Roatan · Travel · Writing

The Duppee

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I travelled to the beautiful island of Roatan three years ago and it was the most relaxing vacation I have ever taken. The island of Roatan belongs to Honduras but it has a long colonial history of being fought over by Spain and England. In 1859 England relinquished control of the Bay Islands and Honduras claimed Roatan. So you will find that the majority of people on Roatan speak English.

The water is pristine and the reef is extraordinary. My husband and I would get up early and go snorkeling in the sunrise. It was on one of these early morning snorkeling excursions that we saw a wild sea turtle! Which was truly one of the most incredible experiences of my life. There are so many myths and legends around Honduras but the ones specific to Roatan seem to mostly be about Duppees or ghosts. There are many vague stories of buried gold on the island, due to Roatan’s storied history as a hotbed for pirates. It is said that the pirates who buried the gold would kill a man at the site so that his ghost would guard the treasure. But after hundreds of years the Duppees grow tired of guarding the treasure and will lead you to its location if you are clever. What follows is an original story of mine based on this idea.

Benny was sitting on the beach, the cruise ships had all departed for the day and the beach was quiet once more. He’d had a pretty good tour day. Taking a bunch of tourists around the island and out onto the reef snorkeling. He needed to head home soon but he was tired and the sunset was beautiful. The sky was draped in red, gold and purple.

He considered diving into the waves, one last swim of the day with only himself to worry about. Not having to keep an eye out for tourists who over estimated their abilities. He pulled off his shirt and jumped to his feet, he was about to step into the water when a cold breeze blew across him. He shivered and pulled his shirt back on. It was colder than he had thought. He felt a prickling on the back of his neck and turned around to find a man staring at him. The man’s face was weathered from years spent on the sea. There were scars that crisscrossed his face and faded tattoos snaked up his arms. He was dressed strangely too, cotton pants, a vest over his bare tattooed chest. His hair was long and hung in dreadlocks down his back. When he smiled he was missing at least half his teeth. Benny cleared his throat and glanced around hoping that somebody else would come into view. But the beach was empty except for the two of them.

“I’m tired.” The man said.

Benny was startled at the sound of his voice. It sounded like it was coming from far away despite the fact that the man stood not 5ft from him. It was a gravelly voice, the kind that comes from years of hard living.

“Me too man.” Benny offered, and started to turn away.

“Wait.” The man commanded. Benny hesitated. If the man needed help then Benny should try and help him. At the same time there the man made him deeply uncomfortable on an animal level.

“How long you lived here?” the man asked.

“My whole life. Born and raised here.”

“That’s good. Come with me.” Benny looked longingly up at the trees lining the beach and thought of his car sitting on the side of the road waiting for him to drive it home. The man was walking away from him. Logically he knew he should just leave but there was something compelling about the man. He found he couldn’t just walk away from the mysterious stranger. He started after the man walking through the soft sand. They had walked in silence, the man always a few steps ahead of Benny. Benny was starting to shiver with cold, which was strange. The air around him didn’t feel cold. The man stopped suddenly and turned to look at Benny once more,

“What do you want?” The man asked Benny.

“Hey man, you told me to follow you.

“What do you want most in the world?”

Benny thought for a moment, “I’ve got what I want. I get paid to swim and dive, I’ve got a woman who loves me. I’ve got a house and a baby. I’ve got a lime tree, and a great garden. I grow peppers to make my famous hot sauce. A little extra money wouldn’t go amiss but all in all I’m a happy man.”

“Good.” Was all the man said and then he turned and continued along the beach. Benny could see the cliff face looming up ahead of them. When the man reached it he grabbed hold of the rock face and swung himself around the corner and out of view. Benny gripped onto the rock and tried the same smooth swinging motion. His hands slipped and he fell backwards into the shallow water. He could hear the man’s gravelly laugh as he got to his feet. There was a cleft in the rock and the laughter seemed to be coming from there. Sopping wet and shivering harder than ever Benny slid into the rock cleft. It was completely dark inside he couldn’t see a damn thing.

“I’m tired.” The man’s disembodied voice seemed to be coming from further inside the cave.

“I know man, you’ve told me that.” Benny took a few faltering steps forwards his hands grasping for anything in front of him. His hands hit the rough wall of the cave and he inched forwards using the wall as a guide. He could see a light just a little ways off, as he walked closer he gasped. An inexplicable light illuminated an old sea chest sitting on a rocky ledge. The wood pitted and stained from untold years of salty sea spray. An ancient looking padlock holding it closed. It was like something out of a movie. He pulled himself up onto the rock ledge and ran his hands over the blistered wood.

“Open it.” The man’s voice sounded close but he couldn’t see him, the only light seemed to be coming from the chest itself. He tugged at the lid of the trunk and it groaned in protest.

“It’s locked.” He said, squinting into the darkness trying to find the man.

“So, break the lock.” Benny had come this far so he just shrugged. He bent down and felt around on the ground for something that he could use to smash the lock. His hand closed around something long and smooth, he shuddered as he felt unseen creatures scuttle away from his grasping hand. He lifted it up, it was hard to see in the darkness but he believed he held a long smooth rock. He hesitated, this chest seemed truly old, like it should be in a museum.

“The treasure is mine and I brought you here. Open the chest!” The man’s voice commanded him. He lifted the rock and brought it down on the lock, once, twice, three times and finally the lock cracked and fell to the ground with a thud. With his heart in his throat Benny pulled up the lid. For a moment he was blinded by light the whole cave was illuminated in a white light. When Benny’s eyes adjusted to the light he let out a cry first of wonder and then of horror.

The chest was filled to bursting with jewels, and gold coins. But in his hand he did not hold a rock, he held a long white bone. When he looked over to where he had grabbed it he saw a human skeleton on the ground. Its ribs poking through the tattered remains of a vest, cotton pants in shreds over the femurs. There was a deep indent in the skull suggesting foul play, and half of the teeth were missing from the jaw. The light went out leaving Benny alone in the darkness.

“Why did you bring me here?”

“My job is finished.” The voice was quiet, barely more than a whisper.

“What job?” But there was no answer and Benny knew that he was entirely alone in the cave. He lay the bone down with the rest of the skeleton and shut the lid of the chest. He slipped off the ledge and made his slow way out of the cave and back onto the beach. It was full dark outside, the only light on the beach was the stars. Benny walked the long way back to his car and drove home. He never told a soul about what he had experienced that night. But whenever things got tight, whenever a bill was overdue, or they needed a little extra cash Benny somehow managed to provide it. Tourists were extra generous with the tips he would tell his wife. And she decided it best not to ask any questions.

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