The Isle of Chor-Tal by Ron Shiflet

What would you do to get off an island
you had been shipwrecked upon?

Darryl Hodges slowly awakened to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings. He was extremely disoriented as he shifted position from his stomach to his side, feeling the damp grains of sand that clung to his bare feet and arms. Darryl shook his head in an effort to clear the cobwebs from his head and take stock of his situation. He was lying on a deserted beach beneath a baking Pacific sun and could tell that his skin was beginning to burn from the unrelenting rays.

The beach was nothing like those shown in tourist brochures. Yes, there was plenty of sand, though much of the beach visible to the young man was strewn with large, ugly rocks and craggy boulders. He was thankful to discover a line of tropical trees no more than a hundred yards or so from the rocky beach. There would surely be fresh water from some source, edible plant life and hopefully inhabitants.

Slowly his memories began to return, sending a wave of panic throughout his body. What happened to the ship? Its crew and his friends? Darryl had memories of a savage storm that had appeared out of nowhere. It had taken his party, location scouts for Uncle Howard's independent film company, completely by surprise. It arose so quickly that there had been little time to optimize chances for survival. Its ferocity was like something he had never experienced and he considered it a miracle to be alive.

Unfortunately, Darryl knew only that his friends and crew had been heading toward the Philippines, where many low-budget horror films had been shot over the years. He was on the voyage primarily due to being the nephew of Howard Lotzman, an eccentric man of some means who desperately desired to be the next Roger Corman. Even in his present circumstances Darryl painfully smiled at his uncle's less than grandiose dreams.

Rising unsteadily to his feet, Darryl hastily decided that his first order of business should be to look for other survivors. There had been a crew of three plus the four other employees of his uncle. Walking inland, Darryl was acutely aware of a menacing aura that seemed to hover over the island. This sensation grew stronger and more pronounced as he clumsily trekked toward the trees and creeping vines that grew increasingly thicker the further he traveled from the rocky shore where he had regained consciousness.

Fatigued, the young man paused, noting the scarcity of animal sounds that one expected to hear in such surroundings. Darryl continued to rest, trying to hold his fear at bay as he contemplated the precariousness of his situation. Surely there was some type of life . . . " "Damn!" he sputtered as a thin sinuous serpent crawled over the top of his left foot. He began to shake uncontrollably and correctly ascertained that he was still in a partial state of shock. Looking around the immediate area he spied a large rock that had a relatively flat surface on which to rest. He surveyed the vicinity but did not see any other reptiles. Darryl hugged himself until the chills that racked his body at last subsided. He had to plan and he had to prioritize. Darkness would be falling soon and he did not relish the thought of being alone in this area at night.

After resting on the flat surface of the rock for a few moments, Darryl decided to head back to the beach to make a more thorough search for any supplies or beneficial wreckage that might have washed ashore. He shuddered inwardly at the thought of other things that might be found. Darryl attempted to cast such unpleasant thoughts aside and slowly rose to his feet in preparation for the walk back to the beach. After somewhat regaining his composure he saw, through the foliage, what appeared to be the entrance of a cave running into the densely, vegetated ground on which he stood. His first reaction was to explore this unexpected sight but a small, cautious voice in the back of his head whispered "first things first."

Returning to the beach, Darryl walked along the water's edge searching for wreckage from the destroyed boat. He stopped briefly to stare at the corpse of a crew member whose name was Geraldo. Darryl almost retched as he took note of the small crabs that were beginning to make short work of the body. A wave of guilt washed over him at his inability to summon the resolve to bury the corpse or at least remove it from its present resting place. He had not been close to the crewman, but knew that human decency dictated that some action be taken. With a shudder he walked past the hoard of hungry crustaceans and wandered several hundred yards from the part of the beach on which he had awakened. Darryl made a mental note to consider the crabs as a potential source of sustenance with the provision that he search out the creatures in an area far removed from the present location.

With about thirty minutes of sunlight remaining, Darryl at last found an item which could be of great use. It was the vinyl tote bag that he had carried with him throughout his trip. It contained such things as razors, cigarettes, lighter and perhaps a candy bar or two.

"Thank god," he muttered as he gratefully lifted the tote from the water's edge. He anxiously struggled with the plastic zipper and finally managed to open the bag. Darryl loudly cursed in frustration as he saw the water-logged contents of the tote. The cigarettes and candy were ruined, probably the lighter as well. Still, he took the bag and the lighter hoping that they would dry and still function.

Darryl kicked the remainder of the contents into the dark water that steadily lapped at the shore. He knew little about storms or the ocean, but was surprised that the waves were not larger. Dejectedly he turned and began to walk back to the section of the beach from which he came. He was prepared to avert his eyes from the corpse once he drew near, but was somewhat stunned to discover that it and the crustaceans had disappeared without a trace. Surely a large wave had somehow dislodged the body and pulled it back into the water. It did not make much sense to Darryl, but in his present state of mind it seemed of little importance.

Darryl finally returned to the stretch of beach on which he had regained consciousness, thankful that he had drank deeply from one of the island's fresh water pools in his earlier excursion inland. It was beginning to grow dark and he did not relish a trip into the tropical terrain during the night. His earlier incident with the snake had made him uneasy and he was determined to remain near the shore at night. Fortunately the climate was reasonably comfortable and he would not suffer overmuch from the elements. Finding a fairly sandy and rock-free section of the beach, he lay down and succumbed to the fatigue that settled over him. His first priority in the morning would be to more thoroughly scout the area and look for edibles other than the crabs he had seen. Darryl drifted into sleep and was visited by strange dreams.

* * *

From a dream's eye view Darryl observed what appeared to be the island on which he now found himself. However, the events he witnessed were of things that had occurred in the distant past. In Darryl's dream the island was a place of wonder and innocence, peopled with simple folk who happily lived in a veritable Garden of Eden. They were content to fish and subsist on fruit and simple grains, living a communal existence in which there was little need for elaborate religious ceremony or political intrigue.

For many years these simple people lived wondrous lives and were joyous in their perceptions of the world around them. Then one terrible morning the island was rocked by a tremendous earthquake, eliciting great fear and terror among the people. This massive upheaval opened numerous cracks and fissures in the landscape, revealing several previously undiscovered caves. In one such cave an ambitious young man stumbled upon a large stone statue of a terrible looking creature unlike anything he had previously seen. The figure stood twice the height of a normal man. Its body seemed to be covered with mottled scales and the thing's legs were as thick as tree trunks. From an oversized head protruded a crown of horns almost a foot in length which almost, but not quite, overshadowed the unnaturally wide mouth, filled with an excessive number of long, dagger-like teeth. Behind the massive musculature of the creature's back were folded, large wings.

The youth almost expired of fear when the thing that called itself Chor-Tal began to speak to him. He shuddered as the head and torso of the figure began to morph into a vile substance that had characteristics of both flesh and stone. The frightening creature did his best to allay the boy's fear and finally convinced him that he meant no harm.

Chor-Tal related that his true substance existed on another world called Yutran, but that he was able to project his essence to other worlds in order to aid others who were in imminent danger. He also strongly indicated that he could better accomplish such acts if not for the infernal meddling of his evil brethren who kept his true body imprisoned on his native planet. Chor-Tal told the young native that he had, in fact, come to this world to save the inhabitants from a second, cataclysmic earthquake that would culminate in the death of the island's people unless such a catastrophe was averted. However, for his aid to be effective, the young man must convince his people to remove the massive star-shaped stone that was embedded in the floor of the cave. This would open the gate between the two worlds, allowing Chor-Tal to crossover and usher in their salvation.

The bewildered youth listened to Chor-Tal's words with a mixture of awe and fear. Suddenly he turned and ran from the cave, returning to his people and relating to the elders all he had seen and heard. At first the people were understandably skeptical and scoffed at the boy's tale. After much consideration it was decided that a party of wise men would further investigate the matter and determine if there were any grains of truth in the wild tale they had heard.

The following morning the young man guided the party of elders to the cave where he had made his amazing discovery. The elders were awestruck upon hearing and seeing the terrible figure that inhabited the ancient cave. "Surely he must be a god," they exclaimed, frightened yet filled with a sense of pride at the appearance of such a deity in their midst.

Chor-Tal impressed the islanders with his knowledge of hidden things and almost immediately the innocent folk had fallen under his deceptive spell. Plans were made to remove the star-shaped stone that according to Chor-Tal was "all that bars me from you." In this statement the creature was uncharacteristically honest.

The removing of the stone turned out to be a greater endeavor than originally foreseen. Chor-Tal's "evil and spiteful" brethren had buried the star deep into the natural rock of the cave floor. This necessitated that great time and resources be given by the people of the island. As weeks turned into months, the people, under the stress of an expected cataclysm, began to change in disturbing ways. There was a general decrease in civility towards one another. Drunkenness and theft, previously quite rare, became ever more commonplace, while rape and murder appeared for practically the first time. The coincidence of this moral decline along with the appearance of Chor-Tal was not lost on all. Still, verbalizing such thoughts soon became tantamount to heresy. Many people grew increasingly fearful and silently cursed the advent of Chor-Tal, feeling his presence had cursed the once blissful paradise.

Finally, the day arrived when the star barrier was all but removed from the cave floor. A great celebration was planned to commemorate the freeing of the people's savior, though many felt nothing but a great sense of disquietude hovering over the island. The moment of the stone's unearthing had arrived and Chor-Tal honestly assured the people that soon they would witness things that they could not imagine. Eventually the more important elders completed their ceremonial speeches while husky workers stood ready to remove the stone. All was in readiness when the island was rocked and shaken by great seismic tremors.

People wildly panicked and trampled each other in their mindless flight to escape confinement and death in the cave in which so many had gathered. During this chaotic scene, Chor-Tal beseeched, exhorted and threatened the people in a vain attempt to persuade them to complete the removal of the star-stone.

"I can save you," he raged and bellowed in frustration.

Chor-Tal's impotent rage was ignored in the tumultuous pandemonium. As the last injured and trampled stragglers fled the cave a powerful aftershock sealed the entrance, leaving Chor-Tal to stew and rage in the tomblike darkness.

The aftereffects of this fiasco caused the people of the island to see themselves in a new light. Sickened with shame at what they had become under the influence of Chor-Tal, they divided into several different groups and left the island forever. The tale of the island folk was passed down from generation to generation and the island became a place of fear and took on the mantle of an accursed place. From that time forward the island remained uninhabited, leaving no one to unleash Chor-Tal on an unsuspecting world . . . until now.

* * *

Darryl was awakened by a slight tremor. For a moment he thought he was still dreaming and momentarily expected to see brown-skinned islanders surrounding him. He slowly came to his senses which offered not a great deal of reassurance in light of his present circumstances. The morning soon was mostly obscured by a foggy haze that had settled over the island during the night. The air was slightly chilled and Darryl hugged himself in a brief but futile effort to warm himself. He struggled to his feet, almost every muscle throbbing as a result of his recent ordeal. Darryl's stomach loudly rumbled in hunger and his mouth was dry and parched. Turning towards a large rock, Darryl relieved himself and decided that his next order of business would be to return inland for a drink of fresh water and to search for edible vegetation.

Leaving the beach area, he made his way up the slightly rising terrain towards the clear pools he had discovered the previous evening. He thought it wise to grab a sturdy piece of driftwood in case he encountered snakes like that which he had seen the day before. Soon he was back among the thick foliage when his memory was jolted by the sight of the cave entrance he had previously noted. This cave had no doubt played a major role in influencing his dreams of the previous evening. After checking for snakes, Darryl knelt before the clear, bubbling spring, placed his mouth to the water and deeply drank. With his thirst quenched, he felt greatly improved and decided to have a brief look into the cave entrance before beginning his quest for food.

Darryl cautiously cleared the entrance of vines and other debris and was pleased to note that the morning sun was now visible and positioned in the sky so as to illuminate a large portion of the cave's interior. Seeing no sign of animal habitation, he pulled the remaining foliage aside and entered the natural chamber. Allowing his eyes a few moments to adjust, he was stunned to discover an excavation site several feet in depth. A massive star-shaped stone had been all but removed from the solid stone floor. There was a relatively minute amount of rock to be chipped away before the object could be freed from the rock.

"Damn," he said. "I must be hallucinating."

Suddenly from the shadows near one of the cave walls came a deep but non-threatening voice. "It is almost like the dream, is it not?"

Darryl nearly lost his footing in his frantic haste to back away.

"Fear not, man," resumed the voice. "Your dream was a only a distortion of the truth. Some truth mixed with much untruth. It is the way of my enemies and of those who persecute your world."

"What do you mean?," stammered Darryl, still fairly certain that this was all delusion, brought on by shock and hunger.

"Step closer and look upon my face," said the voice.

Darryl decided to immerse himself in the delusion and took a few tentative steps forward. Instead of seeing the horrible visage of the creature in his dream, he gazed into a classically handsome face that could have been worn by a god.

"But in the dream . . ."

"Dreams are but dreams are but dreams," replied Chor-Tal with a pleasant laugh. "In fact," he said, "it is the presence of the stone before you that is responsible for poisoning and distorting your dreams."

"Why should I believe you?" asked Darryl.

"Why should you believe anything," responded Chor-Tal.

"I'm not sure that I do," said Darryl with an exhausted sigh.

He turned his back on Chor-Tal and took a couple of slow steps toward the mouth of the cave.

"Wait," hissed Chor-Tal with a sense of desperation and urgency.

Darryl turned toward the voice. He had not felt sane since yesterday's awakening on the beach. "Yes?" he answered, his mind beginning to drift.

"I can save you. Finish removing the star-stone and I will take you off this island."

"Why not," said Darryl with another sigh.

Taking a hard wooden tool and a large, round rock, Darryl seated himself into the sunken area surrounding the stone.

"That's it," said Chor-Tal. "Good, good indeed."

Darryl pounded the hard edged tool only three times when the island began to tremble. Rock and debris began to fall around him but still he continued to work at the base of the stone.

"Continue! It is nearly done."

A large stone struck Darryl's head a glancing blow, but did not deter him from his task.

Chor-Tal continued to urge him on. The creature was almost frantic as the situation continued to deteriorate.

"Hurry fool, hurry!" he bellowed, no longer bothering to conceal his true form.

Darryl, bereft of sanity, obliviously continued his efforts. The star-shaped stone was almost free, requiring only one or two more blows. Raising his arm he hefted the primitive tool and prepared to strike a final blow. Darryl's arm was in its downward arc when the cave roof collapsed, crushing the man and wedging the star-shaped stone securely in place.

Above the terrible noise of the earthquake's destructive force could be heard Chor-Tal's unceasing howls of rage and frustration.

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© 1999 Edward P. Berglund
"The Isle of Chor-Tal": © 1999 by Ron Shiflet. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1999 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: March 12, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004