Without getting to distracted here, let me present to you Section 1.01- 1.03 from my new novel, ‘Left of Midnight’. Any feedback you’d like to offer would be greatly appreciated. I’m making this the first three micro-chapters due to how short 1.02 is (essentially a dream sequence mind you).
LEFT OF MIDNIGHT
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN
LIGHTNING FLASHED BRILLIANTLY across a tortured sky. Dark storm clouds roiled and pulsated as thunder drummed out across the breadth of the tumultuous sea, waves raising into the air hundreds of feet high as if the damned were pleading with the heavens to set them free. And across this midnight nightmare fell a curtain of rain so thick it was nearly impossible to spot the two specks of gleaming metal flying through the chaos.
To the fore of the two, a Japanese Zero aircraft, single propped, white paint showing scorching and faded use. The red circles on the wings paling from too many days underneath the sun. It strained and whined as it banked, deking and diving trying to evade the fire shot flowing from the American Corsair’s wing cannons. Streaks of heated hate hailed into the chaotic revelry of nature letting loose, the fired trails molten red, yellow, and white. The thrumming booms of the exchange exiting the cannons rocking the whole craft. The Corsair twisted into a dive following as close as possible to its fleeing foe.
Inside the Corsair, the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Avery Wilkes, gritted his gnashing teeth and focused his sights once more. He pulled the trigger on the yoke and saw more flaming cannon fire singing forward barely missing the vessel pulling up above an outreaching wave.
“No, you don’t, Poseidon! You can have him after I’m finished with the heathen!”
He pulled up to keep track, lightning illuminating the interior of his cockpit briefly, his teeth bright against the deep shadows across his face. Reflections beamed off of his goggles and rainwater cascaded down the canopy in a bid to blind him further. The console of his flight controls blinked in and out of sight in a strobing fit from fluctuating brilliant bolts striking the ocean surface. The Zero twisted upwards and out of range and Avery howled as he throttled up to the Corsair’s max, its engines wailing under the duress.
“Come on, you great blue bitch! Catch up! Catch up!” Spittle flew from his lips, his grimace one of maddening single-minded focus as he twisted up and over a rising wave and pulled upwards.
The Zero darted back down and out of sight.
He juked to follow, his dark blue craft with its gullwing wings nearly vanished into the dark flowing abyss surrounding them. He could barely see the little Japanese vessel for all the streaming current embracing his cockpit windshield as if a longing lover.
What I wouldn’t fucking give for a goddamned pair of wipers right about now! He dove, the Corsair’s engines rising in anguish loud in his ears even over the torrent blasting his canopy and the thunderous booming rattling the hull. He depressed the trigger. Every shot disappeared into the leviathan depths below the Zero deking back up and towards a looming sequence of shadow barely visible through the lightning strikes highlighting rippling clouds far above. Fuel was low but his fury grew only stronger, fomenting his desire to finish his enemy before lunging into the waiting clutches of Davy Jones’s Locker.
And then looming before them was what Avery could only figure was some sort of island. Just a silhouette against the flowing storm, of course, but visible enough to see that the Zero was making a break straight for it and Avery clenched his jaw tighter.
You think you’re getting away, you little maggot! But you ain’t! Within minutes he’d leveled out with the Zero as it zoomed into a gulf between large ranges of stone that might have been a canyon or a gully though it wasn’t clear to Avery as he lined up his shot and tried to close the distance. A smile grew across his visage, his teeth wide and vivid against the dark interior of his cockpit. The rain was lighter here as they zoomed along this narrow corridor. Stone walls whipping by in a blur to both sides. Above, some formations were flowing by in a haze as well. He couldn’t make out what as he refocused on his task. You might be more maneuverable in the open, but you ain’t faster in close quarters, now are you, fucker!?
Below them, a canopy of trees zipped by in the little light being cast. Rain still pelted the windshield, but it wasn’t as fierce allowing him a better view of the Zero struggling to outpace him. He pulled the trigger. Hot molten fire shot outward, highlighting the tree tops under red and yellow flashes. The cannon fire sunk into the wings and the tail and a flame out sprung to life as the Zero caught fire, an explosion tearing away a rear tail wing.
“Yeah! Take that you fuck! Eat it and weep!” The cockpit reverberated with his deep, howling voice.
The Zero zoomed upward and disappeared from view. He frowned and growled. “Where ya goin’!? Eh!? You can’t—shit!”
The Corsair’s wing clipped an outcropping of stone jutting out into the dark rain filled void. He found himself going into a horizontal spin and Avery fought with all his might to correct the plane. He succeeded to a degree but the Corsair dipped too low and within seconds he was deep within whatever forest sat deep in the ravine.
“No, no, no, no!” he tried to pull up, but there was little draft in which to draw upon and pick up lift. Now, he was little more than a hurtled metal rock speeding through tearing limbs and clutching branches.
Tree trunks blazed by as the sounds of the hull being ripped to pieces shuddered the craft. A thick branch lanced the cockpit cracking it open. Rain streamed inside soaking Avery’s head and he raised his arms to shield his face letting go of the yoke and waiting for the inevitable ram into the side of a sturdy trunk of whatever wood grew wild on this island. He breathed rapidly as the whole vessel racked and ricocheted, shuddered and vibrated. His thighs pulsed as his sides plowed into the cockpit walls. It was as if any moment every inch of his plane would be torn open leaving just him to splatter into something like an egg against a house.
It’s been a good run! Least I took that fuckin’ Jap out with me! He took in a deep breath and dropped his arms to glare out into the dark abyss with a scowl and a howl. “Come on then! Finish it!”
The plane slowed to a stop. No final crash came. It was like the plane just decided enough was enough and settled into a nice, soft nest. Silence reigned for a long moment. Only his breathing, the storming thunder and falling rains, the slight rhythmic pounding of branches against the outside of the plane were the sounds making up his new existence.
“What the shit?”
Avery leaned forward. There was no interior light, all his instruments seeming to be dead. Indicator lights on the flight console were all either smashed or in quiet slumber. He pulled his goggles up to his forehead and tried to look out the left side canopy window. Condensation spread thicker on the inside and he was forced to wipe his hand across the moisture. Still, all he could see was the black void and the smattering rain rolling off the outer canopy. Water poured onto his head from the cracks overhead and his lap was now a cold collection of a small pond.
He unbuckled his harness and leaned forward to eject the canopy to get a better look. The canopy released fast and flew backwards over the rear of the plane. He could hear it snapping limbs and shattering further as it raced to the floor of the woods surrounding him. Somehow, the Corsair had managed to come to rest amid a collection of thick immovable branches. He looked over the edge of the cockpit and down towards the forest floor. Rain streamed past him and downwards into the black depths. He could see some leafy branches and limbs all around the underside of the craft, could see two of the three trees’ trunks from his vantage. The third was on the right side and too far in the dark to make out much even when the lightning flashed far overhead, its light too dim due to a thick canopy of forest above him. Avery had no idea how far up he was from the floor below. Flying into this nightmare, he’d noted they were traveling slightly at a decline. But it’d been a brief observation. He had other things on his mind during the moment.
Alright. You’re stuck in a tree, numbnuts. How do you get down? He looked around standing as much as he dared which amounted to a simple half crouch as he looked out both sides. The forward wings just ahead of the cockpit were still intact. Scratched up some, but otherwise solidly locked into a copse of heavy branches. There he wasn’t concerned. The rear of the plane was a total loss though. The tail section completely missing. Large portions of the hull had been sheared away showing the skeletal frame beneath. Even if he had entertained the notion of somehow getting the craft out of the trees, it would never fly again.
Anchoring the craft, the three very large tree trunks looked to have branches the thickness of his body growing out at irregular intervals. Probably close enough to grab on too. But he had no idea how many more were down in the darkness and if they were clustered close enough together to make for a ladder to the ground.
There’s always the wing, I suppose. Climb out onto it, find a place to climb down and… He grimaced and leaned into the port side of his plane. “And what, Avery? Play Tarzan? Are there even any vines here?”
He looked around more, the rain collecting deeper in the cockpit. He shook his head. “It’s not like you have any other options, now do you? Gotta get down… radio for help. If the radio isn’t waterlogged yet.”
Avery sighed and turned to reach behind his seat. He pulled out a knapsack full of rations. There was a parachute on his back but he doubted it would prove very useful in the current predicament. There would be no room to unfurl it and no clear hope that he could use it to climb down with. So, he left it alone and turned to the console to remove the detachable radio. He shoved it into his knapsack, praying that it hadn’t gotten too wet. Then latched the knapsack around his chest and stomach and went to work figuring out how to climb out onto the wing of the Corsair. The bend in the center of the wing was even more slanted from this angle and he would have to be extremely careful as he slid down towards where the wing was flattest and nearest what looked to be an even thicker branch with enough purchase that he could shimmy down towards a lower grip. Or so he hoped.
He tossed one leg over the edge of the cockpit. Held on tight to the side wall as he brought the rest of his body over the edge. His right foot was already trying to slip away and he looked down to the rest of the wing.
Okay, here we go. One… two… thre— He let go and immediately found himself sliding down over the side of the wing. He imagined that he’d be hearing the rest of ‘three’ singing down into the darkness as he opened his mouth to scream. Instead was a very long howl that sounded very much like, “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu—!!”
The long scream held until he fell through a thick collection of branches, twigs, limbs, leaves, and wet foliage. Ooofs, umphs, curses, and heavy crashing rang out into the raging storm. Avery hit a heavy copse of brush and rolled down a steep embankment before coming to rest in a stream of muddy water. He was facedown and lifted his gaze skyward, his goggles having managed to find a new resting state on his chin. His features were thick with nearly black mud and he reached up to try and wipe it from his eyes. The hand only got half way as he grumbled.
Then promptly passed out.
FIRE WAS BRIGHT and raging as it licked the air. Rainfall couldn’t temper its heated rage that crackled and burned the forward section of the Zero. A creaking crack cascaded out as the canopy blew up and off the top of the wreckage. It rested in a warren of trees far along the ground from the mountainous range where the two fighting craft had plummeted onto the island. A figure rose from the interior of the plane. It was silhouetted against the flames, though its eyes flashed vividly in the sputtering inferno and the splattering lightning. It reached to the cockpit edge, tossed itself over and onto solid ground without much effort. Then stared out towards the forest from whence it had just flown. Intense hatred pulsated outward from this figure as if it were its own field of energy. Its own nebulous desire to kill and avenge.
The figure strolled towards the forest interior. Its legs moving faster and faster as the person moved quicker and more determinedly into the island depths. Before long, it was a blur of motion racing through the wood, tossing aside foliage and small trees, nothing hindering its harried pace. It continued at this blistering pace, a shadow leaving behind the burning wreckage of its craft, its eyes glowing a vivid blue, until it was deep into the forest and near the source of its rage. It pulled out the gun in its holster and stopped in a clearing staring down at its intended victim.
Before the figure, lay the prostrate form of the American pilot. The pilot awoke and turned to raise its arms to ward off the coming shot.
The weapon discharged two rounds. The American fell dead. The figure smiled darkly, its teeth a vivid white in the night. Eyes glittering a deep cobalt blue. Up in the trees, high above, another shadow watched. Its form was indistinguishable from the twisted twigs and limbs around it, but its eyes were the same vivid blue.
INTERIOR JUNGLE ISLAND
AVERY LUNGED UPWARDS pulling the pistol from his holster. He fired two shots towards where the Japanese pilot stood. The shots rang out and squawks of protest erupted all around as startled birds took flight from their interrupted morning activities. Avery stared into the forest. The sounds around him slowly settled back into the common noises of wind, insects chittering, and flowing water as he came to realize a very crucial detail: There was no pilot before him.
Avery tossed himself onto his back and let the gun and his hand flop to his side. Avery stared up into the canopy above, sunlight now flowing through moist leaves, and sighed.
“Even my fucking dreams are trying to kill me…”
He let loose a loud laughing chortle and coughed. The birds high above protested once more but didn’t make to flock away this time. The warmth from the sun basked his chest while his back grew wetter with the stream still flowing around him. Avery glanced up and down to see that he was lying in a shallow river of muddy water still eking its way down the chasm and through the woods towards whatever runoff it had discovered. He sat up then and took stock of his environment. All around him were the woods he’d careened through. Looking up gave him a good view of his Corsair still wedged tightly among the thick branches of tall trees covered by a leafy canopy still dripping drops of rainwater onto the forest floor. The sound still that of a rainfall and echoing all across the forest interior.
“Jesus… I fell far. How the hell am I still alive?” he muttered as he reached up to his forehead and pulled the goggles off. They were filled with muddy water and the outer side of the lenses were drying with the thick dirt. He tossed it aside and made to stand. He didn’t get very far.
Avery nearly collapsed back onto his side as he knelt onto his knees and leaned back on his calves. The squawking of indigenous birds, the squealing of some sort of animal (he took it to be of the small primate variety), the loud calls of insects making their home among the leafy woods running for as far as he could see, all of it was of some alien jungle. Maybe this was what the Amazon sounded like, he considered. Or maybe it was a jungle forest no one had ever encountered before.
He stood up hesitantly and breathed deeply. The wind was slight but the air pure. Unpolluted by any sort of machine or city. He stretched his body and felt a crack in his spine. It echoed outward causing the wildlife in the immediate vicinity to go quiet for a moment. But a moment was all that came back as they almost immediately went back to their incessant natural calls and songs. Avery rubbed his shoulder and sighed. For a moment, there was a peaceful sensation crossing his mind and heart. For a moment, he stood without thought gazing around and staring into the depths of the forest. Between the sounds and the breeze, the gentle rustling of leaves and creaking of branches, the distant sounds of ocean waves beating the shoreline beyond view, all of it set his mind at ease tempting a smile.
Then a heated sensation grew in his chest and his mind filled with rage. A thought came up unbidden and gnawed at his subconscious. It demanded retribution. Desired a raw need that he race out of those woods right that moment and find the Japanese pilot. That he get… vindication. But he shook his head instead and raised a hand to his forehead.
For fuck’s sake, Avery. Get it together! There’s no goddamn way that mother fucker survived his crash! And even if he did, that doesn’t likely solve your current dilemma, now does it? No, it did not he figured as he lowered his hand and looked around again. The stream at his feet was a shallow sliver of water racing down a slight decline. He was fairly certain that way led to one possible exit of the canyon in which he was standing. However, he couldn’t be guaranteed of that possibility. He looked back up to this tattered plane. Well, she’s not going to be of any help. Best to backtrack. Make sure I’m in a canyon. Get my bearings.
He looked down and saw that his knapsack had come unhooked and reached down to pick it up. It was hot and sweltering as he slung the knapsack back on his chest and started walking towards where he assumed he’d entered the valley. The way was thick with growing vegetation. Tall ferns, thin saplings, thick brush all stood in his way so he pulled his machete and hacked his way through. It was slow going as he made his way down the center of the forest (or what he assumed was the center. There was no guarantee he wasn’t simply walking in circles). After what he thought might’ve been an hour, he came to a cliff and stared out at the breadth of the South Pacific Ocean.
He braced his hands on his hips and stared out over a calm sea with waves breaking along tall spires of stone clawing out of the ocean like Poseidon’s trident. Spikes in a series of nine or more that gathered along the surface at the base of the steep cliffside. To his right and left was the wall of a great stone mountain rolling back away and curving out of sight. It was of such a mass that any other sight of the rest of the island was hidden to him from this vantage. Avery looked back and upwards. The mountain was massive and the canyon was drilled right through it as if a bullet of immense proportions had been fired right into its tip. What was left, a great gorge flowing downward with arches of stone crossing the top and connecting both divided sections of rising wall. Fingers holding what was left of the mountain together, he supposed. And between it all, a great forest hundreds of meters wide and likely so many thousands of meters deep.
“Perfect. Just perfect…” Avery muttered and stripped off his parachute and knapsack.
He reached into the knapsack and pulled out the radio. He looked back out to the ocean. The skies were a clear blue, cloudless. The ocean went on for hundreds of miles broken by no ship or further island chain. He focused back on his radio. Turned it on. Static was his only reward but he was happy about it. He sighed.
“Least the fucker turns on.” He tried various channels on the device and received no transmissions.
After a moment of further examination, he tossed it back into the knapsack and strapped the bag closed. The fact the radio turned on was encouraging. It meant the streaming rain hadn’t ruined it. Now, he was determined to find the most northern point of the island. He figured he was at the most eastern spot even without pulling his compass. He would have to make his way west and exit the canyon forest and hope for a path that would offer him some vantage of the Pacific where his fleet was last located. They had to have still been just south of the Marshall island chain. Wherever he was, he couldn’t say. It didn’t look inhabited as far as he could tell. Though, that might have been merely wishful thinking. There was still some traveling to do and he might yet encounter indigenous native life or discover he was on a well-known Japanese controlled island. He quite hoped for the former himself.
Avery stood up and stripped off his flight jacket. The heat was unbearable and the walk was going to be tough enough as it was without it on. His red skin already glistened under the hot rays cast by the sun high overhead. It wasn’t quite noon, he was sure, but it was already blistering hot. He tied the jacket around his waist and ran his hand through his short raven black hair.
Isn’t going to get any cooler, Ave. Better get a move on before you roast alive. He picked up his packs and refastened them on his bare back and chest, then set off back through the thick growth of foliage determined to find his way to the northern end of the isle before nightfall. If he was lucky, he figured, he could reach the fleet and be gone before dusk. He managed to retrace his steps back to the flowing stream and followed it the rest of the way down the canyon. All the while he was examining for any hint of where the Japanese pilot had gone down. The only thing he’d discovered was that the wall of stone of the mountain interior made looking straight into the sky above next to impossible. His only light were the breaks in the canopy allowing the sun to pierce through.
After another two hours, Avery found the exit to the canyon and once more stood in numb shock. The exit was a sudden shift from forest to stone ground as he discovered a mesa surrounding three quarters of the hollowed-out mountain. Beyond the mesa, more forest below him and at the base of the mountain hundreds of feet deeper still. That forest ran the breadth of the island in every direction. Only now, he could see the Pacific Ocean far to the west as a hazy deep blue meeting the horizon line. The island was larger than he anticipated. Probably miles wide and three times as long. He wandered southward along the mesa edge just to see if he could see that portion of the island. He could. It was nearly to the horizon line itself from the vantage he found himself looking down into the forest. The ocean to the east and his left looped around towards the tip of the southernmost portion of the island leaving just a strip of ocean to be seen from there.
“Just great…” he muttered taking it all in. “Well, so far no malicious natives coming for me. Call that a win.”
He turned back around looking across the island interior. Far to the west was a clearing that was hard to see for the trees surrounding it. However, he could guess it was wide given the forest didn’t pick up again and he could see the hints of the western coastline. There were no beaches that he could tell from his vantage. He concluded there must be more cliffs in that direction.
Not what you’re concerned with right now, though, now is it? He pulled his view from the west and marched along the mesa to the north. After another twenty minutes, he stood along the northern most edge of the mountain with the mesa encircling most of it. More forest was his reward. And he could see another mountain far off in the northern distance. It was surrounded by a haze at its center and seemed to rise right up into the sky itself. He frowned.
That had better not be an active volcano… just what I need, fire and brimstone on top of being a castaway… He looked up at the mountain he’d come from. It rose far up and he had a better view of the archways of stone fingers crossing the forested canyon leading up towards the mountain summit. He figured it’d been one of those stone arches his wing had clipped and thrust him down into the forest interior. Had he managed better control he might have been able to leave the canyon relatively unscathed. Pfft, right. And then drown at sea, Ave. You were out of fuel and you know it.
Near the summit of the northern edge of the mountain, he saw a slice of the stone missing. It looked like the exit of another shallower canyon crossing the tip. All he could really make out was a hole through the edge of the mountain side with its ceiling exposed to the elements above. Oh, that son of a bitch had better not flown out there… Okay. Stop worrying over it. Contact the fleet.
Avery pulled his eyes from the sight and turned to the north. To the northeast, he could see a broad, yellow beach stretching northward until it rounded out of view along another patch of forest. He could just barely make out a river flowing into the ocean at the northern most point of the beach and he smiled.
Finally, something’s going my way. If I can just reach that beach and hit its head— He stared outward looking at nothing in particular but his eyes were wide with terror. Holy fuck! What the hell was that sound!? Sounded like a wounded wildebeest tangling with a tiger! Oh, Avery, what the fuck have you gotten yourself into!?
The noises of the forest began again seeming to ignore the random howl of distress echoing from somewhere deep within the forest bowels. Avery took a deep breath, let it out, and started trudging along the mesa top looking for a way down. Not that he really wanted to, of course. That howl, scream, or whatever it was had been enough to set him on edge. However, there would be no leaving the island if he just sat and waited upon the mountain forever. He came to a spot nearly halfway around the mountain mesa and pulled his radio out of his knapsack again then started trying to get a signal out hoping that maybe he was at a high enough position he wouldn’t have to go into the forest after all.
“Mayday. Mayday. This is Flight Lieutenant Avery Wilkes. Does anyone copy?” He waited a moment and repeated his message and then added, “I’ve crash landed on a remote island south of the Marshalls. Does anyone copy?”
Only static was his response. He frowned and put the radio back away. “Well, guess it’s either starve up here or face whatever gruesome death awaits below. So, fuck it. Let’s roll the dice.”
Avery saw a narrow trail leading from the mesa down into the woods a little further east of his position. It was less a trail than it was a dirty, pebble strewn path zigzagging its way down and along a steep decline of shallow cliff. Avery put one hesitant foot after another down and worked his way along this path, slipping several times and sending great waves of dusty, stony detritus down towards the ground below. After a harrowing five minutes or so, he found himself thankfully free of the sliding cliffside and was now on the edge of the northward forest. He looked back and up.
“Hot damn. If I want back up there that’s going to be one hell of a climb…” he shook his head. “Here’s to hoping I don’t need back up there.”
Avery turned and marched into the jungle, swatting away flying insects that might have been buzzing mosquitos or some sort of skinny flies. He neither wanted to know nor cared to find out as he pulled his machete again and walked deeper into the island.
The hours passed as he marched through his own chopped out path. The soil was soft and giving making his progress slow and unsteady. The forest itself was thick and verdant with mosses, ferns, vines, and epiphytes. The tree trunks here were less thick but no less intimidating forcing Avery to hack out meandering trails, sometimes branching back and around the directions he’d just managed only to dead-end into some formation of standing stone or copses of wood so thick he couldn’t proceed. Several places were a bog of mud forcing yet another detour into sturdier terrain. Avery growled but didn’t fuss as he had. He was reserving his energy for whatever maddening trial awaited him next.
After a time, he came out into a clearing. It was a trail unto itself, forged by a wide river racing steadily from his left to his right, a direction he judged as roughly west to east as he’d maintained a general northern trek. He came out onto the surrounding banks, looked upward. The thick foliage only grudgingly abated here. There was a line of view to the skies above only as wide as the river itself. He couldn’t see much more than forest or sky from this perspective, but it was a relief for a moment nonetheless from the monotony of jungle travel. Also, a bit of relief from the relentless waves of insects swarming the forest depths looking for fresh flesh in which to sink their thirsty mandibles and proboscises. He always knew he was a tasty treat. He just never wanted to put it to the test.
“Fucking fantabulous, Ave,” he grumbled as he came to the edge of the river. It had to have been hundreds of feet across, of that he was certain. And though the current seemed gentle enough, its flow suggested that it was moving too fast to be able to swim across safely. “Alright, what now? That’s north, right? Well… Guess it’s following this to see how far it goes, yeah?”
He looked to the west to where the river was flowing from. Should he hazard that direction, he might find a way across at a narrower section. It was doable, potentially. However, it would mean heading deeper inland, into the thick of the island interior. And half the day was already down. He wasn’t so certain that he wanted to risk such a venture as of yet. It would mean hours more of arduous trekking and hacking and his arm already felt like jelly.
Guess that settles that then, Ave. Take a breather. March to the east. He cast his gaze eastward. As he recalled, there was an estuary somewhere to the north. Perhaps, he considered, this river ran into it. Right out into the ocean. If that were the case, he’d come out onto the beach. An area he was already eyeing as a likely camp anyhow. Avery exhaled sharply, wiped sweat off his brow and ran his hand across his tanned abdomen. Hunger was beginning to set in and all he’d had to munch on so far were the filling rations of a military man. Mmmm-mmm. Stale jerky and canned soup. Just what every growing castaway requires to stay healthy and sharp! Thank you, sir, can I have another?
He smiled and let loose a chuckle as he turned east to follow the river to where it let out. Amazingly, it took several more hours of hard walking interspersed with a quick break here and there before he came to a sight he didn’t expect. The river divided into half. The portion he was following flowed consistently south easterly and into the jungle again. The other side disappeared into its own fern and vine covered destination. And when this branch came to its end, it was into a karst formation of stone. The rocks here rose up like a miniature mountain a dozen feet high while the river itself pelted right into its center to fall into a deep cavity forming a waterfall into the subterranean earth below. The back end of the cavernous karst, was a wall of rocky stone disappearing into the black void dozens of feet across. Avery could hear the roar of the water falling deep into the chasm. Misty clouds of vapor rose up into the air making the already dark void even more difficult to see into.
Well, that’s a climatic way to end the river run. He shook his head looking around. The river might have ended in spectacular fashion, but he still needed to get north. And from his position, the other side of the river was overgrown with the jungle that came all the way to its shoreline. The karst itself a strange barrier preventing any traveler from going any further. Avery looked as eastward as he could. There, the jungle was just as thick and he could see the formation of rock didn’t just end with the river’s edge. It sunk deep into this side of the forest rising nearly as high as the end of the trek. The summit that he could see against the bright blue sky was covered in thick foliage of so many varieties he couldn’t even begin to guess what. Damn. Alright. It looks like I can head a little south. Maybe dig myself towards that beach I hope is there. No time like now, right, Ave?
He pulled his machete once more and searched along the stony forest edge until he found a thinner portion of woods that looked hackable. He moved southward and kept that direction until the stone formations thinned and nearly vanished. Then he started making his way in a more easterly approach. Hours passed before he could hear the crashing of waves against shoreline. The sounds of heavy, foamy water splashing across coarse sand and slurping back out into the currents permeated the environment as he hacked quicker through the foliage, swerving around several thick trunks, and noting that the jungle was growing thinner where he was. In fact, he thought he could see the ocean expanse between the trees as he pushed through the remaining obstacles to his advance. Sea birds called loudly and aggressively as they sought sustenance and companionship along the shore. The air grew ever more salty and cool to the skin. Half an hour later, he stood at the summit of the beach. The great Pacific Ocean laid out before him flowing far off over the horizon line and the skies darkening.
He pulled off his gear and dropped it to the ground. He was sweating profusely and panting heavily as he took in the scene. To the north of his position, he saw the beach curving upward and disappearing around a bend. To the south of his position, he saw the beach dropping down in a nearly straight line until it met the rim of a great expanse of rising cliff. At the base of the cliff as it moved further inland, the jungle clawed at it incessantly. And rising up into the skies far beyond all of this, the great arched mountain he had crashed into. From here, it was still a behemoth of stone and he could see subtle indications of the arches rising up at the mountain summit. He could also see a shadow near the tip that looked almost like a three quarters cave. Maybe even a gully crossing over the top of the mountain.
“Son of a bitch,” Avery muttered. “There really is a gully up there. Alright, Ave. Keep your mind on where you’re at. Not whether or not Jappy boy survived. What’s happening now is where it’s at. Night is coming and you haven’t gotten clue one as to where you’re going to set down for the night.”
Yet he had to tear his gaze away from the view of that mountain with extreme effort. An eking thought kept him focused on it for all too long. This nagging notion, He survived. Find the fuck. Kill him. Kill him! Now! But he shook his head and took in several deep breathes. The beach was clear of any major detritus and was hundreds of feet long in the southern and northern directions. A good vantage to keep an eye on the inner island from. That much he was grateful for. But where to set up… Wait, what do we have here?
Dark brown eyes fell on a shape halfway down the beach towards the southern reaches of the sandy region. A large bubble popping up out of the ground. Its back end seemed to fall back towards the beach summit. It looked to him like someone had taken a beachball, driven it under the sand, and kept pushing it towards the water until there was this long, raised section of ground running from the dirty, grassy ridge separating beach from forest. Only this formation was at least as tall as a full-grown man. At least, that’s how it looked from where he stood. Okay. Well, maybe…
Avery gathered his belongings and started the trek down the shoreline and towards the strange formation. It only took five or ten minutes to walk down there. Once arrived, he noted the raised formation was a few feet taller than him. He walked down the feature until he was at the forward portion of it. There, he found a cave that went into its interior. It led inside as if it were a tunnel. A narrow tunnel, of course. One that Avery had seen inside a few bombers in his time. The entrance almost as narrow as he hunched over and walked inside. Oh yeah, just like the interior of a bomber. About as much room too. But, is it safe enough here?
He looked back, saw the waves pounding the shore. There were still around two dozen feet between surf and entrance. He wasn’t positive if the tunnel flooded at high tide or not. Yet, he was so exhausted from his journey, he found it might just be worth the risk regardless. Still, he couldn’t help himself and came back to the cave entrance. Sitting down, he noted that there were several large stones halfway down the beach towards where ocean break collided. Waves bounced off them steadily and came no further. There was also the fact that the entrance was raised up off the sloping ground with a decline of a few feet. Okay. This might be alright. Guess we’ll find out if I wake up drowning.
Avery chuckled at the thought and turned back into the cavern interior. Though it was narrow, he thought it might offer up a reasonable amount of room to rest and take stock of his predicament. The cave was short too. It required him to bend over nearly double to move down through its tunnel. To his left as he walked, he found a long smooth section of stone raised up off the cave floor. The top of it was flat and flushed into the cavern wall that curved up and over to the other side. The formation reminded him of an ice cube that had melted into the wall of the freezer. Longer than him and he thought it would make a decent enough bed.
He pulled out his parachute and dislodged the chute from its encasings. The way things were looking, he wouldn’t be needing it anytime soon anyhow. He folded it over, made it as thick as he could, then flattened it out on top of the stone formation.
Won’t be much of a bed. But better than nothing, I suppose. He then folded the parachute bag up as much as he could and placed it at the head of his makeshift bed. It isn’t the Beekman, but it isn’t just the ground either. So, it’ll have to do.
After that task was finished, Avery sat down beside the bed and looked back outside. The entrance was half a dozen feet away and gave a fairly broad view of the ocean surf and the skies themselves. The horizon was darkening faster now and he figured it was getting to be early evening. Soon enough he’d have to figure out how he was going to survive. Or, at least, for how long he was going to have to survive on this island all by his lonesome. He presumed he was on his own, anyhow. Just because he’d yet to encounter anyone, didn’t mean anyone wasn’t there, he supposed.
A cool breeze entered the cave and it made a subtle swooshing sound as it came over him. A shiver crossed his flesh as the wind cooled his sweaty skin. Sleep was trying to take him, he realized, and his eyelids drew heavy. Then his stomach growled and his eyes came up with a quickness he hadn’t anticipated. Sleep vanished and he sighed.
“Fine, fine,” he muttered and pulled his knapsack towards him. He reached within its confines, found the jerky and took a thick bite. He grimaced. “With shit like this, I’m not going to last a week.”
Avery pulled out a canteen and untwisted its cap. He lifted it to his mouth and took a swig. Then lowered it, recapped it, and swished its contents. “If I don’t have access to fresh water, I won’t be lasting a week anyhow. Wonder if that river back around the way was fresh water? Has to be, right, Ave? It’s coming from the island interior. Has to be…”
He leaned back, the canteen still in his hand, and looked up to the cave ceiling. Its curved grey-green surface rolled over to the wall across from him. It was covered in lichens and slime and seemed more than a little moist. The greatest hope within his mind then was that he wouldn’t die alone in some wet cave of some strange respiratory disease. That he’d be able to make contact with his fleet.
Fat chance of that if everything here kills me first… The thought came unbidden and he growled inwardly. Knock it off, meathead! You know what you have to do, so do it! Don’t give in to those stupid self-doubts of yours! Ain’t helpin’ you or anyone else!
He sighed and pulled himself up into a seated position on the bed. The tide outside surged again filling the cave with salty air and a loud crashing swoosh, and then the water retreated.
Poseidon wondering where I went… He chuckled. A strange fear ran over him then. Not a fear that he was terrified of the ocean or the fate that awaited him there. But rather a deep, resonating fear coming from somewhere deep within the earth. He shook his head and found his stare fixated on the back of the tunnel of the cave. Where it was at its blackest. A void so black he doubted his eyes would ever adapt. Avery reached into his knapsack and pulled out his flashlight. He switched it on and it sputtered slightly so he slapped it against his palms several times. The beam went ever brighter and stayed strong as he pointed the red rimmed device towards the back of the cave. The tunnel led downward at a slight decline and into a darkness further back.
He stood up and in his bent over walk followed the tunnel along the way towards a shallow bend that led even further downwards into the subterranean lurches of the planet.
Did I find the Lost World here? He took in a deep breath and exhaled. Then followed the decline downwards. A trickle of water flowed down the center of the path as he made his way along. He had to place a hand on the narrowing walls until he was nearly doubled completely over and hesitantly crunching along the slick stoned trail. The decline wasn’t incredibly steep. Though he figured if he slipped at any point he’d still go sliding downwards. He kept on for another fifteen, twenty minutes he supposed. And then finally came out into another cavern hundreds of feet deeper. Here, the cavern was pitch black.
As black as a void…
Not even the light of his flashlight pierced further than a few feet ahead of him at any given time. Only the ground just before him was clearly visible as he cautiously walked along stone that grew ever wetter.
Minutes later, he was at the edge of a body of water. He flashed his light across its surface. Reflections came off the subtle ripples of this underground lake for a great distance. His light might not penetrate the dark very well, but the bouncing light off the surface could be seen for thousands of feet until it grew so distant that he could no longer see the light returning to him.
“What… the hell is this…” He flashed his light left to right. There was only the ground and the reflections that he could see. But there was something else. The sounds of not just rippling water. There was also the far noise of what sounded like a waterfall. Distant and nondescript, yet still holding that almost familiar roar of water showering against water. There was another sound too. Practically a low growl. An utterance of some angry prisoner, he thought. Like someone who hasn’t seen the light of day in decades. Indistinct, rumbling. Growing fiercer, he thought. He was starting to feel it in his bones, similar to vibrations to his Corsair when it hit heavy winds. Except this sound went into his soul.
Ancient… It’s an ancient voice that calls to me… Avery took a step forward towards the lake water. It says, ‘find vengeance, destroy your enemy, embrace the void…’ He took another step closer to water’s edge, the slick surface of the stone causing his boot to slip just a smidgeon. He didn’t notice. ‘Come into the depths. Find Midnight…’ Another step. Avery’s eyes stared deep into the dark and he could have sworn he was seeing a light. Growing in the dark. Far across the lake. It was dim, nearly imperceptible. But it was there. It was gaining prominence from just a sliver across the far horizon, to a haze rising up to whatever ceiling was above it, caressing the rock encasing its prison. Desperate for salvation. Desperate for release. He could feel its hope and determination. Could feel its awakening. Yes… I can— Avery stopped and stared down at the water noticing for the first time some squiggly squirming things writhing just beneath the surface. There was a glow to those things as well. Brighter, more obvious. A neon green white making the long snakelike things look like ghostly eels.
He took a step back, slipped, and fell onto his rear end. Sparks of pain rang out and his head snapped back. He saw flashes of light before his eyes and threw his arms out behind him to stop from falling any further. His flashlight flung from his grasp and skittered several feet behind him. Avery hardly noticed. His gaze was fixated on those glowing eels swimming to-and-fro without any sort of care. They darted one way and darted another. Never going far from the surface and seeming as if they wanted to jump out and cover Avery. He pushed himself backwards several feet and heard an unearthly roar. Only, the roar wasn’t an echoing voice across the abyss, it was a thrumming rage in his skull.
“Fuck!” He twisted around, struggled to get his footing, and raced to grab his flashlight.
No other look was afforded as he hurried back in the direction he’d come, using the flashlight to find the way back up to his little cave. He found it in short order. However, his back was sore, his mind twisted and lost, his body wracked as if he’d been down in that abyss for ages. The entrance to the decline came into view and he pushed up the now incline, his feet struggling to find purchase, his hands grasping at the slick ground as he pushed upward. Beyond, the hateful growl grew more intense. The hazy light filled his head making even his closed eyes see a bright, brilliant light.
“No! No! No! Come on!” He staggered onward making progress by feet in what seemed like minutes. “Why is this suddenly so steep!? It wasn’t so before!”
It’s forever… it’s forever… it’s forever… it’s come for my soul! It knows my heart! It sees the fraud that I am! His heart pounded heavily and his chest close to bursting he knew it. It had to be. He kept pushing forward, kept crawling upwards. Every moment his grasp threatened to come loose and slide back down, he grabbed a firmer grip. Blood flowed from several fingers. His wrists ached. His body arched as he forced his feet to find purchase. Sweat flooded his eyes but he did not dare wipe them clean. An eternity! An eternity! It’s fire! It’s hate! I don’t want it! I don’t want it! I can’t deal with it! No, Janus wasn’t responsible! Stop saying that! Stop singing your discordant melody! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!
Avery fell to his knees and rolled onto his back. The flashlight still in his hand and highlighting the wet, stony ceiling above. Water dripped down onto his face and streamed down his cheek. His breathes were raspy and his chest heaved. He stayed there, fearful that whatever it was, was intent on dragging him straight down to hell. And he was powerless to stop it from happening. He stayed on his back, closed his eyes. Kept breathing. Tried to stop the stammering sobs from wracking his body. Unsuccessfully. At least, until he realized all was quiet. There were no more growling sounds. No more hazy lights threatening to engulf his entire existence.
He pushed backwards with his feet and drove himself into a wall. There, he braced himself up into a sitting position and gleamed his light into the recesses in which he’d just retreated. It was merely a cave tunnel leading down into the depths of the earth. He was back. Back in his cave. No more glowing eels. No more crazy thoughts.
Right. No more crazy thoughts. Except I’m living in a cave with some… demon spawn down in its depths! Avery looked around the cave interior, saw the exterior and the beach beyond. Focused on the stones serving as a barrier to the cave entrance. Avery was on his feet in seconds and racing back out of the cave and towards those stones. He came up behind the first one, tested its weight. It was as heavy as expected. However, he wasn’t about to let that stop him. He pushed as hard as he could against one side of the stone and pushed it towards the surf. The water racing in actually assisted in his task and before he knew it, the stone was pointed length wise towards his cave. He then went to the end and pushed with all of his strength until the stone was sliding upwards and into the cave. He kept pushing until it was right in front of the decline leading down into the depths. He made sure the whole width of the stone covered as much of that entryway as possible then raced back outside to do the same with the other heavy stone. This one was more challenging. It took him another hour to move it towards the cave and back into the rear of the tunnel. His muscles ached, his body craved rest, his chest heaved with the need for air. However, his head kept screaming, ‘shut it up!’ and he managed to maneuver the stone until it was end to end with the other. He then pushed the tip of one end upwards until he had it braced atop the first stone.
He got behind the stone, pushed it until every vein was straining and his face looked on the verge of bursting. But he managed to convince the stone to prop up on top of its brother and so formed a stone doorway to the decline leading to the lake below.
Goodbye glowing eels. Goodbye evil voice. Goodbye crazy underground lake and your hazy halo heaven! I’m done! Until I can find a better place to crash, that is! He started laughing then as he stumbled back towards his makeshift bed. It was almost fully dark outside but he’d managed to block up the rear of the cave. He sat down on the bed, his laughter growing louder and more boisterous. Until he heard the screeching sounds emanating from the forests out beyond. He paused and stared outside the cave entrance, eyes wide with shock.
Where the fuck did I wind up!? I… I… I… his thoughts grew murky and the next thing he saw was the black abyss of unconsciousness as his body flopped backwards onto the stone slab of a bed beneath him. His head hit his parachute bag and he was snoring before any other thought of fear and righteous indignation had occurred to labor into his brain.
Thanks for reading! Come back next week for the next couple of micro-chapters!
~Timothy S Purvis