Authors: Scott B. Williams
Landfall: Islands in the Aftermath
The Pulse Series
Scott B. Williams
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters and events are all products of the author’s imagination and should not be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Scott B. Williams
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Scott B. Williams
Cover: Bayou Cover Designs
Editor: Michelle Cleveland
This one is for my friend, David Halladay, of Boatsmith
he might be seeing a mirage, or that after all this time alone with the relentless tropical sun beating down upon his bare head, perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him. No boats had come to call at the tiny island since he’d arrived here, and he’d about decided that none probably would. He didn’t know the name of the rocky, windswept and sun-scorched cay, only that it was supposed to be in the Exumas, that chain of unspoiled islands in the Bahamas he’d been so desperate to reach. For nearly a month he’d paced its perimeter and explored virtually every nook and cranny of its interior as well as the shallow, reef-strewn waters lapping its shores. There was no decent harbor here and his best guess was that the island was far enough off the normal sailing routes that the chances a boat would call were slim to none.
But as he stood there and stared, he finally accepted that the glossy white hull and shiny metal fittings of the pretty sailboat anchored near the west end of the island were real. And across the narrow rocky point separating the protected side of the island from the surf-pounded northern shore, two more masts, both attached to the same twin-hulled catamaran, protruded into the sky from an area where no vessel its size should ever venture. That the boat was in trouble, trapped there among the rocks and coral, Russell had no doubt. He’d explored those reefs on the calm days when there was little surf, and he knew it was not a place a sane captain would intentionally take his boat.
As soon as he realized that what he was seeing was indeed no illusion, Russell worked his way a bit closer to get a better look, keeping to the higher ground among the rocks and trees and well away from the open beach. With no way to leave and few places to hide on such a small island, it wouldn’t do to be seen by the people in the two boats until he sized them up to determine whether or not they were a threat. No strangers could be trusted entirely at this point, but their presence here could be a game changer for him if they weren’t set on killing him on sight. Whether he revealed himself or not, they were bound to discover him here if they spent any time on the little island. His tracks were all over the beaches, and on the east end, opposite from the two boats; he’d constructed a small lean-to from broken saplings and palm fronds woven into some semblance of a roof. That they’d not already found him told him that they’d been seriously occupied with their boat troubles. Russell had been laid up sick in his miserable hut since the day before yesterday. It was fever of some kind, and it had left him exhausted and unable to move until it broke. This morning was his first time to venture out since it had hit him, so he didn’t know for sure how long the boats had been there.
Much of the shoreline in the area immediately adjacent the boats was rocky almost to the high tide line, and Russell usually walked the water’s edge at low tide when he made his rounds, so the footprints from his last circuit would have been quickly erased. Anyone venturing to his end of the island would have seen his tracks everywhere though, and would have spotted him in his camp, so he was quite certain they had not been there. The makeshift shelter had no walls, and the roof did little to keep the rain off. But rain was far less of a problem here than the relentless rays of blistering sun, and even when he wasn’t sick he spent the better part of each day sprawled in the shade of his pathetic abode, doing his beachcombing and foraging late in the evening and early in the morning.
Other than the two days he spent too sick to move, every day was pretty much the same for Russell. He would walk the beaches around the island with an eye on the tideline, looking for anything of use that may have washed up since his last stroll. Most days that was very little, a plastic bottle or a useful piece of driftwood; sometimes a bit of rope or fishing net, but so far, nothing that would significantly improve his life here or help him get off the island. That was, until today. The arrival of two sailboats was the biggest event of his entire stay.
He had spotted them in the first few minutes after sunrise, and at that hour there was no sign of the crew of either boat stirring on deck or ashore. Russell assumed they were all still asleep, and that was good, because it gave him an opportunity to study the scene. He pondered where they might have come from as he sat there staring at them, and wondered why they stopped here when no one else had, and why one boat was safely anchored while the other was aground on the wrong side of the island.
Whoever had made the mistake of sailing the catamaran into that situation had taken great pains to secure it afterwards. Russell counted no less than four separate anchor lines. Two of them were stout looking white nylon ropes leading from the front beam of the boat to the beach well above the high tideline. Russell couldn’t see them, but he figured they led to anchors buried there. The other two lines extended out at roughly 45-degree angles to either side of the stern, where they disappeared under the surface of the water, no doubt leading to a couple more anchors. But the tide was out now and the big catamaran was beyond the reach of the waves, which was probably why whoever was aboard it was still asleep. It looked to Russell like they probably knew what they were doing, despite their navigational mistake. The more he thought about it, the more he figured they’d arrived there during the night, when the unlit island would be difficult to see even in good weather. But as he was well aware after being drenched again and again while he tossed with the fever, there had been lines of passing showers and squalls night after night that would have made it even more difficult.
The other boat that was not aground was a nice-looking, more traditional cruiser, maybe much older but nonetheless well equipped and maintained. It was typical of the size and type of boat one saw most often along the island cruising routes, and Russell figured like most of them, it was probably American or Canadian. No ensign flew from the stern though, nor the obligatory Bahamian courtesy flag at the spreaders that would have surely been present on any foreign boat in these waters before the collapse. That the two boats both arrived here since he’d last been to this side of the island was almost conclusive proof to Russell that they were sailing together in company. But none of that told him anything about the crew, and he knew that until he saw them, it was risky to make any assumptions. For all he knew, they had murdered the rightful owners of the two yachts and were here seeking a hideout until they decided who to rob and kill next.
Russell knew he had to be careful, or he would end up dead, like so many already had, but he was also getting desperate. He was weak from the fever, but even before that he was barely eking out an existence on the island and he doubted he could last much longer without help. If not for the mostly pristine reefs, easily accessible in the shallow waters that ringed the little cay, he would have already starved. He had nothing in the way of tools aside from a sturdy folding knife, dive mask and a pole spear, but the sea provided enough easily acquired food that he’d managed to stay alive thus far.
The wild goats that roamed the island had him salivating for a change in diet, even if it meant eating raw meat, but they were elusive and wary, defying all his attempts to either brain one with a rock, impale one with his fish spear or simply run one down and tackle it. And so he had been living on whelks, small clams, conch, and the occasion fish he managed to get with the spear. His raw seafood diet was supplemented with coconuts and a few other plant foods such as hearts of palm, prickly pear and the salty leaves of the seaside purslane. It was getting old, eating everything uncooked for more than a month, but he had no way to make fire and had failed at his attempts to emulate primitive methods he’d seen on TV and in the movies before the collapse. Fire by friction was hopeless with his lack of skill or knowledge of the necessary materials, and on the limestone island there were no rocks containing flint for striking a spark. He kept hoping to find a glass bottle with a bottom of the suitable shape to work as a magnifying glass that would focus the sun’s rays, but so far he’d not even managed that.
But now none of that mattered. He was sure the people on these two boats had food—and probably lots of it. They would also have matches or a lighter they could give him, at the very least, and probably fish hooks and line or maybe a Hawaiian sling and other gear for underwater hunting. These would all help him survive here more comfortably, but of course that wasn’t what he really wanted. What he
wanted from these strangers with boats was a
. A ride to anywhere but here, where he could live like a human being again.
And so he watched and waited, growing impatient, but not daring to get any closer until at last he saw a hatch on one of the catamaran hulls slide open. A man’s head emerged, and Russell judged him to be in his mid to late 30s. His face was deeply tanned and bearded; his hair a sandy blonde bleached even lighter by the sun. After slowly looking around in all directions, first out to sea and then back across the nearby island, the man climbed the rest of the way out of the hatch. He was shirtless and barefoot, wearing nothing but a pair of khaki cargo shorts. Russell saw him step to the shrouds on the other side of the boat, where he held on with one hand and relieved himself over the side. Finished with that first task of the day, the man walked around the decks to each of the anchor lines securing the boat, first check their tension and the cleat knots that held them before studying the two off the stern as if trying to decide what to do next.
To Russell he looked like a long-time sailor, a man clearly at ease aboard a boat, though he appeared to favor one arm as if it were injured. He didn’t look like the sort that would have murdered the real owner of the catamaran, but then, these days one could never know. Whoever he was, he was in quite a predicament with his boat in a real jam. If he were alone, Russell figured he would be marooned there just as surely as he was. But with the other yacht anchored across the way, he might have several people available to give him a hand. Russell would continue to watch and wait for now, to see what happened next.
Scully, Thomas Allen was certain the challenges he and Mindy had survived since the blackout were about to come to an end. Both of them would die there on an uninhabitable island that was little more than a clump of mangroves, their bodies left for the crabs and birds and their dreams of a life of adventure stolen from them forever. The bullet to the head would come, Thomas knew, but not before the two men made him watch what they were going to do to her. When they appeared out of the tangled, jungle-like vegetation, Mindy had tried to duck into the tiny cabin of their miniature cruiser and hide. But the men had already seen her and while one held Thomas at gunpoint, the other one waded out to where
was anchored to drag her back to the narrow strip of mud and sand that was the only dry place Thomas had found to build a cooking fire. The pistol aimed at his face left him helpless to intervene as Thomas waited for the inevitable.