Admiralty Islands of the South West
Pacific, North of New Guinea. 1938.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, Professor Huss, but I still think you’re on a wild goose chase.”
Otto Huss regarded Captain Jason Mariner with an air of mild annoyance and contempt.
“Captain,” replied the tall German in impeccable English, “I know you regard the recent native accounts of monsters inhabiting this island as mere superstition, but something made them all flee this place. You have brought us safely to the shores of Aratoba. All that should concern you now is your return for us at the end of the month. I remind you that we require only your services, not your uninformed opinions.”
The Englishman’s stocky body tensed at this uncouth reply, and his craggy features hardened. Clenching his fists, he stepped aggressively towards Huss. The two men had clashed from the moment they met, and the Professor’s abrasive personality had finally worn away his self-control.
“So, the English dog dares to bare his fangs,” thought Huss as he threw the first punch. The blow grazed Mariner’s cheek as he weaved and swiftly countered with a solid right to his opponent’s jaw, felling him to the earth.
Huss was down, but far from out. Rolling to his feet he flung a handful of sand in Mariner’s face and sprung upon him, hands locking about his throat. Mariner, who had shut his eyes in time, tensed the muscles of his neck, and stepped back to regain his balance. Then, clasping his hands he whipped them up between the German’s arms, breaking his strangling grip, and brought one fist down with sledgehammer force upon his adversary’s skull, sending him crashing to the sand.
Mariner glared down at Huss, a feeling of immense satisfaction welling up inside him.
“Stop it, both of you,” cried a feminine voice, breaking the tense scene. “You’re behaving like unruly children.”
Mariner turned from the German, who was struggling to rise, and saw Mara Huss, his daughter and assistant, striding towards them. She had a face and figure most women would die for, and Mariner relaxed at the sight of her. The trip from Manus Island to Aratoba had been bearable only because of her distracting presence. He liked her a lot, but sadly realized time and circumstance were against anything serious developing.
wonder if I should apologize for striking her father? he thought,
but then decided against it. Huss had been a pain in the arse from the
outset, and it was only his need for money that made him reluctantly
agree to ferry the expedition to the island.
|Following closely behind Mara was Ma-Ku*, her Chinese maidservant, shading her mistress with a white parasol. Mariner couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the two girls – Mara was tall, full figured and flirtatious, whereas Ma-Ku was slim and quiet, with rather plain features. The only similarity was that both were dressed in practical khaki shirts, trousers, and heavy boots.||* Footnote: According to Chinese mythology, Ma-Ku was a fairy sorceress who lived in the 2nd century AD. Obviously, the girl was named after this being.|
“Have our bearers finished unloading yet?’ asked Huss, as he climbed unsteadily to his feet, the fight knocked out of him, attempting to salvage what dignity he could.
“Yes, father,” she said evenly, giving him a look that held little sympathy. “All our supplies and equipment are off the boat.”
“Very well then,” replied the Professor as he glared at Mariner with impotent rage. “We’ll see you at the end of the month.” And then, in German: “You ugly bastard.”
“Before you go Captain,” said Mara, quickly intervening before Mariner could ponder the hidden insult. “Here is something to remind you of me.”
The kiss! -- the very essence of desire, infused him with heady passion; enflammed as it was by her strong attraction to his rugged masculinity, and also by her desire to annoy her father as mild revenge for his constantly embarrassing behavior.
“Ah, yes. Well, thank you Miss,” stammered Mariner, as Mara stood back and surveyed him with a knowing grin. “Um, I suppose I’d best be going.”
It was a lame response, but the directness of her advance had taken him by surprise, and he was at a loss for an elegant reply.
God, I’m an Ass, he thought.
Ma-Ku watched the Captain depart, as did the others. Unlike them, her demeanor, outwardly placid, did not betray her inner feelings, which ran like deep currents hidden beneath the calm surface of the sea.
The sea felt warm against Mariner’s legs as he waded out to his boat, White Cloud, a stark contrast to Huss’s cold eyes drilling into his back as he climbed aboard. Raising the mat sails of the sixty-foot double outrigger; he caught the breeze and steered for the open Deep.
The Englishman gazed across the ocean, drinking in its sparkling blue expanse that stretched out in all directions, inviting him beyond the mystery of its horizon to other islands set, like emerald jewels, in its gently undulating bosom.
Looking up, he beheld the azure vault of heaven encompassing the earth, buoying up feathery clouds that drifted across its vast expanse. The sun, a blazing orb, cast its radiance over the halcyon scene, forcing him to shade his eyes from its blinding light.
felt good to be back at sea, sailing White Cloud. He had
bartered the outrigger from a native boat builder who was willing to
part with it for a complete set of modern woodworking tools. It was
easily handled by one man, and could cover one hundred and fifty miles
per day in the open sea, quite suitable for running mail, passengers,
and vital cargo, such as medical supplies, throughout the Admiralty
Islands of which Aratoba was a part.
|Mariner preferred life in the tropics. Here he was his own man, and felt free from the absurdities that were part and parcel of what he considered the travesty of European civilization, exemplified by Hitler’s invasion of Austria in the previous month*.||* Footnote: March 1938.|
Mara waved to him as he gazed shoreward a final time, and he raised his hand in farewell. Ma-Ku glanced at her mistress; her expression betraying something for a moment. Was it jealousy? Again, she looked at the departing vessel. Was it with longing? Who can say?
Mariner sighed. The memory of Mara’s burning kiss was still fresh upon his mind, leaving him with mixed emotions – regret at leaving her, and relief to be free of Huss. Her Father, impolite as ever, had made no gesture of farewell, merely spun on his heel and stomped off, shouting orders at the four native bearers standing idly by the pile of equipment and supplies.
“Poor devils,” he thought. “No doubt he’ll vent his spleen on them.”
Mariner was about four hundred yards
from the shore when a terrified scream, closely followed by a pistol
shot, made him look back towards the island. The sight that met his
eyes was truly chilling.
This story is copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)