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The Cunning Ether (Novel) A mystery adventure of murder, love and paintings, spanning continents

#1 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 27 August 2009 - 03:34 PM

This was a novel I completed less than a year ago, rewrote once, and did nothing with. So I'm posting it here, for anyone's enjoyment. I'll try to keep up with regular serial style installments. At least a chapter a week, if not more. You'll find it's rather short (54,000 words), but a LOT of stuff was cut in the rewrite. Also, I was a younger writer, so I wouldn't say it's as good as what I do today, but I think it turned out okay. Hope you like it. :arianna:
Note: Catherine's name was inspired by someone else (!), and the story only revolves around her for the prologue.

The Cunning Ether


Catherine sat at her bed, reading. The rain outside the window made it somewhat hard to concentrate, the constant pattering interrupting her train of thought. The thunder clattered the flimsy pane of glass, the vibrations reverberating all through the house. The drops of rain slided down the window, making the soft gray light shift and shimmer across the room. It was the middle of the day, but the inky, thick clouds mixed with the ether like curtain of rain could have easily fooled you. The electric lamps had gone out around an hour ago, and Catherine had resorted to using the old candles for the time being. The light from the one on her bedside table flickered across the crisp page of her book, making the page seem rougher than it was. As she read, she was calm, breathing quietly into the dark silence of the room. The rain itself, she found, eventually mixed in with the endless expanse of ambient noise.

The book in her hands creaked with protest, being what Catherine had only to guess was several decades old. The leather bound cover was becoming shrunken, screeching with the book was shifted. The pages were yellowed, and the text inside was faded, the ink having long started to wear away. She handled the book carefully, as she read.

If she hadn't been so calm, and if the rain had been a more intrusive noise, then she may have not heard it at all, but, in the quiet of the bedroom on the second floor, she did.

As she sat there, calmly, she heard a faint knocking coming from below her. Sitting there, she knew that it had come from the front door.

#2 User is offline   Zenoc2 

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Posted 28 August 2009 - 05:02 PM

Neat. We can has moar?

Did I just use LOLspeak? Good grief, I spend to much time on the net. :arianna:

#3 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 08:55 AM

Here ya go.


Catherine was dead.

The train rumbled, steadily churning the ambiance in the train car, the silence he only perceived cut through his head, which had been haunted by an anguished crease for these past days. He licked his lips, pushing back tears. The rain pattered on the window, taunting his vulnerability. Thunder roared almost constantly, seemingly yelling it's disapproval at his depression. A wrinkled newspaper lay on the seat beside him, nearly untouched, rain spotted from it's brief stint through the torrent at the train station.

His hand was on his forehead, looking down onto the blur of the ground below the train, constantly distorted by the rain which had refused to cease for hours. The man's skin was tough and cold, almost bony, the gray light reflected from the window making a skull of his pained face.

His blue eyes were only just visible, as the man was wincing as he blinked back the tears which he was so reluctant to receive.

Catherine had not deserved her death, he knew that, and was only a far cry from screaming it back at the mocking thunder. Nothing was understood. She was gone. She was gone. He couldn't stop yelling it at himself, trying desperately to perceive the facts that he knew were staring him right in the face. They were facts. He knew that. They were beyond any preconceived notion of reasonable doubt, and Joss had only to understand that. He knew, he just knew, that if he was to just reach out and grasp the facts that were so close to him, that all of his pain would be gone. He clung to this idea.

The pain, he knew, would destroy him. Would break him. The deep burning ache in his stomach and chest, never leaving him. Was there any other outcome, other than more pain? He did not want to know.

The orange glowing electric lamp above the cabin flickered on, fighting against the gray blue light from the window. Fighting the sadness, Joss thought. Yes, it's fighting for me, was the only vague thought other than deep sadness that even occurred to Joss.

They had found nothing. The very thought sent him back through the endless questions which had plagued him for days. Why had this happened? How did the fire start?” “Where was Catherine when it happened?” And most importantly, and most painful to Joss, “Where was her body?”

To his general surprise and disturbance, the tears did not come. His eyes were clearly dry. One more question. “Why did he not cry for his wife?”

Now devoid of all thought, emptily staring out at the rain, his mind drifted back to the dream that he had felt long before the fire.

Athena glided through cloud, the burner on high, flames jutting into her grand envelope, a purple hue in the rising sun. She was carrying two passengers, looking out over the sky. Catherine and Joss locked eyes, basking in the splendor of the open globe of cloud. Turning back towards the controls, Joss looked out over the basket’s edge. The misty clouds parted below them, and the sea, calm as it could get, reflected the balloon in the glaring, yellow-purple sun. Seabirds floated past in a perfect V formation, heading towards the light of dawn. Joss looked back up, beaming at Catherine, and she said but one word, “Beautiful.”

Joss awoke smiling contentedly, eyes suddenly dilating from the sun, which had bobbed back from behind the gray clouds. His smile faded as quickly as it had come, as he realized, absolutely horrified, that the paradise he had created for himself had vanished, and that the clouds and birds, Catherine, they were all actors in a mocking play that he himself had concocted.

Shockingly disappointed still, he came to find that the gorgeous scene in his head was slipping away. He wanted it to stay. To just cradle him in disbelief, in faith, that what he was seeing was as true as it could be.

He had fallen asleep on the window ledge, the raindrops blurred eye strainingly close. The sun had yet floated back through the hole in the thunderclouds, and the entirety of creation, it seemed, had been cloaked in blueish darkness once more.

He slowly and creakily stretched up for his rest, his neck protesting with an ache that seemed persistent to keep him from moving. Back, cracking, he sat back in his seat, rubbing his neck. How long had he been out? Eyes straining slightly, he glanced at the Swiss made watch he had been given all those years ago. 4:14, he had been asleep for almost an hour. The watch was ancient, with hands that ticked loudly, giving the solemn illusion of some tiny mystical force. The golden brass sheen had become slightly eroded over the years, and even the face behind the glass seemed to have a few stray flecks of dirt or rust.

The train whistle blared above all other noises, shaking the seat under Joss. Looking out the window again, he saw the distant lights of the city awaiting his return.

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Posted 03 September 2009 - 05:38 PM

Got any more, with the weekend coming up now? Of course, I could stand a little more Los Kalabusman too... :arianna: Whichever one you feel more compelled to write.

#5 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 03 September 2009 - 06:14 PM

Here. Pretty short chapter, so I posted another.

Joss arrived at the doorstep of his temporary home, drenched in rain. Felix had yet to make a copy of the key, so Joss could only knock desperately on the door, and wait hopefully. For once in his life, he was lucky. Felix Finnegan, who was in his study on the second floor, reading the paper, managed to hear, above the noise of the downpour, a faint knocking. Deciding that the knocking was important, he got up from his chair, the decades old wood squeaking in relief.

Felix was a round, robust man who never abstained from wearing a small brown bow tie. He was not the man who you would guess ran an art museum. Yet, art was his passion, and he cared of very little else. When asked what he considered to be his favorite piece, he would say, "If you have a favorite piece of art, you should be ashamed. Playing favorites has no place in the art world." As exuberantly passionate he was about the art world, he cared very little about who or where it came from. "Art is created, (or should be created), to entertain, not for your own vain reasons."

Wearing small lensed glasses, with outlandishly long muttonchops, he was exactly the man you would ask for help if you needed cheering up. And Felix would be the first man to let you down. He took pride in his ability to squash even the smallest dreams, when they were not wholly related to his favorite category of culture.

Felix marched towards the stairs, taking hold of the railing. Felix was not an extremely cautious man, but these stairs were more than a century old, with warped wooden boards that, when expected to squeak, never let you down. The railing was no more stable, but for some reason, every time Felix walked slowly down the stairs, he counted on them to hold.

Felix, reached the front door, unlocking it with expert swiftness and nimble, yet chubby fingers. Before Felix knew who it was, Joss had walked in, holding his newspaper above his head, which had reduced to a soggy gray mass of what could possibly once have been paper. Tossing the newspaper into the garbage with a muffled, soggy splat, he shivered from head to toe. "Hey, Felix," he mumbled jitteringly as he wrung out his hat above the garbage can, and hung it limply on the hat rack.

"Oh. Joss. I almost forgot you were staying here," said Felix bluntly. "I had your new key made. Just let me fetch it," he added, walking back down the main hall by the stairs.

Joss waited, dripping profusely onto the hardwood floor, trying in vain to wipe his glasses on his also sopping shirt.

He had moved in with Felix only three days before, after coming home from the police station late at night. He had arrived at Felix's doorstep, wearing the only clothes he had left, a wrinkled white shirt and pants, and a bowler hat he had worn for years every day to work at the museum. The ruins of his past home were only two blocks away, surrounded by other charred building remains. But none of them had sustained the damage that Joss' home had. All of the experts at the fire department said that his building was the source of the fire, it being the epicenter of the damage within the block.

At Felix's front door, Joss had waited, the smoke from the flames, long since extinguished, floating towards the clouds beyond a row of buildings, blotting out the stars for short moments, unnoticeable by anyone who did not know exactly where to look. Felix had arrived at the door in his nightclothes, quite tired and frustrated, until he saw Joss. His anger at being woken up so late faded quickly, replaced by tiptoeing caution. Joss had asked, "Can I stay here for a few weeks?," not baring to mention the reason that they both knew, in all it's awful splendor.

"Yes. Of course. Stay here for as long as you need. I have a sofa in the sitting room," said Felix, "Please, come in from the dreadful cold."

Joss entered, his head not straying too near Felix's eyes. It was no secret that Joss had almost no real friends. If you had asked him why this was before the fire, he would have said something near, "Why would I need them? I have Catherine."

Felix managed the museum where Joss worked as an art restorer. Felix was his boss. Not the one that most people would go to if they did not have a home anymore. But Felix was Joss' best friend, if you could call it that. To an outside observer, they would just seem to be two acquaintances who happened to not have any extreme dislike for each other.

Felix returned moments later brandishing a shiny golden key, quite large, to fit into the ancient door's locking mechanism. "Had to find a locksmith who even had the experience to make one that obsolete. Cost me a pretty penny too," added Felix, "But you shouldn't have to worry about that, now. Let's just make it an I O U, for now."

"Thanks, Felix. I'll pay you back as soon as I can. Kinda short right now," said Joss, attempting a smile, and yet failing badly, with an expression that leaned more towards a grimace.

There's still stew on the stove. Feel free to help yourself," mumbled Felix, scratching behind his ear. An awkward silence invaded the room, punctuated only by the loud ticking of Joss' watch, clashing with the deep clank of the grandfather clock in the hall. Felix, beginning to say something, and then cutting himself short, sighed and preceded to walk slowly and creakily up the stair, turning his head only once to say, "Good night," and continue up the stairs from whence he came. Joss, still standing wet in the kitchen holding a key, walked to the bathroom to dry off.

Walking back to the kitchen, he put his coat up to dry on the coat hanger. A shiny metal pot was set on top of the stove, steam still billowing in clouds from it's contents. A soup ladle sat wading in the stew, it's handle poking out just above the edge of the pot. Joss opened the cabinet doors, looking for a bowl. Setting one on the counter, he grasped the ladle in one hand and poured a healthy portion of stew into his bowl. It looked delicious, with generous amount of beef, potatoes, carrots and corn. The smell emanating from the kitchen was one that could only be described as heaven on earth. Holding the bowl carefully, he walked slowly to the small table in the corner, across from a painting of two angels crying above a gruesome battle scene.

Spooning mouthfuls of hot stew into his eager mouth, Joss began to contemplate Athena. She had miraculously not been hurt in the fire, and was still stored in the shed behind the rubble that was once Joss' precious home. Athena was a wondrous balloon. She ran on very little fuel, and could very well take one or even two people halfway around the world. Remarkable as she was, Athena, to Joss, was haunted by the memories of Catherine and Joss' planning to take it out over the Atlantic for a whole week. They had planned it for months, and, if it had not been for the fire, their flight would have begun in two days. All the necessary supplies were gathered in the shed, and the small courtyard in the middle of the houses would have been used as a perfect landing field. But all those plans had, of course, been marred by the horrendous fire. Joss wondered weather or not he would ever take it up again. Flying without Catherine. It seemed like a downright gloomy proposition. But maybe someday, he would be ready to go up once more.

Having finished his soup, Joss walked to the sink, thinking of flying, and how much he would miss it.


Joss arrived at work a few days later a little happier. He had the subconscious feeling that today could not possibly be worse than the last few, which had been full of insurance forms and reminders of the disaster that he had been trying so hard to just forget. Walking through the polished oak wood doors, he strolled confidently along the marble floor towards the small door to the right of the entrance hall that said, "Museum Art Restorer: Joss Gunn (EMPLOYEES ONLY)".

Joss grasped the doorknob, opening the door and looking forward to having something to take his mind off of life outside work. His office was a small one, that was certain. It also lacked the shiny glamor that the main museum was brimming with. The wood floors and unassuming white plaster walls that you could find anywhere. A small shelf of equipment rested in the corner opposite that of the door, many of it's contents only getting use every couple months. Joss walked to the worktable facing the small window, which had a painting resting in the mornings shaft of light shining in through the window. The painting was a small one, of only nine by twelve inches, which had been written on in ink pen only a week before. Since the ink had dried, and the paintings oil pastel colors were quite delicate, the only option left was to draw over the ink with more pastel of the same exact colors. Luckily, the vandal had picked a spot on a cloud in the upper left corner. The colors would at least be easy to match.

Joss walked to his supply shelf to get his extensive collection of pastels, of every color, brightness, and type imaginable. The search was the easy part. Joss chose quickly, yet carefully, a blueish off white in the corner of a particularly old set, one from around the early nineteenth century. Testing the color on a many times used piece of yellowed paper and carefully comparing from all angles, he decided that this pastel was exactly the one he needed. Using a small magnifying lens, he looked for the direction of the stroke. It went from the lower left to upper right, he was sure of that. Leaning close to the paper and gingerly holding the pastel between his thumb and index finger, he carefully lowered it towards the paper.

A sharp knock at the door nearly caused him to draw a streak of white over the blue sky in the background. "Yes?" he shouted, frustrated at having been disturbed. The door opened and in walked Felix.

"We received a new painting yesterday, from an unknown artist. It's going to need a little touching up. Would you like to see it?"

"Well... sure," sighed Joss, still quite angry at being interrupted. They walked together out of Joss' office and across the main hall to the rather bulky newer door to the storage room.

"It's a portrait," said Felix as he found the key on it's chain, "A portrait of a woman. Looks like it's of Western European origin. Perhaps Italian." Hew opened the door and stepped over the threshold into the dimly lit, cluttered storage room. "Right over here, I think."

Joss and Felix approached a small frame. It was propped against the wall, it's back to the two of them. Joss quickly walked forward and turned it around to see. What he saw nearly made him drop the portrait to the floor in shock. "Oh dear god." he mouthed, eyes absolutely awestruck.

"She's beautiful, isn't she?" asked Felix, smiling. "Guy we bought it off had almost nothing left, and looked to be dying. He said he originally bought it for his home from a freight ship. He never learned where it came from. But gosh, it just sure is just incredible. So realistic, it could damn near be a photo."

Joss said nothing. He knew exactly who he was seeing in the painting. Catherine. It had to be. There were her eyes, and her lips. There was no other answer. Where did this come from? Italy, Felix had said? How in the world had a painting of his wife, who had never left the country, be made in a European country half a world away? It was mind boggling! It took a moment for Joss to quiet his tumultuous brain and try to consider the fact that it may have well been a coincidence. Just a woman that looked like Catherine. She wasn't particularly special looking. Dark, long auburn hair and piercing green eyes. She had been special to Joss, and he kept being certain for just small seconds at a time, that the woman in this painting had to be his wife. She had to be. Just had to.

Felix yanked him out of deep contemplation, "So, what do you think? Joss? What do you think of the painting?"

Joss realized that Felix must not actually see the resemblance, as he had never met Catherine in life. With that knowledge in mind, Joss made a split second decision, "She is beautiful sir. Very well painted. May have taken years, even."

The decision to not let Felix know about his strange suspicions was not one that he took lightly. Part of his reason for not mentioning it was the fact that Catherine was, of course, still a soar subject to bring up when admiring a wonderful new work of art. But the rest of his reasoning was a blur even to Joss himself. He knew that there were few people who would take him seriously. Sure, Catherine had a couple close friends who would recognize her immediately, but they would not immediately jump to the conclusion that the subject in a portrait which came all the way from Italy was a woman who had never left the country.

"Could use a bit of dusting here and there. Maybe a new frame as well, although that is not my area specifically. But, overall it looks to be in reasonably good shape," rambled Joss. In truth, he was not entirely listening to himself. His mind was still racing through the endless questions concerning this mysterious portrait. For a moment, he considered that the portrait could truly be from the states, but he dismissed this. Felix knew art. Or, at least he knew enough to know when a painting was from Italy, or at least from Europe. Then again, Felix had not seemed entirely sure. "Italy perhaps," did not instill complete confidence in Joss.

"Well, I'll let you take it from here,"said Felix absentmindedly, still eying the portrait. By the way, I'm quite sorry I disturbed your work before. You seemed entirely engrossed."

"What? Oh yes. Nearly ruined it actually," Joss said indignantly, not trying to sound offensive in any way, but still quite perturbed by the close call.

"Well, yes. Sorry again. Well tell me when you finish work on Mrs. Mystery, here. I was planning on hanging it next to Shelburgh's work in the South wing," Felix tittered, leaving Joss to stare into the shining green eyes that he knew so well.

#6 User is offline   Allatwan 

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Posted 04 September 2009 - 06:53 AM

WAAAAOOOOWWW!!! LOVE IT!! Especially the part with the whole portrait thing... creepy, but awesome!
I love Mystery stories! Don't keep us waiting! ^^ I'm sure I'm not the only one being excited about this!

#7 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 04 September 2009 - 03:25 PM

Thanks Allatwan. :arianna:

nother chapter:


For the next few days, the portrait was almost always foremost in his mind. Even though, halfway through the first day with it in his office, he had turned it to face the wall, preferring to to be trod upon by his theories and insane ramblings his mind kept producing as a result of it staring him in the face. And yet, the thoughts still came. Like a leak in a dam trembling with pressure, his thoughts simply would not and could not be stopped. It was only his own restraint that kept him from slamming his hands on his workbench in frustration.

It was on the third day of this nightmare that he found that he could no longer avoid it. He simply had nothing left to work on. He had even begun taking short walks around the building, just to see if there was a lonely work that needed sprucing up.

But finally, he knew without a doubt that there was nothing left. The museum's entire collection was absolutely and almost excessively perfect. So, no other painting in his office, he got up and walked to the portrait. There it was, in the only empty corner, staring at him as if it could see right through the thick yellowed canvas. Hand nearly shaking with something that mildly resembled genuine fear, he reached out and turned around the painting. There she was, and once again in his head it was entirely without a single doubt. She was Catherine.

And then the doubts came and burrowed in, yelling their derision at his naivety. But, even they could not find anywhere in the painting a single piece of evidence to the contrary. It was perfect.

And so, Joss set about his usual routine of restoration. Slowly dusting in the minuscule cracks of the paint and the creases in the edges of the frame. And he came to understand how incredibly detailed the entire work was. Close up, he could see every fold and ripple of cloth, shaded perfectly, each tiny crease and bump daubed in meticulously. Each beautiful mouse brown hair sparkled in and of itself. And so he came to reassured again and again. This was Catherine. It must have been. It had to be.

When he reached her wrist, he noticed each individual vein, absolutely invisible from any further away. Working his way slowly along the curve of her hand, he noticed something he, for some strange reason, had not before.

A ring. A simple ring, yet quite beautiful. A solid silver band, gleaming in the light. Tiny sapphires surrounded a minuscule smudged circle of diamond. The shock took Joss like a bolt from the blue. All his hopes and fears had been confirmed at that very moment, and an audible gasp erupted from his throat, leaving him breathing heavily, and falling back into his seat.

This was Catherine's wedding ring. But it doesn't make sense. For what must have been the thousandth time, Joss' brain ran over what had been floating around in his mind for days. In some ways it was only icing on the cake, something that had been implied, almost.

This was Catherine. That much, he knew now was absolutely undeniable. But how and when did this portrait get painted. It was obviously made after they had been married, but when could this have happened. Joss was certain that Catherine had never been to Italy. She had been waiting very impatiently for weeks for the trip on Athena. One of her reasons for being so impatient had been that she had never actually been on such a long vacation. He was certain. Those were her words.

He could think of know reasonable answer to the question. Why would she keep this painting a secret?

She had obviously modeled for this portrait. Joss had gone over this many times. There was no question. The details were too perfect. Not only had it been modeled, it had definitely taken hours and hours. Why had Catherine not told him?

Joss leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes in thought over Catherine. He did not want to question her so soon after her horrific death, but the unwelcome questions kept coming. What else had she kept secret from him? Did he really know his wife before she died?

Deep in thought, Joss lost control of his balance over the chair, falling backwards suddenly and stomach turningly. His arms flailed, searching for purchase, finding only air under his palms.

The smooth cold hard feeling of wood under his fingers. He grabbed hold and held tight. To his horror, it started pulling back with him, sliding across his desk.

Head spinning, the chair fell backwards incredibly fast. Deep pain and then nothingness.

* * *

Joss' eyes opened painfully. His vision swam before him, slowly piecing itself together as he regained consciousness He became aware that he was lying on his back, something heavy on top of him.

Raising his right arm from out under the painting, he felt the back of his head.

No blood. He was relieved enormously, sighing despite the large aching lump on the back of his skull, that felt like the flesh of a peach under his fingertips.

Slowly and creakily, he began to move his muscles, blood flowing hot through his legs. On his feet again, he looked down at the painting. Then, as he looked, his vision coming back together, the gods of luck showed themselves to Joss. A tiny black line lay in the top left corner. Curious, Joss leaned down and picked it up, setting it down gently on his desk.

Scrawled at the upper left corner on the back of the painting, was a tiny black line of ink. It was only now that Joss realized that the area left of the line was covered expertly with a yellow white paint the same exact color as the back of the canvas. What was this?

Using a dirt flecked fingernail, he scraped away at the paint. It came off in tiny chips. Letters began to form under his eager eyes. Finally, he took back his hand, reading the words on the painting repeatedly, hungrily. They were written in curvy, hard to read script, which took a moment of deciphering to understand.

"Vincente Pharlone- Venice Italy"

Joss did not stop drinking in the letters, soaking up their importance. This was the man he would meet. This was the man he would ask. He had to know. Why Catherine? Such endless questions were linked to this tiny pattern of black lines. Who was this man? Why her?

#8 User is offline   Allatwan 

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Posted 07 September 2009 - 09:44 AM

AHHH!!! Who is Vincente, who is Vincente? I wanna know! Lol, I've never been to Venice... :D Hope you'll describe it well so we'll all feel like we're taking a holiday! Hey, I know it's September, but my brain's still on holiday! :)

#9 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 07 September 2009 - 06:59 PM


Joss had already begun his plans to steal the painting. It had to be done. He knew it. He kept repeating the words to himself, over and over again, in the back of his mind, whenever he had doubts. He must find this man. He must.

He would take this painting to it's creator, and find out for once and for all. Why, where and when was Catherine painted in this portrait? Everything after that was a blur. To be honest, he did not even think about it. His mind was taken up planning and wondering, the incessant need for answers corroding his better judgment All of his life felt as if it hinged in Venice.

It had taken more than a day of thinking it over before he had convinced himself that what he was doing was absolutely and undoubtedly the right thing to do. The constant wonder had taken root in the fore of his brain, constantly asking him the questions when he least wanted to hear them. His planning was incredibly simple. He would steal the painting out of the window in his office, get to Athena and take off. From there, his planning amounted to studying wind maps and charts, figuring out his route of passage to Venice. Once he was in Venice, he would go about asking around for Vincente Pharlone. How, even he was unsure. If he was to make it to Venice, that would be an amazing feat, he knew that, and it haunted him as he packed supplies into Athena's basket storage trunk.

When he would steal the painting he was unsure. It would depend on the weather of course. He would stay in his office until after dark, and just steal away into the night. As simple as that. No special tricks or escape maneuvers The window in his office was not monitored, because it, of course, was on the second floor of the museum. As he thought through this, he got the terribly biting suspicion that it would all fall apart disastrously in front of his eyes. He pushed these suspicions to the side, choosing to put all his brainpower in trying to make sure that it did not.

Supplies were slowly coming together. He had already had packed a week's food for two, dry packed into Athena's basket trunk. His planning was incredibly specific. He knew that he would have no other option than to do a solo take off, and that meant either cutting the ground support lines from the basket or risk letting Athena float away, uncontrolled, into the night sky. He chose to be safer than that, so he packed extra ground support lines in the trunk for his landing and eventual tethering. How and when his landing would take place, he had no clue then. Ideas were forming storm clouds and dust bunnies at the back of his head. He could fake an emergency and land unplanned anywhere. The wireless in the basket was small enough for flight, and he knew that he could probably get across a proper emergency message to the Venice police, assuming he wasn't blown off course and landed somewhere out side of Venice. Thinking that over, he realized that that was the way to go. A landing in the rural Italian countryside would be much simpler and easier to explain. But how to go about getting from there to Venice? He had cleared out all of his savings, and knew that his American dollars would most likely be of very little use after he landed. But, surely he could find somewhere to convert them. Yes, he must be able to convert them somewhere.

All of this floated through his head as he made the constant preparations. If he could only escape the berating doubts, then he could look far enough into his uneasy future to see exactly what he was doing wrong.

The portrait was the epicenter of this mad rush for answers. It still lay in his office, and Joss had begun to dote on it somewhat. He would find himself staring into the beautiful green, piercing eyes, longing for them to just blink, and look up at him. When these times came, and he realized what he was thinking, he would turn away from the painting in shock, wondering if he had power over the painting or it was the other way around. The hairs on the back of his neck would stand on end when he heard even the slightest noise when staring at it. It was as if the portrait had some sort of hypnotic power over him, sending him into a trance-like state for minutes at a time, even when he had not been focusing on it to begin with. He would be working on another painting, or making plans for the theft, and she would reach out and grab him, his eyes rifting innocently over to her, thinking about other things, only to be caught and reeled in by the deep expanse of color inside the frame.

But, of course, his planning took precedence over all of this, taking all of his attention away from even the smallest things, such as which shirt to wear, or what to have for breakfast. And, he knew that when the time finally came to sell his soul away, and take that leap of faith across the great big Atlantic, that he was very, very ready.

* * *

The day was upon him so quickly, he did not even realize at first that he was making the decisions It was horribly cloudy that day, perfect for Joss' plans. He went to work expecting everything to go wrong, but trying to keep in mind that they very well might not. Even in the great stirring mixture of thought that was his head during that fateful day, he managed to make it so far just one step at a time.

Arriving at work was normal to everyone but him. His mind racing as he walked past his co-workers, he worried very much weather he was sweating too much. Weather or not he was smiling too much. Did they notice the bulge in his jacket pocket that was the ground support cable?

The workday was the same as any other. He restored art. That was his job. Little did they know that the next day, he would be hundreds of feet above the very Atlantic that their city bordered. It got to a point that day where he did no work at all. It gave him a strange feeling about being terribly alone at his job. The very fact that he was able to sit at his desk and do no work at all was an awful lot of freedom. He had never realized this.

Almost falling asleep at his desk, waiting for the sun to go down, he knew that the time for the theft would be upon him in mere hours. It had all happened so fast already. Stealing was wrong. Why was he doing this?

Joss pushed away these thoughts, simply not able to give up at that very moment. Failure was not an end that presented itself to him. He just dismissed it as almost imaginary, and tried to remind himself of the endless questions about the portrait. But for once, they delayed coming. He was losing interest. No he was tired. yes, thats it. He was just tired. This was what he really wanted to do. Better just to do it. Tomorrow, I'll know I did the right thing.

* * *

Joss put his ear to the door. There was a nighttime security guard. Joss had watched every night for days. He knew the pattern. The guard would do a quick sweep outside at eleven o' clock on the dot. He glanced at his watch. 11:14. The guard would be back by now. He was sure. Or at least he hoped he was sure.

Putting his eye to the cold window glass, he saw nothing but the building across from his, and the narrow alley in between. A tomcat darted across, the only living thing in sight. Now was the time, he knew.

Gently as he possibly could, he pulled at the edge of the window. It popped out of the sill painfully loud. Or, at least, it was painfully loud to him. In retrospect, it had been fortunately quiet. The window creaked up until it hit the top with another bump. He had already made sure. The painting, he hoped would fit through diagonally through the window.

Hesitantly, he grabbed the extra ground support line from his desk, unlooping it slowly. It was very long. More than enough to make it to the ground. He finished uncoiling it, picking up the end of the painting carefully. Looping the cable around the painting widthwise, crossing the rope, and then looping it around the portrait height wise He took the time to make sure that the knot he made was very very tight. He was not taking any chances. If this painting slipped free and fell to the cobblestones below, every thing he had put his hopes on would be destroyed. There was no question. The painting would be irreversibly damaged. He would not let it happen.

Finishing his knot, he walked to his desk. He quickly, but expertly looped the cable around one of the legs, once again taking the time to make sure that the knot was as tight as it possibly could be, giving it a few good tugs for good measure. His desk, at some point in the past, was bolted to the floor. He had no idea why, but now was not the time to wonder about such things.

Picking up the painting from its current position propped against the wall, he began to thread the needle, getting the suddenly quite large portrait to fit into the suddenly small window. It just barely fit. When the very end of the frame made it through the window, he was ready, hand on the cable.

As the painting swung down from the window, the cable tugged its protest from Joss' hands. Using a mountain of strength, given his tired condition, he managed to lower the painting slowly to a vertical position underneath the window, without letting it thunderously clatter against the brick wall, giving away his agenda to the entire building and the ones nearest.

Carefully exerting strength in tiny payloads, he lowered the painting all the way to the ground for what seemed like several full minutes. It was devilishly tricky to get it to not clatter against the or the window under his. It was invisible to his eyes, from his position, but he heard the tinny patter of the painting hitting the cobblestone, knowing that it was time to slowly lean the painting against the museum wall.

It was hard, long, and stressful work, but he eventually managed to get the painting to the ground, leaning safely and sturdily against the sill of the window below his. Once, he had seen the same tomcat strut across the sidewalk, tensing himself all over, and clenching the rope momentarily, cloaked in the darkness of the cloudy night. He sighed silently at his good fortune, knowing still that the worst was to come. He would have to climb down from the window, absolutely no where to go if he was seen. He payed out the rest of the rope, until there was much slack laying on the ground beside the painting.

Putting his foot up on the desk, and pushing himself up, he slowly shifted around and went out backwards. His feet left the sill of the window, and he held onto the cable tightly. The desk let out a whiny, foreboding creak. Joss stilled himself, leaning against the sill painfully, waiting for the worst.

Seconds ticked by. The rope held.

Taking greatly wary care, he slowly began to climb hand over hand down the rope, his head leaving the window until it was only him, the cable and the bricks directly in front of his wide eyes. The process was creaky, painful and downright scary, as he was facing the opposite direction that any midnight viewer would see him from. The rope dug into his skin, which burned painfully.

Despite its stresses, the climb down did not seem to take very long, and he was jumping down to the cobblestones in a matter of seconds. Brushing himself off and once again sighing, quite relieved. The painting lay against the wall in front of him, tied off end to end, and relatively unharmed from it's descent.

Joss turned and looked out onto the foggy road to his right. Te fog partially obscured the other side of the road, and it was at this point that he realized that he had picked quite a perfect night for his personally righteous crime. Once again, he saw the small dark shape of the tomcat move swiftly across the alleyway. He hoped that it did not have an owner that would care enough to come walking around the city at night to find it.

Going to work untying the painting, he kept glancing around himself, quite paranoid about any small noise that reached him, hunched over the painting in the foggy dark. He untied his knot quickly, giving it care to not accidentally pull it tighter, as he did on occasion with knots.

With the knot untied, he stooped low over the painting and ever so carefully and lightly picked it up, cradling it in his arms like a newborn child swaddled in blankets. Eyes darting about constantly, he glanced up at the ground support wire, still hanging from the window. It was a major fault in his plan, and he had known about it from the beginning. It was only now that he realized that this may be the last time he would see this museum, having committed a crime with evidence that pointed directly to him. Tearing his eyes off the window and cable in frustration and sadness, he began the stealthy walk to his and Catherine's old home.

The walk was not a long one, but it felt like it. He had chosen to go the long way around the block, thinking it best to avoid walking right in front of an art museum carrying a still framed painting at midnight. It was a good plan in his own opinion, one that would keep him safely out of sight of the night owls that were still awake and alert, ready to call the police if they happened upon Joss and the portrait.

Scurrying swiftly away from the museum, he managed to make it to where he thought was around halfway. He would normally have known for sure, but he was quite disoriented by the time of day and the change in circumstances.

Sitting down in an alleyway for a very quick rest, he heard a loud yowling meow. Jumping nearly out of his skin, he turned and looked, only to find the big skinny tabby had been following him. Sighing relievedly, he noticed that one of the cat's eyes had been violently scratched out. It blinked this eye instinctively in tiny meek twitches of the scarred tissue. Quite repulsed, Joss got up immediately, not pausing to worry if the cat kept following along behind him.

As he walked, a small sliver of moon came out from behind the inky black clouds, an anguished frown torn across the sky. It slowly lightened the scene, leaving a few small patches of shadow for Joss to cling to, absolutely distraught with fear of being seen.

He was almost there when he noticed that his arms were slowly falling asleep under the weight of the painting. Speeding up considerably, he eventually made it to the site of his old home.

It was only a humble square of black, charred remnants, but it brought back the feelings that had been pushed to the background as he had planned for the theft. It hurt him to see, that deep burning returning to his gut. Quickly turning away from his pain, he nearly forgot what he was there to do. Quickly remembering the giant load of cargo in his swiftly numbing arms, he crept between the border of rubble between houses. Trying not to recognize anything special in the wreckage, knowing it would only cause even more pain, he continued on, eyes straight ahead, towards Athena's shed already starting to emerge from the fog as he marched.

#10 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 09:26 AM

Taking Flight
As Athena slowly inflated her magnificent royal blue envelope, Joss actively avoided looking towards the rubble that was once his only home. It was just too much to face.

The balloon was still partially on the ground, the air being pumped in slowly, creating soft rustlings in the tough fabric that echoed around the dark foggy courtyard. If there had been gravestones about, you would have almost thought it was Hades breath itself inflating Athena's glorious envelope.

Looking down at the frosted grass, Joss looked sternly towards his future. He could see nothing but the fog that lay in front of him in reality. He wished that the answers were definite, and that the cost was not so great. But he had made his decisions Good or bad, he had to follow through on them now. He was scared, but the most frightening part was that his fear was of nothing but the unknown. His unknown future, being slowly unfolded in front of him, showing him the bits that he was not looking for.

There was a mist of uneasiness in the air as he stood there, the painting set gently on the ground, waiting impatiently for the balloon to fill. Its envelope was moving too slow. He needed to fly. It had been years since he had felt that heavy, giddy need to fly, but now he understood exactly the feeling that he felt was not his well known need to fly. It was a need to leave. He had always had a simple desire to be in Athena, gliding across the endless blurry mountainsides of the clouds. But his feeling now was not desire to be on his balloon. It was a deep feeling of unwontedness he felt out of place here, and he wanted it to end.

During his impatient wait next to the balloon, he decided it was probably about time to tie off the ground support lines that he still had packed in the shed. Going to get them, he noticed something lying on the ground a few feet away. It glinted slightly in the light from the moon still hanging, grand as Zeus, in the sky. Stooping low to retrieve it, he realized was it was.

Catherine's ribbon. Small and emerald green, it flailed against the grass against a chilled wind that suddenly blasted through the courtyard. Hand shaking with gloomy fear of the feelings that came with this pitiful reminder, he pitifully picked it up. Tears slowly leaked from his eyes, frosting his face. He could smell a small hint of coffee and flowers, hiding in the minuscule fibers of this seemingly meaningless artifact. Breathing shallow ragged breaths and fighting back the tears, he gently set the ribbon in his jacket pocket, buttoning the flap slowly.

Giving up and dropping to his knees in helpless anguish, he silently let the tears come, falling into oblivion, scattered into the air in the ice cold wind that persistently whistled through the courtyard. He may have sat there for minutes, just feeling sorry for himself. His thoughts were a confused mix sadness, mixed with bouts of uncontrolled rage at everything around.

It took him a while to regain control, piecing back the shreds of his soul. He got up, remembering where he was, and noticing grimly that Athena's envelope was plump and firm with air, the pumping system venting air with a hiss that escaped through one of its complex valves or pipes. He bent down to pick up the painting, almost carelessly tossing it into the balloon's basket. He unscrewed the pump's cap and popped off the large jumble of pipes that was the pumping system, setting it aside in the large, yet light, wooden trunk next to him in the balloon.

Hopping inside, face grim and still stained by tears, he turned the small crank that sparked the burner. It released a screeching creak as Joss aggressively jerked the handle in circles. Flames jutted up into the balloon, illuminating the courtyard in a soft, golden, flickering light. Joss' face appeared as one of awe. He had forgotten how much he was entranced by the great roar as the burner caught a flame. His eyes wide, for a moment, he even forgot his horrible situation. He knew it was there, though, and he did not appreciate that it was butting in on one of favorite parts of flight.

Slowly, he felt himself become heavier on his feet as the basket floated away from the ground, slowly dragging Joss away from an era in his life that he knew he would never be able to visit again.

As the balloon rose, he walked to the edge of the basket. He looked down, admiring the notion that he was separate from the earth. He knew and loved that feeling all too well. The grass methodically grew smaller in his field of vision, the air in the envelope heating to boiling point.

The compass that was mounted on the basket's edge showed Joss' direction turn, as Athena slowly and lumberingly turned to the direction that most fit the direction of the wind. Joss lifted his hand to his hair, pushing it out of his eyes and pushing his glasses up on his nose.

Rising quickly now, he could see the tops of buildings like squares on a chessboard lain out beneath him. To any casual observer on the ground, Athena would be silhouetted on the blue white glow of the clouds and the moon. As the ground and the buildings gave way to the engulfing fog, Joss' view was obscured to all but the brightest lights. In moments, the tops of the very tallest buildings were rising out of the thick fog that lay like a blanket over the streets, parks, and homes. This, to Joss, could very well have been some mysterious utopian society in the clouds. Looking up, the clouds moved to the west swiftly, a very similar view to that of the ground.

The moon's ghostly rays of bright light glinted white off the lenses of Joss' glasses, making ghostly white orbs of his eyes. Absolutely awestruck at the majesty of the scene before him, his mouth slowly curved into a genuine smile, the first in days. For once, he was content. Before now, he had not even thought that happiness without Catherine was possible, and he was almost ashamed that it was. He realized then that he had been sulking about for days, not realizing how pathetic it all was.

Athena was suddenly engulfed in a thick cloud of mist, nothing visible from the basket except the great white expanse of the fog. Joss almost laughed at the beauty of it, the balloon floating groggily from the cloud as he checked the altimeter. He was at around a thousand feet, and rising. Reaching up, he pulled the black metal lever that shut off the burner, the flames cowering back down to embers.

Joss sighed contentedly, noting the direction, knowing that it was right at only one look. Examining the clouds, he saw that they were clearing off in the migration to the west. So was the fog, the streetlights and motorcars becoming slowly more visible as it retreated with the wind. Athena drifted in the same direction, Joss turned on the small lightweight radiator. It was an incredible device, really. It was hooked up to a small, almost unnoticeable turbine at the envelopes edge. As the hot air rose up, it turned the turbine, somehow creating an electric power source which powered the radiator and radio. The metal rods within slowly turned orange, emanating heat which Joss' frozen fingers so gratefully received. Joss had at first been quite wary of a radiator on a hot air balloon that could easily be brought down by a fire. The man at the store had said that this was the very latest model that did not spark out of the metal grate or heat up the casing. Joss was still unsure until his first voyage, when he fell in love with the little heater. It kept him warm on nights when he would normally be huddled under a thick blanket covered in frost.

Joss' fingers thawing in the steadily flickering glow, he reached back up for the lever. Turning it only slightly clockwise, the flames erupted into a modest flame. That would surely keep Joss at his present altitude.

The flames set to where they would bide Joss over for the night, he lay down with a blanket and pillow on the floor of the basket. From the position he was lying in, he could see through a tiny crack in the wicker floor. Far from frightening, it was altogether comforting, the clouds of mist drifting gradually by as he fell asleep. The tiny pillow comforted him as he fell asleep, knowing not only that he had succeeded, but that he was flying again.

#11 User is offline   Allatwan 

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 09:43 AM

WOW! I wanna read more! :D
That part where he cries and then later feels ashamed of being happy without Catherine kind of reminded me of my grandpa's funeral- it was today. I know I won't spend the rest of my life crying, but it feels weird knowing that, isn't it? Well, at least that's how I personnaly feel; everyone's different.
So... what exactly will he find in Italy?
I was surprised, though, to read that Josh isn't bothered by alarms of any sort- how well badly-protected is that museum anyway? He's lucky to find that painting there and not anywhere else! ^^

#12 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 11:23 AM

Thanks, Allatwan. :D

Patchmen's Drop

Joss woke as the sun was rising, the light glinting off the compass and into his eyes. He slowly and creakily got up, knowing that a long day was ahead of him. Looking out over the basket's edge, the Atlantic lay before him, glistening in the early morning sun. The crests of the soft waves were a light pink in the glow of the sunrise. If he had not known better, he could have mistaken it for a glorious landscape from the museum. Looking down, the reflection of the balloon was distorted into a sharp dark blob on the water, sparkles of the sun glinting on it's dark mass.

The sky was free of clouds, the only definable formation being the blinding semisphere of the sun, sitting like a guardian on the horizon. It's rays baked Athena's basket. Joss looked down and saw that the radiator was still on. Quickly switching it off, he turned to the radio. It had been brand new when Joss had bought it years ago. Now, it's wooden finish was stained by many voyages worth of rain and sun. The dials were made of a shiny aluminum, tiny black numbers painstakingly printed in increments on the side. The headset was also rain worn, and had a few nicks and scratches on it's wool earpieces Joss had no need to use it right now, he was only checking for the familiar red glow off the "incoming transmission" light.

Opening the trunk, Joss saw the painting, leaning under a tarp against the edge of the basket. His smile faded, replaced with a skeptic's tight smirk, as he remembered the real reason he was flying. Returning to work, Joss set about taking a few pieces of food out for a small, but well deserved breakfast. Canteen of water, a hunk of dry stale bread and a reddish slice of spiced jerky. Not much good to eat on these trips. That was one of the few downsides. As for fruit, he had several dry apples stored in bags, but he found that he wasn't really in the mood for that.

As he chewed gratefully on his meager portions, it became clear to him that this would be his routine for more than a week. He had never actually been on a trip this long. It was not daunting in any way, the days in unending solitude that lay before him. He knew that he had done the right thing in taking this trip. The heavy crave for answers was welling up inside of him again, his mind pointed towards Venice, and all the questions that it would put to rest. His mind drifted towards the time when all the questions would be answered. He knew that he would be left out in the rain once he had all of his questions answered. No where safe to go, no place that he could burrow into and live out the remainder of his years in peace. His future beyond the answers was indeed bleak, but at least the silver lining was certain to him. He knew that once he understood Catherine's mysterious portrait, he would be at peace.

A muffled thump of fabric wrenched him out of his thoughts. A dark lump fell past the basket, only a foot from the edge. Looking out and over, Joss just saw the minuscule gray shape falling towards the ocean. It took a moment for his still slightly tired mind to piece together that a bird must have flown into Athena's envelope, knocking itself unconscious before plunging towards the drink. It took him another moment to realize that past the gray bundle was a dark mass of brown and white a huge structure on the sea. It was almost exactly below, so it was hard to tell what type of ship it was, or where it was from. When it got far enough away from the balloon, Joss decided he would try and get a better look. Rummaging in the trunk, he eventually found the gleaming silver spyglass that was probably the oldest thing in the entire balloon. His father had said that it was from a pirate's ship in the eighteenth century, but Joss had never known weather or not to believe that it was true.

Extending the smaller end from inside the larger case, Joss propped it against his eye. The lens was slightly dirty and sort of fuzzy, but the essentials were clear once Joss got it centered on the ship.

It was an enormous vessel. Three masts, with a crow's nest that extended to a peak that must have been no less that sixty or so feet. The flag was waving determinedly in the wind, blocking Joss from seeing it's colors.

He felt the direction of the wind change just as the flag flew to a more visible angle. Joss nearly dropped the spyglass over the edge, jumping in shock.

It was a pirate flag. Red with a deathly skull imprinted upon the side, it shouted bad news all the way to Joss, standing, stunned in Athena's basket.

Just as Joss was registering that what he was seeing was true, a gunshot rang out across the morning sky. A muffled pop indicated that the pirates had hit their target. Joss, after a moment's dread filled shock, dropped to the floor in fear. More gunshots, more pops, as the envelope was torn apart by bullets. They were aiming for her envelope, he knew that now. They must want to salvage the balloon, he reasoned, as more shots rang out.

Coming up with a plan on the spot, he reached up and wrenched the lever clockwise, the flames shooting past the edge of the envelope. The air may be leaking out, but within seconds he was rising relatively fast, and most of the bullets were missing their target. Positively lighthearted at the success of his plan, he almost forgot that soon, the air would be getting too thin for him to breath. But still, he could not dare go lower, as if he did, the pirates would surely have him.

The space between shots lengthened, until it was quite clear that they had given up, choosing not to waste their ammunition on a little hot air balloon. Joss stayed pinned to the floor of the basket for what could have easily been minutes, although they may have been only seconds. Slowly getting up, he peered out over the edge of the basket. The ship was a microscopic speck on the horizon, easily visible before the now steadily rising sun.

Relieved that he had not been hurt badly, Joss set about assessing the damages to the balloon. All the while, he knew what was in his future. He would have to climb through the envelope, patching each hole. And all this while the balloon was left basically uncontrolled beneath him.

The pirates had shot several tiny punctures in the tough fabric. Four on one side, where the bullets had entered, and four on the other side, where they had left. Or, at least, that was how much he could see from the basket.

Taking a few steps to the burner, he looked up at the envelope's rig line. It was designed for this kind of quick patching mission. The special thin metal cable ran up to a small pulley at the top of the balloon. The cable could be attached to several hooks that surrounded the envelope at it's midsection. The problem with this was that the air in the envelope was hot enough to boil water. You had to get to a very high altitude, turn off the burner completely, patch up the holes as quickly as possible, and then return to the basket before the balloon hits the water. It was known in the ballooning world as a "Patchmen's Drop", and it could be very dangerous. It can be hard to tell how far you are from the water when you are hanging from the rig line in the envelope.

Sighing, Joss knew very well that the next few minutes could determine weather or not he made it or drowned. With one last look at the altimeter, which was now dangerously high, he grabbed the burner lever and yanked it down hard. The flames disappeared entirely, replaced by a tiny, nearly invisible wisp of smoke, which emerged from the tiny dying embers, being swiftly dispersed into the atmosphere by the light morning breeze. Pulling down the cable from the balloon edge, he clipped the flimsy hook onto the small clasp on his belt.

It was not an easy process to climb into the envelope. Stepping onto the trunk, and jumping up to stand on the basket's edge, he had to keep reminding himself that if he fell, he would be quickly caught by the cable, and could easily lock it in place and pull himself up.

He stepped from there to the black metal grill of the burner, still slightly warm to his feet's balanced touch. Hanging onto the lip of the balloon, he reached down to the clasp, pressing the tiny lever that locked the cable in place. Testing its strength, he began to heave himself hand over hand, his feet leaving the welcome purchase of the burner. The air was still scorching, his ears popping as he got higher up on the cable. the balloon's envelope began to curve outwards, the cable still attached to the rigging loop at the balloon's midsection. He climbed hand over hand, his feet occasionally catching hold on the envelope's tough, leathery fabric, but always failing to stay tractioned on, choosing instead to slip off to thin air. Or thick air. The pressure in the balloon was tremendous, Joss' temples aching despite the many leaks in Athena's looming hull. For a moment he toyed with the idea of leaving the leaks ill repaired, taking the leap of faith that they would be small enough to stay reasonably high. He dismissed it immediately of course. He would never leave Athena unrepaired, that was for certain.

He was coming up on the first leak, removing the patching tape from the small pocket on his belt. He then proceeded to take his hands completely off the rope, praying that the locking clasp would be strong enough to take his body weight. He pulled a hefty ribbon of tape from the reel, the tape moaning shakily in the blue tinted sunlight of the balloon.

It was an impressive sight to behold, as he held the tape up to the leak. The suction pulled the tape to the hole, preferring to suck the entire piece of tape through the hole. Joss caught it in time, stretching it across the fabric. It was not a professionals job, with the tape folded over in a few places, minute wrinkles veining like marble over the patch. If Joss was not so pressed for time, he would have carefully flattened it down, but not now. He knew that he had many more to go, and at the rate he was patching, he may actually have to make a second drop. He peeked out another leak, very near to the first. The sea had advanced a minuscule amount, almost unnoticeable to one who wasn't as akin to the sky as Joss. Retreating from the leak, he hastily continued patching, moving up and down the cable as needed, and peeking out of holes when ever he panicked over his altitude. Every once in a while, it was also needed to hold onto the rigging loop as he switched loop sections.

Almost done patching, he came to the very top. The fabric's normal strong pressure had long since subsided, replaced by a soft, almost malleable flexibility. He was basically hanging down from the pulley, and he knew that he couldn't see anything out of the leaks, as they were pointed up from the balloon. Taking out his patching tape once again, he confronted the two bullet holes, opposite each other in the envelope. With a panicked jolt, he considered that the pirate's ship may have turned and come back as they saw him falling like a rock through the sky. Motivated by even more danger, he ripped off one long piece of tape, stretching it across the top over both leaks. Done with patching, he felt a sudden heaviness course through him, and looked down to the basket.

He screamed loudly as he saw it, absolute fear igniting within him. All the way down at the basket, he could see trickles of water leaking in, and all around the basket, he could see the deep cold, blue abyss of the ocean surface. He knew he could still make it out of this alive, Athena intact, or, at least, that's what he told himself. Eyes wide with anticipation of a watery grave, he completely unlatched the cable lock, dropping him like a rock down to the basket.

The balloon seemed to lurch down as he landed, water pressured even more through the pitiful wicker floor. He could tell that the water outside had reached about knee height, as the water was steadily spraying in from all sides, as well. Reaching up with hope, he grabbed the burner handle with two hands, wrenching it clockwise. The flames flickered on heart-rendingly slowly. Close to tears at his sinking balloon, he almost considered climbing back up the cable as a last desperate attempt for life.

As the water was almost two or three inches deep, the burner caught the full flame Joss had been hoping for, the flames shooting into the envelope. The heat blasted over Joss, his face now almost laughing through ragged breath at is good fortune. It took a moment, but eventually, the heavy lifting sensation of the balloon rising began to kick in, just as the water reached ankle depth.

The trilling splash of water sounded as the balloon jetted out of the sea. The water, slowly reversing course, leaking back of out of the thick wicker floor, making loud dripping sounds in the ocean, only a few feet below. Relieved more than he ever had been, Joss looked towards the sky. The sun had risen further from the horizon, the sky a piercing blue, absolutely cloudless.

Remembering with a jolt, Joss' whipped around to the painting. It was not a very pretty sight. The water had made it several inches up the entire left edge of the image. Colors in the paint were smeared and faded, the wood of the frame sodden and warped. Gasping at the horror of it, Joss leaned down to examine it further.

Thankfully, the left of the painting was dominated by a dark backdrop. If Joss had lain the painting down the other way, some of Catherine's likeness would be badly damaged, including her ringed finger, which was vital evidence that Joss felt that he needed, not only to convince others, but to convince himself.

#13 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 20 September 2009 - 07:14 PM

Horizon Pitch

The next day started similarly to the last, although the sun had not yet awoken from it's dark slumber. Joss ate breakfast in the dark twilight before dawn, chewing on jerky as he contemplated how the next few days would unfold. They would be the same as the one before, he knew that much. That was the trouble with long balloon voyages. So little space for such a long time. It did not mix for most people, but Joss thrived in the solitude and monotony of ballooning. So had Catherine.

Joss could simply entertain himself in the balloon by lying back and watching the clouds go by. Of course, more than a couple days of only this would drive any man completely insane. When not napping or idly sitting, Joss passed the time by reading. He only had two books with him in the small trunk at the end of the basket, but they were classics. By the second day, he was finishing up the first book. That wasn't to say it was the first time he had read it. No, he had read this one many times. So many, that he could almost look up from the page at the sun and the words would just continue on in his head. There was no point in bringing anything other than those two dusty leather tomes. They held what the sky did not, which, in Joss' world, was not very much. If you had asked Joss on any day where he would rather be, odds are that he would say that he would rather be in the sky. It wasn't simply that he did not like the rest of the world, it was that he loved the sky immensely The sky, he had always thought, was the only direction you could just keep going in forever.

That particular morning was not very different from the last one. The clouds were charred and blackened hulks of nothing in the first rays of dawn's light. They were coming in from the south, a great black wall of fog that was drifting his way. Rain was not a problem on Athena. Joss had rigged up a special tarp that he could hook to the supporting cables to easily block the raindrops. He had cut flaps right next to the mouth of the envelope to let smoke from the burner out, and the balloon itself usually provided sufficient shade from the rain that could come in through that.

Joss knew from just one glance at the wall of cloud that he would have to get out the rain tarp soon. Soon, but not yet. He let it go for a while, just chewing pieces of the smoky jerky in silence, the clouds all the while lumbering in from the south.

It was more than half an hour later, when Joss had finished eating, when the clouds blotted out the sunlight he was reading by. The swift drop in light was followed almost immediately by a single raindrop on the yellowed page of his book. Joss looked up, instinctively closing and dog earing the book at the same time. He felt another drop on his shoulder, and then another on his knee. Glancing down at Catherine for a split second, still feeling guilty about being so careless during his Patchmen's Drop, he grabbed the rain tarp from the trunk. Setting up the rain tarp took almost no time at all. He only needed to hook up the eight small clasps on the corners of the bright blue plastic tarp, pausing for a moment to check that the rain could not make it through any gaps. The result of his work was a softly blue lit, cozy little room, shafts of pure sunlight coming in through the smoke flaps.

The rain quickly gained momentum, sharp taps reverberating around the now enclosed basket. The lighting was very low, however, and Joss now had absolutely nothing to do other than read. That was where another clever little device came in handy.

Joss leaned down to the trunk, rummaging for a moment before coming out with a round, clear light bulb, filament clearly visible inside. Rubber insulated wires coiled out of the bottom end. These came together at a bulbous cylindrical plug, no larger than Joss' own thumb. This little devil could use the radio's power to light up the cabin, and that's exactly what Joss planned to do.

He went up to the power turbine at the balloon's edge. There were two small outlets on the side, both occupied by the radio and radiator. Checking to see that he got the right one, he popped the cord out, setting its plug on top of the radio. Picking up the light's cord again, he plugged that into the power terminal. The bulb immediately warmed up and began to glow a bright, slightly orange, light.

Looping the power cord through the rig line at the envelope's edge, he hung the bulb upside down, suspended above the center of the basket. The bulb cast dark, sharp shadows around the cozy basket, bobbing back and forth with the bulb.

Sitting back against the pillow once again, Joss opened his book, carefully folding back the dog eared page that he had made only minutes before.

* * *

The rain had strengthened to a heavy pattering wail in only an hour. The rain tarp rattled and rustled against the basket cables, distracting Joss somewhat from his reading.

Joss was an experienced enough balloonist to know to take a look outside every couple of minutes. Every time he looked, the storm had gotten worse. The balloon was now surrounded by dark thunderclouds, above and below. Lighting arched between them, what seemed like only hundreds of feet away. Thunder clapped deafeningly, persuading Joss to turn up the burners for a while, to try and get above the storm.

By now, the storm had been raging for hours, and it was as worse as it ever was. Joss regularly made notations on his map of his estimated coordinates, but in this chaos, for this long, he could have been hundreds of miles off. The tiny little room in which Joss sat reading was getting darker and darker, as clouds drifted and engulfed the balloon. The light bulb had been growing dimmer for hours, and was now almost too dark to read by. Joss had plugged the radio in several times to check for any incoming messages, but so far had seen nothing.

The basket shook as thunder roared outside, for what had to have been the hundredth time that day. Joss looked up tentatively, realizing that the sun might already be going down behind the clouds. He looked down at his watch, seeing that it was encroaching on six o' clock. Once again, he looked out of a flap in the side of the tarp. What he saw astounded him.

An island, nearly hidden by the torrential rain. It was mostly flat, with a small rocky crag of a mountain at it's southern end. It was a small thing, almost entirely covered by jungle and forests. These only stopped at the rocky cliffs and beaches that surrounded the island, rocks that could easily take a ship down into the sea's eager gullet.

And then it was gone, as a greedy storm cloud swallowed it in darkness ahead of him. Joss had not even had a chance to take out his spy glass. But, this was incredible. He was in the north eastern Atlantic. He hadn't heard of any islands like that in these parts.

Looking down at his maps, he saw nothing where he had charted his location. But then again he could be wrong about that. Putting down his maps, he looked out of the rain tarp again. The island was back clearer than before, as Joss scrambled for his spyglass. Suddenly, a deep, sharp spasm of vibration jolted through the basket, a popping explosive sound erupting from above. Thunder closely followed, mixing in with the constant roar of rain.

Joss could easily hear a sharp crackle, a crackle that Joss had hoped he would never have to hear. A crackle that could only mean imminent death.

It was the crackle of Athena burning. Looking up into the envelope, he could see the scorched fabric, flames licking its way through a hole that was releasing his precious hot air. That hole, his shell shocked mind pieced together, was the result of a bolt a lightning arching from a nearby cloud. Mouth agape, eyes half open with the confused shock of the situation, he lay there for a moment, drinking in this awful news.

Coming back to his senses, and knowing that this time there was no chance of repairs, he thanked the gods that he was above that island. He looked down out of the balloon once again, praying with all his might that he was drifting towards it. He was. It would be a close call, but he could already see the island growing larger as the balloon fell like a rock towards it's beaches.

Then, the balloon began to accelerate towards the ground, Joss getting lighter on his feet every second. Taking one last look at the island, he saw that he was headed straight at the water right next to one of the less rocky of the beaches. Gulping at his absolutely uncalled for dumb luck, he dropped to the floor and braced for his impending crash landing. Realizing that he would just set the envelope on fire, he reached up at the last second and turned off the burner. Dropping back down, hands behind his head, he screwed his eyes up tight, waiting for it to come. Those next seconds seemed like minutes, but the crash itself happened devilishly quickly.

A moment of near silence, almost like death had already come, and then...

The balloon basket crashed violently into the surf, a deep metallic crunch resonating throughout Joss' ears. Knocked around within the basket's sodden wicker walls, his mind was a complete blur, unable to form solid thoughts. The sudden weight of the crash was stomach turning, and he came to understand he had only moments before the envelope came down to trap him in the basket. But, before that happened the balloon rolled over itself, turning the basket sideways, to face the island. Utter turmoil followed. The ocean surf seeped into the basket, flooding it's contents with salty seawater. The rain was pouring tyrannically, as if stretching Joss to his very last thread. He was in a lot of pain, but quickly found that the water was only about a foot deep where the basket had landed. Before he was able to prop himself up on his arms, sand and water rushed in with the waves, hitting him in his face and open mouth. Spitting and coughing, Joss groggily tripped up to a dizzy standing position. His first instinct was to run towards the island, but he then realized what a mistake that would be. The waves were already pulling the basket out to sea, and Joss, on a split second decision, tore down the rain tarp, not taking the time to undo the clasps. He was only about fifty yards from the island shore, as the beach was only on a shallow incline.

The waves trying desperately to stop him, he grabbed hold of the edge of the basket and heaved with all of his earthly might towards the shore. The envelope had fallen into the water behind the basket, steam billowing from where the fire had been extinguished. The next few minutes were a blur of chaotic pain and desperate hope. Every time he considered letting the basket go, he looked down at Catherine's portrait, already wet and sandy, a few rocks and pebbles lodged in the edges of the frame. The painting alone gave him the strength to carry on, lugging the portrait up the beach. During all of this, he noticed without seeing that one of his shoes had fallen off in the water. The sand dug sharply against his foot, which were blindly cut by sharp rocks and shells in the salty water.

His arms burning with protest, he finally made it to the dry shore. Falling back against the sand, he wheezed, sand still caught somewhere in his throat. Breathing heavily, rain drenching him from head to toe, he lay there. The thunder roared and the trees behind him quaked and shook, but he did not move.

After what seemed like half an hour, he opened his eyes. He wasn't entirely sure weather or not he had gone to sleep. He doubted it, as he could remember the feeling of the rain on his forehead and in his eyes.

Getting up slowly, he propped himself up on both hands. From there he stood, gazing at Athena. He had saved her, he knew. He was proud of himself, but he did not stop to celebrate. No. He could already tell that the tide was coming in, and his precious balloon was still in danger.

Taking a moment to catch his breath and limber up, he resumed his effort to pull the basket up to the jungle's edge. It took around ten minutes this time, with the lack of the water suctioning it back from him. Knowing that it was safe here, he pushed it between two trees, taking the time to once again turn it right side up.

The somewhat tattered envelope was still trailing behind, part of which was still even in the water. With a sigh, he set about gathering it up. It was still hanging by the support cables to the basket, so he had to work his way back to it from the water. He set the giant crumpled ball of partly scorched fabric next to the basket.

Looking down into the basket, he saw what damage the rain and sand had done. The wicker's many creases and holes were mostly filled with wet sand. The light bulb had come free of the rig cable and had shattered on the floor of the basket. But the painting was what worried Joss the most.

To someone not so emotionally attached to the painting, it may have seemed fine, but to Joss, it was near heartbreaking. Sand and pebbles were lodged into the edge of the frame. The painting itself was not very water damaged, but this was the point when Joss realized it was still being rained on. Picking up the rain tarp, he draped it over the painting, wrapping it carefully around the edges.

With that done, Joss began to think of what he should possibly do next. The island seemed uninhabited, and Joss did not want to try and search until the rain had stopped and he had gotten some rest. It seemed the only option now was to get some sleep, using the basket as a makeshift shelter.

Thinking quickly, to protect what was left, and himself, from the rain, he grabbed the envelope, draping a portion that was free of holes over the basket. Sighing at his utterly awful fortune, and then looking grimly at the still fuming sky, he lifted up the envelope and got inside.

Unlike the rain tarp, the envelope let in almost no light, and Joss had draped it in two layers. He ended up having to keep part of the top open while he got situated for sleep. When he folded it back, the basket was once again pitch black.

Joss lay there on his damp and sandy pillow for around an hour. Catherine and then Athena. It was just to much to bear, and as he lay there huddled under his damp blanket, he tried desperately to blot out all the little thoughts and feelings and just sleep. Eventually, it became easier, as he listened to the sharp tapping of the continuous rain on the basket's makeshift roof. And, once all the painful thoughts were gone, he finally fell into a deep slumber.

#14 User is offline   Allatwan 

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Posted 21 September 2009 - 09:16 AM

Oh.... what happens next? Have you ever been in a baloon? You describe it really well! :D

#15 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 21 September 2009 - 10:29 AM

View PostAllatwan, on Sep 21 2009, 10:16 AM, said:

Oh.... what happens next? Have you ever been in a baloon? You describe it really well! :D

Thanks. Never been on a balloon. I'd love to fly in a rigid airship, but they don't make those since the 30s.

As for what happens next....


Joss awoke in the pitch black darkness of the basket. The rain had stopped, and all that Joss could hear was the soft rustle of the surf, bird's calls of many kinds sprinkled in here and there. Moving slowly, trying not to bump his head into anything, he reached for the basket's fabric roof. Clawing it aside, he saw that it was just nearing the twilight before sunrise.

Standing slowly, the bones in his back cracking as they unfurled, he looked around at the island that he now realized he would have to live on. The thought was a strange one. He had been planning for days and days. He had never really expected anything to go this wrong. But somehow they had.

The island shore was made of brown grainy sand, sharp shells jutting out here and there. Small rocks and waist high boulders littered the beach as far as he could see, which was quite a long way. What he had seen from the balloon he had judged as being quite small, but from down here, the beach seemed to just stretch out in both directions into oblivion. The jungle that the basket was cradled against receded into a dark green overgrowth, birds flitting between trees every couple seconds. The trees seemed quite tropical. The ones at the jungle's edge were a strange variety of palm, with leaves that sprouted all the way down its trunk.

Looking down at his humble, sandy makeshift home, he was sure that he could see the exact spot where the lightning had hit the balloon the other day. A tattered black hole a foot and a half wide, surrounded by charred fabric. It was a sight to behold, and it almost made Joss want to fall on his knees and beg the gods for mercy. But he did not. He had read about situations like this, and he knew that your one precious commodity was your sanity. You held onto it tight.

Walking around the basket, inspecting the damage, there wasn't a lot to speak of, until...

The fuel canister at the bottom left corner of the basket must have hit directly on one of the sharp jutting rocks in the surf. A gaping hole surrounded by smashed in wicker had replaced it. Joss could see the inside of the tank, and it was quite empty. He thought back to the night before. He had dragged the basket up the beach without even noticing that he must have been pouring out the remaining fuel as he did. Before seeing this fatal mar on Athena, Joss had been considering patching her up and taking her back out. But, that was impossible now. Without fuel, there could be no fire in the burner to heat the air and get her off the ground. She was dead. He knew that for sure now.

Turning around to face the ocean, he made a short list of what to do next. He had enough food in the basket for a couple of days, so that wasn't an immediate concern. He wasn't entirely sure how cold it could get, so he only might have to build a fire. The balloon basket would work as a temporary shelter, seeing as it had food, insulation, and changes of clothes. So, then, he chose his number one priority: exploring this island.

He knew that chances were probably low that anyone lived on the island. He hadn't seen it on his maps, and as far as he could tell, there were no visible signs of civilization from the air. There had been that rocky, almost lifeless mountain, jutting out of the southern end of the island. That might be a good place to go to get a good view. He could see the peak from where he was standing on the beach, peeking out above the treetops.

The sun was just then beginning to shine out from behind the ocean's horizon, casting it's first rays onto the rocky beach. The jungle was lit up, so that Joss could see further in, but there was nothing more to see other than endless jungle.

Reaching down into the basket, he grabbed a few pieces of jerky and bread, stuffing them into his jacket pocket. He saw then that his shoe had fallen to the corner of the basket. Picking it up and putting it on, he looked as far as he could see into the jungle towards the mountain. There was just more jungle, ending in a visual cacophony of leaves and branches and birds. Plotting a vague, straight course to the mountain in his head, he then realized that he had nothing to fend off the wild animals that could be lurking behind the dark, unassuming trees. He did not have anything like a knife with him in the basket, much less a gun. Feeling as if it was almost a useless gesture rather than an actual weapon, he picked up a somewhat sharp rock out of the sand. It was a gray sandy color, veined with a dull green. He only could hope that it would be enough to ward off anything that wanted to do him harm. Tucking that inside his other jacket pocket, he set off, looking straight ahead, trying to convince himself that he was confident and knew what he was doing.

* * *

After a solid hour of the constant chirping of birds and the ducking past vines that this hike entailed, Joss became quite aware that he certainly did not know what he was doing. It was also becoming apparent that this island had never in the history of man contained any remote trace of civilization.

Ever since he had left his warm, safe beach, the jungle had been closing in on him, becoming denser and denser. In a feeble attempt to mark a trail, he had taken to using the rock to carve a jagged arrow towards the beach into some of the trees he passed. It wasn't much, but it would hopefully keep him from getting lost. That was as much as could really hope for, now.

The sky was all but completely covered by thick canopy of bright green leaves, vines, and branches. If his situation wasn't so dire, he could very well have been on some beautiful vacation. The brightly colored birds almost made up a layer of the canopy themselves, constantly flying between trees, their rainbow hues constantly mixing with the green of the leaves and the distant blue of the sky above. The ground was mostly uneven, made of lichen covered soil, with the occasional gray rock. The forest sometimes got so dense, he had to detour around certain clumps of thick wilderness. After these detours, he would immediately look through the trees to try and find the mostly hidden peak of the gray craggy mountain. And, there it always was, sometimes almost invisible past the canopy, looming over it's jungle infested domain. Joss would keep an eye on it for a while as he trekked past trees and boulders, sometimes tripping over loose stones on the ground, as he was distracted by it.

But, Joss' mind remained mostly centered on the vaguely frightening images in his head of wild boars, snakes, and panthers. He was no wildlife expert. He wasn't sure if he would find anything that big here, and he did not know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Eventually, if there, in fact, was no one on the island, he would have to find some heavy source of meat to eat, and if there were no big animals here, he wasn't sure what he would eat. Fish, probably. He wasn't a big fish eater, never had been. His father had taken him fishing a couple of times back in his now distant childhood, so he could vaguely remember the basics, but if asked to survive on nothing but fish, he wasn't entirely sure if he even could.

As all this was running through his head, he almost did not notice that he had almost made it to the mountain, or that the sun had reached the top of the sky. Joss had glanced at his watch several times, and thankfully, it was still working, but time wasn't his first priority, although he did want to make it out of the woods before dark. The mountain was more gradual at it's base than he had previously thought. The ground, covered in lichen and loose stones, started to slowly curve upward, getting steeper every couple minutes.

The grass was becoming less dominant on the ground, the boulders growing more common. The trees were also growing more sparse around him, making it easier to get around. It had started getting steep enough that he had to use the occasional tree to keep a good stable grip on the ground, which was starting to become covered with lichen veined rocks.

Catching his breath, Joss sat on a boulder for a few minute's rest. Seeing behind him, the main canopy had receded below him somewhat, and he could see part of the way out over the island. He knew that he would still have to climb more to get a good view, though, and if he was going to make it back before dusk, he would have to keep going soon. The clouds were becoming even more sparse as the day wore on, making the sunlight even more constant and intensely blinding. Taking a piece of jerky from his pocket, he tore off a small piece, remembering the meager portions he had left in the basket. Chewing into it, he remembered his original fear of wild animals roaming the island. The thought crossed him that one could get into is only food supply while he was away, or worse. One could get into his food supply while he was sleeping, attacking him in the process. Joss could not see that ending well. The forest below him, he found, was a sparkling emerald, set with the random tones of the birds and the fruits that lay in the middle of the vast expanse of branches and leaves. Putting away his food and getting up, grudgingly, from the boulder, he set out again on the endless rocky expanse of the mountain face.

After yet another grueling two hours, Joss had skirted around the mountain's jutting side, having found a relatively even spiral ledge around part of the mountain, apparently created after millenia of erosion and possibly earthquakes. Joss could only imagine what he would have done if the natural walk way was not there, seeing as the rest of the mountain face was mostly rocky cliff and boulder. The grass, soil, and trees had all but disappeared now, replaced by the lichen veined stone face, boulders still standing like monoliths guarding the gates to the summit. It still looked like a long climb to the top, he saw, taking a quick respite at yet another of the bright gray boulders.

Around on the southern side of the mountain, rocky cliffs fell to choppy waters, sharp rocks piercing the waves like knives from the underworld. The waves themselves looked forceful, pounding ruthlessly against the cliff face. Joss found that it would be impossible to go around the steep, treacherous ledge that was his only purchase on that cliff face. His only choice, then was to turn around, going back up the steep and perilous way, straight up the side. This far up, Joss had taken to holding onto any solid handhold that he could find along the rocky, slanted wall to his right. The plant life was almost completely gone here, the lichen that had been so prosperous down below, only appearing in the cracks of the rocks and the sparse shade behind boulders. The rock this high was bright white, with black, gray and colored flecks on the sleek, sunbaked outer layer. The rock face itself was hard to look at on the northern side, as the harsh island sun reflected with godlike intensity off its pearly surface. It burned Joss' eyes terribly, the white light like lava.

Joss could already see his skin starting to chap and redden under the baking radiance of the sun. It was becoming pink and flaky already, he found. He had almost always been in shade in the balloon. It had never been a problem there. It was only as he saw how quickly his skin had reacted, that he realized how used to the cold it was.

Turning around on the cliff face was hazardous enough, not to mention the frying heat emanating from the white stone face, which burned as Joss grabbed hand holds. Finally turned back the way he had come, Joss began to walk back around the craggy, uneven landscape of the mountainside. It was a while before he came to a spot where the cliff face sloped gradually, and with enough hand holds, that Joss judged that he could climb it the twenty or so feet to, from what Joss could see, looked like a brilliant platform to look out over the island.

Grabbing hold of the closest rocky outcrop on the cliff face, he began to lift himself up. A sharp, chalky pop erupted from his very first handhold. The rock fell down past the ledge, Joss' arms flailing about. He was sure, for several long, slow moments, that he would lose his balance and fall backwards even as he found the leverage he needed. A chip into the wall, a hole smaller that Joss' own fist, was concave enough, and as he felt it brush his flailing palm, he reached out with all his earthly might, jamming his hand into the hole, the rock's intense heat searing his skin. Feeling a handhold once more, he pulled himself speeding in to the cliff face, the impact of his body on the rock almost taking his breath away. He quickly groped around on the cliff for another hold, but had to settle for gripping the flat stone face.

Panting with adrenaline, he was tempted to turn around and walk back down the way he had come. The very first handhold he had grasped had broken off in his fingers. Not a good omen in any sense of the word. Looking back up to the platform on which his hope then rested, he reached out with his free arm, taking hold of a new, hopefully more stable handhold. Pulling himself up, leg over leg, hand over hand, he constantly had to remind himself not to look down the way he had come. He was easily ten feet up, and the very act of pushing away thought of falling to his death was putting a toll on his body.

Then, suddenly, reaching out for purchase, his hand fell upon the smoothed ledge of the platform. Breathing a sigh of relief, he looked up, his head at a position not easily swayed. There it was. The top. Although, the edge was quite rounded. It would not be an easy task to pull himself up such a smooth grip.

His hand exerting every ounce of strength he had, he clamped onto the ledge, hoping the tiny ridges and bumps on his palms and fingers would be enough to stay stable. Elbow straining painfully, he heaved himself up on that one arm. His other arm soon followed suit, grappling itself farther up onto the platform. Two limbs sharing the power now, he pushed with all the effort in the world against the platform, his hands slipping fractions of inches in tiny bursts of instability.

Clawing with his fingers, leveraging a leg over the edge, Joss rolled over onto the ledge, lying face up beneath the tropical sun. He instinctively looked back out over the edge, the entirety of the island lay out like a map in front of him. The sheer height and complete lack of reference made the bile crawl into his throat, threatening sickness. Clutching his stomach in panic, he shakily crawled from the edge, only standing once he was several feet away.

The island, from such a high point, was indeed, a majestic sight to see. The densely forested jungles covered the island like a fur, leaving almost no open points. In one of the few spots that he could see that lacked the trees, there lay a serene reflective lake, strikingly blue under the noon sun. Never taking his eye off of it, Joss removed his spyglass from his jacket pocket. Through the spyglass, he could just make out the minuscule freshwater streams that ran from the lake off into the jungle, inevitably ending at the ocean.

Spyglass still to his eye, plans began to form in his mind's eye. Rescue was not probable. He had known that from the beginning. He had left the Western shores in absolute secrecy, so there would be no one to know where he had gone. Unless he managed to find fuel for the balloon, and a way to fix the tank, he was stuck here. Although, the minute possibility did occur to his to somehow turn the basket into a raft. It would be a long shot, and he would have to find some way to make the wicker watertight, but, in his mind, this was his best shot of escape.

But that was only getting ahead of himself. Right now, he knew, he had to make the trek from his precious basket to this lake, as it was the only source of freshwater he could see from the mountainside. He had heard stories of Sailors going mad with thirst and drinking the seawater that they knew they shouldn't. It made you more thirsty than you already were, though, and would only make you die sooner. But, he guessed, maybe death was a welcome respite under those circumstances.

Still searching hopefully, he saw a no sign at all of human activity. Everywhere he looked through the spyglass, his hopes of meeting some welcome company, even those who could not help him at all, dwindled.

Knowing this may be his only chances to take have a really good look at the island, Joss took out the yellowed map that he had rolled up in his pocket, along with the brown wooden pencil with a dull tip, that he had rolling around at the bottom of his trunk. Turning the map over to the back, he began to scribble out lines and words, marking the rough position of everything he could see, as he guessed it would look from a bird's eye view.

When he was finished with the majority of his amateur map making, he drew what were the likely borders of the mountain he was standing on. Once he was done, the whole thing looked very rough. Realizing the map did not have a name, and, with the sun still beating down on him, not feeling like he was in a creative mood, Joss scribbled, in his almost indecipherable handwriting, "My Island".

* * *

The steep hike down from the mountain's top did not seem to take nearly as long as the trek up, as it was downhill, and now, as it was mid-afternoon, in the looming shade of the mountain itself. Joss was just approaching his camp, quite tired and eager for a nice dinner and an early sleep. When he returned, his beach was in the shade of the trees, the tides starting to edge back towards his basket shelter. Among this quite calm atmosphere, the birds had even died down some since he had left on his voyage that morning. It was a welcome silence, and Joss was quick to take advantage.

Stretching out, sitting against the strange tall leafed palm, he watched the tide rolling back and forth, the quiet slosh of the waves singing to him as he ate. It was the very first time that he had come to realize that the place that he had been doggedly treating as an unusual obligation to being stranded, was, in fact, a paradise. A paradise so lush and green, with water so blue, and clouds so white. For a strange, tired, lullabied moment, Joss was happy to be here. He was content with his bad fortune, which, during that moment, seemed altogether like good fortune.

Threads of thought blending together in his mind, Joss almost choked on bread when he realized. Glancing back towards his basket shelter, eyes wide, he began to form panicked conclusions. When he had left this morning, he had completely covered the shelter in the balloon's envelope, to keep any of the animals he feared from taking his only food. But, when he had returned to his shelter just minutes ago, the picture in his head was one of the balloon envelope folded back.

Yet, as he looked inside to see if anything was amiss, the food seemed completely undisturbed. The other contents were sandy and still slightly damp, but nothing seemed particularly out of place, and, more importantly, nothing, as far as he could tell, had been taken. Was he entirely sure that the envelope roof had been folded back? Maybe not, but that did little to soothe Joss' now relatively panicked nerves. As he closed the basket once again, he found himself looking searchingly into the dark jungle behind him, terrified that something would present itself, jumping out of the forest at any second. Now, in high contrast to just minutes before, when he had been quite calm, he was absolutely paranoid, and had never been more sure that he did not want to sleep, completely harmless, in his basket shelter just yet.

#16 User is offline   padfoot7726 

  • glotahn (beginner)
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Posted 23 September 2009 - 04:27 PM


Spooked as he was, Joss' night was long and tiring. He had leaned against the tree, keeping watch, for hours. Finally, at what had to have been past midnight, he had fallen asleep, slumped against the tree.

He woke the next morning, his head now leaning a against the basket, with a painful ache in his neck. Now wishing that he had just given up and slept in the basket, he stood up, stretching, and surveying his surroundings. It was easily ten in the morning, an estimate that was roughly confirmed by his own watch. The sun was beaming down on his somewhat pathetic camp, which made Joss glad that he had slept in what would, in the morning, be the shade.

Rubbing a reddened, calloused hand across his spine, he bent down to fetch the last of his food. There was not much left. The hike he had taken the day before had taken a lot out of him, and his supper had been quite generous. Too generous, he now realized. Grabbing what was left and eating only a small portion, the plans and discoveries of the day before began to blossom once again in the mid morning sun. He remembered the bright blue lake, with its many rivulets feeding the jungle's wildlife. Glancing at the rough, penciled map of "My Island", it just then struck him how far the lake really was. It was a damp trek through across a quarter of the island. Almost abandoning the plan at the thought of such a long hike, Joss then remembered how low his water supply was. His last canteen was filled only a quarter of the way, probably only enough to make it to the lake, anyway.

Sighing, and knowing that he had know choice, he turned his gaze onto the basket, judging what he would need to take. He would most likely not be returning to his basket shelter, as it was too far from any source of fresh water. Knowing that this may be the last morning he even saw Athena, he put a hand on her basket's edge, just feeling the wet, sandy wicker. The envelope looked as bad as ever, when Joss folded it back again. The fibers were scorched and trailing, the shadows casted on the lower layer were sharp, making the hole seem that much bigger.

Taking a look at what he had, Joss realized with subtle, gradual shock, that he would be forced to leave Catherine's portrait here. Tucking the rain tarp even more securely around it, he was tempted to take a last look, but decided against it. His obsession with that painting wasn't healthy. He had to tell himself that as he tried to ignore it, the blue tarp screaming at him to be ripped off.

Tearing his thoughts away from Catherine, or rather, Catherine's likeness, he set about sorting out the stuff he would have to take. He knew he should take all of the canteens, but they would be too cumbersome, especially added to the other essentials he would have to take. Food. Clothes. It was too much. Rummaging through the basket blindly for an answer, he came upon an old, slightly rusted pair of scissors at the bottom of his trunk. Ideas emerged, and he shuddered at the thought. He would have to cut Athena's envelope even further, to craft some sort of makeshift bag. Taking the scorched fabric aside, he could still see the remnants of the large, faded, black text. Athena, it said. Gasping openly, mouth slightly ajar and quivering, his hand shakily started to cut out a large square of fabric, trying his best to keep the large stenciled letters intact and readable. All the time he was slicing her open, he had too keep reminding himself that she would never fly again. She could never fly again. He winced at the thought. He now realized that he had always thrived on the notion that he could just as easily fly away, biding his time in the clouds. But, no. That very possibility was torn from Joss at the moment the lightning struck her down.

Picking up the ragged square of fabric, he lay it down on the sand, piling the empty canteens and supplies onto it. As he added one more item of clothing, he saw that what he had chosen to take would only just fit. Bundling it up, he used one of the rig lines to tie it together at the open end. When he was finished, it was quite ragged. The edges had many trailing threads, a few open spots peeking through the top. Sighing as he took one last look at Athena, he angrily sped into the jungle, not wanting to stay in her presence any more.

As he trudged over wet grass and soil, he looked straight ahead, choosing not to look back at the balloon. The humid air in the jungle was very sudden, and almost chokingly hot. He had noticed this yesterday, but he was feeling much more venerable today. The reasons were many and varied. Today had started so suddenly, and he had made all of his decisions so quickly. Part of him wanted to just turn and run back to Athena, just to stay cradled around her. His eyes stung. Those closest to him were being ripped away so fast. They were all gone now. He was only a child in a big mean world, which seemed as if its only goal was to track him down and hurt him any way it could. Ducking beneath the many vines and hanging, brightly colored flowers, he ignored the scene around him to a long extent, not taking notice of the lime green landscape that would have floored him at any other time in his life. But not now. Now, he was sad. The birds, in all their rainbow colors, and the flowers, smelling as pretty as they could, did nothing to change that.

The sheer extent of the hike eventually wrenched him from his selfish reverie. After several hours, he could no longer see anything but jungle around him. The bright spots of white lit sky that reached him through the canopy were like old friends, quite welcome to shed some light on his dreary trek.

Sweat had drenched his clothes, sticking his shirt to his skin. His tongue ached with thirst. He only dared to take small drinks every hour. The last thing he wanted was to wind up lost in the jungle with no water. He was sure he wasn't lost already, though. From the mountain, the island had stretched most of the way to the horizon. He knew that it would be hours before he hit the lake.

He had planned to go in the straight direction that would take him to a stream the fastest. It had seemed like such an easy route. But, now that he was in such a hot, miserable state, he had no choice but to accept that he had veered in the wrong direction of the stream. Either that, or he had mapped the streams location wrong, which was, of course, quite possible. His map had been quite rough, he knew, drawn from the platform on the mountain. The air pushed at his skins with a noticeable pressure, the heat searing and tiring against his sweat covered skin. He had gotten used to the low pressures of hot air balloon travel, he had realized that the first day he had hiked into the jungle. The sea level air pressure felt all the more constricting because he had been living thousands of feet up for the past several days. His head had been aching slightly ever since he had landed on the island. He found himself massaging his temples, when he stopped to take a rest.

Leaning against the trunk of a mighty tree, Joss took a swig of water from his canteen, breathing deep afterwards. Shaking the canteen, he found that he had drained it dry. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back against the tree, looking up through the canopy at his consoling patches of blue sky. He face was sodden with sweat so much that he was angry with his body for wasting so much precious water. As he thought this, a drop of sweat fell onto Joss' tongue through the corner of his mouth. The salty taste was exactly what he did not need, he thought, as he spit vigorously on the ground.

Leaning once more against the tree trunk, his mind drifted into a state of hazy daydreaming. The respite at the tree was so welcome, he considered the possibility of sitting here forever, not having to move again. The bliss of his heat warped mind was comforting, even as he sat there, sweating away the entirety of that last, valuable sip of precious water.

This state of serene bliss continued on for what could have been a full minute, Joss' mind galloping between realities that suited his fancy, choosing to stray away from the hot prison of the jungle. As he returned to full awareness, he heard beyond the constant chirping of birds. He heard beyond the rush of the baking air past his ears. He heard beyond his own heart beat, and even his own breathing, until...

The clear chiming burble of turbulent water became apparent through the noise, causing Joss' eyes to open in revelation As he searched around again, the sound was almost once again lost in the incessant noise of this island jungle, but not before Joss found that the quiet wet sound was coming distinctly from the west, his ears tuned in, amplifying the sound in the adrenaline of the moment.

Looking through the thick shield of trees and vines, the sound was hard to pin on any visible trace of water. Eyes straining to the maximum, he trudged forward through the trees, the sound gradually increasing to an easily identifiable babble through the jungle.

Pulling away a thick curtain of leaves and vines, he saw it. The stream was a small one, but the most beautiful sight Joss could imagine, throat now raw from the extremity of the heat. The water cascaded over smooth gray stones pooling in a deeper portion before speeding away into the jungle. It could not have been more than four feet wide. It's deepest point was around five inches. The water was clearer than any that Joss had ever seen, giving the stones beneath only the slightest tinge of cerulean blue.

Diving down greedily, Joss submerged two of his canteens at a time, holding them with their mouths against the current. The filled eagerly, Joss draining half of one just on the spur of the moment. He laughed with giddy glee, having found the stream that could only lead him to the lake. With a glance upstream, he searched for the lake desperately, hoping that it was only a few steps away itself. But, to Joss' dismay, the stream continued into the jungle for as far as he could see.

Having filled each and every one of his canteens, he piled them all back into his bag. Heaving it over his shoulder again, he found that it was now exceptionally heavier. Knowing that only a portion of his hike was over, he began walking along the bank of the stream, shoulder aching under the weight of what must have been more than two gallons of water.

After only a few minutes, the stream had not changed at all, and Joss could still not see the lake. Then joss saw it. With a surprised jump that almost knocked him over backwards, he soaked in what he was seeing.

A wooden pail, handcrafted it seemed, lay on the edge of the stream, empty. It sat there unassumingly, emotionless, with an air of purpose. Needless to say, the sight of any man made object came as quite a shock to Joss. Stopped dead in his tracks, he looked, paranoid, around and into the jungle, somehow expecting the bucket's owner to jump out and apprehend him for trespassing. When no one came, he looked back down at the bucket, lying there coldly.

As the floodgates of questions fully opened, Joss then realized quite assuredly that this was no longer, "My Island."

#17 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 24 September 2009 - 02:42 PM


The lake was within sight in only an hours walk through the jungle, and all that time Joss had been distracted from his sore muscles and the oppressive heat by the haunting bucket that had lain on the stream's edge. Why had it been here? It had obviously been man made, so there must be another man here. That thought alone sent shivers up Joss' spine as he emerged from the trees onto the lake's Eastern shore.

The lake was quite large, and notably deep. The water itself was as strikingly clear as the stream had been, but the water went down so far, that the light scattered into glossy blue before anything of the bottom could be seen. The shallow areas and sandy tidal pools were populated densely by schools of tiny, bright fish, swimming in unison to and from the various areas. Algae sprouted from every pit and crevice, giving the water a yellow green glowing sensation that extended somewhat further out into the lake. A few dead logs littered the round where Joss had set up a temporary camp. A mighty tropical tree hung out over the water and cast patches of shadow onto Joss' camp. The log he had set the bag on was quite dry, and sturdy. It seemed far enough away from the water to the point that it was not noticeably affected by the lake.

The soil around the lake was a fine dark gray brown, halfway between soil and sand. Sparse blades of grass shot up out of the damp areas of ground at the edge of the lake. Some even shot up tall out of the water itself, fish crowding around it beneath the surface.

Joss sat on the log, trying to relax. He could not stop glancing over his shoulder into the dark jungle, waiting for the mysterious owner of the bucket to suddenly appear. He held the Athena fabric bag of supplies very close to himself, almost like a security blanket. He clung to the protruding outcrops of bark on the log. The isolation was pressuring. When he had hiked to the mountain, he had been hoping to find a person, but now he was utterly afraid. Being alone in the ambiance of the jungle for so long made company seem quite dangerous. He did not know what they would want, and he knew that part of his fear came from his abandonment of Athena, as well as Catherine's portrait. The very absence of them made him feel naked, helpless in a scary, archaic world. The bleak openness of the lake prompted him to get up and pace back and forth, head darting all around to look out of someone coming his way. Panicking, thinking he had just heard a noise, he stopped. Nothing. The isolation was encroaching upon his very sanity, he thought, frightened even more by the thought. Then, as he questioned his mind itself, he heard the noise again. A soft rustling, immediately identified as coming from the bushes at the edge. Joss held his breath, tensing his hands in anticipation. A moment of stressed out silence, and then...

The silence was broken in an instant. A bright blue bird streaked out of the bush, soaring out above the lake, reflected, distorted, in it's depth. Exhaling and panting with relief, this run in gave him an idea of how stressed he really was by his constant isolation.

Dropping himself onto the log again, the fear of the unknown people that must lurk on the island subsided in his mind. It became strangely interspersed with hope of company, with a wish for just one person to talk to. Mouth open, he stared, brain dead at the quiet whispering ripples of the surface of the lake. Looking up, he sat back, watching the clouds drifting across the sky. He tensed momentarily, certain that he saw a plane. But, to his general dismay, it was only a large bird turning around above the great jungle.

Lying down on the log's prickly bark, he stared at the open sky for a long while, eventually drifting into the welcoming, cradling arms of sleep.

* * *

Joss awoke to the snapping of a twig. The sound echoed around him, his eyes darting open. His pupils dilated in the glare of the setting sun. To a protesting pain from his back and neck that he mostly ignored, Joss looked around into the jungle. Completely still, but his eyes stayed trained on the dark splotches of green tinted color for what could have easily been minutes.

A rustling of leaves and the crunch of soil made its way to Joss' ears. The sound was coming directly from where joss was staring. The sound amplified as its source apparently came even closer. Joss did not blink. He did not breath, the pressure building in his lungs going mainly unnoticed. Eyes straining to find motion to the point of near pain, he saw a tall shadow pass over a tree. The sight sent a deep shiver down his spine. The sound grew nearer every second. He wanted to scramble for defense, hide behind the log, anything, but he was paralyzed with fear, eyes still unblinking and unmoving, staring dead at that spot through the trees.

A booted foot stepped out from behind the nearest tree, splotchy shine glinting off of it's surface. The foot stepped down in slow motion, slowed by the very adrenaline that coursed through Joss' veins. And then suddenly, without any punctuating heed, the figure of a tall man stepped from behind the tree, jumping in fright at the sight of Joss.

They both sat in utter alarm for many moments, both without speech. The man was ragged. Joss would, after this dumbfounded meeting, make the assumption that he had come here in a way similar to himself, stranded with no way out. The most striking feature about the man though, was his left eye. Its pupil was too small, the white of the eye encroaching, virus like into the pupil, which itself was quite red. The lid over this eye blinked with a slight twitch, signifying some kind of disorder or injury. His red hair covered his ears, sweaty and somewhat matted with dirt. His beard would have been considered large and ungainly in the civilized world, but for someone who lived on an isolated island for any considerable length of time, it was altogether cleanshaven.

His pants were grass stained, with small rips and snags, twigs stuck in gaps in the fabric. The shirt looked as if it had originally been long sleeved. Now, the sleeves had been cut shorter, ragged and uneven, as if they were cut with some crude, handmade device. His bottom lip had a small bruised scar, bulging purple asymmetrically The man wore glasses, but they had been bent around in a strange way, the lens over the deformed eye was cracked and useless. It took Joss a moment to realize that that lens had originally been the right lens, but he had turned the entire pair of glasses over to switch the lens to the other side. He had obviously done a rough and crude job of bending the nose arch into a usable position, the golden metal polish had long since flecked away in places. His eyebrows were rough and red, like rust on a piece of old, aged metal. His cheeks curved into his mouth, given his face the shape of a skull. His expression was one of wary thought, his brow line creased and low set Hunched over, he looked a proper jungle man, matted with dirt and peering, inquisitively into Joss' eyes.

Suddenly, the man broke the silence, "What are you doing here?" His voice was gravelly and gruff, with an undertone of impatience.

For a moment, Joss did not even speak. His mouth opened, quaking in the humid air, but the words took a moment to be converted from the wisps of thought that were rattling around his mind, "Crashed." The word itself sounded like the action it described, whispery and coughing yet sudden.

"Your name?" croaked the man, cocking his head to the side slightly angrily in an air of, You're on my land.

Once again, he had took think for a fraction of a second before he found the right sounds to put together to make intelligible speech, "J-... Joss."

Joss waited a moment for the man to speak again, not daring to move. When the man did nothing but stand there looking at Joss like some interesting specimen he found in the mud, Joss found the courage to speak himself, "Wh... Who are you?"

"I... Name's Girard. Did- Did you say you crashed? Crashed in what, might I ask?" his voice was obviously returning to him now, but he had audibly staggered when asked his name. He had spoken as if Joss had had no choice at all weather to answer at all.

"Hot air balloon. Called her Athena," Joss sputtered, words falling like loose hair into the air, "Just a few days ago."

"Oh. Your shipwrecked, here?" the man named Girard asked it almost disappointedly

"Yes. Were you?"

"Yes. Years ago, by boat. Those rocks out there, they crushed her up," said Girard. His voice was distinctly European. Some strange dialect between English and Italian, "Where'd you crash?" his tone was now more notably conversational, and he had become less tense.

"In the shallows of the surf, during that storm. Managed to drag her to shore, though, and get what little provisions I had out of it."

"Got anything left?" Girard asked this quickly, eagerly. There was something strange in his voice tat instilled fear in Joss, still, as the tone of their conversation lightened.

"Just canteens, a few pieces of bread, some small tools. All the rest is back at the basket."

"And where would that be?" asked Girard, eager once again. His voice was gravelly again, seemingly lunging for everything that Joss had left.

"On the beach, at the edge of the jungle," said Joss, not wanting to give too many specifics to this strange man he had just met in the jungle.

"You think she might ever be sky worthy, again?" asked Girard, still obviously searching for his ticket off this island.

"Probably not, unless you happen to have a couple gallons of kerosene on you, by any chance,"

"What do you mean by that? Give me some specifics. I'm not too daft to handle them, you know," Girard now sounded almost insulted.

"The fuel tank bust open on the rocks. Completely empty, now," said Joss.

"Well, who really knows. Maybe there is hope for her yet," Girard said this with a little twinkle in is eye, smiling as he looked over at the lake.

The whole conversation felt quite strange to Joss. Here they were, stranded on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific with only each other as company, and they were making light conversation, jovially discussing their past. Yet, Girard was mysteriously vague about his. He skirted around the specifics, choosing to question Joss more often than he answered questions himself.

"Went down at the rocks near those cliffs. I was the only survivor," That was the most detail that Joss could worm out of him without seeming too pushy. Joss, reassured by the fact that he was reasonably sure that the man sitting across from him on the log did not want to kill him, was relatively open to questions about his crash. Questions about his voyage, though, those were quite different. He tried to avoid answering questions about where he was coming from and where he was headed. They may be stranded on an island, but Joss wasn't sure who he should be letting know things about his past.

"I have a campsite in a cave not far from here. It is quite large, with adequate shelter from all the rain. Have you set up a camp?" asked Girard, altogether friendly about this safe topic.

"No, I don't. I was sleeping in my balloon basket until I ran out of freshwater, and came to look for a stream,"

"Oh. Well, then, you are welcome to stay in my cave," Girard said it strangely, like a regular person welcoming another into their spacious summer home. Not at all like the survivor of a shipwreck giving a fellow castaway a place to stay out of the rain, "Would you like me too lead you to it?"

"Well, sure. I'm quite glad to have company. I thought i would be stuck here forever without seeing a single soul."

"Two days isn't much to brag about. Try going without any human contact for a solid year, then you tell me how you feel," Girard said this without contempt. It was obvious to Joss that their talk now was akin to old war stories, as they began to walk through the jungle.

"Are you saying that you've survived here for a whole year?" asked Joss, trying to sound more impressed than he was.

"More than that. It was just summer last year when I came, or, rather, was stranded, here. But, I have learned to cope. Oh, yes. You could live off the birds, if you call that living, mind you," he added with a slight chuckle,"But I need something with a little more flavor. A little more kick. More protein to red meat. So, I went out all over this island to find me some red meat. No such luck. That is, until I came to the southern tip of the island. Deep in the jungle, I found a group of wild boars. A whole colony of 'em, sitting right there in front of ya for the taking," Girard, in the thrill of storytelling, had apparently reverted to the rich Italian accent that Joss had tasted in his earlier speech, "I do have a knife with me, by the way. Grabbed it from the galley as we were going' down. That was when I knew that my, our, old ship was as dead as a doornail. Sure am damn glad I thought fast about it. Anyway, I managed to get a little one, gut him, and eat him, cooked over a fire. Even the little ones last for weeks on a leanly fed stomach. It can be mighty hard to store em though, in this dreadful island heat. That's why I store em in the cave. It's cooler in the cave. Not so humid either. I wrap them up in these big minty leaves, leaving them to sit in the dark in the cave," Girard must have seen his eyes widen slightly, because he said, "Oh, don't worry about any animals coming in and trying to steal the meat. Nothing bigger than a parakeet lives near the cave. At least, that's what I've found,"

"I'm glad. I've been quite wary around the island since I got here," said Joss, honestly relieved.

They were walking through the jungle at this point, Joss still hauling his balloon canvas bag over his shoulder. He couldn't shake the novel feeling of this sudden company. The very fact that he had someone to talk to was refreshing, and yet it felt strange and sudden. The sun was almost all the way down now, the blue hues of twilight settling in among the leaves. Girard led the way without needing to look at a map, or using any visible signs in the jungle. He seemed to know the way exactly, and it was then that joss realized that they were walking on a grassless path, the dirt flattened down by Girard's shoes that must have gone back and forth to the lake many times before.

"If I hadn't told you before, my full name is Girard Thomas Taylor. Not that it makes much difference out here," his eyes glazed over as he said this, obviously reminding himself that they really were stranded on an island with only each other for company, "My I ask what yours is, by any chance?"

"Oh. Joss Bertrand Gunn. Why do you ask?" added Joss, genuinely curious.

"I guess I just have a sort of... habit of making sure of people's last names," he said this as if he was skirting around a painful, or even secret subject.

They walked on in silence for a while after that. The moon was full tonight, Joss noticed through the trees. It casted a bright glow onto their faces, flickering in the shadows of the trees. After a long walk, they reached the mouth of the cave. It was more of a diagonal gash into the side of a gray rocky outcrop, jutting out of a hillside.

The mouth itself was almost too small to slide through, so much so that Joss had to duck down to get inside. From the interior, he could see the flickering orange light of what he assumed was fire.

Squeezing into the opening after Girard, he was met with an awesome sight. The cave itself was massive. The rocky and slanted roof extended up fifty feet. The cave was capped at the peak of the ceiling by an opening onto what Joss guessed was the top of the hill they had approached outside. This skylight held the moon, casting its ghostly rays down into the cave, to mix with the light of the campfire. The opposite side of the cave was more than a hundred feet away, but the roof crouched down to only a couple feet at this point. The parts of the cave that you could stand up in only extended about twenty five or so feet.

To Joss' right, a platform sat above the fire, extending to the far right edge of the cave. On this platform was a bed of leaves, covered with the skin of what Joss could only guess came from one of the boar that Girard had mentioned. The firelight emanated from a spot on the floor not far from the platform, casting its orange glow over the cave, shadows flickering on the walls.

"This is it. Quaint, no?" he said jokingly, gesturing to his bed of leaves. This was the first time that Joss had gotten the real feeling that Girard was very, very happy to have a person to talk to. He seemed overjoyed to have someone to show his home to, simple as it was.

"Yeah. It's a beautiful cave. Perfect for living, it seems,"

"I suppose there's a point were the gods don't have anything bad left to throw at you, people like you and me," he said, glancing around his home like he was admiring his handiwork for the first time.

"I guess I should go find something to make myself a bed," said Joss, starting towards the mouth of the cave.

"The leaves that have recently fallen are the best," said Girard, "Maybe some grass. Sorry I do not have any more of the boar hide. It shouldn't get too cold tonight though,"

As Joss rummaged through the indigo glowing jungle, he considered his new found neighbor. He was obviously glad to have Joss here, but for some strange reason, despite all his attempts at friendship, he seemed to have a secretive side that Joss was wary of.

He would have to keep one eye open.

#18 User is offline   padfoot7726 

  • glotahn (beginner)
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Posted 27 September 2009 - 02:24 PM


Joss woke up the next morning, having finally fallen asleep on his thin makeshift bed of leaves and grass. He head ached slightly, eyes straining in the light of the cave's skylight. The light was that of early morning, the sun's light cast onto the far wall. The fire still had a few little bits flickering. Girard had added much more wood before sleeping himself. Joss had lain there on his own bed, eyes open, taking in his unusual situation, step by step. The moon had stayed his companion, straight through the skylight all night long, guiding him into the welcome arms of the sleep that had evaded him so far.

As Joss stood, he looked over at Girard's bed. It was empty. Looking towards the cave's entrance, Joss staggered towards the mouthy of the cave. Outside, being in the shadow of the hilltop, was in the predawn twilight that Joss had rummaged through the jungle in last night. Joss was no where to be seen, outside the cave.

Walking along the subtle path that they had hiked the day before, Joss set about towards the lake. The trip was somewhat longer than before, as Joss was still dreary with the sweet serum of sleep, and the quiet of the morning calmed the jungle atmosphere somewhat. The birds were silent, save the stray chirp from the early riser. The wind coursed through the path, giving Joss a much needed chill, even in the cool island air of the morning.

When he reached the lake, he found Girard sitting at the lake, wooden fishing rod in hand.

"Good morning," Joss said, still slightly tired.

"Ah, hello. Sleep okay?" asked Girard, quite awake, yet serene as the lake he was fishing.

"Yes, I slept quite well," Joss lied. His sleep had been short, mixed with the tossing and turning the pervaded his stormy mind.

"That's good," said Girard, absentmindedly. He looked back over the lake, drinking in the scenery, eyes wide. It was then that Joss realized that Girard was fishing with a strange rod. It was a carves wooden rod, curved somewhat, pieces of bark still stripping away at points along the shaft. A cotton thread was tied at the end, now lowered into the water, which was quite deep at that point.

"Did you make that yourself?" asked Joss, now slightly more awake.

"Oh yes," said Girard, still paying more attention to the nearly flat reflections on the surface of the lake, "Stripped the wood from a fallen palm. The thread is from my shirt, and the hook is a wire from the end of my spare glasses. Those ones were completely broken," He added at Joss' generally puzzled look.

"It's very nice," said Joss, sincerely impressed. The man he had met was a regular Robinson Crusoe, he thought. Very resourceful. That's lucky for me, he said to himself. I'd probably be dead by now if I were him.

Joss sat there for a while, watching the the tiny fish in the water flit and scamper about the hook. This edge of the lake had a very sharp drop off, with the water suddenly too deep to see to the bottom. Looking at his watch, Joss found that it was only around nine a clock, but that may have been off. He had timed his watch after he had crashed, but he could have gotten the time zone wrong in some way. Sand had gotten lodged into the edges around the watch's glass face. Joss was not entirely surprised it had survived this long. It was a good watch, he knew, built strong by the Swiss. The hands were still plugging along endlessly around the center, seemingly impervious to the water and heat.

"Did you say yesterday that your balloon could not fly because it lacked kerosene?" Girard asked him out of the blue.

"Oh, yes. The fuel tank was busted open. Now, there's nothing left," Joss answered, jogged out of quiet thought.

"Hmm... I believe that the boat that I came here on had a kerosene tank for the engine and heating. Not that it really matters now," Girard answered, turned back towards the lake.

Joss eyes brightened at the thought of possible escape, "Are you quite sure there's no way to get to it?"

"Its not as much that. Its that... well.... our ship crashed into the sharp rocks of the cliffs on the southern tip of the island. Even if there was a way to safely get to the wreckage, the tank was probably busted open same as yours was," Girard answered, visibly wishing he had a more optimistic answer.

"Oh. I suppose you're right, then," mumbled Joss. The thought of Athena flying again was a beautiful one indeed, and Joss was stubborn to deny it completely because Girard had, "But, do you suppose that we could get down there to the rocks, if we chose a clear, calm day? I mean, it could be our only hope, couldn't it?"

Girard sighed, looking at the water, obviously saddened by Joss' naive hopes, "It would be a waste of time, not to mention damn near impossible. Even if you could get down there safe, and the tank was unharmed, then you would still have to find some way to lug it up out of the boat's wreckage and onto the shore without busting it on the rocks. You're gonna have to accept that it simply can't be done, and it would be foolhardy to even try,"

Joss said nothing. He had nothing to counter the argument, accept for his blind faith that they had to at least try. He came to think that Girard had lost the will to escape, after being stuck here, self sufficient, for more than a year.

"And besides all that, there are probably more skeletons down there than you want to see in a lifetime," added Girard, sullen, as he looked at the water.

Joss felt slightly ashamed that he hadn't even thought of that himself. If the boat was to be ransacked, then it would not be a job for the squeamish.

Suddenly, Girard's line went taut, pulled down into the dark depths. Girard, apparently distracted by their argument and the talk of his dead crew mates, almost dropped his homemade fishing pole. Scrambling to hold it tight, he pulled the wooden rod, which bent down towards the water with surprising flexibility. Moments later, Girard was standing on the shore holding the fishing pole. At the end of the string was flailing a blue gray fish, twice the size of Joss' own fist.

Girard, apparently happy with his catch, held the rod in the air until the fish went deathly calm, "I usually don't catch any this big. What I do catch is usually more of a snack than anything else," he chuckled to Joss.

* * *

The next few days past by in a dreary repetitive nature. The novelty of the jungle and the view point of being stranded on an undiscovered island had even started to wear thin. They woke up every day, in their leave made beds. The leaves had to be replaced often, Joss had found, before they became brown and dead. He had then come across a plant with large flapping green leaves. He was eventually able to pile some of these over the smaller regular leaves to make more of an enclosed mattress.

And then, every day, they would rummage through the jungle for firewood, to keep the precious fire going, which Joss had found, Girard never let go out. They would then gather various fruits and berries that Girard had found in his years worth of travels and experience on the island. There was a particular fruit that had prospered immensely on the island, which Joss had never seen or heard of. From the outside it resembled a small, deep purple apple. On the inside, though, the fruit's flesh was juicy, lime green, and similar to the flesh of an orange.

The heat of the jungle, Joss soon found, was not much of a problem within the cave. If anything, the air in the cave was cooler than Joss would have liked.

The boar that Girard had recently caught was the only protein or meat they needed, and they ate it several times a day, although Joss did so grudgingly, as it started to get to be too much. Once, Joss had asked if they should be rationing it more strictly, but Girard had said, "There are enough boar that we could feast for weeks if we wanted to. When we run out of this one, I'll take you out to their colony, and show you a thing or two about the way I hunt 'em." For every meal of boar, Girard cooked it the same way. He would cut a slab from the hulking piece of meat wrapped in the fragrant leaves. He would then just sprinkle a tiny pinch of seasoning on it, and put it over the fire on a bamboo grill. The seasoning looked to be a mixture, and tasted loudly of pepper and cinnamon It was stored in a minuscule sack of fabric, tied off with part of what looked to be a shoelace. Girard had said he had come across the plant in his travels to the southern end of the island, ground it up, and kept it in the cave since then. The grilled pork itself was delectable for the first few days, but had eventually grown into something akin to a cruel prison's rations.

The rest of their days were spent mostly idly. Joss was surprised at how well Girard had managed to create this island life for himself. Some of the time, Joss read the one book he had brought from the basket. Girard, when he was not using it himself, loaned Joss his fishing line, wish, to Joss' surprise, worked quite well. The bait used were small beetles and worms found surprisingly available beneath rocks on the jungle floor. Joss had yet to catch anything bigger than his own hand, but he did find that it was a good way to pass the time.

Girard seemed to leave, unannounced, quite often. He would return, saying to Joss that he had gone on a hike, and Joss was welcome to join him sometime. Joss was not entirely sure what to make of this. Girard seemed entirely trustworthy, and good company to be had on the island, but every once in a while, Joss would notice some secretive aspect of Girard's doings that made him quite wary of his new friend.

On one day, when the two were eating a short breakfast of fire roasted pork on the floor of the cave, Joss had brought up his balloon, "My balloon still has some useful supplies in it. Maybe we should hike over there and gather what we need at some point," He had said it idly, looking at his food while he spoke. They ate off of thin slabs of rock that Girard had miraculously found at the edge of the southern mountain.

"That's not a bad idea. Where exactly is it?" Girard had answered just as casually, looking through the cave's skylight as he said it.

Joss had originally chosen not to tell Girard because he wasn't sure to trust him, but now, Joss had come to trust him with the information, "Oh. It's on the North Eastern beach, just at the edge of the jungle. Probably only a couple hours walk,"

"Hmm... What kind of supplies?" asked Girard. He seemed sincerely interested.

"Oh, you know. Got some patching tape, scissors, blankets, a pillow. It was quite a large balloon, you see. The envelope itself is quite a sight to behold. Big enough for a group of people to live for more than a week. There's a radio that would probably still work if we had power. Plus a radiator. Rope from the rigging," his stomach turned at the thought of Girard dismantling Athena even more. H almost wished that he hadn't mentioned the rigging.

"Seems like a very profitable venture then," said Girard, finishing up his food, "What say we leave today?"

Joss was surprised at the very spur of the moment attitude that Girard took on the hike, "I am alright with that. We'll need to bring water, and food. And, I should probably bring my balloon fabric bag,"

"Sounds good to me. I'm ready whenever you are," said Girard, obviously excited about something new to do.

As Joss gathered supplies, Girard went down to the stream to fill several of the canteens. Joss was sorting through the items he had thought to bring, considering leaving the small bits of dry bread that he had left, when Girard walked into the cave with an armful of sloshing canteens, "There ya go," he panted, as Joss added them to the canvas bag.

As they left, Joss considered asking Girard not to dismantle Athena. Dismissing the idea quickly, he tried to remind himself that she was irretrievably dead, and that she could never fly again. Quite glum through the trek, he took almost no notice at all of the beautiful forest, tinted yellow in the morning sun. Girard was much more animated about the hike, smiling and making conversation as they went. His face was the very definition of joy. Joss had never actually managed to go on a hike with Girard, but now he could easily see why he went on them so often.

The birds chirped their songs as they walked, constantly calling them forwards, towards Athena. The hike was long, but Joss knew that it would have felt even longer in the heat of mid day. He almost did not realize when the trees began to thin out, and the soil began to become lighter, and sandy.

When they reached Athena, Joss was not glad to see her, as he thought he may be. He knew that Girard would further destroy her, in the very minutes to come. For the first time since Joss had met him, Girard seemed like an enemy, a villain of all that Joss loved. He looked down at her envelope, still scorched and holed from the lightning. He wanted to throw his arms across her, begging Girard not to hurt her.

"Seems like a pretty good shelter, and you were right. It's a pretty good sized balloon," said Girard, lifting the envelope back from the basket. For a fleeting moment, Joss considered showing Girard the painting, and explaining exactly why he was here. But, no, he thought. If they had any chance of getting off the island, then he would have to keep that to himself.

"What's this here?" said Girard, jogging Joss awake from his deep thoughts. He was bending over the painting, still covered in the blue rain tarp. As Joss held his breath, Girard gently folded back the tarp.

Saying nothing, his eyes lit up, his mouth agape. He stood there, looking at the portrait, studying it before he spoke. "What is this?" he breathed. He never took his eyes off of the painting.

"That is... a... portrait. A portrait of my wife," stuttered Joss, on a split second decision.

"It's quite beautiful," Girard said, so quietly, it was almost only to himself. He still never looked up at Joss for several seconds, "Why is it here? Why were you carrying it?" he asked Joss.

"I... was... transporting it to Venice, Italy. I work at an art museum in the states," answered Joss, skirting around the truth.

"Oh, I see." said Girard, looking back at the painting. It seemed as if he was entirely entranced by it as Joss had become, "Did you say that was your wife?"

"Oh... yes. It was painted somewhere around a year ago," said Joss, making up information on the spot.

"Who painted it? Do you know?" asked Girard, his eyes wide.

"Um... an Italian immigrant painted it soon after he came to the states. Can't really remember his name. I think it's on the back," said Joss, remembering full well what was written on the back.

Girard walked to the other side of the basket, picking up the painting and turning it around, "Vincente Pharlone, Venice, Italy, " he muttered, eyes wide, as if surprised.

"Do you know of him?" asked Joss, wary that his ruse might be seen through.

"Yes... I... I knew him," said Girard, "An old friend, is all,"

Joss wariness started to fade, "Oh. What a coincidence," he said, silently sighing with relief.

"I... I did not know he moved to Italy," mumbled Girard, "Must have done after I was shipwrecked,"

"Yes. Must have," breathed Joss. He had come close, and it was quite quite a surprise that Girard had known Vincente Pharlone. Quite a coincidence as well. If Girard had known Vincente, then, if there was still a chance of getting off this island, then Girard could help him find him.

"Well, we had better... um... We had better gather what we need, anyway. No use wasting time," said Girard, tearing himself from the painting, and replacing the rain tarp. Joss was surprised. He had assumed that Girard would take the rain tarp with him.

And so, they gathered the many useful items they needed. Girard had strangely turned down the rigging lines, saying that they could come back for those if the need arose. Joss had, again, assumed that Girard would count those as quite useful, and cut them from Athena quickly. Joss grabbed the blanket and pillow, stuffing the latter into his canvas bag along with several other items. The blanket, which was thin and small, he draped over his own shoulder much like a beach towel. He knew that the heat would make this a decision he would inevitably regret, but he could see no other way of getting it back to the cave. Girard himself had his hands full of small items, that he was carrying in a swath of leathery pig skin that he had taken with them on the hike down.

The walk down was unbearably long, and Joss noticed that Girard was not as joyful and happy to be there as he was on the way to the balloon. He seemed to be quite thoughtful, glancing back towards the basket more often then even Joss. He even, to an extent, seemed worried, which Joss could not find a single reason for.

All the while that Joss himself was noticing this, the sun was getting even higher in the sky, baking the jungle in the frying rays of light. Joss, by the time they were halfway to the cave, drenched in sweat. His back ached from the canvas bag slung over his shoulder, and the scissors and other small metal items were digging into his skin. His other shoulder was just as bad. With the insulating blanket draped over it, it felt as if it would melt right off of his skeleton. The blanket itself felt like lava against his skin. All this time, his head was dreary and slow in the heat against his temples. He only was just able to register Girard's strange behavior, with all the other stresses on his body and mind.

When they reached the cave again, Joss only thought was rest. He dropped the bag and blanket down onto the cave's floor, falling onto his bed of leaves. He almost fell into a deep sleep, at the welcome respite of his bed. Opening his eyes, though, he remembered that he still had to go and gather fire wood with Girard. The fire was almost gone by now, anyway.

"Let's take a rest before we go back into the jungle to get firewood," said Girard, seemingly reading his mind, "I think we deserve it,"

Glancing over, Joss saw that Girard himself had collapsed onto his bed. His pig skin bag had been dropped on the cave floor, in between himself and the cave's craggy, short door.

Relieved at being able to rest, Joss immediately fell back into the gentle, waiting arms of sleep.

#19 User is offline   padfoot7726 

  • glotahn (beginner)
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Posted 06 October 2009 - 05:55 PM

Idle Thoughts

Over the next few days, Girard was hiking much less. He was staying in the cave, or at the lake, just watching the clouds, much more often. This sudden sedentary attitude was puzzling to Joss, who, at that point was doing much of the same stuff that he usually did.

It was one day, when neither Joss nor Girard had anything to do, that Joss walked down to the lake. When he made it down to the shoreline, he found Girard, sitting on a boulder, looking out over the lake.

Joss had been planning on fishing, but when he sat down near Girard on a log, he found that he did not pick up the pole, which lay on the ground near Girard. "Just watching the clouds go by, huh?"

"Oh. Yes," said Girard, who, apparently, had not even seen Joss arrive, "It's a nice day out today,” he said, turning back to the lake.

“Yes. It is quite nice out,” said Joss, keeping an eye on Girard as he picked up the fishing pole and baited the hook.

And so they sat there, the hook bobbing in the water, for several minutes, before Girard said, “I want to try to get off the island,” without taking his eyes off the clouds.

Joss was quite taken aback. He thought back to their earlier conversation, when Girard had said that trying would be a waste of time, and foolhardy. What had changed since then? “Oh.” was all he said, followed by several seconds of silence. “How?” was his next word.

“Just like you said, before,” said Girard, this time turning to face Joss directly, “Try and salvage the fuel tank from the old boat in the rocks. Then, if we succeed, and it is not broken, we will use the fuel in your balloon, making any necessary patches to the envelope,”

Joss was now quite perplexed, “What has changed since you said it was foolhardy?”

“I have just had time to come around to your way of thinking. Why? Do you not think it’s a good idea now?” he answered, his lips forming a tight grin.

“No. I think we should go for it,” said Joss, surprising himself, “As I have said before, it is our only chance.”

“Yes. I agree,” chuckled Girard, content with his plan, “So, it’s settled.”

“No, I don’t really think anything’s settled.” said Joss, still mildly confused, “We still do not have the vaguest idea of how to get the fuel tank out in the first place. Do we?”

“Well, no. You don’t. But, I have been ruminating over the idea of some sort of rope system,” Girard said. Joss did not reply, “You see, I think it may work if one of us goes down to the ship, cuts open the hull, ties one of the balloon’s rigging lines around the fuel tank, carefully removing it from the engine, and then the other would pull the opposite end of the rope up to the cliff. I think that the rigging lines could probably reach. The balloon is quiite large. We know that.”

Joss sat for a moment, thinking over Girard’s plan. It seemed airtight, to him, yet very tricky. Coming across it quickly in his mind, Joss asked, “How would we get down into the ship’s hull for long enough to execute this plan. Anyone in the water for long enough would surely drown. That is a fact,"

“Yes. That would be the main flaw in my plan, if it were not for one small fact," Joss, again, waited for Girard to elaborate, "You see, I have come across an idea that I believe may work reasonably well... for our purposes. It would involve a great deal of risk, you see, which is why I refrained from discussing it with you until I was sure it would work,"

"So, what is it? Cut to the chase." asked Joss irritably, now getting impatient, but interested none the less.

"We go down at night," said Girard, frustratingly cryptic.

"I don't think I fully understand," said Joss, now quite confused.

"The tide is lowest at midnight. When we go out to the boat at the cliff, the water will be low enough to handle. The water inside the boat would only actually be halfway up inside the hull. That's low enough that we probably would never have to go underwater," explained Girard.

"But... wouldn't the water be much colder at night?"

"Not too cold to manage," quipped Girard.

"I guess so..." mumbled Joss, thinking it over. Silence pervaded the conversation for a few long moments. "I agree. It could work," he said finally.

"Okay. So, now it's settled," said Girard, "I think we should begin planning as soon as possible. If we start now, we may be able to leave within a week,"

"What's the rush?" asked Joss.

"No rush, except I would like to get the fuel tank before it starts getting colder," said Girard quickly.

"Okay. So, I guess one of the first things we really need to decide is... Who is gonna be the one to go down and get the fuel tank?" asked Joss warily.

"I would be lying if I said I did not want you to do it," Girard put bluntly, "But, I'm as capable as you are. I could handle the responsibility just as well as you."

"I'll do it," said Joss. He had been unsure up until the moment he spoke of what exactly he would say, and on a split second decision, he decided to be the hero, "There could be... bodies. Bodies of men that you knew. I wouldn't want to be... the man to put you through... that. Besides that, your somewhat... impaired vision... could risk busting the fuel tank," he said. He had never actually mentioned Girard's strangely deformed left eye, but if there was ever a proper time, then this was it.

"Ah... yes. Sometimes I forget about it myself," said Girard, forcing a slight chuckle, his face clashingly grim, "I've never actually told you about it, have I? Well, you would have noticed, of course, but... neither of us have so much as mentioned it,"

"No, I suppose not," feeling strangely awkward.

"Don't worry. It's not some sort of scary island virus," he said jokingly, "It's been this way since I was born." Joss was now hoping that he would leave it at that, and thankfully, he did, "Well, I suppose that we will have to make yet another trip to you're balloon. We need to get one of those rigging lines, don't we?"

"Yes. That's probably where we should begin." said Joss.

"The other, smaller flaw in my plan is the fact that the fuel tank on your balloon is, as I saw for myself, quite well and truly, destroyed. I think that we will have to actually remove the original tank, replacing it with the one from the boat," said Girard. Joss noticed that not once did Girard mention the fact that the fuel tank in the sunken ship may in fact have been destroyed, making all of this planning and effort for nothing, but he did not say anything. He wanted to try just as much as Girard himself, and even the smallest and worst odds could not stop him from trying. Not yet, at least.

* * *

When Joss and Girard reached Athena for the second time, the hike they had made did not seem to have taken even half the time as the first time they had hiked there. They were in high spirits, as they had been planning all day long the day before, and had high expectations of their plans.

As Joss untied the knots in the rigging lines, Girard was examining the fuel tank. He had figured out how to unscrew the valve cap, when it started to rain. The clouds were drifting in the wind quite quickly, and neither of them saw it coming. Before he knew it, Joss was drenched in rain from head to toe, still fumbling with the rigging lines, fingers now very slippery in the sudden down pour.

By the time Joss had taken the rigging line off from the inside of the envelope, the rain was coming down in thick blankets on the jungle and the surf. He was backing into the jungle with Girard when he noticed that he had forgotten to put the envelope back over the basket. Running back into the down pour, he could not see twenty feet in any direction. The raindrops hurt on the top of his head, a piercing pain strangely similar to if you had dry corn kernels raining on top of you.

With the envelope draped back over the basket and all of it's contents, Joss ran back into the clumsy shade of the jungle. Girard was standing nearby, huddled against the trunk of a tree.

"Head back now?!" he barked through the rain. The icy gobbets of water pounded so hard against the surf and trees, Joss almost had trouble hearing what he said, even though he had yelled it so loudly.

"Yes! We should head back now!" bellowed Joss back through the roar, having trouble hearing himself, now.

"Follow behind me!" Girard screamed, his voice breaking slightly at the extent of the strength he put into his words. Still in mid sentence, Girard bolted into the dense jungle, now holding his hands above his head in an obviously futile attempt at warding off the rain.

It took Joss a moment to register that girard had so suddenly gone, and he was already ten feet away when Joss' feet erupted into motion. The soil of the jungle was now a slippery mixture of mud and wet sand, prompting Joss to grab the trees in an attempt to thwart off the imbalance effects of the ground.

Girard, at some points during their mad, tiring race towards the cave, sometimes got so far ahead that Joss lost visibility of him completely. But, of course, Joss would eventually catch the spare glimpse of motion ahead of him. He knew that Girard would choose the quickest route to the cave, so it was obvious to him that he would never have to turn.

His muscles ached painfully, after more than an entire hour of running in the constant pelting rain. His legs screamed in protest, begging for just a minutes respite. But the rain was now freezing him to the bone. The thunderclouds had completely shadowed the sun, and a chilled island wind was roaring through the forest. The hairs on his arms stood on end as best they could, trying the only way they knew how to ward off the intense cold of the wind and the rain.

Eventually, they passed the stream, and Joss knew that their painful, freezing race was close to it's end. The stream itself was flooded somewhat, and reminded Joss of something. All the long while he had been running through the icy rain, he had been waiting for the beautiful warmth of the fire in the cave. He had never thought that the fire may have been flooded out of the rain. Joss gasped, in utter disbelief, the noise itself drowned out in the unending downpour. What he had been waiting for might not be there in the first place. He pictured the logs and rocks of the fire, a scorched pile of wet, blackened wood, smoking as the water engulfed it.

His heart screaming with anticipation, the cave solidified through the rain, a flickering beacon that Joss was drawn to. Girard was no where in sight. He was obviously already inside the cave.

Holding his breath, Joss looked, eyes straining, for the orange flicker that meant that the fire was still, weakly alive.

As he ducked through the cave entrance, he looked up, exasperated, but glad for shelter alone, for the fire. It sat on the rocky, cliff like platform several feet from Joss' bed. To his infinite happiness, it still glowed with healthy flames. The platform itself was dry, yet the rest of the cave resembled a lake. The natural skylight poured water into the cave, in a way that Joss thought was comparable to a waterfall with no cliff edge.

Slogging through the ankle deep flood waters, Joss stepped up to the platform, dripping onto the still dry stone face. Girard sat next to the fire, still panting from the long exertion through the forest.

"You... you got the rope, right?" he rasped, lungs apparently tired from their journey.

"Yeah. Yeah, I got it," panted Joss, whose muscles still ached terribly. He felt like he was breathing deeper than he ever had in his entire life. He held up the rigging line. His fingers were white knuckled against it, numb from the freezing rain. His skin was clammy, slimy almost, to the point where he had forgotten that the pain of the intense cold was even there. The tips of his fingers had wrinkled, likening him to a man much older than he himself. Never the less, the coil of rope was firmly jammed into his fist, and as he set down the line, his hand opened with a spasmic jerk. The coil of rope, bundled up so small, seemed so frail, thin and quite insignificant It seemed like a stretch to say that without it, they would certainly be stuck on the island for the rest of their lives. But that was the case, and Joss put it down gently, like a delicate piece of rare china.

"Good. did not exactly see that coming," chuckled Girard over the subtle, yet invasive, noise of the rain. He was wringing out his white cotton socks as he spoke, proceeding on to wiping his glasses clean on his shirt, which was still dripping with rain.

"But we got what we came for," joss chimed in, happy but tired, lying down on his bed of leaves.

"And thank the gods for that," muttered Girard, speaking up only to say, "Tomorrow night, we're gonna go out to the cliffs and finish this. I think we're ready,"

"So soon?" asked Joss, annoyed by the planning of another workload, even one more than a day away.

"Aye," Girard murmured back, leaving the rest of the conversation to the inspiring meditation of sleep, which, within moments, had taken Joss in as it's own.

#20 User is offline   padfoot7726 

  • glotahn (beginner)
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Posted 18 October 2009 - 01:11 PM

Spire of Stone

Joss and Girard trudged through the jungle towards the cliff. They had packed light, but knew that they were bringing along all their meek hopes of escape. The sky was utterly cloudless, and the stars themselves shined powerfully. The moon was full, casting an eerie, ghostly glow over their silent hike. The leaves emanated the indigo rays back at the two hikers.

They had planned for days, and in the fore of their minds, they knew that they were ready. But, in the deep recesses and crevices in the back of Joss' mind, the thought lurked that they were so unprepared that there was no chance of success. It screamed at him. It bit at his heels as he walked through the vines and leaves, trying to pull him kicking and screaming back to the relative safety of the cave. When the moon shone through the trees over head, Joss thought of all the other people out there who were looking at that same moon. It was the universal thread that binded him to all the other souls on the whole damn planet. He realized then that he did not want it there. It reminded him of the fact that, even if they succeeded with their mad quest, then Joss would still have no where on Earth to run to. No where in the whole world that he could crawl up in and hide.

He pushed his grim thoughts aside, choosing to continue reciting their plan over and over again in his head. That seemed to calm him down, for now. All through their moonlight walk, they did not speak a word. They had gone over what they would do so many times that now seemed the time to just sit back and watch it unfold, hoping to god that it did not go completely wrong.

Joss almost did not realize that the ground was getting steeper, that they were ascending up to their fate. Their gallows. These thoughts were exactly what he had hoped wouldn't hit him right here, right now. Not now. The sudden bouts of uncontrollable panic came and went, hauntingly. Although he was more frightened more than he had ever been in his life, you would never have been able to tell by his face. He kept his solemn composure, eyes wide, for only the jungle to see. This seeming death march continued on for more than two hours, unpunctuated by distinguishable sound.

When they reached the rocky wind worn path around the mountain, there was no shade to save Joss from the moon's grim, judging gaze. He averted his eyes when he could, unconsciously, following along behind Girard. He knew that Girard had the spot embedded in his mind. He had gone out the night before to scout the location on the cliff where he and Joss would execute their plan. He had returned with the news that the boat was indeed part of the way above water during that time of night. The news had been only part good to Joss. He had half been hoping that the boat had somehow been carried out to some god forsaken sea bed, where they wouldn't have to carry out their insane plan. They would just be able to sit in bliss in the cave for ever. But, no. They were right on track. Joss remembered with a start that they may actually make it, and that whatever the consequence, that the whole debacle would be over at some blurry point in the future.

Girard stopped walking, and Joss, taken by surprise, nearly knocked him over. They had, to Joss' general shock, reached the daring, foot wide cliff edge.

"You ready?" asked Girard, his voice sounding gravelly and tired, like an old man, who had squandered away his years.

"Yeah. Ready," Joss breathed back, trying not to look down at the moonlit waters beneath them. It made him nearly choke to think that he had not noticed it was there only a minute before.

Girard flattened himself against the cliff wall, inching slowly along. Gulping audibly above the soft roar of the surf beneath them, Joss followed along. Clenching his jaw and gripping the rock, the thought rang out, We should be condemned! Why are we doing this? It is completely insane!

As they clawed their way forward across the cliff, Joss considered Girard. They were both at the other's will. One could easily push the other down to the water. The vision flashed through his head of Girard doing just that, smiling as he did. That was closely followed by Joss doing exactly the same, to his own disturbed, silent objection.

Gasping, he realized that only a month ago, he was living contentedly with Catherine. They had been so naive, he thought. So sure that nothing would go wrong. But it had. To Joss himself, it had gone the worst it could have possibly gone. Or, was this just more naivety?, he thought, still gripping the cliff side, white knuckled.

At this thought, Girard said, "I'm stopping, now," piercing the silence, sending a chill down Joss' spine. At his own words, only a second later, Girard stopped, completely stiff. Joss was unsure weather or not they had reached the spot. For a panicked moment, the vision of Girard pushing Joss to his death replayed within his head.

"There is a thick, strong branch coming out of a crevice in the side of the cliff. I am going to tie the line off to it, tossing it down to the water. I am then going to walk further down the cliff, so that you can climb down. Okay?" recited Girard, pronouncing each syllable with the utmost clarity, "Okay?" he said again.

"Okay," said Joss firmly, "I understand," without a tinge of irritation. Hew could not be more glad at all that Girard was being so cautious. After all, one or both of them could die if something went wrong.

"Okay," said Girard, proceeding to slowly and careful reach up with one hand, tying the rigging line expertly around the sturdy tree branch above him. When he was done tugging at the line, making sure that it was absolutely as tight as it could be, he glanced down at Joss. Only then did he throw the line down to the waves. Joss did not dare to look where it landed, knowing for certain that the sheer vertigo would cause him to go mad.

Girard glanced back at him, "What will you do?" They had recited their plan to the letter several times before, and Joss had no trouble now.

"I will climb down to the boat, cut open the hull with the knife, wade inside, and dismantle the fuel tank. If the fuel tank is unharmed, I will tie the line securely around the tank. I will then give the signal to you that you can untie the line, and pull the tank out of the boat. As you do this, I will try to guide the tank safely out of the hull and the rocks. When the tank is at the water's surface and out of the boat, then I will give the signal to you to walk along the cliff, pulling the tank with you. I will guide it as best I can around the rocks, to the beach. If it is harmed in the boat, or the line is not long enough, then I will go outside the boat and call to you to let me climb back up," finished Joss. Saying it all was tiring in itself. The very idea of climbing down the cliff was quite daunting.

"Good," said Girard solemnly, "Here we go." When he finished speaking, he began to inch further along the cliff wall, just as he had said he would. The process was longer than Joss wanted. At that point, after saying it all planned out, he just wanted to get the whole thing over with, good or bad.

When Girard had finished getting a fair deal out of the way, Joss chanced a look down at the waves. It was not, in any way, a pretty sight.

The boat was a big hulking wreck of metal and wood, sticking halfway out of the midnight blue waves, only ten yards or so from the cliffs. The rocks were shockingly sharp, cutting through the water. The full moon's pale light seemed almost insignificant now, as Joss saw what he was about to face. He wanted more light, now. And, besides that, the whole of his vision was slightly blurred, as Girard had taken his glasses before they had reached the cliff's edge. This was frightening in the least, but Joss knew that it had to be done. He was not about to risk losing his glasses in the water. The cold, dark water.

With a silent gasp, Joss shifted, gripping the line with all of his strength. "Bye," he breathed, choosing not to look Girard in the eye. Holding on for dear life, he began to climb down the rope, mind flitting back to only two small weeks ago when he had climbed out of the museum, unknowingly shackling himself to this island. Gulping, he regained his hold on reality, staring at the cold stone face in front of him. The cliff wall did not change. The very cracks and bumps all seemed strangely similar. Regular. With a heart wrenching moment, his hand slipped on a knot in the rope. Just as he was sure that he was about to fall down through the air, straight into fate's arms, he shot his hand back onto the rope, strangling it, white knuckled. As he had stopped moving down the rope, he caught his breath, which had gotten suddenly ragged with the jolt of adrenaline.

Regaining his control, he started down the rope again. It was slow going, climbing down the line. He kept looking down, facing the impossibly great height in all of it's horrifying glory. And, every time he did so, he would stop for a moment, grip the rope, and move on. After a few yards, he began to just keep looking straight at the stone face, without moving his eyesight in any way, in a determined attempt to face his fear. All of this went on for several minutes, all the time Joss hoping with all his might that the sturdy looking wooden branch could truly take his weight. In an attempt to lessen the strain on the rope, he weakly tried to find foot holds among the many creases and crevices in the cliff face. After several minutes, he noticed the sharp crashing of the waves getting louder in his ears. Louder every second. The sound he could not block out. The sound, he had to face, any way he went about it.

A shiver ran up from his toe, as he realized that he had plunged his foot into the icy water. The cliff's base was at a sharp angle, ending suddenly at the water and rocks. Joss recoiled from the water at first. Then, trying with all of his will power to remind himself that he was here for a reason, he began to climb down into the water. He felt heavier as the surf enveloped him, freezing cold. Too cold, joss thought. It should surely be ice itself at this temperature.

As he climbed down, shivering in the piercing cold pressure, the water lapped at his side, then his shoulders, and finally, he had to close his mouth to shut out the penetrating surf. The water went down more than he had even predicted. As he forced himself to let go of the rope, he found with a sudden, stomach turning discovery that his feet did not even reach the bottom. The rocks that pierced the surface were like skyscraper's spires, towering above the actual, rocky sea bed. Paddling to stay afloat in the water, he uncoiled the rope, lifting the very end out of the water. The amount of slack that was left bobbing on the surface next to Joss was quite encouraging. It would surely be long enough to get to the tank. If the tank is undamaged, Joss thought. Shivering, he tied the end of the thin, strong line onto one of his submerged belt loops.

Paddling with his jittery arms, he worked his way towards the boat. From this angle, he could see that the hull itself had been smashed sideways into the rocks, and had evidently been slowly turning with the tide ever since. This strange eroding effect had produced a gaping hole of torn metal and wood, hung onto a particularly large spire rock. This one towered tall above the others, easily ten feet above the water, even though it had somehow been created at a sharp diagonal angle towards the sea. It had apparently slashed through the boat's hull, the sharp end still sticking out of the boat's top side. The whole sight would be astonishing and intriguing in any other circumstances. For Joss though, it served as a grim sign post of danger, looming over him as he neared the boat.

Joss had taken Girard's knife with him, in a leather pouch slung around his waist. It was tight, and quite cumbersome, but Girard insisted that he keep in close at hand. But, as Joss saw the great, hulking hole in the ships hull, he knew that the knife would not be necessary Not yet, anyway.

The inside of the opening was pitch black, illuminated by the reflected moonlight for only a few feet. Joss had seen this coming, but he knew that this was the worst part of his plan. He would have to remove the fuel tank in the dark. The sheer madness of it struck him once again, causing him to almost laugh at the down right idiocy of their plan. But, no. This was the gut of their plan, and he had to keep the faith going that their plan would hold up. It was hard though, as he entered the boat's hull.

The lapping water inside the boat echoed around him, bouncing off of the sheet metal walls. If the sound was gone, you could have fooled him if you told him he was already dead. Dim, almost invisible outlines began to dance in front of his eyes. They could have easily been figments of his imagination, but he wanted to believe that they were real, and that his eyes were actually adapting to the absolute darkness that pervaded the boat.

Entranced with fear, he grunted, "Hey," just to hear a human's voice, and convince himself that at least he was still there.

The sound reverberated back around the hull, finally escaping into oblivion out of the opening behind him. He shuddered. The sound itself was haunting. The dull moan seemed to stay around much longer than it should have.

Raising his arms out in front of him warily, he began to swim forward. Thoughts flashed through his head. Finding a rotten corpse bundled floating in the corridor. The thought alone nearly made him wretch. This was more fear than he had ever encountered, and it was only now that he realized just how much he relied on his sense of sight for life. Life and comfort. The deep blackness was horrifying. Just the fact that he had no way pf predicting what he would feel or hear next. It was chilling in itself. The sound was so, so comforting. He found himself splashing his hands purposely harder in the water, just to make more of it. He grunted and wailed, trying as hard as he could to replace the sight that he was so horribly lacking.

With a sensation that nearly made him scream out, his hands touched cold hard metal. The ice of the surface seemed to freeze his fingers on contact, even as he flinched back instinctively. Hands now shaking terribly, he reached out and knocked on the surface The response was a dull thunk, dissipating extremely quickly into the air. No, Joss thought. He was looking for the hollow sound of the fuel tank. Girard had said that it should be just on the inside of the hull. Hands feeling around gently, Joss realized that he had reached the wall of the actual rooms and deck of the boat. With a jolt, he remembered that the boat had been flipped over onto it's side. If the fuel tank was not to his left or right against this metal wall, then it would have to be above or below him, out of reach or underwater. With all his hope concentrated into those few moments, he advanced along the metal wall to his left, still holding hands out desperately.

A surface of solid metal hit him in the side as he swam, perpendicular to the wall. He did not feel it with his arms, held out in front of himself, so it must have been an object protruding out. Reaching out with his arms and making blind judgments, he could tell that the object was alarmingly small, only about a foot wide. Was that large enough to be the fuel tank?, Joss thought.

It was only inches under the surface of the water, yet still too deep from comfort. Joss felt around it's curved surface, looking for some kind of mechanical slot or valve. Eventually, he felt, in the area between the object and the wall, a ringed pipe, with ridges. Beyond that, on the object was a ridged wheel, which Joss able to turn. Girard had said clearly that this would be here, Joss remembered with glee. This was the tank. It had to be. And better yet, it seemed completely unharmed. The hull of the boat had shielded it from the rocky spikes and spires in the water below.

Going over it again in his mind, Joss remembered Girard specifically saying what Joss should do, now. He had told him to turn the wheel as far as he could, as hard as he could, counter clockwise. This would be a neat trick, as the wheel was right on the smooth edge of the tank, almost touching the metal wall. It was only three or so inches wide. Small enough for Joss to grasp with one hand. With a start, Joss realized, alarmed, that his legs and feet were going slightly numb in the cold water. Working quickly, hoping to get out of the water before his legs froze to death, Joss cranked the wheel as hard as he could, until it would not budge even a fraction of an inch. Relatively satisfied, Joss remembered that Girard had said, after he turned the wheel all the way, to unscrew the valve cap connected to the wall. That was easy enough to find. It all felt quite rusted, worn away after years of floating in the ocean. That would make the tanks metal even more delicate around the rocks, Joss realized grimly Reaching under the water again, he found, once again, the pipe between the tank and the metal wall. The valve cap was ridged, and easy to grip. If what Girard had said was accurate, then the tank's valve would have been completely closed off when Joss cranked the wheel, not allowing the fuel to leak out into the water. But first, Joss remembered, he had to tie the line around it. Hands shivering in the icy dark water, he untied the line from his belt, feeling that he still had a fair amount of slack. Fingertips going numb, he coiled the line around the tank vertically, wound it over itself, and then coiled it around horizontally. Tying the end of the line around the valve wheel, still in pitch black darkness, he pulled on the rope with all the strength he could muster. He had tied it around the wheel in a way he hoped would keep the line from turning the wheel, disastrously releasing all of the precious fuel that they came here for.

Somewhat proud of his handiwork, he found the valve cap again, giving it a sharp turn clock wise, just like Girard had said. The tank fell away from the wall surprisingly quickly, before Joss had even turned the cap once.

Catching the tank in his arms, the weight almost sending him under, he stretched his muscles to their limit. Turning around, legs kicking frantically, the moonlight shining in from the gash in the hole hurt his eyes, having become accustomed to absolute blackness. Never the less, he swam, arms aching under the weight painfully, towards the hole.

The water was freezing, he knew, but it was becoming quite hard to feel his toes, deep down under the surface, kicking with fury against the tank's awful weight. Even in the horrible cold, he found his forehead sweating, under the immense mass of the fuel tank.

When the light spilled over Joss, he got to see the tank in the light for the first time, even though it was mostly under the water. The metal was quite rusted, although there was a slimy green residue that had covered most of it up at some point in the past. Probably some sort of algae, thought Joss, mildly disgusted.

As Joss struggled to stay afloat with the tank, he glanced up at the cliff. Girard still hung feebly on the narrow edge, clinging to the branch that still supported the rope. Joss felt a tinge of sympathy for him. Even though joss had clearly gotten the much harder job, Girard had to stand hundreds of feet up, unmoving, on less than a foot wide ledge.

"Got it!" yelled Joss, up towards Girard, smiling despite his constant struggle in the water.

Girard's head shifted, almost imperceptibly to Joss in the water. Without looking down at the water, he shouted back, "What was that?!"

"I got the tank! Untie the rope and let's go! I'm freezing to death down here!" bellowed Joss, whose legs were, surely enough, completely numb.

Joss could have sworn he heard Girard chuckle from in the water, but it was only moments before Girard was reaching up and gingerly untying the rope from the tree. Tying it again onto his own belt loop, one hand still clinging to the cliff, he began to inch back towards the eastern side of the mountain. Joss swam with him, still lugging the fuel tank towards the distant shore.

The rocks were sparse, but they were also hard to avoid. Out from behind the boat, the waves were more powerful, and Joss had much trouble keeping himself from slamming into the stone spikes that were a constant threat to his life and the safety of the fuel tank. He could no longer feel the burning ache from his arms, as they had gone numb also under the weight of the tank. Joss could see his breath erupting from his throat, white against the black water. His teeth chattered and shook incessantly. The cold was now only pervading his head and shoulders, which felt as if needles were poking into every pore.

Finally, Joss could make out the distant rock strewn beach that flanked the looming mountain. Every few seconds, through the numbness in his toes, he could nearly feel his feet touch down onto the cold hard rock bottom, as well. Almost laughing with relief, he kicked harder, the sharper of the rocks dimly cutting at his feet.

Eventually, he felt sand in between his raw, frozen toes, and he could begin to continuously walk on the bottom of this rocky cove. Girard was still soldiering on, unaffected by the cold of the ocean. He was almost walking to fast for Joss, but he was grateful for this, as it meant getting to the shore even quicker. Gasping, his breath ragged and frosty, he pushed hard against the sand and rocks that bit at his feet. His throat felt raw and blistered, having been breathing the icy air for who knows how long.

In seconds, he was climbing up onto the sand. He set the fuel tank gently on the rocks beside him, lying back onto the relative warmth of the sand. As he lay there, he swiveled his head slowly towards the mountain. There was Girard, standing on the more open eastern side of the mountain. He was looking down at Joss, extremely worried.

Joss then realized that Girard must think that he's unconscious, or even dead. Raising an arm, he waved to Girard. Leaning over to the tank, he untied the line from the wheel, which, thankfully, had stayed closed.

As he glanced back at Girard, he saw that he was reeling in the line coiling it in his arms. Suddenly, he realized that the feeling was returning to his arms and legs. They burned and ached with pain, his cold, wet clothes still dripping onto the sand.

Standing up shakily, he waited for Girard to meet him at the beach. After having spent so much time in the complete darkness of the boat, the moonlight was incredibly bright, and he still had not adapted to its shine. Girard was gone from the mountainside, evidently hiking down to Joss. With a raspy sigh, Joss smiled and looked down at the rusty, slime covered fuel tank. It was perfect. It had all gone right. Content with his work, he sat down beside the tank and chuckled to thin air.

#21 User is offline   padfoot7726 

  • glotahn (beginner)
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Posted 26 October 2009 - 04:43 PM

The Creed of Necessity

As Joss and Girard hiked back to the cave, they talked nonstop. Escape was certain to them now. There was no way that they could fail. Girard carried the fuel tank triumphantly, giving Joss a rest.

"Where will we go?" asked Girard, still smiling into the jungle.

The question was almost puzzling to Joss, having been focused on the general idea of escape for so long, "I am headed to... Venice... Venice, Italy," he said confidently. Despite the out of mind aspect of the question, he was sure of his answer. Where else would he go?

"Oh," said Girard, his smile fading somewhat, "Why is that? You came from the states, did you not? Why don't you want to head back there?"

Joss realized that he had a lot to explain to Girard before his choice of destination would make sense, "I... I'll explain when we reach the cave, and I can dry off, okay?" he said, honestly, still cold and wet.

"Well... I am headed where ever you are. We're on the same flight," he said jokingly, his smile returning.

"Yeah," muttered Joss, deep in thought. What should he tell Girard. He had certainly earned Joss' trust, but would it be wise? He had a lot to think over before they reached the cave.

And so they talked vaguely and casually for the hour's walk back to the cave. Mostly about repairs to the balloon, escape being foremost in both their minds. Girard had a way of talking about their flight that Joss was utterly in grim awe of. He seemed to desire more than anything to escape, but he seemed he seemed cautious as to what he would do once he made it back to civilization. It was a strange thing to witness. Girard, to Joss, seemed tailor made for life on this island. He had created exactly what he needed o live here in peace, and yet he seemed over joyed at the thought of leaving it all behind. He, of course, would prefer life outside of the island. Why would he have put so much effort and hope into escaping. This mixture was puzzling to him.

Joss certainly wanted to leave, so that he could continue in his vague quest for answers. The mystery of Catherine's exquisite portrait was returning somewhat, the embers of his burning desire for answers erupting back into life. The questions were growing in amplitude, as well. The thought of leaving seemed all the more sweet with the reward of the answers to the all consuming questions on the other side.

When they reached the cave, Joss' mind returned to the explanation he would give to Girard. Sitting in front of the fire, drying off was an easy distraction for this, as Girard had stocked up on firewood before they had left. The warmth was delicious, almost tempting Joss to jump in to the flames. The icy water was emanating from his clothes in a great cloud of steam, billowing up and out of the natural skylight, in which the moon glowed brightly still.

"So, you were saying that you would explain your choice to go to Venice," said Girard, dropping down across from Joss. The flames made his face a starkly lit skull, glowing orange in the firelight.

"Oh yes," said Joss, thinking frantically, but trying hard not to show it. Taking a leap of faith, he decided to go with the truth, "There is something that I have to explain to you about why I was flying,"

Girard had stopped smiling. He could obviously sense in Joss' voice that this was more serious than he had predicted. He said nothing.

"The... portrait," Joss gulped, looking into the fire, "It is... It's stolen,"

"I..." started Girard.

"No. Let me explain further. I was not lying when I claimed it was of my wife," he said, his head feeling quite dizzy, "I am sure that it is. You see I... I work... or rather, I worked... at an art museum in the states. My wife, Catherine, recently had... died... died in a fire," the words caught in Joss' throat. Girard stood, silent and enraptured, his face a picture of stony intrigue, "Then, we, the museum... we acquired that portrait. No one knew who the original painter was. I was sure that It was my wife, but I... well, I said nothing," saying it felt strange to Joss. As if it were another person he was talking about, "Then, I found the signature on the back. The one that you saw, that said Vincente Pharlone. And I... I stole it. I stole the portrait and I took Athena to Venice to find out why this portrait... existed. That's when I crashed here. And, that's why I want to go to Venice," he finished, mouth dry.

Silence filled the cave like smoke from the fire, as Girard stared into the flames, thinking over what Joss had said. Finally, he spoke.

"I painted the portrait," he breathed, not looking up at Joss, "And my real name is not Girard,"

The words took a moment to sink in, and Joss was stunned, to say the least, "What did you say?" his eyes squinting with shock and confusion.

"I painted the portrait," he said it louder this time, "And, my real name is, in fact, Bertrand Louis,"

"I don't understand," sputtered Joss, "Care to elaborate?"

"Girard was a fake name, as is Vincente Pharlone," he said, "My real name, and I am being absolutely truthful, is Bertrand Louis. Vincente Pharlone was a fake name that I was posing as in Venice, before I had to leave. I guess this all sound so cryptic to you. I suppose I should start from the beginning,"

"Yes, I suppose you should," muttered Joss, still dumb struck.

"Well, the beginning goes back a long way, and it's a long, strange story, to say the least," said Bertrand, "I was born in London, to a poor family. I lived a relatively normal life, really. My sister was born when I was five, our parents named her Catherine. Yes, Catherine," he added to a gaping Joss, "My family was too poor to care for two children, so my parents put her up for adoption. She was adopted quickly, by a Scottish family. They soon immigrated to America, when she was only one. I was told by my own parents that she would never know that she was adopted. Anyway, years later, when I was a struggling artist, living off scraps in London, I was... well... I was framed for murder. I still ain't got a clue who did it. I managed to escape the very damaged English justice system, moving to Venice, Italy. The Italian mafia got me in safely, in exchange for an I O U. A big one. I took up the fake name Vincente Pharlone. Anyway, a couple months after I moved there, I was still only a struggling artist, and now a wanted English felon. I felt as if my days were numbered, and at this point, I had no family members left alive. My parents had died when I was only thirty three, you see. I managed to track down Catherine, who, i found out, had gotten married. I mailed her a letter, asking her to come an meet me in Venice. I told her all about the fact that she was adopted, in case she still did not know, and said that I had no money to pay her way over, and it was her choice weather or not to visit. I also mentioned that she could never tell anyone the truth about where she was going, because I was a wanted criminal. I thought it was a sure thing that she would reject my offer, it being what it was. To my surprise, she eventually mailed back, saying that she would come and see me in Venice. She stayed for only a week, during which I painted the very portrait that is in your balloon. And then she left, as quickly as she had come. Struggling still, in Venice I eventually was approached by the mafia, who said that my time was almost up to pay back. I had almost nothing to my name. Not nearly enough to pay them anything. In only a few months time, I started getting these horrific death threats from the mob. I did not know what to do. I did not have the money to pay them back, and if they did not, who knows what they would have done. Then, I remembered. My father had been a sailor, you know. He was almost always gone from my mom and me. Anyway, one time, he came back, and he told be about an island that he had spotted at night, from his position in the crow's nest. He gave me the exact coordinates of the place. No one had ever discovered it, and I was only nine at the time. But, when the mob was closing in on me, I knew that that was just about the last place safe to go. I got some supplies together, stole a small ship, and sailed out here. I never planned to crash into the rocks, but I got caught in one of those once in a lifetime tempests that can destroy just about anything. And that's my story, as strange and coincidental it may seem," He sat in silence for a moment, waiting for Joss reply. It took a few moments to come.

Joss head ached. The sudden aspect of Girard's, or rather, Bertrand's story was quite devastating, "All of this is true?" he said, rubbing his temples with his fingers.

"Yes. It's all quite true," he said, stoic with patience.

"Catherine went to Venice? And, without telling me?" sputtered Joss slowly, digesting the information one step at a time, "And, Your real name is Bertrand?"

"Yes, it is," he said, "So, we are both criminals. Can I trust you to keep my secrets?"

"Yes," said Joss, "Yes, of course you can,"

"Good, good," he said quietly, "But... Did you say... before... that Catherine died?" he added, eyes widening as he looked at Joss.

"Yes. Yes, I did. She... she died in a fire. The thing burned down our entire house," Joss said.

"Oh," he said, eyes squinting as he looked back at the fire. There was silence for a few moments, and then, "Oh, my god. Oh dear god!" exclaimed Bertrand, mouth agape, staring, wide eyed, into the fire.

"What? What is it?" asked Joss, utterly alarmed.

"Oh, god. Did... did they find a... did they find her body?" stuttered Bertrand, teeth gritted, eyes wide, staring at Joss.

"No... No... They did not... find a body," breathed Joss, now very afraid.

"Oh, no. Oh, dear god!" putting his hands over his eyes and leaning forward, "I think they might have taken her! I think they might have taken her as some sort of hostage!"

"What? What do you mean!? Is Catherine alive?!" asked Joss, almost screaming with desperate anticipation, "Is she?!"

"I don't know! It's only... it's only possible," said Bertrand, choking over his own words, "I think the mob might have dug up some information. I think they might have taken her for ransom! Oh, dear lord! They must think that I'm only hiding out in the city!"

"She's alive! She's alive?" shouted Joss, gloriously happy and horrified at the same time.

"Maybe. I don't know anything for certain! The only thing that is completely certain, though," he said, sounding more confident, "We need to get off of this god forsaken island and get to Venice. We need to find out for sure!"

* * *

Sleep, that night, did not come easily. Joss could not stop thinking over what Bertrand had said. Catherine could still be alive? He kept envisioning where she was right then, at that very moment. It had been almost a month since the fire. He could only imagine what she had been through if Bertrand was right.

His dreams were haunting. He saw Catherine screaming for help, unable to move. He saw Bertrand, dead on the floor near her. The background was foggy, and Joss shivered when he awoke.

Bertrand himself woke Joss up. It was only about sunrise, as evident by the light steaming in from the cave's natural skylight, and Joss had only gotten around four hours of sleep.

"I want to start the repairs on Athena as soon as possible. Get up. We are going to hike out there again," Bertrand said it forcefully, and Joss did not object. His frightening dreams could have given him enough motivation to get up, alert, and hike twice as far, even if it meant waking up this early.

Catherine was on his mind the entire time they walked to Athena. Bertrand was carrying the fuel tank, Joss carrying the supplies that they would need to repair Athena. Bertrand had anticipated staying there all day, which Joss, once again, had no objection to. His canvas bag was filled with food and water as well, as they hiked towards the beach.

When they reached Athena, Bertrand set about looking at the damage to the old fuel tank.

"It looks like we're gonna have to take this one out and replace it," he sighed, glancing at Joss, who was busy patching the envelope.

"It looks like that, yes," he said absent mindedly. The patching process was slow, and the hole in the envelope was alarmingly wide. He had actually started making overlapping sheets out of the patching tape, laying it down in squares where ever there was a hole. The job was very slow, and Joss had finished only with the first and largest hole when Bertrand had spoken.

"I think it has a similar valve to the new tank, anyway. So, we're lucky there," he said, sizing up the old fuel tank, "Still, we're going to have to fins a way to reinforce it onto the basket. The wicker is completely destroyed right there, and we would have to take a little more out to get back to the tank's valve."

"Well, I'm making progress with the patching," replied Joss, "I think the tape I have overlapped will hold, and I'll probably be done patching by the time we leave for the cave,"

"Good," said Bertrand, "I think we may be able to leave tomorrow, if the weather is good,"

"Excellent," said Joss, "We still need to cook up the rest of the boar, wrap it up to take with us," he added, getting back to work on the patching.

"Oh, yes," Bertrand replied, stooping down again to work on the tank.

However, it was only about an hour more that Joss finished patching Athena's envelope, the holes covered with the overlapped sheets of patching tape. It was tricky work, and the result looked quite rough and delicate, but Joss knew that when he was done, she could fly with this envelope, albeit a bit shakily. As he was looking over his work, gently folding over the fabric as he scanned for holes, Bertrand spoke.

"I managed to get the old tank out of the basket," he said, as Joss turned to look. Sure enough, the old tank, half of the metal ripped like cloth into a wide gash, was lying on the sand beside the basket, looking like something inside had suddenly exploded, "The new tank is only slightly bigger, but I'm going to have to do something to reinforce it. Maybe I could cover the corner with the patching tape. How much do we have left?"

"Enough, probably," answered Joss, looking back down at the reel, now about half its original thickness, "I think it's work, though, with the valve tight enough, anyway,"

"Yeah, probably," said Bertrand, as Joss handed him the patching tape, "Well, getting the new one in there probably won't be a big job. I'm pretty sure that its the same type of valve,"

Bertrand set to work getting the new tank in, as Joss ate a small lunch of boar and fruit, taking a quick swig of water. For the first time, the idea of Athena flying again seemed certain, and the very thought made him smile. He nearly chuckled with glee, as Bertrand twisted the valve cap into place, locking the tank to the basket.

"Hopefully, it won't be too off balance," he said, standing back up as he examined his handiwork, "We don't want the whole basket to be tilting to that corner," he chuckled.

The sun was still high in the sky, and the repairs to Athena were almost complete. Joss did not know how it was happening, but every little thing seemed to be going perfectly, in their quest to get to Venice.

#22 User is offline   padfoot7726 

  • glotahn (beginner)
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Posted 29 October 2009 - 02:20 PM

*Note to Reader: If you know Italian, I'm sorry.*

Flat Haze

The next day was a beautiful one, the birds chirping and the sun bright. The clouds were slow, lumbering cotton puffs, sharp against the bright blue backdrop of the tropical sky. Joss could not help but smile as they hiked to Athena. Their future was hazy, but Athena would fly. Bertrand was excited as well, as much for escape as for the thought of flying one such a beautiful day. Their hike to the balloon had been the shortest it had ever been. Before they had left, they had only taken the time to grab what they needed and leave. As they had walked from their old home, Bertrand, in the excitement of their departure, had carved, "People were here," roughly into a tree with his knife.

When they reached Athena, Joss was so impatient to take off, that he tossed his canvas bag into the basket before they even filled the envelope. As he picked up the pump, and attached the cord to the radio's internal batteries, still charged, he silently hummed, giddy with excitement. The grim aspect of where they were going and why they and to get there was almost completely out of mind, as they watched the grand envelope yawn and stand to her full grandeur She cast a majestic shadow over the jungle, in the light of the morning, as the basket was cleared and the balloon reached pressure.

Removing the pump, and setting it aside, he turned to Bertrand, smiling, and said, "Here we go," Turning the burner crank with genuine effort, the flames jumped into the air, dancing their way into the envelope. Joss and Bertrand hopping into the basket, they could feel the entire structure become lighter, the basket slowly being pulled from the sand.

As they cleared the jungle, Joss could feel his feet get heavier as they rose. Hoping to get yet another bird's eye view of "My Island", he leaned over the edge, watching the white foam of the surf, and the green of the jungle give way to the ever expanding majesty of the Atlantic Ocean. The island itself, once again seemed small, inadequate to the awesome power of the infinite blue which surrounded it. Joss actually did laugh now, grinning from ear to ear. Athena was flying again. She was alive again.

"This is absolutely incredible," breathed Bertrand, staring, as Joss did, at the shrinking island, which was now slowly moving to the west, as they drifted in the wind. Joss had almost forgotten that Bertrand was even there, in the absolute ecstasy of their flight. Sitting back onto the trunk, still gaping at the clouds and the ocean over the basket's edge, he looked down at Catherine's portrait, now uncovered, and remembered exactly why they were leaving. His smile left him quickly. He almost felt ashamed at his joy. He remembered his haunting dream of Catherine, locked away in some unknowable dungeon, and turned away, looking back into the clouds.

"Wow," Bertrand breathed. Joss chuckled, remembering his own first flight. He had been only twelve at the time, and his dad had taken him up in the old lumbering globe that they had called Colossus. She had been a short term flyer, and his dad had only owned half of her. But, all the same, Joss had been entirely captivated, floating above the buildings and streets like a god. He had gone on to devote half of his life to learning the ins and outs of the trade, eventually buying the brand new mammoth that he named Athena. The very first time he had taken her up was with Catherine. They had only just met a month before, and Joss was just getting accustomed to the new controls that Athena used. Remembering fondly, with an air of smoky gloom, he recalled when, more than two years after, he had proposed marriage to Catherine, flying above the Atlantic in Athena herself.

As the clouds drifted down and past, Joss stood and lowered the burner's intensity. The day before, Joss had been quite wary of flying, not knowing if they would run out of fuel still over the Atlantic. Bertrand had assured him, though, saying that the fuel tank could and did hold more than enough, a judgment that Joss quickly made sure of. Taking out a book, and opening the rain stained page, he began to read the same book that he had read so many times before.

"Is that all you do up here?" asked Bertrand, with a smile.

"This is about all there is, other than watching the clouds," answered Joss absent mindedly, looking back up from his book.

"Huh," he said, glancing back towards the sky, "Got an other one?"

"Yeah," said Joss, hading him the second volume, dusty and spotted on its ancient leather binding, "Take care of that. Its older than you,"

"I can tell," he chuckled, brushing off the dust with the palm of his hand, "It looks like it could be older than than my great grandfather,"

Joss sat back in the envelope, returning to his reading. Every so often, he would glance back up at the clouds, instinctively searching for thunderclouds. Thankfully, though, the sky was a picture of radiant perfection. Paradise in the sky. The clouds seemed to glow with their sparkling white grace, the blue behind seeming so absolutely saturated, that it could have been painted by the gods themselves.

* * *

The next few days passed by in idle silence, broken only by the short and simple conversations between Joss and Bertrand. The space in the balloon was certainly sufficient, but Joss had a very closed in feeling, seeing as the last time he had flown had been alone. The balloon was designed to hold more than two people safely, but Joss still felt quite claustrophobic.

Bertrand said that the island was not too far from Europe itself, and Joss took his word for it. His basic estimates of his own location before he had crashed were not far off from Bertrand's claims. Eventually, though, they were flying over the Southern tip of Spain and Portugal, the small cities and towns passing by in mere minutes. The sky never seemed to change, though, for a whole two days of flying. Only on the third day was the weather stirred up.

Joss awoke on the third day, with a drop of rain landing on the crest of his nose. Bertrand was asleep at the other end of the Basket, the burner on idly in the background. Getting up groggily, Joss instinctively put up the sandy rain tarp, pausing only to look out over the edge of the basket.

The coast of Italy was in the distance, the sea churning in the coming storm. The sun was low along the horizon, visible only behind the thick gray clouds. Realizing that they were soon to land, Joss shouted Bertrand awake.

"What? What is it?" he said, eyes opening instantly. He sat up, looking out through the tarp, as he waited for an answer.

"Western coast of Italy is coming up. I don't think we're too far North of Venice. Probably just a short train ride," said Joss, still looking at the approaching land. Thankfully, they weren't entering Italy without any money at all. Bertrand had had a tiny sum stashed in the cave, a testament to his previous life.

"Oh," said Bertrand, eyes opening completely, "That's good,"

"Yes, it's good," Joss said, chuckling at the sight of land, and at the thought of other people. He had not even thought of it before, and he did not speak a word of Italian, but the thought of a new human to even see was refreshing, "We can probably touch down in minutes,"

The coast was soaring beneath them, almost directly below, as Joss lowered the burner to a cold simmer. Within moments, the basket was dropping swiftly, their feet feeling suddenly lighter in the crisp, rainy morning air.

And, suddenly, the gale of the storm was upon them, battering the rain tarp with great gobbets of icy water. In the turmoil, Joss could not tell weather or not they were landing somewhere inhabited by people, and could certainly not tell weather or not they were actually landing on someone's property.

"We'd probably be best just to wait in here until the storm blows over," said Joss, as the basket thumped onto the dull, soft surface of grass, "We don't even know what direction to be heading in," he added, turning off the burner completely.

"What about the envelope? Won't it just fall down and cover the basket?" asked Bertrand, looking up into the balloon, with an altogether urgent look on his face.

"No, certainly not," said Joss confidently, opening his book again, "Odds are that the wind will blow the envelope to our side. Although, I doubt that it would have the strength to push over the entire basket,"

"Ahh... I see," muttered Bertrand, still glancing about, "What is our plan exactly, with the balloon? Are we just going to leave it here, in this random Italian field? That hardly seems safe,"

"Well, I'm not sure. You see, We can't take it any further towards Venice, because we can only follow the direction of the winds, which are going East, towards Russia and Asia," he said, looking up from his reading to think it over, "I guess we have no choice but to leave her here and hike to the nearest town and find our way to Venice. Hopefully, we can find something fast, like a train,"

"Yes, hopefully," Bertrand murmured, looking down at the dry wicker, "My Italian is not perfect. It will only get us so far in the right direction,"

"I suppose we'll just have to go with what we've got, then," said Joss, returning the basket to silence.

* * *

As they trudged through the yellow green fields, the mists were thick and obscured. Bertrand and Joss had agreed that the best way to go was North up the West coast. That way, they reasoned, they were more likely to find one of the small Italian towns that they knew must dot the coast.

The rocky beaches were about a mile to their left, as they walked. They had brought enough in their various makeshift luggage to survive for days, but they were confident that they would come across a town before then. Conversation was scarce as they walked quickly and determinedly along the vast, empty stretch of land. The only sound to be heard was the constant, soft lap of the distant surf and the seldom call of a seabird. The grass was green, mostly, but yellow in some places, even visible through the thick fog. Puddles of smoky water littered the field, pockmarking the otherwise empty landscape. The sky was a complete overcast, blending in with the fog in a strange, ghostly effect. Their hike along the coast was long, and unpuctuated with any change in landscape.

They had been hiking for more than six whole hours before Joss spotted a solid line hidden among the fog ahead of them.

"There," he said, not stopping to wait for Bertrand. As he neared, the object solidified through the fog, revealing an old, rain warped wooden fence, put together crookedly with old iron nails that stuck out in odd angles.

Beyond that was a vast expanse of green and blue bushes, growing some sort of red grape. It did not take long for Joss to know to walk around the perimeter of the fence, keeping an eye out for a farm house. Hopefully, they wouldn't be too inhospitable as to not give them directions.

"It leas t it looks like some one lives here," said Bertrand, as they rounded the first corner, "We could have gone for days hiking down the coast, and still found nothing,"

"I suppose," muttered Joss, not entirely listening.

"You got to admit that this is quite lucky. You can't deny that," Bertrand sputtered, using the fence as a hand rail as they walked on.

Their legs were engrossed in a burning ache as they trudged on. Joss himself was beginning to need a rest, when he saw the sudden dark square like object in the distant mist.

As they moved closer, it became obvious that it was a small cottage, only one story. The roof was tilted with light brown rounded shingles, collecting dew in the afternoon fog. The windows were paned with smoky, ancient glass, giving the house an unearthly dreamlike feeling. The walls themselves were brown and white bricks, scattered together in a hazy mosaic

No person stood outside to greet them and gladly give directions. The porch and farm itself looked absolutely deserted, save for the claustrophobic fog that pushed in around the scenery.

"Hello?" shouted Joss warily, walking up to the door, under a flat porch roof. Wilting flowers in pots of all sizes littered the porch and window sills, giving the scenery an even more ghostly look, "Hello?" asked Joss again, knocking on the door.

"Ciao?.... Abbiamo.... bisogno dei.... sensi," Bertrand added in his cautious Italian, sounding not at all confident with his choice of words.

They waited in silence for several seconds, before the door opened, revealing a short, slight, weary eyed man, wearing a casual shirt and pants, similar to Joss and Bertrand.

"Ciao? Chi sono voi? Che cosa volete?" stuttered the man, blinking rapidly as he put on a small, golden pair of glasses.

Bertrand responded again in his wary Italian, prompting many utterings of "Che cosa?" from the man. Eventually, after much trouble, it was apparent to Joss that Bertrand had gotten the message across.

"Vada a nord a... Liborno. Ci č una stazione ferroviaria lŕ." the man replied slowly, obviously aware of Bertrand's inexperience at Italian. After a few repetitions from the Italian man, who was altogether patient, Bertrand understood the directions easily enough to repeat them to Joss.

"I think he says to go North to... Liborno, and that there is a train... station there," Bertrand relayed to Joss, seeming quite winded from the translation process. Joss could only imagine how he had managed to survive in Venice for so long.

"Grazie, signore. Grazie," said Bertrand, waving goodbye to the man. Joss repeated "Grazie", but could only wonder how badly he was pronouncing the word.

As they stepped away from the porch, walking back down to the fence and across the field again, Joss had the feeling that even finding out if Catherine was alive would be difficult.

* * *

The town of Libordo was in sight by the next day. They had only been walking for two hours that morning before the puff of chimney smoke and the hazy outline of buildings greeted them. The outskirts of Liborno were dotted with farms and small, isolated cottages. Joss almost had trouble keeping in the right direction, as the fog had not entirely ceased since the day before.

When they reached the first dirt road that lay directly outside the town, they could see all the way over to the train station, blurred against the backdrop of the sprawling puzzle of houses and shops. It was on the Southern border of the town, thankfully, so Joss and Bertrand would only have to walk another mile or so to reach the station.

"You have enough for two tickets?" asked Joss,as they walked along the side of the road.

"Yes, I do. I do," replied Bertrand, squinting in the sun, which had just peeked out from behind the clouds ahead of them, "And enough to have somewhere to stay in Venice, I hope,"

"Good, good," muttered Joss, casually studying the rusted, wooden train tracks that lay only a few dozen yards from the fence at the side of the road.

As they reached the station, it became apparent that it was only a small ticket boot under an unwalled roof, the signs for prices written in what was only gibberish to Joss.

"Č ci dei... treni che vanno a... Venezia... presto?" asked Bertrand, slowly and cautiously to the tall young man at the ticket booth.

"Che cosa?" said the man, looking quite confused. Obviously, Bertrand's Italian still needed a lot of work.

"Treno? Venezia? Presto?" asked Bertrand again, trying desperately to get the message across.

"Ah, sě. A Venezia in tre ore," answered the man, now understanding the skewed Italian.

"Buon. Sě. Grazie, signore," said Bertrand, smiling, obviously happy at the man's answer, "He says that there is a train to Venice stopping here in three hours, I think," he said, as he was turning to Joss.

"Good! Good. Buy the tickets, then," Joss added, grinning now, as well.

"Due biglietti? Venezia?"

"Cinquantatre, signore," answered the man, taking two tickets from a reel at his side.

"Sě," said Bertrand, producing six folded bills from his pocket.

"Sě, grazie, signore," said the man, as they exchanged the tickets.

"Grazie, signore," added Bertrand, smiling as he held the tickets. The words were a blur to him, but he had a good idea of what they might mean.

Joss stood, silent, observing, all this time, until Bertrand turned away from the booth, holding the tickets in a triumphant grip. "In three hours, you said?" asked Joss, smiling as widely as Bertrand.

"That's what I think he said. I don't think my Italian is just as bad as I had thought," he added, as they went to sit on a small wooden bench at the edge of the platform.

The wait actually ended up being less than three hours, to their good fortune. After two or so hours had passed a few more men and women showed up to buy tickets on the train to Venice.

Eventually, when a few people were still rushing to get tickets, a humble train, no more than five cars long, slowed to a stop in front of the station, a stout, mustachioed man stepping out to call all the passengers that were traveling to Venice.

"I guess this is ours," said Joss, getting up with the rest of the waiting passengers. As they walked towards the train, Joss looked over their tickets, seeing that they were supposed to go to the second car.

The man presiding over that car looked nearly identical to the man from the first, except that instead of an oily black shade of hair, his was bright fiery red. He spoke to them in rapid Italian as they passed, taking a moment to look over their tickets.

The train car was quite narrow, made of polished wood and brass, leather on the seats. The windows were wide and tall, offering up a sleek view of the Italian countryside. They sat at the back, in a high backed bench seat that resembled a king's throne, doubled in width.

Before they even had a chance to get comfortable, the train car shuddered, the wheels below them slowly yawning into life, protesting at their short respite. Joss' seat was beside the window, overlooking the vast, foggy fields, subtle hills stretching between the seldom farmhouses and cottages. The car around them was only about half full, content and mostly cheery Italians conversing amongst themselves. Joss felt awkwardly out of place around all of this foreign speech, floating around the car in a cacophony of unfamiliar sounds. Again came the feeling that even Bertrand's spirited attempt at Italian wouldn't get them half way to finding out the truth about Catherine. All of a sudden, Joss felt somewhat guilty for abstaining from any foreign language at all. The idea had never seemed incredibly important, until now. Now, he realized, was why it was important.

The train was thundering along the track now, and as Joss looked through the opposite set of windows, he could no longer see the specks of cottages and farmhouses, presiding over the little patch of land that was theirs. Leaning back, Joss stared into the soft, deep expanse of gray cloud and white sky. The clouds moved quickly, Joss' ballooning oriented mind automatically calculating a forecast of rain.

#23 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 31 October 2009 - 02:23 PM

In All Its Glory

Joss woke , leaning against the train car window, at the muffled screech of the train as it ground to a halt. Opening his eyes groggily, he came to realize that the rain had come, and had darkened the Italian landscape extremely. It took him a moment to understand that it was very late at night, the daylight that he thought the clouds were shading not even existing at all.

The rain pattered against the glass, inches from his face. Yawning silently, he opened his eyes wide, breaking the thick seal that came with sleep. The land outside had changed drastically. No longer were there the soft hills of yellowed grass. Here, the land was dominated by buildings, some smaller than others. It was at this point that he was able to grasp that they had reached the train station outside of Venice.

Stretching his shoulder, aching slightly, he sat up in his seat, still having trouble holding his eyes open. The train car was slowly emptying now, as the man at the head ferried the various passengers off of the gang way.

Looking to his right, he saw that Bertrand was also asleep, eyes closed in a sort of blind, but anguished and shivering stare. Waking him, they stood and walked ahead to the fore of the car, Bertrand rubbing his eyes with the palm of his hand. The man took their ticket without a word this time, obviously tired and ready to go home and sleep himself.

The train station was much more bustling here, they found. The passengers seemed more apt to loud Italian chatter in the open air of the Venice platform. Stepping down from the train, the duo walked cautiously and unassumingly towards the exit, where a few beggars sat, hands open.

Bertrand replied to them before they asked, saying "Spiacente. Gli non ho soldi per," and waving to them without a glance.

The Italian was giving Joss a head ache, he noticed. All of the unfamiliar words mixed together at once was almost too much to handle.

As they walked out of the train station, it became apparent where they were. A bridge, a few dozen feet across, marked with a large Italian sign, lay to their left, still cloaked in the thick fog of rain that penetrated the city. Bertrand started towards it immediately, stopping only to tell Joss, "I am pretty sure that this bridge leads to the canals of the main city. I think I remember it,"

When they reached the other end of the bridge, racing to get out of the pouring rain, it was quite clear to Joss that this was the one and only Venice.

The canals stretched off into odd angles, bordered only by the blocks of buildings. Each of the blocks were rimmed by a sturdy wooden walk, which at some points led up into tall bridges above the canal. Some of the canals were only ten or so feet wide, clothes lines draped with laundry hanging in between like circus type ropes. Boats roamed over the canals as far as the eye could see, carrying passengers to and from each of the tall, puzzle like blocks. It was truly a sight to behold, the rain falling in thick sheets onto the water. The bridge itself led down onto a block that resembled a small square, paved with cobble stones, and surrounded with the regal, yet crooked looking buildings of the city. The rain had apparently brought the water level almost up to the edge of the wooden walkways, frothing like the devil's drink beneath them.

The two, soaked and cold, ran down into the square, darting for the temporary shelter of a narrow shingled awning, shivering in the icy rain.

"Where to head to now?" shouted Joss above the din of the down pour.

"An inn, I think," Bertrand yelled back, eyes darting around the square, hunched down in his jacket, "For now, at least,"

"Where?" asked Joss, now slightly annoyed at Bertrand's apparent confusion at Venice.

"I think this way," he answered, starting towards the far side of the square, towards a marble statue, now splashing water onto all those who came near.

Without another word, Joss followed, running to keep up. Silently, he hoped that this was just one part of the city that Bertrand was unacquainted with.

Their mad rush through the rain, past various shops and homes, over the occasional bridge was, as far as Joss could tell, mostly random. Bertrand was leading him in one basic direction, taking many backtracks and detours through the sprawling, sometimes claustrophobic city, but Joss could tell that he was having a great deal of trouble coming up with the right direction in the first place, and not knowing which direction on the blocks was the one that went to the right bridge.

The rain seemed to be coming down even harder as joss finally heard Bertrand exclaim, "There! Over past that bridge," with a quick burst of speed. The building that he pointed to was quite narrow, four stories tall, with a sort of cobble stone alley way in between it and the next, much shorter building. The orange glow of light emanated from the windows and doors on the first floor. A wooden, faded sign hung from a post above the door, with several Italian words painted skillfully on its surface. Crossing over the bridge that Bertrand had indicated, Joss found himself following him into the building's front door, the warmth of a near fire engrossing both of them.

The room inside was tall ceilinged, with a few chairs and curtained windows along the front wall. The room, from the inside, seemed even smaller than the building had been on the outside, leaving only enough room for a tall desk and the beginnings of a wooden staircase. A stout, red haired man stood at the front desk, glancing in their direction.

Waking up to the desk, still dripping profusely onto the hard wood floor, Bertrand bought them a room, Joss, once again, standing wet and silent behind him. Turning away from the man, brandishing a small, rusted key, Bertrand gestured towards the stairs. As they climbed, Joss noticed several paintings lining the narrow staircase. They looked as if they had hung there for centuries, the figures inside sitting patiently, watching all of the new visitors coming and going.

Their room's door was squeezed into the landing with almost no breathing room on either side, and Joss could easily see that theirs was the only room on this entire floor. Stunned again at just how thin and tall this building was, he and Bertrand entered their room.

The room itself seemed too small to handle the girth they thought they had seen from the canal. It was big enough for a set of narrow bunks, a dresser, and a door to what Joss could only assume was a bathroom. The empty space in the room made up for much less than half of the entire area, Joss thought weakly. The bunks were simple wood and cushioned mats, which looked as if they had once been polished to a sheen, but by now had been somewhat worn down over time.

Sitting down on the lower bunk, head ducked, Bertrand spoke.

"How the bloody hell are we gonna find any thing decent out around here," he breathed, staring, weary eyed, at his reflection in the scratched and dusty mirror, opposite him above the crooked, stout dresser.

"Do you know how we're gonna get into contact with some one from the mob?" almost laughing at the casual way he said it, leaning against the wall nonchalantly.

"We can't, really. Not directly, anyway. If they do have Catherine," he said, so quiet that Joss had trouble hearing, "then how would they alert me to her ransom?"

Joss did not reply. He wasn't going to pretend he knew what was going on.

"If they just could find me, they would probably send a message out to me some other way, if they thought I was in hiding," he said, his voice cracking slightly, "The best thing to do would be to pay off the ransom, but we don't know anything about it, or even weather or not it even exists," he added, burying his face in his hands.

"Do you know where they... meet?" asked Joss, utterly at a loss.

"Well, they met me at some old vacant building back when they were still warning me. I couldn't say exactly where it was, and I'm guessing we wouldn't find anything useful there, anyway."

"Well, can you think of anything else? Any people that were in contact with them, that you might be able to ask?" said Joss, looking for some small hope.

"Maybe... I don't know," mumbled Bertrand, glancing at the door, "Maybe... well, there was this man who I saw walking out of my building one day. It was dark, and he had a hat on, but just after that, I went up to my apartment and found a letter from the mob. I can't say I know much about the man, but when I looked out of my window, I could still see him walking down into a square not far away. My point of view was perfect, and I was able to see him walk into this old building. It was dark, a new moon I think, and the note had been really threatening, so I decided that I wouldn't try to go near the building yet. That would be the place to start, but it might be really dangerous,"

"It's a start. We'll head up there in the morning," said Joss, now hopeful again.

"Yeah, it is, at least, a start," said Bertrand, laying back on his bunk.

#24 User is offline   padfoot7726 

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 09:30 PM

The Decisions of Mortals

Having slept for hours on the train, Joss, the night before, had gone through very much trouble finding sleep. The thought that Catherine could be alive somewhere in this very city was mind boggling. It was mind numbingly happy and yet, the thought of her being trapped and imprisoned somewhere in the city was quite a scary one.

Even with the lack of much sleep, Joss was able to get up, alert and ready the next day. The tiny window in the corner of the room showed a clear blue sky, and he was glad that it meant easier walking through the city. After eating what little else they happed to have packed away, they set off out of the inn.

The air was crisp and cool, like newly cleaned bedsheets, in that brisk morning. The water under their feet was calm, stirring inly for the occasional boat or loose breeze. As Joss and Bertrand made their way along the walkways, shimmying across bridges and over alleys, the sun was beaming down constantly. In stark contrast to the day before, there were absolutely no clouds to be seen. The sun, it seemed, was closer than it should have been, baking the wood and stone beneath their feet to a frying heat.

The building that Bertrand had indicated was only a few of the blocks away, flanked by a grand stone square, much larger than that Joss and Bertrand had come across yesterday. The building itself was in the squares hulking shadow, across an alley like canal that was traversed via l;little wooden foot bridges rather than the stone Goliaths that crossed the wider canals. Obviously, boats could not fit through this canal, Joss saw, as they walked quietly towards the building.

Bertrand, Joss also noticed, was quite wary of the public. He seemed to want to keep to the shadows that flanked the alleys and pathways, rather than walk in the great spotlight of sun that was outside of them. Looking around nervously, he led the way along the canals to the building.

It was quite a tall building, presiding over the smaller ones in its wake. The first two floors were wider, with a roof that Joss noticed could be accessed by a door. The windows were almost all shuttered, and what wasn't shuttered was pitch black. The front door was quite a foreboding barrier, with a look that implied extra thickness in its construction. An almost unnoticeable peep hole was lain into the door, above the vast array of brass keyholes that covered the door's leftmost midsection.

"I'm not sure that this is a great idea. We could get ourselves killed," stammered Bertrand to Joss at the sight of the door and its peephole.

"Maybe you're right," whispered Joss, knowing that if Bertrand was to just knock on the door, then exactly what he had described was likely to unfold. Then, struck with an idea, he said, "Maybe we should leave them a note, inquiring about Catherine. Something anonymous,"

"Yes, exactly!" exclaimed Bertrand, in somewhat of a stage whisper, as he gradually pulled Joss back over to the wide square, "Let's go back and ask the man at the front desk for a pen and paper,"

"Yes, yes." muttered Joss, glad to get away from the haunting building. It had seemed somehow dead, even though Joss kept picturing someone behind the peephole watching them both walk away.

* * *

The Italian man at the counter eventually was able to loan them a pen and paper, once Bertrand's confusion over how to say "pen" was over at last. Having written a short letter, they thanked the man and started the short walk back to the ominous gray building.

Their letter was quite short, and did not hold many details in the end. Bertrand had gone over it several times to make sure that the Italian was spelled correctly and made sense, and when he finally dubbed it complete, the two had folded it in half, as to avoid it being seen by others. The note, in the end, was quite vague, and very short, but if their suspicions were correct, then they would certainly understand it.

I was not in hiding. Have you kidnapped Catherine? Reply to me with a note underneath the potted plant at the north west corner of the square.

The note, in general, felt like a good idea, especially since it meant avoiding entering the building. As they walked up to the door, Joss felt, once again, like they were being watched from behind the peep hole, like the subjects of some inhuman experiment. They had both agreed, that since they did not know Joss, that he should be the one to send in the note. If they found him, he could babble about in English, and they may assume that he was only a messenger, and they don't kill the messenger. Do they?

Bertrand had stayed behind, out of sight past the buildings in the square, keeping his ear open for anything that may go wrong. Joss clung to this fact as he neared the door, trying to avoid making eye contact with the peep hole. He almost wanted to just run away, but then he remembered Catherine, and how she may be right behind one of those pitch black windows, even right now, waiting for rescue.

Like a needle piercing the skin, he nearly threw the note through the crack under the door, pausing only to knock twice and sprint, terrified, back to the relative safety of the square.

Joss stood behind the buildings, next to Bertrand, listening intently, holding his own breath as he waited. Suddenly, Joss heard the door of the building creak open gradually. Then...

"Ciao? Chi ha fatto questo? Ciao?!" erupted from the direction of the doorway. The voice was low, but nasal, with a gritty, grimy quality that sent a shiver down Joss' spine. Silently, he wondered if the man he was hearing had ever killed anyone.

"Bah!" the voice exclaimed, as the door closed loudly.

Silence for several long seconds, until Joss released his breath in a heaving sigh, panting with relief.

Neither of them said anything. They only ran. Both of them stayed away from the middle of the square, racing around the border towards the foot bridge that led to the inn. The both almost stopped in their tracks when a flock of pigeons, camouflaged against the gray cobblestones, suddenly burst into flight in front of them.

When they reached their room, they were panting heavily, Bertrand checking downstairs to make sure they weren't being followed. If they had been followed, Joss thought, then the jig is up.

* * *

The next day, Joss was sent to his reconnaissance mission to the flower pot. Once again, as he walked towards the square, that he was being watched intently. Any second, it felt like, he could be tackled and wrestled into the gray building.

The whole plan felt very vulnerable to Joss. He knew that if they wanted to, the mob could jump out of the crowd and take him at any moment. That was certain to him, but he thought it best to push it out of his mind for now.

Sticking to the sharp shadows that bordered that corner of the square, he inched his way towards the flower pot. The sparse crowd that bustled through the square was surprisingly thin, to Joss' general disappointment, as he had been hoping that a a thick crowd would shield him from the gaze of the mysterious inhabitants of the gray building.

Once he reached the flower pot, he glanced, in what he hoped was a casual way, towards the gray building. To his dismay, he was able to see directly through the gap in between the buildings to the gray building's front door, and the windows above it.

The pot itself was small, only about large enough to conceal a small note or envelope. The plant inside exploded from the soil in what was actually an obstacle to Joss, as he tried to check underneath.

Stooping down suddenly, he worked quickly, deftly tilting the pot just enough to reach underneath. For a scary and almost relieving moment, he thought that the ground was clear. It wasn't.

An envelope of yellowed parchment lay underneath the pot, positioned perfectly center, to avoid any of its edges being seen by passers by. Joss, hand suddenly going numb at the envelopes sight and feel, grasped it and stowed it in his jacket pocket, not wasting a split second of time.

Placing the flower pot back from where it stood, he strode quickly back to the alley way exit of the square, not even breathing along the way. His feet moved swiftly, barely touching the cobblestones before jumping forwards again, and as he rounded the corner, he gasped and turned around, panting with relief. Eyes wide, he watched the crowd for a short moment, before sprinting back along the wooden foot bridges and alleys towards the relative safety of the inn. The clouds drifted over the sun for a moment, shadowing the city as he made his hasty escape.

Running along the wooden walkways and bridges, the passersby took surprisingly little notice of him, choosing to go about their own business with disruption. The path ways themselves squeaked and rattled dangerously as he ran, prompting him to slow down somewhat, for fear of falling through into the canal. That could not go unnoticed, he knew.

When he entered the building, he took the stairs two steps at a time, not looking behind him once. Bertrand sat, staring out the window towards the gray building, just as Joss had seen him when he had left. Starting at Joss' sudden entrance, he turned and beamed at the sight of the envelope. Joss was taking it impatiently from his jacket pocket just as he entered, only stopping to glance back onto the stairs before sitting down to examine it.

The envelope itself was simply dressed, yellowed paper sealed with a shapeless blob of hot red wax. Quickly breaking the seal with his thumb, Joss nearly tore open the envelope, removing the sparkling white piece of paper from inside.

The paper was not of full length. It was the same shape and size of the envelope, he found, with words written down in small, slanted letters, black ink only recently dried. Handing the letter to Bertrand, Joss sat, impatiently entranced with tension.

Bertrand, sitting on his bunk, read over the letter for several minutes, apparently making notations in the margins. The translation process was painfully long to Joss, who wanted very much to read the letter's contents right away. When Bertrand was finished, he examined his work, sighing deeply. Before he handed the letter back to Joss, he paused only to say, with an air of shame, "The translation is a little shaky,"

Joss grabbed the letter a bit more forcefully than he had meant to, so anxious about its contents. When he finally got the chance to read it over, it was clear that Bertrand had been very careful with the translation, with many words crossed out and edited. The scribblings that were left were not hard to understand, and the final revision was shocking to say the least.

Catherine is our possession now. The sender pays us back within one month, or Catherine will not live. If the money is your possession, come to us at the place of your first contact.

"They have Catherine," Joss breathed, the letter going blurry in his vision, as the shock of the message sank into his psyche. All else did not matter. All that mattered to him at that moment was the fact that Catherine was being held somewhere against her will, no one around to find her, or even understand her language.

"Yes. It seems so," said Bertrand, looking at the floor, jolting Joss from his silent thoughts. The silence filled the room like smoke until Bertrand had the courage to say, "We don't have the money to pay them within the month,"

Joss eyes were wide and unblinking as he thought it all over. The letter still lay in his hands, the translation staring him in the face. it was several minutes before he spoke again.

"We have to save her," said Joss, more confidently, as he looked up at Bertrand, "They must have her somewhere in that gray building, right? We just have to rescue her somehow,"

"We would never be able to manage that. There may be dozens of men in that building round the clock," muttered Bertrand, still looking at the floor.

"If we get in there unnoticed, at night, we might be able to search around and get her out before they caught on," said Joss, his voice hoarse and hollow with desperation. Bertrand sat, thinking, for more than a minutes, licking as lips and closing his eyes.

"Yeah. Yeah, maybe we could make it. We can't go to the police about it. I found that out when I lived here years ago. They're all controlled by the mob. They would pay them off all the same. Rescuing her ourselves might be the only option. If we don't do anything at all, then we're nothing more than hateful cowards,"

"Tomorrow night. Let's try for it tomorrow night," said Joss, staring at Bertrand confidently.

"We don't even know how we would go about it," Bertrand murmured back, looking up at Joss.

"Tomorrow night would give us enough time to come up with something. We have to come up with something by then," countered Joss, his brow grave with sincerity.

"Okay," said Bertrand, after thinking for less than a moment, "Okay. We'll try for it tomorrow,"

"Good," said Joss, smiling despite the circumstances, "I think we could probably get through one of the windows, if we're quiet about it," he said diving right in.

"Yeah, maybe," said Bertrand, smiling slightly himself, "What if we came about from behind. The building behind it is so close, that we could probably just jump from that onto that second floor roof. I think that its an office building. We should be able to make it inside and up to that floor okay,"

Joss was almost grinning now, seeing that their plan just might work out okay. Just like their mad plot to get the fuel tank, Joss remembered, feeling like the island was so far in the past he could barely remember the specifics. "I think your right, but what is we just climbed the wall of the building behind. From the alleyway, I mean. I think that the alley is narrow enough to do some sort of climbing and jumping technique."

"Maybe so, but it might be too noisy to risk," replied Bertrand.

"Oh yeah, I hadn't thought of that," said Joss quietly.

"Well, maybe the best plan of action would be to somehow get up into the office building and get through that door on the lower roof. It is probably going to be locked, but I am pretty sure that there are windows beside it," said Bertrand.

"The windows are bound to be locked as well, and we definitely can't risk breaking one," Joss put forth, thinking. "Maybe if we were able to get a good look inside, or maybe we tapped on the window, we could figure out weather or not there was anyone in the room. That might make it safe to try breaking the glass," he said, thinking frantically.

"Yes. Yes. But, if we break the glass, and someone not in the room hears, then what happens then. We get caught, and Catherine... It's much too big a risk," stuttered Bertrand. The same thoughts that had crossed through Joss' head were undoubtedly worming their way into Bertrand's own mind.

"I guess your right. We shouldn't go breaking windows. It's just not safe. But then what do we do?" asked Joss, genuinely at a loss.

"I don't know. I just don't know. We already know that men are bound to be there, and in numbers," said Bertrand, now looking out the window, over to the gray building. "What if we did just chance it. There's a possibility that one of the windows will be unlocked,"

"Yeah. If they aren't, we always have the option to turn around and come up with something else. I'm all for trying," said Joss, entirely at a loss.

"Let's go for it then. Tomorrow night," said Bertrand, standing confidently. "Actually, why not tonight?" he added, to joss' surprise, "There's not much we need to do,"

"You're right, and I want to try as soon as possible. You have your knife, right?" he asked.

"Yeah, I have it," said Bertrand solemnly, pulling it slowly from the old boar skin satchel that lay on the dresser. The knife itself was battered, unsheathed, and quite foreboding. It gave Joss a sense of dread, reminding him that it was overwhelmingly likely that they might need to use it. Use it on a person, Joss thought. Visions of the knife shredding human flesh flashed in his minds eye, prompting him to ask Bertrand a question that had been idly bobbing in mind since they were on the island.

"Bertrand, you said before, on the island, that you were framed for murder. I was wanting to ask you.."

"Joss, it's a long story that can be told when this escapade is over. I don't mean to be so harsh, but we need to focus on tonight," he said gravely.

"You are right. Tonight should take absolute priority,"

#25 User is offline   padfoot7726 

  • glotahn (beginner)
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Posted 03 November 2009 - 01:58 PM

Should I keep updating this? Anybody still reading?

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