Welcome to chapter 17 of Arena of Souls, my new, Doc Savage-style, pulp adventure. A new chapter every week! If you missed the previous chapters, you can start at the beginning here:
Arena of Souls
Chapter 17: The Island
Stone’s eyes locked on the shark as it surged toward him. The faded gray stripes across its back named it a tiger shark, an aggressive breed responsible for the majority of attacks on humans. This one had to measure sixteen feet— easily the largest Stone had ever seen. He had only an instant to draw the knife at his hip before the creature was upon him.
In a flash, Stone twisted to his left and struck the shark on the snout with the palm of his hand. The powerful blow served to redirect the shark’s attack and push his body farther away from its snapping jaws. Before the shark could react, he drove his knife into the creature just behind its eyes, and yanked himself up onto the shark’s back.
The shark immediately began to thrash about, trying to dislodge its unwanted rider. Stone wrapped his let around the creature’s torso and squeezed with all his might. He grasped his knife in both hands and tried to force the knife deeper. The corded muscles of his forearms stood out with the strain as he twisted the blade. Beneath him, the shark’s powerful body continued to jerk and write. Stone felt himself shift and he squeezed his legs tighter. He’d ridden bulls and bucking broncos out west, but those were child’s play compared to this. If the shark managed to dislodge him…
A shot rang out. And then another. The shark continued to twitch, but the life was gone from its body. All around him, blood filled the water. Alex leaned over the edge of the raft, holding a pistol.
“Get out of there before the blood draws more sharks.” Alex offered a hand, and heaved Stone over the edge. As soon as stone was on board, Moses fired up the motor and steered the raft toward the shore.
“Thanks,” Stone said. “That was a close one.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet.” Alex pointed to the side of the raft. In its wild efforts to get to stone, the shark had bitten the raft. The sturdy canvas had held for the most part, but air now leaked from a hand’s length tear in the side. “We’ve got to get to shore before we sink. And before those things catch up to us.”
Stone looked back to see several gray fins honing in on the spot where the tiger shark contorted in its death throes. “Hopefully they’ll take a little time to cannibalize their friend before coming our way.”
“You’re such a comfort, Stone.” Trinity grimaced as she stared at the frenzied sharks who now shredded their dead comrade with vigor.
“Hold on,” Moses warned. “We coming up on the last reef.”
The boat surged forward, the engine whining as it struggled to drive the now sluggish craft through the water. Alex pressed his hands over the tear, tying in vain to keep the air inside. The raft was comprised of several separate compartments, so a single tear wouldn’t deflate the entire craft, but the weight of the riders and cargo was enough that the raft would soon be swamped.
The last coral reef glistened in the tropical sun, and they bored down on it with agonizing slowness. Up they climbed, the water carrying them forward.
And then a hard jolt and a ripping sound. Water began to fill the boat from the stern. They hadn’t quite made it across.
“Grab what you can and swim for it!” Stone took hold of the two heaviest. He was the strongest swimmer and stood the best chance of making it to shore with their supplies. He waited until his friends were in the water and, buoyed by their life vests, bobbing their way toward shore, before diving in.
The weight of his burden immediately pulled him down, but he kicked furiously, driving himself forward. He’d done more than his share of diving and was capable of holding his breath for long periods of time. Hopefully it would be enough to get him to the shallows. He kicked with all his might, his sodden clothes and shoes felt like lead weights, conspiring to bear him closer to the bottom. His lungs burned and he knew he would soon have to drop one of the bags of supplies and swim up for air. The water around him grew rough, and he felt himself thrown about by the waves rolling toward shore. One of his bags scraped the bottom. Then the other. His foot hit the bottom and he pushed upward.
He broke the surface and took a deep breath of blessed air. He kicked furiously, trying to keep his head above water, and his toes dug into the sand. He had made it!
All around him, the others were slogging toward shore. Trinity spared a glance for him and smiled just as a breaking wave smacked her on the back and sent her tumbling forward into the frothy surf. She came up spitting and swearing. None of the men dared comment or even crack a smile. Instead, they all pretended not to notice as she brushed her hair out of her face and tried to recover a shred of her dignity. By the time they reached shore, she was eying them all with suspicion, her eyes daring them to say one word.
Stone looked around. They stood on a sugar-white sand beach that curved off into the distance on either side. A thick treeline of palms, mangroves, and flowering hibiscus and bouganvillea guarded a hilly jungle that rose up to a distant, mist-shrouded peak. He saw no birds, heard no chatter of island life, only the rush of the surf and the whisper of wind in his ear.
“We’re alive,” Alex finally said.
“But we got no way to get back. I’m sorry.” Moses kicked at the sand.
“You got us here safely. That’s what matters.” Stone looked around at his bedraggled friends. “Let’s take stock of our supplies and assess our situation.”
They divided up their meager provisions. Collectively, they had enough food for two days if they ate sparingly, plus a single tent, some first aid supplies, a single machete, and a few assorted bits of camping gear. Each person also had a sidearm and a limited amount of spare ammunition.
“It could be much worse,” Stone said. “Fresh water is the one thing we’re lacking, so keep an eye out for any sources of drinking water.”
“You mean like that?” Trinity pointed to the distant peak. Just below the fog, a waterfall poured down a sheer rock face. “It’s a long way away, but at least we know there’ll be water there.”
Stone consulted a copy of his grandfather’s map. “It looks like we’re headed that way in any case. Hopefully we’ll find water before then. In the meantime, it looks like there are coconuts aplenty. In any case, I think we should get out of the sun and on the move.
A few minutes later, Stone was hacking and slashing his way through the thick foliage that barred their way into the jungle. Twenty feet in, however, the growth thinned considerably and the going became easier. They worked their way inward and upward, the hot, humid air leaching the sweat from their bodies. After an hour, Stone called a halt at the foot of a steep incline. They rested in the shade of a calabash tree from which Stone plucked four large gourds. The fruit of the calabash was inedible, but would serve as canteens once they found fresh water. Moses and Alex gathered coconuts and they all enjoyed the warm, sweet milk. It dulled the thirst, but did not quite sate it.
While the others rested, Stone inspected the hill they were about to climb. It was steep and heavily eroded inn places, but he thought they could make it if they stuck to the areas where the foliage was thickest.
“What is that?” Trinity stood and moved to the base of the hill where fallen earth and rock made a loose pile. She kicked at the dirt, revealing something long and cream-colored. “It looks like a giant bone.”
Immediately interested, Alex joined her and began digging. Soon, the two of them had uncovered an elongated skull with deep eye sockets and narrow jaws lined with razor sharp teeth.
Alex brushed it clean and lifted it up for everyone to see. “This,” he said in a trembling voice, “is a dinosaur.”
“What kind?” Trinity ran a finger along the bony snout.
“I don’t know, but it was definitely a predator. Look at these teeth.” Alex wobbled and dropped to one knee.
“Easy there,” Moses said. “I know you’re excited to find a fossil, but don’t fall on your head over it.”
Alex turned unseeing eyes in his direction. “I’m not excited; I’m terrified.”
Moses and Trinity exchanged puzzled looks, but Stone knew exactly what was bothering his friend.
“That skull,” he said, “is no fossil.”