A tropical island harbors deadly danger.
| The first man to wade ashore on this particular tropical island in decades frowned at me. “What a God forsaken place,” he said. Well, I thought it belonged in a travel brochure for the best beaches in the world.
“Oh, Randall, please don’t make matters worse,” said his wife from her seat on my ocean going tour boat. Randall walked up the beach to a spot of shade under a palm tree. Glaring back toward me, he put his hands on his hips.
Fine, I thought, don’t help. I jumped into the water and pulled the boat further up the sand.
The man shouted, “I will not pay for your ineptitude.”
As the couple’s tour boat operator and guide, my years of touring experience in Indonesia had taught me the need to keep my cool. Holding out my hand to her, I helped the wife off my boat. “I’m truly sorry,” I said, “for the inconvenience and delay. I should have the engine problem fixed in no time. Meanwhile, this is a great opportunity to explore a pristine island full of wondrous flora and fauna.”
She turned and gazed at the jungle for a few moments. “Do you think it’s safe? Perhaps some of the wondrous life is also poisonous?”
“It can be, but you will be safe if you stay on the beach,” I advised.
“Could you hand me my guide book? I left it on the bench,” she said.
I reached over the boat rail to get it, but there were several magazines and books. She said pointing, “It’s the green book. Yes that’s it. Thank you.”
I think she had a pleasant afternoon, looking up the various plants and creatures in her guide book. Her husband, however, was a different matter. When he wasn’t pouting, he was grousing. He often came down, marching like a vice-admiral, and watched me work on the engine, muttered, growled a bit, and left again. He followed his wife for a time, but she finally became so annoyed with him, she told him to go away.
Finally, near sunset, I found my issue. It was a quick fix thank goodness. Packing my tools away, I dreaded the return trip. I knew I would get an ear full all the way back. In the distance I saw a flash of lightening. Storm clouds were on the horizon and coming. Things could get dangerous fast. Standing to call my clients, they were nowhere in sight. I couldn’t believe it. The beach was clear in both directions. Would they have been dumb enough to walk into the jungle? No, they must have walked out of sight along the beach.
Grabbing a flashlight, I ran up the beach. There were tracks going in both directions along the beach. I yelled and heard no response. Great! Well, one way was as good as the other.
After walking for a while, I could see they had turned around and gone back. Hurrying back to the boat, I walked the jungle edge along the beach in the other direction. Coming to a small creek flowing out of the jungle to the ocean, I noticed their footprints followed the stream into the jungle. No, no, no.
I yelled into the jungle. No reply. I wasn’t annoyed anymore. I was scared. I didn’t have any weapons. Stepping into the water, I started hiking up the stream bed. A few yards into the jungle, as I anticipated, the undergrowth darkened my way enough for me to need the flashlight.
I hiked until a rustle of leaves higher up the creek had me aiming the light beam in that direction. What I saw was confusing: a yellow flash. It blinked on and off. Was it a lightening bug? I strained to see. Then a vise gripped my heart. With the next flash a star is born in a black panther eye.
I screamed and fell backwards. Scrambling in the rocky stream, jerking the flashlight first here, then over there. Where was it? Was it preparing to leap on me? I retreated. Mostly falling and crawling my way back down the creek to the beach.
I ran. I’m no hero. I never saw the panther again. Maybe I didn’t see it the first time either. But that thought did not slow me down. I raced to get away from that evil, dark paradise as fast as I could. Even as the rain reached me, and rough waves made the sea a churning danger, I pushed the boat out into the storm.
The authorities never found their bodies. They never found a panther either. Only the credit card payment I ran through afterwards proved I’d ever met them.