23: Heartfelt

Love. That all encompassing emotive force that drives Man forward, backwards, to distraction, out of our minds.

Love, that could mean so many different things to different people. For some a totem of contentment, of peace with the world, safe in the security of betrothed, family and friends. For others, a whirlwind dervish of freedom, excitement, radiant in the glowing belief that life was worth living and the world could truly be a better place with our souls entwined within it.

Without love what was the human body but a hollow shell, devoid of warmth, waiting to be filled? Loss of love could inspire the gravest fear, as the ability to place another’s life above your own is perhaps the ultimate test of its purity. So it was that love drove Jack full pelt down the slope, his own safety irrelevant next to fear for Neri’s well being. A selfless act of love.

He left Farah lying on the ground with his sons. The big farmer was bleeding, but Pisiv’s bullet had winged his shoulder, so perhaps not at death’s door. In a brief moment of rationality Jack figured the attack party would not assault their own further, not with himself or the other aliens out of the picture. Although in truth it was not a courageous act for their sake he fled the scene.

It was for Neri. Everything was for Neri.

When he saw her tumble off the edge grappling with Massif, his heart lurched through his mouth with horror, filled with the profoundest fear he would be alone again, his love lost, all his own fault and he’d killed whom he held most dear.

He dashed after them down the gully, crashing through whipping leaves, tearing thorns, nothing would stop him in his tumble. He must rescue his love. As he scraped, screamed and scrambled downwards his mind raced through the mistakes that had taken him here. His own desire for contentment, a new home, to stake a place in the world, his selfish acts of treachery, deceit and violence all in the belief it was necessary to build a better life for himself with Neri.

Jack had drifted for so long he mistook aimlessness for freedom. But that goalless amble still placed him at the beck and call of clicking fingers. The boat needed fuel, his stomach food, his desire drink. In the real world men still bowed to the mercy of money. Then, Neri offered something else, a real alternative and a purer freedom than he realised possible.

The island could be their new home, so his dream of sailing the seas expanded with visions of fishing, farming, raising a brood, a forgotten dream now returned with hopeful vigour. Hope, a paradise they could make their own, a future.

The terrifying sight of seeing her fall was compounded by the shocking truth of his misguided intentions. Their fate was his fault. He’d brought them here, ignored the warning signs, hadn’t calculated the effect of his actions. In doing so, he’d killed his love, his future, their lives.

Breathless, he landed on the ledge, anger and fear propelling him past any pain. Scrambling around he saw the machete in the mud amidst a pool of blood. No, no, no. Please.

Then a scream. Female, he wasn’t sure whose voice. Jack whirled around for the source, hoping for a repeat chance. Where there was life there was hope. Further down the track. Maybe. He took a gamble and ran.

Tearing pell mell down through the thicket each step was a leap of faith and panic. In such times even an atheist will find themselves praying to a higher power they’d previously scorned or rejected, just for that sliver of hope. When Jack crashed face first into a clearing near the rocky bottom of the crevice it brought another scream.

He nearly collided with his love and slipped, falling to her feet. Neri looked down at him, eyes wide with shock, not at Jack’s appearance, but at what Blake and Madison were staring up at in cold silence.

High up in the branches of a tree sticking out from the other side of the gully hung Toby. What was left of him. His body was shredded from the fall, half eaten by birds and any carnivores lucky enough to reach that high, but it was definitely him.

Blake and Madison had found their husband and father.

TO BE CONTINUED

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