The story begins in Part One
With the ship moored in a quiet bay, we made way on to the fabled island. Standing on golden shores, we saw lush vegetation before us, forming an impenetrable wall of green. For a moment, all of us silently overcome with joy at finally standing on this famously illusive land – myth now a reality. After all my years, I found it! The legendary treasure – so close to being ours, penance to my crew, and fame for myself. I could feel it drawing me closer, calling me deeper in to the island.
With haste, I sent scouts down the beach, searching for a way through the forest. Surely there must be some animal paths we can use, or some landmark to orient ourselves to the map. I started to feel slightly uneasy, a feeling of dread slowly creeping up on me. I could have sworn I saw the forest wall grow and loom above me, I could feel the plants watching us. I was about to call for a return to the ship, when a scout came running up the beach – he had found a path, and it wound its way to a lake full of fresh water. The crew cheered, and with a shrug, I cast off the premonition of doom that had all but engulfed me earlier. The sun was out, the sea was calm, and we had found some path. Our adventure could begin.
Some of the crew were left to make camp where we came ashore while a few good men and I followed the scout down the beach. It was still early in the day, and I anticipated no more than half a days walk to find a more suitable landmark for us to begin out treasure hunt.
The entrance to the path was further down the beach than I thought. We could no longer see our ship, nor the camp. Again, a feeling of unease came over me, but I continued forwards. A crew looks to their captain, and if the captain is brave, the crew even more so. The path was narrower than I expected, forcing us into single file, and the uneven ground made our going even slower. It was as if the forest was testing our resolve. Gloom and silence fell over us as we ventured deeper, roots and holes forced us to keep our eyes on the ground. Not a bird call was heard, and even the sound of the waves could not penetrate the forest. Still we ventured onwards. We needed fresh water to make the journey home, or there would certainly be a mutiny, so this lake would be a blessing in disguise.
We come over a small rise, and could hear the gushing water. Renewed, we quickened our pace, the crew’s spirits quickly lifted with the promise of a drink. And there is was – a lake of shimmering beauty, nestled in a hallow of thick green forest. A cheer went up! We hurried as fast as the ground would allow, and by the time we got to the lake itself, half the crew had lost all their clothes. Suddenly the air was filled with laughter as we jumped into the water, splashing and drinking deeply. I had never tasted such sweet water before, and drank and drank.
Afternoon came swiftly, and I cannot tell you for how long we were there, nor how much we drank. Leaving the water and giving the call to return to camp, yet again, I felt odd. Not the dread, or the unease of before. The feeling of the very forest – reaching out to me. Out the corner of my eye, I saw movement. When I looked again, I only saw a path. This one looked wider, less oppressive – more man shaped than the previous one. As I stared at it, certain it was not there before, the scout appeared at my side.
In a hushed whisper he said “Capt’n, I can’t find the path. I marked it special for us. Now its gone.”
Thinking him a fool, I gestured towards the path I had noticed. “It was that one man! Now get you’r selves together. We leave now!”
We started down the path, the crew growing more and more silent. Dread rose over us with each step forward. Somehow we all knew that this was not the right path, yet no one dared speak it. The forest gloom grew ever more heavy. A fog came over my thoughts, and my feet marched on their own volition. I could sense the forest as it opened more path in front of us, I could feel the plants reaching out, branches trying to touch me. I could see the vines growing and moving towards me, yet still I lead my crew further into the forest. My will to turn and run fading away with each step. This was the will of the forest, and the forest was guiding us. Towards what end, I did not know.
With the sun dipping below the horizon, and dusk setting in we found ourselves in a clearing. Strange fruit lined the sides. The fragrance reminded our bellies of our missed meals. Still in a haze, we started to feast. Grabbing any and all fruit within reach, we gorged ourselves. Succulent, sticky, sweet – we ate it all. And we didn’t stop eating.
Slowly the quiet lifted off of us, and we started laughing. First at nothing, and then at the fruit. We laughed at the forest, we laughed at each other. The clearing was filled with out laughter, yet we could not stop. Jellyfish decended from the high branches of the trees to swim amongst us, bright purple and pink. Acquaintances of old joined us as we danced, including the old man who sold me the map. Fruit fell off the trees and blossomed into majestic trees in seconds – all different colors. We were happy. We had found heaven.
We danced, as if high born gentleman, waltzing around the clearing. My old crew, those lost to my bravado, joined in, dancing with us with smiles and laughter. When the music stopped for a brief respite, I bowed to my partner – my long dead father and when I arose I saw not his face, but another one. A familiar face, almost like my own. Wilder than I expected. This face wasn’t grinning back at me.
In an instant, I was snapped from the spell. The face before me was not like my own, but a wildman’s. And with him were others, all in the same dress, all with skulls hanging around their waists. Flailing around, I could see the scout lay on the floor, his face frozen in a grin, his eyes unblinking, while a group of these wildmen cut open his chest and removed his still beating heart. Two more crewmen lay in a puddle of their own blood, missing their heads and having their flesh feasted on. The others all lay about, scattered in the clearing. Some were laughing, some were crying, some were staring into the sky.
With a scream, I tore off down a path. My scream enough to wake most from their stupor. More screams as more awakened to the horrors around them, and even more primal screams as a few were cut down by the wildmen. Still I continued, running in which ever direction the forest chose for me to go.
Eventually, I broke through a patch of dense bush, and emerged onto the beach. Looking around, I saw other crew mates do the same. Some had gotten away, some had survived. Yet behind me I could hear them coming. I raced up the beach – hoping I was making my way to camp, hoping they hadn’t gotten to the remaining crew before us.
Running up the camp, I saw the rest of the crew with looks of horror on their faces.
“Make haste for the ship!” I yelled as I continued to run to the bay where the ship was moored.
Behind me another scream as a someone is brought down. Now the wildmen began throwing spears at us, and yelling in an alien tongue, trying to ensure no one escapes.
I reached the rowboat and started readying it, more crew arriving with each second, until we pull away from the shore with a boat full of terrified men.
“Capt’n” one stutters from the back “you were gone for 3 days!”
“Shut up and row, or we’ll be dead!” I yell back, huffing with the effort of having run on beach sand and now with rowing. Behind I see the remaining crew run into the water and begin to swim towards the ship. Not long after, they stop their trashing and the water turns to pink around them.
We reached the ship and I call to raise anchor and lower sails immediately. All thoughts of treasure and fame not even a memory. As the ship began to move, I looked back to see even more wildmen appearing from the forest to collect the fallen crew from the sea. The ship picks up speed, carried by the wind and the waves, yet I still stared at the beach. Entranced. Cresting a wave, I refocused my gaze, and yet all I saw was barren sea. No sign of an island anywhere.
I reached into my jacket pocket, and pulled out the map. Its scribbles and directions now indecipherable to me. As I tried to make out anything on the map, the ship crashed down onto the water and the map was ripped from my hands, fluttering up into the air behind us.
The journey home is a sullen, yet short, one. Two thirds of the crew didn’t make it off the island, making our ship wrangling even harder. After a few days, we arrived back at port. Not a word was spoken, yet we all went our own ways. I sold the ship, vowing never to return to the sea again.
Of the crew who drank from the lake, and ate the fruit, I am the last one. Everyone else didn’t get to the ship, and were left to die on that accursed land.
And that is something that has haunted me for over a hundred years. Yet I do not age a day, and every day, I can feel the island calling to me, beckoning me back home.
Thanks for reading!
My main inspiration for this story was The Privateer’s The Goldsteen Lay album, which you can listen to below.
Please let me know what you thought of it!