Chapter 2: The Beach
Charlie had been reckless. That wasn’t like him. Adventurous? Yes. Reckless? That was a first. Was it the long wait at Vanatinai that unsettled him? Maybe it was the fact that no one wanted to take them to Kutukan. They had departed in the middle of the night in a 21 feet fishing boat. Charlie told his friends that he had rented it from a tour guide who was too sick to go with them. The tour guide, a half Papuan half British man in his late fifties wasn’t exactly sick. He had told Charlie that neither him nor anyone would take him to Kutukan- and much less rent his boat, his way of making a living, to an American looking for adventure.
Having a drink with an American fool who was willing to buy top shelf liquor was another story. In a couple hours Charlie’s new friend was passed out drunk on the bar- Charlie wasn’t even tipsy. He and Sarah could outdrink anyone- and then drink some more. He stole the drunken man’s keys and off to Kutukan they went.
But Charlie had been reckless and he ran the boat into a sand bank roughly a mile away from Kutukan’s shore. They were wet and stuck on the sand bank. They lost some of their supplies but they were in good spirits. Most of them were high on Hashish which made it easier not to give a fuck about their predicament. They made it to the beach. And what a beach it was. Untouched, unmolested, a virgin beach with turquoise waters and fine pinkish sand framed by the thousand shades of green that only exist in these latitudes. The beach was like nothing they had expected.
Not everyone was happy. Dan was in fact very upset. Not only had they lost some of the food on their way to Kutukan but the fact remained that the boat remained stuck on the sand bank. They had tried to dislodge the boat to no effect before deciding to swim ashore. Charlie and Sarah calmed everyone down. It wasn’t a big deal. They would just wait for the next high tide. That should make it easier to get the boat off the sandbank. For now they only had to anchor the boat safely in case a high tide surprised them, and get ashore.
In the meantime they could have some fun and ready their camp. Kutukan was to be their home for two weeks.
It didn’t take long for them to find some dry wood to start a fire. They quickly set up a tent near the tree line and put their supplies inside. It was time to have some fun and it wasn’t even midday. This is the thing. When you are that young you can spend the whole night drinking and experimenting with drugs, sandbank a boat, swim ashore and still be in the mood to have some fun. So, fun at the beach they had for quite a while.
In the month they had spent preparing for the trip Sarah and Charlie had grown distant. Charlie seemed to always be pissed at Sarah and would snap at her for no reason. Sarah grew tired of it pretty quickly and wasn’t having it. She stayed away from him after too many arguments. She had been close to cancel the trip but she did not because she knew how important it was for Charlie. But she had been very close to cancel it, very close.
She tried to get close to him in Vanatinai. They didn’t fight- but Charlie seemed different, on the edge, wired. But at least they had a good time and they spent one night together. That was something new. They have had sex countless times but they had never spent the night together. The next day Charlie was on and off, not a jerk, but not exactly cool.
Once in Kutukan, Sarah wanted some time alone with Charlie to figure out what was bugging him. Soon they would be going to distant places. Charlie was going to John Hopkins to become a doctor, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force. Sarah was moving to Northern California in what would eventually be known as Silicon Valley. She had landed a job with new Software Company. It was a risk, but she could afford to take those risks.
Sarah didn’t want to lose her best friend. Were they still just that? Why were they still playing that game? She had always avoided thinking about Charlie as more than a good friend, her best friend, and a frequent good fuck. They had fun together, that was it. But was there something else between them? Sarah smiled realizing that if Charlie was a mess, she wasn’t far behind. “Come on Carlitos, let’s see what’s on the other side of the island.” He loved being called Carlitos by Sarah- and no one else. He agreed and told the others they would be back in a couple hours, three at the most.
The rest were happy with staying on the shade offered by the tree line. Youth has its limits and after five hours of drinking, horse playing and exposure to the subtropical sun everyone was exhausted.
Charlie and Sarah decided to go through the woods to avoid the torturing sun. “I told you that machetes would come in handy” said Charlie making small talk. Sarah agreed and quickly changed the subject. She asked Charlie is he was ok. “Of course I’m ok, I’m fine, why wouldn’t I?” he answered. Sarah thought about a more direct approach. “Why have you been so distant?” Charlie answered that he had just been busy. She could tell he wasn’t being honest and that frustrated her. There was nothing she would hide from him (she thought) so why would he? The conversation went nowhere and both of them fell back to small talk secretly wanting to get back to the beach as soon as possible.
It was already dark and Sarah and Charlie had not comeback. It had been over five hours since they left. Dutch wanted to go and look for them. Rick was the only one who agreed with her. It wasn’t going to happen. For a while now Rick had suspected that Melanie and Dutch had made out, maybe even had sex, but he wasn’t sure about it. Dutch thought of Rick as the one keeping her from the first girl she truly loved. These two were not going anywhere together. So that was it. They would wait for them to return a little longer. Maybe Sarah and Charlie needed some alone time suggested Amy as she made the universal finger sign for sex.
At the beach they were surprised by how quickly the day turns into the night. How quickly the sun sets. From bright to absolute dark in less than an hour. It was so dark just an hour after sunset that they could not see anything some twenty feet from their campfire. Of course they only needed to patiently let their eyes adjust to the darkness- but patience is not a characteristic of the young.
Right after it got dark the “other” Dan noticed that there were no sounds but those made by the waves and the wind going through the trees, leaves, and bushes. The others didn’t pay much attention to anything that he said. This was not the exception. They all sat by the campfire drinking warm beer and rum. Suddenly they heard a “snap” coming from the tree line. “What was that?” asked Rick as they all got up and instinctively group up. Rick and Dutch got their flashlights. Rick grabbed his machete. Dutch didn’t thinking if it was nothing she would look like an idiot. They walked toward the tree line. There was the sound again; “snap” follow by a “crack”. Dutch yelled, “who goes there?” feeling both proud and stupid for issuing a military challenge. She took two, maybe there steps squaring herself in a fighting-ready position.
“Snap” “crack” again.
“Fuck, who is there?” said Rick while standing next to Dutch.
Then they heard a repeated gulping. They turned towards the sound. A huge Taipan snake was swallowing another big snake. Both Rick and Dutch were disgusted. Rick cut off the head of the snake and they both turned away about to puke their guts out. They turned into two bodies so close to them that Rick stepped back tripped and landed on the dead snakes. “Boo!” screamed Sarah and Charlie simultaneously.
“Fuck you guys fuck you!” said Rick while trying to get up and covered in the snake’s dark cold blood. “What the fuck?” said Dutch in disbelief. “Come on chill out it was a good one” said Sarah as she helped Rick up. They started walking towards the camp. Sarah and Charlie teased Dutch and Rick and they reposted with a million “fuck yous”.
Back at the campfire Sarah told the others about the joke they had just played on Dutch and Rick. The others made fun of Dutch and Rick for falling for that trick. Dutch and Rick were not having it. While the others cowered by the campfire they had faced the threat, real or imaginary. Rick thought that maybe Dutch wasn’t such a bitch after all. And to be honest, the snakes had distraught them more than Charlie and Sarah’s prank.
They sat by the campfire. Sarah talked about their trek through the jungle. It had been disappointing. Green everywhere, not a sound, peaceful but… Rick brought up the snakes. He was still disgusted by it. Charlie pointed out that they were easy to kill- a manageable nuisance. They drank some more beer and rum to wash down their last “fresh” meat- some very long and weird sausages they had bought at Vanatinai the previous day. Rick couldn’t eat at all. After their meal they smoke some more hashish, drank rum, and soon started falling asleep around the campfire not even bothering to use a cover for the night was warm indeed. Sarah and Charlie slept near the tent with the pretext of keeping an eye on their supplies. They were so used to find excuses to sleep away from the group so they could have sex that this night they did it mechanically even though either one had sex in their minds. Pretty soon they both fell asleep too.
The “other” Dan couldn’t sleep. He was feeling like an outsider. Amy was the only actually talking to him and he wasn’t that much interested in her. He pondered why he had agreed to come on this trip with a girl he didn’t particularly liked- certainly not as anything more than a friend. But here he was with a group so close knit that winning the lotto seemed more likely than becoming friends with them. If he was to be honest with himself he would have to accept that he didn’t have many friends, and that is putting it mildly. So here he was for he had nothing else to do.
“Other” Dan went to pee on the bushes. For the first time he could hear anything besides the waves and the wind. “Must be snakes, fucking A” he thought. Hurriedly, he finished peeing accidentally urinating on his hand. “Fuck!” He wiped his hand on his swimming trunks and turned around to go back to the beach. There was a figure right in front of him. “Good try Charlie, now get the fuck out my way.” He didn’t get an answer. The figure, obviously a man, started walking peripatetically towards him. “Fuck you Charlie” yelled “other” Dan.
He started to realize that was not Charlie. “Other” Dan took a couple steps back. He was about to scream for help but if he was scared of whoever was moving towards him he was even more scared of looking like a wimp before the others if this indeed was another prank. As he chew over his options while stepping backwards an away from that figure a hand covered his mouth. He felt the distinctive sting of biting on his right shoulder. He got loose and let out a scream. The man in front of him leaped towards him and bit him on the wrist. “Other” Dan tried to defend himself.
His screams alerted the others. “What was that? This better not be another fucking joke.” Rick and Dutch grabbed their flashlights and machetes and ran towards the tent. Charlie and Sarah were already up, machetes and flashlights in hand. Rick and Dutch realize it wasn’t a joke. The four of them moved towards the noise in the bushes. “Other” Dan was still screaming.
They found him on the ground struggling with two men. “Help me!” he screamed desperately. Charlie kicked one of the men and he trundled away from “other” Dan. The man got up and started to move towards Charlie. Sarah, pulled the man’s arm to get him away from Charlie. Skin and flesh fell off the man’s arm as Sarah grabbed him. Sarah almost threw up. The smell coming out of the fallen skin disoriented her. She didn’t move as the man moved menacingly towards her. Charlie got between them and kicked the man on the chest. The man fell to the ground and Charlie fell on him placing his knees on the man’s shoulders so he couldn’t move. Charlie furiously punched him in the face until there was no longer a face to speak off. Sarah begged him to stop “he is dead Charlie, please stop, please!” Charlie heeded to Sarah’s plea and got up shaking and wild-eyed.
Rick and Dutch had struggled with the other man and subdued him. But they got distracted by Charlie’s furious pummeling and Sarah’s screaming. By the time they remembered their man he had disappeared.
“Fuck they bit me. It fucking hurts! What the fuck!” Dutch used his flashlight to check Dan’s wounds. He had at least six deep bites. She helped him get up and started her way back to the beach. The others followed in silent agreement. But there he was. The man Charlie had beaten to a pulp was standing in front of them. Panting, but very much alive. Charlie had had enough. “Don’t move or I’ll chop your fucking head off!” screamed Charlie as he pointed his machete towards the man. The man started walking towards him. The more Charlie yelled at him the faster he walked towards Charlie. Charlie raised his machete and stroke him on the head several times. A dark blackish thick liquid and yellowish pus came out of the man’s head splashing Charlie’s face and t-shirt. The man fell to the ground his head a few inches from Charlie’s toes. He was dead.
They immediately forgot about the dead man. Hurriedly, they helped “Other” Dan to the beach and set him by the campfire. He was in excruciating pain. The bites were getting worse by the minute. Not only was the pain becoming unbearable but the bites had swollen, tripling in size and they seemed to be filling up with pus.
Melanie, Dan and Amy wanted to know what had happened. “Who bit “other” Dan? What was all the screaming? Why was Charlie covered in blood?”
There were other matters to take care off. “Other” Dan would have to wait. Charlie told everyone to grab machetes and flashlights and group up around the campfire facing outwards- establishing a perimeter of sorts. He ran to the tent and came back with whatever supplies he could carry. He brought two flare guns and gave one to Dutch. Charlie wanted to make sure they would not be ambushed by the other man, or men.
He was still running on pure adrenaline. He looked at his hand. It was shaking although Charlie fell strangely calmed, almost as if everything was happening in slow motion. He couldn’t steady his hand. Sarah noticed it and grabbed Charlie’s hand. She looked at him and without saying a word let Charlie know that it had to be done, it was OK. Charlie lowered his head for a few seconds and composed himself.
There wasn’t a sound. There were no attackers. Melanie, Dan and Amy were itching to know what had happened. They started asking again. “Other” Dan struggled to tell them that he had been attacked by two men. He told them about their stench. “Thy bit me, they fucking bit me” he said weeping. “That is when we found him, he was fighting them off” said Rick. “We fought them off. Charlie went psycho on one of them” he added. Sarah nodded and said “I thought he was dead.”
Charlie didn’t say anything but he lost it when he saw Sarah was in danger. He kept quiet as the others tried to make sense of what had just happened.
“But he wasn’t dead” quipped Dutch. “Next thing we know he is back on his feet and walking towards us. That’s when Charlie killed him with the machete. He is still right there in the bushes. And the other escaped into the jungle”
With those words everything started to sink in. Charlie had killed a person and “other” Dan was seriously injured, and there was at least another man in the jungle.
Amy asked “other” Dan what he was doing in the bushes. But he was unresponsive. Worse, he had a fever and was covered in cold sweat. “Charlie is he in shock?” Amy asked warily. “What?” snapped Charlie. “I don’t know, maybe” he said tentatively. “Let’s keep him from overheating. We need to keep his fever down- take some shirts and soak them in water. Help me pull him away from the fire.” They elevated “other” Dan’s feet and turned his head to the side in case he vomited.
Melanie wanted to know who those men were. Charlie was back. “We will figure it out in the morning. We should not walk into the bushes in the dark. Get some sleep. Let’s take turns. I will keep an eye on things with Dutch. We should have sunlight in four or five hours.”
They tried to sleep. No one could. The faintest noise would wake them up. They didn’t know if it was the adrenaline, fear, or if their ears were getting used to the island but Kutukan was not as silent as it had been when they first arrived. There were all kind of noises now. Cracks, whispering-like sounds, and many more faint sounds they could not identify.
It was going to be a long night.
Dutch and Charlie stood guard. They walked back and forth from the tent to the campfire- a mere 200 feet. They didn’t want their gear stolen, that was for sure. But walking also serve served to keep them awake. Their military training came in handy.
Charlie didn’t ask Dutch to accompany him just because she was a fellow ROTC- newly minted commissioned officer. He wanted to talk to her about those men. Charlie had not hesitated to kill that man- twice- and he told Dutch he would do it again if it meant his friends would be safe. But he didn’t know why he was so tranquil, so cool about it. His hand shaking after he killed the man was not guilt or shock but pure adrenaline- or so he told himself and Dutch. He was going to be a doctor, he wanted to save lives yet he could kill a man without the slightest remorse or trepidation.
But there was something bothering Charlie. “Dutch, I swear I killed that man with my bare hands the first time. He wasn’t breathing, he wasn’t making a single noise, he wasn’t moving at all. It is like if he came back to life.”
Dutch wasn’t sure what Charlie was getting at. “Charlie, it was dark and messy, really messy. We even let the other man get away and I still have no idea how could he disappear so fast.”
“Dutch, I’m telling you something is wrong.’
“What are you saying.”
“I don’t know, I just don’t know yet. But we will find out in the morning.”