She ran down the deserted street after the bus, backpack falling off her shoulder and waving her free arm in a desperate attempt to catch the driver’s eye.
“Wait up!” she called out. Her thighs started to burn as she picked up the pace, yelling as she ran. The bus turned on its blinker and she sprinted to catch up before it turned onto the side street.
“Hey!” she screamed as she got closer. The tail lights blazed as the bus came to a halt.
She eased her pace as she neared the front. The driver opened the folding doors and she leaned against them to catch her breath. She glared up at the driver.
“You weren’t going to wait, huh?” she panted, as she climbed up the steps. She hoisted the bag onto her shoulder as she swiped her college ID against the bus’s scanner. “Thanks a lot, Fred. I already did my jogging this morning before breakfast.”
“I didn’t see you at the bus stop, so I just figured you stayed late or must have gotten a ride from some handsome young fellow from your class.” Fred closed the doors and double-checked the mirrors to see if anyone else was running after the last bus of the night. He watched her sit down in one of the aisle-facing seats near the front in his rearview mirror and waited until she was settled in.
“Now Fred, you know better. All I can think about is my studies right now. The last thing I need is some young man trying to schmooze me with his fancy car.” She smiled up at the rearview where he was still looking at her. Beautiful as she was, her eyes showed that she was more mature than the average college student. She was going for her third Bachelor’s degree and night classes were necessary to complete it.
“And what did you learn about tonight?” he asked as he signaled and checked his blind spot, even though the road was deserted. The darkness of night was creeping in fast and the direction they were headed looked like a ghost town. His hands spun the large steering wheel counterclockwise and then back around to ease into the lane.
“I learned that I have a test next week and I have a lot of studying to do until then,” she replied as she pulled a book out of her backpack. “I’ve done so well until now and I don’t want to slack off so close to the end.”
“Well, I’m just glad that you caught up to me. I’d hate for you to be out alone on a night like this.”
“I’m a big girl. I can handle myself at night,” she replied simply as she pulled a highlighter out of the front pocket of her backpack. She turned sideways so that she was leaning against the armrest and pulled her feet up, laying them across the next two seats like a lounge chair. She began flipping through her book to find the right chapter.
“I’m sure you can, Miss,” Fred said as he pulled up to a stop light. He glanced up at the moon growing brighter in the setting sun. “I just wouldn’t want you being out in the blue moonlight for too long. That’s not safe. On nights like this, no one should be out in the moonlight. Man or woman.” He looked in his mirror at her. The red glow of the traffic light cast through the front windshield and lit up the book as if it were powered from the inside. She found the page she was looking for, and then replied without looking up from the page.
“Mmm. Blue moonlight, huh? I didn’t realize the moon was blue. You sure you should be driving at night, Fred?” She pulled the cap off the highlighter with her teeth as she held her place on the page with one hand, and then highlighted words with the other.
“Oh, my eyes are perfect. The doctor says so.” Fred didn’t wear glasses. He didn’t need contacts either. Although older and more mature, his looks didn’t give it away. He blended in well enough with the college town, but he drove a bus for a living and that wasn’t the kind of job that got a lot of attention from the ladies. He was happy about that. Fred didn’t want any attention. He was happy to blend in and stay under the radar. Standing out in a college town meant a lot of questions and idle chit chat. That was attention he neither wanted nor needed. He liked his private life exactly as it was intended to be… private.
“You know, Miss. They don’t call it a blue moon because it’s blue. Well, not always. A blue moon is what happens when you get two full moons in the same month. It doesn’t happen often, and good thing it doesn’t. A blue moon is dangerous. Stay out in the moonlight too long on a blue moon and you could lose your mind.” The light changed and he checked for cross traffic, even though he knew there was never any cross traffic on this route at the end of the day. She was always the last one he dropped off before the end of the route.
“Well, I’m sure enough people think I’ve lost my mind already,” she said, “and from the sound of it, you might have lost a little of your own.” She continued to look at her book, not paying attention to the route or the deserted city around her.
“I assume you’ve heard The Legend of the Sailor of Skull Island?” He said it as if starting a ghost story around a campfire. “It’s famous around all these parts.” She glanced up at him in the mirror and squinted her eyes critically.
“All these parts? We aren’t in the middle of the woods, Fred. This is a college town on the shore.” She shook her head and repeated it. “All these parts. Hmph. I don’t know anything about this Skull Island. Rubbish and poppycock, I say.”
“Rubbish? Poppycock?” Fred’s eyes smiled. He loved when she challenged him. “Well, I’ve heard from very reliable people that all the sailors, and even the Coast Guard, stay away from Skull Island during a blue moon.”
“There is no Skull Island. There’s only Lighthouse Island, the little bit of land off the north shore where the public is banned from swimming due to the pollution runoff.”
“The lighthouse is built there to keep boats from drifting too close to Skull Island–”
“You mean to keep from hitting the rocks and sand ridges around Lighthouse Island where a boat could run aground. I would know this because I live just uphill from the docks. You know this. I say there’s no Skull Island.” She continued to flip a page here or there, highlighting a keyword occasionally as she spoke.
“Well, back before there were satellites and planes, stories were told that a Pirate had run aground on that island and hidden half of his treasures there to keep his mutinous men from taking it. But the Pirate died and his men took off with his boat, never having found the treasure.” He glanced at her in the mirror as he rounded another corner and pulled up to a stop sign. He checked around to see if anyone was waiting for the bus, and looked back at her. She kept her head down, and he admired the way her hair was falling out of its ponytail holder and framing her face. He waited for a moment to make sure she was still listening.
“Mm hmm. Of course there’s treasure there. That’s why no one has ever found it.” He loved when she argued with him, but he also loved being right.
“Who says no one ever found it? There was one sailor, valiant and brave, and he was incredibly in love with a woman who lived near the docks. He heard of the treasure and was determined to find it so that he could be wealthy enough for her parents to allow him to take her hand in marriage. Her parents were very protective, and the poor sailor had nothing to offer to ensure that their daughter would be provided for.” She chuckled under her breath.
“It’s always a valiant man and a frail woman who needs taken care of, isn’t it?” she said, shaking her head. “Let me guess, he was handsome, too, eh?’ She glanced up at the mirror with a smirk on her face. He furrowed his brows.
“Well, he was. Handsomest man in town. You’d never know it though, because he was always dirty from working so hard. It’s always the poor saps who have to work tooth and nail that never get noticed.” His voice began to sound disconcerted, but he caught himself and sat up straight, determined to finish his story. He looked both ways and continued through the intersection.
“Anyways,” he continued, “this man spent many a night sitting by the window in the moonlight trying to devise a plan on how to get that treasure by himself so he wouldn’t have to share it. People say the moonlight can do funny things to a man. Well, one night, during a blue moon, the moonlight got to him so much that he stole a small boat from the dock and rowed to Skull Island on his own.”
“You mean Lighthouse Island,” she corrected, still highlighting and flipping the page back and forth to compare facts. He huffed.
“Skull Island. That night a sudden storm swept in and his boat was capsized, sweeping him under the water and in toward the Island’s base. As the current tossed him around, he had no idea which way was up or down. Then the lightning flashed and he could see the entire underside of the island through the water. He saw caves that perforated it in such a way that it looked like the island sat on a giant skull. THAT is why it’s called Skull Island.”
“Mm. That so?” She nodded and flipped another page, skimming down the lines with her dainty fingertip in the dim glow of the bus’s running lights. She rummaged around in her backpack looking for her phone.
“He was pulled so far under the Island that he knew he would never make it back up to the top of the water, so he swam toward the eye of the skull, entering the cave in hopes that there would be a pocket of air to breathe. He swam and swam, following the cave upward but passed out during his attempt. The sailor awoke to sunlight on his face, sitting on the edge of a pool of water in the grass on top of the Island.”
“That’s great. He didn’t die.” She found her phone and pulled it out. “Aha!” He sighed.
“No, he didn’t die. And as a matter of fact, he found the treasure to boot!” He stopped at another intersection and turned on his left turn signal. The amber light flashed in the night, illuminating the now-dark outskirts of town. The inside of the bus glowed faintly with each flash of the light. It cast an elongated shadow of Fred along the ceiling, making him appear larger than he was.
She unlocked her phone and began to use the flashlight feature to lighten the book. The bright light from the white pages highlighted her face in the rearview mirror and Fred was able to see her features more clearly. He admired the way the ponytail caught on her shoulder, part of it flowing down her back, leaving some of it to follow the line of her arm. He noticed the way her lip twisted when she was concentrating hard and how she would stick her tongue out the tiniest bit each time she highlighted a word. In contrast, she only saw the book in front of her now, barely able to make out anything else that was outside of the orb of light.
“However, the handsome–”
“Don’t forget valiant,” she interrupted. So she has been listening, he thought.
“Yes, the handsome and valiant sailor was so overwhelmed at finding the treasure, and being alive, that it wasn’t until late afternoon that he tried to find his bearings on the island. He thought that he would be able to see what direction the mainland was and find his boat washed ashore. Alas, once the poor sailor reached the shore, he couldn’t see the mainland anywhere. He spent days and nights, walking around the edge of the island trying to find which direction was North. It was water as far as the eye could see. He even climbed to the top of the lighthouse, but the lighthouse no longer worked. It wouldn’t shine so he could look for boats at night, and no boats came near during the day either.”
“Too bad he didn’t have a cell phone, huh?” she interrupted with sarcasm.
“This wasn’t… it was way back…” He sighed. “He was stranded. Days went by. Then weeks. Then months. He did his best to live off the plants and insects, but there were no other animals on the Island. Fresh water was limited to a small spring. His beard grew long and his mind went crazy. Eventually, he cared not for any treasure or wealth, but only lamented being separated from the woman he loved with all his heart. Knowing she would be waiting for him to ask for her hand was all that kept him going for the first few months. He even tried to build a small raft of branches and logs but the waves repeatedly tossed him back to shore, beating him up and dropping him back on the sand, never quite dead. Then, after he had lost all hope of trying to get back to her, he decided he couldn’t go on. He would rather be dead than be without her.”
Fred looked back up to the mirror to see her face. She was staring at the book, but she wasn’t skimming or highlighting now. Her eyes were far off in another place, and her features had softened.
“Don’t fret, Miss. It didn’t turn out as such for the sailor.” She glanced up at the mirror, and he gave her a wink before looking back to the road. “Frustrated with the combative waves of the ocean, and driven mad with a new long evening of blue moonlight, he decided instead to throw himself back into the pool he had climbed up, and allowed himself to sink. As his body fell into a calm sleep, he felt the current take his body, and he allowed the darkness to overcome him.” Fred paused for a moment to check her face in the mirror, and she was looking back at him, waiting for the story to take a happier turn.
“He awoke the next morning, overgrown with beard and washed up on the shore of our fine city once again. A local woman, gathering shells to paint for tourists, spotted him lying on the sand and ran to his rescue. She helped him get back to the closest house where he was given fresh water and a bite to eat. When they asked him his story, they were astounded. They recognized his name, but not his face. You see, he had never had the beard before, but no one knew he had been missing either, because he came back the day after he had left. Time had passed for him on the Island, but it had not passed for anyone on the mainland.”
“Time travel, huh?” she asked skeptically. “Don’t you think that’s a bit on the nose?” She raised one eyebrow.
“It’s what happened, Miss. And no one believed it back then either. The worst of it was that his love didn’t believe his story either.”
“Well, who would?” she said throwing her hands up in the air. “I mean, it’s not like he brought back any proof except a beard, now did he?”
“Well, that wasn’t his fault,” he argued. He huffed, and added, his voice a pitch louder, “How was he to know that the day he tried to commit suicide would be the day he ended up back in the land of his true love? Who’s gonna take treasure with them to their death?” She raised her eyebrows, and went back to flipping pages.
“Ok. So go on. Tell me what happened then,” she encouraged, not wanting to get him worked up while he was driving. After all, she wanted to get home in one piece. He settled back down and continued.
“For the next few months, he tried to prove his story to her without success. Nevertheless, all he could do was get back to his regular life and continue to work with renewed strength an vigor, saving money again to ask for her hand. He had tried to get back to Skull Island, but now that the blue moon was gone, he couldn’t find the caves that were there before. It took many months of calculating and reckoning, but he realized the caves only showed up during the blue moon.”
“How convenient,” she noted. He shot her a look in the mirror and she felt his eyes on her. She glanced up. “I’m sorry, continue.”
“Well, it’s true. And once he figured that out, he made his plans to go back on the next blue moon and bring back some of the treasure to show her. But this time, he had to take rations and supplies because he didn’t know how long he would be trapped there and he was worried about being separated from her again. He wasn’t sure if he would survive the insanity, but he couldn’t stand for her not to believe him. The town had labeled him a lunatic and his reputation had been tarnished with her parents. Even so, her eyes still held his from afar. Had it not been for that hope, he may have given up. No matter what the people in town said, he continued to feel her love for him.”
“She must have been an amazing woman, to put up with all that crazy from one man.”
She smirked while skimming down another page. She highlighted another word by cell phone light as they reached another intersection. Fred pulled to a stop and gazed at her over his shoulder.
“She was. Which is why he was so determined to get a piece of that treasure and win her heart and hand. She was an amazing woman, more beautiful than the cherry blossoms in spring, and a sweeter voice than the song of a wood thrush. And the only thing more radiant than the green of her eyes was the love in her heart.” As he spoke the words, her finger stopped moving down the page. She listened and smiled, but still didn’t look up. He returned his eyes to the road, grinning, and checked the side roads before continuing.
“So during the next blue moon, he returned to Skull Island. He made it through the cave and took his time gathering what treasure he could take back through the tide with him. As he sorted through each lovely piece, he looked for something special that he thought might catch her fancy. He found a bright emerald ring with gold filigrees surrounding the small gem to hold it in place. Days were spent polishing and cleaning the ring to give to her when he returned. When he made it back to the mainland this time, he was prepared. He had found a way back out through the current and made it safely back to shore the day after he left. He made his way home to shave and clean up. But this time, when he looked in the mirror, he noticed his face seemed brighter and less wrinkled than when he had left. He had been gone for months and months, aging on the island, only to return to the same time more youthful.”
“Interesting. Time travel and a fountain of youth?” She had closed her book and was resting her elbows on it, listening intently.
“Be weary, Miss. It may sound magical, but the tragedy of the story hasn’t yet been told. People in town say that the man and his true love disappeared that day. He went to her house to ask for her hand, but her parents sent him away thinking he was mad, and asked him to never return. He banged on their door until nightfall. Long into the night he stayed in the waning blue moonlight. He continued to knock, growing more frantic as the minutes passed, his mind so tortured that the blood from his knuckles could be seen on the door for weeks. By midnight, all had gone quiet, and the parents thought he had left. When they went to let their daughter know that all was safe, they discovered she was gone. The room had been ravaged and there were blood stains along the windowsill.” Her face scrunched and her eyebrows creased.
“So what really happened?” she asked. He curled his lip as he turned another corner, seeing the lighthouse illuminate the shoreline in the distance. “No one knows. The parents eventually stopped searching and left the house to a stranger when they died. But some say they see the sailor and his love walking into the water on the nights of the blue moon, ghostly and pale, off to get more treasure. I was warned that one shouldn’t try to approach them, or they may kill you to keep you from getting to the treasure before them.” She raised one eyebrow. “Others say that he accidentally killed his true love in his haste to drag her from the house and now her ghost haunts the streets of the city when there is blue moonlight, while his ghost haunts the island where he returned to take his own life. There are many rumors and stories, but none of them bode well for a night of the blue moon. I say it’s not worth it to risk the insanity that might come with it.”
He pulled up to the bus stop near the water, just outside a small group of old houses. They were all in need of repair, and one had a crooked ‘For Sale’ sign out front that looked like it had been there for a long time. She gathered her book and highlighter, dropping them into her backpack, and walked up to the front of the bus to exit. She held onto the metal pole at the top of the steps and looked over at him.
“Fred, I don’t think you have to worry about my sanity. But if it makes you feel better, I’ll be careful walking to my front door.” She smiled and looked at him, then reached out a hand and put it to his face. He closed his eyes and leaned into her palm before reaching for the handle of the door and pulling the doors wide.
“That’s all I ask,” he replied. He reached up to her hand, took it firmly, and pulled it to his lips. He kissed her hand, just to the side of the emerald ring she wore on her ring finger. It was a beautiful emerald, held in place with gold filigrees, and it suited her pale skin perfectly.
“Now go finish your route and park this bus, sailor,” she said. “I’ll have dinner ready by the time you get home. Happy anniversary, my love.” She bent over and kissed him on the cheek, then exited the bus.