Forbidden Island is a journey to the world’s most dangerous island (IRL), where what little is known about the stone age natives is strange, mysterious and deadly… Like a certain other Island novel, it’s a blend of the thriller and horror genres based on real history that’s put through the blender that is my imagination. The novel comes out on December 5th, just five days from today, but I wanted to share the opening chapters with you now. I hope you enjoy them, and snag a copy of the book on the 5th of December. MWA HAHAHAHAAAA… Ahem. Thanks. — Jeremy
North Sentinel Island,
The Bay of Bengal, 1981
The setting sun made Mike Pastore nervous, not because he feared the coming darkness, but because the wild men preferred it.
The Primrose, a two-hundred-fifty-foot cargo ship out of Hong Kong, had run aground five days earlier, when a monsoon had heaved the ship upon the sharp reefs surrounding the island. Pummeled by relentless twenty foot waves, the vessel had been shoved to within a hundred feet of the sandy beach.
During the first two days, as the rains drifted toward India, the glowing sands looked empty and inviting; the lush jungle beyond promised shade and the thrill of exploration. If not for the still violent waves, the crew would have vacated the floundering vessel, and set up on dry land, to wait for rescue.
But on the third day, when the waves became manageable, they arrived.
Pastore had been on watch as the sun rose, a solitary guardian while the crew slept, ignorant to the danger. As one of three crewmembers who was not Chinese, he got ‘shit duty’ a third of the time.
A shiver ran through Pastore’s body as he remembered the first native he’d seen. The man walked out of the jungle in a squat. His strange position, small stature and dark skin had convinced Pastore that he had discovered some kind of island-dwelling chimpanzee. Lured by intrigue, he had left the wheelhouse and stepped onto the starboard-side main deck, binoculars in hand. The memory was still fresh, and he didn’t so much remember it as relive it in his mind.
The native wobbled across the shoreline, eyes on the ship. As soon as Pastore put the binoculars to his eyes and focused on the man, he’d stood to his full five-foot-tall height. By Pastore’s normal standards, the man was far from intimidating, but the way he stared across the water, right at Pastore…
Save for a yellow band wrapped around the man’s head, and another around his waist, the native was naked. Pastore watched the man, who remained rooted in the sand, for a full two minutes before raising his hand in greeting.
That was his first mistake.
His second was not immediately rousing the captain and crew—not because it would lead to tragedy, but because no one believed the tale of what he saw next.
The native man lifted his penis, spread his legs and stroked his genitals several times. While the man was clearly primitive, the gesture easily translated between ancient and modern cultures as something like, ‘Fuck off.’
As the man gyrated, a woman emerged from the jungle shade, bow and arrows in hand. She wore a circlet of leaves around her head, and a beige band around her waist, from which a small pouch hung. Though her features, lost in the darkness of her skin, were hard to see, her appearance was that of a teenager. The subtle swell of her belly hinted at pregnancy.
The man took the long bow, nocked an even longer arrow, aimed high, and let it fly. Pastore ducked, clutching his head, as the featherless arrow fell short and thunked against the metal hull.
Upon collecting himself, Pastore looked up over the rail and found the man dancing, legs spread wide, bouncing back and forth, from foot to foot. When the man completed his display, the woman approached him from behind, wrapped her arms around his waist and took hold of his penis. At first, it appeared she was simply borrowing the man’s member to repeat his rude gesture, but then the man grew excited.
What happened next kept Pastore from moving, or even thinking to wake his shipmates. The woman slipped around in front of her partner. Hands on knees, she leaned forward and stared out at Pastore as the man began to thrust. Looking through his binoculars, Pastore watched the pair copulate, their eyes, lacking any signs of pleasure, fixated on him.
And then, they were not alone. Six couples emerged from the jungle and began having sex, all eyes on Pastore. It was not an orgy. It wasn’t even passionate. It was a defiant claim, the carnal act declaring, ‘This belongs to us, not you.’
The couples finished without any fanfare or shouted orgasms. They simply retreated back into the jungle, disappearing into shadows, and breaking Pastore from his spell.
Pastore summoned captain and crew to the deck, but not a single native was seen for the remainder of the day, resulting in a strong rebuke. His crewmates believed his story to be the tired fantasy of a bored and lonely man. That night, as punishment, he was once again assigned an eight hour watch, starting at midnight.
It wasn’t until 4am that he spotted signs of life again.
When he awakened the captain, he was met at first by near violence—being run aground and stranded by a monsoon had everyone on edge. But when the captain entered the wheelhouse and saw the orange glow of a dozen fires just inside the fringe of the jungle, he had gathered the rest of the crew himself.
They watched the small blazes flickering through the night, but detected nothing more. No chanting or tribal drums. No sounds of work being done. No smell of cooking meat. The fires, like the primal sex act, felt like a warning. A display of power. Beware. We have fire.
Two days had passed since the fires first appeared and with every passing hour, the natives had become more and more brazen. The crew had counted fifty nearly nude warriors patrolling the beaches, armed with bows and spears, but the shadows underneath the jungle canopy appeared to be composed of animated darkness, shifting not with the wind, but with a kind of living motion.
How many of them are there? Pastore wondered.
The warriors launched volleys of iron-tipped arrows, none of which found their mark. Pastore believed the men were simply trying to intimidate the crew while they constructed three small vessels. Once completed, the warriors would be able to reach the Primrose and her crew, who were armed with two axes, a small collection of knives, and a flare gun. They were outnumbered and outgunned.
The Primrose’s crew, like those of many cargo vessels, worked hard, but were more likely to spend a free day playing cards and drinking than exercising or taking part in any kind of hunt—unless it was for more liquor. Not one of them had taken a life, and only a few had traded fists in a bar fight. If even a handful of the savages boarded the ship, the crew would be in grave danger.
With that knowledge, the captain sent a distress message, stating the situation as plainly as possible. “Wild men, estimate more than 50, carrying various homemade weapons, are making two or three wooden boats. Worrying they will board us at sunset. All crew members’ lives not guaranteed.”
The message had been sent out with the rising sun, which revealed three nearly completed vessels, each long enough to carry ten men. The fifty warriors stood naked and sentinel, watching the crew until the sun cleared the horizon. Then they retreated into the shadows, the captain believed, to rest before night returned.
And Pastore agreed. While the tribe was certainly active during the day, the nights had become more and more fervent. The campfires became bonfires. A strange, acrid smoke swept over the ship, carried by the ocean breeze. Men and women shouted in their strange tongue. The sounds of wood being cracked, carved, and bound filled the night. It made staying alert during the long watch easy, but it left Pastore beyond exhausted each morning.
The ship’s deck was patrolled at all times. Thirty three crewmen, minus the captain, chief engineer, and chief mate had been divided into groups of ten, each taking an eight hour shift. Pastore remained on the night watch, but he’d been put in charge, and even better, he wasn’t alone. But the terrified men with him still did little to ease his own fears.
What if the Captain is right?
What if they come tonight?
Pastore was a father of two sons, ages five and three. His wife, Amanda, was a hard woman to love at times, but he did. She put up with his long absences and was more faithful than any woman should be to a man of Pastore’s obvious faults. On the surface, he was disheveled and portly. He preferred lite beer, cheap cigars, and the seedy bars in which those vices were normally enjoyed. But she somehow saw through all that, to the gentle man who adored his sons, worked hard to give them a home and a future, and always came home from a voyage with gifts.
He looked west, where the setting sun silhouetted the wheelhouse. Darkness would claim the sky within thirty minutes. His watch didn’t begin for another four hours, but he found himself compelled to remain on deck, watching the beach for signs of life.
Aside from the three small boats, there was no sign of the wild men.
“Maybe they’re not coming back?” a man named Stack asked. He wasn’t on watch, either, but he had taken a break from gambling to give his pale skin some time in the sun, albeit dim. Or so he said. Pastore knew better. Like the other fifteen men on deck, Stack had come to assess the situation for himself, to determine if they would be attacked, and if so, perhaps take some time to plead with God for mercy, or perhaps for forgiveness.
Pastore would do neither. As one of the men with more to live for, he had volunteered to carry one of the two axes. And to see his family again, he would use it. There was no spear on this island that could stand up to its steel blade.
Pastore looked past a line of worried Chinese men and caught Stack’s eye. “They’re coming back.”
“You an expert on the natives now? Just cause you seen them hump’n?” Stack sneered a bit. “Wasn’t for you, we’d—”
“Shut it,” Carson said. He was a big, bald, black man, whose skin was pale compared to the wild men. As the only real fighter on the ship and the recipient of the second axe, when he spoke, people listened. “Pastore didn’t run us aground. That was the monsoon. And he surely didn’t populate this island with savages. So unless you want to learn how they react to a man thrown overboard, I suggest you hush.”
After that, no one spoke. Not because Carson had put the fear of God into them, but because the long shadows cast by the setting sun had come to life, ebbing and flowing as something, or several hundred someones, moved about.
Pastore waited for the first fire to be rekindled. But the island remained dark. As the sky turned purple, and then black, the island slipped into darkness. If not for the crashing of waves upon its shore, he would have believed the island had been plucked from the Earth.
As the night settled and the moon’s sliver of light did little to change the situation, curiosity made way for fear. Everyone not on the early night watch retreated to the safety of the decks below, where even doors without locks might stymie primitives who had never seen such things.
But not Pastore. He stood by Carson’s side, eyes trained toward the unseen island.
They stood there like that, waiting and listening, for hours.
But the world remained calm and silent.
The wild men weren’t living up to the name bestowed on them by the captain.
As 4:00 am rolled around, with just over an hour before the sun’s return, Pastore dared to hope that the natives had given up. Perhaps they had realized that the crew was stranded, no more capable of retreating from the island than they were willing to land on its unspoiled shores. All of the fired arrows and crude boat building could have simply been bravado, much like the strange sex act Pastore had witnessed: designed to repulse. Ancient psychological warfare.
Perhaps, he ventured further, they were no threat at all.
“Quiet,” Carson said.
Pastore hadn’t been talking, but he held his breath. He heard nothing aside from the rhythmic, now-calm surf, lapping against the hull below and the distant sands. A hushed conversation slipped through the night, coming from the bow, where three men, one of them Stack, stood watch. Pastore couldn’t see them in the abject darkness, but he had stationed the men there. Did they hear something, too?
“What did you—”
“Shh!” Carson was visible as a subtle shadow, lit by the Milky Way’s dull glow, but Pastore could see tension in the man’s stance.
A sound like a bird, wings pumping, fluttered past.
They had observed a large number of bird species during the daylight hours, flitting between trees, chirping a variety of songs. But the small creatures had never left the canopy, and they had certainly never approached the ship.
It wasn’t a bird, he realized. He’d heard the same sound just before that first warrior’s arrow had struck the hull.
Pastore ducked down. “They’re firing arrows!” His shout cut through the night and sent many more men running for cover, including Carson.
“You said they couldn’t reach the deck from shore,” the big man complained.
“They’re not on the shore,” Pastore said, breathing heavily, heart pounding. Their worst fears had been realized. The wild men were coming.
Another fluttering arrow flew past.
They’re going to board the Primrose.
Kill us all.
Make trophies of our skulls, or eat us!
“Lights!” Carson shouted so loud that Pastore let out a yelp.
A moment later, the ship’s extinguished deck lights blazed to life. Aside from lighting the ship and the water immediately around it, the lights did little else than reveal the crew to the islanders. So they had been turned off, giving both sides the cover of darkness, though only the wild men preferred it.
And if they had piloted their small ships through the surf, in the black of night, Pastore had no doubt they could see in the dark, too. Aside from the whites of their eyes, the wild men were the dark.
Carson gripped Pastore’s arm hard enough to hurt. “We stand together. We fight together.”
Pastore nodded, but he said nothing, mentally adding, We die together. He had much to live and fight for, but his heart lacked the same boldness, though he suspected Carson’s bravery was little more than an act to maintain his reputation. Then the man stood, proving him wrong, and yanked Pastore up with him.
They looked over the starboard rail. Under the stark glow of the ship’s light, the shallow waters should have shimmered back at them, revealing reef and fish. Instead, it was a wall of darkness, as though the ocean was still lost in shadow.
“What…” Pastore said, and then he saw a familiar set of eyes staring back at him. The warrior from the beach, now smiling. “It’s them.”
All at once, hundreds of heads turned upward, their white eyes glowing.
They didn’t need the boats, Pastore realized. They can swim.
Movement drew his eyes toward the bow.
A wave of humanity was scaling the hull. Pastore’s breath caught. There was no ladder there. He saw no rope. And yet, the wild men were making short work of the climb to the gunwales.
The men stationed at the bow saw it, too, and they began screaming for help. Help with what, Pastore wasn’t sure, because each and every one of them retreated. Stack was among them, his voice several octaves higher than usual. “Inside! We can’t stop them!”
Pastore couldn’t argue. While defending the rail would have been easier than fighting on deck, there were far too many wild men. Without firearms, they would be overrun in minutes. Their only hope was to hide behind the ship’s steel doors and pray for rescue.
With as many men rushing out from below decks to see what the uproar was about, their retreat became a mire of shoving, terrified men, who did far more harm to one another than the natives had throughout the entire week.
Pastore was the last man through the door. He turned and looked out over the aft deck. A flood of humanity rose up over the rail, launching arrows at the ship’s lights. Shattering glass shimmered for a moment, and then disappeared as the wild men reclaimed the night.
With a shout of dread, Pastore slammed the metal door shut and locked it. The barrage of metal arrow heads striking the hull sounded like hammer blows, each one jarring, fraying the nerves, whittling down the souls of all who heard them. The natives would need a blow torch to carve through the thick metal, but it did little to calm his nerves.
The Primrose’s crew was now trapped.
Unholy, bestial roars, the scratching of claws, and the hammering of powerful fists assaulted the door through the remainder of the night. The attack continued without hesitation, rumbling every door. If there was a chink in the Primrose’s armor, the wild men would find it.
Hours later, after an unceasing assault, the attack on the doors stopped, only to be replaced by a repetitive booming whump, loud enough to shake the ship, a few minutes later.
Pastore’s body, sick with adrenaline, shook as he pressed himself against the door, holding it against God knew what.
And then, a knock.
Three solid blows.
While the rumbling continued, there was a pause, and then another three knocks.
Pastore leaned away from the door.
“Don’t move, man!” Stack shouted, looking far more wild-eyed than the wild men ever had.
“They’re knocking,” Pastore said. It was a simple argument, but one that everyone on the inside of that door understood: savages don’t knock.
And then a voice, shouting from the far side, barely audible through the steel and over the loud thumping. “Hello, in there!”
English, Pastore realized. Savages don’t speak English!
Pastore unlocked the door and then, while Stack protested, held back by Carson, he pulled the door open to see a bright blue sky. A large helicopter rested on deck behind a concerned man wearing a helmet, sunglasses, and a thick blond mustache.
“Can I ask what you all are doing?” The stranger glanced down. He pointed at the axe clutched in Pastore’s hand.
“You didn’t see them?” Pastore asked.
“The wild men!” Stack shouted.
“Uh-huh. Heard you all were in a tight spot. Came out as soon as we could.” The man looked out at the nearby beach. “Did a full circle around the island. Took a bunch of photos. Pretty place.”
“But…” Pastore stepped outside, squinting in the sun, which had risen hours ago. There was no sign of the tribesmen. No arrows lying about. No scratch marks on the door. No boats on the beach. They had vanished just as stealthily as they had approached, leaving no trace.
As the Primrose’s stunned crew stepped out into the daylight again, they all agreed that the world wouldn’t believe their story, just as they had not believed Pastore. It was bad enough to have run aground, but if they told a wild, unsubstantiated, tall tale about an army of savages laying siege to the ship, they would never work in shipping again.
It was agreed they would never discuss the strange events surrounding their brief visit to the island, and that the tale would be watered down to the captain’s message. They had seen warriors. They had been building boats. But nothing more had come of it.
The crew was evacuated via the orange and white S-58T Sikorsky helicopter, over three trips. Pastore volunteered to be among the last to leave, along with Carson, the captain, and the mascot dog, who had wisely stayed in the wheelhouse for most of the week. As the helicopter made its final approach to take the last of them away, Pastore knew he would never see this island, or its inhabitants again, and that he would never truly understand what happened there.
He took one last look at the empty shoreline and dropped his axe to the deck. The island was a paradise, the likes of which men would travel the world to visit.
God help anyone that does, Pastore thought, as the helicopter rose safely into the sky. Sentinel Island belongs to the Devil.
“I’m busy.” Rowan Baer stood on the precipice of New Hampshire’s Cathedral Ledge, admiring the view. The five-hundred-foot tall cliff provided stunning views of Echo Lake, picturesque North Conway, and the pine-clad mountains beyond. A moment ago, he had been alone with his thoughts, contemplating the choices he’d made, and their consequences. Life, he had concluded, was like a river, bending and shifting, following a path affected by outside forces with little deference to the human will. The woman standing behind him only solidified the point.
“I can see that,” she said, her voice decorated by a slight Indian accent. “Though I didn’t take you for the existential crisis type.”
Despite his growing curiosity, Rowan refused to look back and acknowledge the woman’s presence or her accurate assessment. He had hiked here in the darkness of early morning to watch the sun’s first rays ignite the landscape, and hopefully something in his soul.
All it had done so far was cast shadows.
And now this. A woman who somehow knew his name stood behind him, course-correcting his life and usurping his intentions. Do I know her? He wondered, thinking back to what seemed like a lifetime ago, but was only twelve years. He’d grown up in North Conway and had no memory of someone with an Indian accent, who would have stood out in a state that was ninety-three percent white.
And anyone from the town who still remembered him would call him Rowan—or trouble. There hadn’t been any going-away parties when he had joined the Army. Just quiet. Like before this woman showed up.
The chain link fence behind him rattled as the woman leaned against the far side. “Can you see the bottom?”
A hawk soared up from below, carried by warm air rising from the sun-baked rocks far below. Wings outstretched, it fixed its gaze on Rowan. The bird was likely indifferent to his presence at the local tourist attraction, but he felt mocked by its superior attitude. You can’t fly, it taunted. Can’t hunt. Can’t fight. So just jump.
“Wait,” the woman said.
Rowan reeled back as he realized he’d leaned a little further out over the edge. He stepped back and grasped the chain link fence, his arm the umbilical, the metal mesh a placenta, granting him life. What it didn’t do was ease his pain. So he raised the bottle of Jack Daniels to his lips with his free hand. Just as the first pop of liquid fire touched his lips, the bottle was slapped free. He watched it spin out over the cliff, spiraling light brown liquor as it fell.
At first, he blamed the hawk, but it still hung in place, watching, scoffing. Then he turned to the woman. “You better have a—”
The woman standing on the far side of the fence was definitely not local. She wore matching bright red trousers and a tunic top, along with an orange scarf that flowed in the early morning breeze. She gave him a confident smile as he assessed her and found himself intrigued. His eyes lingered on the bindi painted on her forehead. The dot was usually red and signified marriage, but black? He pointed at it. “What does it mean? The color.”
Her smile faded. “I suppose the same thing as your bottle.”
He glanced back over the cliff. The bottle now lay somewhere at the bottom, shattered and unrecognizable.
Like my life.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“To hire you.”
He laughed at that. A dishonorable discharge from the Army had made him a pariah to potential employers, at least in the fields at which he excelled. As an Army Ranger, he had served on the front lines in Afghanistan, and behind enemy lines in Syria. Now he served gasoline in the state’s last remaining full-service gas station. The only people willing to hire someone with his record were into something shady, and while he had lost his way, he had not lost his moral compass.
“I’m afraid you came a long way for nothing,” he said.
“The view is worth it.” She leaned on the fence, watching the hawk, still riding the thermals. Then she gave the fence a pat, turned around, and started walking away. “Good luck, Mr. Baer.”
He closed his eyes, summoning the strength of will to keep his mouth shut and avoid whatever trouble rode in this woman’s wake.
I’m in control of my life, he thought. I can decide where it leads, and when it ends. I don’t need to be course-corrected. I don’t need to follow the path of least resistance.
He opened his eyes again, looking down at Echo Lake’s sky blue water, and he saw the path of least resistance before him. Three steps, a few seconds fall, and life would lose all control of him. Or perhaps this was where it had been directing him all along.
“Wait,” he said, and when the fiery colors of her outfit slipped deeper into the pine woods, he shouted, “Wait!”
“I’ll be waiting in the car park,” she replied. “If you can make it over that fence and down the path in the next ten minutes, without stumbling over the cliff, we’ll talk. Otherwise, enjoy what remains of your day.”
When she was no longer visible, Rowan looked down at the fence, his placenta turned adversary. He had leapt it with the ease of an arctic fox bounding into snow. But now, half a bottle later, he stood before a great wall.
“Shit.” He took a deep breath, lifted his left foot into the chain link, and hoisted. His right leg came up fast. If he could straddle the top bar, he could slip over the top. It wouldn’t be graceful, but it would be effective. The toe of his boot struck the top rail head on, jarring the fence and shaking his left foot free. The jolt wrenched his loose fingers away from the fence, and he spilled backward.
Life’s river was pulling him over the falls once again, despite his best efforts.
This isn’t my best effort, he thought as he fell.
I can do better.
Air coughed from his lungs as his back struck stone. He clenched his eyes, grimacing in pain as blood rushed to his head. I didn’t fall over the edge, he thought with relief, and then he opened his eyes to an upside down view of his home town.
Rowan Baer hung his head over a five hundred foot drop, wondering how his life had come to this.
And then he decided to change it. What felt like a lifetime of hard work paid off as he leaned his torso up, using only his core body strength. Fingers bled as he raked them over craggy granite, pushing them into small cracks. That was when he saw his left foot, wedged under the chain link as he fell, flexing nearly to the point of setting him free. He reached out, caught hold of the placenta fence once more, and pulled himself away from the drop.
While catching his breath, he noticed the fence came to an end just ten feet away. Not one of my finer moments, he thought, but still not the worst. Then he pulled himself up and shimmied along the cliff’s edge until he reached the last fence post and slipped around it, back onto safer ground.
The fifteen foot journey had taken up more of his ten minutes.
While the two mile long, mountainside trail he had followed to reach the cliff took thirty minutes at a slow pace, the few-hundred-foot-long path to the parking lot seemed far more arduous. He stumbled over stones, roots, and wooden steps. Chipmunks assaulted him with chittering squeals. Branches snapped as he wavered off course.
And then he saw it. The parking lot. A single, black SUV was parked there, its engine idling.
I made it, he thought, but then the brake lights flared.
They’re leaving, he thought, and he broke into a run as the vehicle’s wheels began to turn.
“Wait!” he shouted, waving a hand in the air. He didn’t even know the woman’s name. Would have no way to contact her. The reset button for his wayward life was about to drive away. So he pushed through the haze and ran faster still.
The SUV crossed the path’s exit just as the woods disgorged Rowan into the parking lot. He judged his pace and the vehicle’s, determining that he would have to slap its back window. What he didn’t count on was being spotted. The SUV’s brake lights flared again, but Rowan missed the warning and collided with the side window.
He opened his eyes to a pounding headache and a view of the sky. Then the woman stood above him, shaking her head as though thinking the same thing as Rowan: This is what my life has come to.
“Made it around the fence, did you?” she asked.
Something about the woman’s casual acceptance of his shortcomings struck a chord, pulling a bark of laughter from deep within. “What’s your name?”
“Sashi Batta. I work for the Indian Department of Cultural Services.”
Rowan couldn’t fathom what the Indian government needed him for, but he decided he wasn’t in a position to ask, or care. “When do I start, Mrs. Batta?”
“Miss,” she corrected. “And as soon as you peel yourself up off the pavement, and have a cup of coffee.”
He reached a hand up, but she swatted it away. “Going to have to pull yourself up. That’s the only way this works. And you’re going to have to start thinking about lives other than your own. Can you do that?”
Rowan pushed himself up into a sitting position. His head pounded. “Maybe after that coffee.”
“Good enough,” she said, and then asked, “Is your passport up to date?”
“We going to see the world?”
She offered a sympathetic smile. “Not the nice parts.”