Last week I shared the beginning of a short story titled Exploration. I had not finished the story yet, and I assumed that this week I would be able to post its ending. However, as I kept writing…and kept writing…I again went way over the word limit I had set for myself. So, today I am posting part 2 of Exploration, but I must tell you upfront that this is not quite the end yet. There will be one more installment, and I promise the ending will come next week (I’ve got it mostly written at this point). I know I’m dragging this out longer than anticipated, but I hope you are enjoying reading about Freya’s adventure!
You can read Part 1 of Exploration here, in case you missed it or want to remember where it left off. Now, it is time for Part 2:
Two nights after the crew returned from their scouting expedition I leaned against the rails at the bow of the Stormchaser just after sunset. I caught a few snatches of conversations among the crew members, but those who remained on deck spoke in hushed whispers. That seemed to be the only way anyone who went ashore spoke anymore. There was no debriefing meeting, either, at least not one that trainees were invited to attend, so Nesaf Island remained a mystery.
I sighed. The ocean lapped at the side of the boat, and when I looked down I could make out a few constellations reflected on the water. Lifting my eyes, I traced our path so far via the stars. It might seem ironic, but watching the stars is somewhat grounding for me. They are always right where they are supposed to be, gliding across the sky in the same pattern year after year.
A booming noise startles me out of my peaceful reverie. Someone has raised their voice, and is speaking from just on the other side of a tangle of unused equipment.
“You’re going to risk all of our lives,” the voice says, “and for what? Chasing fool’s gold, or a chance at getting your name passed down in stories. But do you know what kind of story it’s going to be?” The voice pauses for a moment, apparently either searching for the right words or giving the person he is talking to a chance to respond. When he speaks again, his voice sounds sadder, but no quieter. “They’re going to tell the story of how we all died. Maybe we’ll all go at once, in which case it will be a very short story. Or maybe, there are thousands of traps set up everywhere on this island! Maybe we go one at a time, or in small groups, but eventually, we’re all going to be-” the speaker turns and apparently walks in the opposite direction from where I stand, and I can no longer hear his voice.
I can’t place the voice I heard, but it must have been one of the crew who went on the scouting trip. I’m more interested in who he was talking to, why that person would risk everyone’s lives for something the first voice obviously thinks is crazy, and just who all is included in “everyone”? I shake my head and turn back to the ocean. While the conversation is interesting, it is not worth chasing “what if” trails in my mind. Most likely, this crew member was simply indulging his imagination a bit excessively. I straighten my shoulders and turn to head to my quarters. When I walk around the equipment, I glance as far down the deck as I can, hoping to see the speaker and put a face with his voice. The only people I see are Captain Banks and one of his top officers.
For the second time in this journey, I wake up in the middle of the night to odd lights and the feeling of the Stormchaser shuddering. At least I am not thrown against the wall this time, but I am still not happy about being unceremoniously awakened.
“Not again,” Sheila, one of my roommates, groans from the bottom bunk. I look over the edge of my top bunk to see her covering her head with her pillow, then sit up and listen, grasping the railing on the edge of my shaking bunk.
“That’s…not a storm,” I say slowly, “there’s no thunder. Whatever that awful noise is, it isn’t thunder. And the light is coming from the deck…” I trail off as I try to figure out what is going on. I climb down from my bunk and stagger over to the window, but all I can see is the ocean and outline of Nesaf Island, shaken and chaotic because the Stormchaser is jerking around me, but the sky and sea look as calm as ever.
“I’m going to figure out what’s going on,” I tell Sheila. I pull on my boots and jacket, then start for the door. I remember how last time I wished I brought a lantern with me, but the way the ship is pitching around, I don’t think carrying a tiny box of fire around with me is a fantastic idea. Instead, I rely on the ship’s crude lighting to guide me toward the inevitably shouting voices. Sure enough, I finally locate them several levels below the top deck, but I don’t realize this until I climb up and find the main deck nearly deserted. Just as I’m about to head below deck again, another wave of creaking rises from the depths of the boat. A sudden jolt sends me tumbling, and the bow rises unusually high. I manage to grab one of the rope ladders attached to the masts holding the weather monitoring equipment and hang on as seconds seem to stretch into hours. The stern dips below the water and the bow continues to lift ever higher into the air. My eyes are wide as I watch things around me shift, slide, and skid across the deck. Then, slowly, the momentum shifts and the bow begins to lower.
The crew trickle onto the deck now, and some head for the life rafts. Are we about to abandon ship? My mind seems to freeze, and for a few minutes I just watch as people attempt to go through the practiced motions of preparing the life rafts, all the while at the mercy of the shivering deck.
Someone shouts at me and I remember that I, too, have a place in this chaos. We’ve drilled evacuation a few times, and everyone on board has a job. I snap into action and find my team a few feet away, preparing the raft we are assigned. Without asking questions I join in, lifting ropes and inflating life vests. Soon, despite the boat’s continued protests, our raft is ready to be lowered and carry us away from the boat, but I still have no idea what is going on or why we are doing this.
“When did the Captain order evacuation?” I ask no one in particular. Maven, who is a member of my evacuation team, replies simply: “He didn’t.”
I blink, and she continues, “No one can find him. Apparently First Mate Lee made the call to prepare for evacuation, so now we stand by and see if the Captain takes over or if Lee abandons ship without him.”
A particularly loud shout comes from below deck, and I see several of the top officers striding purposefully down the deck. When they are close enough, I make out their words: we are abandoning ship at the First Mate’s order. They don’t even mention Captain Banks, but none of us has the rank or inclination to question their statement. Our raft goes over the edge, and as the bow begins to raise again, we lower it and then load into it. The process isn’t exactly comfortable, but we all end up in the raft and paddling away soon enough.
There are sixteen people in the raft, and we take turns rowing in sets of four. We’re heading for Nesaf Island, but I’m not the only one who keeps glancing back at the Stormchaser. No matter how hard we row, we can’t escape the creaking and occasional pop as the wood gives way. Raft after raft enters the water, but I can’t count them in the dark and there is no way of knowing whether those on the opposite side of the boat launched as well. I pray everyone got to their assignment before the boat slips under the water completely.
“This isn’t exactly the way I hoped to get to Nesaf,” I say to Maven as we set up a temporary shelter at the base of a cliff. It seems like ages since I woke up to this catastrophe, but somehow the only exhaustion I feel is mental. My arms are no worse from rowing halfway to shore, my legs aren’t killing me from hiking above the high tide mark, and my back isn’t complaining from all the carrying, lifting, and strain involved in everything. Actually, I feel surprisingly energized, capable of doing whatever I need to in order to pull my weight now that we are completely off of our intended course.
We finish setting up our shelter silently. As we heft the supplies brought on our raft inside, I notice how smooth the stones making up the beach are as they reflect the rising sun. The cliffs, in comparison, are jagged and rough looking, but somehow a beach made up entirely of smooth stones rings the island. The beach is dotted with large black rocks, probably formed by lava from the volcano supposedly lurking on the island, and the rest of the beach is carpeted by smaller stones of varying sizes, all equally smooth. The sun is beginning to rise behind the ridge, which sits a few feet off the coast like a fence protecting the island’s front yard, casting shadows and glinting reflections across the beach. I would guess the ridge reaches over thirty feet high in a few places. At the lowest, it’s still taller than any tree I’ve ever seen. The sun is still lower than the tops of the shortest sections, and I expect we won’t experience its full brightness for a few hours yet, but the sky is lit with soft pink and blue hues.
Turning away from the ocean and ridge, I take in the sights of Nesaf Island. Surprisingly, there does appear to be vegetation further inland. Nothing grows on the rocky coast, and it will be a steep climb up to the dark green swatch I see in the distance. Still, it’s up there. Most of what I see is various shades of brown, until the top of the mountain in the center. I don’t voice my concern, but I desperately hope that it is just a mountain and not a live volcano.
Now that I have a chance to think about something other than my immediate survival, I remember the odd snippet of conversation I overheard last night. The man said something about a trap; could there have been something in the ocean which caused the Stormchaser to sink? Should I be concerned about other traps here on the island? As far as I know, there have not been any noteworthy incidents since coming ashore. Everyone is setting up shelters, organizing supplies, and generally seeing to what needs to be done, and I haven’t seen any sort of trap. Still, the thought made me nervous. I’ll have to keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
I laughed at myself. This island didn’t even exist a few weeks ago, and here I am wondering if there are traps set on it. For there to be traps there would have to be people, or at least animals, and so far we haven’t seen anything except barnacles and small fish in a few tide pools. Still, it can’t hurt to be extra conscientious.
Again, I’ll have the conclusion for you next Monday! You will have to come back once more to find out the secrets of Nesaf Island, and I definitely think it is going to be worth it.
Until the next chapter,
Image credit: Riccardo Gazzin via Unsplash.