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INFINITY: Part Two
Author's note: If you liked INFINITY: Part One, you'll love Part Two. It's chapters 8 through 14 of the full-length novel, and it's not over yet for George and his friends...
Rain plunges down from a shifting gray sky as we huddle under the trees. For the past hour I’ve been telling Dad and Kaylee about how I got separated, my terrifying ordeal with the terrifying grunting creature, and the human foot I found in the stream, covered in ash. The rain doesn’t really help my coughing, so Dad puts a blanket around me as I tell them my dark story.
Finally, I finish telling them the story. Dad pats me on the back. “You went through quite a lot, didn’t you?”
Thunder echoes above me. “Yeah,” I answer. “Yeah, I did.”
“We were so worried, George! I thought we’d never see you again!” Kaylee exclaims.
“Well, I’m okay,” I tell her. “I’m kind of surprised.”
Then Kaylee turned to Dad. “Daddy, should we tell him what happened to us along the way?”
“Huh?” Oh, I guess I spent the whole morning telling them my story and I never gave them a chance to tell me what happened to them after we got separated. What did happen to them that miserable day?
Dad looks at me. “I suppose we should, Kaylee. Well, here it goes, George.”
Another thing I should tell you about Dad is that aside from his athleticism and knowledge, he’s also a really good storyteller. He’s really descriptive when he tells his stories, and everyone is always enveloped in his hypnotic storytelling powers really quickly. So I sit back and let Dad tell his tale.
“Okay, here’s how it started,” Dad begins. “After we climbed the rock face, we started hiking, and of course you know all this. But, along the way you were buried in your sketchbook and didn’t know when Kaylee and I heard a strange noise off to the side, in a darker patch of the woods.
“I told you and Kaylee I was going to investigate. Kaylee heard me completely, but you just said ‘okay’ and you didn’t even look up from your sketchbook. So I went into the woods to check it out, and when I reached the darker patch, I saw what it was. It was a dense clump of bushes...thorns all over it...and it had branching roots that even went up other trees in the area. It was enough to send a chill down your spine.
“The noise was coming from a grizzly bear that had become stuck in the bushes and its cries became much less audible as it was dragged underground by small, menacing black tentacles.
“Then. after the grizzly bear was pulled underground completely, the tentacles suddenly became much longer as they shot out of the ground and grabbed me. I was pulled through the air faster than you can imagine, and my stomach dropped violently. My hand grazed one of the thorns on the plant, and it was instantly bleeding.” Dad holds out the palm of his hand to show me a long gash. It’s been healed, but it’s still revolting to look at. “Fortunately, the cut itself wasn’t that bad. It was just bleeding a ton and I had to put pressure on it for a couple hours.”
“Huh,” I reply. “So, Dad...the story?”
“Yeah, so it flung me behind it, and it was still hanging onto my leg with one slimy tentacle. I grabbed onto a round tree trunk nearby, not caring about how many splinters I would get. I just was hoping I wouldn’t end up like that poor grisly bear that became its dinner. And I would’ve become dessert if I hadn’t acted quickly.
“I grabbed onto a piece of nearly detached tree bark and held on tight. It tugged hard at my leg with its grisly tentacle, and I gritted my teeth--it felt like I was being torn in half. I yelled out as loud as I could, hoping you or Kaylee would hear me, and then the piece of bark broke off. It was sharp at the edge and it could’ve sliced through any vine, but I wasn’t paying attention to that. I was just staring at the writhing tentacles and sharp thorns that would lead to my downfall.”
I’m so interested in his story that I don’t even think about what I say next. “Did you die?”
Dad lets out a chuckle. “Well...I’m here, aren’t I?” He sighs and continues with his story. “I heard someone coming and I saw a pink blur behind the trees. I yelled for Kaylee to stand back and as I got closer to the deadly thorns, I held the piece of bark in front of me without thinking. Thankfully, I held it at just the right angle so that it sliced through the thorns. Then the tentacle let go of my leg and as I rocketed through the air, my feet slammed against another grisly tentacle and I was propelled over the patch of thorns I hadn’t sliced, and only now do I realize how lucky I was for that. I flew over the thorns, into a large tree, and then I tumbled onto the ground.
“I looked back at the creature. Its tentacle were writhing everywhere and several of its thorns were scattered on the forest floor. My thoughts were stumbling over each other and I had absolutely no idea how I’d survived. But then Kaylee came over to me and asked me if I was okay about a dozen times. I told her I was fine and then I asked her about you, George. She said you were right back where we left you, but when we got back, you were gone.”
“I saw you walk away, George, but then I heard Daddy and I ran towards him,” Kaylee replies.
“And after Kaylee went away, you must’ve wandered off,” Dad tells me. “We spent the whole day trying to find you and we eventually got tired and decided to camp out for the night right here.”
“Yeah, I’m so glad I found you guys,” I say gratefully.
“We all are. I know we’ve only been here for a few days, but it feels like years,” Dad says, a tone of worry in his voice. He glances up at the dark gray clouds, the rain falling from them in violent crowds, turning the landscape around us into a giant puddle. “Well, I think we’ve gotten enough rest. We should get hiking.”
I really don’t want to start hiking again. My body still aches from the day before and I’ll bet it’s the same with both Dad and Kaylee. But I’m too exhausted to argue with anybody right now, so I hoist myself up on my feet. It takes a tremendous effort, but I manage to do it. Kaylee stumbles a little bit when she gets up, and I realize that she’s been putting up almost as much effort as me in this wilderness.
We all load up our backpacks and take off, not knowing what other unexpected secrets wait for us in the forest.
Water sloshes around in my shoes as we continue the seemingly endless hike. It’s been raining for hours now, and it seems to have gotten progressively worse over time. Rain pours down on us, making our hair stick to our foreheads. Droplets of water drip down my face as the rain continues to pour down on us.
And to make matters worse, the wind became much stronger after we left. It must be blowing at about sixty miles per hour here.
My mind is racing--I’m absolutely terrified, and it’s not because of the monsters on the island or anything like that. I’m petrified by the thought of a tree flapping in the wind, and then a sudden strong gust will blow it down right on top of me or Kaylee or Dad. I shudder to think of these things, so I try to push them out of my mind as I trudge behind Dad and Kaylee.
The rain is definitely making my coughing worse. Normally, I cough violently every five seconds now, and in extremely horrible cases I end up puking in the mud. I have no idea what is causing this sickness, but I don’t know whether or not it would be better to find out.
After I cough violently yet another time, Dad walks back towards me. He puts his arms on my shoulders to steady me. “Hey, hey, George. George, look at me. Are you feeling all right.
“No,” I answer glumly, snot dripping out of my nose. “I feel terrible, and I don’t have a clue why.”
“You don’t have any idea why you might be sick?”
Dad sighs heavily. “George, I’m sorry. I can’t really help you because I don’t know why you’re coughing and throwing up so much. But just try to push it out of your mind, okay? I have faith in you.”
I sniff a little more and nod slowly. Dad pats me on the back one more time and then he walks forward to join Kaylee once more. I try as hard as I can to keep my sickness out of my mind, but I end up coughing several more times. My chest feels like it’s being crushed by a bulldozer, and I keep thinking I’m going to cough my lungs out any minute now.
And the rain only gets worse. At what I believe to be four in the afternoon, fifty foot storm surges fifty feet tall slam into the side of the island and sweep us off our feet. We’re all shocked to see this huge waves, but we’re too tired and drenched by the rain to say anything.
Eventually we reach a precarious area where the rain has turned the whole area into mud. Huge slabs of terrain continuously plummet off a hill and into the churning sea below. It covers a large area and we can hang onto the trees by our side as we cross it, but it still looks dangerously unstable.
Dad takes his first step in the mud. His foot almost immediately sinks into the ground, until the entire lower half of his leg is stuck in a hole several inches deep. Dad quickly grabs onto a tree and pulls himself out of the muck. His pant leg is brown and filthy.
Dad hangs onto the tree for a little more. Then he turns to me and Kaylee. “Uh...be careful here, guys,” he calls out to us. But telling us about the unstable terrain isn’t enough for him. He sidesteps along the sinking terrain and reaches out toward Kaylee. As they venture into the muck, I trail behind, coughing vigorously at times, but at least I can grab on to a tree and stabilize myself.
I try to step quickly and softly so that I don’t sink into the mud, but the rain is becoming a problem. The stupid rain is turning the already unstable terrain into liquid, and I try to fight back as the current pulls me towards the cliff. I fight back against it, but all the while I’m noticing that if there were no cliff and if the rain and the wind weren’t so strong, this would be a lot less difficult.
I’m startled when I almost run into Dad. His foot’s gotten stuck, and Kaylee stares at him blankly as he tries to tug his foot out of the mud. As I stand there motionless, the current begins to tug at my body, so I plant my foot deep in the muck. I figure it should work for now, but if we stand here for too much longer, the terrain will completely fall apart and we’ll plummet helplessly into the ocean below.
“Daddy, are you almost done?” Kaylee inquires.
“I’ve almost got my foot out...” Dad responds.
“Well, good. This rain’s starting to get really annoying. We have to find some shelter soon,” I reply. My hair sticks to my forehead, and my entire body is soaked with rain, muck, and sweat. I’m sure it’s the same with Dad too, and he wants to find shelter as much as I do.
After a long period of time, Dad finally gets his foot unstuck. He shakes in the air and mud flies everywhere. Even after he tries to shake the mud off his shoe, it’s still covered in a thick layer of filth.
“Okay...” Dad says. “C’mon, let’s get--”
He doesn’t have time to finish his sentence as an enormous slab of terrain plows into his legs and he topples over into the muck. The terrible thing about it is that the slab of terrain that hit him is solid, not sloshy and unstable like everything else, and as it rams into his legs I’m sure I can hear a loud crack.
Suddenly, several slabs of muck fall apart around us and Kaylee and I are sent tumbling towards the cliff below. I roll over and over in the mud, not knowing where the heck I am or how close I am to the cliff. I hear Kaylee’s piercing scream somewhere off to the right of me.
“Kaylee!!” I shout as loud as I can. I try to kneel on the steepening cliff, and it slows my descent, but not by much. I can see Kaylee and I reach out for her. “Kaylee! Over here!” It doesn’t help. She continues to slide down the muddy hill, uncontrollably rolling and tumbling about.
Then I see it. There are several roots coming from the trees above that I could’ve used as handholds, and I missed them. I lurch forward and grab onto one of the roots. I look over at Kaylee. She’s still tumbling down the slope, not slowing down one bit. My thoughts are all stumbling over each other, and it takes me a while to decide on what to do, but just as Kaylee is about to fall into the churning waves several feet below, I’ve made my decision.
I lean back as far as I can. I don’t know if this is going to work since I’ve only seen this from a video game, but I do it anyway. After I’ve leaned back as far as possible, I scramble up the rock and push forward with all my might. The next thing I know, I’m flailing through the air towards Kaylee.
I didn’t jump high enough, and the next thing I know, I’m about to plummet to my death in the restless ocean. As a last effort, I reach upward with my hand and hope to grab something. At the last second, my hand is caught on a root, and I’m left dangling a hundred feet over my death.
My thoughts of relief are shattered as an ear-piercing scream is heard above me. Kaylee. And now for the second part of my plan. Just as Kaylee’s about to plunge into the ocean, I do another thing I’ve seen from a video game. I grab onto her hand just before she falls out of my reach. Video games make it look so easy, but in real life, it’s a lot different. My breath is instantly taken away as Kaylee’s weight tugs at me, threatening to tear me into half. Now don’t get me wrong--Kaylee’s not fat at all, but since my muscles are tiny, it feels like I’m trying to lift a two-hundred pound dumbbell out of the ocean. My body immediately begins to ache.
“GEEEEEOOOOORGE!!!” Kaylee screams as thunder rumbles across the sky.
“Kaylee! It’s all right...” I trail off as the pain gets worse. My muscles strain as I try as hard as I can not to let go of Kaylee. I think of an idea to get her off me and stop her from falling at the same time, but I’m not to sure about it. On the other hand, I’m desperate. I think my body’s going to be ripped apart any second now.
“Kaylee!” I call down to her, the strain showing in my voice. I wait for her to look up at me, and that takes a while. She’s probably waiting for the world to stop spinning. “Kaylee! Climb up and grab the root! I can’t hang on much longer!”
“George!” Kaylee exclaims.
“Just do it! I’ll be right behind you!”
Kaylee quickly climb up on top of me and towards the roots that conveniently act as handholds. As Kaylee climbs up my bruised and strained joints, I can tell she’s trying hard not to slip, which is good, because as clumsy as she is, it would be quite easy for her to do that. I’m trying hard not to slip as well, but I’m doing a terrible job. My body’s flooded with pain as Kaylee steps all over it, and it takes all my strength not to let go of the root.
Finally, Kaylee grabs onto a root above and I feel as if a weight has been lifted. In fact, a weight has been lifted in a way. I look up at Kaylee. Her clothes are muddy and torn, and I’ll bet anything that mine are no different. Her eye’s are wide with fear, and she’s trembling violently from her ordeal.
Suddenly, I realize something is missing. “Kaylee, where’s your backpack?”
Kaylee doesn’t move, afraid that if she lets go of the root with either of her hands she’ll fall down to her death. Her eyes are fixed down below, so I look down and I see a small pink dot, drifting in the ocean below. There goes some of our food supply and all of Kaylee’s stuff.
I hear another scream. It’s Dad. I jerk my head around just in time to see Dad fall onto a large tree root jutting out sharply from the rock. Dad rolls over and now he’s hanging on for his life. One of his legs is flailing around in the air, while the other one is limply dangling over the ocean. I begin to worry that Dad might’ve broken it.
“Dad!!” I scream frantically. I work my way towards Dad as he strains to hanging on to the tree root. With his strength, you’d think he could get out of this mess easily, but even he is struggling against pain and confusion. I climb onto the tree root and my mouth goes dry. I’m staring down a hundred feet below at violently churning waves and large, jagged rocks. Dad’s hand is clutching a branch, and it’s turning dead white. Any second, Dad’s going to let go.
I carefully edge forward. “Dad!” I shout, reaching out for him. “Grab my hand!” I’m kneeling on the branch precariously, as rain pounds against my body and the wind howls in my ears. Lightning flashes across the sky, closely followed by deafening thunder. Dad reaches out with the hand that’s not clutching the branch. He’s about to grab my hand when the branch breaks. I lurch forward, as a huge ribbon of lightning burns my eyes, and Dad disappears in the flash.
Suddenly, I grab onto something. My vision clears and I see Dad, dangling over the churning waves. When I had jumped forward, I’d jumped closer to the edge of the branch, but luckily I hadn’t fallen. I sigh with relief. If it hadn’t been for me grabbing onto Dad’s leg, Dad would’ve been a goner...
And then I notice that Dad’s screaming in pain. He screams and tries to reach up towards me. “GEEEEORGE!!!” he shouts angrily. “GEEEORGE!! LET GO OF MY LEG!!!”
I can tell he’s in pain, but I’m really confused. I just saved his life, and now he wants me to let go so that he can fall a hundred feet to his death. I try to speak, but what comes out is an insane mumble. “Bu-but, Dad, I just...I just--”
Dad leans back and swing up with all his might. He grabs onto a branch next to me, his other leg flailing around in the air. Then I realize what happened. I grabbed his broken leg when he fell, and I’ll bet the pain must’ve been almost too much to bear.
“NOW! GEORGE!! LET GO OF MY LEG, OR I’LL PUSH YOU OFF THE--”
He doesn’t have to finish. I scramble backward, climb across the branch, and scale the roots to find my way back up the slope, looking back at Dad several times. As he climbs behind me, his right leg dangles behind him. He’s still gritting his teeth in pain, and he’s drenched with rain and sweat. I gulp, thinking of what he’s going to do to me when--if he gets up the slope.
When I reach the top, I see Kaylee sitting in the muck. She’s still trembling with fear and confusion. I crawl through the mud and sit next to her. The muck isn’t as deep here, so I begin to think we might be reaching the end of the unstable terrain.
Dad finally reaches the top and just lies there. After a while, he pushes himself up with his arms, and I see his right leg sliding limply behind him. He sits down beside me slowly and carefully, making sure he doesn’t injure his leg even more. He glances over at me, and I can feel the anger in his eyes. It feels like they could drill a hole right through me. I put my head down and just stare at the muck.
I hear Dad take a deep breath, and then he speaks. “I’m sorry I got mad at you, George,” he says. I look up at him. He’s still wincing in pain, and I can see why, as his right leg’s been twisted at a painful angle.
He speaks to me again. “I guess I...hurt my leg and, uh...you know...” I can tell he’s much more focused on the unbearable pain in his leg than he is with me. I stare at his right leg for a while.
“Does it hurt when you touch it?” I ask.
“Well, it definitely hurts when you grab onto it and it feels like your being ripped in half...only a hundred times worse,” Dad exclaims, letting pain and anger overtake him again. But he takes several deep breaths and answers again, calmly this time, although the pain still shows in his voice. “Yes, it hurts when I touch it. It hurts a lot when I touch it. And it hurts a lot when I put pressure on it, too.”
The three of us sit there in silence for a while, letting the rain and the wind chill us to the bone. I look at Dad. It’s a good thing he still have his backpack, and I do, too. But Kaylee lost hers, and now she’s sitting silently in the mud, but she seems a lot sadder than me and even Dad, who may have just broken his leg.
Speaking of which, I might have to find something to help Dad along the way. I turn around and search in the muck for something that might be able to help Dad. After a few moments, I pick up a large stick from the mud, and I hand it to Dad.
“A stick?” Dad says, confused.
I shrug. “I figured you could use it as a walking stick. You know, to help you when we start hiking again.”
Dad nods and smiles at me. He sighs heavily. “Thanks, George. It doesn’t help my leg, but at least now I can get back on my feet.” Dad pulls himself up with the walking stick. His right leg still slides on the ground limply when he moves, but at least now he can actually hike with us. “All right, let’s go.”
He limps forward through the muck and Kaylee and I follow. The wind howls in our ears, and storm surges several feet tall pound against the never-ending island as we continue our treacherous hike into the unknown.
After a while, the pouring rain becomes a silent drizzle, but the wind stays as strong as it was before. The hours pass by, and before long, the only light comes from the moon as it illuminates the black storm clouds.
I oversee how we’re all doing. My feet are aching and the wind chills me to the bone. I feel like I’m going to throw up each step I take, and my coughing becomes more and more vigorous, so I begin to think my sickness is getting worse. Kaylee hasn’t spoken a word ever since she lost her backpack, but she hasn’t cried either, so at least I’m not annoyed out of my mind. As for Dad, he seems to have recovered from his pain, because he’s not groaning every five seconds anymore. But he’s still not putting any pressure on his right leg, and as he uses his walking stick, it reminds me of times back at school when I would see people come into the classroom with crutches after they had broken their leg or their foot.
The moon lights up the clouds with an eerie glow that shines on the churning waves. We’ve been walking for what I think to be six hours when I suddenly feel extremely sick. I don’t try to tell Dad, because I never would’ve been able to. Before I know it, I’m puking on the ground once again. Dad turns around, sighs, and angles his walking stick so he can get to me.
“Okay, George, why are you getting sick all the time?” he asks, his voice brimming with impatience. “Every single day this happens, and every single day it gets worse, and you haven’t got a clue how it’s happening!” When I’m finally done throwing up, I look up at Dad. “Now, George...” Dad speaks with a calmer tone in his voice. “...tell me why you think you might be getting sick. Do you have any idea why?”
I shake my head. I’m trembling worse than I ever have before. “N-no. I don’t have any idea why I’m getting sick. A-and I know you’re impatient with me, for...for not knowing why this is happening. But I really don’t know, Dad! I don’t have a clue! Can you please just accept that?”
Dad sighs. “George, of course I can accept that. It’s just that it makes me angry when no one knows what the heck is going on with themselves and no one else has any idea either. So I would really like you to--”
Dad would’ve probably told me to think about possible reasons for my sickness once again, but he was interrupted as Kaylee spoke for the first time since she had lost her backpack. “Daddy, look,” she muttered.
Dad picked up his walking stick and limped over to Kaylee, who was pointing at something on the ground. I followed Dad, and I stumbled on my first few steps. After a few brief moments, the feeling of nausea gradually faded away and I was able to walk to where Dad and Kaylee were standing.
There’s a peculiar pattern in the dirt on the ground, but it’s not new to me. I’ve seen it when Dad and Kaylee and I went to go pick out a Christmas tree last winter, and there were several of these marks in the snow. In the dirt below me, there are tire tracks. They haven’t been washed away from the storm surges that towered over the cliffs earlier today, so they must be recent. As I said before, these tracks aren’t new to me, but I’m still surprised by them.
“I don’t understand,” I reply. “How can there be vehicles on this island?” I break out into a coughing fit. Dad puts a hand on my back to steady me as he leans on his walking stick. When I finish coughing, I look down at the tracks once more. “It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t get it.”
Dad looks at me for a moment, then back at the tracks. “Remember when we got shipwrecked here and we saw all those other shipwrecks on the shore? We may not be the only ones here.”
“Is that bad, Daddy?” Kaylee asks.
“It all depends, Kaylee. There might’ve been a ferocious monster on one of those ships.” Kaylee’s eyes widen in fear. “Or...it could’ve been a nice man who knows how to make cookies, and knows everything a six-year old girl like you could want.” Kaylee smiles gleefully, but she still looks unsure. I can’t believe Dad’s still trying to cheer her up after all that’s happened in the past few days.
Then I realize something that may help us a lot. My face lightens up. I just got an idea that could save us a day of hiking...or two. I tap Dad on the shoulder. “Dad. I just thought of something. If there are cars on the island, then people must be driving them. And they would be driving those cars if they didn’t have somewhere to put them.”
Dad nods. “So...what you’re saying is...”
“There are people here. I don’t know where, or who they are, but they have cars. And they might’ve built buildings and shelters to take refuge at night.”
“You’re saying we should find these buildings and take shelter inside them.”
“And if they’re stocked with food or appliances, we could even spend a day of hiking there.”
Dad nods, a relieved smile on his face. “I like your thinking, George. Heh, heh...you must get your brains from me.”
I shrug, and we continue hiking. To the left of us, there’s a small hill that leads down to the endless forest, and to the right of us, there’s a sheer drop leading down to the vast ocean hundreds of feet below. I feel like we’re walking along the canyon again, with a huge drop on one side and the ominous forest on the other. As usual, we stop occasionally to eat or rest or ‘go’, and all the while we hear strange noises coming from the woods, just like we have every day. It’s nothing new to us, but it still scares the living daylights out of us.
After a couple more hours, we reach a large hill. The cliffs that we were once able to walk on stop here, except for a narrow ledge that runs along the side of a much steeper--almost vertical--part of the hill. I don’t think any of us are willing to take that chance, so there’s another choice we have. We can climb up the less steep part of the hill to move forward, but there are two problems. It might be hard for Dad to climb up the hill now that his leg might be broken. And then the other problem...
“It leads right into the forest,” I mutter. Unfortunately, it’s true. At the top of the hill is the dreaded forest, as black and cold as the night around us.
“Well, we can’t go on the ledge off to the side,” Dad replies. “We’ll fall for sure.” Dad lets out a heavy sigh. “I’m afraid there’s no other way to go.”
I feel like I’m going to throw up again. I’m not sure I can spend another minute in those woods. The last time I went in there, the fear and exhaustion were too much to bear. But I’ve survived hours in these forests, so I push away my fears and look up the hill. Dad and Kaylee have already pushed on ahead of me, but they’re moving slowly so I can catch up. Dad’s struggling a little bit as he stumbles up the hill with his walking stick, but it looks like he’ll be fine. I quickly run to catch up with them.
I hate the forest. The darkness gets on my nerves, as well as the distant sounds coming from horrible creatures. Mosquitoes swarm around us like crazy, and I try to swat at one each second, always failing miserably. The mosquitoes on this island seem to be much smarter and faster than the mosquitoes we see at home. And the forest always seems to be extremely hot and humid. In moments my shirt is stained with sweat everywhere. It drips from my forehead, down my face, down my neck. We’re hiking in miserable conditions, and I just want it to end.
After long, hard hours of hurrying through the woods, the first rays of sunshine begin peeking through the branches. The morning sun blares through the forest, and the strange, ominous sounds give way to birds chirping happily on the tree branches around us.
I walk next to Dad and Kaylee and I’m paying attention so I stay next to them--I don’t want to get lost again. That was probably the most terrifying ordeal I’ve had yet.
I hear loud chirping above my head, and I look up. A beautiful white bird with black stripes across its feathers is fluttering through the air above me. Its tail must be at least two feet long. It continues chirping and lands on a tree branch above me. I’m staring at its long feathers and midnight black beak and then--it’s gone. There’s nothing left behind but a trail of white and black feathers...although I could’ve sworn I saw a tentacle flash towards it.
“GEORGE!! WATCH OUT!!!” Dad shouts at the top of his lungs.
I look at the tree in front of me and I see a tentacle rushing out from behind it. I turn to run, but it’s far too late. The tentacle wraps around my leg and I’m yanked off my feet. It tries to pull me away, and I fight back. I claw at the ground with my fingernails--which have gotten a lot longer for the time I’ve been on the island.
Dad lets go of his walking stick and dives forward onto the forest floor. He lands on the leaves just short of grabbing my hand. As I fight back against the creature that’s dragging me away, I watch as Dad struggles to get up. Kaylee runs toward him, and that’s all I’m able to see as the tree blocks my view.
My world becomes a blur. I’m being twisted around in the air at speeds faster than anyone could imagine. I can feel myself coughing and screaming and puking all at the same time, and it isn’t a very pleasant sound.
I feel myself stop in mid-air, and I have to wait for what seems like an eternity for the world to stop spinning. Below me is the creature Dad talked about. It’s a writhing mass of tentacles with a patch of sharp and deadly thorns in the middle. And I’m about to be thrown at those thorns...thrown at my death.
The tentacle yanks me up higher, and then with a final twist, my world turns into a blur once more as I’m thrown towards the deadly thorns.
What happens next I can’t describe. My vision goes black, and then white, and I see a blur of the forest as I lie on the ground, broken and hurt. At first I think I’m dead, but I can still feel the pain from the thorns. I see large splotches of something red scattered on the leaves around me--my blood.
But what I can’t explain is that something is weighing me down: the tentacle. The creature’s tentacles lie on the ground, some of them scattered around the leaves in broken pieces, surrounded by splotches of something dark brown--the creature’s blood. The thorns have been set of fire, as well as some of the other tentacles. I concentrate as hard as I can to regain my senses, and I begin to realize that I have not been set of fire. I can’t believe how lucky I got.
I black out again, and for hours it’s just darkness and occasional glimpses of what’s going on around me. One time I see a brief glimpse of a cloudy sky, and then trees, and then the sunset gleaming over churning waves, and then it fades away, just as my life is, slowly...slowly...slowly...
George,” Dad says. “George, please wake up!
I open my eyes a fraction of an inch. All I see is darkness, except for two small ovals, bobbing up and down and left and right. I open my eyes more, and when the world finally stops spinning, I see Dad leaning on his walking stick, and Kaylee leaning against the wall.
Then I look around. We’re in a building of some sort. It’s small and filthy, but there are some chairs, and there’s a table, and there’s a staircase leading to a few rooms upstairs.
“Where are we?” I ask drowsily.
Dad shrugs. “I honestly don’t know. After you nearly got killed by that one thing that almost killed me earlier, we had to carry you through the forest for hours. And trust me, it would’ve been a lot easier if I hadn’t broken my leg. So we’re lucky we found this place. I found some medical supplies upstairs and we were able to heal you.”
“What happened back there?”
“Don’t you already know?”
“No, I mean how am I not dead?”
“Well, I was able to see some of how it happened, but I don’t quite understand it. You were twisting through the air and you hit the thorns at full force, but they just skimmed your chest, which is really lucky. They could’ve stabbed a hole right through you. So we had to take care of that, and then the tentacle was a about to grab you again when the thing just exploded and burst into flames. I don’t have a clue how that happened, so don’t even ask me. So...anyway, Kaylee and I had to carry you for hours through the forest, and then we saw this place and we decided to stop here. I know it’s weathered and filthy, but there’s food upstairs and there’s a bathroom.”
I look over Dad and Kaylee and for the first time I see how much better they look. They look much more refreshed, so they must’ve had some of the food. It’s a good thing there is food here, because our own food supply was becoming scarce. Another thing I notice is that the dirt and mud that once covered them from head to toe only stains their clothes, although it used to cover their face and their arms. They must’ve taken a shower as well.
“Huh...can I go grab some food?” I ask.
Dad frowns, as if he wants to tell me something I won’t be happy about. “Well...before you do, George, I have to talk to you about something.”
“It’s about your sickness. I think I know what might be causing it. George, please lie on your stomach.” I don’t know what he’s doing, but I decide to lie on my stomach anyway. My body aches, and it takes an enormous effort to move. When I’m lying on my stomach, Dad pokes the back of my leg. “How long have you known about this?” I immediately know what he’s talking about. I got that cut several days ago, and I had forgotten about it until now.
I sigh. “I knew about when I got it, but I forgot to tell you, and eventually, I forgot the whole thing.”
Dad frowns at me again. “George, the next time you get a cut like that, please tell me. Those can get infected, and you can die from those infections. You’re lucky I saw that cut. Now we have to get it bandaged up, and I think there are some antibiotics upstairs.”
“What about the cuts I got from the thorns?”
“Kaylee and I already bandaged those up.” For the first time I feel the bandages on my chest and on my hands. Dad continues speaking. “So let’s get you bandaged up.” With the hand that isn’t leaning on the walking stick, he helps me up, and then we saunter up the staircase.
Upstairs, it’s basically the same thing as downstairs. Leaves and dirt are strewn across the floor, and there’s a small table in the middle of the room with four chairs around it. I look to the left and I see two large windows that I would’ve shown another room, but the blinds are drawn from the other side. Farther towards the wall opposite from the staircase, there are two doors. As Dad implied, one of them opens up to a bathroom, and one opens up to a pantry stocked with food.
I walk over to a window and look outside. The morning sun is blocked by dark storm clouds, but I can still see patches of clear blue sky scattered around. The shelter is on the edge of the forest, and it’s near a steep cliff so that I can look out over the ocean. I’m relieved that the shelter isn’t deep within the forest so that we always leave to the sound of eerie grunting and other disturbing noises.
Dad opens the bathroom door and I walk in. He leaves the door open and walks over to a medical cabinet.
As he fishes in there for the right antibiotics to give me, I scan the bathroom. It’s a simple bathroom, with a grimy sink, a dirty toilet that smells like it’s never been cleaned, and a shower that may be the cleanest out of everything in here, but still seems just as dirty as everything else. The curtain was torn down some time ago apparently, but Dad or Kaylee must’ve crumpled it up into a pile and thrown it down under the sink.
The bathroom may be filthy, but as I look in the grimy mirror that’s been placed
above the sink, I realize that I’m no different. My hair’s messy and my eyes have bags under them. My face is streaked with dirt and mud, as well as my clothes. I have several gashes on my face, but fortunately they all look like they’ve healed just fine. My clothes are dirty, wrinkled, and torn. I’ve never seen myself this miserable in my life.
“Ah, shoot!” Dad exclaims. I look over at him. He’s still fishing around in the medical cabinet, searching for the right antibiotic. I walk over and glance inside the medical cabinet. I can’t see how Dad even has a clue what antibiotic is right for me. None of them are organized in their boxes, and they’re all scattered around all over the place.
“Dad, how do you know what pill to give me if they’re all scattered all over the place, and you don’t even know what disease I have?” I ask.
Dad yells with frustration as he drops a pill on the filthy tile floor. Then he answers me. “Um, first of all, George, I think I might actually have a good idea what your disease might be.”
“Yeah, and you’re lucky you haven’t died from it yet.” Dad lets out a heavy sigh, then continues. “You might have tetanus. Its symptoms are puking and coughing vigorously. I’m surprised you’re not dead, and I’m proud of you for fighting against it, but I’m worried that if we don’t take care of it soon, you could very well die.”
I gulp, realizing that this disease could spell my doom, and it takes a while to take the fear and confusion in. “Wait, so I thought you could only get tetanus from getting a cut from metal. I cut my leg on wood.”
“No, you can get it from cutting yourself on wood, too. It can infect the cut whether you cut it on metal or wood.”
“Another thing...I thought there weren’t any antibiotics for tetanus.”
“There actually are some, such as benzathine penicillin or erythromycin.”
“Benzathine penicillin and erythromycin are antibiotics that can help against tetanus, although they don’t do as much as the immunization. But I figure that if I can clean your cut and give you the antibiotics, it should help.”
“Are you sure?”
“Tetanus is a brutal disease, but I’ll do whatever I can to help you.”
Dad searches around in the medical cabinet for a few more minutes, and then he opens up the cabinet below it. Here there are actually boxes with labels on them, so it don’t take long for Dad to find the right one. He picks up one box and examines it.
“Benzathine penicillin,” he reads the label on the side. “Yep, this is it. It says...take one...wash down with water...”
“Are you sure it’s meant to help tetanus?”
“I think so...I studied medicine in college, so I’m pretty sure this might be the right one to take.”
I never knew Dad had studied medicine in college, but I push that aside as Dad shakes one chewable tablet out of the box. I quickly take it from his hand and pop it in my mouth. I wrinkle my nose in disgust. This pill is about as tasty as cardboard that been fried and puked on.
“Dad, are you sure this pill hasn’t past its expiration date?” I ask nervously.
“You’re the one who snagged it from my hand!” Dad protests.
“Has it reached its expiration date?”
Dad picks up the box and examines it again, more thoroughly this time. “Well, its expiration date is September 17. And we left from Mexico a few days ago on July 31, so I can assure you it hasn’t reached its expiration date.”
“It’s got an awful aftertaste.”
“Most medicines are like that.”
“This one’s a lot worse.”
Dad puts the penicillin back in the cabinet. “Well, maybe you can wash it down with water.” Dad limps past me and over to the sink. He turns on the faucet and filthy brown water spews out toward the drain. Dad hastily turns of the faucet and faces me. “Um...I’m beginning to think that washing it down with water might not be the best idea.”
Before Dad leaves, he bandages my leg carefully so that the cut can’t get infected anymore. Then he pushes on his walking stick and gets to his feet.
“So, um...just...have some food, take a shower, and make yourself at home...if that’s possible. I sure hope the penicillin works. Tell me if you notice any improvements.” And with that, Dad stumbles out of the bathroom on his walking stick.
I close the door behind him and take the box of penicillin back out of the medical cabinet. I examine it thoroughly. “Hmm...okay, take one pill, wash down with water...already know that...hmmm....don’t care about any of that stuff...uh, possible side effects...loss of depth perception. ...I have no idea what that means.”
Now is the time I really wish I had brought along my laptop. I would look up what loss of depth perception means and I would’ve been aware of it, but instead it remains as one of the other mysteries that stabs at my brain.
I put away the penicillin and look back in the mirror at my muddy, bruised form. I turn on the shower, and I don’t know how this is possible, but the water coming from the shower isn’t dirty and brown like the water that came out of the sink. Still, I can’t resist a nice shower, so I push that thought aside and jump in, letting the uncomfortable cold water run down my body. I would make it hotter, but the thing that controls the water’s temperature has rusted off and lies in the corner of the bathroom.
After about fifteen minutes, I turn off the shower, get dressed and walk back out into the upstairs room. I remember the pantry and turn left to where another door lies. I open it slowly, expecting a swarm of bats or cockroaches to dart out in front of me, but nothing stares back at me expect for the eerie darkness. The light from the sun outside stains the walls a little bit so I am able to see a light switch. I flick it on and I see several bag of bread, corn, potatoes, wheat, and other basic foods. A small portion of the food is rotten and spoiled, but the majority seems fresh. How can there be fresh food on an island like this? And how is it packaged? Again, I push these thoughts aside and take a loaf of bread with me downstairs.
I sit down in a chair and don’t take time to slice the bread. I just take a huge bite out of it and cherish the moment. I was starving earlier, and now we’ve reached a place stocked with decent food. And although it may not taste particularly good, it’s good enough for me. I eat that whole loaf of bread, and I don’t stop until there’s nothing left but crumbs scattered on the floor.
I stand up from the chair and I see Kaylee looking out the window. I saunter over to the window and join her, staring out at the shifting storm clouds and the beating sun that looms behind, trying to spread its light onto the island.
“What did Dad do to help you?” Kaylee asks me in a typical six-year old voice.
“He gave me some benza...benathi...benzathi, benza...uh...benza-something penicillin, and he said it’s supposed to help cure tetanus.”
“It’s a disease you get when you get a cut on metal or wood.”
We’re silent for a long time. We just stare out at the trees flapping in the strengthening wind, and the waves churning in the distance. I’m much calmer now, standing here in the shelter, staring out at the world beyond the island. After a while, Kaylee stands up and walks toward the staircase. As she goes upstairs, I continue staring outside.
A rumble of thunder is audible. The dark storm clouds are racing towards the island now, and the wind is getting excessively stronger. I actually begin to feel a few light raindrops, and I know they’ll get heavier soon enough.
I’m about to close the window when I see a flash of red-orange rocket past me. I turn my head just in time to see Firebird landing on a thin tree branch. The bird has its back to me, but I can tell it has something in its mouth. I wait for it to turn, and then I see what it’s chewing on. In its beak is a large, grisly tentacle. It’s slightly burned on the side, and that’s when it all becomes clear--what happened back in the forest when the creature seemed to explode. Firebird swallows the tentacle and stares at me with its fiery, beady eyes. As if to say ‘you’re welcome’, it lets out something between a croak and a chirp and then it flies away.
Shortly after, the clouds seem to get lighter like they always do before the rain falls down in buckets. I quickly close the window as the endless rain starts.
A flash of lightning burns through the window, closely followed by one of the loudest rounds of thunder I’ve heard yet.
Kaylee and I are just sitting in the middle of the downstairs room while Dad is upstairs, looking over his map again. The entire structure creaks as the wind howls outside. Rain pounds against the windows, splashing down onto the ground in enormous puddles.
Kaylee and I are playing tic-tac-toe in my sketchbook. I lost count of how may games we’ve each won, but that doesn’t matter since this I’m starting to get bored. As Kaylee draws a large X in the top-right corner, connecting three Xs diagonally, I throw my pencil down and lean back in my chair.
“This game is getting boring. What do you want to play?” I inquire.
“Um...how about 20 Questions?” Kaylee suggests.
“...Uh, sure whatever. I’ll go first. ...Uh, okay. I’ve thought of one.”
“Is it large?”
“Heh, it’s really large. In fact, it kind of never ends.”
“Is it living?”
“For all we know, it might be.”
“George, you’re making it harder! Now what is it?”
“...It’s the island, Kaylee.”
We’re silent for a long time when a light flashes from outside. And it’s not lightning. It seems to appear on the side of the window, making the raindrops gleam as they drip down, and then it moves across the window and out of sight. As I listen closely, past the pounding of the raindrops outside, I hear the soft purr of an engine.
I stand up and walk slowly to the window. I open the blinds and I see the bright headlights of a Jeep. Its tires are close to sinking in the deep mud, and its condition is so horrible that I can see the chassis on the side of the vehicle. The rusty door opened and a man with combat boots, filthy jeans, and a thick black jacket steps out. He has ruffled dark brown hair and he looks like he’s about half as athletic as Dad.
He strides to the back of the Jeep and heaves out two large sacks filled with what I believe to be bread and potatoes. Then he starts walking towards the shelter.
I run toward the staircase.
“George, where are you going?” Kaylee cries.
I hurry up the stairs, my heart pounding in my ears. I reach the top of the staircase and I see Dad, sitting in a chair, holding his map in front of him. When he hears me running urgently up the stairs, he puts down his map and looks in my direction.
“What’s the matter, George?” Dad asks me.
I’m about to answer when I hear the door creaks open downstairs and the sounds from outside get louder. I hear footsteps, and then they stop abruptly.
“...Hi...” I hear Kaylee mutter.
I turn around and hurry back down the stairs. “George! What are you doing?” Dad shouts at me.
I rush to the bottom of the stairs and observe the scene. All the attention is on me now. The man is standing in the middle of the doorway, his thick dark brown hair sticking to his forehead. He’s staring right at me with the two sacks slung over his shoulders. Kaylee’s also staring at me, her eyes wild and afraid. The whole room goes silent. There’s not a sound to be heard except for the raindrops tumbling against the ground outside.
“Uh...hi?” the man says. “I just came to...um...this is where I’m staying.”
“How do you have a Jeep?” I probably meant to ask something else, but that’s what comes out.
The man looked back through the open doorway at the Jeep parked in the pouring rain. “How do I have a Jeep?” he says, repeating my question. He turns to me. “Uh, I got it from one of the locals.”
“Yeah. ...Haven’t you met the locals?”
“No. Why? ...Should we have met them by now?”
“Probably, if you’ve been on this island for a while.”
“Does six days count?”
The man pauses, and he’s about to answer when Dad comes rushing down the stairs, except you can’t really call it rushing when he’s broken his leg and he’s got a walking stick. Dad stops short when he sees the man. There’s a long silence. Dad looks at me and Kaylee, and then back at the man, who is waiting patiently for Dad to speak, raindrops dripping down his unshaven face.
“...Uh...is this your place?” Dad asks after a long pause.
The man nods. “Yeah. Yeah, this is my place,” he replies. “So...you are...?”
“I’m Alex,” Dad answers. “Alex Herring. This is my son George and my daughter Kaylee. So...are you okay with us staying here?”
The man shrugs. “Uh...sure, I guess. You can if you want to. Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Tyler Winston, but you can call me Ryan.”
“Okay,” I say.
“What are those...?” Dad points to the sacks slung over Ryan’s shoulders.
“Bread and potatoes,” Ryan answers. “I just had time to get them in the Jeep and out of the rain.”
“So how did you get on the island?” Kaylee asks curiously.
“Well, I’ll tell you if you like,” Ryan says.
“I gotta get back upstairs,” Dad replies. “You kids be polite to Ryan, all right?”
“Sure, Dad,” I respond.
Ryan closes the door, nearly drowning out the sound of thunder and raindrops outside. We can still vaguely hear the wind howling like a ferocious werewolf and the rain pounding against the windows, but at least we’re safe inside the shelter.
Ryan walks up the stairs, probably to put the sacks in the pantry, and then walks back downstairs. We all gather around sitting in chairs as Ryan tells Kaylee and I his story of how he got stranded on the island.
“Well, I guess it would start all the way back when I was fourteen years old. I had always dreamed of sailing across the sea, and I had read books about harrowing sailing voyages when I was younger. But, you know, when you get older, you grow out of that stuff and you get into inappropriate jokes about puberty and stuff.
“I was never really cool or anything like that, and I was honestly one of the geeks who got teased a lot. Of course I had friends outside of that little nerd gang, but most of the time, it was us getting teased. The worst bullies were some kids named Austin and Marco, and they were always knocking our books right out of our hands and stuff like that. I couldn’t stand them, and neither could most of the people I talked to on the bus. I talked to kids on the bus and they said they hated those kids so much and just wanted to beat the crap out of them.”
“Yeah, there are a few kids at my school I can’t stand either,” I say. “These bullies Trace and Brendan are always really mean to people. Or at least...I remember they were before we got stranded on this weird island. But anyway, Trace and Brendan never really were mean to me, but they were really mean to other people and just watching them tease everyone made we want to beat the crap out of them.”
“That’s how it is with most bullies,” Ryan says. “People wanna beat the crap out of them. But anyway, Austin and Marco were out of control. They were always shoving us and tripping us and I just hated them so much.
“But I can actually stand it, and then I ask my mom if I can have a Facebook account. After a little bit of begging, she finally says yes, and I get a Facebook account. My friends and I were talking about it all the rest of that day. I’m so excited to finally have my own account, and then my life goes down the drain.
“But before I get to that, the months pass, months filled with being harassed by Austin and Marco and staring at girls. Then, in March, a new girl comes, and she instantly becomes friends with all the popular people. Her name was Carla Johnson. She was so hot, and I knew that I had to ask her to the upcoming dance. So on the day before the dance, I walked up to her. I was so nervous, but I’m the kind of guy who can just push back his fears and do it. I asked her out to the dance, and...” Ryan sighs as if he doesn’t want to say the next part. “...she looked me over with a disgusted look on her face, and then she slapped me. She started yelling at me and slapping me more, and I was so grateful that Austin and Marco were no where near to see my embarassment.
“And then I made the biggest mistake of my life. I posted the slapping incident on Facebook and I posted that I felt sick about it. Then this one person on Facebook starts asking me tons of questions about the incident, like ‘what did Carla say exactly?’. I told them and then at around 10:00 at night, I stopped answering their stupid questions and went to bed.
“The next day was the absolute worst day of my life. Turns out, that person on Facebook had been Marco with a fake identity, and he and Austin began teasing me more than they ever had before. They began calling me names and yelling at me like Carla did. They pushed me into trash cans and laughed at my pain.
“Then they saw Carla in the hallway and shoved me right into her. She pushed me off and I fell on the ground. Austin and Marco were laughing like crazy. Suddenly, I couldn’t take it anymore. I lunged at them and made a weak attempt to tackle them. After they beat me up and hurled me against the lockers again, people began staring at me. Some giggled, while others just stared blankly.
“When I got home, Mom started screaming about how I should be more careful about what I post on Facebook and that she’s taking away my account for good. But that didn’t help. Austin and Marco still teased me more brutally than ever for several days. And every day when I started complaining about it when I got home, Mom started yelling at me because I got myself into this and I started yelling at her back.
“Finally I couldn’t take it. At midnight, I woke up and walked into the kitchen. I grabbed a knife and held it against my throat, hoping to just end it all. But I didn’t want to, and I thought hard about it. I thought of all my dreams when I was younger, and sailing across the sea. I had decided. I left the house, but I kept the knife.
“I walked into Austin’s house. I knew this was his because of the parties I’d seen here, and that I’d always been beaten up whenever I was seen walking by. I also knew that Marco’s house was right across the street, so that would make things quicker. It took me a few minutes to find Austin’s room, but finally I did, and I sliced the knife right across the palm of his hand. I escaped before he could see me, and then I walked across the street and did the same with Marco. And then I disappeared from the town.
“The following years were filled with me just doing whatever I wanted every day, and I loved it. I loved having no responsibilities whatsoever, and not having anything to worry about. But the one thing I really wanted to do was to sail. So I went to South California, rented a boat, and began sailing southwest. I’d packed some food for the long trip and it was great. Then, I entered a deep white fog and I got stranded here.”
I just stare blankly at Ryan, but Kaylee’s eyes are wide as if she’s just heard a terrifying horror story.
“So that’s how you got stranded?”
“Yeah,” Ryan says. “And I could’ve actually made something out of my life if Austin and Marco hadn’t ruined it for me.”
“But I think you’d like to get that out of your mind right now.”
“That could not be more true.”
“So I’ll change the subject. You said earlier that there are locals on the island. So...there are locals? ...Like, people?”
“Yeah,” Ryan says. “I doubt you’ll recognize any of the names I throw out at you, but I’ll tell you who the locals are anyway. ...Okay, there’s a shelter somewhere near with a man and a woman inside. I forgot their names, but they work in the shelter and they study medicine in there.”
“Why do they study medicine?”
“Well, when you got to the island, you couldn’t find any medicine, could you?”
I shake my head in response.
“Exactly. I’ve talked to those people in the shelter before and they talk about how they want to sell medicine to the locals.”
“Yeah, Dad and I were lucky we found medicine in here. You see, I got a big cut earlier and it got infected with tetanus. We found some...benza...benzathi...uh, something penicillin--”
“Oh, yeah. Benzathine penicillin. The medicine people over at the shelter sold it to me.”
“So they sell you the medicine? For a price?”
“Well, you don’t pay with money here on the island. No one really brought any money to the island, and even if they did, they probably lost it anyway. So around here, people pay with crops and bread and potatoes and farming goods.”
“Oh...so, people farm here?”
“Yeah! Of course people farm here! The soil here is extremely fertile. And the best part is, crops are absolutely free...with some restrictions...”
“...which brings us to our next ‘local’. Charlie Davison is a guy who got shipwrecked here a long time ago, when he was fishing out off the coast of Mexico. A strong current carried him out to sea and he was stranded out of the middle of the ocean for at least a day before he got shipwrecked here. Now he works in the fields, but he doesn’t grow the crops.”
“What does he do?”
“Well, he’s more like the crop defender. Depending on how many crops there are, he only lets you take a certain amount at a time. And if you steal more crops than he wants you to take, then let me tell ya: he’s pretty old, but he’s still good with a gun.”
I shrug. “Well, he might not be a problem for us. I mean, there’s always going to be a lot of crops, right?”
Ryan shakes his head. “No. Right now it’s raining like crazy, but some days there are long, extensive droughts that seem to last forever. Crops become shorter in supply, and Charlie lets you take less and less crops at a time as the drought gets worse.”
“Yeah...but let’s talk about some of the farmers. There are a total of six farmers that work in the fields, but I only know three. I’m one of the farmers, and then there’s Bernard. He’s kinda crazy, but he gets the farming done. I don’t have a clue where he lives on the island. The other farmer is Frankie Hasting. We talk a lot in the fields and he’s told me all about how he was shipwrecked. He was on his speedboat one day with his girlfriend and they got blown out to sea. As you’d expect, they got shipwrecked about a day later. They wandered on the island for about a week, eating whatever they could. Then, his girlfriend found some crops. She ran over to them and picked up as many as she could, and then Charlie shot her. Ever since, Frankie has been struggling with food and depression, even years after, so he works on the fields for an occupation. He still hates Charlie like I hate bullies and he wants to beat the crap out of him, but ol’ Charlie’s good with a gun, and no one has ever stolen food since Frankie’s girlfriend was killed.”
“Oh,” I respond. “Man, I feel sorry for that guy.”
Ryan shrugs. “Yeah, he said his girlfriend was the greatest, most sweetest girl alive, and he would kill anyone who would let her get in harm’s way. The reality of it is this though. Even if you really, really want to kill someone and get away with it, you can’t do it. You just can’t. I couldn’t, and I’ll bet you couldn’t either. No one could find it in themselves to kill a man, and if they could, they’d feel guilty about it for the rest of their lives.”
“Yeah...so who else lives on the island?”
“There are a few....There’s one guy who actually could be perfectly fine with killing somebody, and if he did, he wouldn’t even blink. Vince Darsley is a cruel person whose past remains shadowed. I don’t have a clue where he came from, but I never see him. He does lurk around the island one in a while, but most of the time he’s at the shelter he made, making voodoo dolls or something like that.
“Then, there’s some crazy guy on the other side of the island. No one knows his name, but around here we just call him Bob.”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Well, what does he do on the island?”
“People say he just sits around in his shelter all day, cradling his gun in his hands, muttering to himself. The island drove him crazy, and now he shoots anyone he sees.”
“Yikes. I better stay away from that guy.”
“Yes, you should. Now, let me tell you about the final local that I know. He’s the most powerful man on the island. He was steering an aircraft carrier around on the ocean with the rest of his subjects when he rammed into the island at full speed. He wandered around with his workers for several days, and then they built a whole complex under the island. And I can assure you, if he were to steal some crops from the fields, Charlie would be no match for him.”
“Who’s this guy?”
“His name is William Sturgis. He’s tougher and meaner than anyone else on the island. He’s got the whole place in his grip, but he’s superstitious. He’s overwhelmed by the thought of amazing treasure on the island, or something like that.”
“Well, he says it’s arcanum arcanorum. Do you know what that is?”
I shake my head.
“Arcanum arcanorum is the mystery of mysteries. The secret of all secrets. The secret that lies behind the world, the universe, everything. And ol’ Will is determined to find out what that great secret is, or terrible secret. He wants to know. And it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s concealed on this island.”
I think about it. Arcanum arcanorum. I shudder to think of what it could be. It could be a place filled with happiness and sunshine, or, much more likely, it could be a terrible secret that could spell pandemonium and chaos all over the world...or the universe.
“He’s looking for that?” I ask. “Doesn’t he know what he’s doing?”
Ryan shrugs. “I don’t know. You can’t really tell at this point. But I’m sure of one thing. This island holds many dark and powerful secrets, and for all we know, arcanum arcanorum could be one of them.”
Thunder rumbles outside as Ryan stands up and walks upstairs, leaving Kaylee and I downstairs in the darkness.
My eyes slowly open up.
This is the start of the tenth day we’ve been at the shelter, and I still remember when Ryan told me all those things about his past and the locals several days ago.
I count the days we’ve been on the island in my head. There was the first day when Dad almost fell out of a tree, then the second where we went fishing, then the third where we found the canyon, then the fourth where I almost plummeted off the canyon, and then the fifth where it was raining like crazy, then the sixth where we met Ryan in the shelter, and now we’ve been staying in the shelter for ten days. So we’ve been here for sixteen days total.
I slowly get to my feet. I’m dead tired. I’ve been living on bread and potatoes for the past five days. After the first five in the shelter, Dad and I both ran out of the food in our backpacks, so we had to eat the crops that came in from the field. I’m beginning to miss all the food I used to eat, but at least I’m surviving.
I walk over to the window and suddenly I notice something is wrong. I look down at my shoes...which are about fifty feet below me. I reach down to touch them and my vision becomes fuzzy. I look back up at the window and suddenly it seems far, far away, as if I had never even gotten close to it. I look back at the staircase, thinking about telling Dad, but the stairs also seem small and distant.
“Uh...Dad?” I call out.
After a few brief moments, Dad limps down the stairs. His broken leg has mostly healed over the past ten days in the shelter, but Dad says it still hurts whenever he puts pressure on it.
Dad turns to me. He seems so distant, and yet he’s only one or two yards away from me. “What is it, George?” Dad asks.
“Uh...my eyesight’s messing up,” I complain.
“How?” Dad asks. “Is your vision fuzzy or something?”
“Well, it becomes fuzzy whenever I reach for something, but other than that, it’s just that everything seems so far away...” Then I remember something, and I look up at Dad, who still seems a hundred feet away from me. “What were the side effects of that medicine I took?”
Dad runs upstairs for a brief moment and comes back down with the box of chewable tablets in his hands. He examines it thoroughly and carefully. “All right, let’s see here...um...side effects! Okay...um...loss of depth perception.”
“Yeah, I remember seeing that earlier, but I didn’t know what it meant.”
Dad turns to face me. “Loss of depth perception is where you sort of lose sense of how far away things are from you. So, I probably seem really far away, right?”
“So there you go. It’s not that bad. The side effects should subside soon enough.”
I decide to take Dad’s word for it, but this loss of depth perception is still bothering me a lot. I almost run into Kaylee two or three times, and I always fall when walking up the stairs.
Hours pass, and I’m sitting in a chair downstairs next to Dad and Kaylee. The sun has risen high over the island. We’re all doing nothing when the familiar sound of a Jeep comes from far away. Dad stands up and walks out the doorway to meet Ryan, who has just returned from the fields. He and Ryan stand outside for a long time, chatting away about something, and even though they seem far away, I can still tell that their conversation is serious.
“What’s Daddy talking about?” Kaylee asks.
“I don’t know,” I simply mutter.
Finally, Dad and Ryan come back inside. Ryan kneels in front of Kaylee and I as if there’s something he doesn’t want to tell us. “I’ve got bad news,” he says. “Crops are in short supply, and there’s not much food left in the pantry, so you all will have to leave and start fending for yourselves again.”
There’s a long silence, and then Kaylee starts crying. “I don’t wanna go back in the woods!” she whines.
“Wait, I’ve got good news, too,” Ryan interrupts. “There’s still a few crops left. But what happened earlier was lightning struck a tall crop and set it on fire. The fire spread until it began to rain and it got put out. Then, to add on to that, it’s been nothing but dry sun for the past few days, and the crops are dying one by one. Fortunately, they’re not all gone. So who wants to take a ride in the Jeep?”
“We’re going to the fields,” Dad clarifies for us. “We’re gonna get some bread and potatoes, and whatever food we’ll need for the hike. Then, we’ll take off.”
“What’ll we do when we go away from the shelter?” I ask.
Dad shrugs. “Same thing as before. We’re looking for a boat.”
Kaylee and I stand up. Since I’m still having loss of depth perception, or whatever that is, Dad keeps me close to him so I don’t walk into anything or trip on something. We all climb into the Jeep, Ryan and Dad in the front seats, me and Kaylee in the back.
“How far away are the fields?” I ask.
Ryan shrugs in the driver’s seat. “I don’t know, maybe...um...three or four miles?”
I scan the inside of the car. It seems like there’s a huge gap between the front seats and the backseat, although there really isn’t. But that doesn’t stop me from observing it anyway. It’s in really bad shape; there’s rust everywhere, and I can see the filthy chassis of the car beneath my seat. Most of the windows are either cracked or broken. The seats are torn and dirty. And with all the horrifying creatures in the woods, I’m worried that the car’s condition could get even worse.
Ryan starts up the engine and a huge cloud of smoke rises up around the car. “Dang it!” He turns the key in the ignition several times. “Man, this thing’s always breaking down. I’m lucky I don’t have to go down to the fields at any specific time.” After several minutes, the car finally starts and slowly moves forward. Then, Ryan slams on the gas pedal and the Jeep lurches forward.
We drive around on the cliffs for a while. I look out at the waves and notice that they’re really close to the Jeep, although it probably just seems that way because of my loss of depth perception, and the gleaming ocean is really hundreds of feet below. The side effect of the penicillin is sickening me, so I just close my eyes and try to fall asleep. That doesn’t help. After a while, my eyelids seem to start drifting farther and farther away from me, so I just open my eyes and look outside. We’re nearing the forest. I can see the tall, sprawling trees reaching up towards the sky. Suddenly, the trees ripple and I jump as I see a branch thump into the cracked window as the Jeep rushes past. I really hate loss of depth perception.
The Jeep rushes deeper into the forest, tumbling over jagged hills and long roots. I hear several more ominous noises in the forest. As I listen closely, something seems to be growling at the Jeep. I shudder and turn to Ryan in the front seat.
“Uh, Ryan?” I ask. “Are you sure you know where you’re going?”
“Yeah, I’ve been down this path a thousand times,” Ryan responds. “And I think we got lucky today. Usually, those creatures in the woods swarm my Jeep, but today they haven’t really been showing up much.”
“Now I’m kind of glad we’re not staying with you that much longer.”
Ryan laughs for a brief moment. “Yeah...but I’ve got everything I need in the back.”
I turn my head to look through the back window into the trunk, but this loss of depth perception makes it really hard to see what might be in there. I turn back to Ryan. “What’s in the back?”
“Everything I need,” Ryan replies.
“That doesn’t really tell me much.”
“Well, what do you think I would need in this forest?”
Guns, swords, and bombs are the things that instantly come to mind. I don’t even know about half of the beasts that roam these woods quietly and stealthily as they hunt for their prey, but I know that someone would definitely want to use weapons against them in order to survive.
The sun is high above the island when the forest clears up and we’re driving through a large cornfield. I stare out the window at the half-dozen people walking around with their farming tools. There’s an abandoned tractor sitting next to a small building. Smoke drifts from the chimney, so I guess that must be where bread is made.
“Here we are,” Ryan says. “The cornfield.”
“Okay,” Dad begins. He turns around in his seat to face me and Kaylee. “All right, here’s what we’re going to do. Ryan’s going to give us a quick tour of the fields and then we’ll go to Charlie and ask how much food we can take.”
“Okay, Daddy,” Kaylee mumbles.
The Jeep rolls to a stop in a clearing, and Kaylee hops out, followed by Ryan, and Dad helps me out since I can barely see anything properly. It’s kind of funny though: Dad helping me out of the car, when he should be the one who’s being helped because of his broken leg. Of course, his broken leg is mostly healed now, but he still limps around and doesn’t put much pressure on it.
Ryan walks over to a man with tan skin and a white T-shirt coated in sweat. I know this man is one of the farmers, but I don’t know which one.
“Hey, Frank. Here are the people I told you about,” Ryan says.
Frankie looks up from what he’s doing. He’s quite tall with deep brown eyes and the body of an athlete from all the years he’s worked on the farm. His faded blue jeans are stained with dirt and he has a long gash on his right arm. He has a brown belt with a holster hold a lethal pistol, which doesn’t surprise me one bit.
“Hi,” he says. He may have been on the island for years, but his voice is still young and powerful. “So, you are...”
“Didn’t Ryan tell you?” Dad asks.
“Huh. Well, I’m Alex. This is my son George and my daughter Kaylee.”
“Nice to meet you, George. You too, Kaylee. So, Ryan must’ve told you all about me, and everyone else on the island, but he didn’t tell me about you. How did you get here? Not that it’s hard to get here, but I’m just curious to know.”
“We were actually planning to come to this island.”
Frankie looks surprised. “You were planning to come here?”
“Yeah, we didn’t know this place was filled with all these things that try to kill you. I’m kind of beginning to wonder how there are so many locals here in the first place.”
“Well, a lot of people got shipwrecked here, and the locals are less than a quarter of them. The locals are the ones who got really lucky after they got shipwrecked.” Frankie lets out a heavy sigh. “And Sarah probably would’ve been one of those people if it hadn’t been for ol’ Charles over there.”
“Sarah?” I ask.
“My late girlfriend, genius,” Ryan exclaims firmly.
I step back away from Frankie. “Okay, sorry...”
“It’s okay, George. Frank just doesn’t like to talk about it,” Ryan explains. “So on that note, let’s change the subject. I’ve got to introduce you guys to the rest of the farmers.”
Ryan takes us away from Frankie and walks us over to a scrawny, wild-eyed man with a large mustache and a tattered cowboy hat. “Alex, George, Kaylee, meet Bernard,” Ryan says.
Bernard turns his attention to us. “Oh, here are the Herrings!” Bernard exclaims with a brief laugh. “So, you likin’ the island so far?”
“Uh, uh,” Dad says. “I’m surprised we’ve made it this far.”
“Well, you’re lucky. Running out in the forest trying to solve this island’s mysteries, you might run into a red herring!” He bursts into laughter as if it’s the funniest joke ever made, although I don’t understand it one bit. I look over at Ryan. His face seems fuzzy and far away, but I can barely see that puzzled look on his face.
“Uh...all right, Bernard,” Ryan says. “We’re going to...uh...go to somebody else now.” As we walk away and Bernard continues to laugh, Ryan mutters to me, “See what I mean? That guy’s crazy! Whenever he thinks he has a sense of humor, everyone just backs away from him. But, he gets the work done, so he’s not all bad.”
For the next few minutes, Ryan introduces us to the other three farmers. There’s a tall, thin man from Puerto Rico named Estaban. He told us about how he went to Mexico to see a relative, and a strong current carried his rowboat through a long river and out to sea. He got shipwrecked on the island and spent several days without food when Sturgis found him and gave him an occupation in the fields.
The next man is from California--Beverly Hills to be exact. His name is Gerald Fitz, and he went on a nice, luxurious cruise before someone tried to kill him in his sleep to steal his money. He quickly escaped on a rowboat, only to crash into the sharp, jagged rocks of the island. Similar to Estaban’s story, Sturgis found Gerald and put him in the fields. Being a spoiled man from Beverly Hills, it had taken him several months to finally adjust to farming and the horrors of the island.
Then we meet Shane Lester, a man who seems like he’s been trained to withstand the horrors of the island since birth. That’s because his legacy comes from long ago, when slaves were being carried to America. A strong current tugged one of the ships to the island, and after it washed up on the beach, Shane’s ancestors escaped from it along with several other slaves and survived on the island for several years. Then Sturgis came to the island on his aircraft carrier with hundreds of his workers, and he took Shane’s ancestors in and Shane was born in the complex built underground. Ever since, he had been trained to survive on the island and to farm.
We walk towards the small building I saw earlier. “As you probably figured, that’s where the wheat is made into bread. It’s also where all the food is packaged, and ‘packaging’ is sort of what we call throwing them into sacks and tying the end of the sack up so that it stays closed.”
“Who works in there?” I ask.
“...In the sack?”
“No, in the place where the bread is made. You know, the bakery.”
“Well, there’s Amy Jenson and I forgot the name of the other guy. But I do know that when Amy got shipwrecked here, she had to teach the other guy how to bake bread. It was kind of funny...watching that guy bake when he had no idea what he was doing. So you want to meet them?”
“We’re really just here to get some food for the hike,” Dad responds.
“Okay,” Ryan answers.
We walk toward the bakery, but it’s not to see the bread being made. In front of the bakery is the man I believe to be Charlie, surrounded by several sacks of bread and potatoes. I’m surprised by the amount of sacks in front of the bakery, since Ryan said there was so little left.
“Ryan,” I say. “I thought you said there wasn’t much bread and potatoes left.”
“There isn’t much left,” Ryan answers as if he expected me to come to the same conclusion.
“Look how many sacks are there! And you’re saying there isn’t much left?”
“There isn’t much left for everyone on the island. Bread and potatoes are high in demand here, and Vince, since he isn’t welcome anywhere on the island, often steals crops. And to add on to all that, Sturgis is noticing all the shipwrecks that keep piling up onto the shores of this island. A few years ago, he was pressured by islanders to rescue anyone who was struggling in the woods on their own, and now he reluctantly pulls people out of the forest and they become refugees in his huge underground shelter. And with the number of refugees increasing, the food demand from him becomes higher and higher.” Ryan glances at the sacks piled up against the bakery. “That right there is just enough for everyone on the island.”
We all walk up to the crop defender. Charlie Davison looks like he could be in his late sixties or early seventies, with wary eyes, weathered skin, and ruffled white hair. He has a scruffy mustache and a tattered brown coat that signifies just how long he’s been on the island. He clutches an AK-47 in his hand like a lost doll. He may look old and clumsy, but I won’t let that put my guard down. Ryan said he’s good with a gun, and I don’t want Charlie to test that theory on me.
“Hey, Charlie,” Ryan says.
Charlie doesn’t answer right away. He’s more focused on Kaylee, Dad, and I. “New castaways?” he replies.
“Yeah, these are the Herrings,” Ryan answers.
Charlies examines us for a moment. “Ya lookin’ for crops?” he inquires as if he can read our minds.
“Uh...yeah,” Dad answers.
Charlie turns around, still cradling the gun in his hand. He grabs one sack of bread and hands it to Dad. “That’s all I can give ya. Sturgis is expecting dozens more sacks of bread tomorrow. We’ve had a lot of castaways in the past few days.” He glances over at the woods. “Be careful in the woods.” And with that, he walks away.
As we walk back to the Jeep, Ryan starts talking to me. “Well, that was Charlie. He doesn’t really take the time to get to know new castaways like the farmers. He thinks the food issue is a much higher priority, and it is, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t meet newcomers. But if you ever happen to survive your next hike through the woods and you come to the fields again, don’t get on Charlie’s bad side. I swear, he’ll shoot you down right on the spot.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t,” I respond. And I really mean that. I won’t. I mean, there’s tons of crops left. How hard can it be to just obey the rules?
Dad helps me into the Jeep since this loss of depth perception is still bothering me, and then he gets into the front next to Ryan. Kaylee closes the side door of the Jeep and we take off. In less than five minutes, we’re back at Ryan’s tiny shelter.
“I’ll let you guys stay the night,” Ryan says to us. “But in the morning, you gotta go and fend for yourselves. Got it?”
“Unfortunately,” I answer glumly.
We get out of the Jeep and walk back into the shelter. The day goes by and the sun soars over the island, only to plummet back down and make way for the moon once again.
The dim light bulb hanging from the ceiling is turned on, and everyone’s asleep downstairs except for me. I huddle in my sleeping bag, my eyes wide open. Dad has fallen asleep in one of the chairs in the middle of the room. Ever since Kaylee lost her backpack, Dad has loaned her the blanket he was keeping in his pack, and Kaylee has been sleeping under that ever since. Ryan sleeps in his sleeping bag in the corner of the room. Turns out, he had a sleeping bag stowed away behind all the food in the pantry, and he’s been sleeping in that every night.
I haven’t slept a wink for the past few days. I’m aware of the large bags under my eyes, but I can’t sleep knowing that any moment some creature might come and break through the shelter door, and then it will rip our hearts out and blood will spill everywhere. I try to push these thoughts out of my mind, but when I try to go to sleep, it’s like after I watch a horror movie, when you’re afraid someone could come out of your closet with a machete and hack you apart piece by piece any moment. Except in this case, it could be a creature doing it with its bare hands...or paws...or whatever appendages they might have.
It’s not raining tonight, and there’s nothing to be heard except for Ryan snoring in the corner. Everything is quiet. Everything is calm.
Then the ground begins to shake. At first I barely notice it, but then it progresses into a quiet thundering. It awakens Ryan first, who quickly stands up and walks to the window. Then Dad notices it and walks hastily over to Kaylee to wake her up. I sit up and get out of my sleeping bag.
“What’s that noise?” I inquire, a tone of worry in my voice.
The thundering is slowly getting louder. Ryan shushes me and continues staring out the window. No one speaks for a while. I bundle up the sleeping bag and stand next to Dad and Kaylee, who are watching Ryan as he stares out the window. I can feel the ground vibrating underneath me as the thundering gets louder.
Suddenly, Ryan turns away from the window and runs over to the light switch in the corner. He turns it off, and everything goes black. The only illumination comes from the moonlight filtering through the window.
“Daddy, what’s Ryan doing?” Kaylee whines.
“Ryan, what’s going on?” Dad asks. I can hear the scared tone in his voice.
“It’s a stampede,” Ryan says. “They’re coming fast. Come on, there’s a room upstairs where we can hide.”
“Wait, a stampede of what?” I ask frantically.
Ryan stares at me as if he doesn’t want to answer me. “Uh...they’re...raptors.”
My eyes go wide. I look over at Dad. His eyes are wide, too. I try to say something, but nothing comes out. I’m left speechless by the thought that there are vicious raptors on the island, and that we’ve somehow avoided being ripped apart by them for sixteen days. But now, they could rip through the shelter and kill us...right here, right now.
“Come on!” Ryan yells as the room starts to shake. “It sounds like the raptors aren’t alone. There’s something much bigger tagging along. We’ve got to get upstairs quick!”
Dad, Ryan and Kaylee run upstairs, but somehow curiosity gets the better of me. I find myself walking towards the window. When I don’t stumble or bump into a wall, I realize my loss of depth perception isn’t bothering me anymore. It must be an on/off thing or something.
I look out the window. I try to observe what’s going on outside, but the glass is covered with fog and grime. I wipe a hand across the window and now I can see perfectly outside. At first I can’t see anything. There’s nothing but the shaking ground to warn of a stampede approaching. Then, a silhouette comes into view behind the trees. As it gets closer, I realize that there are dozens of other silhouettes all piling onto a bigger one. Raptors. As for the bigger shape, I don’t know what that is.
The shapes get closer to the shelter. They stampede into the moonlight and I see the raptors with their long tongues and shiny teeth as they bite and claw at the bigger creature. Suddenly, the creature spins around and knocks several of the raptors off their feet. The bigger creature looks a lot like a brontosaurus, but it’s much more aggressive and it appears to be a carnivore. I watch as one raptor flies into the Jeep at high speed, damaging the outside of the Jeep even more. It’s about to get back up and fight back when the carnivorous brontosaurus steps on the Jeep and the raptor is crushed. I don’t know if it’s still alive, but I don’t have time to watch anymore as I feel a hand clutch my shoulder.
“George! We’ve gotta move!” Ryan whispers urgently in my ear.
“Bu...bu-bu...” I try to speak, but I’m shocked by the dinosaurs outside. “I was--”
“Whoa, whoa! George, get down!!” Ryan grabs me and pulls me down just as the Jeep flies through the wall, spewing fire and debris everywhere. It’s closely followed by the gruesome carcass of the raptor that was stepped on. I feel the wood and debris pelting my body, ripping my clothes. Glass showers Ryan and I, and I can feel it digging into my skin. When debris stops raining down on us, Ryan grabs onto me, and despite my aching body, we run for the staircase.
I look back behind me and see about two or three of the raptors looking in our direction. I step over the gruesome remains of the other raptor and follow Ryan as he sprints up the stairs. A raptor rams into the wall behind me and squeals up the stairs. Just now I realize this is the creature we saw on our third day on the island--the one that was running around in the grassland.
I don’t look back. I sprint as fast as I can behind Ryan. Ryan runs into the pantry. I am wondering why he might want to go in there, but then I see he’s opening a door in the back of the pantry I didn’t notice before. It leads into the room that had the blinds drawn earlier.
I run through the pantry and into the room. The raptor slams into the wall of the pantry and tries to get in, but fortunately I close the door just in time. I can’t hold it closed much longer though. The raptor continues to slam against the door, trying to get in.
“George! Keep it closed!” Ryan yells.
Dad and Kaylee are sitting against the wall. Kaylee’s crying like crazy again, and as usual Dad makes impossible attempts to comfort her. At the same time, Ryan’s grabbing a stack of chairs from the corner and pushing them to the door. He quickly pushes them against the door and turns to me.
“George! Go get that table over there!” Ryan points to a table in the corner. One of its legs has broken off and it’s covered in cobwebs. I don’t know how well a broken table will hold up against the raptor that squealing and slamming against the door, but I don’t want to wait to find out. I run over to the broken table and push it towards the door. When it’s against the door, Ryan backs away and listens as the raptor squeals a little more, then stops. Moments later, we hear it quickly scampering away.
“It’ll be back,” Ryan says. He’s breathing hard and coated with sweat. A long gash is on his face from the debris and it appears there are some under his shirt and on his arms as well. I’m sure I may look the same.
I sit next to Dad as Ryan goes back and forth, pushing different objects against the door in case the raptor decides to come back. Then Ryan sits next to me.
“What were you thinking?” he asks me.
“Sorry...” I reply. “I just wanted to see what was happening.” I find it hard to speak; I’m still stunned from what has just happened.
Ryan puts his hand on his forehead and grimaces. “Look...when there’s a stampede of raptors, you can’t stick around to see what’s happening. You just run as fast as you can, and you don’t look back. Got it?”
I nod, and for the next few hours we just listen. We hear raptors squealing, squishy dismemberment, and all the things you’d never dream of hearing. I jump as I hear a slam and I see the shadow of a raptor hitting the window behind the blinds. Another larger shadow comes and crushes it, and its carcass sinks to the floor under the window.
When I’m not shuddering from what’s happening in the other room, I’m examining the room. Right now we’re on a metal walkway, and to our right is stairs leading down to the lower floor. The room is large and domed, and hanging from the ceiling is what I believe to be an enormous bird cage, but I can’t quite tell since a large, faded brown curtain is pulled down around it.
The hours pass by, and after a while the raptors’ squealing ceases, and I hear the stomping of a large creature getting quieter and quieter as what might be the carnivorous brontosaurus stumbles off into the forest. Everyone else falls asleep, but I am once again staying wide awake, listening. Everything is quiet. The smell of death is in the air.
I shudder as I think of what might be behind the door. I decide we shouldn’t find out until tomorrow, so I slowly lean back against the wall, and drift to sleep.
It’s a grisly scene.
Dad makes Herculean efforts to stop Kaylee from seeing it, but her curiosity wins him over and now she’s throwing up on the staircase. I find it hard not to puke myself.
Several gruesome raptor carcasses are scattered around the floor, surrounded by blood and torn body organs. Some raptors are ripped apart so much that their spines are sticking out of their back, covered in blood. I would describe more, but I don’t want to look at the scene and I’m already puking violently on one of the few spaces that isn’t covered with blood or body parts.
I look back at Dad and Ryan, and they’re looking pretty queasy themselves. Ryan looks the queasiest, considering this is his shelter, and he never could’ve dreamed of anything like this happening.
I examine the rest of the shelter, trying not to look at the raptors. The wall has been blown open, and there’s a large hole in the floor in the corner. I rush down the stairs, and the scene is less grisly down there, but the shelter has been more destroyed down here, and debris is strewn everywhere. Ryan’s Jeep lies in a burning heap in the corner, surrounded by pieces of metal and rubber from the tires. And next to it is the crushed frorm of yet another dead raptor.
Ryan walks slowly down the stairs and views the wreckage. He’s speechless. I notice as he tries to talk several times, but nothing comes out. We’re silent for a long time. I’ll bet Ryan is still trying to take it all in. His jeep and his shelter have both been destroyed. He has almost nothing left.
Finally, he speaks. “Well, without my Jeep...I’m going to have to walk through the forest for days just to get to Sturgis.”
“Sturgis?” I ask. “Why him?”
“He can supply me with building materials, a new Jeep...” Ryan stares at the gruesome bodies of the raptors strewn around us. “...and a good clean-up crew.”
He walks over to the nearly unrecognizable Jeep and examines it thoroughly, and then I see him carefully pull something out of the wreckage. It’s an AK-47. It’s covered in ashes and the raptors’ blood, but Ryan doesn’t care. I can see it from the look on his face. He only needs it to survive in the woods as he goes to see Sturgis, and he doesn’t care what it’s been in.
“Why do you need to wander around for days when you can just go to the fields?” I inquire.
“I will be going to the fields,” Ryan answers. “I need to get some crops to bargain with. But there aren’t any vehicles in the fields except for that rusty old tractor that doesn’t work. And no one offers building supplies there either. Or a clean-up crew that can take care of all these dead raptors.” Ryan turns to me. “George, I’m afraid this is good-bye. I’m sorry if I haven’t been able to supply you with the food you’d normally like, or a comfortable place you could temporarily call home, but I’ve been doing the best I can. I’ll be gone in the forest for several days. I hope you and your family will turn out in one piece. And if you ever need anything, just find Sturgis.”
“How will we find him?” I ask.
“I hope you’ll figure out,” Ryan says, and my spirits drop. “No one’s mapped out this island before. Good-bye, George.” And with that, Ryan turns and walks away, clutching the AK-47 tightly in his hand.
Within hours, we begin to hike as well. We took the bread and potatoes that we’re left in the pantry and began the long hike again. It might’ve been a little rude to steal Ryan’s only food, but he said himself that he was going to get some more bread and potatoes from the field. And even if he is using them to bargain with Sturgis, he still might have some more left afterward. So I stop being worried about Ryan and focus on hiking.
Dad is still limping along, but he’s faster than me. My loss of depth perception is bothering me again, so I trail behind him and Kaylee. I’m sure to be careful where I step, but after a while I’m not sure I can do it on my own, so I ask for Dad to help me and he does. Although I still can’t see anything properly, I’m grateful for Dad steadying me along the way.
I assume it must be about noon. It’s mostly cloudy outside except for a few patches of blue sky. We’re walking on a large plain with the cliffs in view about a quarter of a mile away. Several trees are scattered around us, but they’re not nearly as dense as the trees in the forest.
We hike for a few more hours and the plain begins to narrow a bit. The cliffs are now right beside us, the long beaches about...five feet below. I have a bad feeling that the ground below isn’t actually that close, but why aren’t we exploring the beach anyway? If we don’t, we could pass our ticket off the island.
I walk towards the small cliff. I take a step forward, and suddenly the white, silky sand drops violently.
“GEORGE!!” I hear Dad yell.
He reaches out to grab me, but it’s too late. Too surprised to even make a noise, I plummet off the cliff. The wind rushes in my ears. My stomach drops. The weird thing is, as I fall, the ground actually seems to rush farther away from me. Then, it rockets toward me and I slam into the sand with a thud.
I jolt as I hit the ground. The sand breaks my fall so that the impact doesn’t hurt a lot, but the shock resonates through my body and for a moment I can’t move a muscle. My face must be about a half-foot deep in the sand. Then, I regain control of my body and push myself up. My entire body begins to ache, and I can feel sand in my teeth. It takes a while for me to finally open my eyes, and when I do, it’s like I’ve blacked out. Then the world fades into view, spinning around faster than a bullet. I’m broken and nauseated, and it’s starting to seem like the sand didn’t help my fall at all.
“George!!” I hear Dad shout.
I don’t look in his direction. I’m still waiting for the world to stop spinning violently. And when it does, I still don’t look in his direction, because I’m paying attention to something else. Sticking out of the sand ahead of me is what looks like the mast of a small boat. It shudders as the waves pound against it repeatedly.
“George!!” Dad shouts again. I look in his direction and I can barely see Dad and Kaylee due to my loss of depth perception, but I am just able to make out both of them climbing carefully down the slope of the cliff.
My face is covered in sand. I move my my mouth a little and I crunch on a tiny grain of sand with my teeth. I can’t get up, no matter how hard I try. The fall didn’t hurt much, but it must’ve done something devastating to my body.
Dad comes over to me and helps me up frantically. “George! George, are you all right?” Dad inquires. “George?”
I don’t answer. I would answer, but I still can’t find it in myself to speak. It’s like my vocal cords have been cut in half. And also, I’m still staring at the mast of the boat sticking out of the sand. Dad sees what I’m looking at and walks over to the mast. He examines it for a moment. I stumble when he walks away, but I quickly regain balance and watch as Dad stands next to the half-buried boat.
After a while, Dad walks around to the back of the ship and pulls out of the sand. It’s a small boat with what appears to be a small inscription on the side, but I can’t really see since it’s cracked and weathered.
Dad pushes the boat out of the hole it’s in and reveals two oars buried in the sand under it. I can’t believe it. We’ve been hiking around for seventeen days, and now, because of loss of depth perception, we’ve finally found a boat.
“We can leave the island!” I exclaim happily.
“Yes, we can,” Dad says. “All right, George, you didn’t lose anything during the fall, did you? Like, did anything fall out of your backpack?”
“I don’t think so.”
Dad sighs. He looks out at the sea, the waves pounding against the shore, the heavy, darkening clouds warning of a storm coming. “Okay, then. What are we waiting for? Let’s get in the boat and take off.”
Kaylee grabs the oars out of the hole as Dad pushes the boat towards the churning waves. I still can’t believe we’re finally going to leave the island. It’s been about seventeen days, but it feels like we’ve been here for several long, agonizing years.
As soon as the boat begins to float in the water, I jump in. I don’t want my loss of depth perception bothering me for too much longer. Then Kaylee and Dad both carefully get in the boat. Dad grabs the oars, starts rowing and we’re on our journey away from the island. The water is still shallow and I can see the bottom only a few inches below, but I’m sure that in a few hours, we’ll be riding the waves back to civilization.
I vigorously brush the sand off my head and out of my mouth for several minutes, and even then the sand isn’t gone, but at least now I don’t crunch it between my teeth every time I close my mouth. The boat rocks back and forth as the waves crash against it, flooding the inside. In the first few minutes of the voyage, all our clothes are already soaking wet.
I think of what we’re going to do from here. We’ve left the island, but somehow it feels like our adventure isn’t done yet. I look back at the island, slowly getting farther and farther away. I watch it for several minutes, and before long, it’s nothing more than dozens of tiny bumps in the distance. For some reason, I’m both grateful and saddened by leaving the island. The whole experience had been terrifying, but I liked the excitement of the whole thing. It feels like this whole thing is supposed to last longer, but sadly, it isn’t.
From here on out, we’ll survive on bread and potatoes for several days until we finally reach land, and then we’ll go to some friends Dad has in Mexico, borrow a car, and drive back to our home.
Obviously, this is going to take a while. I unzip my backpack and take out my blanket. I wrap it around myself and lie down in the wet boat. I stare up at the bland gray clouds. I feel the blanket dampening as buckets of water splash against the boat. I find it hard to fall asleep, but after a while, listening to the calming wind, I finally doze off.
When I wake up several hours later, I can’t see the bland gray sky. All I see is white. No waves splash against the boat anymore. The water is calm, and everything is quiet. I sit up slowly. We’re surrounded by a thick, white fog. Dad is completely silent as he stares out into the fog. Kaylee is also silent, her face buried in the bottom of the boat. She must’ve gotten scared and decided to make it so that she couldn’t see the ominous fog.
I place my hand on the side of the boat. Sweat trickles down my forehead. I hastily put my blanket back in my backpack and stare back out at the fog. I listen carefully. I can’t hear anything. There’s absolutely no sign of life anywhere near.
“We’ve been traveling through this fog for about an hour now,” Dad says. “We better get somewhere soon.”
We look out into the fog for several more minutes as the boat drifts slowly and quietly forward. We wait...and wait...and wait for something to happen. It feels like we’ve been waiting forever.
“What’s that noise?” Dad asks.
I look over at him, puzzled because I can’t hear anything. Then the boat starts to speed up suddenly, and the sound of rushing water is now audible. And then, an ominous rumble of thunder can be heard across the horizon. As the fog slowly clears, I look forward to see dark storm clouds high up in the sky, and below them, a storming sea of fifty-foot waves.
I frantically try to wake up Kaylee, my heart pounding in my ears. After I yell out her name, she wakes up and stares at the waves ahead of us. She grips the side of the boat so tight her knuckles are turning white. Dad is so terrified he doesn’t even make a noise.
The boat edges closer to a huge sloped wave that will lead us to a large amount of even more destructive storm surges. As the boat dips precariously over the wave, Dad turns back to us.
“Hang on!!” he shouts at the top of his lungs. “George! Hang on to Kaylee!”
I grab Kaylee’s hand and we plummet down the side of the wave. It’s a long, wet, uncomfortable ride. The boat slams into the water several times, spraying cold water in every direction. It hits the bottom of the wave and rockets up yet another one. I hear Kaylee let out a long, ear-piercing scream as we rocket away from the wave and into the air.
We hit the water, dipping slightly under. I find myself gurgling water as we continue rocketing through the waves for several minutes. Lightning sprawls across the sky, lighting up the waves in a blinding frenzy. Water flies into the boat, dampening our backpacks and our clothes.
“Daaad!!!” I shout as loud as I can. “Daaad!!!”
Dad doesn’t answer. He’s being tossed around in the boat as it speeds full-blast into another wave. I’m thrown backward along with Kaylee. My backpack almost flies out of the boat, but I catch it at the last second, grabbing onto its strap. I heave the drenched backpack back into the boat, making sure to keep it in this time.
The boat goes underwater several times, leaving us confused and soaking wet. After I wait for the world to stop spinning violently, I examine the powerful waves. Some are weak and brief, but others tower several feet in the air, and travel across the water for several minutes. Not seconds. Minutes. It’s as if they’re being controlled by some unknown, evil force that wants to rip us apart.
Lightning also seems to have an interest in killing us. One bolt stretches out across the sky and erupts in a blinding flash. It’s the most breathtaking thing I’ve ever seen, and while I’m staring at it, I’m not able to prepare for another lightning bolt that shoots down faster than a bullet, barely missing my head and splintering the back of the boat into thousands of tiny pieces of smoldering wood. Kaylee screams as water floods the boat. We lunge forward and keep away from the back as the boat is sent flying across the water.
As we fly over yet another wave, I see something that is now the new most breathtaking thing I’ve ever seen. Dad and Kaylee seem to have the same reaction as they stare in awe at the towering wave ahead of us. It looks like it could be the strongest wave ever to form out here in the ocean. I look up to find that it just keeps stretching higher and higher into the sky. It has no top. There is no way around.
Thankfully, instead of going into the wave, we ride on it as it curves to the left. I’m thrilled by the experience, but I’m also terrified and panicked. I grip the boat tightly as we curve backward.
“Hang on!!!” Dad screams. “Just keep hanging on!!!”
We drop down the side of the wave at speeds faster than anyone could imagine. I can feel my teeth chattering as we pick up speed. With a final ear-piercing scream from Kaylee, we reach the bottom of the wave. I thank God that it’s finally over...and then I see another wave towering in front of us.
I don’t even have time to cry out as we submerge. The boat flies out from under us and disappears in the darkness of the sea. I grab my backpack and look around. My vision is blurry. I can’t see anything under the water. And I can’t see Dad or Kaylee.
I’m about to think that there’s no bottom when suddenly the ground rises up from below. I’m relieved that I reached land, but then I realize that I haven’t even moved. The ground has mysteriously risen up. And then I see that the water level is dropping. I quickly jerk my head above the water and gasp for air. I blink the water out of my eyes and look around. I’m on a beach. The sky is a light gray ahead of me and the waves are calm. There’s nothing to show that anything has happened except for the wreckage of the boat several feet farther along the bank.
As I stare out at the sea for a little while longer, I realize it looks strangely familiar. I struggle to get to my feet. I’m still dizzy and confused from the ride through the storm, and I’m soaking wet on every inch of my body. Taking a step forward, I hear the water sloshing around in my shoe.
I turn around, stumbling in the process, and as I observe the rest of the beach, I instantly know where we are. I see the rock slope that I fell off of. I see the trees that are at the top of the slope. I see the indentation in the sand that is still there from where I fell. As crazy as it seems, we’re back on the island.
Dad and Kaylee are sitting down in the sand. Kaylee’s hair hangs scattered in front of her face and I don’t think she’s observed her surroundings yet, but Dad is staring up at the rock slope as if he’s come to the same stunning conclusion as me.
I turn to Dad, breathing heavily. “Dad?”
Dad slowly turns to me. “Yeah?”
“We’re back on the island.” There’s a long silence as we try to take in what has just happened. It seems impossible, but we’ve just sailed miles into the ocean on a rowboat, and then we entered the water and somehow arrived back where we started.
The next several hours are spent with us trying to decide on what has just happened. All three of us have many ridiculous theories, and after a while Dad decides we should climb back up the slope and continue hiking. And that’s just what we do. We hike for a long period of time. We once again enter a dense forest and try to avoid stepping on thorns or anything suspicious.
After a while, the sky gets darker, and I guess it must be about eight in the ngafternoon. We’ve been through so much in just eight hours, but what seems like much more. We refrain from lighting a fire in case any creature in the woods happens to see it.
As we continue walking through the forest, I turn to Dad. “Dad, where are we gonna sleep for the night?”
“I don’t know,” Dad answers glumly.
I sigh heavily. I don’t want to spend a night in the forest. I have before, and it was terrifying. I’ve heard squealing from a raptor and thundering from a stampede and ominous grunting from a bloodthirsty creature too hideous to describe without shuddering. I don’t want to spend any more nights in the horrendous forest. I just can’t.
“Do you think we could find Sturgis?” I inquire.
“George, I heard all about what Ryan said before he left. I was at the top of the stairs. I heard everything. He clearly explained to you that it would take several days of torturous hiking to get to Sturgis, and stopping at the fields doesn’t help because they’ve got no Jeeps anyway, and they’re low on crops.”
“We could find him, Dad.”
“I don’t think so, George.”
“We’ve already walked miles on this island. I’ll bet we could find him, Dad.”
“George, if you’re worried about sleeping in the forest tonight, you don’t have to argue with me anymore.” Dad points in front of us. The forest clears out ahead, and I can see a large grassland spanning for what seems like several miles.
“Oh, finally!” I exclaim eagerly.
We walk out into the grassland, and I instantly remember the terrors from several days before after seeing the endless cloud of fog in front of us. The grassland continues inside it, and I can see only a sliver of it before the rest is shrouded in mystery by the fog.
We start a campfire about fifty yards away from the enormous cloud of fog. We’re lying down about a half-hour later. The fire illuminates the fog with an eerie orange glow. Kaylee has fallen asleep, but Dad and I are wide awake, staring at the haunting cloud.
Dad sighs. “You know, George, that fog is starting to get on my nerves,” Dad complains. “It’s so weird.”
“I saw it earlier,” I reply. “It kind of scared me.”
“Yeah, it scares me, too.”
There’s another long silence as we gaze out at the fog. After looking at it more closely, I notice that the grassland in the vast cloud of fog gives away to long, deadly patches as thorns, about twice as sharp as the thorns we saw on the creature with tentacles in the forest.
Dad stands up and keeps looking at the fog. “You know what, George...I’m gonna go check out the fog.”
I look up at Dad. I can’t believe he’s actually considering doing this. “You’re serious?”
Dad turns to me. His face is bruised and there are several gashes on it. His lip is still bleeding from a wound that must’ve been from long ago. I don’t want Dad to get hurt anymore, but he seems to have made up his mind. “George, I’m just going to look for a little bit. If I’m not back in ten minutes, you can search for me if you want.”
Before I can protest, Dad walks through the grassland towards the fog. I see him slow down a bit when he reaches the ominous cloud, but he continues forward, and then he disappears from view.
I lean back and listen. I hear the crackling from the warm fire. I hear distant screams and squeals from the forest, but they don’t bother me as much since they sound very far away. I don’t hear anything from the fog. It’s completely silent.
I sit up. How long has it been? I’m not sure it’s been ten minutes, but I’m starting to get worried about Dad. What if there’s some terrifying beast in the fog that’s waiting to rip him to shreds? What if the fog is covering up a bottomless pit filled that descends deep into the earth? What if...?
I can’t take it anymore. I wouldn’t be able to bear it if Dad got killed because I let him walk into danger. I stand up and shake Kaylee’s frail, unmoving body.
“Kaylee!” I whisper. “Kaylee, wake up!”
“Mmm...” Kaylee groans. After I shake her a little more, she finally sits up and looks as me. “George, what’re you doing?”
“Dad’s gone into the fog and hasn’t come out yet,” I explain, glancing at the fog as I speak. “We gotta find him. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?”
Kaylee is too exhausted to answer, but she comes with me anyway. I scoop up my backpack and we venture into the deep, mysterious fog. We’re immediately enveloped in an ominous gray cloud. Thorns cover the ground around us. And absolutely nothing makes a sound. That’s what creeps me out the most. The silence. The terrible, unbroken silence.
“George, I’m scared.”
“Kaylee, shut up. You’re not gonna let some fog scare you, are you?”
“This fog gives me the creeps.”
We wander around inside the fog for several more minutes. And the silence is still unbroken. I glance at one of the thorns and see that it seems to be moving. Something comes out from the ground as it moves: a human skull. My stomach drops. As Kaylee tries to look where I’m looking, I quickly block her view. There’s no way I’m going to let her see a skull just so she can freak out again.
The cry comes to the left of me, and it immediately snaps Kaylee out of her exhaustion. There’s a second scream, and I find myself sprinting through the fog, Kaylee running close behind. The skull is nothing compared to this fear. The cry came from Dad. I’m certain of it.
“GEORGE!!! GEORGE, QUICK!!!”
Another cry. I run faster. I feel like I’m going to throw up. My heart is pounding faster than it ever has before.
It’s coming from right in front of us. Dad is sprawled on the ground in front of us, several thorns wrapped around his body. And they’re tugging at him--pulling him under the ground.
I grab Dad’s hand and struggle with all my might. Dad grits his teeth as I pull as hard as I can. The thorns are stronger--much stronger. Just when I think I can’t do it, Kaylee begins helping me and we struggle to pull Dad away from the evil grip of the thorns.
Unfortunately, it has no effect.
Dad tries as hard as he can, but the thorns prevail. He’s dragged under the ground, pulling us with him. We slide past the thorns and find ourselves plummeting into darkness. I’m so surprised I don’t even cry out. I just croak and listen to Kaylee’s high pitched scream. Then, lights flash around us. We begin speeding up, shooting through the void at high speed. Then, more flashes appear around us, and we’re plummeting through the earth as fast as light. The world turns into a blur, and Kaylee’s screaming fades into nothing as we fall further and further...
Everything goes dark. There’s a long silence. An unbroken silence...
COMING SOON: Part Three