Chapter 13

The Ship of the Desert

The cruiser pushed the ocean aside as it rode through the expanse of blue, the waves snapping at the sides, whilst shimmering in the golden sun. The uniform structure of the ship was echoed by the colours in which it was painted; grey, white and blue, linear patterns and blocks of colour, 'Nothing' he thought, 'like the island.'

Ralph stood on the upper-most deck squinting, with his good eye, at the solid floor beneath him. It was wooden, with no lumps, or curves, or splinters. But somehow this didn't make him feel better, the feeling of civilisation and order felt wrong now, even after the horror of what he had seen, chaos had wormed its way into him, deep down, and it didn't plan on leaving.

Ralph felt sick. Not because of the sea, but because of his mind. He knew that he wouldn't be able to adapt again to the laws of England, to the expectations, to the restraints and it made him sick. It wasn't his fault, was it? The deaths weren't his fault and he didn't want to have to pay for them. It was true, the officer hadn't pressed them for details of the deaths or even who had died but Ralph knew, and the officer knew that he knew; Ralph was paranoid that people were giving him accusing glances when he turned his back, and always, he saw the looks from the other boys, cold and cruel.

The chief was sitting on the lower deck, his eyes tuned at the solitary figure above. An attraction in this silhouetted form had drawn his eyes away from everything else, away from the beauty of the ocean, the sun, and they now rested, still, on his prey. He shared a connection with this person. The only difference between them was that something had driven Jack to madness. That madness had been enough to make him hunt enough to make him hungry for blood and enough to make him kill. It wasn't an attraction for the person inside the body, or indeed the link they shared that drew him to the figure; it was the death that lay around it.

Jack Merridew stood up and rubbed his arms to get himself warm. It wasn't warm on the ship, he had decided, it was cold and grim. It offered him no comfort from the nightmares that he awoke from and, sometimes, he secretly wished himself back on the island surrounded by his tribe and the warm sand.

He walked slowly up the stairs, thinking about all the things he could say. He could apologise and redeem himself, he could justify his actions and make out that he was in the right, or he could remain the cold, vicious killer that Ralph had run from.

Butterflies quivered frantically inside when Ralph heard the footsteps. Bitter memories shot out of the darkness in his mind like a broken film, crackled and faint.

"Jack." He announced to the space behind him, the word needed no companion, no friend, because Jack was alone.

"Ralph." The chief answered back, regretting perhaps the scornful tone that layered the word. In his presence he could feel Ralph become detached to the world, shut himself off from the memories, just like Jack had. Jack shuddered. He didn't want to be 'The Chief' anymore he wanted to be Jack. He wanted to be the snotty, red-haired, chorister and head boy that everybody respected and followed, the boy whose hands weren't stained with blood and death, the boy whose memories were calm. No violence, no pain, no betrayal. "It's cold up here." Jack stated, having somewhat forgotten how to converse.

"Sucks to the cold." Came the blunt reply. Jack stepped up next to Ralph and just looked at him.

"I'm sorry you know," he said quietly, trying to convince himself that he actually was. Even if it had convinced Jack, it hadn't convinced Ralph.

"I don't think you are –" Ralph replied whilst frowning slightly. "- I doubt you even know what you did wrong, do you?" the fair-haired boy turned to the other, "If you did know, you probably wouldn't care anyway." Ralph turned and left, leaving an empty space beside Jack, an empty space into which he could feel himself falling. Jack looked down at the water and he felt sick. 'I didn't do anything wrong' he thought, 'It wasn't just me.'

"Did he get waxy?" The sneering voice shattered Jack's thoughts and he hurriedly spun round.

"Roger?" He asked, for without the paint, and the mud, Roger's fair face and hair seemed clean and childish, nothing like the twisted face that had tortured and killed. 'Do I look like that?' Jack thought, realising that he too had no paint, or blood, or mud caking his skin any longer.

"We failed." Roger stated calmly. "We were meant to kill him and we didn't, fate tricked us." At this he pulled a disgusted face.

"'Meant' to kill him?" Jack asked, "I thought we just wanted to." It was true, and clear in his mind. The only reason they had gone after Ralph had been because of childish want and jealousy, there was no need for the death. But still, that didn't mean it was wrong.

"Meant to." Replied Roger. "Don't you see, we were chosen, all of us. We were meant to be on that island. Just like you were meant to be chief, and Piggy and Simon were meant to die."

Jack stared at him with bolting blue eyes.

"That's right. Ralph was never meant to be chief, he should have listened to me. I was the proper chief." Jack scowled. " He was wrong." His eyes narrowed and his face grew darker, the anger mounting and his blood rising.

Roger put his hand on Jack's shoulder.

"He should die."

Ralph wept. Seeing Jack had been too much for him, too many memories of the hunt, and the fire and been woken within him and they had started off a vicious circle of pain and fear. Jack had apologised, but as sincere as it had sounded, Ralph knew it was false. Jack could never regret what had happened, everything had gone his way, everything had ended up the way Jack wanted it; the tribe, the hunt, the pigs, the deaths-. Ralph paused; Jack hadn't killed him had he? He was still alive. Ralph was the proof that Jack had failed. But then Ralph thought of Jack's determination and he froze – Jack wasn't the sort of person that would just, give up.

Full of fear and grief Ralph cried. The tears poured down his face following the tracks made by the many that had come before them.

Jack's mind was racing, full of anger and hate. Ralph had stolen it from him, his title, his status, who he was. Jack was chief, not Ralph, and Ralph was going to pay.

The ship rocked from side to side, echoed by the swaying of Ralph's frail body. He was still thin, still bruised, he still had the gash across his ribs, still had the images of the desert in his mind. He still saw the pig's head that sneered and scorned him and the tears still fell. The tears would fall for a long, long time.

Jack pushed the door open and scanned the room. His blue eyes, incandescent with fury and rage, fell to rest on the solitary figure in the corner. Hunched over himself, Ralph didn't even bother to look up at the intruder. He knew who it was and what he had come to do.

"It's meant to be." Jack tried to justify his intentions, trying to convince both of them that it was the right thing to do. Ralph looked up, with a silent plea for mercy in his eyes. A silent plea for Jack to remember the happy time they and Simon had had when first on the island. They had been friends; they had liked each other, held a love for each other that was unconditional. They had all been in trouble and that had made them close friends, with few words or actions, they had understood each other. At least, that was, until Jack had changed.

So Ralph looked at Jack, calm and sad. He held no resent for Jack for he knew what evil lay on that island and what it could do. He liked Jack because Jack was strong and he had made them survive. If it hadn't been for Jack, they would all be dead.

"Why do you hate me?" Ralph asked his voice pathetic and weak.

"What?" Jack looked confused. He studied the emotions that were written on Ralph's face. He saw no anger, no hate, just fear and guilt, and sadness. He stumbled to remember the reason. "Because you stole it from me. I was meant to be chief, but you were." Jack's face twisted into a frown – as did Ralph's.

"I didn't! They voted me chief. It wasn't my choice; you never thought that I stole it from you before. You accepted that they chose me. What changed?"

Jack stared at Ralph.

"Nothing changed. Roger-" Ralph stood up boldly.

"Roger. Always Roger. He's nothing Jack! Don't you see? He's nothing but a liar, you used to trust me, we were friends, but then Roger decided he wanted to be your right-hand man and you changed. But I don't care. I don't care if you kill me because I know that it'll live with you forever. I know that if you kill me you'll feel the guilt eating away at you until you're dead." Ralph was proud of himself. He had grown up so much since they landed on the island and he felt that he was worth something now. All the same, he motioned towards the spear in Jack's hand.

"It won't make a difference, just one. After all, you killed Simon, and you let the fire go out of control and kill that little' un, you let Roger kill Piggy and now you're going to kill me." He paused, aware that his voice was getting higher and his breath quicker.

"Tell me, does it feel good? To kill, can you feel the soul slipping through your fingers? What about Simon? Did you know it was him? Did you know what he was yelling about?" Ralph's voice had now become a scream, his face was red with anger and his fists clenched at his sides.

"If you did, did you even care?" Ralph growled at Jack, his anger now mimicking the thunder that rolled over the sky and filled their head with a reminder of the storm at the feast. It was a reminder of the storm that they had killed in, it was the first human blood shed by human hands.

Jack dropped the spear and it bounced as it hit the wooden floor. The tears also dropped to the floor, and in their multitudes they gushed from his eyes. They were bitter tears that tried in vain to wash away all of the regret and guilt in his heart. They were bitter tears that told a story, they showed as a picture book of what had happened; first there was the fire, then the tribe and the face paint, then Piggy, and then Ralph.

Through his tears, Jack lifted his head and looked at Ralph. His gaze pierced Ralph and the other boy felt uneasy but noticing how scared Jack was, he placed a hand on Jack's shoulder and smiled in reassurance.

"I'm sorry." Jack whispered, his voice choked with tears. "I truly am." The blue orbs shone with passion as Ralph put a hand under Jack's chin and lifted up his face.

"I never doubted that for a minute." Ralph took Jack's face in his hands and gently let their lips brush. When Jack didn't say anything, Ralph once again put his lips to Jack's but this time, he kissed him.

Ralph's head reeled. Here he was kissing the person who'd tried to kill him, kissing the only person he'd ever loved.

And although he didn't know it, kissing the only person he'd ever love.

10 years later

The alarm clock's shrill buzz woke Ralph with a start. He glanced across at the still form beside him a laughed.

"Jack." He whispered whilst placing a hand on Jack's shoulder and shaking gently. "Jack, you're going to be late." Jack stirred and his eyes opened quickly finding Ralph's gaze. He turned over so that he was facing Ralph properly and moaned.

"Why do I have to go to work today?" he pouted but leaned in passionately when Ralph kissed him and ran his hands along his back.

"Because," Ralph said when he had puled away, "you have to earn money as well. I just start a couple of hours later than you, that's all." Jack growled.

"No, you start work when the rest of the world is also awake. I start at three o clock." Ralph traced the lines left by Jack's frown with his fingers.

"But doesn't it make you look forward to coming home?" He smiled and pulled Jack into an embrace.

"Definitely." They lay like that for a long time, resting in the warmth of each other's bodies. Then, once again, the alarm clock caused them to groan, and another day began.