By Elizabeth Black
Genre: Sweet paranormal romance
Cover art and illustrations: Gary A. Gabbard
©May, 2009 Elizabeth Black (story) and Gary A. Gabbard (illustrations)
The cover for The Storm is my favorite of all my book covers. Gary A. Gabbard is an artist who did this one in watercolor. Beautiful!
After getting caught yet again with another man's wife, Robbie walked to Salt Island from the shore to nurse his wounded ego and his wounded face. He falls into a drunken sleep and awakens to find himself trapped on the island since tide came in - and a nor'easter is coming. He has to get off of this island before the storm hits. To make matters worse, the ocean is glowing an iridescent maroon. That could only mean one thing - an appearance of notorious pirate, Captain Samuel Black, and his ship, the Prospero. Robbie calls his best friend, Ian, and his former girlfriend, Kate, to get him off this island. Kate is now Ian's wife, but Robbie still carries a torch for her. Will Ian and Kate get Robbie off that island before the storm and the pirate find him first?
by Elizabeth Black
When I woke up, I felt as if a pack of mules had used my head as a soccer ball, and my bedroom ceiling was gone.
I smelled the ozone. The wind had cranked up, whipping my hair across my bruised cheekbones. My heart thumped until it hurt. I thought the nor'easter came through in the middle of the night and tore the roof off the house. The local Norwich weatherman – big, fat guy who got all excited over barometric pressure and the dew point as if they were a cliffhanger tie at the World Series – he wouldn't shut up about it all damned day. Made me think Noah's flood was coming. So I woke up after a string of nightmares, flat on my back, bathed in cold sweat, and I looked up to see the night sky? The high winds must have blown the roof into the next county. What else could explain the full moon and the Milky Way hovering over my head?
I bolted upright at the sight of all those stars, which was a big mistake, because my eyeballs continued to roll down the hill long after my head stopped moving. My stomach threatened to follow, but I swallowed hard to jam it in place. I swallowed three times just to keep down the lasagna I had eaten for dinner with Sandy.
That was when the whole ugly ordeal came back to me. I wished I still lay passed out drunk on the rocks, dreaming that I slept fitfully in my comfortable waterbed.
I wasn't in my bed next to my wife, Carol, thank God. She would have helped those mules kick a field goal between my eyes, which were nearly swollen shut from… ooohh, I didn't want to think about it, but the TV in my head that played only episodes of "What Bone-headed Robbie Did This Time" had other ideas.
Sandy had been writhing beneath me when Dean walked in and caught us. Sandy with her bony ankles locked around my waist, me with my hairy ass up in the air, giving Dean the "I'm boinking your wife" salute.
Dean did better than those mules could ever do. I had the shiner to prove it.
My panic over home damage subsided, only to be replaced by a nausea and terror much worse than the time when I was seventeen when my parents caught me drunk driving after I had come home past midnight in a Jack Daniels-induced stupor. I was lucky to be alive, and not because of a car accident that never happened. My dad kicked me until next Tuesday. My mom called a priest. Like that sorry event all those years ago, there was no way to talk myself out of the mess I had gotten myself into this time. I'd been caught red-handed. Fist in the cookie jar. Fingers in my neighbor's wallet. Pockets full of stolen Juicy Fruit.
This time I really blew it, though. Why hadn't I heard Dean walking across the front porch like all the other times? I'd open Sandy's bedroom window, stretch the four feet to my bedroom window, dive in, and be out of danger. Our houses were close enough together for me to do that.
I was right on the edge of orgasm this time and was otherwise too occupied to hear Dean's heavy footsteps on the stairs. Dean had caved in the left side of my face. My eye socket felt like a used mortar and pestle. He would have killed me if I hadn't thrown his cat at him.
As I had often done when I was caught doing something incredibly stupid, I ran to Salt Island to get some distance between myself and the rest of the world, at least until I could figure out how to get myself out of my latest fix. Those times were getting to be more frequent. The warmer weather of early spring inspired me to do more incredibly stupid things that invariably ended up with my ass in a sling. I wish I knew why I took risks like seeing a woman whose husband is the equivalent of a raving pit bull in search of a dogfight. She wasn't even all that hot. I suppose I liked the excitement of not getting caught. There'd been a certain thrill the dozens of times I had barely escaped Dean's wrath by leaping through my bedroom window and not falling the two stories below to the fieldstone path in my side garden and breaking my fool neck.
I timed my flights to Salt Island with the low tide during Spring Tide, that lowest of low tides that occurs when the sun, the moon, and the earth are in alignment. This very low tide created a nice little walkway between Good Harbor Beach and Salt Island a few thousand feet away. I kept an eye on Norwich, Massachusetts tide charts just so I knew when I could walk to the island. Sometimes I didn't even need an excuse to hang out there. I would go just to get some peace and quiet. It was the one place where Sandy, Dean, and Carol couldn't get on my case about clearing out the boxes in the living room, taking out the trash, playing Dark Age of Camelot too much, not spending enough money on her when we went out (Carol), not spending enough money on her when we went sneaked out (Sandy), and spending too much money on myself (both of them.). I'm a selfish prick, and I'm not going to apologize for it. Someone has to think about me. No one does, unless I'm in some kind of trouble, and I am floating in it up to my eyeballs right now. When in doubt, I flee like a rabbit running from a wolverine, Dean being the wolverine, complete with the howl and gnashing teeth. When Carol finds out, and I know she will if she hasn't already, she'll do her own impression of a wolverine. I'm sure it will kick ass.
It isn't always possible to walk to Salt Island, since low tide does not always create that walkway, but I'd lucked out this time. The problem was that the nice little walkway existed only for an hour or two. As the tide flowed back in, the water rose. With a little help from too much cheap Australian wine and a scorching pity party, I had completely forgotten about it. The tide had come back in while I suffered through fitful dreams about Dean the Pit-Bull, over-cooked pasta, and snarling tabbies.
So here I was, stuck on this rock with two empty bottles of Yellowtail Shiraz and the spinning head that went with them. There was no way to get off Salt Island until the next low tide was due, which wasn't going to be for at least twelve hours. Thankfully, that low tide would be low enough for me to walk back to the beach. If it wasn't, I might not be getting back home for a week. That might not have been such a bad idea, the longer I thought about it. If it wasn't for that storm, I just might have stuck around for awhile.
I wallowed in a little self-pity, crying like a spoiled toddler, kicking my legs, pissed at myself for not waking up in time to get off this fucking rock.
My troubles were just beginning, and dealing with my wife and Dean's junkyard dog madness was mild compared to what I saw churning on the horizon.
Thick gray clouds surged far out over the ocean's surface like the bile that ate my stomach lining. Fog the color of lead hung low on the horizon, its mist reaching beyond the crashing waves. Cracks of lightning split the sky, interspersed with thunder that I felt through my ass rather than heard through my ears. Sea grass between the rocks snapped in the rising winds.
That nor'easter would definitely get here long before twelve hours was up. Nor'easters were nothing to brush off as a little hard rain. Those high winds could easily hurl me to the rocks at the base of the island, or they could completely bypass the rocks and hurl me out to sea. That is if lightning didn't fry me first. Salt Island was a granite and seaweed lightning rod.
The storm wasn't going to bypass Salt Island just because I was stuck on it. I had to find a way back to shore before it blew me there in little, broken pieces.
What scared me more than anything was that the ocean glowed an iridescent maroon. It wasn't the color you see when phosphorescent plankton float on the waves. This was a sickly putrescence I had heard about in stories my best buddy Ian used to scare the shit out of me with when we were kids.
A huge nor'easter surrounded by a glowing ocean meant only one thing, and I did not want to be here when he showed up.
When the winds rose high, when the sky was the color of pitch, and when the ocean glowed blood red, Captain Samuel Black and his ship, the Prospero, emerged from the fog that rolled over the ocean waves, coming ashore in search of revenge.
Late at night on weekends, Ian would tell that story in his best Vincent Price voice, and he would scare the pants off me every time. After several hours of monster movies playing on Creature Feature, Ian's dog rolling over could get me shrieking like a girl. Kate, my old girlfriend, who later became Ian's wife, used to get on his case about spooking me so much, but she wasn't much help herself because she usually just sat there giggling the whole time. I didn't mind so much because she has a cute giggle. I think both of us actually pulled this stunt for her benefit. We just liked to make her laugh, so Ian would tell his ghost stories and I would pretend to be terrified, except I wasn't really pretending all that much. He'd turn off the lights, light some candles, and move the popcorn out of my way in case I jumped. It wasn't fun picking popcorn off the floor after I kicked the bowl into a lampshade. He scared me all the same with those stories after we were in college.
Captain Samuel Black's story was a simple and rather sad tale. Like many impressionable young men who traveled to American from England, Samuel Everett Black was a sailor who came to Massachusetts in search of his fortune. He had heard the tales of riches beyond even a poet's wildest dreams and beautiful virgin land that was his for the taking. He had taken up residence in Norwich, Massachusetts, where he met local beauty Maria Bellamy, whose father was the Honorable Nathaniel Bellamy, the most powerful sitting judge on the entire Massachusetts North Shore, at that time known as the Gold Coast because of all the pirate activity. Maria was not hurting for suitors, but being a kind woman she went out of her way to chat with Black when they ran into each other in the Town Square.
In time, friendship grew to affection that grew to love, but Black knew he was not wealthy enough to please her father. In 1715, he convinced a wealthy patron to finance a ship and crew he would commandeer, and he sailed to the coast of Florida to search for sunken Spanish treasure. This patron knew that the governor had financed a ship and crew to sail to the same waters in search of the same treasure. The patron had hoped that Black would find the treasure first, and if he did not, Black should feel free to steal what he could otherwise not obtain legally.
His trip proved unsuccessful, for no treasure was found. Black was loath to return to Maria empty-handed. It wasn't much of a leap from commandeer to pirate, the only real difference being that the second was more illegal than the first. Barely a year had passed before Black became feared as the notorious Captain Samuel Black, the pirate captain who had absconded more than fifty ships. He was easily recognizable in his frock coat, tall boots, and his trademark red scarf that billowed around him like a flag.
It was not until the buccaneers captured Prospero in 1717 that Black felt it was time to go home. Ironically, he found the ship off the coast of Florida. It was commandeered by the same man the Massachusetts governor had paid to commandeer that earlier trip to Florida – the same man from whom Samuel's own benefactor told him to steal. The Prospero, fittingly named after a leading character in Shakespeare's The Tempest, was a 100-foot three-masted galley heavily laden with gold and silver coins, pearls, gold ingots, ivory and indigo. He had saved the finest of the pearl necklaces to give to Maria as a wedding gift.
Excited and happy to finally be returning to the woman he loved, he was taken aback by a letter that somehow managed to find its way to him in the way these letters always get around in old sea legends. Written by Maria, she warned him not return to Norwich. Her father had taken out a price on his head and he would be captured, tried for piracy, and executed. The entire town wanted in on the reward money, and the men Black had once considered his friends wanted his head on a platter for gold coin. Her father had chosen a proper suitor for her and there was no arguing with him. By the time Black would have arrived in Norwich, Maria would have been married to another man – had she lived. Not long after her letter arrived, Samuel had received word that she had thrown herself from the cliffs off of the Headlands in nearby Rockport. She chose to die rather than marry a man she did not love.
Furious, grieving, and bent on revenge, Samuel headed back to Norwich. As Prospero approached the mainland, a nor'easter brewed on the horizon. Samuel had ordered his men to bury as much of the treasure as possible on the secluded Salt Island. The men worked very fast and efficiently. A good bit of the treasure was safely hidden by the time the storm struck. The buccaneers could not maintain control of the ship in the storm and the Prospero sank off of the coast of Norwich.
Once the storm passed, the judge had ordered a search of the waters but no pirate ship nor treasure was found. Not so much as a chunk of wood drifted ashore, which surprised the people of Norwich. It was as if the Prospero had vanished without a trace. The sinking remained a mystery until the next nor'easter two months later. The wealthy residents who owned estates on the shoreline swore up and down that they saw a three-masted galley floating above blood-red waves during the peak of the storm. A couple of intrepid and likely drunken locals braved the storm by running to Good Harbor Beach to get a closer look. What they saw was a ship out of nightmares.
She bore little resemblance to the Prospero stolen from Florida. Her rotting wood had darkened, leaving only the white paint of the ship's name visible on her bow. Much of her underside was missing, and what little remained was encrusted with barnacles. The cry from her figurehead was said to be so full of pain and despair that anyone who heard it was struck deaf.
By far the worst sight of all was the sails. What was formerly composed of cloth was now hewn of human skin. The faces of the buccaneers and of the people they had killed twisted in each sail, their moans and cries overpowering the blasts of wind from the storm.
Henceforth, whenever a nor'easter struck Norwich, Massachusetts, Captain Samuel Black, his buccaneers, and his ship the Prospero sailed to Good Harbor Beach to wreck vengeance on the townspeople who had destroyed his life.
I am a direct descendant of the Honorable Nathaniel Bellamy, which was why Ian took such demented glee in telling me that story. There was a damned good chance Captain Samuel Black knew I was related. I would rather brave Dean and Carol's wrath than have to meet that terror face to face.
I really had to get off this rock and fast.
I pulled out my cell phone and called Ian. The line rang. Good. It rang five times. Not so good. Maybe he and Kate spent the night out. Oh, please, God, I prayed, let them be home. I'll owe you big.
The receiver at the other end picked up.
"Ian, it's me."
Ian said nothing.
"I know it's you. You have any idea how late it is?"
"No." That was true enough.
"It's 3:30 in the morning, Rob. Where are you? Carol's worried sick about you, God knows why. And you woke up Kate."
I swallowed hard. My throat was sore from Dean choking me. "Sorry. I lost track of the time."
"Carol's looking for you. She called over here about 11 p.m. She said Dean stopped by." Ian didn't need to add anything after those three sentences.
"Can I stay over there until morning?"
"It is morning."
"Ian, please. . ."
Ian let out a long, exasperated sigh. I didn't want to hear 'I told you so.' Not now. Not when my face was a Rubik's Cube.
"Robbie, this is the same old shit from you. Go home. Get some sleep."
"I can't. I'm stuck on Salt Island."
"I came out here after Dean caught us. You know I come out here sometimes at low tide. I got a little too drunk, passed out, woke up and the walkway was gone."
Ian didn't answer. I didn't like the sound of that.
"Please, just pick me up in the boat, and let me stay there for the rest of the night. I don't think Carol would want to see me."
"Robbie, Kate and I don't want to see you either."
I heard Kate say, "Let me talk to him," but Ian wouldn't hand over the phone. He was being a real hard-ass, not that I didn't deserve it.
"What's wrong? Please give me the phone." Kate's voice crackled like it came through an old radio covered with surgical cotton.
Ian placed his palm over the receiver, but I could still hear him. "He'll be fine, Kate. He just needs to sleep it off."
I started crying again,, sniffed a little, hoping Ian heard me. I was not above whining to get what I wanted, and I desperately wanted out of here before that storm had its fun with me. The last thing I wanted was to be left alone here all night, not when I knew he was coming. Slit your throat, I thought, be done with it. Put yourself out of your misery.
"You know something Rob?" Ian finally said. His tone of voice told me I wasn't going to get out of here any time soon. "You really outdid yourself this time. Maybe it would do you a world of good to sit there all night and think about what a sorry sack of shit you are. Your life is a mess, and you call me at o' dark thirty in the morning like I'm your mommy and you want me to drag your ass off that island because you were too tanked to wake up in time to crawl off yourself. You woke Kate up on the one day she has to go to work an hour earlier than usual, so you're costing her some much-needed sleep. Just sit there and stew tonight, Rob. You really need to get your act together."
"But, Ian, the nor'easter is coming! I can't stay here. I'll get killed."
"If the storm doesn't kill you, Dean will if he sees your scrawny hide again."
"I'll take my chances. Dean is the least of my problems right now." I wiped my nose on my sweater. "Seriously, it looks really bad out there. Plus the ocean is glowing, and you know what it means when there's a huge nor'easter coming, and there's fog and lightning on the horizon, and the ocean glows in the dark. Captain Samuel Black."
"Oh, for God's sake, that's just a story! Captain Samuel Black is dead and buried in Marblehead, Robbie. No pirate ship is going to come out of the fog like the Flying Dutchman and steal you away. That sure would fix your problems, though, wouldn't it? No chance of running into Dean's fists again if the pirates kidnap you. Go to sleep, Rob. Jerk off. Count stars. Just go away."
"Where is he?" Kate's voice came from the background again. "What do you mean about letting him sit out the storm? Is he trapped on Salt Island? Ian, give me that phone."
I heard a bit of rustling, and then her voice was full in my ear. My heart jumped.
"Robbie, what's going on? Where are you?"
I told her. I couldn't stop shaking. Even though I had called Ian, I really wanted to talk to Kate. Ian was great for smacking me around until I came to my senses, but the entire time I had known her, Kate had never been angry with me. She became exasperated with me when I did something stupid and she broke up with me when I couldn't give her what she needed, but she had never become angry with me.
"Robbie, why do you do these things to yourself?"
I couldn't answer her because I didn't know why I was always getting myself into trouble like this. Carol treated me much better than I deserved. Just last month for my birthday, she and Kate had spent that Saturday afternoon baking a huge cake and preparing a surprise party for me while Ian and I spent a few hours at a paintball game I had been planning to attend for several months. When Ian and I walked through my front door, we surprised about fifty people who saw us dressed in our rattiest cammies and covered with red, yellow, and blue paint. We looked like splatterpunk Christmas trees. I hadn't had so much fun in months. Carol had been planning that party since my last birthday, which was much quieter, just the two of us, Ian and Kate, and a couple of other friends.
This year, I had absolutely no idea what was coming. There I was thinking everyone forgot my birthday, and Carol had come through for me. She always did nice things like that for me, and I go off and fool around on her. Or I drove my motorcycle too fast on the highway and scared Carol half to death. Or I saw an expensive smoker that I wanted for the backyard, bought it without thinking about the cost, and we ended up not being able to pay the entire electric bill for the month. So far, we hadn't had the power turned off. We couldn't even use the smoker until summer because it's too cold and wet outside. I bought it in the middle of winter.
I don't purposefully set out to hurt her but I end up doing it anyway. Despite the way I treated her, she always took me back. She understood me. I always felt like I was fraying at the seams, like I needed an excitement fix, and I didn't know why. She was willing to put up with my mood swings without getting too exasperated with me, and then I did something like cheat on her with Sandy? I didn't even want to screw Sandy. What I liked was pulling a fast one on Dean and jumping through the bedroom window moments before he would have caught us.
What in God's name was I doing to myself?
"Kate, I did the same kinds of things to you when we were together. I hurt you, too."
"Yes, you did, and I wasn't willing to take it from you the way Carol is. You're getting worse, too. Why do you always have to have so much drama in your life? You'd be much happier if you'd stop creating crises for yourself."
"That's why you left me?"
"Yes. I couldn't take your thrill-seeking behavior because you trampled over me."
"Why does Carol take it?"
"Because she loves you."
"You didn't love me?"
"Of course I did. I still do. You know that. I reached my limit. Carol's willing to take more grief from you and catch you when you fall. I couldn't. You're a great friend, and I love you, Rob, but you're exhausting to deal with."
"You really love me? Sometimes I think you hate me."
"I don't hate you, Rob. I get a little tired of you. Anyone would. You're a virago."
"I get tired of dealing with myself, too, Kate. I walked out to Salt Island to think things through, and I never made it that far. The thinking, I mean. I made to the island, and now I can't get off. I didn't mean to end up stranded here this time. I passed out. It doesn't matter, because here I sit with a storm coming. I don't know why I keep setting up crises. There has to be a better way to live."
"You're a thrill-seeker. Try skydiving. Bungee jumping. Deep-sea diving."
"Already did. They're boring. Sometime I think I like getting into trouble."
"No, you don't. How can you when you feel so miserable?"
"I get a rush out of it, but you're right. All I do is get myself stuck in hot water. This time it's going to be cold water and a lot of wind, though. That storm doesn't look very friendly. I have to find a better way to keep the thrill-seeker in me happy."
"Rob, we can talk after we pick you up. I don't want to waste any more time on the phone. We'll come and get you –" Ian interrupted her and she responded to him, her voice faint as she spoke away from the receiver. "Okay, get the boat hooked up. I'll be outside in a few minutes after I hang up. He can stay here the rest of the night. I know you're just mad at him and you have no intention of leaving him stranded out there." Ian concurred, which made me feel relieved. I knew he wouldn't abandon me, even if I pissed him off, and I did a bang up job pissing him off this time. In seconds, Kate's voice was full and lovely in my ear. "It should take us about a half an hour to get to you. We'll meet by our tree, okay?"
I said okay. We rang off. I didn't have to search for our tree because I was already sprawled beneath it.
Our tree was a weeping willow that had gone rather shaggy since we first claimed it as our own twelve years ago. We were in love the way fifteen-year-olds fall in love – it was intense and it was going last long past forever. My, how age and experience set me straight.
We were both sophomores at Norwich High School. Ian and I met Kate when all three of us starred in the school's lame rendition of West Side Story. The teacher cast everyone that auditioned, which was why all the songs sounded like a herd of howling cats trapped in a burlap bag. Kate got the lead, Maria. Her sweet voice did not sound like a cat. Ian played Officer Krumpky, which was ironic, since he grew up to become a cop. I was lead alley cat in the chorus, only because I was louder than the other kids.
Like all the boys in the play, I had it bad for Kate. Part of it was that glow all girls who get the romantic lead have. The other was that I just had it bad for Kate. No matter how many times I tried, I could not get up the courage to ask her out. She caught me by surprise when she asked me out.
I had come out to Salt Island numerous times since I was eight years old to hunt for Captain Samuel Black's treasure. I found two pieces of eight, which kept me going back even though I never found another coin in the two decades I had been looking. Locals came out here all the time to hang out; some to get drunk, some to bask in the sun, and some to look for treasure. While occasionally a doubloon or piece of eight washed ashore, no one ever had found the cache. Some of the more lame-brained locals braved the storms, hoping to catch a glimpse of Captain Black or the Prospero. I was never that foolish or that drunk. As far as I know, no one had ever been stupid enough to hang out on Salt Island during a nor'easter; not counting me of course, but my stay here was purely unintentional.
I had brought my two coins with me to play practice as if they were my fine bounty to woo the lovely young lass. It worked. I told Kate where I found them and she asked if she could come along during my next low Spring Tide run. She even offered to bring a picnic basket.
What fifteen-year-old boy would turn down an offer like that?
The next time I would be able to walk to Salt Island was seven p.m. that evening. She wanted to climb all over those rocks looking for Captain Black's treasure with me. I would have climbed into a volcano for her. With my heart in my throat, I squawked through my solo, and it sounded like it. I had a voice that could scare dogs. Eagerto get the hell out of the auditorium, all I could think of was heading over to Salt Island with Kate.
That evening, we explored the side of the island facing the beach. There was just enough light to see well. The only coins I found were a few sand dollars I fished out of a tidal pool that I gave to her, worthy gifts for such a fine maid. We climbed around the rocks and scrub brush until we came to the willow, whose leaves were beginning to turn yellow in the cool autumn breeze. She christened it our tree, and we ate rosemary ham sandwiches and drank cold Cokes under it while we pointed out constellations. I saw a shooting star. I wished we could be together forever.
I got my wish, but I should have elaborated. We have been together forever, but she married my best friend. Fate has an irritating sense of humor. Here I am, twenty-seven years old and married to someone else, and I carry a torch for Kate. Her feelings for me have mellowed over the years. She sees me as a good friend, easygoing and comfortable, like a well-worn pair of bedroom slippers that are falling apart at the seams and growing a bald patch here and there, but your feet are so accustomed to them that you don't even think about buying a new pair. Why couldn't I recognize a good thing when I had it?
So here I lay, twelve years later, sprawled under our tree with a spinning head and a raw eye, wondering what had gone wrong. Even though I saw other girls, Kate and I dated steadily for five years. We often double-dated with Ian's catch of the day. He went through girls the way I went through chocolate chip cookies. Kate wanted to settle down when we were college freshmen, but I didn't want to give up my freedom. By this time, Ian had grown tired of dating women with the same name so he didn't slip when he cried out a name after he shot his wad. He and Kate had always gotten along well. He reminded me repeatedly that I needed to treat her better or I was going to lose her.
I should have listened to him. I gave her what I felt comfortable giving her, but I wouldn't give her my heart. There was a part of me that I wouldn't let anyone touch, including her, and it pained her quite a bit. She wanted to settle down, but she soon figured out that it wouldn't be with me. We broke up the summer of my sophomore year. She didn't start dating Ian until six months later. They married within a year after getting their Bachelor's degrees. I was in a depressed haze when I met and married Carol. I married her because I was twenty-four and it was time to get married. It was one of the worst mistakes I had ever made, and coming from a guy who has taken mistake-making to a higher level in life, that's saying something.
I watched the sky. The full moon gaped at me, as if it was astonished that I hadn't left when the walkway was available. A shooting star skated by like a pebble skipping across the ocean's waves. I didn't make a wish this time. I saw some of the same constellations we looked at our first evening here – the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Pegasus. Tendrils from the looming fog tugged at the Northern Cross.
The temperature had dropped. My breath came out in jagged white bursts. I wore faded jeans, a navy blue sweater, and my black trench coat, but my clothing was not thick enough to keep the cold from slicing through. There were areas with more dense growth and underbrush around the island. I knew Kate wanted me to wait by our tree, but it was tall and it called to the lightning that was coming closer by the minute. Its branches already bore scars from previous strikes. I felt the rumbling thunder between my shoulder blades. I didn't want to be under the willow when lightning struck it.
I stood unsteadily, the alcoholic fog in my brain matched by the fog that approached the island. I scanned the rocks by the light of the full moon. Beach wormwood and overgrown brush dotted the landscape. I didn't see anything nearby that looked like shelter. I stumbled towards the side of the island that faced the ocean. I didn't often go to that side because it meant climbing some steep rocks to the top of the island. I was not particularly coordinated when I was sober. Drunk, I walked like marionette. Even though my stomach felt like it was on fire, I was not hung over. I was still drunk. The island spun. I focused on a tree here, a shrub there, to keep my balance. I crossed the peak of the island and headed down the other side. Ahead of me was a thick patch of shrubbery and several tree trunks that jutted out from between the rocks like a deer's antlers from its head. I walked slowly and monitored my breathing. At least I didn't feel like throwing up yet. The hangover wouldn't come on for a few more hours.
The island grew dark. A few raindrops splashed my face. Ugly black clouds obscured the starlit sky. I was exhausted from the climbing and walking. When I reached the dead trees, I glanced at the ocean, and was horrified at what I saw. The surface was as smooth as glass. The maroon-tinted water glowed, brightening and dimming, throbbing, as if a monstrous heart pumped blood from deep beneath the ocean's surface. This was the motionless, quiet sea Ian had told me about, the same sea that would give way to the pounding maelstrom that approached not far from me. The storm was moving fast.
As soon as I saw that motionless sea and the churning clouds, I knew I had made a mistake coming to this side of the island. What the hell was I thinking? Of course it would be more dangerous on the side of the island the storm was approaching. I didn't stand a chance over here. Damn that booze that rotted my brain! I would have been safer waiting under our tree, even if it had been struck by lightning. There was no way that Ian would be able to maneuver his boat on this side of the island. He was due to arrive in about fifteen minutes. By then, I was sure the surf would be too rough. I felt like an idiot, stumbling all the way over here for nothing.
Rain came down in a steady stream, making the rocks slick. I turned and slipped, crashing onto my stomach. I vomited. Even though I had knocked the wind out of me and I was sick, I had enough composure to grab a tree trunk, which slowed my descent, but not nearly enough to stop me from falling.
I slid down rocks slick with algae and seaweed, heading towards the water. I reached for some vines tangled around the trees but I couldn't catch them. I didn't want to drown. Another dead tree broke my fall. The weight of my body had jarred loose an outcropping of rocks close enough for me to stand on. It was a good thing I wore boots with cleats, otherwise I never would have been able to dig my feet into the rocks.
I was so terrified that my heart threatened to burst out of my chest. I looked up. Vines as thick as boating cables snaked around the tree trunks. I yanked them, and they held fast. Being thin and wiry, I had hoped they would hold my weight. I should be able to climb to the top and get back to the willow tree by the time Ian and Kate arrived.
Lightning flashed. I saw what looked like a hieroglyph carved in the rocks. Two more bolts of light brightened the night sky long enough for me to get a good look at Captain Samuel Black's symbol. It was painted on his flag and carved into the side of his ship.
The stories claimed it was also carved at the entrance to the hiding place for his treasure.
When the trees were alive, their roots had pushed away the soil and granite that hid what I now saw was a narrow entrance dug into the side of the island. My fall onto that dead tree knocked loose the rocks directly in front of the opening Black's henchmen had dug into the island.
I had literally fallen onto Captain Samuel Black's treasure trove. High tide was not yet completely in. When that happened, this entrance would be completely submerged in water. Black must have had that in mind when he and his crew dug the entrance.
I kicked aside the rocks jarred loose by my fall, and then I shoved enough of the dirt out of my way so that I could fit through that entrance. I entered a narrow tunnel so short that I had to bend over to get inside. Good thing I was thin, otherwise I never would have fit in there. I had my Zippo with me. I flicked it on.
Tree roots slender as hairs tickled my face. The musty scent of wet earth mingled with the rot of seaweed. After walking uphill about four yards, I came upon a cave dug out of the rock. Strings of pearls sat in a pile like albino snakes guarding the entrance. A pile of gold and silver coins lay at my feet. More coins and gold bars encrusted with mud lay in a gigantic pile along the wall.
Roots sticking out of the earth over my head shook as the thunder cracked. I had to get out of here, but not before I grabbed a handful of coins and shoved them in my pocket. I took the nicest strand of pearls, thinking they'd look beautiful around Kate's smooth neck. I knew exactly where the entrance was so I could come back here after the storm cleared and collect the rest of the stuff. I couldn't believe my luck! I, drunk and sick out of my mind, had finally found Captain Samuel Black's treasure.
I crawled out to find a churning ocean and falling rain. In my excitement, I had no difficulty climbing the vines to the top of the island. It seemed easier to climb up rather than fall down, as long as I didn't look down. I knew what that ocean looked like. If I saw that pulsing red as if a beast's heart beat beneath the island, it would scare me into paralysis. I could freeze up when I had a more stable surface to crawl on.
When I reached the island's peak, I ran towards the willow tree, hoping all the while that I did not get fried by a bolt of lightning. I heard a horn – two reports, then three. I looked towards the sound. The ocean jerked Ian's boat back and forth like a bathtub toy. The blood red waves crashed beneath a lightning-lit sky. As I looked into the wall of fog, I could not believe what I saw emerge from it.
The Prospero towered over Ian's boat. Her blackened wood frame was encrusted with barnacles the size of a child's fist. Seaweed covered her like a siren's hair. Balls of lightning danced around the tops of her ragged masts and faded into the sky like fireworks, leaving a ghostly after-image of smoke in their wake. Jagged bolts snaked down the length of the masts, branching out like spider's webs, turning from bright white to the dull blue of a sputtering candle flame. The hair on my arms stood on end. My skin itched. I felt my scalp tingle from static electricity.
The faces held hostage in the sails squinted at the bright light. The sails were stretched taut and shimmered like wet leather, each face pressed outward, as if a rioting crowd was trapped behind a cloth barrier, struggling to break free. Shrieks and curses overwhelmed the howling winds. Some of the faces gaped at Ian and Kate, both of whom ran frantically around their boat in a futile attempt to regain control of it. Most of the faces glared at me with loathing. I wondered how much I resembled Nathaniel Bellamy, and if they held me responsible for the predicament they were in?
Shadowy figures slipped through the raging ocean. Two of them fastened one end of a rope to the tiny boat's engine. The other end of the rope disappeared into the huge, ragged hole that took up most of the Prospero's underside. The rope pulled taut, and unseen hands towed Ian's boat towards the ruined ship.
I ran towards Ian's boat, waving my arms at him and Kate. Kate saw me. I watched her shout my name, but I could not hear her over the storm. I reached into my pocket to finger the necklace I had picked up, knowing she would never see it. I waved for them to go away, to save themselves. Ian took a hacksaw to the rope tied around the engine. He beat off a couple of shadows that attempted to board his boat.
The Prospero's figurehead struggled to detach herself from the bow of the ship. Her long fingers managed to loosen one hip. The winds whipped her hair around her head, setting wet splinters flying in all directions. She thrashed against the bow, struggling to break free. Her hollow gaze found my face, and she pointed one sinewy arm at me, joints cracking and snapping like twigs, index finger pointed at my head. As she opened her black maw I covered my ears with my hands, but her voice sliced its way between my fingers.
She screamed, "Behind you!"
I swung around to see a bearded giant bearing down upon me. His wet black hair had plastered against his head, framing hot blue eyes that glared at me with hate and terror. Spittle caked his thicket of beard. The wind bellowed around me as this fright bellowed towards me.
The figurehead's cry did not strip me of my hearing. She saved my hide, if but for a moment.
Captain Samuel Black was twice my height no matter which way you looked at him. The guy had to weigh over three hundred pounds. His black frock coat rustled behind him like one of the tattered sails on his ship. The heavy boots he wore boomed with each step, keeping time with the thunder that rolled in the heavens. His legs were as thick at the tree branch he wielded in one hand like a club.
My eyes were riveted to the tree branch he waved over his head.
I heard, "You're a sad butt-crack!" before he brought that branch down towards my head.
I could not have agreed with him more, but there was no time to debate the point without risking my skull being split open like a cantaloupe.
I raised my arms and twisted out of the way fast enough for the branch to collide with my upper left arm. It hurt like hell but nothing was broken. His eyes flashed the heat of one who had been driven insane. A stink of urine, sweat, and rotgut spiced rum rolled off of him in waves. My stomach heaved.
He swung the branch up again, and I got a glimpse of his massive chest.
I did not know that Captain Samuel Black wore a Boston Red Socks sweatshirt.
The branch came down towards my head and he yelled again.
I heard, "You're Captain Samuel Black!" and the branch hit a home run against my shoulder, knocking me to the ground. A smaller, thin guy ran up from behind the Red Sox fan, who stood over me, weapon in hand. The little guy shrieked, "Stop it, Ray! You've got the wrong guy! You're going to kill him!"
These two idiots must have gotten drunk like me, but they decided to stick out the storm and see if the pirates would show up. I bet they were sorry they didn't just hang out at one of the local pubs and spook each other silly with ghost stories instead.
I saw the branch fall to the ground inches from my head. Ray crouched against my thighs, pinning me facedown to the ground. I struggled against Ray's massive bulk and tried to yell some sense into him, but good old Captain Morgan had convinced him I was one of the pirates coming to swallow his soul. He grabbed my hair, which was bunched in a long, wet matted clump down my back, and yanked hard, snapping my head towards the sky. He grabbed a large rock with his free hand.
I raised myself enough so that I could see Ian's boat. I watched Kate struggle near the bow. A tall man dressed in heavy boots and a frock coat stood behind her. One arm was wrapped tightly around her waist. A streak of lightning illuminated his red scarf that billowed like a flag around him.
I could see the brightness of his eyes even though he was hundreds of feet away from me. He was going to take what meant the most to me, the same way Nathaniel Bellamy took the woman he had loved three hundred years ago, leaving him roaming the seas alone with his grief.
Kate reached towards me, pleading with me to help her. I didn't need to see the terror in her eyes. It was my fault she was here in the first place.
The saber Captain Samuel Black held to her throat flashed in the bright light. That saber didn't belong against her neck. My pearl necklace did.
Ray shouted, "You're Captain Samuel Black!" and brought the rock down against the side of my head.
I awoke in a hospital bed three days later. The headache I had was much worse than any hangover I had ever experienced. I craved a drink. The rich people, whose homes faced the beach, had heard Ian's horn. They had called the Coast Guard. The police gave me a severe reprimand, one that I fully deserved, for being on Salt Island when that damned storm hit. Ray and his buddy, Earl, were much less worse for wear than I. They babbled about pirates and ghost ships but their ramblings were brushed off as the product of too much Captain Morgan and too little common sense. They were treated for minor injuries and sent home to nurse their hangovers in the comfort of their very angry wives.
No trace of Ian, Kate, or their boat was ever found.
The witnesses saw Ian's boat wrestling with the waves. The cloud cover and rain were so thick that it was hard to see much beyond the narrow stretch of beach. The boat was last seen disappearing into an especially dark storm cloud. There was no talk of Captain Samuel Black, but it was clear to me that he was on everyone's mind.
Dean left me alone. He figured I had already been beaten up enough. Carol would not talk about that night or why I went to Salt Island. We moved away from Norwich six months after I was released from the hospital. I no longer felt comfortable in my home, partly because the sound of Sandy's voice from over the fence grated on my nerves, but mostly it was because I saw reminders of Ian and Kate everywhere I looked. At the movie theatre we went to on occasion. At the grocery store, where Ian and I fought over the best cuts of steak. On Salt Island, where I had my first date with Kate.
I couldn't stand to live there anymore.
Carol and I moved to western Massachusetts, where there was no ocean to tempt me. I wanted to be as far away from those painful memories as possible. Captain Samuel Black could only torture me in dreams out here in the mountains.
I often asked myself why Black had not killed me when he had the chance. My ancestor was the reason he stalked the seas. Keeping me alive but taking the two most important people in my life was a much worse fate than merely slicing my throat with his saber.
He left me alive and alone, hurting and kicking myself for putting Ian and especially Kate in such a horrible position. It was my fault that both of them were gone. I didn't know if they were alive or dead.
I never returned to Salt Island, nor have I told anyone where Captain Samuel Black's treasure was hidden. I didn't want any part of it. As far as I was concerned, it was blood money. It was blood money when Black stole it, and it was blood money when he robbed Kate and Ian from me. The police had asked me where I found the gold coins and the pearl necklace and I told them the truth – I had found them while I wandered around during the storm. I asked to keep them. I tried to not make it look like I was begging.
I keep the coins in a carved wooden box in my desk in my study. I draped the necklace over a photograph of Ian, Kate, and me when the three of us were at Good Harbor Beach before I had married.
I dream about her sometimes. I'm wandering along Good Harbor Beach, approaching Salt Island. The sky is blue and dotted with clouds. Gulls coast overhead. Sandpipers skitter at the edge of the water, barely missing the sea foam as they run. I see Kate walking towards me in one of those little sundresses she likes to wear. She looks good in bright colors – fuschia, turquoise, and coral. She waves at me, and I run to her. I come bearing a gift for the fine young lass. She likes presents.
I hand her the pearl necklace. She gives me a smile brighter than the sun warming the sand. It's a peace offering between friends. I hope she will accept. She always became exasperated with me when I did something stupid, but she never became angry with me. And knowing that would give me peace.