Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 16

Evening, Day 3

Larkin had drowsed in the warm glow of the sun for a few hours and woke with a start, looking down to find her hands balled in to fists and her nails digging in to her palms. Her dreams had been fraught with memories of her father, and she had tossed and turned and cried in her sleep. Glancing at the peaceful water beside her, she realized that it was lucky she hadn’t tossed herself off of the rock and in to the pond during her fitful sleep. That abrupt wakeup call would surely have made her cry out in surprise, and give away her location to anyone within earshot. She sat up groggily and checked the position of the sun in the sky. Fortunately she hadn’t slept too late, and still had time before dinner to make herself presentable again. The last thing that she needed was for Agent Blane Aberland (or anyone else for that matter) to find her sleeping naked on a rock.

Larkin found her tattered clothes sufficiently dry and got dressed, thankful to feel as close to clean and presentable as she was going to be for the time being. She dipped a hand in to the pool and splashed some cool water on her face, trying to wash at least some of the signs of her fatigue away. Then she attempted to run a hand through her dirty blond hair, which seemed pretty tangled and matted despite the long relaxing bath. She laid back down on the warm rock again, letting her messy hair fall over the edge of the rocks in to the clear water, and attempted to comb and de-tangle it with her fingers until it seemed somewhat orderly. She wished for a mirror but her toiletries were long gone now, confined to her suitcase in the back of the car they’d ridden from the airport in. She wondered idly what had been done with their luggage. Probably gifted to the villagers. She imagined some of them squabbling over her inconsequential belongings, and the sad thought would have been humbling to her a few days before. At the present, she felt that she’d already been sufficiently humbled.

That was about all of the primping and grooming that she was going to be able to manage, though she didn’t feel much more human for it. Instead of settling in to wait for Blane, Larkin decided to make herself busy to pass the time. She figured that they’d need some firewood and more fruit that evening, so before setting out on her little expedition in to the forest, she relocated their supplies and arranged the guns and fruit carefully along the cool cave floor in the shadows, and set a handgun aside for herself. She was still hoping that she wouldn’t have to use it in spite of her recent tutorial.

Larkin had yet to venture beyond the idyllic grove where she and her new acquaintance had chosen to stay that night. When she’d first stumbled upon it a few hours ago, she hadn’t even bothered to check out her surroundings, which would have brought her to the quick realization that there was a cave just around the sloping hillside from her pond. Just further reinforcement of the fact that Larkin’s survival skills weren’t exactly sharp; but she was out of her element and in a fragile emotional state, she countered defensively to no one in particular.

So there she stood alone, facing the little cluster of cedars and banana trees that led in to the forest. She scrutinized them carefully so that she’d remember the path to return to the cave, then pushed through their low hanging branches to explore a little, hoping that she wouldn’t encounter anything that she didn’t want to. Which basically any other living creature.

The scent of frangipani and mangoes hung heavy in the air as she picked her way carefully through the thick green carpet of scrub and bushes, watchful for the occasional cactus. All around her was a forest unlike any she’d been in before – there were exotic tropical trees with beautiful flowers, fruit, or menacing looking spikes, interspersed with others that seemed out of place, species that belonged on the continent rather than the islands. It was as though two worlds had collided on Tortola; that some early conquerors introduced their Western vegetation but the island resisted and continued to sustain its own tropical plants too.

The occasional tamarind tree dotted the landscape, and she pulled more long pulpy beans down from their branches as she passed. Maybe they would roast nicely over the fire later, she thought. As she delved deeper in to the woods, the scrubby underbrush and prickly plants faded away, and the air grew more thick and humid, more akin to the tropical jungle that she’d been surprised to find that the island lacked. Larkin pressed forward, enjoying the rays of sunshine that broke through the leaves to kiss her face as she scanned the ground for suitable sticks for their firewood.

She had only just reached what appeared to be the deeper heart of the forest when she glimpsed the trees thinning out again far to her left, and what could possibly be another clearing just barely distinguishable beyond that. She made her way carefully along the forest floor towards it, letting her fingertips trail along the smooth island tree trunks as she walked. Sure enough, she reached the tree line to find that it abruptly gave way to a small grassy clearing. And there, on the other side of it, sat a very old ruin of a wooden house.

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