As the sun sets on Day 17, I realize that I am going to die.
The island has provided me with the sustenance to last for over two weeks, with fruit-bearing trees and crops that have probably been here for decades.
But this island, or something on it, has also taken five of my friends from me, the last one disappearing after an excruciating scream two nights ago.
We had been too drunk, going too fast, in a boat that we never should have been in. We’d thought it lucky that we found this island so close to the spot of our wreck, but now it didn’t feel like luck. It felt like a dark and final choice had been made for us.
We fell into a trap.
Five men in two weeks. Each screamed at some point in the night, a little distance from the group, their bodies not seen again. We decided as a group that the first one had fallen in the water and drowned. Maybe he’d been eaten by a shark. The second one we were less sure about but decided to reach the same vague conclusion. We found blood on the sand after the third one, and we knew then that there was something on this island besides us.
Now, alone and exhausted and terrified, I have watched the sun set for the last time. The laughter I began hearing about an hour ago has confirmed for me that I’m the last piece of unfinished business. I’ve been watching the water but now I turn back to the tree line, deciding to face my death like a man, the way my father would have wanted.
I didn’t live with much honor, but I can at least die with some.
As I turn to the trees, I see a particular spot seem to shake. More laughter and then sighing. I close my eyes.
“I used to hunt men here regularly,” it whispers, now behind me. “But not for many, many years.”
“You won’t be hunting me,” I reply, my voice steady but my hands shaking.
“I already am,” it taunts, the voice coming from my right.
“To hunt, you must have prey, either hiding or running. I’m doing neither. Where’s the fun in that for you?”
The thing is silent, and I no longer hear rustling so it must have stopped moving. If it has a mind, it is thinking.
If it has a plan, it is adjusting.
“My friends ran, didn’t they?” I’m stalling, but I have no other tactics in my pocket. “How fun for you, but unfortunate for them. I hope you at least killed them fast, but I’m sure you didn’t. Monsters don’t show mercy, right? Isn’t that what makes you monsters?”
A slight rustle, to my left and a little closer than before.
“But monsters also like to chase. They catch and they taunt and they toy around, but they don’t take things given to them. So what are you going to do now?”
The movement behind me is closer now, maybe ten feet away.
“Because I’m giving you the thing you want to fight me for. Go ahead and kill me. Unless meat freely given to you doesn’t taste as sweet?”
I hear a moan, less than five feet away. I can smell the thing now, a horrible mixture of iron and sulfur and seaweed and feces. I breathe through my mouth to keep from gagging.
“You like the taste of adrenaline, don’t you?” Although I’m still improvising and distracting, I feel like I’m onto something. My gut tells me to keep going. If I panic, I’m dead like my friends.
“Does it make the flesh taste sweeter? Or is it the fear that does that? I wouldn’t know. I don’t, you know, eat people.”
A long exhalation from the monster, right on my neck. I’m feeling bold and if I don’t face it now, I never will. I slowly turn and find myself staring into the sunken chest of something hideous.
It’s like a shipwreck of a human.
At least, I think it used to be human. But it’s covered in moss and algae and mold and it’s completely naked. Its chest and ribs are sunken and the only thing bright is a long shock of orange hair around what must be the face. There are no lips, just moldy teeth and a dislocated jaw.
It bends down so that its face is even with mine and I want to scream but I only stop myself because it means certain death. Fear from me will mean my end.
“I’ll wait,” it breathes into my face, inches away.
“For what?” I whisper.
“You to run. Scared. You’ll taste better then.”
I watch myself shrug in the reflection of the thing’s enormous fish-like eyes, knowing nonchalance will keep me alive. Maybe someone is out there looking for me. Maybe. My only option is staying alive long enough to find out.
“Suit yourself,” I say, facing the water once more. I sit down and cross my legs. “I’ll just be here watching for rescue.”
“And I’ll be watching you,” it smiles.
It lies down in front of me, placing itself between me and the water, lying on its side like a cat. It’s more hideous than anything I could ever dream of and I focus on the water and breathe in, then out. In, then out.
And I wonder how we look to the birds flying above us, a filthy boat-accident survivor with a false veneer of calm, and a sea monster lying mere feet away, watching for the slightest sign of fear.
Maybe this is how we’ll look to a rescue boat. Maybe as they get closer they’ll be confused by the two forms on shore, one human and haggard, one something from a nightmare. Calmly reposing on the shore. Maybe I’ll lazily wave as they pull up.
Or maybe they’ll find something else entirely.