The storm had sunk the Consuelo and the Santa Sara, leaving Francisco Herrera and Rodrigo Ibanez as the only sailors able to reach a nearby island. Anacaona, a female savage enslaved on a previous voyage and trained to translate for the Spanish, washed up on the beach a short while later. The three survivors, greatly fatigued from their struggle in the sea, rested for a day on the sand.
Herrera and Ibanez set to gathering branches from a small grove of trees near the shore and started a signal fire on the beach. The Spaniards instructed the young Carib woman to maintain the fire while the island was searched for resources. The sailors were confident that when the Consuelo and the Santa Sara failed to reach Santo Domingo, ships passing through this portion of the Caribbean would keep an eye out for such signals.
The Spaniards scoured the shoreline for other survivors and supplies. Anacaona knew that the diminutive island would not support the three adults for more than a few days. She also resented cooperating with the vile Spaniards any more than necessary. She had good reason to be bitter. The Spanish had destroyed her people and their way of life, enslaving her in the process.
Anacaona had learned the tongue of these fiends only to ensure her own survival and did not care to suffer any more abuses at the hands of these two Spaniards. She had endured their crude conduct and unsavory advances for far too long. The gods had answered her prayers and delivered her from the Spanish with the great tempest that had destroyed their ships. She fully intended to preserve her life and freedom through whatever means necessary.
Herrera and Ibanez found that the entire perimeter of the island could be traversed in just a few hours. The island seemed to be void of wildlife, sans a handful of small crustaceans, a few colorful birds, and insects. There were very few sources of fresh water, but Herrera and Ibanez did find a few brooks trickling from the thicket of trees at the center of the island. These streams quenched the thirst of the Spaniards, leaving each man feeling somewhat renewed. Before returning to the fire, the shipwrecked sailors discussed a very serious concern.
“This island will give us nothing to eat,” Herrera complained, “and I doubt many ships will pass during the stormy season.”
“We may need to consider whatever means exist for us,” Ibanez replied.
The Spaniards decided that if sources to satiate their hunger were not found, the Carib woman would be killed and eaten.
“She has not received baptism,” Herrera reasoned, “so I suspect our rescuers may consider us shrewd for doing so.”
Herrera suggested that ravaging the savage beforehand would be wise, as neither Spaniard may see another woman again for quite some time.
While the Spaniards were away, Anacaona had busied herself with collecting edible roots and bark. Although her efforts produced only meager returns, she did her best to hide what she found.
When Herrera and Ibanez finally dozed on the sand that night, Anacaona covertly plied the beach for ghost crabs. The specimens she found were pitiful, but she cooked a few of the larger ones over the fire and ate while the sailors slept.
During the following days, Herrera and Ibanez attempted to catch fish in the sea and searched the island interior for eggs. Although their efforts proved futile, the Spaniards did not allow Anacaona to forage. The sailors desired that the woman not leave their sight.
Herrera and Ibanez tried to stomach tree bark and a few insects but found these to not be to their taste. The Spaniards grew more collusive, and Anacaona suspected her demise was close at hand.
One morning, Herrera and Ibanez insisted Anacaona join in an effort to search the wooded interior of the island for game. Anacaona was painfully aware the thicket offered little, and she knew the Spaniards were aware of this as well.
Herrera and Ibanez had used a stone to sharpen several branches in an attempt to spear fish in the ocean. Although unsuccessful in their original intent, the Spaniards were confident that these spears could be used to quickly dispatch the woman.
“We will take the spears in case we see nesting land birds,” Herrera had told Anacaona.
Near the center of the thicket was a small spring that pooled in a rocky pond and ultimately fed the various streams that flowed out to the sea. The Spaniards planned to pounce on Anacaona when she stopped to drink from this spring. However, while negotiating the stones along the edge of the pond, Ibanez stumbled and tripped into the water. The pond was not especially deep, and Ibanez easily found his footing. After splashing around for a few moments, the Spaniard clamored out of the water.
“Holy Mother of God,” Herrera said after examining his dripping companion.
Ibanez was confused, but Anacaona also immediately noticed the change.
Ibanez’s head and beard, once littered with gray hairs, were now coal black. His leathery skin and calloused hands were once again youthful.
“Can it be?” Herrera asked. He didn’t wait for an answer. He charged forward and dove into the water. He floated on his back and let the spring soak into his body. Returning to his feet, he looked down into the water at his own reflection.
“The fountain of youth!” Herrera cried out, splashing water from the spring at Ibanez and Anacaona.
Herrera appeared to be ten years younger, and he strode from the water without any of the aches or pains his joints and back had known for the last decade.
Some disbelief still lingered, so all three survivors leaped into the water. There was a moment of levity, and any wicked intentions were cast aside for a time. Anacaona was even more familiar with the legend than the Spaniards, but she was just as astounded at the restorative properties of the spring. She climbed from the water while Herrera and Ibanez continued their merriment. Her reflection brought tears to her eyes.
Her years of servitude had taken a toll on her body, and she had started to look many years beyond her age. After emerging from the spring, she could see that she appeared just the same as she had before her capture. The ripples of the pond showed her dark hair and delicate features to be as radiant as she could ever remember.
Herrera and Ibanez emerged from the spring. Tattered clothing hung from their much younger bodies. Anacaona could see the men were hardly older than she was at this point.
Unfortunately for Anacaona, the spring had reinvigorated an appetite for both food and flesh within the Spaniards. Herrera and Ibanez groped at the woman, and she recoiled at their shameless advance on her. She thought quickly before the men had a chance to put their spears to use.
“Don’t you see?” Anacaona asked. “This spring can save us! We can make ourselves as children and survive off much less.”
The Spaniards had been desperately hungry but did seem to crave nourishment somewhat less now. Without arguing the suggestion, both men dived back into the water. Several moments later, Anacaona watched attentively as two vivacious children ran toward her from the water.
“Come into the water!” Herrera called out with a cracking voice.
Anacaona could see the Spaniards were now roughly the same age that her siblings were when the Spanish took the children of her village away in chains to work the mines and plantations.
She carefully kneeled down near the boys and smiled at each. She had conceived a clever plan destroy these foolish devils.
“If you were only just younger,” she said with a smile, “I could suckle you. I’ll live off the land, and I’ll keep you on the breast until our rescue.”
Herrera and Ibanez, with the minds of men inside the bodies of children, exchanged a grin at this suggestion.
“Of course!” Ibanez squeaked. He sounded just as eager to procure the nourishment from the beautiful savage as he was to consume the milk.
The children scampered to the water and resumed romping around in the pond.
Anacaona watched closely as the Spaniards became younger, occasionally squeaking out a tease or jest to one another.
Suddenly, the small feet of both boys lost their purchase on the stones and rocks at the bottom of the pond. Crying out for help, the children disappeared below the subtle ripples of the spring. When bubbles ceased reaching the surface, Anacaona cupped water from the spring in her hands and splashed her face.
She returned to the beach, adding branches to the fire as dusk approached. She ate her tree bark and roots and searched for crabs in the moonlight. There was no longer a great urgency to be rescued. A ship or canoe would stumble upon this island one day, and find a beautiful survivor of the Conquistadors.
Joshua Scully is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. His flash fiction and other writing can be found @jojascully or at https://jjscully.wordpress.com/