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Witch Island

Witch Island

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Witch Island

173 pagine
2 ore
Apr 23, 2012


A terrible storm casts a sailor from the rigging to an island unknown. He waits for rescue only to discover two more castaways. Now they must survive the island and each other until a ship can be hailed. The sea can supply their needs, but a dangerous plan threatens to destroy them where the island cannot. Will they still be waiting when help arrives?

Apr 23, 2012

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Witch Island - Victor Pryce

Witch Island

Victor Pryce

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2012

Front Flap

A terrible storm casts a sailor from the rigging to an island unknown. He waits for rescue only to discover two more castaways. Now they must survive the island and each other until a ship can be hailed. The sea can supply their needs, but a dangerous plan threatens to destroy them where the island cannot. Will they still be waiting when help arrives?

X-ray photograph for cover art taken by Albert Koetsier. See more of his work at:

Chapter 1

Jack had weathered his share of storms, more than his share some would say, but he never liked to climb the mast during a gale. For days the sea had passed beneath the ship in the form of great mountains, and tonight was no exception. Even standing on deck required the sailor to brace himself, but up on the rigging every roll of the deck was magnified into a sprint across the sky.

As he climbed, Jack made each advance between the edges of his aerial path, stopping to grip the ropes whenever the mast changed the direction of its flight. The roar of the wind and the waves passed by his ears unnoticed; he needed all his concentration to synchronize his movements with those of the ship.

Though he did not enjoy carrying out his present duty, receiving the order gave Jack a measure of pride. He was an old man as sailors go, but his ability was still highly esteemed among all the Britannia's crew. Energized by this thought, he completed the ascent to the top of the sail. There he savored a moment's rest before undertaking the horizontal portion of his journey; this part he disliked most of all.

The storm had shown signs of waning, but that night a powerful gust first split, then shredded the mainsail. It was the task of Jack and two other nimble sailors to cut the pieces free. He crept out to the first rope, tightened his legs around the slippery wooden beam, and pulled his knife from its sheath. With great care he timed his cuts, for his legs alone would not support him when the ship's rocking left him nearly upside down every few seconds. Had he the time to consider it, he would have been hard pressed to think of a less agreeable post.

Despite his precarious situation, it seemed that Providence was smiling on him. Just that morning he had felt compelled to sharpen his knife despite the tossing of the ship, and now the ropes yielded easily to the strokes of its edge. One after another the strips of canvas were swept away as the sailor inched farther out from the mast.

Finally Jack reached the last rope, freed it with his blade, then rested for a moment in the joy of being able to return to the deck. Quickly he returned the knife to its sheath. But as the noise of the flapping piece of sail departed with it into the wind, quite another sound reached Jack's ears. Its arrival chased the remaining warmth from his blood.

Desperately the sailor held his grip, peering out towards the shrouded waves. Seeing nothing through the darkness, he held his eyes closed to sharpen his hearing. For countless moments he waited, a soft-bodied statue listening against the howl of the wind. He searched for the dreaded sound of breakers; only the rocking of the ship beneath him betrayed the passing of time.

So far as he knew they were on empty seas, the Britannia having recently passed into the Caribbean from the Atlantic. The ship was headed for the colony of British Honduras, and landfall was not expected for weeks. But Jack also knew that being pushed for days at the whims of a storm can move a ship hundreds of miles from where it was expected to be. Also, it was not unheard of in these warm Caribbean waters for a reef to sit just feet below the surface where the charts showed only ocean.

He heard it again. This time there was no doubt; there were breakers off the starboard bow. The Britannia was coming into shallow water. Brought back to life with his suspicion confirmed, the sailor leaned around the beam, waited till the mast finished another shift in direction, then bellowed out his discovery to the deck below, Breakers off the star...

The warning was never finished. Halfway through his flight across the sky the mast decided to cut this trip short, halting the cry's conclusion before it could take form in Jack's throat. Suffering from cramps and numerous bruises on his legs, the sailor had loosened his grip for the few seconds rest promised by the ship's previously metered rolls. This time his trust was betrayed.

Jack became airborne, an altogether unwelcome sensation. He waited for the ropes of the shroud to appear out of the darkness, his hands poised to grab hold of them, but they never materialized. Instead he was greeted by the crash of splintering wood. What he had thought was the report of breakers was actually the sound of water hitting stone. Presently the ship took its turn.

Tumbling through the abyss, the sailor's body became tense, expecting an impact though unsure of where it would occur. He knew the ship was among rocks, but he could not see them through the darkness, and further did not know which direction to look for them even if he could see.

No longer tied to the ticking of the great, wooden metronome, Jack seemingly became loosed from time itself. He pondered whether anyone knew he was no longer aboard. Had the apparent slowing of time also occurred on the Britannia? It must have; once before he had ridden a ship as it struck rocks, and his current sensations were of the same sort.

Then as now, the sailor's life did not pass before his eyes. Perhaps there was insufficient light.

Had it, he would have first seen the smiling face of his mother as she carried her firstborn son to the docks where his father would soon be arriving. Later they would see his father's strong, worn hands as he held Jack in his lap and told stories of the wondrous places visited on his voyages.

As a boy of ten, he would again see his mother's eyes, only this time they were crying. The tears shed at the death of his father, taken at sea by scurvy. This scurvy became a terrible and intriguing thing in the mind of young Jack. It was the disease of the sea.

The sailor heard the frantic yells of his shipmates. The crash had reached their ears as well.

Despite the loss of his father, there was no question then in Jack's mind that he would become a sailor. He had to see firsthand the mysteries of his father's stories. He also had little doubt that scurvy would end his own adventures.

He had only to wait two years for his first ocean journey to begin. His mother worked hard, yet found herself unable to support her now fatherless family, so Jack volunteered to be a powder monkey in the British Navy and sent the money home.

The memory that would have been the most vivid would be the fear he saw in his mother's eyes as he departed on that first voyage. Don't cry mother, he told her, I will return. I am only visiting the sea. Then boldly he entered his life on the water.

And indeed he did return, but after just a week on land he found himself yearning for the sea. Time and again he would depart, seeing many of the mysteries spoken of by his father and others he could never have imagined. On his first voyage, looking up one night after months at sea, he saw a shimmering blue flame envelope the sails. He called out in alarm, telling the officer on watch of the blaze, but was shocked when his warnings were met with laughter.

That is the fire of St. Elmo, the officer said, our sails are quite safe. The glow is but an omen of good sailing to come. He looked on in disbelief, but the sails did not blacken and the fire did not spread. Instead the blue glow continued its dance on the sails and extended like a tuft of grass from the end of the mast. His father had spoken of St. Elmo's fire, but he had never pictured it like that.

Jack felt the spray of the ocean on his skin. It would not be long now.

The young sailor experienced even more incredible things in the years to come. One night in his twenty-seventh year he came on deck and thought himself dreaming. They had recently rounded the Cape of Good Hope and were now sailing northeast toward India. He walked to the rail and saw the ocean glowing blue as far as the eye could see. Though the sky was clear, there was no moon to lend the ocean its light. The sea itself was shining. No matter how many times he told this story back in England, only those who had seen it for themselves would believe him. All others thought it a joke told by sailors, who were thought to oft exaggerate while telling their tales.

Sailors were also seen as highly superstitious, observing more rituals than the Church of England. Jack was no exception; he recalled countless missteps from the fateful day when his ship ran aground, leaving the entire crew stranded. The sailors all knew that the ocean had spit them ashore for some grievous lapse of respect. The one responsible never confessed, but the crew surely would have shot the man with the shiftiest eyes had the guns survived the wreck.

But in the present it was not ashore that Jack was being cast, rather into the ocean. Or onto rocks still hidden by the veil of darkness.

Finally the sailor heard a splash welcome him into the raging sea. At least, he assumed it was the sea. Though he was altogether unsure of what hitting rocks would sound like, he knew that rocks could not envelope him after impact. It seemed he had not disrespected the sea too terribly. But then, the night was far from over.

If his fall from the sail had taken an eternity, the plunge into the warm sea was the second eternity the sailor would spend that day, and he soon regretted his lack of breathing in the first. Still the darkness left him without sight, so he could find no preferable direction to swim. Not wanting to travel deeper in his quest for the surface, he remained still and again waited for impact, this time with the sky.

At long last Jack surfaced and choked down his first breath in two eternities. But though air was restored to his lungs, there was still no light for his eyes. He had only his ears, which were filled with the screech of wood scraping against stone and the ever present howl of the wind. He now knew the location of both the rocks and the ship, though the latter was in no state to rescue or even notice him.

Twice he had known that the water's surface would eventually greet him, but he had no such assurance of land. Many times on smoother seas he had seen rocks appear during low tide with no land within view from the tops. The sailor considered his options. Even if the rocks stood alone, he figured he would survive longer away from them. So away he swam, leaving both the rocks and the ship that had so recently cast him off.

Traveling again, this time at the interface of water and sky, Jack pulled himself into the unknown. Slowly the noise of waves hitting the rocks died away until he heard only wind and rain. Hoping for an island, he turned to his right and swam on. After many minutes and no sign of solid earth, he turned around and went back the way he came, this time going into the waves.

After swimming twice the distance he had gone in the other direction, he still found no indication of land. There must be nothing attached to those cursed rocks! he thought.

It quickly grew difficult for the sailor to tread water, and the meager fat afforded to men who toil all day on fixed rations offered little assistance. Even in his old age Jack had been sure he would die of scurvy, paying the same dues as his father for a life at sea. It seemed he was mistaken.

The sailor knew many who had drowned. There were even some who lived to recount the experience, though he never knew which of their stories to believe. Some said it was peaceful, even that angels greeted them. Others told only of the agony of seawater burning in their lungs. Jack was inclined to believe the latter, given the pain of simply holding stale air in his lungs for too long. For this reason he was in no hurry to drown, though he was confident it would soon happen regardless.

Maybe the sharks will get me first, the sailor thought. Do sharks hunt during such terrible storms? Whatever he knew of drowning, he had no doubt about the pain brought when rows of daggers plunged into one's flesh. Now every brush of cloth against his skin felt like the searching nose of a shark.

Perhaps drowning would be better, he mused, unless scurvy can get me in the next few minutes.

But it wasn't a shark or scurvy that next greeted Jack's ears. Once again he heard breakers, and he felt certain the rocks were too distant to be the sound's origin. With renewed strength he swam, this time with a beacon to guide him. Soon he was amongst the breakers and had to

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