The Last Words of Ethan Cane

The Last Words of Ethan Cane

From the journal of Ethan Cane

September 7th It was an arduous journey from Panama City to the small fishing village of Guardián Del Mar. I feel like I've been traveling for weeks instead of days. I must admit I could not have picked a better place to achieve the solitude for which I'd been so desperate to find. The man who told me about this place, Nico, I believe was his name, was right. Nothing for miles around, small, couldn't be more than a few hundred people living here and situated right on the ocean, precisely what I hoped to find. I regret leaving my sister to pick up the pieces after our mother's death. I couldn't be there any longer. The home where we'd grown up was different without my mother. Every corner, every sound, the smell from the garden, and the jasmine that covered the back fence. Everything was a constant reminder that she was gone and would never return. There are no more tears left within me. So I escaped, ran away to this place where no one knows who I am.

The hotel where I acquired a small but serviceable room is less of a hotel and more of a converted home that must date back to the Spanish occupation. The master and mistress of the house were kind and accommodating of my terrible Spanish. Luckily, they know enough English to accompany my lack of their native language, allowing us to communicate. I was happy to find that my room has a window that looks out onto the sea. With the window open, I can hear the soothing sound of the waves breaking on the rocky cliffs below. The scent of salt air is refreshing after the stifling smell of humanity on the bus ride here. The bed looks inviting as I sit at the small writing desk, attempting to chronicle my journey. A good night's sleep is in order, and with the rhythmic sound of the waves below, I can't stay awake much longer.

Tomorrow, I will explore the town and get some supplies. Hopefully, I will be able to acquire the amount of alcohol needed to keep me from my quiet thoughts. As I write, my eyelids are heavy. I will retire for the night. September 8th I slept in a considerable amount this morning. It's funny how exhausting grief can be. The day was sunny but humid due to a heavy rain shower in the morning while I slept. I gather that the rain should be substantial this time of year in Panama. Nevertheless, I was happy to feel the warm sun as I explored the tiny village by the sea.

The town of Guardián Del Mar is small and charming. Most of the architecture is of Spanish origin, as would be expected. Tight cobblestone streets wound their way down from the upper portion of town to the central landmark of the village, a small but bustling marina. Due to my late start, I arrived at the marina just as the fishing boats were coming in to offload their bounty from the morning's toil. Weather-worn fishermen moved nimbly about the docks, tying off boats and unloading fish-filled baskets. The smell of the salt air was strong on the wind coming off the sea that sparkled in a myriad of blues and greens owed mainly to the uncommonly intense midday sun. The wet, worn planks of the dock creaked under the strain of so many barefoot seafarers rushing two and fro.

I found my query quickly, a weathered tavern a small distance from the dock where the drink flowed liberally, and no one seemed particularly interested in anyone else. I spent the remainder of the day and a considerable amount of my coin in the dim, dust-filled establishment. I watched the mariners come and go, some drinking to celebrate, others to mourn, and still others to forget the trials of their existence. The drinks were strong, and it didn't take long for me to fall into a hazy half-awareness, which was indeed what I came to do.

Tears welled within me as I peered numbly through the window overlooking the docks. I fought them back as hard as possible, not wanting the hardened sea folk to see me blubbering in the corner. My mother is gone. I will never see her again. It is too much to bear. I should write my sister and let her know where I've gone. I can't hold her up against this grief when I can barely stand myself.

By the time I left the stale air of the tavern, whose name, El Reloj de las Mareas, I had caught as I had exited, the sun was setting on the western horizon of the sea. On other days, I would have thought it beautiful and stopped to witness nature's incredible display until it disappeared beneath the ocean. Today, however, I was in sour spirits and full of spirits, as it were, so I staggered back up the narrow streets to my hotel perched on the cliff overlooking the sea.

It didn't take long to stumble back to my room and fall asleep in the small but comfortable bed. I must have slept for a few hours. It's past midnight now, and the cool air blowing off the ocean is a pleasant relief from the humid stuffiness of my small room. I was happy I had left the window open when I fell asleep. The breeze and sound of the waves are a comfort as I clear my head and write about the day's events. From my desk, I can see a small island silhouetted against the moonlit sea. Not far offshore, possibly a mile or two. Oddly, I didn't notice it before. The ink-black shape of it seems to draw me in. Inebriated still from the day's excursion, I find it hard to keep my head up. The wind is soothing, and the wave's rhythmic lull calls me back to bed.

September 10th The last two days have passed by in a drunken haze. I barely remembered yesterday's events. I remember leaving, but nothing more after that. I went to El Reloj. I can remember that much. The same salty lot eyed me as if recognizing me from the day before. I didn't care. I'm not here to make friends. I got my table and set about the day's drinking. I remember vague bits and pieces from the day. I have a vivid memory of last night, however.

I recall sitting and staring out the window toward the island, transfixed by its deep blackness in the night. It seemed that no matter how bright the moon cast its light, it could not penetrate the darkness of the island to reveal any features but the outline. I was drunk, but I swear I remember a rhythmic beat far off in the distance as if some percussion ensemble was playing into the night. I was not in my right mind, but the memory was vivid. The distant sounds seemed to be coming from the island.

I stared into the black spot, the island, as if in a daze. It was odd how the dark shape was even noticeable in the near blackness of the churning ocean. Its absolute lack of color identified it like a beacon against the deep blue-green water broken here and there by flashes of white water breaks. Something is interesting about the island. I just can't put my finger on it.

I woke late today, late even for me. It was fiercely raining when I left my room to return to the dusty tavern by the docks. The man and woman who run the hotel, whose names I know now are Carlo and Laiya, provided me with an umbrella and a few stern words about spending my time at the tavern. I understood only half of what they said, but got the gist. However, it didn't deter me as I went down to El Reloj in the rain. When I returned, I went straight to my room and slept. I have only now woken up, and I can't find my way back to sleep. With the waves to keep me company, writing may draw me back to slumber.

I managed to write a short letter to my sister. I will send it tomorrow and hope it finds her well.

As I stare through the window at the dark island, I wait for the strange rhythm to begin again. Could the drink render such a vivid memory of last night? I have been waiting patiently for some time now. The blackness of the island is still somehow inviting, with its promise of unfathomable depths. A deep hole punched into the ocean, leading to the bowels of the Earth. Still no sound.

September 11th Today, I returned to town, hindered somewhat by the master and mistress of the house. They were concerned again about my unhealthy draw to the tavern of which I'd been spending so much time. They begged me to stay in my room and rest, commenting on the haggard state of my appearance. Again, I shrugged off their concerns and made my way down the rain-drenched streets to the center of town.

Along the way, I stopped and spoke with a young woman near my age from her appearance, who was selling pottery just outside of the market area. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about the town, even though I had no interest in her wares. After a few questions about the village, which she was readily forthcoming with, I asked about the island I had seen from the window of my room. She became oddly silent at that point and looked taken off guard. She began asking me if I wanted to buy any of her merchandise, seemingly to change the subject. I pressed on. However, she evaded my questions, only offering that there were many islands off the coast, and she couldn't possibly know the one I spoke of. I took the hint, venturing off searching for a vantage point from which I could view the island in the light of day, dull grey and raining as it was.

Try as I might, I could not find any location that provided a clear view of the island. The town was small, and it didn't take long for me to exhaust all promising positions. Defeated, I wandered back to the barroom's familiar stale air and worn accommodations. I spent the remainder of the day drinking and staring out the window through the sheets of rain toward the horizon where the sky's grey met the ocean's dark blue. The folks in the room seemed to have become accustomed to my presence, some even nodding as I entered. Am I becoming a fixture in this forgotten town?

Here, I sit at the writing desk in my room, again staring out into the darkness of the nighttime ocean at the island, which has become something of an obsession. Heavy with drink, my eyes can barely stay open as I write. The cold, wet sea air, now blowing in through my open window, whipping the curtains about beside me, chilling me to the bone. The island draws me in. What about its cold darkness beckons me, like a voice calling me from some distant forbidden void? What could lurk there, luring me in like some siren of ancient times?

September 14th I've lost entire days. What is time, just a space to fill? A dark hole into which all of your efforts are thrown. How could I have wasted this many days filling my time with drink and my nights peering at a hole in the sea? That damn island. I'm staring at it even now as I write. What could be there? Why does it seem the utter darkness holds some mystery in its depths? I have yet to hear the rhythm I recall from my second night in Guardián Del Mar. I feel like it's just beyond my ability to hear in the silence. A feeling more than anything.

The towns folk haven't been forthcoming about the island. It's not far out. They should know something about it. All I have gotten were vague turns of phrases or nothing at all. The locals at the tavern are looking at me suspiciously now. I had come to count them as friends, though we'd been at the same place for days and never spoken a word. It was the familiarity and consistency, like a piece of furniture, that you instinctively move around even without looking.

I spoke with a man about buying a rowboat. It would be hard going, but I could row over to the island on a clear day. Seeing what was there might put my mind at ease and allow me to sleep instead of staring out this window. The nights have been stormy, but I can still see that island, dark as coal, calling. I'll get to the dock tomorrow. If this rain lets up, I may attempt the island. For now, I have to sleep if I can.

September 15th I met the man with the boat today. We were able to negotiate a deal even without fully understanding each other. My Spanish improved, but he didn't speak English, so the transaction was complicated. I paid him the money, which he seemed to recognize as the correct amount, and he showed me a worn-down but still floating two-person rowboat. A heavy storm rolled in just about when I finished with the old fisherman, ending my plans to row out to the island today. Tempted as I was by the old tavern as I walked past, I continued, hoping to investigate the village more and clear my head of the steady inebriation I had been nursing the past few days. The rain was relentless, but I am getting used to it now.

The man who sold me the boat asked what I would do with it, and I told him I planned to take it to the island offshore. He seemed shocked by this. If I made out what he said correctly, he said not to go. He is the only person in town to admit the island even exists. The old fisherman was concerned, warning me against going to the island. I assume he was worried about the storm and the rough seas. I will admit that it puts me at ease knowing someone else here has seen the island. I was beginning to think I was losing my mind.

I found nothing in the village of interest. With the rain coming down as it was, I headed back to the hotel to get some real rest. It was earlier than usual when I returned to the hotel. The innkeepers were still about and again urged me to stay away from town. They wanted me to rest and suggested I take some time to read in the small library they had on the premises. I promised them that I would stay in for the night.

Now, I sit in my room, staring out the window at the island. Night had fallen before I returned, so I could not get a view of the island in the light of day. There it sits, tempting me with its unfathomable blackness. What undiscovered secrets could lie hidden on that island? Why did the townsfolk avoid speaking about it? I need to know. I can hear it now. The rhythm is coming from the island. Dull and distant like the striking of some bellowing drum. The sound of the waves keeps time with the sound of that hellish beat again and again.

September 20th I woke up this morning without any recollection of the last few days. There is no possible way I could have slept the previous five days away, but the date in the newspaper I retrieved tells me differently. My entry on the fifteenth is the last thing I remember. My patrons were not around this morning when I struck out to find a newspaper. It's odd. They have been present each day since I arrived, kindly bidding me a good day and other times warning me not to fill my head with alcohol. The house is quiet. They must have gone into town for supplies. I planned to try and row to the island if the weather permitted, but now I wake, and it's days later. I need to get my bearings. Perhaps a walk to the marina will help me begin to recall the last few days.

I didn't have the nerve to row to the island once I reached the marina, nor did I recall anything from the previous days. I took Laiya's advice to find the library and read for a while. I thought it would clear my head, but a fresh intrigue arose.

As I perused the small library, I found a journal and, with it, an ancient book. Something about the moldy worm-eaten text spoke of unfathomable age. Written in strange hieroglyphs that I'd never seen before and containing horrid images that I wish I'd never laid eyes on, the book was entirely out of place among the classical fiction that dominated the collection. I found it tucked in the corner of the shelves along with the journal, which was old but not nearly as old as the book. Written in Spanish, the journal seemed to belong to a ship captain from the Spanish Armada. I spent the day slowly making my way through the journal.

It belonged to Captain Emanuel Antonio, a man of some reputation, as the journal seemed to boast, with dates ranging from the early sixteenth century, the last entries in 1518. It was primarily dull stories about seafaring, severe storms, and bad relationships. The man was a tireless blowhard who bragged about himself endlessly but never did anything of substance. I read better Spanish than I speak, but I wonder if my translation was off because the final few days of the captain's journal were utterly unbelievable.

The final entries depict the captain discovering a small island off the coast. He thought he would anchor the ship off the small island and establish a forward position before landing on the mainland. Anchoring the vessel off the island's rocky shoreline, he sent men in row boats to establish a beachhead. Emanuel went with the last boat, leaving a small crew behind to mind the ship. People from a village on the island greeted them. Thinking he could gain information from the villagers about what to expect on the mainland, he followed them to their town.

The captain's next entry describes a great feast set up in honor of the captain and crew. The food was delicious, and the villagers offered them copious amounts of wine they produced by fermenting a particular fruit that grew on the island.

His following entries become erratic. He woke feeling like he couldn't remember half the night. He says the village leader read from an old book the night of the feast. That was the last thing he could recall from that evening. Two of his men were missing and presumed deserters. The narrative is strained at that point as the captain's entries are only fragments quickly scrawled in frantic-looking penmanship.

He believes something happened the night of the feast. As the captain begins to regain some of his memories of that night, he is horrified by the glimpses his mind offers. Remembering the village leader reading from a hefty tome as the rest of the village and a good number of his crew danced wildly around a bonfire. Emanuel's description of the book matches the one that now rests beside me on the writing desk. After two days in the village, more crew members had gone missing, five men. The writing becomes paranoid as the captain suspects that the villagers are taking crew members and that he must leave the island at once.

The first of the last two entries describes the captain's flight from the island. It is an utterly astounding piece of fiction. It must have been another fabricated tale to exaggerate his sense of self-worth. If it is true, the captain narrowly escaped with his life. He describes waking up in the village with his entire crew missing, alone in a large wood structure the villagers provided for him and his men to sleep. Staying inside the rest of the day until night fell, Emanuel waited to escape under the cover of darkness. When it came, he slipped out into the night. Silently stalking the village streets, Captain Antonio came upon the village leader's dwelling. Not understanding his motivation, he made off with the tome, believing its destruction was paramount.

Managing to leave the village undetected, he found the rowboats they had left at their landing location. Pieces of the boats littered the cove. Each one smashed as if with some immense force—the captain then, with the help of a long and wide remnant from the broken rowboats, paddled out to the ship. Once reaching it, he discovered the rest of his crew murdered. His men's bodies twisted in odd shapes on the blood-covered deck. Then, he describes the sounds of something in the water around the ship. 'Liquid black shapes that slither and writhe about the deck,' he wrote. Managing then to ignite these liquid creatures with oil from the deck's lantern, he cut anchor and drove the flaming crewless ship to crash on the rocky beach of the mainland.

The final entry in the journal is only one line written in a fine, steady script. '¿Qué diablos he encontrado?, ' what hell have I found?

I need to call my sister.

September 21st This morning, I woke to the smell of breakfast wafting into my room from downstairs. My caretakers must be back. I can't imagine what could have kept them out the entire day. I asked them about the books I found in the library. They both seemed surprised about them and even more surprised that I had spent the day reading instead of filling my head with alcohol at the tavern. Carlo informed me that previous guests had donated or left the library titles behind. Only a modest collection belonged to him and his wife. He determined that someone in the past must have left the journal and book. I ate breakfast in relative silence, and the innkeepers seemed happy to oblige my stoicism.

The day is clear, perfect for a trip to the island in my newly acquired rowboat, but the revelations from the journal have me apprehensive. Could that journal speak of the same island I've been obsessing over? It seemed likely. I must find a postal service to send my sister this letter. This village can't possibly be that cut off from the rest of the world.

I'm back now. I left the letter in the hands of an older man who told me he travels to the larger city to the north once a week and would deliver my letter to the post office there. I spent some time in the tavern trying to get the nerve to row out to the mysterious island, but the locals convinced me to stay and drink. They were kinder than they had been before. Not that they weren't kind. It was just that in all of my previous visits, the tavern patrons mainly ignored me. I suppose they are getting accustomed to my presence.

I spent the day in the tavern, drinking the sun away until dusk fell on the village. Try as I might, I could not get anyone to give me a straight answer about the island. I even asked about Captain Emauel Antonio. There were a few raised eyebrows, but no one came forward with any information. Missing my opportunity to row to the island, I felt I should return to my room earlier than usual.

When I arrived at the house, the innkeepers had prepared a large meal and were happy that I was home early to share it with them. We ate in relative silence, broken only by occasional comments about the food's quality and requests to pass this or that. I tried to spark conversation when we'd finished eating and mentioned Captain Antonio. Carlo and Laiya hadn't heard of the man even though it was in their library that I found his journal. Carlo told me there were rumors about a Spanish ship that crashed on the shores near Guardián Del Mar carrying a treasure of Spanish coins. Alas, no one had ever found the vessel or the gold, so most believed it to be only a tall tale. The journal seemed to tell a different story.

After thanking Carlo and Laiya for the exquisite meal, I came up to collect my thoughts. I have been here since, staring at the rain-swept sea from my window. At the island, black as ever against the dark churning sea, calling to me. I began to write only to keep my focus away from the damn thing. What is out there, and why won't anyone acknowledge its presence? What about this journal and the decrepit book? Could it have been written by a man who visited that same island? It is madness. Why in hell can I not stop staring at it? Why does it call me? What does it want?

There, I hear it, faint, but it's there. The sound, the rhythm I heard before. I am sober now. It is not some delusion. The sound is clear. Is it coming from the island? Why does it call me so?

I'm tired. Perhaps I need sleep. Perhaps it is only the sound of the waves drumming against the cliffs. Perhaps.

September 26th It can't be. I woke this morning to find the window open. Rain swept into the room by the wind. On the writing table beside my journal is that old tome. Open on the desk to a page more than halfway through. The page consists of symbols I don't understand on separate lines, twelve in total.

Again, the owners of the house are gone. I found a newspaper with the date. Five days, again, five days, and I remember nothing of what happened. I can not blame this on drinking. I haven't been to the tavern in days. Or have I? I can't remember. I need to go to town. I need to get some answers. I am looking out my window now, out to the sea. The day is clear. The rain does little to obscure my view. It's not there, the island I have stared at night after night in this damn place, nowhere to be seen.

I've just returned from town. I searched for the man who sold me the boat but couldn't find him. I asked around but found only suspicious looks. No one had seen him for days. I needed to find him. He was the only soul in town who had ever acknowledged the island's presence. I talked to the man who took my sister's letter. I was hoping he could take me to the next town. Maybe there's a phone to use there. He told me he wasn't traveling that way for at least another few days.

It's now heading toward evening, and the innkeepers are still absent. Where could they be? How is it possible that the island had vanished? I've seen it night after night but never in the light of day. My fear now is that, after seeing nothing in those turbulent waters, tonight, it will appear again to haunt me.

It's late. As I feared, the island is there just out the window. The moon is bright, and the sky is clear. There is no mistaking it. It is not a trick of the sea. It is there; oh god, I wish it wasn't.

I can see lights from the island on the north side. I have never seen any lights on it before. And the beating rhythm is louder than on previous nights. How can this be?

I can't sleep. Some of my memories are coming back. I remember staring out the window with that decaying book in front of me. I was reading from it as if I could understand the language. I was chanting strange words. It has to have been a dream. Yes, it's just a nightmare.

It's dark. Something was moving in my room a moment ago. A black figure with no distinct shape moved as if it preferred the shadows, darting from pool to pool of darkness. As it crept through the room, the sound of some slimy wetness scurried along the floor. Lighting the lamps seems to have driven the thing away. I am loath to recall the narrative in Captain Antonio's journal, 'Liquid black shapes that slither and writhe about the deck.' I pray the oil in these lamps lasts until morning.

I tried to sleep, but I fear to close my eyes even with the lights on. The sound of the beating rhythm is getting faster now. I remember now. Carlo and Liaya, when we had dinner, what did we eat? They told me to look in the book, they told me.

It's too terrible to put down in words, but I must write, as it stops the gripping terror from taking hold. I remember finding the remains of the man who sold me the boat—stashed in the kitchen pantry downstairs. Not all of him was there. What did they do? It's them.

I remember now, most of it, at least. Nights of staring at the island chanting the strange words from the book, chanting to the rhythm, the sound of the waves, and those distant drums, and eating. I remember the innkeepers coming with food, telling me to eat. And I did. We all eat. We all need to eat.

It won't stop, the sound the draw. There it sits in the darkness, a hole in the ocean, promising unknowable truths, deep blackness pulling, always pulling. They did it. They did it to me. They made me. How long will that lamp stay lit? Not much longer. Will it hurt?

What hell have I found?


Provided by Stephan Milburough Esq.

The proceeding journal is the last remaining possession of Ethan Cane. Ethan names his sister Helen Cane the sole beneficiary. All accounts and holdings, including this journal representing the sum of Mr. Cane's physical holdings, are transferred to Miss Cane upon the death of Mr. Cane. Due to the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Ethan Norman Cane, local authorities presume him dead, lost at sea.

Helen Cane responded to her brother's letter from Guardián Del Mar, Panama. When he did not reply, she traveled to the small town to find her brother. The letter made Miss Cane believe her brother was in trouble with the locals. She arrived to find her brother missing and a strange story from the locals about his whereabouts. Several town residents report seeing Mr. Cane rowing a small boat out to sea.

Ernesto Carrillo, the owner of El Reloj de las Mareas, a bar and restaurant in the village, testified that Mr. Cane had spent a significant amount of time in his establishment. Mr. Cane appeared one day and frequently visited Mr. Carrillo's place. Mr. Cane kept asking about an island off the coast that he could see from his room at the hotel on the cliff. Mr. Carrillo states that Cane became more erratic just before he stopped visiting the establishment. No one in town has seen him since.

Mr. Carrillo also informed authorities of the abandoned ruins on the cliffs in town. Ethan Cane told several people that he was staying at a small hotel on the cliff overlooking the ocean in the upper part of town. The area consists of abandoned, dilapidated buildings unsalvagable after a fire burned most of the village in 1518. Mr. Carrillo confirmed that no one lives in that section of town. The locals assumed he was a transient living among the ruins. Many described Mr. Cane as intoxicated in nearly every encounter. Discovery of the mutilated body of Hector Alonso in the area noted by Mr. Carrillo to be the ruins of the old town raised suspicion that Mr. Cane may be involved. However, there is no physical evidence to implicate Mr. Cane definitively.

The journal corroborates the statements from several locals about the level of drunkenness Mr. Cane sustained during his time in Guardián Del Mar. With Mr. Cane's written declaration, the eyewitness testimony to the fact, and the addition of several eyewitnesses stating they observed Mr. Cane in a small row boat paddling out to sea. The opinion of the local authorities, this office, and Miss Helen Evelyn Cane is that her brother, Ethan Norman Cane, is deceased. Accidental death will be the declaration, and we can transfer all remaining assets to Helena Cane.

Stephan Milburough Esq.

By: David Pitzel Oct. 3, 2023, 3 p.m.
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