Hello, lovely reader!
How have you been enjoying the stories so far? I’ve been having a lot of fun writing them! Worried you missed any? Check this list:
Now for today’s prompt: a married couple (tourists), plagued by marital woes, take a trip to a village on a quiet island. They arrive amidst a once-a-century festival that honours the island’s pagan history. The islanders are convinced that the couple’s arrival on their island has been foretold.
Dedicated to Gene.
The Kitty Naan, a sleek 50-foot yacht, cut through the cerulean waves that caught the sunlight in blinding refractions – as bright as diamonds. Jean leaned out over the railing, glaring at the beauty and wishing she could find some ounce of happiness. But despite the clear skies and warm sun, Jean could feel the storm behind her, lying on a sun lounger in a black bikini, in the form of her wife, Gwen.
Jean had hoped that chartering this yacht, taking a vacation away from her business, would chill Gwen out but her wife seemed determined to stay miserable, even in paradise. Jean adjusted her sun hat, clocking the sun from her face. Just on the horizon, a green island appeared, lush with palm trees and bone-white beaches dotted with small boats.
“I’m bored,” Gwen called sullenly. These words had been her anthem for the past two days.
Jean sighed. Then she forced a smile, turning, and walking over the deck to her wife. Was this to be her penance for the rest of the trip, her life? Would Gwen ever forgive her? Admittedly, Jean had been totally consumed with her business, leaving Gwen to feel neglected and alone, which ended up in an penultimate moment when, at a holiday party, Jean had gotten drunk and kissed one of her investors – a French model.
What had followed was months of fighting, catching Gwen going through Jean’s phone, couples’ therapy, threats of divorce, and now this – an attempt at reparations and connection. Jean’s whole life became Hell, the albatross of guilt hanging ever heavily from her neck.
Jean sat on the sun lounger next to Gwen’s. “Do you want me to ask the captain to lower the anchor so we can put out the water toys? Maybe go water skiing?”
Gwen didn’t bother to reply. Just lay, glistening in the sun, her black hair shining like obsidian thread.
“There’s an island nearby. We could explore, maybe pick up some souvenirs?” Jean’s face started to hurt from the forced smile but she had learned that as soon as she dropped it, Gwen would accuse her of being annoyed or angry or resentful.
Another pause. Then Gwen shrugged. “Sure.”
“I’ll go speak with Captain Martin.” Jean dropped the smile as soon as her back was to her wife, then made her way to the bridge where the graying Captain Martin was enjoying some tea.
“Hey Captain. Any chance we could visit that island for a bit? The wife needs to stretch her legs.”
Martin looked to the horizon. The island was closer now and Jean could make out a small town. The captain slurped his tea.
“Not sure if I’ve ever docked there but happy to bring us over. That’s the Isla de Agua Oscura, if I remember right.”
Forty minutes later and the Kitty Naan dropped anchor a few miles out and the crew lowered the skiff. Wearing her favourite sundress, Gwen perked up a bit. Jean had also forced herself to dress up – something Gwen had often complained about – wearing a white linen jumpsuit. A crew member named Harold helped them onto the smaller boat and took them to shore.
The first thing Gwen noticed was the music, the joy, the life. Dozens of people were parading through the streets of the town, wearing colourful clothes, and flower crowns. Harold docked and then helped Gwen and Jean out of the skiff.
“Do you need me to come with you?” he asked.
Jean shook her head. “We’ll be alright. We’ll be back in a couple hours.”
Gwen had already started walking away so Jean had to jog to catch up to her, trying not to feel resentful. Still she plastered on her smile.
“What do you think is going on?” Jean’s attempt to force conversation, to create an opening.
“It looks fun!” Gwen, for once, sounded excited and Jean’s heart lightened.
The two women entered the town proper. The air was full of smells: roasting meat, fresh sliced fruit, perfumed flowers, and an underlying musk – like incense.
Somewhere distant, reedy music was playing alongside a heavy drumbeat. Men and women danced in the street or gorged themselves on food. They were draped in decadent clothing, in all colours, wreathed in flowers and beads, silver and bone.
Jean looked at one shop, then another.
“I don’t think they take credit cards here,” she said. “Think we’ll find an ATM?”
Gwen ignored her, walking ahead, smiling at one woman then another. Trying to make Jean jealous.
People paused as the two women approached, going still and quiet. Jean didn’t like how their eyes widened, how they murmured to each other.
Gwen didn’t seem to notice – or didn’t care – she flitted to one stall, then the next. The street was crowded and Jean fought against the press of people around her, losing sight of Gwen at times, which sent a claustrophobic shiver of panic down her spine.
The villagers’ clothing seemed to wrap around her wrists, her forearms, to slink across her neck and belly.
“Gwen!” she called. “Gwen, wait up!”
Her raised voice drew more stares and her face grew hot. The villagers closed in, dancing, swaying, singing. She forced through a couple, dodged around a ring of children, jumped over a fat goat. Still Gwen got further and further ahead. The other woman had gotten a coconut from somewhere, taking sips from the green straw sticking out of it, as she sauntered on.
Finally, the street emptied into a main square, festooned with ribbons and paper lanterns. There were no stalls in the square, instead its center was dominated by a large well. This well was made from colourful river stones, its wooden roof strewn with tropical flowers.
An old man and woman, dressed in long white tunics accented with gold braiding and opulent chains. Their faces were as wrinkled as old apples, tanned from countless days in the tropical sun, and their hair completely bleached white. They watched something intently and when Jena followed their gaze, she saw they were staring at Gwen.
A chill gripped Jean’s heart. She became more determined to reach her wife, only now she’d decided she would immediately be returning to the dock. Something about these cheerful villagers, their overly joyous dancing, the overpowering smell of incense, and the huge well – it was too much. There was something wrong.
Gwen weaved her way through the villagers, dancing with some, smiling at others in turn. She went to the well. Jean watched her look inside it, then move away, uninterested. Then a beautiful woman with braided black hair that came down her waist, caught Gwen’s wrist. Leaned in. Whispered something that made Gwen pause, made Jean’s wife look intensely at the villager.
Jealousy finally reared its ugly, bitter head. Jean clenched her fists and forced her way through the crowd, less polite.
The villager took Gwen’s hand and led her to the old couple sitting on the gnarled wooden thrones in front of the river stone well.
The drums picked up, great booming notes that vibrated the ground and flowed through Jean’s sandals into her feet, into her legs. The reed instruments swelled, pricking at her, making her heart race. Jean’s mouth went dry.
She could choke on her panic, it grew so thickly in her throat. Then she was free of the villagers, soles of her feet slapping the ground, her hand reaching out for her wife. Her fingers wrapped around Gwen’s wrist, Jean realized she was holding on too tight when she saw her wife wince, but she couldn’t let go. Something was wrong. The air was too heavy, too humid, too thick with the smell of something – something foreign and rich.
“We need to go!” Jean’s voice rang out shrilly.
Gwen looked at her and smiled – finally smiled, for the first time in what seemed like months.
“The Elders were just telling me about this ceremony. It only happens once every hundred years.” Gwen’s eyes caught the sunlight, sparkling like diamonds. “It’s to purify the well, their main source of drinking water.”
“Let’s go back.” Jean tugged on her wife’s arm, but that villager was on the other side, holding Gwen in place. Children ran up, throwing flower necklaces around Gwen’s neck.
Jean’s skin prickled, fear had its teeth in the nape of her neck. “Please, Gwen!”
The old man and woman stood, children rushed to them to support them, allowing the older couple to rest their crooked hands on their heads. The drums boomed. The reeds shrilled. People appeared, everywhere, all around Jean and Gwen. Jena found that they were all being shifted, guided – forced – towards the well.
Jena tried to pull Gwen away but found a wall of villagers in the way. They were all smiles. Grinning, laughing, singing, as they closed in, forcing, pushing, guiding.
Jean felt the edge of the well bite into her lower back, she reached back, and gripped it with her free hand feeling suddenly dizzy.
“Gwen, Gwen!” she hissed in her wife’s ear. “I think we’re in danger.”
Her wife looked over at her. “You know what Ama told me?” Gestured at the woman with the luscious black braid. “They think fate brought us here.”
Jean’s heart chilled. Gwen jerked her wrist away from Jean, rubbing it as if it ached – perhaps it did. Backing into Ama’s arms, Gwen smiled, flashing her teeth hungrily. She reached up and stroked her naturally red hair, something that had always made Jean’s heart flutter.
“Or, I should clarify. They think fate brought me. Their blood-haired maiden. Untouched by man.” Gwen laughed. “That part is true. They think my appearance will guarantee clean water for more than a century now. That the sacrifice I bring will purify the waters for many, many years.”
Gwen nodded over her shoulder at Ama, who then barked out an order. Strong hands grabbed Jean’s arms, shoulders, hair. She kicked out, curled her manicured fingers into claws, but there were too many of them. Jean was overwhelmed.
Forced to her knees, tears leaked down her cheeks. Jean sought her wife’s gaze.
Gwen crossed her arms, the villager known as Ama kissed her neck.
“I told you that you would regret making me sign that pre-nup,” Gwen said and laughed.
The knife’s blade across Jean’s neck was a icy thread, her blood a river of lava. She gasped, pink froth on her lips and the taste of copper on her tongue, Jena reached for her wife. Wanted forgiveness even at the very end. But Gwen just stared. Gwen didn’t blink or flinch or cry. Just watched. And smiled.
Then the villagers hefted Jean up. They brought her to the well and she could see the murky water within. They thought her body, her blood and life, would purify the waters. Jean hoped, as she plunged, that she would poison them instead.
(An hour and a half to spare!!!)