Mark Adam Thomas

Writer, Creator, Artist, Dreamer

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Return to Turtle Cove

Chapter One
The night before a big storm is often calm. Not tonight.
Kibbe pulled his arms tighter about him, bracing against the stinging off-shore wind. He drew in lean legs that he’d let dangle over the cliff overlooking Turtle Cove, tucking them into his embrace.  Wave after angry wave erupted against the rocks—natural jetties that protected the beach from Garomoa’s wrath. As they hit, the breakers glowed like livid, grasping hands as they were ripped apart, catching the determined glow from the near-full moon. To Kibbe, that moon seemed small and forlorn as it fought for escape above the approaching storm clouds at the horizon. 
Tonight’s turtles are going to have a rough go of it, Kibbe thought. He inhaled, filling his lungs deep with the sweet taste of stormy sea air, the steady storm wind pushing all other, heavier smells aside. It was a wonderful smell. Kibbe shivered, squinting to spot even the smallest movement across the dim sand below. Not quite a perfect night for watching the turtles emerge, but better than if the storm had already hit. He hoped he’d chosen the right night. Tomorrow this storm would wash over the island, and Kibbe wouldn’t want to be caught out here in it. 
It would be even worse for them—the tiny newly-hatched turtles. The swells would be higher and hit even harder. They’d have a time of it, pushing their way up and out from the nests where their mother’d laid them, her clutch of eggs. They’d have to battle to the sea, either way. 
Two moons ago, he’d been here on another windy night, much like this, watching the dim, scattered gleam on the beach as a great dark hill of a turtle lumbered ashore and crawled up the beach. Kibbe had marveled at how the mother turtle carefully set to the task of using her flipper-feet to push away the sand, deposit her clutch—lovingly burying the young, fragile eggs. The moon had been higher, brighter on that night, and he’d kept a metered eye on its size since, counting the days until the hatching. Tonight was the night, or tomorrow. 
Frowning, he whispered, “Let it be tonight.”
He’d seen this miracle a handful of times in his fourteen summers, whenever he could steal himself away from the village. It spoke to him like nothing else. He’d always felt a gnawing loneliness deep inside him as he watched the mother crawl back into the sea as she abandoned her children. It was as if he were compelled to return to Turtle Cove and watch, with a sense of hope, as the young turtles fought their way out of the sand and into the ocean. Did they ever see their mother again? Kibbe doubted it. It was a kinship with these strange little creatures, he told himself, that brought him back to the hatching again and again. Like those little friends, his own parents had left him. Of course it wasn’t the same, he knew. In the turtle world, it was natural for parents to leave their children behind. It gave them strength, helped them survive. For Kibbe, watching the turtles, witnessing them escape to the sea, eased some of the hurt.
Kibbe often thought about leaving the village. His wanted to go now, imagining himself as one of the turtles. 
Where would I go? Guess I’d follow the other turtles—out into deep ocean. It was a peaceful thought. But as he mulled it around in his mind, he found himself with more questions than answers. 
Where do they go? The turtles can’t just keep going forever, he reasoned. They must come back. The females return. To lay their eggs. Does that mean the males are nearby as well, even if they don’t come ashore? Well, if I were a turtle, I’d never come back. Not to this island. There are lots of islands, and many lands beyond to explore. I’d have no reason to ever return to Turtle Cove.
Kibbe snorted. Childish nonsense. Now that he was approaching his first blooding, he had stop thinking such foolish things. Blooded men didn’t have such dreams. Old Ritten told him this. Again and again. “You are a foolish boy,” the old fisherman told him, every chance he’d get. Though Ritten had taken him in, given him a corner of his hut, provided food, taught him, he wasn’t Kibbe’s father, and made it more than clear that his adopted boy wasn’t a son to him. 
I won’t ever escape, he thought sullenly. Still, the thought of leaving the island had clutched at his heart for… well for as long as Kibbe could remember.
Taking another cleansing breath, Kibbe set his mind to finding the turtles. He scoured the familiar crescent bend of the cove below. He started at the upper edge of the beach where it the sand flowed into the dark, kelp-strewn rocks at the base of the cliff directly beneath him. He looked up and down the lighter-hued sandy beach that curved for all the world like a pale moon, late in its cycle. A moon that Iloa hadn’t quite finished eating. 
Presently he focussed his attention to the area where the mother had dug her nest. The moon’s glow had dimmed. A tendril of black cloud snaked across it. Kibbe squinted, concentrating. Was that movement down there?
From behind, Kibbe heard a shrill, hooting sound. It was distant, muffled by the wind. The howl came from the woods, high up the hill behind the cove. It sounded like a flying fox. The cry was echoed by another, closer one. This one from the small hillock known as the lookout. The foxes had caught the scent of the turtles, carried high above by the wind. Kibbe perked and spun around. He raked the darkness, but saw no movement.
The gangly predators would not bother him, Kibbe knew. The foxes learned generations ago to avoid men, with their fire and weapons. But the turtles would make a tasty mouthful for the winged predators. 
If the stories were true, other tribes—those from distant islands in the archipelago—actually ate turtles. Tender and delicious, or so some claimed. Kibbe dismissed the notion; turtles were sacred creatures. Elder Varu must surely have erupted at those strangers, if the stories were indeed true. But that would certainly explain why Kibbe hadn’t ever seen any villagers from the other islands. Varu’s temper would turn away even good-natured outlanders. 
Kibbe clambered to his feet. He looked north. Tiny specks of glowing amber—torches and hearth fires from the village—peeked through the trees lining the far side of the cove. He saw no movement, found no man-shaped shadows lurking between here and there. Few of the tribe ventured out after dark, and those who did would carry light with them. Kibbe let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He was safe. Alone. What he had a mind to do was against custom, but damn their custom. Damn them. It wasn’t like he was going to eat the turtles. He just wanted a better look.
He set his jaw and climbed down the rock face, to see if the motion on the beach had indeed been the turtles. They were near impossible to spot even before the moon had drifted behind the distant clouds. Furthermore, the high haze dimmed the light from the constellations above. To top it off, the turtles were tiny creatures, no bigger than his fist. He’d never see them unless he got a closer look. 
Descending the rocky precipice was easy, even in the dark. Excitement had heightened his senses, and he realized he was gulping in air through a wide-mouthed grin. He’d had plenty of practice climbing, and exhilarated at his sure-footed confidence. The rocky shore, and the coast south of Turtle Cove was his true home. It was the only place he felt truly sure of himself.
The cool sand, moist thanks to the receding tide, pressed up between his toes. He crept out of the lee of the cliff for a better vantage. The thin clouds might blur the ancestors above, but they gave off just enough light to now make out a dark shimmer on the beach ahead.
 A dim shape swept across the silhouette of the cliff’s shadow at Kibbe’s feet. He swiveled, raking his eyes up and behind him, but the top of the cliff was dark. Only an unruly tuft of grass waved in the wind. Its shadow must have been what he’d seen. Still, worried that flying foxes might be lurking about, Kibbe picked up a fist sized rock, just in case.
Soon his fascination for the turtles distracted him from all else. Just ahead he found several clutches of egg shells, hundreds of them. Still thick with slime, they lay scattered amidst the freshly churned, wet sand. It was amazing how these precious creatures could survive being buried alive, inside those frail eggs no less. 
Kibbe stifled an excited squeal. The beach ahead was alive with movement. Thousands of turtles moved as one soft wave toward the rolling sea. Kibbe’s cheeks hurt from smiling, but he didn’t care. He didn’t smile much, not around people. But there were no people here. Only his little turtle friends.
The moon had broken free from the distant clouds, its pale light glistening off thousands of skittering, still-soft shells. Just then, two things caught Kibbe’s attention at the same time. He saw a thunderous wave crash over the rocks ahead. Its spotted shadow reached all the way to where Kibbe stood, even if the water spray hadn’t. Second, he heard the squeal of a flying fox. Spinning toward the cliff he saw it, bounding over the the cliff. It flitting about, gliding on the wind as it arced soutward. Kibbe’s heart met his throat, and he clung onto his rock, ready for the worst. He gave a fretful glance back toward the shore, and the turtles. Most of them had safely made it into the shallows just this side of the rocks, but the breaking wave had washed a dozen or so turtles back, away from the safety of the water. Many of them were overturned, and struggling to right themselves. 
With a chittering howl, the flying fox seized the opportunity of easy prey, shifted its course, and moved against the turtles, and swooped down. 
Thawock! Kibbe’s rock pelted the fox in the shoulder. It flinched, squealed, then bolted away, up the beach. Kibbe ran after it, waving his arms and screaming “ayyeeeeeee.” 
He only ran after the fox for a moment, stopping after it took wing and disappeared into the shadows of the cliff. 
Kibbe’s chest thundered. He had just thrown away his only weapon. He realized too late that there was nothing he could use as a weapon around him here, this far down the beach. Nothing but thin driftwood twigs and pale broken seashells smaller than his palm. His only concern now was for the safety of the hatchlings. What would he do if other foxes swooped down? Frantic, Kibbe hurried back toward the shore, his feet slapping at the wet, cold sand. A pair of fox-calls echoed across the cove behind him. 
Several turtles were still upturned, writhing and fighting to get off their backs. Kibbe knelt, and gently righted one of them, then another. They were cold, and their shells soft, and wet. He quickly counted five more, struggling and flapping their flippers. Another wave roared against the rocks, and Kibbe felt the hard, icy spray pelt him. He scooped up a turtle in each hand just before the accompanying wave washed past him. It reached his knees and he nearly toppled over. Even in the darkness, he saw several turtles pushed back on the wake of the wave.
Kibbe set the two turtles into the backwash flow of the wave and stumbled through its forceful pull towards the turtles. He only spotted one turtle struggling to right itself on the glistening sand, about seven paces farther up the beach. Where were the others? Had they been able to ride the backwash of the wave? 
A dark shape swooped out of the dark sky, slapping the sand as it landed on the beach, sending sand and water in all directions. It tilted its pointed muzzle, regarding Kibbe, then eyed its prey, letting out a loud, high-pitched hoot. Its mate, the one Kibbe had pelted with the rock, echoed the call from up the beach. 
Kibbe tensed, and let out a yell of his own. He clambered to his feet and rushed to save the little turtle. 
The fox dug his forewing claws into the sand pushed off with his strong, hind legs. It rushed, half-gliding, half-loping, and reached the turtle first. It snatched up the helpless overturned creature into its narrow, sharp-toothed maw with a foreclaw, holding it there. 
Kibbe didn’t think. He jumped, pushing off the soft sand with all his strength. Kibbe was small for his age, lighter than every other village boy—and most of the girls—but he was at least double the size and weight of the flying fox. Teeth bared even more fiercely than the fox’s, Kibbe caught the predator just under its shoulder and knocked it backwards. They landed on the wet sand with a splat, the creature launching into a fury: writhing and shrieking, flailing winged arms and raking with powerful legs. 
Kibbe’s fingers found the fox’s thin neck and he squeezed, even as he felt the creature’s claws raking at his stomach. 
“Let it go,” he screamed as he slammed the creature’s head into the sand, again and again. Kibbe caught the wicked rake of a forearm claw across his face. He let go, instinctively bringing up his hands to protect his face and eyes. The creature’s teeth sunk into his forearm, and he let out a yelp. A moment later, Kibbe realized, in order for the fox to bite him, it must have let go of the turtle. 
Kibbe rolled over and flung the fox away. His temple and cheek stung and he could feel the heat of blood on his face and chest. Kibbe blinked, but could not clear the vision on that side of his face. His arm throbbed. 
The fox scrambled to its feet and raised up on its haunches. It lifted its forearms above its head and howled threateningly, thin, hairy wings spread wide and menacing. Kibbe could almost see through them, they were so thin.
Kibbe chanced a quick search for the turtle, but before he had a chance to find it, another flying fox swooped down, wildly screaming. It dove directly for  Kibbe.
Blood surged though him as Kibbe dove out of the way. He felt the fox rush by, and heard the thin ripple of its membranous wings. A burst of sea wind deflected it from its course, much like its mate moments ago. This one, however, slammed into the beach, and let out a squeaky puff of air as it tumbled end over end. 
Kibbe rolled up to his feet once more. His chest and face burned from the first attack, but he was not about to let these overgrown rodents get the best of him. He rushed at the first fox, flapping his arms wildly. He figured if he showed it the same intimidating defiance, maybe they would see him as superior to them. He was, after all, bigger than both of them combined.
His instincts paid off. 
As he rushed it, its beady fox eyes became large and round as ku’iki nuts. It yelped in fear and scurried back, leaping into the air and letting the wind carry it away. Its mate howled in defiant anguish, but fled as well.
Kibbe watched them glide toward the darkness of the cliff. He steadied his breath, not risking a glance back toward the shore until his pulse had slowed to normal. He’d never liked flying foxes. Thankfully, they usually kept to the forest, preying on rodents and insects, or eating plants and roots. He didn’t know what brought them out to the beach tonight. Lucky they don’t group up, like their cousins the bats that live somewhere high in the mountains. Kibbe didn’t see how the foxes and bats were related. Loreteller Haol claims they are all spawn of The Bat. “Treacherous creatures all, just like Iloa.” 
Kibbe kept a keen eye out for the foxes’ return. He thought he saw movement along the north side of the cliff, nearest the village, but at the sound of a sharp cry, he soon spotted one of them hunched atop an outcropping on the cliff at the southern tip of the cove. It scrutinized Kibbe, or so it felt, not that he could actually see its eyes, but the creature’s posture revealed its hostility, sure enough. Soon its mate awkwardly glided up and over the edge to join it. The two dark silhouettes bobbed, then hollered in frustration, finally bounding away to disappear behind the cliff high. 
“That’s right. No turtles for you, you wretches,” he roared. It was a small triumph, but Kibbe took his few victories where he could get them, even if this one caused him some scratches. 
The foxes gone at last, Kibbe swept the beach for signs of his little friends. A calm swept over him like a wave of relief.  The last of the hatchlings had escaped, gliding away into the foamy breakers, swallowed by the still-angry sea. The only remaining trace was the delicate indentations hundreds of tiny flippers left in the sand. Even those would soon be obscured by the relentless waves of the rising tide.
The moon, bright and beguiling, stood watch over the orphans now. It floated above the storm clouds like a sentry. “Will you ever return?” he whispered. He knew the answer. The hardy ones will. The ones that survive. 
Kibbe smiled.

A young half-blooded islander boy, Kibbe, is in a tough spot. Racial prejudice from the village elders has put him at the breaking point. On the run, an encounter with pirate slavers forces him to choose whether to save those who have shunned him, or let them be captured.

Return to Turtle Cove was my very first novel, written in 2005 during National Novel Writing Month. It proved challenging, and it was this novel, and its hero Kibbe, that showed me I had a knack for writing, even if unrefined. R2TC was not my first novel idea, however. I had been developing Apprentice Bound for a number of years prior to joining NaNoWriMo, but I did not want to cut my teeth on such a large project. So I started small, finishing the story of Turtle Cove in about 55,000 words. It is still in the process of editing, and should clock in at 90,000 words when finished.

I present you with the revised Chapter One.


All images and content copyright © 2011-2020 ~ Mark Adam Thomas