From then on it was a race against time. A strong wind kicked up, propelling him along at a faster speed. But the wind which pushed him closer to the island also brought the storm clouds nearer. With his face fixed on his goal, he willed the boat forward, not daring to look back at his pursuer. Rolling booms of thunder let him know that the storm was gathering its strength.
The sun had been obscured by the dark clouds for quite some time, but it gradually became apparent that somewhere behind the wall of grey, it was making its descent. After his previous experience, the thought of being caught in a storm in the darkness was a terror indescribable. The island loomed up ahead, a beacon of hope above a sea of despair. A flash of lightning started him for a moment, and by its light he saw something more terrible than the storm behind. Rising above the choppy waves which hurled themselves onto the shore were countless rocks. If the boat struck upon them the hull would surely be torn open and he would sink.
Furiously he swung around the wheel, hoping he could find a safer place to land. But the fury of the storm was too much. The wheel fought against his hand, and try as he might, his efforts were of no avail. It slipped from his grasp and spun back toward the rocks. A great shudder shook the boat and he was thrown to the floor. Before he could pick himself up the ship lurched forward, striking another rock, and then another. There was an almighty boom of thunder and he was thrown against the railing. The rain which had been falling for some time without his’ noticing blinded him. As he fumbled to steady himself he stumbled over the side and found the sea rushing up to meet him.
All was silent as the water closed in around him. In the peace and quiet of the pitch darkness, Jonathan was almost reluctant to return to the furious clamour up above. But as the lack of air began to strain painfully on his lungs, he fought upward and broke the surface with a desperate gasp. Before he even had a chance to find he bearings he was caught up by a great wave and cast a fair distance. He dipped beneath the surface again and came up.
Spluttering, he tired to swim, but the ocean seemed to have a mind of its own, tossing him about wherever it pleased. At one time he was almost dashed upon the rocks, only managing to dodge it at the last moment. Dizzy and disorientated, his only thought was to keep his head above the water. But he could not keep it up for long. His muscles burned and his limbs moved clumsily in the freezing water. At last, he decided he could not take it any longer. His strength to fight was gone.
There was a great rumble of thunder and the following flash of lightning revealed his ship, half sunk, with the mast snapped in two.
Surely this was the end. Jonathan Smith XIV was to be drowned off the coast of an unknown island, miles away from home. He would sink down like his ship and never been seen again. Not that he would be missed. He had never taken much interest in his fellow townsmen, always looking out for more exciting scenes and opportunities. It was a shame, he thought, but there was nothing to be done about it now.
An enormous wave rolled in, breaking his thoughts and tipping his ship on its side. There was a crack of wood and a crunching sound as it was crushed between the waves and rocks, and the waves swept him further away from it. There was no chance of getting back to it now. It was finished, he thought, the captain would go down with his ship.
Just before he gave in and slipped down into the darkness, he turned for one last look at the island he was never to explore. Though it was still dark and the storm still raged, it was as if a beam of golden sunlight had pierced through the clouds and shone down on him. For there, less than thirty feet away was the shore.
Suddenly a fire glowed within him and he was a new man. Thrashing his arms and kicking his legs with all his might, he clawed his way through the water to the shore. And then, O blessed firm land beneath his feet. He clambered up out of the reach of the waves and collapsed on the ground.
Some time passed before he had strength enough to even consider moving out of the rain, for he was already soaked to the skin and barely noticed it.
The terrain before him sloped gradually upwards, and he had to fight miniature rivers of water running off from the top. But compared to his ordeal of the last hour, this was a walk in the park – or more literally – up the hill.
When he came to the top, he suddenly found his way blocked by what he first took to be a sheer cliff face. Further inspection however revealed it to be a tall stone wall. His heart beat a little faster as he beheld this first sight of civilisation, on what he had feared was a deserted island.
He decided to make his way along the wall, and search for a doorway or some kind of opening. Perhaps, if the inhabitants were friendly, they might give him a warm meal and shelter for what remained of the night. Yet even as these thoughts passed through his mind, he came to a place where the wall had collapsed, revealing a dark opening, even darker than the stormy sky above.
All hopes of a warm fire and pleasant company faded as he gazed into the blackness. Feeling around the opening, his hands came upon tangled vines, twisted their way around the stonework. If this place had ever been inhabited, that was a long time ago.
A deep rumble of thunder, quickly followed by a flash of lightning gave him the push he needed to step through the hole and out of the storm. The howling wind and rain were immediately muffled a great deal and he was grateful to finally have a roof over his head. In the darkness he could not tell what kind of a structure he was in, but he had the feeling that it was a vast space.
He moved away from the cold air blasting through the hole in the wall and then slumped down to the ground, leaning his back against the rough stones. His wet clothes caused him to shiver and shake almost uncontrollably, but he was much too exhausted to go searching for firewood. Besides, anything he might find outside would surely be just as soaked as himself, nor he realised, did he have anything to light it with.
A troubled sleep soon overtook him, in which he dreamed that terrifying creatures of all shapes and sizes crawled out of the darkness surrounding him. He felt terribly small, and terribly alone.
Jonathan was awakened some time later by a warm, golden light. Painfully, he opened his eyes and looked around. A little way off, sunlight streamed in through a hole in the high stone roof above him. It was morning, and the storm had passed.
Now that there was light enough to see his surroundings, he took a good look at them, drinking in as much detail as he could.
The light of day confirmed his suspicions of the night before, that this place was long abandoned. Crumbling stone pillars, choked in vines, thrust themselves up from the cracked floor, from which sprouted even more foliage. High above him the sunlight streamed in through many places where the ceiling had collapsed. Pools of water shimmered beneath these, all that remained of the terrible storm which had nearly cost him his life.
To all appearances, he thought the ruins seemed to be an ancient pagan temple of some sort, and for the first time, he was glad that there seemed to be nobody about.
His limbs aching, he crawled over to one of the patches of sunlight and lay down on his back, soaking in its life-giving warmth. It was almost as if the rays of light caressed his tired, hurting body, taking away some of the cold which had been working its way into his ones. Comforted by its warm embrace, the tension left his body, and he breathed deeply and without fear for the first time that morning.
A cool breeze ruffled his hair and Jonathan woke with a start, realising he had dozed off. He opened his eyes and glimpsed a sky of twinkling stars through the hole in the ceiling above his head. He had slept through an entire day. Feeling greatly refreshed from his long rest, he got to his feet, eager to explore.
He made his way through the ruins, passing countless stone pillars, and treading innumerable staircases, cracked and worn with age.
Eventually he came to a large archway in one of the far walls, and passing through, found himself overlooking a valley.
At first he thought there must have been a large lake at the bottom, for numerous points of light gleamed up at him like starts on the surface of water. But even as he gazed upon it, he realized that it was not a lake, for he could vaguely discern the shapes of buildings, illuminated by the lights he had mistaken for stars.
Images of a warm fire and pleasant company crept into his mind, and he would have run down the hill, laughing with glee to be among other members of his race, but he stopped himself, reason overriding his emotions. Providence may well have allowed him to land on an obscure island of European settlement, but then again, if those who inhabited the town were in fact descendants of those who had built the temple on the hill, their welcome might not be so savoury in nature. He wrested within himself for a couple of moments, but in the end, his curiosity won out and he began a slow descent toward the lights.
When he was a little more than halfway down the hill he suddenly stopped and fell to the ground, crouching in the shadows. For from the doorways of many of the houses, cloaked and hooded figures had emerged. Small dancing flames seemed to float in the air before them as they walked, coming from all directions to form an ordered procession. They were marching in his direction, in the direction of the ruined temple. Yet maybe it was not as neglected as he had thought.
Terrifying memories of what he had heard of various ancient pagan cults filled his mind, and he trembled in the grass. Perhaps all such superstitions had not passed out of fashion in this isolated corner of the world. He hoped they were not the kind that practiced human sacrifice. Whatever the case might be, it would not do for them to see him.
To be continued…