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The Island
Author:Adrian McKinty

The Island by Adrian McKinty




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Be not afeard; the Isle is full of noises,

sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.



William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 1611





Stuff myself

Of the bitter and the sweet,

Before,

that thing,

that thing,

outside

Comes.



Oodgeroo Noonuccal, “Not My Style,” 1971





A crow with a skeptical yellow eye was watching her from the lightning-struck eucalyptus tree.

The crow was death.

If it called out, she was dead. If it flew toward Jacko and he turned to look, she was dead.

The crow observed her with a half-turned head.

She crawled through the brittle grass, reached the tree trunk, stopped, and caught her breath.

She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the bottom of the T-shirt. She sucked the moisture from the shirt as best she could.

She composed herself for a minute and then crept past the tree until she reached the edge of the heath. There was nothing now but beach between her and Jacko. No vegetation. No cover. There wasn’t much point crawling anymore.

Slowly, ever so slowly, she got to her feet.

Carefully, she moved the machete from her left to her right hand. It was a heavy old thing, caked with rust. She gripped the split wooden handle and hoped it wouldn’t fall to pieces when she swung it.

Steadying herself, she cautiously advanced.

She had killed before—salmon, trout, duck.

This was different, though, wasn’t it? Very different.

This was a human being.

Jacko sat with his back to her, his legs astride the oil drum. The ancient rifle strapped over his shoulder looked lethal enough from here.

She walked closer, slowly, on bare feet over the stones and gravel.

In the bay something huge moved under the water not far from the shore. They had been right not to try to swim to safety. That was the scarred dorsal fin of a great white. Jacko had seen the shark too. He stood, slipped the rifle from his shoulder, and took a shot at it. The gun went off with an almighty bang that ripped through the stillness. Herons and gulls lifted from the mudflats.

She looked back at the crow.

It wasn’t fazed. It was still perched on the highest blackened tree branch, gazing at her sideways. It had observed scenes like this play out before. No doubt it was expecting carrion soon.

Jacko had evidently missed. “Bugger!” he said to himself and stood there holding the rifle in both hands as the shark swam into the bay and was lost to view.

She waited for him to put the gun away, but he didn’t.

He just stood there, staring at the water.

Olivia was still sprawled in front of him, unmoving.

The walkie-talkie hissed.

Jacko tugged the rifle bolt backward and a brass cartridge came flying out onto the sand. He pushed the bolt forward again and a new round slipped into the chamber.

If she made any sound now and he turned, she knew that he would shoot her point-blank in the chest. She knew guns and had pretended to like them to get time with her dad. She knew that the exit wound from a .303 at this range would be the size of a baseball.

She stood still, waiting for him to reshoulder the rifle, but Jacko just kept gazing at the sea, mumbling to himself.

The sun was behind her, and her shadow was inching into his field of view. She didn’t like that. If there had been any other way of approaching him, she would have done it, but there was no other way. If he peered just to his left, he’d see the tip of her silhouette.

At least she was upwind.

The seagulls landed. The herons settled on the water.

The sun beat down on her exposed neck and arms.

Finally Jacko reslung the rifle over his shoulder and sat. He took out his lighter and cigarettes. He lit himself a smoke and put the lighter in his pocket.

She tried a step forward. The shadow moved too.

Jacko didn’t flinch. She was fifteen feet away now. He leaned back and blew smoke at the sky. She took another step toward him. Toes, then sole, then heel. Placing her feet on the stony beach with the lightest of touches.

Toes, sole, heel.

Another step.

And another.

Until—

A short, sharp stab of perfect pain.

The jagged edge of an old bottle had pierced the skin of her heel.

She bit her lip to stop herself crying out. Her shadow was swaying from side to side, seemingly trying to attract Jacko’s attention. Blinking away tears, she crossed her legs and sat. She was bleeding, but the bottle had not penetrated too deeply. She took hold of the glass fragment and eased it out of her foot. She licked her thumb and rubbed at the wound, and it began to feel better. She took a flat stone and held it against the cut. The bleeding slowed. It would have to do. She couldn’t sit here all day.

She got to her feet again and took a few tentative steps.

Her treasonous shadow was well into Jacko’s field of view now.

Closer.

She could read the writing on the back of his sweat-drenched yellow tank top. There was a red star above the words BINTANG BEER.

She could smell him. He reeked of body odor, cigarette smoke, engine oil.

It was quiet. The echoes of the rifle shot were gone and the only sound was the seawater rushing through the channel.

To her left the last hint of early-morning mist was evaporating in the sunlight. The air was expectant with the coming heat. It was going to be a scorcher. Easily over one hundred and ten degrees.

It was, she remembered, February 14. Funny how the seasons were reversed like that. Back home it would be in the forties or even colder.

Valentine’s Day.

Exactly twelve months ago Tom had come in for his first massage-therapy appointment in the clinic in West Seattle. It had been snowing. When he’d lain down on the table, he still had snowflakes in his hair.

What a difference a year made.

She’d been childless then, on the verge of unemployment, living in that damp apartment near Alki Beach. Now she was married and responsible for two children and about to kill a man she barely knew on a different beach on the far side of the world.

She took three more careful steps and raised the machete.





1



The sign said ALICE SPRINGS 25, TENNANT CREEK 531, DARWIN 1,517.

She took that in for a second or two.