Archipelago

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
Shipwrecked on a hostile island, Holly Alexander must fight for her life. Her twin sister and fiance are on a desperate quest to find her despite being told their search is futile. Based on real world North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal, this edge of your seat thriller will take you on an adventure to a foreign land that is isolated and forbidden.

Submitted: June 11, 2019

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Submitted: June 11, 2019

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ARCHIPELAGO

By: Tammy Jorgensen Smith

Chapter 1: Wreckage

Coal black eyes lock upon me as I peer through the low-lying branches of the mangroves that have sheltered me for an unknown period of time. My best guess is that I have been here for two, maybe three days. I have been drifting in and out of consciousness, so I cannot be sure.

A thin trail of blood, snaking through the sand to the lapping waves, gives my position away. My wounds scream from the saltwater wash. My lips are cracked and swollen. Small droplets of water sucked from the shoots of Nipa palms within arm’s reach have done little to satisfy my thirst. My head throbs.

The eyes gazing upon me are not angry or mean, rather curious and fearful. I open my mouth to speak, but no sound escapes. Words cannot form with no moisture and my thickening tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. Even if I could burble a few words, she would not understand them. This minor attempt to acknowledge the girl alarms her enough to send her scampering onto a path that leads directly into the brush and deep into the jungle. Back to the others who will surely come.

I try, with all my might, to get to my feet – or even my knees, to move to a safer hiding place. My efforts are met with sharp, gnarly pain that rockets through my body like an explosion. I wriggle to test a new angle but, this time, the agony is so intense that I slip back to unconsciousness.

 

Memories of the horrific night unfold as I dream. The opening scene is picturesque; the ocean, ablaze with the setting sun. The wind is thick and briny yet cools my exposed skin. The only sounds are those of the salt water lapping on the boat and the murmuring of the crew in the cuddy below.

Footsteps thump in my direction, scuttling to the upper deck of the Mary Katherine. I do not have to turn to look to know that they belong to Captain Jack Ortun. This is his boat; named for his daughter, Katie, as she was called when she was a tot. Now, she’s grown and married to a banker who swept her from the shores of Rehoboth to the bustling life of the big city.

I inhale a long breath of salty air as I rise to meet my company.

“Beautiful evening”, he says as he zips his windbreaker and bites down on the nub of a cigar.

“I’ve always been amazed by how different the sky can look with each sunset”, I reply. “Tonight, it’s so red – like I’m staring into a fire.”

“Yeah, but the clouds are rolling in and my bet is we’ll be getting a nasty storm within the hour. I better batten down the hatches, as they say”, he spouts with a distracted grin. “Left you some supper downstairs; black beans and rice with some left-over pork. Flavors just right second time around” he says with a quick wink.

“Thanks”, I reply and pat his shoulder as I duck around him toward the stairs.

The voices grow louder as I descend into the boat’s cuddy. Cruz and Kai are snickering over a tale that they must deem unsuited for my ears because they stifle their laughs as they hear me approach. 

“What’s up, Toots?” Cruz asks.

This is one of many nicknames he has for me; along with Hon, Baby cakes, Sweet pants, Tootsie, and Buttercup. I don’t think he has called me Holly once since we met; he probably doesn’t even remember my actual name.

“Jack said dinner is ready”, I reply.

In my excitement, I had missed lunch and I rarely eat breakfast. Now, my stomach rumbles and, at the same time, feels uneasy; likely a pairing of the rocking boat from the roughening ocean and a late day reminder of last night’s celebration.

“Yep”, he replies and nods toward the stove.

As I brush past him, I can smell the whiskey on his breath mixed with the stench of cigarette smoke wafting from his burnt orange and blue, flannel shirt that is sorely in need of a wash.

During our brief acquaintance, I have learned that “Cruz” is a self-selected moniker. His given name is Carl – Carl Hawkins. He’s a rough and tumble guy in his mid-twenties. His acne scarred cheeks are partially obscured by stringy, dishwater blonde hair that hangs just above his shoulders. Last night, at Shakey’s, he wore a denim vest over a tank top with a pair of well-worn jeans and a belt buckle that displayed his southern pride. His muscular, tanned arms are one of his few assets; those and his bright blue eyes. At around 5’9, he is only an inch taller than me, but he outweighs me by at least 80 pounds – all of it pure muscle. “One of the benefits of working in a boatyard since I was a kid”, he said as he displayed his guns to the five of us who gathered around the wobbly, round table with ‘Jess was here’ etched into the wood.

 “Got the nickname, Cruz, back home”, he stated. “S’from when we used to cruise up and down the main drag in search of a good time”, he continued. With his chair tipped back on two legs, his eyes stared at nothing on the ceiling while he reminisced about the ‘good ole days’ back in his hometown of Valdosta – right on the Florida-Georgia line. When he and his buddy Scooter weren’t cruising for ‘parties and chics’, they were at the river, drinking cans of Milwaukee’s Best from the same cooler they stored their catfish and mullet in.

“Never liked the name Carl. Reminds me too much of my old man and he was a no good mofucker” he said as he threw back a shot of cheap whiskey after which he pulled his lips back from his teeth and exhaled a big “Aaerrwah” as he did after ever shot he drank, and there were many.

 

The boat rocks with the surging waves and I am brought back to the present moment. As I reach for a bowl in the small cabinet above the compact two burner stove, my shirt rides up a few inches and I feel the cool air rush across my midriff.

“Whoowee”, Cruz exclaims. “Lookin’ good Toots. That fiancé’ of yours is one lucky fella”.

I instinctively tug on my shirt, crossing my arms over my chest and midriff in a reflexive display of modesty.

It is obvious that Kai is trying to divert the conversation when he pipes up. “Seems a big storm is rolling in”.

“No shit, Dipwad”, mocks Cruz.

Kai, newly 18, has just joined Captain Jack’s charter business, but he is not new to tuna fishing. With a commercial fishing ban throughout the archipelago, the tuna grows to massive sizes making it more than just a casual sport to reel them in.

Last night, Jack and Cruz had taken Kai to Shakey’s to break him in; to the team and to drinking now that he is legal.

The years of fishing and working in laborious jobs were evident when Kai showed up shirtless at the docks this afternoon. Every rippled muscle was prominent on his lean body that seems to be wrestling between boyhood and manhood.

The effects of last night’s escapades were apparent as Kai stopped midway up the dock to dry heave over the railing. He wiped at his mouth as he approached; lifting his other hand to give a quick wave to the group gathered beside the Mary Katherine.

“Hiya, Kai”, said Jack as the boy approached. “Grab that line and climb aboard”.

Kai obeyed his Captain and brushed by us without a word. I think I’ve heard him say two or three sentences since I met him, and most of them were spoken with a thick slur fueled by the four tequila shots Cruz prodded him to down. Even now, his words are a bit out of focus due to a mighty hangover and its remedy. ‘Hair of the dog’, as Cruz put it.

“Feeling better, bud?” Cruz asked Kai.

“Little bit” Kai replied in an almost inaudible voice. He swept his long, dark surfer bangs across his forehead revealing a handsome face. He didn’t seem to notice his own good looks and blushed a bit when I mentioned, last night in my own alcohol brume, that he probably has girls falling over each other for him.

 

My thoughts revert to our initial meeting. My colleague, Sara, and I arrive at the dusky, yet tropical wooden cottage known as Shakey’s. There aren’t many places for entertainment in Port Blair. We come here most Friday’s for the hot wings, cold beer and live music.

We grab seats at a table next to the band. It’s the same one every week, but they’re not bad and they mix in a few funky originals to break up the covers. I guess you’d call them a pop rock band.

We’ve gotten to know the band members over the past three months. Rick is the lead singer. He plays guitar and a variety of other accompaniments including tambourine and harmonica. Brian plays bass guitar and sings lead on a few songs. He also sings backup vocals for Rick.  The two other band members, Marty and Dajun, have very different voices and ranges, yet harmonize surprisingly well. Marty is on keyboards. Dajun, who’s a local, plays the drums. He also plays steel drums here on Sunday afternoons. Shakey’s takes on a whole new demeanor during the daytime. The side of the building that faces the bay is wide open and the melodic sounds of Dajun’s steel drums fill the one-room building and surrounding outdoor deck. Balmy breezes cool the air as tourists and locals come together to sip fruity rum drinks and sing along to catchy tunes. The white sandy beach fills with families and children building sandcastles and enjoying the turquoise water.

On occasion, usually after a few drinks, I’ll join the band for a song or two. Back home, I dabbled in music with Hannah. Even though we’re identical twins, she is much more musically talented. She plays in a local band a few nights a week to make ends meet. I was in the band, at first, but decided to focus my attention on my studies.

It is my studies that brought me here, to the Andaman Islands. Hannah and I had started out in nursing school, following the path of our parents. Hannah stuck it out and became a registered nurse. I changed majors in the third year, to pursue my love of different cultures. I am currently in my last year of a doctoral program in Anthropology at Cornell. Sara and I are here, on a Fulbright scholarship, to study the indigenous tribes and research the impact of controversial “human safaris” on tribal people. We also teach English to local children to subsidize our funding so that we can have some fun while off duty.

 

“Mind if we join ya?” a male voice asks. “Name’s Cruz. This is my bud, Kai, and that gentleman over there”, he pointed toward the bar, “grabbing us drinks, is Captain Jack. We run a fish charter off south dock”, he added.

My first reaction is to decline, but I scan the room and realize that it’s a full house and ours is the only table with room to accommodate the three men.

“What the hell”, I say. “Grab an extra chair”.

Cruz puts his thumb and pinkie finger to the corners of his lips and blows a shrill whistle in the direction of Jack. The Captain looks in our direction. Cruz holds up two fingers and points to me and Sara.

“Two more for the ladies”, he yells.

Jack nods and holds up a fleshy, tanned hand as acknowledgement.

“Hi”, I say. “I’m Holly and this is my friend Sara”. I tilt my head in a side nod toward Sara without taking my eyes off our guests.

“Nice to make your acquaintances”, says Cruz with a southern drawl an a two-fingered tip of his baseball cap. “Are ya’ll here on vacation?”, he asks.

“No”, Sara replies distracted by her phone.

“We’re here for school”, I add. “We’re studying the impact of tourism on the indigenous tribes of the area.

“Ah”, Cruz exclaims as he leans back in his chair and looks down his nose at us. “Ya’ll are a couple of smarty-caparties, now aren’t ya?”, he asks.

Jack approaches with drinks which allows me to disregard Cruz’s hypothetical.

“Evening, Ladies. Thanks for havin’ us”, Jack says as he sets two pints of cold beer in front me and Sara. “Sadie’s coming behind me with more beers and a round of tequila shots in honor of the birthday boy”.

“Whose birthday?”, I ask.

“Why, it’s my buddy Kai’s birthday”, says Cruz as he slaps his sun-mottled hand on Kai’s shoulder. “He’s legal today so we brought him in to put some hair on his chest”, Cruz chortles.

“Well, Happy Birthday”, I say as I raise the shot glass of tequila that has just been placed before me by Sadie, who is the owner’s daughter and the one and only waitress at Shakey’s.

“Yes, to Kai”, Jack follows and lifts his shot in the air.

Kai eyes the small glass of golden liquid for a moment before picking it up and joining the circle of tequila shots hovering above the round table of strangers.

Before the burning had left my throat, Cruz has signaled to Sadie to bring another round.

______________________________________________________________________________

 

I sit down in the close quarters of the cuddy to eat my steaming bowl of beans and rice. Cruz pours me a whiskey and I shake my head, curling my lip up to show my disinterest.

Kai grabs a bottled water from the cooler and sets it in front of me.

“Thanks”, I smile at the gesture.

“Welcome”, Kai mumbles and grabs a water for himself.

Cruz shoots back the whiskey that he had poured for me and then another. Both times, he makes the same thin-lipped, toothy grin face followed by the increasingly familiar “Aaerrwah” din.

Kai stands and heads up the stairs to help Captain Jack prepare the ship for the storm. Cruz doesn’t follow. He is staring blankly at the wall of the cuddy. Where his mind is wandering is of no interest to me. He lifts the side of his lip to blow the hair from his eyes and I can see yellowed teeth that match his smoking fingers.

As I finish my bowl, a head to the tiny sink next to the stove and begin to wash it with the dishrag that hangs from the faucet. The boat rocks with the rising waves and a bowlful of water splashes down the front of my shirt.

“Shit”, I exclaim as I tried to wring out the water into the sink. A shiver runs through my body as the cold wet t-shirt clings to me. The discomfort is intensified by the feeling of Cruz’s eyes gaping in my direction. Without looking at him, I turn to enter the cubbyhole of a bathroom. Once inside, I see a green and brown flannel hanging on the back of the door. From the size, I can tell it belongs to Captain Jack. “I’m sure it’ll be okay for me to borrow it for a little bit while my clothes dry”, I think out loud.

My elbows clack against the walls as I pull my wet shirt over my head. I place it on the same hook that held the flannel, then realize that my pants are also soaked. I peel the wet pants from my skin and hang them on the hook over my shirt. I slide into the warm and cozy flannel and button it all the way down. Captain Jack is a good half foot taller than me, so the flannel comes to my mid-thigh.

When I step back into the main hull, Cruz is still there, grasping the half empty bottle of whiskey in his left hand and an empty glass in the other. He looks over at me and his eyes roll over my body making my stomach turn and sending the taste of black beans back into my mouth.

“Fweet whew”, he whistles, and I noticeably recoil.

“What’s wrong, Sugar tits”, he smarms.

He stands and is blocking the stairs, so my only retreat is back into the bathroom. As I turn to enter, his hand pushes the door open while his other hand slides between my bare thighs. I fill my lungs to scream but I am only able to get out a short high-pitched screech before his callused hand clamps over my mouth, muffling the sound. The thunder and clatter of the storm that is now upon us, paired with the crashing waves, further stifle my alarm.

I use every bit of my might to wriggle free, but my jabbing elbows are met by a solid core covered by a blanket of beer and whiskey fleshiness. He pushes me further into the small space until I am pressed up against the rear wall, my face turned to one side, cheek flat against the fiberglass. My knees jam into the toilet cover and I grab ahold of the metal bar on the wall to support some of the weight. Adrenaline surges through me as my mind races in search of an escape.

The hand between my thighs retracts for a moment and I hear his zipper just prior to feeling that same hand yank my underwear to my knees. He thrusts himself inside me with one agonizing movement that shreds me in more ways than one. I squeeze my eyes shut and clench my fists as he pumps into me with rhythmic lunges. His hot breath steams the back of my neck and fills the air with a putrid smell of booze and sulphur.

He lets out a long “oouuhhnn” sound as he finishes. Then he lingers for what seems like an eternity before exiting the bathroom, leaving me in a disheveled heap in the corner next to the toilet.

I pull my knees to my chest and grab the small, white hand towel, rubbing myself abrasively and clenching through the pain. I try to stand, but my legs will not yet support me, so I stay crouched in an upright fetal position on the bathroom floor.

Jack’s boots make their usual booming as he descends into the cuddy. It takes him a moment to scan the room and make sense of the foregoing events.

Cruz is sprawled across one side of the table bench. He is breathing heavily, and his pants are still undone.

Jack’s face fills the narrow doorway to the bathroom. I don’t look up, but I know he has connected the dots by the way he turns forcibly to confront Cruz.

“What the fuck, boy?” Jack bellows.

Cruz stumbles to his feet, briefly loosing his balance as the boat rocks with the growing waves. As he steadies himself by grabbing the bolted table, his fingers wrap around the handle of a steak knife that was being used to cut up the pork for dinner.

“Stand back, old man”, Cruz warns.

“Don’t make this worse”, Jack cautions.

A look of contemplation flashes across Cruz’s face. In this fleeting moment, Captain Jack surges forward to disarm his deckhand. As the boat tips with a large wave, a steam of blood pools around my toes. I hear a deafening crack and begin to tumble, then somersault around the small toilet room.

When I settle, all is dark, and I am disoriented. My body wracks with new pain. I hit my head in the tumult, and my ears are ringing from the impact. I struggle to get my bearings and to make sense of the unfolding events.

At once, I realize that I have been thrown back into the main cabin. I hear a rustling and low moaning. A flash of lightning reveals that the ship is on its side and Cruz is pulling himself toward the opening to the upper deck. Water is gushing through the doorway and into the upended hull. I reach around myself, searching for Captain Jack. My right-hand lands on a warm, unmoving mass.

“Jack! Jack! Wake up! We have to get out of here. The boat is sinking!” I shriek.

“JACK!” I scream louder while shaking him violently.

Nothing.

The water is rising quickly. I grab Jack’s arm and pull with every bit of strength that is left in me. He doesn’t budge. I brace my feel against the wall for leverage and try again. Still, no movement. I keep trying.

As the water rises, the resistance decreases, and I am finally able to pull Jack onto his back.

“Oh my, God!”, I exhale in terror. A flash of lightning flickers in Jack’s lifeless eyes and I catch a glimpse of the steak knife, wielded by Cruz, lodged deep into Jack’s neck.

A fresh surge of adrenaline courses through my veins and I begin to push myself through the water toward the dark opening. It’s hard to make out in the blackness, so I fight against the incoming current with my arms stretched before me.

I am fully submerged before I reach the doorway. Panic begins to take hold and I stop for a brief moment to center myself. As I reach the opening, I grab both sides and propel myself through.

When my head clears the surface, I gasp for air only to be met by a large wave. It slams me into the boat railing, sending intense pain though my arm and rib cage. I try to swim again, but my left arm is useless. I am able to take in one last breath before the next waves carries me away.

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As my eyes begin to focus, I am catapulted back to the present moment. The sand sticks to my body and the winding branches circle inches above. I recall my predicament and panic engulfs me. I lay motionless, both from fear of the danger that is surely lurking nearby and certainty that the excruciating pain will swathe me once again.

I turn my head, searching for any signs of approaching danger, and discover a small pile of berries and two fat grubs have been placed on a large leaf just inside the overhanging branches that shroud me. Just to the right of the pile, my attention is captured by a halved coconut shell that is brimming with a watery milk. My mouth burns as it reactively tries to salivate. Anticipation causes me to reach out more quickly that my maimed body can manage, and I become frozen mid-motion. I wait for the surge to quell and then utilize a more calculated approach.  

The lukewarm, coconut milk coats my mouth and throat bringing instant relief to my dry mouth and fissured lips. I am jolted from my ecstasy by a rustle in the trees. At once, I retreat into a state of paralyzing fear.  

 

 

 


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