#46 – The reefs

They sailed steadily north for the rest of that day, carried by the wind and the tide. Toward evening a small
island loomed ahead of them. It looked to be no more than two hundred yards in circumference. As they
approached the island, the acrid smell of ammonia grew strong, bringing tears to their eyes. Jamie could
understand why no one lived here. The stench was overpowering.
But it would make a perfect place for them to hide until nightfall. Jamie adjusted the sail, and the
small raft bumped against the rocky shore of the low-lying island. Banda made the raft fast, and the two men
stepped ashore. The entire island was covered with what appeared to be millions of birds: cormorants,
pelicans, gannets, penguins and flamingos. The thick air was so noisome that it was impossible to breathe.
They took half a dozen steps and were thigh deep in guano. “Let’s get back to the raft,” Jamie gasped.
Without a word, Banda followed him. As they turned to retreat, a flock of pelicans took to the air, revealing
an open space on the ground. Lying there were three men. There was no telling how long they had been
dead. Their corpses had been perfectly preserved by the ammonia in the air, and their hair had turned a
bright red.
A minute later Jamie and Banda were back on the raft, headed out to sea.
They lay off the coast, sail lowered, waiting.
“We’ll stay out here until midnight. Then we go in.”
They sat together in silence, each in his own way preparing for whatever lay ahead. The sun was low on the
western horizon, painting the dying sky with the wild colors of a mad artist. Then suddenly they were
blanketed in darkness.
They waited for two more hours, and Jamie hoisted the sail. The raft began to move east toward the unseen
shore. Overhead, clouds parted and a thin wash of moonlight paled down. The raft picked up speed. In the
distance the two men could begin to see the faint smudge of the coast. The wind blew stronger, snapping at
the sail, pushing the raft toward the shore at an ever-increasing speed. Soon, they could clearly make out
the outline of the land, a gigantic parapet of rock. Even from that distance it was possible to see and hear
the enormous whitecaps that exploded like thunder over the reefs. It was a terrifying sight from afar, and
Jamie wondered what it would be like up close.
He found himself whispering. “You’re sure the beach side isn’t guarded?”
Banda did not answer. He pointed to the reefs ahead. Jamie knew what he meant. The reefs were more
deadly than any trap man could devise. They were the guardians of the sea, and they never relaxed, never
slept. They lay there, patiently waiting for their prey to come to them. Well, Jamie thought, we’re going to
outsmart you. We’re going to float over you.
The raft had carried them that far. It would carry them the rest of the way. The shore was racing toward them
now, and they began to feel the heavy swell of the giant combers. Banda was holding tightly to the mast.
“We’re moving pretty fast.”
“Don’t worry,” Jamie reassured him. “When we get closer, I’ll lower the sail. That will cut our speed. We’ll
slide over the reefs nice and easy.”
The momentum of the wind and the waves was picking up, hurtling the raft toward the deadly reefs. Jamie
quickly estimated the remaining distance and decided the waves would carry them in to shore without the
help of the sail. Hurriedly, he lowered it. Their momentum did not even slow. The raft was completely in the
grip of the huge waves now, out of control, hurled forward from one giant crest to the next. The raft was
rocking so violently that the men had to cling to it with both hands. Jamie had expected the entrance to be
difficult, but he was totally unprepared for the fury of the seething maelstrom they faced. The reefs loomed in
front of them with startling clarity. They could see the waves rushing in against the jagged rocks and
exploding into huge, angry geysers. The entire success of the plan depended on bringing the raft over the
reefs intact so that they could use it for their escape. Without it, they were dead men.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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3 Comments Add yours

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