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Return to Arcadia

The fates of two strangers, Edra and Emanuel, unlikely to ever have crossed paths, become impossibly entwined on the tropical shores of Arcadia, an outback island in the Pacific Ocean, run by drug lords and child traffickers. In a god-forsaken paradise where police and government are just two more varieties of organized crime, the two strangers struggle to reconcile the fiery attraction between them with the mistrust that grows stronger as their carefully kept secrets begin to unravel.

By Dooney PotterPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 17 min read
Photo by Dooney: Tarot spread used by the author for this story (Fountain Tarot Deck)

Emanuel

Upon recovering consciousness, Emanuel found himself lying on his side, gasping for air. There was an unexpected aftertaste of cherry lip balm on his lips as he began to cough saltwater out of his lungs and onto the sand.

"Cough up all that water," a female voice said, pressing two gentle hands against his back.

Slowly, the coughing began to wane, allowing Emanuel to breathe in warm and humid air. "Where am I?" His voice came out hoarse, uncertain.

"Arcadia," she replied, helping him sit up.

He turned his head to look at her, but with the sun behind, her face was a dark shadow inside a halo of fiery red hair. "Arcadia," he repeated, surprised to have been washed ashore in his homeland, exactly where the yacht had been heading before his strange loss of consciousness at the helm and the ensuing explosion.

"I take it by your being fully clothed that you were not just out for a swim," she said, a tinge of humor in her tone.

He felt the waterlogged pants and shirt, clinging to his skin coldly in spite of the hot sun. "No, our yacht—" He paused, uncertain of how much he should tell this stranger.

"Sunk?" She said, completing his sentence.

"Yes," he simply replied.

"I found this on the shore," she said, handing him a leather wallet. "It must be yours, Mr. Douglas Clark?”

Emanuel grabbed the wallet, definitely not his, but indeed belonging to a Douglas Clark. He wondered how she knew the name, as he had made sure to throw the owner's picture identification into the Pacific Ocean before keeping the wallet for himself.

“I saw the monogram," she said, answering his unspoken question.

"Thanks." He put the wallet in his shirt pocket.

"The children, were they—" Her voice broke off.

"The children?" He asked before really processing her question.

"Their pictures are in your wallet." Her gentle hands let go of his back and she sat heavily on the ground, rubbing her knees in what looked like a nervous gesture.

Pictures of the children, he thought, angry for not having gone through the wallet more carefully. She must think they are mine. As quickly as the realization hit him, he threw himself into a feigned frenzy. "The children, have you seen them? Oh, God. No, don't tell me..." He got on his feet quickly, stumbling a little.

Just as swiftly, the woman got up and placed her arms around him. "I'm sorry; I haven't seen anybody else."

Emanuel disentangled himself from her embrace and ran toward the water to look for the two children he had kidnapped from Douglas Clark's own home. They represented a large sum of money that would solve many of his financial problems. "Jodie!" He shouted frantically. "Kyle!" He added, playing the part of the bereft father even as he grasped the names out of thin air.

The woman ran after him. "Sir, there's no one else here," she said, putting her hand on his shoulder.

In an affected show of despair, Emanuel turned around and grabbed the woman by the shoulders, meaning to cry out for his supposed children. Instead, he found himself unable to speak. Her face, even in its display of concern, was otherworldly. Locks of wavy, red-auburn hair, laced the beautiful face like tongues of fire, highlighting constellations of freckles that seemed to dance on her perfect skin.

He sank to his knees, smitten, unable to look away. From her lips came the soft scent of cherry lip balm and from her eyes the fire of a sunset over jade-green fields.

Likely assuming that grief for the loss of his children had seized him, she kneeled to embrace him tightly, cooing him as if he were a child.

He sobbed, not for the loss of children that were not his, or even out of guilt for having nearly killed their father when he had kidnapped them, but because somehow Cupid, striking his heart with his poisoned arrow, had made sure Emanuel owed his life to the most beautiful creature that had ever embraced him.

Edra

Through the window, Edra watched as the fire of the setting sun danced on the waters in strokes of reds and oranges, like an impressionist painting. The man, Douglas, had gone to take a shower after they made it up the hundred steps leading to her cabin on Bounty Hill.

She felt for the gun in the back of her jeans, glad for the safeguard even if the bereaved father seemed harmless. She could not help but to compare his anguish to her own. What was the likelihood of rescuing a man who had just lost his children at sea when she herself was on an official fact-finding mission after the group that had kidnapped her twins two months ago?

His voice startled her out of her rumination. "Thank you."

Edra turned around and nearly gasped. Shirtless and showered, without seaweed clinging to his face and with the pallor of near-drowning gone, Douglas was a handsome man.

"I owe you my life," he continued, walking to one of the windows to stare at the setting sun. "This could have been my last sunset." He turned to face her. "Although without the children—“ He added, almost as an afterthought.

"I made you tea," she said, turning away from his stare and pointing at a small table to her right, near the window. "Jasmine should help you relax as you recover."

He seemed to be over the initial grip of grief, his steps certain as he moved in her direction. She tried to set her doubts aside, recalling the way his whole body had shaken when he had sobbed in her arms on the beach. Now his pain seemed to have been washed away along with the taint of the sea. Trying to keep a steady hand, she poured Douglas a cup of tea. "Here."

He took the cup and sat down, the towel around his waist hugging his muscled thighs more tightly.

"I am really sorry, Douglas, for your loss." Her voice came out tentative, unsure.

He sighed. "A part of me thinks they have made it. Do you think it's possible?" The sadness returned to his voice, dispelling some of her earlier doubts.

She thought of how much she had wanted people to be straightforward with her—especially those belonging to her team at the investigation bureau—once she had accepted the fact that her own twins had fallen into the hands of child traffickers.

"Sorry, it's not fair to ask that,” he said, likely concerned about her silence. “You have done so much for me already.”

"The weather has been kind, if anything," she quickly said. "How did the yacht sink?" Though matter-of-fact, the question was necessary to satisfy that part of her that still mistrusted everyone ever since the twins had vanished.

"We were asleep. We must have crashed after veering off course."

Edra thought of the rocky shore north of the beach where she had found him. "The depth changes deceivingly as you approach Albatross Cove, north of here. Perhaps a rock?"

He considered this. "Perhaps." Then he added quickly, "The helmsman must have been hurt by the impact, unable to save us, I am sure."

She was drawn to his eyes and his voice, fighting the lure of the strong attraction even as her mind processed the mistimed revelation of a fourth person on the sunken yacht.

"I can't tell you not to hope," she finally said. "I have learned to live by hope alone, no matter how futile in the end." Suddenly her heart was wide open, the wound left by the twins' absence aching and throbbing. "My boys have been missing," she revealed to the beautiful stranger, who was either a true grieving father or a clever crook.

Douglas stopped sipping his tea. "Your boys?"

"My twins were taken from the park near my house about two months ago."

His face underwent a slight transformation, deep worry showing in his brow for an instant before sadness dominated his expression once again. "Not you too! But—“ He seemed to struggle with something. "You live on the island?" Again, more thinking. "Arcadia, was it?"

Interesting, she thought, her senses regaining some of their acuity; she had not mentioned that Arcadia was an island. "I live here," she lied, thinking of the long week that it had actually taken her to sail here from her own city, miles east. "I teach English at the local grammar school, for the natives."

Douglas put down his cup, neatly and carefully, as if afraid it would fall and break. "You seem like a noble woman, Edra." The fire in his eyes told her that "noble" was not really the compliment he had meant to use. "I—" His voice faltered. "I feel I have a duty to help, if it would be of any use. Has the local police gotten any leads?"

Edra put her own cup down on the table, never pulling her eyes from Douglas. "None. I am on my own. Corruption on the island casts its web wide, controlling the police and what passes for Arcadia's government. Sadly," here she hesitated, suddenly hit by grief. "Everyone here turns a deaf ear on child trafficking."

Emanuel

The next day, as they followed two men Edra had mentioned last night through the thick brush of Halter's Natural Preserve, Emanuel noticed her stealth and extensive knowledge of the terrain. Although familiar with the area himself, being a native, Emanuel pretended to need her guidance.

"There's a cluster of Banyan trees ahead; kids here call them Fairy Trees," she whispered, turning around even as she continued forward, never missing a step. "We can climb the middle branches and get a good view of Station A."

It made him cringe that she knew the name of the place where he had dropped off a dozen kids in the last five years. He had never gone beyond Station A and feared he might have to do so today: what if his ability to shed off guilt depended on the fact that his kidnapping duties had always ended here?

They reached the banyan trees and he watched as she skillfully made her way up a thick, angled trunk. Distracted by the shape of her body, he almost missed the bulk on the back of her shirt. A gun, he realized. Did all teachers carry guns here now? He did not think so, but one thing was clear, he would be the one carrying that gun as soon as he had the chance.

After climbing carefully, he leaned over a thick branch by her side, the warmth of her skin searing against his arm.

"This is where they bring the children after they arrive in Arcadia." In her voice he could sense the heartbreak of what she was saying, evidently trying to control her emotions even as they threatened to overtake her.

"Have you seen them before, the children they bring in?" He asked.

She would not look at him, but he could see the anguish marking her expression, even in profile. "Only once. I felt completely—“ She wiped her brow. "Helpless."

He had no idea what to say; he had to be scarce with words, lest she figure out he was one of the bad guys, even if his mental acrobatics told him he was not the worst of them. Was there even a difference? He opted for touching her shoulder with what he hoped was heartfelt empathy. The feel of her warmth stirred something in him and, before he could stop himself, he said, "Helpless maybe, but not hopeless."

Suddenly, he was staring into her burning eyes, golden brown irises speckled with yellow, like autumn leaves on reddish dirt at twilight. "Thank you." Her voice was cinnamon and honey even as it wavered with the pain she must feel.

His body seemed to become one with the bark of the tree, solid and unmovable, even as the strange fire of desire coursed through his veins, mixed with another colder feeling that he had always easily avoided until now: guilt.

Edra

The near kiss had taken her by surprise, even though in retrospect, the tender touch of his hand on her shoulder should have been enough preamble. Even now, as they crouched, hidden, behind a short fence overgrown with bougainvillea that flanked the east side of the house, Edra could not shake the image of his face so close to hers, his lips lingering less than an inch from her lips.

The sound of an approaching jeep had broken the magic of the moment and they had quickly descended from their vantage point on the large banyan tree in case the newcomers could spot them once the vehicle made it over the hill to park in front of the property.

"There," she heard him whisper. "Our two men are moving toward the front of the house."

"We'll go to the backyard and watch from there," she replied, trying to avoid looking at Douglas. As she scurried along the fence, with Douglas in tow, she kept thinking of his lips on hers when she had rescued him from the shore, even though at that moment she had been moved by nothing more than the drive to save a drowning man.

When they reached the end of the fence, Edra paused, signaling at Douglas with her hand. The backyard was empty. "There is a shed over there, across from one of the large windows. We can see inside the house without being noticed."

Douglas nodded and followed her lead.

Once there, Edra pushed the door to the shed and made her way in, glad to see nothing inside had changed since last week. Once Douglas was inside, she closed the door and walked to the shed's only window. She pointed to the house.

Inside, the two men were walking back into the living room, leaving the front door open behind them. Edra's pulse quickened as a third, familiar figure, bulky, tall, and bald, made his way in, dragging two smaller figures with hoods over their heads. Her heart sank as the two little ones were pushed inside by a fourth man, who then closed the door.

The hoods came off. She immediately recognized Douglas' boy and girl from the pictures in his wallet. A shiver ran through her body at the unlikely situation, the kids alive after all as Douglass had hoped, but now in the hands of these monsters. She quickly decided that this time she would not remain helpless, even if it meant jeopardizing her reconnaissance mission. She would do anything to rescue this poor man's children.

Next to her, Douglas had stiffened and let out a little gasp. He's seen them, she thought. Edra did her best not to look his way; she did not want to face the agony she knew she would find there.

The bald man guided the two children to one end of the room where he had them sit down on two chairs. He said something to two of the men and soon they were bent over the children.

"Are they tying them to chairs?" Douglas asked without turning to face her, strangely devoid of any emotion.

He must be in shock, Edra thought. "Yes.” Her voice cracked. “They feed them like that, only untying them to go to the restroom."

"How long did you watch before?" There was something like either dread or suspicion in his voice.

"I don't know, several hours, for three days." She did not mention how she had followed the men and their precious cargo afterwards to a dirt road hidden along the main jungle route and leading, it seemed, to Doon's Peak. Through binoculars, she had spied a structure far above, where a few days later a helicopter had landed for less than an hour to then fly away to the west. As she had reported this intelligence to her team, she had languished at the knowledge that her twins would now be far off, somewhere west, deep in the belly of the hungry snake of child trafficking.

"What happened after? Did you follow them?” Douglas asked, a strange eagerness behind his words.

"No. They just took them away,” Edra lied, both out of caution and out of shame at the futility of her actions. Yet, behind the eagerness in Douglas' eyes there was something else, something that gave her a sudden glimmer of hope. "Do you think we have a chance?"

Douglas thought for a moment. "Maybe. See that large gas tank over there, by the fence?"

Edra had to lean over, her head almost sticking out of the glassless window, but she did see the gas tank. "I see it."

"There is a line connecting it to that side of the house, a basement, I think,” Douglas said, leaning closer to Edra, his shoulder touching hers as he pointed at the gas line. "We could cause a leak to release the gas into the basement and then—“ He paused. "Well, we need a source of ignition.”

They locked eyes for what seemed the longest moment. She weighed risk and benefit in her head, going back and forth several times before finally asking, “Will a gun do?”

Emanuel

The weight of Edra's gun and the coolness of the barrel felt to Emanuel like having his best buddy watching his back. He was still shaken from seeing the two children alive after the ordeal with the yacht, which he had barely survived. He kept trying to work out in his head how this had even happened, whether he had been drugged into a stupor as someone took the children, leaving him to crash into the rocks of Albatross Cove.

It had become obvious that Edra had recognized the children and Emanuel had to continue to play the part of the bereaved father, ready to risk his life to save theirs. Although deep inside, he felt an actual urge to do so, but he could not discern if it was because those children represented a nearly lost investment or because Edra's noble cause was starting to draw out the guilt that he had subdued since he had brought his first child to the island.

From his vantage point behind the bougainvillea fence, right across from the tank and the basement, Emanuel watched as Edra made her way to a spot under the large window facing the shed, wide open because this house, like most in Arcadia, had no air conditioning. She was looking his way, her red hair sexily pulled back into a ponytail. With one hand in the air, she began counting backward from five.

Emanuel trained the gun onto a pile of small pieces of steel that he had carefully placed at the bottom of the gas tank and next to the open window of the basement. Being heavier than air, the gas would have accumulated nicely inside; all he needed was a good shot.

When Edra's last finger went down, Emanuel pulled the trigger three times. He never even saw the sparks; the heat of the explosion threw him back onto the grass with the force of a giant's hand.

Edra

With quick knife work, Edra cut the zip ties around the children's wrists. The two of them remained silent, following her earlier instruction to do so as she had snuck up behind the skinny man that had stayed behind, while the other three ran out to look into the explosion. She had rendered him unconscious by bludgeoning him with a crowbar.

"Follow me,” she told the boy even as she dragged him with one hand, while carrying his little sister in her other arm. "Open the door slowly."

As the door came open, Edra saw the bald man coming up the steps, spotting the trio immediately. Edra dragged the boy away from the door, leaned her weight against it, and shut it closed, locking it once she let go of the boy's hand.

"Open the door, you bitch!" The door shook with the impact of the man's fists. Then it stopped and she heard footsteps moving in the direction of the open window.

Edra ran toward the back of the house with the kids, opening a bedroom door only to find an inferno already consuming the wall and furniture across the room. She turned momentarily to watch as the bald man pushed his bulky form through the narrow space between the window bars, while the front door shook under the pounding of what must be the other two men.

"The bathroom," she said, dragging the kids in that direction, shutting the door and placing both children in the bathtub. Protecting them behind the shower curtain, Edra broke the glass with the crowbar and cleared the shards.

"You go first, then you will have to catch your sister," she told the boy as she helped him through the window, his small form easily crawling backwards through it until he hit the ground safely. She then grabbed the little girl and was surprised at how easily her brother took her in his arms. "Run toward that jeep up there and hide inside it."

The kids ran together as Edra began to push her way out of the small window. Once on the ground, she turned to see the kids already halfway to the vehicle. Then she saw him, standing next to the jeep. It was Douglas, signaling for her to come, which boosted her confidence as she prepared to run after the kids.

Then, to her dismay, the kids stopped mid run and screamed. The boy was pointing at Douglas and then dragging his sister away from him, toward the banyan trees.

Emanuel

Before jumping into the jeep and driving away at breakneck speed, Emanuel had seen, with anguish, Edra's realization as the two children, recognizing him for who he was, had run into the trees. After a momentary pause, Edra had run after them, a panicked look obvious on her face before she disappeared behind the Fairy Trees.

He had then jumped into the running jeep, waiting until he saw, through the rearview mirror, the three men running out of the burning house. They had immediately noticed the jeep's new location and likely—hopefully—thinking Edra and the kids were in it, had gotten into the truck parked near the house and begun the chase.

Catch me if you can, he thought now as he drove speedily, picturing in his mind that dangerous bit of abandoned road several miles ahead that he knew led right into the mouth of the cliffs of Albatross Cove, hoping the men were newbies, unfamiliar with this part of the island.

He took the near invisible turn, entering a dark tunnel of tree canopy. The truck behind him followed without any sign of slowing down, telling Emanuel that they had no idea what lay ahead.

Good, Emanuel thought, knowing exactly what lay ahead. After all, he had been a teenager when the park at the end of the road had collapsed into the rocks below, taking his parents and hundreds of tourists with it when a stray test missile had blasted the cliffs of Albatross Cove into being.

As soon as the tree canopy above and the road beneath both came to a sudden end, Emanuel's vehicle was in flight. He smiled, watching his pursuers join him as they took their final dive into the rocky waters.

Emanuel wondered if the loss of his parents had desensitized him to the horrors of child trafficking, but he rejected the thought. More than likely, he was just another common monster in this world's tragic fairy tales.

She should have let me drown, he thought, but then quickly realized, as metal and flesh crushed onto water and rock, that this particular fairy tale might have a happy ending after all.

Perhaps, he marveled, she will rescue me again.

Short Story

About the Creator

Dooney Potter

Visual artist, story teller, poet, engineer, and private tutor.

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