The Island of Coot
The waves beat the shore with a constant rhythm, dragging small amounts of sand back into the deep with each new excursion. It was noon and the sun’s brilliant beams warmed the small island of Coot. There was little activity on the shore, leaving the gentle breeze as the only movement as it wound its way through the tall trees.
Ben opened his eyes with effort. Shielding the sun with the back of his hand, he slowly sat up, and looked around. He didn’t recognize his surroundings. Where was he? How did he get here? He sat still for several minutes, taking in the scene. He listened to the waves beating the shore at his feet, and the breeze whispering through the trees. But nothing was more prominent than the loud pounding of his heart.
His head throbbed intensely and his side ached as he struggled to his feet. He lifted what was left of his shirt to examine himself. There was some bruising on his side, a few cuts, but nothing too serious. He gently ran his fingers through his brown hair. Blood tinted his finger tips.
Staggering slightly, Ben took another look around. Pieces of a ship lay in a random order along the shore. But no one was in sight.
What had happened to him? Had he been on that ship? That was impossible. He had never been on a ship in his life. There must be another explanation.
But the ship! Where were the survivors? Had anyone lived?
“Hello?” Ben yelled. His voice cracked, and his head pounded harder. Ben closed his eyes to try to lessen the pain. He staggered backwards until he lost his balance altogether and fell. Ben made no attempt to get back up.
He must have passed out, because when he opened his eyes, someone was trying to talk to him. Ben could hear the man’s voice, but was unable to make out the words. Ben tried to speak, but no words came out. His throat was sore, and his mouth was dry.
The man kept talking, but received no response from Ben.
“You sure took a nasty hit to the head, young man,” the stranger was saying, “You must have one bad headache.”
Ben struggled to move, but there was no strength left in him.
“No, don’t try to move, son. You are fine where you are.”
Ben relaxed. Things were slowly starting to come back into focus. He could see the stranger’s face. He was a lean man. His thinning silver hair was neatly combed to one side. He had his white sleeves rolled up above his elbows and his checkered vest was unbuttoned.
“There you go,” the stranger smiled, noticing a change in Ben’s face. “You are starting to come back.”
“Where am I?” Ben muttered.
“Where?” Ben was not sure he had heard correctly.
“Coot. You are on the island of Coot,” the stranger said with pride.
“Where is Coot?” Ben asked, not recognizing the name.
“Here,” the stranger said with a tone that told Ben that was all he was going to get.
Ben blinked a few times before looking around.
“Do you have a name, son?”
“Ben. My name is Benjamin Ryder, but everyone calls me Ben.”
“I’m Charles Miller.”
Ben looked back at the stranger, and slowly nodded.
“Are you able to walk?” Charles asked.
Ben did not answer right away. Finally, he muttered, “I think so.”
“Good. Then let’s go,” Charles said, standing up.
“Go where?” Ben asked as Charles helped him to his feet.
“Home. I have a small house not too far from here. You can rest comfortably there.”
Ben was about to object when he swayed on his feet. It was then he decided he’d better do what he was told. He was in no condition to argue.
Charles led Ben inland. Apart from the long beach Ben had found himself on, the island mostly consisted of thick forests filled with a variety of different species of trees and plant life. As they walked further and further inland, the forest continued to get thicker. Thick fern bushes carpeted the floor along with differing lengths of grass. Purple flowers bloomed sporadically, adding color to the otherwise green forest.
Birds sang from the safety of the trees. Their songs were unique and beautiful. Squirrels also announced their presence with chattering. What was once a calm, quiet forest was now bursting with life.
Soon the forest cleared to reveal a small town.
Ben walked slowly. He was incredibly weak.
Charles was not being modest when he said that he lived in a ‘small house’. He led Ben to a tiny log cabin on the outskirts of town. Thick brush and tall grass did well to hide the old, one bedroom structure. Charles lit a lamp, and Ben was able to focus on the layout. There was a bed tucked in the far left corner. A large, worn, cushy chair was placed by the fireplace with a small table holding the lamp Charles had just lit. On the other side of the room was an old, wooden desk with several stacks of paper littering the surrounding floor.
“You can lay there,” Charles said and pointed to a small bed in the corner.
Ben did as he was told. It took him little to no time to fall into a deep sleep where not even dreams live. He hadn’t realized how tired he was and did not wake up until the following morning.
Ben was stiff when he sat up. His wrists were bandaged with white cloths.
“Your wrists were cut and bleeding, so I cleaned them up for you,” Charles said.
Ben looked at him, “I didn’t realize they were hurt.”
“Well, I am not surprised. You’ve had quite an ordeal. Your head took a hit, too. I took the liberty of patching that up as well.”
“Thank you,” Ben said, feeling the bandage.
Charles was an incredible host. He had breakfast waiting for Ben when he was ready, and had already planned a trip to see the doctor.
“That is really nice of you, Charles, but I am fine. All I need is some more rest, and I will be good as new. I already feel better than I did earlier,” Ben said.
Charles raised an eyebrow as he chewed his food.
“Really, I am fine,” Ben said, again.
Charles shrugged, “Okay, if that is what your expert opinion is on the matter, I will leave it alone.”
They ate the rest of their breakfast in silence. Nothing more was said on the matter.
Charles was anxious to take Ben into town. He wanted to show him around. There was so much to see, and history to be told. Charles was proud of his home, and all of the people he had encountered and befriended, with one exception, of course.
After breakfast, Charles worked quietly at his desk while Ben slept for a few more hours. Later that morning, he and Ben walked slowly into town. Ben was feeling better, but still weak and sore. He ached in areas he did not know he had muscles. Ben was not thinking much about his aches and pains, though. He was more interested in the scenery unfolding in front of him.
Charles’ house sat on the edge of town with the forest on his direct right and the town to his left. It was beautiful no matter which direction Ben looked. The sky was blue, with no clouds cluttering it, the air was crisp and clean, and everything was a marvelous mixture of different shades of greens, browns, and yellows.
Even the buildings were something to look at! Each of them had their own, unique personality, and arrangement of colors. The marketplace was full of barrels brimming with freshly caught fish, baskets of mixed greens, and assorted fruits cluttered the tables.
When they reached one particularly small café, Ben and Charles decided to sit and rest. Ben’s muscles were screaming and he had to rest them for a while if he was to make it back to Charles’ place. Ben chose a small, iron table with two chairs on the outside of the café while Charles went inside to get them some lunch.
When Charles returned to the table, he had two iced teas and two plates with sandwiches and chips on them.
Ben ate and drank in silence, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells that encompassed him. The townsmen were humming with friendly chatter as they went about their work. The aroma of baked bread and herbs drying in the windows filled his nostrils.
Ben had to mentally keep the questions of what happened to him out of his mind. He was unwilling to allow himself to get emotional in front of strangers.
Charles told Ben about everything he could think of; how the island was found, how it was named, what had happened to most of the original settlers, why the town was built, and the history of Silver Stone. He even spoke of Catherine and her sister who were good friends of his. Charles was a good friend to Catherine, but they had not spoken in a long time.
“Silver Stone was considered the healing mountain,” Charles said, “Legend says that its minerals and stones saved sailors’ lives for hundreds of years. Any sailor who ever touched the mountain on the eve of the full moon was completely healed by morning. It is even said that it has raised people from the dead. I don’t think it would do that anymore.”
“Why is that?”
“There was a huge earthquake about thirty years ago and it collapsed. After that, no one was allowed to go near the mountain. It was considered a hazard zone by the town leaders. It was a huge blow to the townsmen as it was the main source of their income.”
“But there were some of us who did not listen, and it’s a good thing we didn’t,” Charles said.
“Why is that?”
“We would never have found the cave.”
“What cave?” Ben interrupted.
“When the mountain collapsed, a cave was revealed in the heart of the mountain.”
“How did you find it?”
“It was not hard to find.”
That was not exactly the answer Ben was looking for, but he did not push Charles for further explanation.
“It has been a good refuge for Catherine, though.”
“What do you mean?” Ben asked.
“Catherine and her sister lived there for a long time. After her sister died, Catherine opened it up to other women from the town. It was a way to keep them from Jerome.”
“Oh, he is a whole other story,” Charles sighed.
“So, does the mountain have the same powers now as it did then?”
Charles shook his head.
“The earthquake drained it of its powers. There is another legend that says the mountain can heal itself if given enough time and resources.”
“No one knows. The legend doesn’t say.”
Someone walked past Ben, catching his attention. Ben suddenly sat upright, and asked with interest, “Who was that?”
“Who is who?” Charles hadn’t been paying attention.
“Her!” Ben pointed at the young lady, who had just walked past him.
She was a tall, slender woman with long blonde hair that hung past her hips. Her dress was an off white with light blue trimming and a rope belt.
Charles turned to look at where Ben was pointing. “Oh, her! That is Leslie. She lives with Catherine in Silver Stone. She is a sweet girl, but kind of shy. She comes to town every once in a while.”
“Why?” Ben asked, staring at her.
“For a number of reasons. She mostly gets fabric, thread, and food.”
“Huh! Do you think I could meet her?” Ben asked, looking anxiously across the table at Charles.
“Now, see here, boy, those women are not a very social group. The odds that you could even get a conversation going with her are slim, at best.”
“Oh, but I have to try.” It was clear he was enamored with the girl.
“Well, if you hang out here long enough, she might pass by again.” Charles grinned as he watched the anticipation in Ben’s eyes. “So, where do you come from?”
Now it was Ben’s turn to tell his story. One he loved to tell. He told of his beautiful sister, and her two boys. He spoke of his brother-in-law who had been paralyzed from a work accident. Ben admitted he never did hear the entire story on that. He told Charles about their family farm, and the hard times that they were facing, and how he had set out to make some extra money to make ends meet.
“Work was getting harder and harder to find. I kept moving from town to town and working where I could. I sent all the money I made back home except what I needed to survive.”
Charles listened intently, nodding occasionally. He smiled as he watched Ben’s face light up as he spoke about his family and home. Charles admired the commitment he saw in Ben towards his family. That was hard to find in a man. The devotion he saw in Ben reminded him of Catherine when Stacy was sick, and how she sat by her sister’s side while she was dying.
“What was the longest stretch of time you were away from your family?”
“Three years,” Ben said as he took a drink of his tea. His mouth was still dry.
“That’s a long time to be away from home,” Charles said, nodding his head thoughtfully.
“Yeah, I guess.” Ben shrugged.
“Is that what you were doing on that ship?” Charles asked.
“I don’t know,” Ben said quietly.
“You cannot remember?”
Ben slowly shook his head.
Ben and Charles spent the rest of the day at the café. They exchanged stories until way past dark. Charles then took Ben to a small house half a mile from town.
“This used to be my home,” Charles explained, “I stayed here after my parents died of TB several years ago. I could no longer stay in our mansion, where every room brought back memories of them. It was just too much for me to bear. So, I sold it and moved here. I lived here ever since, until I grew old, and needed to be in town. But it still is livable. I pay a nice gentleman to come here, and keep it up for me. You are welcome to stay here for as long as you need, son.”
Ben looked at the old man who smiled back at him with warmth in his eyes. “How can I ever repay the kindness you have shown me?”
“Oh, that is enough of that kind of talk,” Charles scolded. “You don’t owe me a penny. Now, do you want the place or not?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you so much!” Ben said.
“Good. Well, good night then, son. Tomorrow, we will buy you some clothes. Those rags of yours are a disgrace.”
“Yes, sir,” Ben smiled. “Good night, Charles.”
Charles turned and walked away, leaving Ben alone.
Ben looked down at his clothes. They really were a disgrace. His tan trousers were dirty and torn in a multiple areas. His off-white collared shirt was in rags and only holding together by a couple threads in areas. He fingered his green vest. It was the only article of clothing he cared about. It was a gift from his now deceased girlfriend. At least it looked salvageable.
Ben looked over his new abode. It was a snug and warm, with a nice fireplace. Ben walked over and gently moved his hand along the mantle. There was only a slight amount of dust residue on his hands. Whoever was keeping this place for Charles was doing a fine job. A small pile of firewood lay neatly against the fireplace. Ben began building a fire.
After the fire was built, he sat down on the cot that lay in the corner of the room. It had been a long day. He rubbed the back of his head. As much as he tried, he couldn’t remember anything that had happened to bring him here. It still puzzled him that he had been on that ship. Was he on his way home? Had he made more money than he thought? The only thing he remembered was waking up on the beach only a day ago. What had happened before that?
Charles walked slowly down the road to his home. It had been another long day, and he was tired. With rescuing Ben on the beach, and then the task of taking care of him, Charles was more worn out then he had been in a long time.
He had managed to find clothes that fit Ben. Ben was taller than most of the people on the island. Charles was thankful Ben wasn’t fussy about what he wore. They found grey trousers and a white shirt. Ben insisted on continuing to wear the green vest.
Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks right outside his door. Something had moved in the bushes near one of the windows of his house. Charles stared at the bush for several minutes, before deciding that it was nothing, and he went into his house and shut the door. He threw his coat over a nearby chair, and fingered the papers on his desk. There was just too much to do still, and he was running out of time. He was about to retire when he heard a knock on the door. Charles looked around for a minute then looked at the door. Another knock came. He slowly walked towards the door, and opened it.
“Catherine! What a surprise! Come in, and make yourself comfortable.” Charles smiled.
“It has been a long time, Charles. You look good,” Catherine said warmly.
“It has been too long,” Charles said. “Well, come in! How is Lesley and the rest of the girls?”
“Afraid. It is only a matter of time before Jerome comes back to take over Silver Stone, and we just don’t have the resources to hold him off again.”
“He’s back?” Charles asked in surprise.
“Yes, he is. I have no idea how to tell Leslie.”
“That is not good.”
“There may be a solution,” Charles said thoughtfully.
“You say that like it washed up on shore only yesterday,” Catherine said.
Charles looked at her for a moment before replying, “It sort of did.”
“What are you talking about?” Catherine asked as she sat in Charles chair.
“His name is Ben Ryder. His ship wrecked just past our shores, and he is the only survivor. He seems to be a nice young man of about thirty,”
Catherine stood up, “That is your solution? You have got to be kidding!”
Charles shook his head. “I am not kidding.”
“Charles, please be serious,” Catherine scolded.
“Trust me. Give him a chance. Meet him first, and then if you don’t think he is suited for the job, we can come up with something else. But what if he’s what we’ve been praying for?”
“I didn’t pray for some stranger to wash up on shore who’s capable of impressing an old man.”
“Now, come on, don’t be like that. Meet the kid, and then we’ll talk.”
“Fine,” Catherine sighed. “I will send one of my girls to talk with him.”
Charles face lit up, “Send Leslie!”
“Excuse me?” Catherine looked puzzled.
“Send Leslie. Earlier today, he was saying that he wanted to meet her. That would be perfect.”
“I don’t know if she would do it,” Catherine said with a doubtful expression.
“It never hurts to ask,” Charles smiled.
Catherine took a deep breath.
“It’s settled, then. I’ll keep an eye out for Jerome, too. I cannot believe he’s back. I thought we had seen the last of him last summer.”
“Me, too. Leslie is going to be terrified when she finds out that he’s back.”
“Yeah, poor girl. He really scared her last time,” Charles said, with a sigh.
“Well,” Catherine stood up, “I guess I should go home, and prepare Leslie for her next mission.”
“Give Leslie my love, won’t you?” Charles said as he walked her to the door.
“Of course. Good night, Charles,” Catherine said, and walked out the door, disappearing into the night.
The New Mission
Leslie walked along the beach near the little town of River Valley, picking up seashells that lost their way in the waves of the ocean. She would take them back to Silver Stone where Patty, their decorator, would use them in jewelry or clothing. Patty was also in charge of making all of the blankets, shoes and furniture. She was always in need of something, Leslie noticed. Patty always seemed to have a list for Leslie whenever it was time for her to go.
Leslie was the hunter and provider. She was in charge of keeping fresh meat available for the cooks, and finding new ways of escape in case Jerome’s men ever came back. The last charge was the hardest for Leslie. Not only because it was a big charge, but there was also the complication of her history with Jerome. Oh, the dreams that tormented her every night since that terrible day! Would she ever be able to forget?
There was a huge attack on Silver Stone only the summer before, and many of the original women who had joined Catherine had died. The remaining women had feared Jerome and his men ever since. They knew that there was going to be a day where he would return with another army and an even greater rage then before.
Jerome was a ruthless man. His only thought was to take over Silver Stone or destroy it. He had a jealousy for the land for all of its possibilities. He was one of the many men who had tried to buy the land from the town, but was unable to match or beat the price that Charles had offered. After a huge battle, the judge gave the land to Charles, which only enraged Jerome. He had continuously been after the land, Charles, and the women living there ever since.
Jerome knew of the silver hidden in that mountain, and all of the stories which were so frequently told. If he could only get his hands on that silver, he would be a wealthy man, and could do whatever he wanted. But Charles, and the women living in Silver Stone, had destroyed that dream.
Jerome, like Leslie, was orphaned at a very young age. Only he was not as lucky to receive a family who would take care of him. He was passed from home to home, but no one wanted him. They either did not want the commitment required to having a child, or they had their own, and could not afford to feed another one.
Jerome grew up alone. The isolation made him very bitter and angry, and it only got progressively worse. The older he got, the worse he became. With no one there to teach him any better, he took his frustrations out on killing things. It soon got so bad that he was forbidden to come into town. He retaliated and burned several homes, leaving their owners badly burned, some of whom died shortly afterwards. But it did not stop there. He soon started murdering people who made him angry. First, it was the judge who had denied him Silver Stone. Then it was anyone who was close to Charles. But that was not to be the end of it, either. He got so bad that he would randomly murder people. Leslie’s parents were among those whom had fallen at Jerome’s hand. In fact, she had witnessed the murder. Jerome wanted people to know who had been doing these terrible things so that he would be feared. But, for some unknown reason, he did not want to be watched.
It wasn’t long after he had orphaned Leslie that he found out Charles had rescued her and taken her to Silver Stone. That was the icing on the cake for him. Now, he had an even greater desire to destroy Silver Stone, and all the people residing there, especially Leslie. It was a passion that would eventually lead to his end. But that meant little to Jerome. It was worth the risk. He had to take that mountain or die trying. But more than that, he had to destroy the only witness he had ever known.
Leslie dropped another seashell into the leather bag that hung on her shoulder and continued on her way. This was her day off. She had supplied enough meat to feed ‘the tribe’, as they liked to call themselves, for a few days, and there were plenty of herbs and veggies to last.
She curled her toes in the sand as she walked. The wind played with her hair as it gracefully waved it behind her. The early morning sunlight brought out the highlights of her hair as it rose from its dark domain to once again shed its light on the island of Coot.
Leslie never stayed out for very long. It was her custom to be gone for less than two hours at a time, just in case she was needed in the cave. Her normal time was about an hour and a half. Glancing up at the position of the sun, Leslie ran home quickly, knowing she had been gone a little longer then she had planned. When she got there, she was greeted by Brianna, the head guard.
“Hello, Leslie, did you have a nice time?” She smiled warmly.
“Yes, I did, thank you,” Leslie said, walking over to the showers.
The shower was actually a “waterfall” Charles had created from an underground spring. He had also drilled a “drain” that lead the unused water out into the ocean.
“Did you find anything fun?”
Leslie looked at Brianna for a moment before answering, “Nothing today.”
Brianna was never impressed with the little treasures Leslie brought home for Patty.
“Oh, that is a shame,” Brianna said with sarcasm in her voice.
Leslie paid no attention to her. She was too busy getting her towel and brush readily available for after her shower. Brianna stood by, and watched Leslie for a few minutes. “By the way, Catherine wants to speak with you when you are cleaned up,” she finally said.
“Oh? What about?” Leslie asked casually.
“She did not say, but I think that it might have something to do with Jerome resurfacing again.”
“He is?” Leslie turned to Brianna.
“Well, that is the rumor, anyway,” Brianna said with a sigh. Brianna gave Leslie a sympathetic smile before leaving the showering room.
Leslie thought about what Brianna had just told her. Jerome was not one to mess with. He was unforgiving and unpredictable. A chill ran down Leslie’s spine. He had spoken to her privately before he left last time, and it was nothing short of terrifying. He made threats to her, and how he was coming back for her, and Silver Stone. She was never able to get a full night sleep since. And now he is back on the island? Did he see her today? Was she and Silver Stone in real trouble?
It was rumored around Coot that Jerome had left on a ship shortly after his attack on Silver Stone. The townsmen had searched the island thoroughly for him and had not found so much as a trace of his whereabouts. Now he was back? Where was he hiding out at?
After showering, Leslie took the leather bag, and ran to Patty’s room. Patty was sitting cross-legged on the floor, sewing two small pieces of fabric together. She looked up when Leslie walked into the room.
“Hey, there! Come on in! I am almost finished with your skirt. See?” Patty pointed to the white, short skirt with a light blue ribbon belt, hanging on a hanger. The belt had a variety of seashells and stones sewn into it.
“Oh, I love it!” Leslie stood, and admired it for a few minutes before saying, “Look what I found for you!” Leslie dug in her bag, and pulled out an oversized light pink seashell.
Patty took it and her mouth dropped open, “Oh, it’s perfect! Not a crack in it! Thank you!”
“I found several other smaller ones like it, too.”
Patty’s face got serious, “Did you hear that Jerome is back?”
“Yes, Brianna just told me,” Leslie sighed.
“I am so sorry, hun! How terrible!” Patty stood up and hugged her friend.
“It was going to happen sooner or later. I was hoping for later, though,” Leslie said, shrugging her shoulders.
“So was I. Actually, I was hoping it wasn’t going to happen at all.”
“I better go see Catherine. I guess she wants to talk to me.”
Patty nodded, “She does. It is about Jerome.”
Leslie shook her head, “She’s probably going to forbid me to leave the cave.”
“Don’t talk like that. It will be ok. I promise.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you later.” Leslie walked out slowly, and made her way to Catherine’s door. She gently knocked, and waited.
Catherine opened the door, and let her in, “Leslie, I am so glad you made it home safely!” She hugged Leslie. “I assume you got the news?”
“Yes, ma’am, I did.”
“Well, that is what I wanted to talk to you about. I am worried about you, especially since what happened the last time he was here. How long have you known?”
“Brianna just now told me,” Leslie said and cast her eyes downward.
“How are you doing with it?” Catherine looked concerned.
“I’m fine,” Leslie shrugged.
Catherine studied her carefully. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am fine.”
“What I have to say next probably won’t sit well with you. Perhaps you should sit down.”
Leslie sat down, and waited, trying to ignore the knot that was forming in her stomach.
“I want you to get help from town. I want you to find someone who can help us get rid of Jerome once and for all.” She waited to let this sink in before continuing. “I hear there is a new guy in town, named Ben Ryder. I want you to bring him here.”
“What? A stranger? Are you kidding me? How do we know that he is not one of Jerome’s men?” Leslie stood up.
“Please sit down,” Catherine said with a sharp tone.
Leslie did as she was told.
“I want you to bring him here so I can talk with him, see if he can help us raise an army to defeat Jerome. Jerome means to take Silver Stone this time and I cannot let him do that. But in order to stop him, we need some men to fight for us. The women are very good, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not enough.” The last few words were hard for Catherine to say. She knew how much work Leslie and Charles had put into training them.
Charles taught Leslie all he knew about hand to hand combat. He trained her in using the bow and arrow, and was refining her skills with a knife. She learned quickly, and soon succeeded Charles in all matters concerning fighting technique. Together, they formed their own army and trained them in everything they knew.
Brianna was the finest of all of them, so she was allowed to stay and help Leslie protect Catherine. Brianna had resented the fact that someone younger and smaller than her would be the leader, and challenged Leslie to a combat, using only knives. Brianna was unable to match Leslie, and reserved herself to follow Leslie ever since.
“But they defeated him…” Leslie stammered.
“Yes, but too many died in that battle. It is not worth it to me.”
“What about this new guy? Why is he so special?” Leslie asked.
“Charles recommended him. I have not figured out why Charles thinks he is special, but I promised I would at least meet him,” Catherine said. She placed a hand on Leslie’s shoulder, “I do not like this any more than you do, but we are out of options. You know this.”
Leslie nodded, “How do I get him to you?”
Catherine smiled. “I heard from a reliable source that he is already interested in you, and where you go all of the time. Show him, but only him.”
“How do I do that?” Leslie asked.
“You will think of something.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Leslie hung her head.
“Leslie, I am not going to let Jerome hurt you. I will do everything in my power to make sure he does not get the chance,” Catherine put her hands on Leslie’s shoulders.