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Fiction Thriller

It's only a prison if you want out.

            Then, once released, it was an overwhelming sense of misanthropy that drove me to wildness. I moved into the van initially to avoid murdering my new landlord and two neighbors. For half a decade, before my imprisonment, I maintained a front that earned me top dollar from my clients. All the while to earn those dollars I had to divulge secrets complete with verifiable evidence. I made a lot of money and ruined a lot of lives during that time. 

            The van I occupied beside a pond ceased to feel sufficiently remote. When the college just through the woods felt too close, I left the van. I went south, never to return.

            On my way out of town I hid a good chunk of cash behind the post office. I had been filling a little black notebook with clues mixed in with manifesto gibberish spiced with some truths about my life and left it on a table in the coffeeshop.

            There are a lot of islands off the coast of Mexico. Many are commercially exploited by the tourism industry, the fishing industry, or wealthy expats who horde the land all to themselves. I found my slice of paradise by following the trail to the spot where all three collided.

            The only thing powerful enough to affect tourists, fisherman, and the wealthy is a curse. While plenty of my clients likely believe me capable of witchcraft, voodoo, and all things wicked, I am not actually capable of cursing anything. My abilities run closer to the antisocial than the supernatural.

            Tourists are easy to scare off. All tourists are afraid of disease. More than kidnapping, more than robbery, it's diseases and that invaded feeling they get from falling exotically ill in a foreign land. The possibility outrages them and keeps them away from even the most intriguingly mysterious locations. More tourists visit Chernobyl than my island now, you can look it up.

            Fishermen are a superstitious lot by nature, but when it comes to feeding and sheltering their families, many of them will brave illness for a chance at that big haul. My tactics shifted from the mysterious island disease that caused facial abnormalities, gangrenous genital warts, and rectal swelling. I welcomed several small, keep to themself type fisherman to reap my island’s bounty so long as they reinforced to every other fisherman the existence of precarious and sudden sandbars, profound seismic fluctuations, and hull splitting eruptions from the ocean floor around my island. Some fishermen will risk life and limb for that big haul, but none will risk imminent damage to their vessel.

            The removal of my island's sole permanent resident was easy. Ensuring the bequeathal of his estate and guaranteeing he would never again return was another matter altogether. But it turned out, not a complicated one.

            Step one was understanding the guy's Rosebud. If he ended up caring about nobody and nothing but himself, or he was heartless, mindless, or insane, then I would have to go back to the drawing board. Fortunately for me, this guy had a sister and a lover, and they just happened to be equally stunning and equally important to him.

            I struck up a slow friendship with the sister. We had a few casual run ins, then a few more subtle exchanges. We were mutually surprised to find we shared the same hometown, attended the same high school, even had some of the same teachers; whatever she wanted to hear. She was a few years behind me it turns out. We hadn’t met back then because I mostly kept to myself, playing in a band, spending my free time drinking way too much coffee at the local all-night diner, a place she just so happened to have frequented as well, just maybe on different nights of the week.

            A month into my ruse and I was finally invited, "up to the house," was how she put it. She said her brother was in finance and I played like I didn’t care, which was easy, because I didn’t care. It was clear to me from the moment we stepped off the eighteen-foot boat with the white leather seats that I was the first guy she had ever brought, "up to the house." I got a look from her brother like I had just invaded his homeland, his home, and his sister and would be punished for my misdeeds by castration followed by crucifixion. That lasted about one drink’s worth of listening and watching while he tried to ignore me.

            Having no sexual preference or interest of my own, I could sense that I had drawn his eye. I drew all their eyes. I have always kept up with myself. Knowing how easy it can be to influence a person when their libido is activated, I perform a two-hour fitness routine daily, without exception, keep myself hairless and tanned, and only consume raw, natural foods that are indigenous to my area. The tropics are especially kind to my overall presentation. After a half decade of corn, potatoes, and wild onions with the occasional catfish or trout on the side, the Mexican sun and sea has done me well.

            There was the girlfriend. She also must have stuck to some kind of routine. Though she was older by a handful of years, older than all three of us, she radiated health and fitness. She also had a wisdom that made me hesitant at first. But then, as I hoped, she held my look a second too long, shifted her vision to my stomach, then my crotch, then my eyes again. The island, the house, the buildings, they were all magnificent, but she wasn’t getting what she needed from the owner and so her eyes and her intentions wandered to me.

            That first night was about getting the lay of the land. I'd seen the compound from the water while whittling down my island selection. During the first round of drinks, I wondered off to the bathroom and discovered that I was more right about selecting this island than I had expected. The main house was a small hacienda with a central courtyard surrounded by four bedrooms along the second floor and a main kitchen with several entertaining rooms on the first. White walls enclosing a brown stone courtyard floor below a Mexican sky. The jungle had grown back thick since its construction. Enormous palm fronds peeked in on the main guest bathroom off the library. Taking the long way back to the kitchen where I was to retrieve a second bottle of chilled white from the wine cooler, I saw that there were no trails, no roads, barely a discernable game trail circumnavigating the grounds. Crossing the courtyard on my way back with the wine I saw three guest cottages, each one too well maintained to be staff houseing. One was lit up just for me should I decide to spend the night.

            I stood alone. I was eighty feet from the hacienda courtyard, in the doorway of my ten-foot square cottage with a porch that held a hammock and a commanding view of the ocean across the beach. I saw from the cottage’s stilted vantage that beyond the cottage cluster there was nothing. The sand met the jungle and was wild and without the clutter of commerce.

            In less than a month I was ready to take my host’s home for my own. There was another dinner, drinks were poured, and comfortable merriment was enjoyed without tension or suspicion. After the meal and just before the evening’s conclusion came into view, I suggested we all share an herb I had acquired from some of the locals at the market. I explained that when added to a stir-fry or as a flavor enhancer to steamed rice, the herb comes across as a blend of wild mushrooms and fresh saffron. But, when there is no heat to render the psychotropic effects inert, and especially when consumed with alcohol, then the effects can be quite profound. I prepared the herb as an infusion in a strong local mescal that I had brought for this purpose. A lemon water chaser was prepared and after raising a glass to our host, his gorgeous and intriguing girlfriend, and his dear beautiful sister, we downed my concoctions.

            The next morning our host found me preparing tea and coffee in the kitchen. Specifically, he found me staring out through the courtyard, out over the jungle and the beach, out where the sea squeezed the sand against the wild trees. He was pale, his hair was matted, and his eyes appeared painfully red. A one-night indulgence gave this man the look of a three-day bender coming to a law enforcement end.

            He asked what my herb was called and where he could get some more. I told him the herb was used in ceremonies to make the users feel comfortable with themselves, with their fears, and with their desires. I expressed some surprise that he wished to experience the herb's effects a second time, especially after the way last night had unfolded.

            I poured coffee for myself and suggested tea for my host. I gestured toward the mirror in the entryway and he quickly flattened some of the standing ends of thick black hair at the back of his head. I suggested he have the tea, explaining it was renowned for its restorative powers. He agreed and sipped contemplatively. I inquired as to what he recalled from last night, what made him feel good and what may have felt unsettling to him. He expressed a feeling of connection with the world he hadn’t felt before and that lovemaking to his girlfriend was like never before. He said it was as if they were different people and able to feel each other as all new and closer than ever, better even than when they first began their affair. He said he felt a familiarity with her body that made her react with excitement, wicked pleasure, and a new welcome kind of aggression. I let him continue to revel in his recollections.

            Once he had reached a point of contented reflection, I explained that there were a few facts about the evening that he may have confused. I made him understand that this was as awkward for me as it was for him, but that I never judge others for their proclivities and have always maintained that the sexual restrictions placed on us by normal society are far too severe and limiting.

            As he looked up from what would be his last feeling of peace for the rest of his life, I began to explain everything in technicolor detail. I told him that his first departure from his seat, over an hour after taking the herb, was to pursue me as I made my way to the kitchen. I was making myself a cocktail when he spun me by my shoulders and kissed me on my mouth and neck with an urgency that bordered on desperation.

            His reaction wasn’t one of shame or shock, but one of recognition. I told him that I meant no offense by my lack of reciprocation at the time, but he had seemed upset. He tried to tell me that he couldn’t have been upset, that he was only kidding, just drunk. I allowed him his explanation, and then continued.

            I told him after leaving me he made the same desperate efforts toward his girlfriend. I described how I watched him embrace her as if to restrain her, how he placed his mouth on hers as if to devour her, and how she, like me, failed to respond. His eyes grew wide, as if the remaining pieces to the herb-night puzzle were now connecting in a way that showed him the whole, unwelcome picture.

            I told him how I sat the night with his girlfriend, the drug having affected us in a very different way than it did he and his sister. As he grew grimmer and the tea seemed incapable of restoring him, lost as he was in his realizations about last night, I made one final attempt to reach him. I told him that we did not yet know how his sister felt about the events. I tried to make him consider that it was possible that her experience was similar to his, one of connection and immense pleasure, It was then that we heard his sister stir upstairs. 

            I could see that his mind was reaching for redemption. When he seemed to think that he had a hold of something like it, his mood began to lift. I changed the subject somewhat and told him of my previous travels. My van was parked near a pond for which I could easily draw water and bathe during the warm months. There was another pond often accessed by the nearby college, that was a pond for drinking and skinny-dipping, a pond for students. There was a third pond, a larger one, clearer too, but neither me nor the college students were welcome there. The larger pond was private, purchased by a man who had apparently grown up in the largest house on main street. He was part of one of the wealthiest and most respected families in the area. He had been caught acting inappropriately with his cousin at school and had been sent away for a time. When he returned, he purchased the pond and built his small cabin. His family had disowned him you see, and nobody ever knew for sure what became of his cousin. Anyway, not being welcome in his family home or in any of the business who had working relationships with his family, which was most of them, the man had to remain at his pond cottage, gathering wild plants, fishing, and drying what he caught in preparation for winter. He was never forgiven by society, but he had his freedom to be who he really was on that pond. That is something after all. Isn’t it?

            My story had the intended affect. My host was looking green. He would shudder and swallow hard, then turn a cold white. He excused himself and went upstairs to his bedroom. I put on a fresh pot of tea for myself and sipped for a while until the girlfriend joined me in the courtyard where the breeze was cool, and the beach glistened below an unclouded sun.

            She was no worse for the wear. We made eye contact, I poured her tea, she pulled a bottle of champagne out from behind her back and gave me a wink. I motioned I was fine with the tea and she made a sad face while popping the cork. I asked her if things were going to change for her now. She told me she had no intention of wasting away with our host, that he was boring and obsessive in all the wrong ways. And after last night… she motioned her finger into her open mouth and mimed a gag. She said, with noticeable relief, that his social standing at his yacht club on Martha's Vineyard where he kept his other home, meant more to him than her happiness. She had an affair going with one of the boat boys anyway and planned on getting as much as she could from her boyfriend before making off with the boat boy and one of the boats. I knew I would be content with one motored boat for accessing the mainland and had no need nor want of a boat boy. I suggested she make her way to the safe, abscond with the riches, and grab her affair in one arm and the mooring lines to our host’s best boat in the other. I described how she could simply do what she wanted to do. She wasn’t married to the guy who apparently was… well, he wasn’t her type after all.

            Our weeks of connecting the way people do in paradise had paid off. She trusted me. A look of urgency came over her, she kissed me on the cheek, thanked me, wished me luck, then turned back as if to ask, but what about me. I showed her a look I have been able to perfect over the years that said, "get out of here, we'll meet again," and off she went.

            Before the thirty-foot pleasure craft’s twin engines was fired up down by the dock, before the boat boy assisted his lover with her bags, and before a blue sarong billowed down from the second floor, two shots rang out maybe three minutes apart.

            The second-floor rooms have all been cleaned and made up and closed off. I suppose, should I tire of this place, the next occupant may wish to have company, I hope they like the paint I’ve chosen and the new linens. I spend the better parts of my days in the courtyard or strolling the beach. The library is my favorite indoor space. It was appointed with a fantastic selection, obviously curated by a hired professional.

            Occasionally I wonder if things would have been different if I hadn’t sunk the catamaran, but there were the Vineyard yacht folks to consider. Perhaps I would have been better suited to the sea, the traveling type that I am. It's these walks on the beach, quiet, sunup, sundown, they’re just unbeatable. But the sea is the slate wiper, it cleans the beach and the jungle recoils in terror from her salty reaches. I suppose I could see about a boat. All manner of luxury craft moors just off the western side of my island despite the mainland whispers of curses. Surely one of them contains a trio who would be interested in an invite up to the house.

March 03, 2021 17:15

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1 comment

Vanessa Queens
21:23 Mar 10, 2021

Very interesting. Good job. :)


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