The night air was cold, but the fire would help to remedy that. Starting said fire had proven more difficult than anticipated, with Jameson having to wage war against two rocks he found.
Melodi sat quietly content, staring on at daddy’s misfortune.
Even though he knew it was his imagination, he could have sworn his daughter had a smirk on her face from how frustrated his failures were making him.
“Oh, you think that is funny, do you?” Jameson asked playfully looking over at his daughter’s giggling face.
She was taken by it once the fire eventually arrived. It started small at first, but the flame grew with his persistence. It was a mesmerizing creation’ the orange and yellow swirls felt so wild and yet elegant. Something could seem vibrant or even hopeful from a distance, Jameson supposed.
He recounted the propaganda and false promises Aldrintown had been assured by. They looked so attractive from far away. That was when an idea was only an idea, and not a regime to bully innocent people. Like fire, he watched so many things catch flame and then fall away into ash between his fingers.
His daughter took a liking to the berry and fruit medley he concocted. She ate it by the handfuls, no doubt famished.
His spoonfuls of the stuff were less pleasant. The taste was tart and sour, making it a trying task to choke down. The way his daughter chowed down reminded him of the foul baby food she devoured in small glass jars, and how awful and unpalatable they tasted.
Melodi drifted to sleep again.
Jameson felt some happiness by the sight. She brought that out of him, he supposed. No matter how deep it was burrowed inside of him, she found it.
He sat quietly and let the fire warm him.
As they deepened into the night, he could hear the howl of some animal, disturbing the peaceful sound of crackling firewood.
The fact could have reassured Jameson on one-hand, because that meant there was meat to hunt for. It could have reassured him, but it didn’t.
Instead, it only made him more anxious and warm inside. With no weapons other than a sharpened stick, he and his daughter were defenseless against anything that might have been wandering around the island. He thought of them as meat to hunt, but if Melodi woke up crying come morning than they would likely think the same about them. The only difference was that they would have the home-field advantage and could do something about it.
Jameson extinguished the flames and brought he and his daughter back into the cave. He sat down again with his back up against the wall and the spear readied. This would no doubt be the first of many sleepless nights, he expected.
The morning came and Jameson was pleasantly surprised to not be met with the cold embrace of his own demise. In its place, he was met with the warm rays of the island’s sun. The island’s sun was no different than Aldrintown’s son, and yet, it felt very different to him. It was unclouded by the industrial smog and polluted streets, it shined down with vibrancy and intensity.
Once he changed Melodi and made certain she was properly fed, his attention went to the next order of business – learning more about the island and the secrets it held.
To his benefit, Melodi was still mostly immobile. She was a sleeper and a committed one at that. Had she been a toddler, he would have never been able to stomach the idea of leaving her twenty-something feet away from a hole that went to God knows where. Even now it remained far from ideal, but he needed more information and it was too dangerous to carry her around with him.
He donned a muddied white shirt and pants, and brandished nothing except the stick he still wrongfully referred to as an actual spear. He continued deeper into the island, taken by the trees, he even fuzzy inside when he encountered a trio of small monkeys all climbing one prodigious tree trunk.
They survived out here, perhaps it meant he had a chance to as well.
His surroundings smelled vaguely of an assortment of different things. It smelled of pine and lavender, complimented by a fruity scent. He could smell dirt and a grassy scent as well. All of it came together for a singular smell he didn’t have a name for yet.
His eyes looked up at the trees and their tall branches, beholding a colorful bird as it soared through the air.
He took a step forward and hesitated, but that hesitation was not enough to stifle the mistake he had already made.
The rope fastened around his foot and before he could even comprehend his own predicament, he was hoisted in the air. He hung suspended. He readjusted himself, situating it so his shirt no longer dangled in-front of his face.
He heard a small noise from up at the tree branches. Like Melodi when he tried to start a fire, the small monkeys stared at him as though he were the newly appointed island idiot. Jameson felt hardly in a position to argue against the moniker either.
The trap wasn’t meant for someone his size. Maybe it was meant for a fox or a small deer, but certainly nothing larger than that. He reached his hand down and was easily able to touch the ground, grazing his fingers across the tall grass in search of his spear.
It didn’t take long until he found it. That is, with his eyes and not his hands, because, otherwise, it remained out of his reach.
Jameson sighed, nothing could ever be pleasant or simple in life.
He rocked his body forward, and then, back again, forward, and then, back again, until his fingertips were now touching the stick. Almost. Jameson knew he would be able to reach it the next time around.
He rocked his body forward, and then, snap! The next time never arrived. The rope severed and released him, dropping him back first on the ground. Jameson groaned in agony, but offered himself little time to recover.
This time, he knew he heard something, and it was not a monkey or a lemur.
Jameson climbed back to his feet and readied himself. The creature looked at him with wide eyes and a frightened expression. Its eyes were as large as the mouth of a screaming man. It stood on its hind legs and fidgeted with its hands like a human. It had all the aesthetic appeal of a hyena with black gums and crooked teeth that were naturally exposed.
Jameson didn’t react, not at first, if only because he didn’t know how to or in what way he should. The creature was cute in a ‘dear God, please put me out of my misery’ sort of way. His reaction changed when he saw the harness that it was carrying with it.
“What have you done!?” Jameson shouted, then without a second thought, threw his stick at the animal as if it were a harpoon.
It missed, but only by a hair.
In truth, Jameson wasn’t even for certain it was sharp enough to impale the creature even if he hadn’t. Whether it could or could not, it sent a strong message to the animal, nevertheless. The creature let out a shrill hiss and made a run for it, disappearing behind some bushes. Jameson could hear its scampering even after it left his line of vision.
He wanted to do nothing more than pursue the pest and take back what was stolen from them. But, he couldn’t. He didn’t know the forest and the rope around his ankle would attest to that fact. Furthermore, it also meant Melodi was vulnerable. He needed to return to the cave and come up with a new strategy. If the vines worked as intended, he could put a rush on building the boat. Whatever got them off the island the fastest.
“Some friends you turned out to be,” Jameson said, looking up at the money’s in the tree again with a weak expression.
His body ached when he returned to the cave, still favoring his back after the fall, but he tried to remain optimistic about their situation. After all, the quality of ones’ environment was largely impacted by the quality of ones’ thoughts. Maybe they could keep themselves relegated to the front of the island near the beach. They could live off the fresh water from the river and the fruits and berries, maybe Jameson could even learn how to fish.
“How’s it going, little lady?” Jameson said, as he entered the cave.
When he saw his daughter was not where he had left her, all of his optimism died. All of his good thoughts were replaced with the worst of them. Where was she? The worry overcame him.
Melodi!?” He screamed, but heard no response.
His chest started to hurt now. He assumed the worst. That creature must have taken her, or something worse than that. His eyes were bloodshot. He screamed again and again. A fourth time and a fifth, until he was hoarse and once more back at the cave entrance.
Tracks. His thoughts blurted it out before his mind knew what it meant. The small map he had made in the dirt had been tarnished. It was not by footprints or paw prints, and it was not the creature he had seen. What could it have been? His mind was too jumbled to wager a guess. All he knew was that he needed to follow them.
Jameson ventured forward, uncertain of what may await him, but willing to risk it all regardless. All that mattered was that Melodi was brought back to him. He would kill anyone or anything that dared to argue otherwise or disrupt that.
As he turned the corner around a row of tall weeds, his body already felt drenched with sweat, the adrenaline was coursing through his veins as the panic set in, his heartbeat a rampant, endless crescendo. His eyes soon happened upon his daughter.
He saw her drowsy, dreamy eyes struggle to open and he saw the way the sunlight glowed from off her forehead.
He saw all of that before his mind could appreciate the creature that held her captive, a creature that was like none Jameson had ever seen before. It was neither a snake nor a human, but something like a hybrid between the two of them. Human on top, snake on the bottom. It was a woman, nay, it was a monster and nothing except for that.
It was a scaly beast with eyes that did well to express its vile intent. That beast had his daughter.
Jameson chased forward, letting out a battle cry as he ran toward the foul creature, hoping to startle it enough that it would release her daughter where it stood.
His weapon was no more than a stick, but he was ready to make use of it as if it were a broadsword.
The animal was frightened when it saw the anger and fury in his eyes. Jameson swung the stick at the creature and it ducked, carefully cradling its next meal close to its chest. The beast had his daughter! The fact only made him angrier and more terrified.
“Let go of her!” Jameson screamed out, readying the stick for his next strike.
The animal didn’t wait to react, spouting nonsense words that Jameson couldn’t understand and venturing deeper into the forest. It fled from him, but Jameson followed.
He threw the stick forward and, this time, pierced into the beast’s flesh, aiming low so as not to risk hurting Melodi in the attack.
The stick broke in two as the creature continued to run away from him, a small shard still lodged into its tail. Jameson could see the trail of blood it left as it fled. He followed.
The creature’s movements were clearly deliberate and precise, obeying a distinct pattern that’s purpose Jameson didn’t understand.
That is, until he heard a snap beneath his feet.
A trap had been triggered.
Jameson heard the faint whistle of a small object hurling toward him, then felt the small prick of a thorn burrow into his arm.
No matter, Jameson continued his pursuit, fueled by his sheer will and the fight within him.
“Please,” Jameson mumbled beneath his breath. Soon, a second, third, fourth, and even a fifth thorn broke into his flesh. It was too much now, lightheaded and woozy, Jameson fell from his feet and into the dirt.
His eyes looked at Melodi’s upset face.
The creature had stopped and was now staring at him as well.
He could feel himself dying, but, in spite of that, when he looked at Melodi, he forced a smile to surface.
She brought that out of him.