you acquired so much knowledge on the matter.”
“I used to read a lot of books. Stolen books, that is.”
“You really are a rat.”
“I was poor and curious.”
He reached my side and I handed him a sharpened rock. “I’m trusting you with this.”
He grasped onto it. I kept my distance, watching how he reacted to the new weapon in his hands. His finger traced the blunt edges.
“I use that blade to carve out coconut meat. I thought you might like to try it.”
“Have you climbed trees before?”
“Of course I’ve climbed trees.”
“Well, I wasn’t sure how often you rich French kids spent your time outdoors.”
I stopped at the base of a fruit bearing tree. Dash outstretched his hand to touch the trunk.
“Try climbing it,” I said.
“How far up are the coconuts?”
“They’re a ways up, but I can tell you before you hit your head on one.”
He looked up as though he could somehow size up the tree. He put the stone in his pocket and straddled the trunk. He climbed it with more ease than me. If he could regain some confidence in his abilities, his melancholy would waver, or so I hoped. He stopped when his head bumped into a branch.
“You said you would warn me, you cheeky bastard!”
“I didn’t think you would climb up so fast!”
He reached up and when his hand hit a coconut, he knocked it down. He repeated the action with a few more and then climbed back down. He felt the ground with his feet and picked up the fallen fruit.
“Are you just going to stand there watching me?” he asked.
His sharp tone jarred me. It was only then that I realized I was gawking at him like an idiot. I smacked my forehead and helped him gather up the coconuts.
“We’ll smash them on the rocks by the shore, and carve out the meat,” I said.
When we reached the shore again, I wedged the fruit in the rocks.
“It’s a very sophisticated process of dropping a huge rock on them until they crack.”
I went to work crushing the husks with the rocks until they broke open.
“Now that the outer shell is removed, we can slice them along the natural line. You can feel the line with your finger. Like this.”
I guided his hand to the right place of the coconut. He tensed; I backed away. He said nothing as he sliced the shells and scraped the meat out. Once we were finished cleaning out the shells, we relaxed and chewed our food slowly. When one had all the time in the world, he never rushed his meals. I wondered what went through his mind as we sat there in silence.
He barely spoke to me as we wandered further down the island, but his balance and agility improved. He refused my help when we reached a rock bed.
“I envision a path as I follow the sound of your footsteps.”
“Your senses are strong.”
“Either that, or I’m going mad.”
I fashioned a walking stick out of a thick branch so he could use it on our treks.
“You are a noble idiot,” he said, shaking his head, but accepting the aid.
We avoided the forests and walked across the desolate rock bed. With few obstructions, it was easy for him to walk on his own.
When the next week came, Dash’s hearing and sense of smell sharpened considerably. He no longer needed my help finding the coconuts or starting fires. He was less disagreeable, which made the days easier for both of us. As we sat on a boulder eating cooked fish and listening to the waves, a flock of gulls landed close by. The scent of cooking meat must have been too much for them, for they cried. While they were both amusing and beautiful, their chirping was grating at times.
“Cheeky beggars,” I said with a laugh.
“What?” snapped Dash.
“The gulls with the blue feet.”
“I’ve wondered how they would taste. Their squawking is annoying.”
One inched close to me, eyeing the last morsel of fish I held. Neither of us had the heart to kill them at the end of the day, so we maintained a steady diet of fish, crabs, and coconuts as we explored the island.
Though we hadn’t been apart since the first day I laid eyes on him, I was lonely. The beautiful sights I beheld could not be shared with him. Though his mood improved and he was able to get around on his own easier, there was a great wall between us.
Our routine changed one drizzly morning. We rose in haste and gathered up the empty coconut shells to collect the rain water. We drank well that day with extra water to spare. Refreshed from the slightly cooler temperature, Dash announced a capital idea.
“We ought to venture along the shoreline to the end of the island.”
“We have no idea how big this place really is,” I said.
“There might even be predators on the other side,” he said in mock cheerfulness.
I rolled my eyes. “We’ll turn back mid-day if we don’t reach the other end by then.”
We packed a generous supply of food and coconut shells filled with water. Dash followed me at a distance as we travelled further. I went slow over the rocks, looking over my shoulder every few minutes to make sure that he was getting on well. He proved his brawn, maintaining his balance most of the time. Once he became comfortable with the darkness, he would no longer need me.
He might even try to kill me again.
Something caught my eye in the distance. I froze to inspect the view below, but it was too foggy to see it properly.
“Hey, sea rat!” called Dash. “Why did you stop?”
I strained to see through the fog, willing for the sun to break through the clouds and kill it. My pulse spiked as Dash stopped next to me.
“Your breathing is different. What do you see?”
“I think I saw a ship.”
“Ah, now we wait to see which one of us will be the prisoner. Oh, either way, I’ll never be truly free. Everything will look the same no matter where I am.”
His lips formed a grim line.
“You don’t want to go home?”
“Not like this.”
“You will be regarded as a war hero.”
Dash shook his head and shrugged. “Even if that were true, war stories age. The novelty will fade after a few years, if not sooner. I will be a simple invalid wilting away in his family’s oversized house.”
“I don’t see why it has to be that way.”
“You really have no idea. Life isn’t like the stories in those books you stole.”
I exhaled loudly.
“I’ll take a better look up on the rise to see if I can get a better view of the ship,” I muttered.
“That’s my cue to stay here.”
“It would be better if you did.”
For once, he didn’t have a biting retort. He kept quiet as I made my way up the rise.