Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 6

Larkin had been struggling along the sylvan path for a while when she caught a glimpse of a very large building through the trees. Startled, she left the trail to move from tree to tree, not quite knowing what to expect. What could it be? She hadn’t seen a large home from the ridge above, so it must be pretty entrenched out here by itself to be so well hidden. In spite of its isolation, she reasoned that she must be pretty close to the abandoned town and harbor at this point because of the distance that she’d travelled. As she drew closer, she slowed her pace even more, completely suspicious at this point and looking warily around her at every turn.

The obscure path that she’d been following led directly to a clearing that was heavily overgrown with trees, whose canopy only allowed softly filtered sunlight in. She lingered warily at the edge of the clearing, looking through the dim forest light at the mysterious place. She could just make out a grand complex of five buildings, plus what appeared to be a swimming pool. It was clear that they were all very old, but the fading embellishments and elegant arches indicated that they were probably very grandiose in their heyday. Thinking back through the briefly summarized island history that her father had given her, she realized that this estate had to be the original governor’s home, now a decaying reminder of what life here once was.

She wondered vaguely why the haughty bastard Rex Tholen wouldn’t have re-colonized Road Town after all, so that he could renovate this palatial estate instead. The scale of these estate grounds was certainly more impressive, but it probably would have been more difficult and time-consuming to modernize it. And Tholen was nothing if not ruthlessly efficient, she rightfully assumed.

Returning her thoughts to the eerie scene before her, she decided that she had to check it out. It would be the perfect place to hide for a day or two if it were safe enough, and besides, she couldn’t deny that it aroused that sort of timorous curiosity in her, just like watching a suspenseful horror movie. She was drawn to it. Frowning distrustfully, she supposed that now was the time to have a weapon ready, and fished one of the handguns out of her bag. ‘God I hope this thing is loaded and the safety isn’t on,’ she thought. ‘Otherwise I’m better off throwing it at someone’s face.’

Larkin decided to start with the building closest to her, situated to the left of the pool. Coming closer, she could see that its once whitewashed façade was now dingy and yellowing with age and moss. Faded shutters had long since fallen from their hinges, their paint peeling off and blending with the tall wild grasses. She crept up to the front porch with her gun drawn, hoping fervently that she was holding it right since the only example she had was what she’d seen on TV. The old wooden front door was rotting and she forced it open easily. As she took the first step through the entrance, she was immediately hit with the damp, pungent smell of mold and rot. She cautiously waited for a moment just inside the door for her eyes to adjust to the dark.

Looking around, she saw what had once been a rudimentary residence, with basic utilitarian furniture and little in the way of elegant decoration. She brushed a few thick cobwebs away, and detected something scurrying across the floor out of the corner of her eye. She froze, imagining all kinds of island wildlife that she had yet to encounter, perhaps because of the recent rain. Turning slowly, she caught just a glimpse of an iguana crawling under a dusty sofa.

Great. Lizards, and probably spiders and all kinds of other crazy bugs too. She swallowed thickly, trying to remind herself that most of the creatures that she’d be forced to meet on this island were more afraid of her than she was of them. That’s what the adults would tell them on camping trips anyway, to keep them from freaking out. She hoped, even now, that it was actually true. She tried not to wonder what else might be waiting for her, and began to move again, stepping slowly and firmly to alert any other inhabitants to her presence. There were certainly no camp leaders to protect her if anything aggressive had taken up residence there.

Dust particles floated in what little sunlight was admitted through the grimy windowpanes. It was a very simple home, with a small kitchenette and common area, and small bedrooms off to the sides. It could have been the servants’ quarters, she theorized. Regardless, the thick film of dust covering every surface seemed to have remained undisturbed for years, which told her that she didn’t need to worry about anyone else that might’ve had the same idea to adopt the place as their home. Resisting the urge to freak out and rush past the sofa with its resident iguana, she quickly exited the building.

Through the more sparsely growing trees ahead of her, Larkin could glimpse two much larger, more ornate buildings, each two stories tall by the looks of them. Situated between the two was a small single story building with what was probably once a garden behind it. The pool was directly behind the large building to the right, and another single story building sat a little farther away from it. The complex was bigger than it had initially appeared, and it far outshone the hovels of Parham Town – any poor family there would cherish the opportunity to live like forgotten royalty in it. She was growing more intensely and justifiably paranoid now, and tried to be discreet in case someone was watching from one of the higher buildings. She quickly crept along the dilapidated fence of the enclosed pool, its waters now fetidly stagnant and black with algae, and began to approach the structure farthest away, which appeared to be some sort of garage.

It too was covered in dirty, aged whitewash, and she easily gained access through a similarly rotted out door. Her suspicions proved correct – several very old Cadillac sedans sat rusting from exposure to the humid ocean air, their tires long flat and the full weight of the vehicles crushing down on their rust-encrusted rims. A quick survey of the rest of the small building told her that it held nothing of any use, and no one had touched it in a long time either. It was chiefly occupied by tall shelves full of old tools, in a decrepit state as well.

It was more than a little unsettling to be exploring the buildings, many with every day household implements still left behind. It was almost like a ghost town. Everyone must have left in a hurry, never to return again. She couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her as she emerged from the garage. She tried to ignore it, telling herself that she was just being overly suspicious in such a creepy environment. Still, she couldn’t be too careful. Three buildings remained to be searched and the sun was beginning to set. She would need to move more quickly.

Larkin looked across the complex at the two-story building farthest away from her. It was a little bigger than its neighbor, but it must have been older because its state of decay was dramatically different. Large portions were covered in vines and Spanish moss, and most of the whitewashed stucco had fallen off completely. Weathered, faded green shutters barely hung on to their hinges in some places, in others they were missing entirely. She could see even from there that several windows were broken, likely from storms that had passed through the area, and this had allowed for easy entrance for all manner of wildlife. On the north side of the building the forest was moving in, with new growth and young trees taking root in the foundation itself. She squinted, and saw something moving near the arched arcades that lined both stories. Though she was easily 150 feet away, she recoiled at the realization that it was another large iguana that was beginning to lumber across the building’s façade in search of small geckos to eat.

If what she had seen on the exterior was any indication, the interior was likely infested with scorpions, snakes, and spiders. Still, she needed to be thorough. She couldn’t run the risk of settling down to rest in one of these lovely accommodating places and get killed or captured like an animal within minutes. Once again she took care to stay in the darkening shadows as she crept over and nervously circled to the front of the two-story villa. She pushed the door in, and it promptly fell into a decomposed heap with a loud clatter. So much for secrecy.

Larkin peered in to the dim light and realized that the forest had all but taken over the place. Thick vines covered the walls, pushing greedily in through the windows and travelling up through the ceiling, where the tiles had long fallen away. If one looked closely, these decomposing fragments of ceiling tiles could be seen littering the floor, which was equally populated with invading bushes and even small trees. Everything was covered with fungus and smelled rotten and dank. She looked down in horror as a scorpion scuttled around in the fallen debris and what was clearly a racer snake slithered around the edge of the room, hunting for its next meal.

That was all she needed to see. Promptly exiting, she decided that she didn’t really need to investigate it after all. Besides, any human being that could survive that indoor jungle 1) already knew that she was here, 2) could easily sneak up and kill her at any moment if they wanted to, of that she was certain, and 3) was some kind of insane jungle person for voluntarily staying in that place. The likelihood of such an individual existing was pretty much zero. So she moved on to the building couched between the two. With its back wall illuminated by the sun, she was able to peer in through a window, and found a much less dramatic scene than she had just left. It was also simple, with one main room. A ballroom, perhaps? It was clear that there was nothing more to see, so she turned her attention to the stately manor in front of her.

It had been built in a similar style to the older building and the one between them, with whitewash, green shutters, and pillars supporting an elegant arch-lined veranda on the first floor. The second floor also had a covered balcony spanning the length of the building, but more plain stone columns supported the roof instead. She could tell that it was the newer of the two, for even though vines embraced its pillars, the building had not yet been overtaken. Moreover, all of the back windows appeared to be intact, which was a good sign. If anyone was hiding out here, this would be the place to hide, she thought. She decided to skirt the perimeter in an effort to see whether it was safe to enter, like she imagined a police detective would. She was pretty proud of her instincts so far.

Larkin crept through the back courtyard, carefully watching the undergrowth to avoid more snakes. Heavy stone benches still sat on the patio, now covered with moss. The strong wood that encased the windows in their setting was weathering well, though the panes themselves were clouded with a thick layer of dust. Drawing closer, she tried to look inside but the interior was too dark to discern anything. So she proceeded around the southeastern side of the building away from prying eyes, her weapon still at the ready. There wasn’t anything remarkable to be found, and she continued on.

The front of the manor was impressive – it was still breathtaking after years and years of disrepair. Larkin could tell that it had been a beautiful building in its day, likely commissioned from royal treasury funds back when the British Empire had acknowledged ownership of Tortola. She imagined that in the wake of the scandalous Socialist alliance, their Royal Highnesses preferred not to associate with that part of the kingdom any longer.

She could faintly see the outline of a painted red and gold royal crown, which must have once been resplendent, still just visible above the grand entry. A crumbling tiled staircase rose to a pair of heavy wooden doors, and the estate’s once-manicured gardens now encroached upon the raised dais of the elegant home. Larkin wondered how many distinguished guests had been received here, gracing the stairs with the swish of beautiful gowns and tuxedo tails, perhaps going to attend a ball or banquet next door.

The sun was now midway through its descent, just visible beyond the treetops. She couldn’t afford to waste any more time exploring. Being the most likely place for her to encounter someone else, it was the most intimidating, but she had no choice but to get it over with, and fast. She squared her shoulders and put on a brave face as she climbed the stairs. The double doors were made of thick wood, as though they’d been carved from a native tree, which was not a terribly outlandish idea for these old island villas. Despite their size, they’d been rotting for years but were still hanging strong on their wrought iron hinges, though a little lopsided. She was able to force one open just a little and slide in, hoping that she could succeed in closing it again without a loud creak. She held her breath as she eased it closed, and graciously not a sound was made. The fetid smell of fungus and mold wasn’t as strong here as in the other buildings – another good sign.

It was very dark, with hardly any daylight to aid her, and what little there was glowed faintly from windows far across the entry hall on the west side. Adjusting to the deeply shadowed hall, she brushed a few of the heavy cobwebs out of the way and proceeded slowly. The light was unforgivingly dim as she hurriedly walked through the first floor, but she could just make out what appeared to be a reception hall, a large dining room, and a kitchen in addition to a sitting area on the main floor. She picked up the pace as the sun set more quickly outside, worried about what creatures might be joining her any minute now at dusk.

Remarkably, most everything was still intact, just covered in dust and slowly accumulating fungus. Cobwebs were everywhere, and at one point she thought she heard the squeak of a rat. There was, however, still no sign of any other human occupant. Locating the staircase to the second floor, she hoped that the outdoors had not yet invaded that level of the home either.

As she stepped on to the landing, Larkin found that the upstairs was so dark that she could no longer overcome her profound exhaustion. The darkness was too tempting, she had to acquiesce and give her body the rest that it was begging for. Abandoning her inspection of the old state home, she opted simply to stop in the first interior room she found. After all, the entire complex appeared to have remained untouched by people for years and years. Surely there was nothing different about the second story of the main house.

She entered what she imagined was an elegantly appointed bedroom and closed the door quietly. She unceremoniously dropped her bag near the door and approached the large four-poster bed. Exhausted though she was, she couldn’t ignore the possibility of revolting and possibly poisonous things living in the bed that she was about to sleep in. She held her breath and cringed as she threw back the stiff dusty bedding to see if she would be disturbing any bugs or snakes, but breathed a sigh of relief – it seemed safe. At least, she hadn’t heard any awful scuttling sounds from disgruntled and disgusting residents. Still she walked blindly around the room, and managed to locate a nearby bureau, which she fought with for a minute to borrow an old drawer. She brought it over and raked it across the bed. If there were any other unwelcome guests, they were on the floor now. Wary but weary, she climbed in to the stiff bed and fell quickly in to a deep, unassuming sleep.


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