I’m here because there’s a quirk–and quirks are important to me, don’t you know.
But also I’m terribly busy because my sister is getting MARRIED next week. So let’s keep this brief.
Many thanks to Jem Jones for the prompt!
A few things you don’t need to know before you read what I wrote:
- It’s a bit of a janky mess
- A little something we like to call A First Draft of a Story You Didn’t Plan. (And there’s no time for a second draft because *waves hand vaguely* matrimony and all that)
- But we can’t just NOT do the QUIRK????
- So I realized about half way through that it might come across as a weird subversive Garden of Eden thing? But that was NOT what I was going for at all??? (If the quirk comes across as sacrilegious, please know that was not my intention, help)
- I glanced at the prompt when Jem first put it up, then forgot about it. Then remembered it as being an aesthetic of…desert caves and open plains? And I was like, “Hmm, maybe I’ll write some kind of western-esque adventure quirk.”
- HAHAHAHA. You get this instead
Mike says we don’t need a scribe. “What’s the point?” he asks. “Who needs a written record of how much it rained yesterday or how many times Sam fell out of the Tree?”
But that doesn’t stop me. If Mike can appoint himself as leader, I can appoint myself as scribe. We can be whatever we want on the Island. Who’s going to stop us?
Sam fell out of the Tree again. Every time it happens, I think he’s going to break a bone. I don’t know why. The ground beneath the tree is soft with feathery grass and wildflowers. A great cloud of pollen puffs up when he hits the ground, but he breaks nothing—not even his grin.
“Did you see that?” he asks. “Right on the back—bam!” Then he scrambled back up the trunk for more fruit.
There are other trees and bushes on the Island, branches thick with strange berries and unfamiliar fruit, but Mike says this is the only one safe to eat from. He says it like he knows. He picked this tree at random—a tree with soft, pulply fruit. He has no idea what the other fruit is like or if it’s safe. We all know this—except maybe for James who is too young to question anything—but we still don’t eat from the other trees. Because somehow, when Mike says something like he knows what he’s talking about, you can’t help but wonder if he really does.
And Mike always talks like he knows what he’s talking about.
“We’re going to build a bridge,” Mike announces one evening.
“A bridge to where?” Rob asks.
“To the mainland. We will build a bridge home.”
The proclamation is met with silence.
The idea is crazy and we all know it. How can we build a bridge long enough to stretch to a mainland we can’t even see?
“We begin tomorrow,” Mike says, like it’s all decided.
And no one challenges him, so I guess it is.
There’s a boat. It’s small and old and weather-beaten. A row boat. Hardly big enough for three or four people. It would probably leak if you put it in the water—sink within ten minutes. But it’s a boat. Maybe if we fixed it up, it could carry all five of us.
But we don’t touch the boat. Because the first day we discovered it there, half-buried in the sand, so far up the beach it was almost at the treeline, Mike told us not to touch it. He said it was cursed. He said there were bones in it—the bones of the last man who had taken it to sea.
“Any boy who touches it will suffer the same fate,” he said.
None of us have touched it.
On the morning that the construction of the bridge is to begin, James wakes up fevered. For weeks he has been withering before our eyes, bones emerging from his once round cheeks, ribs stamped to his chest, but none of us say anything.
He won’t eat this morning. I try to coax him to take a piece of the dripping, pulpy fruit, but he shakes his head. “I don’t like it. It hurts.”
That makes me stop. I stare at him, at his flushed and sunken cheeks, his fever-bright eyes.
When I eat the fruit, there’s a prickling at the back of my throat. Sometimes the roof of my mouth tingles. I’ve never told anyone that.
“Where does it hurt?” I ask James quietly.
“Here,” he says, pointing to his throat, “and here.” He jabs a finger clumsily at his chest.
Sometimes I wake up in the night with a sharp pain in my chest. I make myself breathe until it fades, then roll over and try to forget about it and go back to sleep. I didn’t think to connect it to the fruit. Or maybe I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t know that anyone else felt the odd, prickling feeling when they ate it. I wonder if Sam and Rob feel it too. I wonder if Mike does.
I look down at James. Even at this hour of the morning, it is already hot, but James is shivering. I drop the fruit. It lands in the dust with a muffled wet splat.
“I’ll be back soon,” I say.
I find a pale orange fruit. It is firmer than the fruit we have been eating, but it smells sweet. My hand trembles as I pick it, the stem snapping from the branch. I take a bite and wait for something horrible to happen. Nothing does. I don’t fall down dead or feel ill. I don’t even feel a prickle in my throat or a tingling in my mouth. I know it could be full of poison that won’t strike until tomorrow or this evening, but it’s hard to think past the present on the island. And James needs to eat.
I pick another piece of fruit and start back.
Mike is angry that I didn’t show up this morning for bridge construction. He is angrier still when he sees James asleep, his chin sticky with juice from the orange fruit.
“That fruit isn’t safe,” he says.
I don’t say anything.
That night, I dream of fire and smoke and great crashing sound. I wake to find it’s not a dream.
Mike has burned down half the island.
I stare down at the blackened trunks of fruit trees, piled on the beach. Our hands are black, our bodies aching from dragging and rolling and wrangling trees to the water’s edge.
Mike is pleased. Beneath streaks of sweat and soot, he is smiling.
All the trees with the pale orange fruit are gone. There is wood for the bridge.
We push the trunks into the water, floating them out and lashing them end to end, stretching out toward the horizon. We work all day. Our bridge stretches longer and longer but hardly makes a dent in the ocean surrounding us.
James is helping. I don’t think he should be. He still has a fever, and he’s so small. I want to say he should stay on the beach and rest, but something stops me. James is helping Mike. If he helps enough, will Mike forget about the sticky orange juice staining James’s face?
The sun is dropping into the horizon. Mike and James are silhouetted at the end of the bridge. I am halfway out, on my way to ask Mike if we’re done for the night. I see it happen very clearly. It is not an accident.
Mike pushes James. His little arms windmill madly for an infinite second. Then he falls into the waiting mouth of the ocean.
The bridge is too narrow to run on. I run anyway. After one trunk-length, I feel myself losing my balance. So I dive.
The sky is still alight, the horizon washed in red, but beneath the water it is black. I swim. I swim blindly until my hand touches a floundering arm.
I grope for the bridge, dig my fingers into a blackened crevice in the nearest trunk, and pull myself and James above the water. I gulp air. A wave smacks me in the face so hard I almost let go. But I don’t.
I haul myself up onto the bridge, then heave James up beside me.
Mike doesn’t stop us, but he doesn’t help. He stands and watches.
When I finally loosen my grip on the bridge beneath me, my hand is black, the charcoal turning the water to saltwater ink.
“You should be more careful,” Mike says levelly. “It can be dangerous out here.”
Mike’s bridge is never going to get us off this Island.
I think he knows this. But he doesn’t care.
James is worse. It’s the middle of the night, the ocean black beneath the sky, but he can’t sleep and neither can I. He murmurs something. I try hard to catch what he’s saying until I realize it’s only nonsense. The fever babbles through him.
A single thought settles into my gut like a stone:
He is going to die here.
“James,” I whisper. He keeps murmuring, but makes no other response. I get to my knees and hoist him onto my back. As I stand, his arms tighten around my neck reflexively.
I start down towards the beach, but stop just past the treeline.
It is just barely visible in the starlight—a lost dorsal fin jutting up from the sand.
I dig up the boat. The cursed boat. The boat that holds a dead man’s bones. It is too dark to see if there are really bones or not, but it doesn’t matter. Either way, I have to do this.
I am damp with sweat by the time I get the boat down to the water. The waves lick sand from its sides as I lift James in.
There is one paddle—old and brittle. Who knows how long before it snaps.
I shove off and scramble into the boat.
It is too dark to check for holes or leaks. It is too dark to see Mike’s bridge, somewhere away to our right.
The paddle could break. The boat could sink. We could be rowing in circles for the rest of our short lives, never getting any closer to the mainland. We could starve or die of thirst, surrounded by water.
But we will not die on the Island.
A sky full of stars yawns over us and I begin to row.
There it be.
Thanks again to Jem for the prompt!
Hopefully I’ll be back to blogging (or at least replying to comments and reading you lovely people’s posts again) sometime in the next few weeks. But not now! Because the Matrimony. The Matrimony is going to be The Focus for the next week or so.
How crazy is your summer in terms of busy-ness? Have you ever had a younger sibling get married? (I’M NOT FREAKING OUT. SURE I’M NOT.) Do you think my characters would have preferred Western-esque to Lord of the Flies-esque? (Why am I asking this. It’s not even a question.) What kind of story does the prompt make you think of? Do tell!
4 responses to “One Quirk Later #14–The Island”
WOW WOW WOW
Confession: I have never read Lord of the Flies, so I don’t know if that would affect my opinion, but this is INCREDIBLY CREEPY WOW good job Erik!!
Also that’s an interesting point, the potential interpretation of it as reverse Eden! If anyone said that you could probably be like “ah yes this is because Mike has made himself God but he is Not” and nod wisely or something xD
“A First Draft of a Story You Didn’t Plan” oh hey have you been spying on my writing technique xD
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Thanks, Grandma 🙂
I will definitely be taking this interpretation, pretending it was my intention all along, and nodding wisely to myself
This writing technique is an ART–and one we both excel at, methinks XD
*creeping quietly back into the blogosphere, reading old things and hoping nobody notices* *but also completely destroying that plan by commenting on this because I HAD TO*
It’s so creepy. It’s so…creepy. I CAN’T. I love it so much. I love the main character’s bravery. I love the ending. I love it all. Jem’s interpretation of the Garden of Eden subversion thing is spot-on. I do love a good people-make-themselves-gods-and-it-goes-very-badly-for everyone story. Also I’ve never read Lord of the Flies, never wanted to either, but if it’s like this maybe I should…but also maybe this kind of thing is better in short-story format. With brave kids who Do the Right Thing. (Did I mention I love the main character.)
Congratulations on your sister’s wedding, that’s wonderful and terrifying!
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*whispering* here, hide under the tablecloth and no one will see you
People-make-themselves-gods-and-it-goes-very-badly-for-everyone is a jam. I’ve been thinking about Frankenstein a lot lately, and what a prime example it is.
I only read Lord of the Flies once and it was like….eight years ago? But I made myself want to re-read it writing this. I do not Remember Many Things about it. But SIMON. I remember that Simon is a dear and I love him. (Though I will say, from what I recall, it is the sort of the story that is best read in short-story format or, you know, only once every eight years. It’s not terribly uplifting)
(Gosh, I love him too. What a good kid.)
Thank you! Wonderful and terrifying pretty much sums it up–but I’ve got a brother now (never had one of those before), so that’s a plus.
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