Well, my dear readers, here I am, back to you with another chapter. I'm sorry that I took so long to finish it, but I hope you all enjoy it enough to decide that it was worth the wait.
There's a bit of an emotionial scene in this chapter, I hope I did a good job with it.
Now that this is over, let's begin.
Chapter 22 – An unexpectedly longer stay
Standing in the middle of frozen chaos, Captain Eric Englehorn surveyed one of the most dreadful death scenes he had ever laid eyes on. One of Dollar's bodyguards was sprawled lifelessly on the wet rock, a crimson bloom on the back of his shirt. Aldous' body lay next to a huge stone, his limbs twisted. Bits of bone and gore leaked out of a crack in the back of his head. Denham's sound recordist was slumped on his side with a spear sticking out of his torso. His glasses were hanging to one side and his eyes stared blankly into eternity. Close to Aldous, Carl Denham was leaning against a blood-stained stone, petrified.
Englehorn wasn't surprised. He had heard about Skull Island for years. Stories whispered by old sailors in bars at nearly every port he had visited. From the many descriptions he had heard, Englehorn had always known that this was a place no person in their right mind would visit willingly. But now that he had actually gotten to see the place with his own eyes, he realized those stories didn't measure up to the reality of it by far. With the skeletons stuck on sharpened sticks, and the partly-decomposed bodies that sprawled out of the mausoleums, Skull Island was a place ruled by the very essence of death.
Three of the people he was responsible for had died here today, killed by those six natives he and his wife had shot. Englehorn's eyes swept over the dark-skinned corpses. He barely believed they had been human; they had acted more like crazed devils. The cries and gasps of the living waded through his disgust. He felt damn fortunate so many of his crew and passengers were still alive, albeit badly shaken. But being alive could change at any time. Even if the rifles had initially driven the natives off, there was no way of telling how long the beasts would remain scared off. Sooner or later they would come back to avenge their comrades, and the captain had no intentions of being around when they did.
"Get moving, men!" Englehorn commanded. "Let's get out of here before those savages come back!"
Like a match to a barrel of gunpowder, his words were the catalyst that brought everyone into activity. Denham's assistant and Baxter were each grabbing one of Miss May's arms, literally flailing her behind them as they ran off. Denham's cameraman picked up the camera and tripod and limped after them. Englehorn's crewmen stampeded away after Denham's crew, followed by Dollar and his bodyguards. Hawksworth and Stewart, however, didn't follow the group. Instead, they rushed to Aldous' body.
"Leave the dead." Englehorn shouted. Stewart and Hawksworth stopped in their tracks and cast a quick glance at their fallen comrade. The two sailors looked at each other, and then turned on their heels and jogged toward the path that led to shore.
Englehorn couldn't repress the feeling of guilt at leaving one of his men to rot here. Even leaving the sound recordist and that brainless brute Dollar had brought with him didn't sit well with the Captain. But they had to get out of here as fast as possible, and any load they carried would slow them down.
Just as he thought that, Eric noticed that Kendra was moving at a snail's pace, while all the others were running. Her slow speed obviously came from dragging a petrified Miss Darrow, who still hadn't been able to bring herself to recover from whatever the natives had done to her.
Or maybe not to her, Eric thought as a suspicion came to his mind.
Scanning the area, Englehorn tried to find the playwright, Driscoll. It only took a few seconds to locate him; Driscoll was in Neves's hands. Neves tossed the playwright over his shoulders as if the man were a hunted impala.
But the sailor did not hear. Neves ran off, bearing the dead playwright's body nearly as fast if he had not had a body draped across his shoulders.
Damn. Now there would be a hysterical scene to deal with. Well, there was no helping it now. Neves was already out of sight. Englehorn glanced around the deadly battleground once more, and finding that the only two living souls in the creepy place were himself and Hayes, Englehorn signaled his first mate, and then the two of them left.
They hadn't gone ten steps, when Englehorn saw a black figure lunging out of one of the mausoleums, straight at Miss Darrow and Kendra. Acting on instinct, Eric raised his gun and fired. By his side, Hayes did the same a split-second afterwards. And a second after that came a third shot. Kendra had also reacted to the figure in the same manner.
But not even the three gunshots could drown out the scream that tore from Miss Darrow's throat.
The scream had barely stopped, when another of those deep, explosive, earth-shaking roars he had heard two times before echoed through the whole village. Those who had already come ashore looked around like mad, as though they took that roar as a sign for the natives to come down on them. The ones who had guns drew them.
The rain continued to pour down. No one moved.
It seemed the great roaring also struck fear in the natives; they remained hidden.
Several paces off, the captain saw Kendra standing with her feet spread apart, arms extended, and her smoking rifle gripped in her hands. Less than three feet away from her laid one of those partly decomposed bodies. It was pierced in its belly, chest, and head after having been hit by all three gunshots.
But it hadn't been Kendra who screamed. It had been Miss Darrow. She was trembling like a leaf by Kendra's side. Englehorn sighed in relief at the realization. But his unease grew again when he saw Dollar standing right in front of Kendra and Miss Darrow. There was a victorious look in the man's eyes. Kendra was glaring at him.
Englehorn saw the man mouthing 'oops'. Dollar, however, looked far from apologetic.
Englehorn stared daggers at the tycoon. He was so angry, he felt could leave Dollar and Denham here so the natives would impale them, roast them over open flames, and then start eating them before they were even completely dead. But it was a Captain's priority to get his passengers to safety, no matter how annoying they were. Once they were back on the Venture, then Englehorn could beat Dollar and Denham to a pulp.
"Come on men!" he shouted, trying to get them back into action. "Move!"
In a flash, everyone resumed their run to the shoreline. But Kendra was still moving at a snail's speed, too busy with dragging Miss Darrow.
Englehorn cursed. He backtracked to the two women, and thrust one arm under Miss Darrow's knees and scooped her over his shoulder as if she was a sack of potatoes. Kendra gave him a quick, terse nod, and then strode ahead. Miss Darrow remained sill and limp draped as she was over the captain's shoulders.
Glancing behind, Englehorn again made sure that he was leaving no one. After his short assessment, he resumed his own way toward the shoreline, all the while hoping that everyone would be able to get off the island before those hellish natives decided to counterattack.
Ann lay on the bottom of the lifeboat curled into the fetal position, both her hands clenched over her heart. She was still shaking in terror from when one of those partly decomposed bodies had fallen out of its mausoleum directly toward her, like a zombie lunging out at her. It was as if the island itself had been trying to make a last effort to keep her there, determined to give her to whatever inconceivably terrifying monster had answered to her screams three times now.
And the searing pain she had felt when Jack hadn't stirred from Neves's call hadn't decreased. The crushing panic that had overcome her from the moment Jack had collapsed in front of her terrified eyes was still there. On top of all of that, the pure horror she had felt when staring into the feral gaze of that gristly witch kept pulsing through her over and over again. The feeling doubled whenever Ann recalled that the hideous hag intended to sacrifice her to some creature from the depths of hell.
Deep down herself, a part of Ann wished she would have succeeded. She knew that whatever destiny those barbarous, demoniac villagers had in mind for her would be anything but pleasant – but when it ended, it would end. And then, on the other side, she would be at peace. She would be with Jack for the rest of eternity, in a place where there was no suffering or pain, the place that Jack and everyone else had said her parents had gone to sixteen years ago.
But Ann didn't believe it. How could she ever be at peace? Ann was certain she would feel eternally guilty for having allowed this to happen to her Jack Driscoll.
But in spite of her mind being overcome by her horror, the memories of everything she and Jack had shared kept going through her mind. The welcome Jack had given to her when she and her parents moved to the United States. The way Jack had done everything he could to make her feel comfortable at her new school. Every single gift Jack had bought her for her birthday. All the amaryllises Jack had grown for her at Christmas. The way how Jack had thanked her for encouraging him to enter Mrs. Melville's writing contest.
And superimposed over all of that, the last thing Jack would ever do for her: trying to rescue her from those demons that looked like they had escaped from Hell itself. In a way, he had succeeded, but the price he'd paid for it was unbearably high.
Ann felt a hand on the back of her head. She jumped up at the contact, her mind instantly picturing some native that had managed to sneak onto the rowboat and was going to throw her overboard and swim with her back to Skull Island. But it was only her uncle. His white hair was plastered to his face from the heavy rain.
"Ann, my dear. Are you alright?"
Ann knew her uncle well enough to know that he was worried about her, that he was trying the best he could to comfort her, in spite of how shaken he had to be himself. After all, he had also come close to losing his life. But, as she looked up from the bottom of the rowboat, as her eyes met her uncle's concerned eyes, Ann felt a surge of fury come from the very depth of her being. Every bit of it was directed to the man that looked at her, the one that had taken care of her since her parents had died. The one who was guilty of all of this.
"This is all your fault." Ann said, barely audible over the pounding waves. "You sneaked out of the Venture after Englehorn told you not to do it. You dragged all of us with you. And now four men are dead."
Mike, run through by that masterfully thrown spear. Aldous, with his head brutally clubbed to a pulpy mass. Philip, knifed in the heart with deadly precision.
And Jack. The damned ugly voice on the back of her head reminded.
Tears of grief, pain, and fury spilled out of her eyes.
"Ann, my dear…" her uncle began, obviously disturbed by what she had just told him.
"Don't you ever dare to talk to me again." Ann growled, looking him dead in the eyes, doing her utter best to direct every bit of the fury that bubbled inside her at him. "I don't ever want to see or hear from you for as long as I live."
Her uncle looked down at the bottom of the rowboat. His face was contorted in pain from the words Ann had just thrown at him.
But, even as Ann directed her eyes into the choppy, dark-grey sea, she decided that whatever pain her uncle Leonard felt right now wouldn't be enough by far. It wouldn't come anywhere near the pain she felt now.
And she didn't want it to. That pain was hers to bear, and it would always be, until the end of her days.
And until that time arrived, it would also be the only thing that kept her going.
Doing her best to keep her balance on a sea that grew more violent with every passing moment, Kendra Englehorn took a place close to the edge of the uncharacteristically large rowboat, her rifle reloaded and pointed to the water. They were off Skull Island, and, much to everybody's relief, the gunfire had been sufficiently terrifying to the natives. They had not dared a counterstrike.
By now, they were far out of reach of any spear the natives could throw at them. Nevertheless, Kendra still felt some remnants of the earlier scare when that mummy had fallen down on her and Ann. In an effort to keep something to focus that wasn't her fear, had pointed her gun to the seawater, as if fearing that some underwater creature would lunge out at her boat. In a strange turn of events, Eric and Neves had followed her lead, and so had those who had firearms on the other rowboat.
And in a way, such a behavior had its logic. After all, there could be sharks or any type of unknown sea creatures under the waves, ready to gulp down anyone unfortunate enough to fall overboard. Maybe some of them would even be daring enough to try to tip the rowboats over. But if that happened, Kendra knew one thing: she was going to make herself a bitter meal to be swallowed!
The thought of ending up as a meal of some unknown sea creature was about as scary as everything else she had ever seen upon her arrival to this island. Not because of the fear of being killed by an animal per se. Kendra had experienced such a thing before, on more than one occasion. Once, a gigantic lion had attacked her, and when Kendra had shot it between the eyes, the beast fell on top of her. Another time, a Marsh Crocodile had lunged out at her, and she had jumped back on time only for the reptile to rip open the front of her shirt. There had even been a time when she had fallen overboard when a Great White Shark happened to be swimming in the area. That time, she had felt like a worm on a hook as she was pulled out of the sea.
In the end, Kendra had her fair share of close encounters with wild animals.
But here, whatever creature would eat her would be unknown. And the unknown was mankind's biggest fear.
Thankfully, if there were any unknown monsters under the waves, none of them either bothered or dared to attack the rowboats, and both of the small vessels got back to the Venture without a pinch mark more than they had before leaving the ship. The other rowboat, where Hayes had gone, had arrived first, and it had fully ascended already by the time hers got there.
Quite to everyone's surprise, Dollar was the first person to jump off the rowboat and scramble across the Venture's deck, doing so even before the boat had gotten high enough to be considered safe to jump out of it.
"Geez." Lumpy said, after regaining his balance from barely managing to dodge Dollar. "Who burned his butt?"
Not being in the proper state of mind to care about whatever could be going on inside the millionaire's head, Kendra helped Eric survey the passage of her rowboat's occupiers onto the ship's deck. Most of them made it on their own, but there were a few who needed some prompting. Denham had to be hauled out by Preston and Baxter, and Ann was carried by Chester Brown. Neves was struggling with passing a large, limp figure over the rowboat's side onto Steve Bennett's arms.
Kendra felt her heart sinking. She recognized the limp figure as Jack Driscoll. She hadn't had the chance to check on him, but she imagined he had been one of those who had the misfortune of meeting their end at the hands of those natives. She didn't know exactly which had been the poor playwright's demise, but she knew it couldn't have been a pleasant one.
But if that was the case, what was he doing here? Eric had ordered the crew to leave the dead!
Close by, and still inside the rowboat, Eric said something that stated he was thinking the same.
"What the hell are you doing, Neves?" Eric shouted. "Don't pass Driscoll onto the ship, just throw him into the sea!"
Neves froze, almost actually letting go of his load.
"O quê?" he said, after managing to regain his hold on the writer's legs, as Bennett held Jack by his armpits. "What?" he repeated, realizing he had spoken in his mother language.
"You heard me!" Eric snapped. "Just let him go. You shouldn't have even brought him in the first place."
"But sir…" Neves stammered, as Bennett managed to pull Jack onto the ship.
"I gave everyone direct orders to leave the dead." Eric snapped.
Comprehension dawning on the Portuguese sailor's features, Neves said, "Mr. Driscoll ain't dead, sir!"
Those words made everything clear for Kendra. Neves had brought the writer because he had checked he was alive. And if he looked limp, that could be because he was unconscious – which was still a whole lot different from being dead.
By her side, Eric nodded in understanding. He lowered his eyes, which Kendra took as the closest thing to an apology he would ever give to Neves.
But there was a person for who Neves's words made all the difference.
"Jack!" Ann shouted, snapping out from her torpor, and rushing to kneel at his side.
Even before her knees touched the ground, Ann's hand had already flown to Jack's heart, searching for the telltale beats that would confirm Neves' words. In only a second, Ann's face had exchanged its blank look for a wide smile of relief, and although there seemed to be tears falling from her eyes, Kendra was sure they were from relief.
"Don't worry, Miss Darrow." Neves said. "Mr. Driscoll took quite a hit, but from what I can tell, he'll wake up in a matter of hours, without no further harm than a hell of a bump."
"I'll be the one officially stating that." Lumpy said, obviously unhappy that Neves had been sticking his nose where it didn't belong. "I'm the ship's doctor, after all."
Turning to Carnahan and Comollo, Lumpy ordered, "Take him to the galley, so I can examine him better."
"Wait." Brown said. "Steve and I will do it. You probably have more things to do, with getting the ship ready for leaving on time and such."
Unlike Lumpy, neither Carnahan nor Comollo seemed upset by the freelance offer. Brown lifted Jack by under his arms, while Bennett held him by the ankles, and the two of them carried Jack into the galley. Ann Darrow followed them like a shadow.
At long last, Kendra stepped out of the lifeboat, right after Eric.
"Mrs. Englehorn." a voice called, even before she set both her feet on the floor.
Searching for the voice's origin, Kendra looked around and saw Jimmy running towards her. He looked smashingly relieved to see her, as if he'd imagined that some horrible thing had happened to her, like being eaten by the monster he had heard but not seen. But Kendra couldn't help to think it was a little bit of an exaggeration for him to still be entertaining that thought. Jimmy had seen Hayes, and should have assumed by now that Kendra would also be alright. But he was still a kid, as much as he liked to affirm otherwise. It was understandable that he would think that way. In fact, it seemed like he was using all of his self-control not to jump into her arms and burst into tears of relief.
"Are you alright?" Fear was evident in every syllable he pronounced.
"No worse for wear" she said, caressing his cheek as motherly as she could and kissing his forehead. "Don't worry."
"We left the dead, Jimmy." Eric added from her side in a brisk tone. His tone as he spoke to Jimmy was surprisingly reassuring – more than it had been in a long time during the four years Eric had known the boy.
Eric laid a hand on Kendra's shoulder to get her attention.
"I'm going to make sure everything on the ship is alright before we leave." he said. "Will you give me a hand, or do you want to go to rest?"
"Why are you checking the ship?" Kendra asked. "Did you notice anything wrong that I didn't?"
"I don't want to take any chances." Eric replied.
"I'm going to help you." Kendra said.
"I can ask Hayes to do it instead." Eric said.
"Do it if you want to, but I said that I'm going to help you." Kendra said, her tone uncharacteristically snappy.
Eric looked her in the eyes for a moment more, apparently to look for any sign of hesitation. Finding none, he nodded, and the two left, to make sure everything would be alright with the ship by the time high tide finally arrived.
Sitting by the side of two tables shoved together, Ann Darrow caressed Jack Driscoll's forehead over and over again. Ann had cleaned his wound, but had not bandaged it, as she hadn't been able to find any piece of fabric she trusted enough to use as a bandage. She had also made him as comfortable as she could, fetching a pillow and blanket from her own cabin.
Steve and Chester sat at another of the tables watching Ann tend to Jack and bolting down Coca-Cola as though doing so would erase the day's events.
They had repeatedly told Ann that Jack was unconscious, and he that he wouldn't feel anything. Ann stubbornly kept asserting that although Jack was out cold, he seemed relieved now that he was safely back on the ship.
And he was alive.
He was alive.
When she had first heard Englehorn telling Neves to leave the dead, the open wound in her heart had throbbed harder. It was bad enough to think that Jack had died, but to leave him in that hellish place had been unthinkable. But when she heard Neves say that Jack wasn't dead, relief swept through her like a crashing wave.
He was alive. Her Jack was alive. The two of them could go back to New York together, as soon as Englehorn got the ship moving. They could…
Do what? Even if Jack had asked her to be his assistant, they hadn't really thought too much about what they would do next. Jack's workmates were bound to be sore at the fact that someone Jack hadn't seen for sixteen years would get such a high position. Jack's family could not enjoy Ann having become so close to him, even considering she had been his friend when they were younger. And there was no way of knowing what Uncle Leonard would think of that.
Uncle Leonard. The thought of how she had treated him made Ann want to crawl in a hole and hide.
She had treated him like the enemy. She had blamed him for everything that had happened on that island. She had made it very clear that she hated him.
But he wasn't the enemy. Deep down, he was just an old man who probably thought his time on this Earth was running short, and wanted to have his life's dream come true while he was still alive. Her uncle was not like Dollar, who was a just a heartless bastard, and if Ann was being truthful, Uncle Leonard had never been the leader of the doomed expedition. Dollar and Denham had been the ones leading everything, and her uncle had simply been too sidetracked with reaching his own goal to not follow them. It didn't excuse everything – but it excused many things.
Ann had to apologize to him, but at the moment, she felt too ashamed of her behavior toward her uncle to have the bravery do so.
A low moan cut through her thoughts.
"Jack?" she whispered, her voice vibrating with hope.
Jack didn't answer her immediately. His eyelids stirred, and ever so slowly, his green eyes opened. He looked confused and in pain.
"Ann?" he whispered.
"I'm here. Everything's alright now." Ann answered.
For some, that is.
Jack shifted and tried to sit up, but Ann took her hand to Jack's chest and pushed him down as gently as she could. Chester and Steve tossed their empty bottles in the trash and made some loud excuses about how they wanted to get some dry clothes on.
"What happened?" Jack moaned. "Where am I?"
"We are back on the ship. Englehorn and Kendra came just in time to save us – well, most of us." she corrected herself.
Jack covered his face with one of his hands. "I remember about Mike, but…"
"One of Dollar's bodyguards – Philip." Ann said. "And Mr. Aldous. They didn't make it."
Jack spread his fingers apart and peered out at Ann. "They didn't hurt you did they?"
"They didn't, thanks to you. I'm alright. We'll be getting off this island on the next high tide, and then everything will be alright again."
Jack opened his mouth to reply, but his answer was drowned out by the voice of another person.
"Well, I'm deeply sorry to say this, but we will have to get out of here a little bit later than we initially expected."
Looking behind her, Ann saw Kendra right behind her, water dripping off her captain's cap and streaming down her leather trench coat. There was a trail of wet footprints behind her.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Kendra shrugged her shoulders as though apologizing for the unexpected event, and said, "Eric and I decided to double-check the Venture's engine, and it was a good thing we did."
A bell of alarm ringing in her head, Ann gave Kendra her full attention.
Reading the silent question on Ann's face, Kendra carried on, "There were some unexpected malfunctions with the engine, that and Baddun said that the coal shovel went missing, and we still haven't gotten a spare one after it broke earlier on this trip. We can't get steam without a coal shovel."
Apprehension started building up inside her. Unexpected malfunctions to the engine weren't good. Just how serious were they? And how had they appeared there in the first place?
And the coal shovel disappearing – it couldn't be a coincidence. Those two things had to be connected.
Sensing Ann's alarm, Kendra raised a hand in reassurance and added, "Don't worry, it's nothing serious. It's only serious enough so that we won't be able to leave on the next high tide, but on the one after that only. And the coal shovel will be easy enough to find. I just thought I should come here tell you that, so that you don't get surprised for us taking longer than expected to get off the island."
Then, without bothering to say any more words, or to ask about Jack's state, Kendra rushed back out of the galley, her dark braid bouncing behind her.
"Well, it could be worse." Jack said, trying his best to give Ann a reassuring grin.
It could. The engine could be having some malfunction that would actually force them to stay here for days. The coal supply could have turned out to be shorter than expected, which would mean they would end up stuck in the ocean. Or… Jack could be actually dead, instead of just a big bump to his head. The thought was enough to make her shudder in horror.
Jack put his hand on Ann's arm. "I think you should go back to your cabin and get some rest."
Ann's eyes immediately widened. Jack was asking her to get some rest? Asking her to get away from him? How could he think she would do that? He needed her here.
"I would feel better that way." Jack insisted, as if he was reading her thoughts. "You went through a lot out there, you need to rest."
"You went through more." Ann said. "You could have died."
"And you could have…" Jack started, but then, a wave of pain seemed to go through his head, forcing Jack to stop speaking in order to focus on it.
Ann held her breath while he did so.
"I insist." he said, when he managed to regain enough coherence to speak. "Go back to your cabin, get some dry clothes on, and then get some rest."
"I can't leave you here on a table..." Ann began.
"For me." Jack begged.
That was the last blow to the wall of resistance Ann had built up. Apparently, men could also be rather stubborn when it came to something they wanted. Or her man, at least.
"Alright then." she finally said. "I'll get some rest, and you try to do the same."
Ann leaned forward and kissed him.
"Good night, Ann." Jack whispered.
Even before she was out of the galley, Jack had fallen back into his state of unconsciousness.
Sitting on his bunk inside his cabin, Dollar rubbed his hands with satisfaction. Stage one of his plan – getting the English broad to scream one more time as a way to motivate those savages to sacrifice her to whatever unknown creature existed beyond that wall – had worked perfectly.
And stage two was working fine so far. It had been a simple matter to do some tampering with the ship's engines, and then hiding the coal shovel. Now, they were stuck on this place for some more time. Hopefully, it would be long enough for those natives to come on board and take her.
When that happened, a rescue party would be organized – and by then, Dollar would go along and explore the island, try to figure out as much about Jack Sparrow's treasure as he possibly could.
It was a rather long shot, but Dollar had already made a promise in his mind: one way or the other, he wasn't going to leave this place without a treasure, no matter what the price of that was.
Well, this is it. I'm sorry if it seemed like they were going away soon. Turns out they aren't. I know that in Peter Jackson's version they stay for longer because of the ship's damage... however, I chose to limit the ship's damage to its engine, because I don't think that a tramp steamer turned into a sieve would have been able of bringing a lot of cargo back.
I hope you enjoyed the chapter.
Please let me know whether you did through your reviews.