The mists wavered under the hot sun when it broke through the clouds. I stopped to scan the sea again once I reached the top of the large hill. There was no sign of any vessel. I sighed in relief. As much as I did not want to live out the rest of my life on the island, I was not ready to leave it yet. Being away from the war made me see it for what it was. One battle was enough for me.
I climbed back down feeling lighter than I had earlier that day.
“Any sign of the ship?” called Dash.
“I must be seeing things. There’s nothing out there.”
He crossed his arms.
“Seeing things that are not there could be considered a sort of blindness.”
We stopped and rested for the night. Dash started a fire while I dug out coconut meat for both of us. When we were finished eating, I watched as the stars appearing in the sky.
Dash cleared his throat.
“I loved music,” he said. “Listening to it, playing it, writing it. That’s what makes this place feel so empty.”
“Tell me about it,” I muttered.
He really did hate my company.
“Nothing. I’ve always liked music, too, but my tastes wouldn’t be as refined as yours. Did you go to the opera often back home?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. I hosted dinner parties with my older sister. All our closest friends played music like us. I was in the middle of composing my own song before I left to serve Napoleon.”
“It will be there when you return. You can finish it one day.”
“That was a different life. I’m someone else now. The world isn’t what it used to be.”
He was right in a sense, but I still wanted to believe that one could make his own life what he wanted it to be, with some hard work. I imagined Dash bent over a desk, writing out to the notes to a song back home. I never had the opportunity to attend fancy recitals or the opera, but I loved music just as much. Distant memories of my father playing his fiddle after dinner returned to me. I closed my eyes and listened to a lively tune echo in my mind.
“My Ma and I were dirt poor after my Papa passed away, but she always found a way to bring me to festivals in town. I’d get lost in the ballads as I sat there listening to the musicians play.”
“Country fairs have their charm,” said Dash.
That was almost kind.
“I cannot think of freer days than those spent with my mother on warm summer nights. Sitting and listening to the musicians play their instruments under the starry sky. We were rich in those moments.”
“I’m imagining the two of you among the peasants strumming their stringed instruments. It must have been a quaint setting.”
A restless bird’s chirping in the trees brought me back to the present. I turned my head to glance at Dash. He was facing me.
“It would be something to hear you play the piano,” I said.
“I would be the freak show of France.”
I winced, unable to find the right words to say in response. I did my best to understand how he felt after losing his eyesight forever. I could only imagine. Perhaps I needed to stop pushing him to accept his new world so quickly.
“Do you think we’ll ever get out of here?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
We had enough food sources, but our main concern was water. The coconut supply wouldn’t last forever at the rate that we consumed them. Once they ran out, we would have to rely on collecting dew from plants, and water from the odd rainfall. Dying of thirst would be a concern if we were still on the island in a few months.
“You seem so optimistic for one so poor. No offence, of course. It just puzzles me.”
“When you’re poor, the only thing that keeps you going some days is hope. I want to believe that the world still has much to offer me.”
“It feels like the world as we knew it has already ended. Even if I hadn’t been blinded from the fire, I’m not sure what exactly we’ll be coming home to.”
I stifled a shudder.
“I’ve sometimes thought the same.”
“You don’t seem to think negative thoughts.”
“I have to fight them with all that is in me, Dash. If I don’t, I’d never be able to rise above them. I don’t have a refuge that I can go to when this is all over. The person I can depend on is myself.”
The lapse in our conversation gave rise to my racing thoughts. As he fell asleep, isolation sunk into my bones. The sea was so calm that I could hear his steady breathing above the waves. He always fell asleep first, leaving me alone.
The fog that lingered on the highlands lifted the next afternoon, revealing the mountain tops in their full glory. I refrained from voicing their beauty to Dash, opting to drink in their sight silently.
“I wonder if those mountains are actually volcanoes,” I said.
“We could find out. Maybe God will finish the job and burn the rest of me.”
The hint of a smirk brought his stone face to life for a second. Shaking my head, I refused to acknowledge the dire statement.
“You’re not one for sarcasm, are you?”
“I don’t see the point.”
“I know, and it’s dull.”
“It will be quite a hike to the top of that mountain,” I said, changing the subject in annoyance.
“You don’t have anywhere else that you need to be, do you?” he asked dryly.
I stared at the summit of the tallest rise.
“Do you think we’d be the first people to climb it?” I asked.
“I doubt the whalers and pirates who used this island for supplies ever bothered to dabble in mountaineering.”
I laughed, but he remained serious.
“We’ll take a bunch of coconuts to stay hydrated for the trip. Maybe we will find a hidden freshwater lake up there.”
“One can dream.”
We gathered our supplies in the sack that we crafted from dried vines. I went to take it from him, but he pulled it away.
“I’m stronger than you, sea rat. I felt how spindly you are when I nearly killed you.”
“How thoughtful if you,” I muttered.
He chuckled. It was grating how he only found humour when it was at my expense.
As we started up the rise, I felt a new wave of invigoration. We walked for nearly two hours before we started to hike up a steady incline. The world appeared smaller as we continued to climb. I cast a gaze upon the shining sea, admiring how the light blue shoreline blended gradually into the deeper waters of the ocean.
“Is the view beautiful?” he asked behind me. “It must be. You’ve stopped for a good ten seconds now.”
“Yes,” I breathed. “The sea looks majestic from up here. There are also other smaller islands close by. I’m looking at them now. A painter ought to capture this.”
“I am trying to picture it.”
“I really wish you could see it, Dash.”
He cleared his throat.
“Well now, aren’t we regular mountain explorers?”
The solemn tone of his voice crushed my momentary euphoria. I looked back to the path ahead.
“Let’s keep going,” I muttered.
As we rose in altitude, the air grew hotter. My heart pounded against my ribcage as sweat drenched my clothes.
“This must be a volcano!” I exclaimed.
I looked back at Dash. He took off his shirt and wrapped it around his head. His lean, tanned torso glistened with sweat.
“What are you looking at?” he asked.
“I just had to stop to catch my breath. We’re nearly at the top.”
Rolling my eyes, I turned my back on him and kept going until we reached the summit. I made my way up to the volcano’s edge and gaped at the wide crater. It was a magnificent view, yet my enjoyment of it was hindered.
“Well, do you see lava?” asked Dash. “It’s hot as hell up here. Do you think it might erupt on us?”
“You need to drink more coconut milk. You’re sweating buckets.”
He brushed me away.
“In a moment. Tell me what you see!”
“It’s just a huge crater. The lava must be flowing underground somewhere. It is shaped like a huge shield. I can’t imagine that there’s anything else like this in the world.”
“Lucky you to see such a sight.”
“Could you try to imagine it?”
“I see things, but I cannot imagine them.”
“What do you mean? What do you see?”
“I see things every day, sea rat. They come to me without notice to interrupt the darkness. They’re ghost images. They prevent me from imagining things on my own.”
“Do you see good things?”
“Are you seeing these images now?”
Despite the hot air, a chill rushed down my spine.
“You ought to focus on the view. You are luckier than many men.”
I sighed. “I know.”
We stood in silence at the crater’s edge. I stared out at the large crater, while he stared at his illusions. I would have given anything for him to see what I was seeing. I longed to know what it was he could see, but I dared not ask him again.
It was then that I saw it – the tall ship gliding on the swift currents. A waving blue, white, and red flag announced its nationality.
“Oh my God.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a French ship.”
“God help me,” said Dash.
I frowned at him.
“You can go home. You are free.”
He shook his head, pulling me away from the edge.
“Get down. Don’t let them see you,” he hissed. “Let’s go.”
“I don’t understand.”
He gripped the collar of my shirt.
“I’m a criminal, Max.”
He let go of me and turned away. Angry scars marred the olive skin on his back.
I gasped. He hung his head.
“I stole food from the ship’s storage when our rations were reduced. They caught me. Even my good name couldn’t save me from the crime.”
He faced me again.
“It doesn’t hurt. Not anymore.”
I threw my arms in the air.
“How did you survive that storm?”
“They locked me up after giving me twelve lashes. One of the sailors was kind enough to let me out before the ship sank in the storm.”
He laughed hollowly.
“The devil must be on my side.”
He shook his head and started back the way we came. I followed him, watching as his feet neared the edge of the crater, but he maintained both his balance and his determined pace. Once we were at sea level, we made our way into a forest of short, gnarly trees. We stopped once we were in the thick of the forest.
We faced one another, panting.
“Being blinded is punishment enough. There is no going back now. I will die here.”
“No, Dash. Let’s think this through.”
My stormy mind formed a tornado of raging thoughts. I had no words to give him, but there had to be a solution.
“Let’s just focus on dodging them for now,” I said. “They shouldn’t be here for long. I doubt they saw us, and if they did, it’s highly unlikely they’d search for us out here.”
“You’re probably right.”
We both leaned against a tree. Hunger ate away at my stomach. I wondered how much of our coconuts and crabs they would eat.
“I hear your stomach growling, but we won’t starve overnight.”
“Maybe not, but we will if they stay here for too long and take all of our food.”
“We’ll find another food source. Get some sleep.”
He nodded off, leaving me alone with my hunger and maddening thoughts. With the French occupying the shoreline, we would not have access to fish or coconuts for several days. I was sure that we would find food in the forest, but God only knew how long it might take.
The next morning, I awoke before Dash. I rose and searched for fruit bearing plants, enjoying the shade that was provided by the trees. My dry throat reminded me that time was not on my side. I awoke so late in the morning that the dew was already evaporated. I longed for rain to arrive and bring life to the arid air. A flash of orange teased my peripheral vision. I ventured closer, realizing in amazement that they were tomatoes. I leaped in the air with an uncontrollable cry of joy, startling several birds into flight. I gathered as many of the small fruits as I could and carried them back to Dash.
As I approached him, he awoke with a moan and stretched.
“Where were you?” he asked groggily.
“I got us breakfast.”
He sat up straight.
“Tomatoes, of all things.”
“Wonders never cease.”
He took some from me and then we bit into the juicy fruit. We sucked the juice out, which relieved our parched throats. We fell back asleep when we were finished, waking again late in the afternoon.
“It’s just as well we do nothing until they’re gone,” said Dash.
“What about when a British ship arrives?”
“I don’t know.”
“What if there is no record of your crime, now that your ship has sunk? Your reputation and rank would guarantee your safe transport.”
“I already told you that I cannot go home like this.”
I sat up and stared at him intently.
“You are a brave officer who risked life and limb for your country. Anyone worth their salt would see that you are a war hero.”
“My resolve broke the moment that I felt a pang of hunger. I’m no hero.”
“I wish you could see what I see.”
He leaned forward.
“And who do you see?”
I stuttered. I had so many feelings on the matter, but I could not piece them into words for the life of me. I felt my face become beat red.
He leaned back against his post with a smirk.
“So, you have nothing to say.”
Then he stood and walked away.
“Where are you going?” I called.
I followed him, but at a distance. I felt ridiculous thinking that our plight was some sort of an adventure. I could hear it in his voice. He wanted to die. I found him leaning against another oddly shaped tree. He was breathing rapidly.
“I want to help you,” I said.
“We will be enemies once we leave this island. Your childish optimism only makes me want to die more.”
His biting words made me take a step backward.
“Oh, I see. At least you’ve finally told me how you really feel.”
“Was it not already obvious?”
I balled my fists to quench my rising anger.
“I don’t care what you think of me, Dash. I still don’t want you to give up on your life.”
He turned his back on me.
“You’re a sentimental fool.”
“Maybe I am. Regardless of what you think about me and my country, you are alive. You ought to be grateful for the privilege that was denied to so many who served with you!”
“Do you want me to gouge your eyes out?” he snarled.
He quickly turned around, grabbing at the air, reaching for me. I turned to retreat, but he caught hold of my shirt and pulled me backward.
“No!” I cried.
He grasped me by the arms and tossed me into a tree like I was nothing more than a sack of potatoes. The hard impact knocked the wind from my lungs. I cowered on the ground as he stood over me. I tried to breathe while bracing myself against another attack.
“Get away from me before I kill you.”
“Wh-why?” I wheezed.
I crawled away, groaning as my lungs burned. As I took in a full gasp of air, he kicked me hard in the ribs. My face hit the dirt hard. I pushed myself off the ground with a groan and ran.
“Run!” he shouted.
Do you want to read the whole story? Check it out on Amazon!
You can definitely see the relationship between your characters, great piece of writing.
Thank you so much for reading. 😊❤️
I loved this book. Thank you for writing it.
And thank you for reading it. 😊🖤🤩