Sara Dobie Bauer © 2018
All Rights Reserved
The crack as the hull breaks echoes across the beach, into the woods, and inside my head as I try to sleep. I was just beginning to dream of New Orleans. I almost smelled whiskey and muddy streets—almost. Instead, I jolt awake, still surrounded by the fresh flowery scent of this blasted tropical island in the middle of… Well, I don’t know really. That’s the point of exile.
I pull on a worn linen shirt. For the first few months here, I slept with my clothes on in case the cannibals came knocking. They never did. I think they knew this strange white man would make a disgusting meal. As if they could smell death on me. I wonder if eating my flesh could actually kill them. Wouldn’t mind offering a bite if only for some entertainment. I haven’t watched a human die in ages, but now, here we go: a shipwreck. There’s bound to be death in abundance tonight.
It’s not raining when I step outside my house. Yes, I have a small house on a tropical island in the middle of the ocean, overrun with cannibals and all manner of man-eating beasts. Michelle wasn’t that cruel when she sent me here. She did provide me with a home. Congratulations, you heartless bitch, you gave me a house in which to spend eternity alone.
I didn’t even mean to kill that last human back home in Louisiana.
Or maybe I did.
A leathery leaf to the face brings me back to the present as I stomp in tall boots through thick foliage. Despite the lack of rain now falling on my island, a flash of lightning illuminates the beach ahead long enough for me to see them—the natives who’ve managed to steal so many meals from me.
The irony would make me crack a smile if not for my ever-growing bitterness. I once considered capturing a cannibal, but then, they might come hunting me and I’m not half as strong as I once was. And I don’t think Michelle means to leave me here forever. I must wait out her overblown sense of justice.
From where I stand, sheltered behind a fence of palms, I see remnants of a great ship washing to shore. Thunder cracks as a man screams. My focus darts toward the dancing orange light of the native’s torches, and I see but outlines of their naked bodies as they tug and pull on a creature wrapped in white fabric. I squint and identify a man in his sleeping clothes. Dinner is served.
My gaze skims the beach, but it’s mostly detritus and dead men. Dead men are no good to me as their blood is most certainly not part of my unique diet. Oh, but then, there’s a scent on the wind. There is something alive nearby, and it’s bleeding. The smell of blood mixes with the salt of the sea and bitter stress-sweat.
I hone my senses to find the source of blood, but it’s been so long. Once a master, my hunting skills are now out of practice. I take a step back into the jungle and move to my right, away from the dancing torches and the man’s screams, and almost trip over a body. Out of practice is apparently a gross understatement as he was near me this whole time.
Unlike his soon to be devoured compatriot, this man is fully clothed in a coat and trousers. His hair is dark, and he wears black gloves. He’s but a shadow on the sand as I lift him and carry him farther into the woods.
Finally, a meal they won’t steal from me.
Safely inside my little house, I lay the man on the floor and poke at the fire until it roars like the thunder outside. Now, it rains. The ocean storm falls heavy, rocks on the roof, and an animal howls nearby, woken wet from its slumber.
I peel off his soaked clothes as the wound on his head continues to bleed. Unconscious, it’s a wonder he wasn’t pulled away by the current to die in the arms of some mythical mermaid. As I look at him in the firelight, I realize he is indeed a wonder. Perhaps it’s been too long since I’ve felt another man’s skin, but perhaps not. This injured sailor might be beautiful.
Looking at his hairless face, I would have guessed him barely a man. The thick muscles of his chest, arms, and legs dictate otherwise, as do the calluses on his hands. Not only is he a full-grown man, but he’s also a man who works hard. He is lean with hair the color of the ocean on a moonless night—and if I don’t stop his head bleeding, my curse of nothing but dead flesh could continue.
“Don’t die,” I say to him. It’s the first I’ve spoken to a human in ages.
I move him, naked and dry, to my bed and cover him in blankets before wetting a cloth and wiping his wound. It’s a sizeable gash high on his forehead. The dark creature inside me wrestles at the sight of his blood, but I woo it with promises of later, later.
I hold the rag to his head and realize I have no bandages. It’s not as though I need them. I’ll just have to sit here then. I perch on the side of my bed, and my thumb touches his bottom lip. Like a sunrise, this man is becoming more beautiful by the minute. I want to ravage him. I push the blankets away enough to run my hand over his chest. An angry scrape mars the pale skin, and I bet my guest will be covered in bruises by morning. The sea is not a gentle mistress. I know. I’ve tried to escape my exile by swimming out into white waves to no avail. The crushing currents always bring me back.
A log pops in the fire as the rain continues. My house now smells of smoke, mud, and him. I climb farther into the bed and recline at his side. I still hold the cloth to his head as I wrap him in my arms and run my nose up the side of his neck.
I think Michelle would be angry to see how happy I am.
He hasn’t moved come morning, but he’s not dead. His heart beats beneath the palm of my hand. He would smell different, too, if he’d died in the night, like meat gone sour. Outside, the sun tries to escape the clouds to no avail, although it doesn’t rain anymore. The jungle is quiet, resting after the storm.
I take care to further clean his wound, now that the bleeding has stopped. The day warms quickly. Through my open windows, humid air rides breezes that should be a relief and are instead suffocating with wetness. I pull his blankets down and run my fingers over his shoulders and arms. My sailor is such a lovely thing—but I was right. His torso is painted in shades of purple already. He’ll be sore when he wakes up. If he wakes up. He has to wake up.
Before I know it, I’ve been staring at him for hours with my hand on his flat stomach, and I feel a desperate need to know the color of his eyes. I want to hear his voice. I want to make him come. All of these sudden, frantic yearnings wash over me, all because it’s been too long. A man like me should not be alone for so long, not when I so enjoy the company of others—but I am being punished. Maybe I deserve punishment. Maybe I really did mean to kill that whore in New Orleans.
I should scour the beach for remnants. Boats carry so many supplies, and I need…who knows what for my guest? I can’t leave him, though, not unconscious. Unmoving in my bed, he can’t fight back. He couldn’t even call for help. If the cannibals found out I had a healthy young man in my house, they would never leave us in peace.
In the sunlight, my sailor is a contradiction. He’s not a privileged weakling with clean fingernails, but he’s not a roughened brute either. He’s nothing but muscle and skin, but he’s got the face of a man I might see wearing a woman’s frock in some back den off Bourbon Street. He is elegant, and if only he’d wake up so I could taste his tongue.
I barely notice the falling of night, but here we are in the dark again. My fingers have mapped almost every inch of him by now as his bruises continue to spread. I’ve about resigned myself to never hearing him sigh when he gasps awake.
He sits up and sucks air into his lungs as if he’s spent the past two days drowning. I keep my hands on his shoulders and see that his eyes are light—some shade of gray or bright blue like the sea.
“You’re all right,” I say.
“Bollocks,” he gasps. Then he chokes, and I hurry to get him water from the large rain bucket outside. He gulps down a cup before wiping the back of his hand over his mouth and staring up at me. “Where…” His eyes glaze over. “The ship!” He tosses the blankets back and stands with no concern for his nudity. I’m there to catch him when he almost falls over.
“You need to sit.” I push him back onto the edge of my bed and sit in the chair nearby.
He winces and bends forward. “Christ, I hurt everywhere. I…” He squeezes his eyes shut.
I now know not only the color of those eyes but also the sound of his voice: velvet with a touch of smoke. I want to hear that voice calling my name. Also, he’s English, which truly does make me wonder where the hell Michelle found this ridiculous island for my exile. Where in God’s name are we? My sailor will probably be just as confused as I when he realizes I’m American, but he seems too confused by other things at the moment to care.
“Where am I?”
I want to laugh but don’t. “Your ship crashed on the reef last night. I found you on the beach.”
“I was on deck,” he says without looking at me. “Mapping the stars.” His tongue pokes out to lick his lips. “There was a noise, and then… My head, I think…” He reaches for his forehead, but I grab his wrist to stop him.
“Don’t. You have an open wound.”
“Oh. That explains the hammering in my skull. The rest of the crew?”
I shake my head. “I didn’t find anyone else.”
He covers his face with his hands and says with vehemence, “Fuck.”
The word from his mouth makes me smile. I’ve always found the British to be a charming, self-deprecating people, but of their propriety, I have been less than enthused. My sailor seems on the more colorful spectrum. And his comfort with nudity is a welcome relief. If I had my way, the man would never wear clothes.
He lifts his head. “We must go to the beach.”
“It’s not a good idea.”
“Why not? I might be able to find—” He shrugs. “—anything.”
“I fear the natives might be too fond of you.”
He groans. “Not cannibals again!”
I chuckle, surprised.
“Considering their brutality,” he rants, “it’s amazing these creatures survive. I once saw one take a bite out of the other during an argument. And they were friends! Suppose you don’t like your neighbor? Well, show up and eat their children!”
I laugh, and it’s akin to floating on a warm tide.
“Oh, my head.”
I lean forward in my chair as his face crumples in pain. “Why don’t you lie down?”
He collapses onto the pillow. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Andrew,” he says, and his voice shakes. “Thank you.”
Before he dozes off again, I push coils of black curl behind his ear. “And you? What do I call you?”
“Edmund,” he whispers as he slips away, and I sit by his side as he wrestles through dreams.