Weekend Quickie #218
Saturday, February 11, 2017
One Image, One Prompt, One Emotion
An Augean Task
“bread and circuses”
George Washington Bridge, New York City, 1973
One hot summer day
A deserted island
Chicken with its head cut off
Fred was running in the whitewater in what seemed like an endless summer day on this deserted island. The wind blew his hair off of his face and drew tears from his eyes but he loved it. Joy seemed to emanate from his body and his grin was infectious. He slowed down to a walk to check out what treasures the ocean had washed up for him. Every day it was something new and amazing. Yesterday a huge turtle had lumbered out of the sea and made it’s way to the cover of the jungle. Fred followed it for a little while but left him alone when he realized the turtle was not after the treasure he had buried.
Up ahead he saw something he hadn’t seen since his best friend had left him here alone. He couldn’t believe his eyes. It was a small boat! Not sure where it came from or who it belonged to Fred approached it cautiously. No one was around and the boat was completely empty. His heart was beating furiously and he began to run circles around the boat and jump into the air and spin around like a chicken with it’s head cut off! A boat! A boat!
Fred was so excited that he didn’t hear the people approaching. All he could think about was going home and sleeping in a nice soft bed. And Phoebe! And food, oh glorious food! He didn’t know how long he had been here but he hadn’t been able to catch anything edible and he was so tired of eating fruit. He was still circling the boat when he heard her voice.
“Fred! Oh my God, Fred! I thought we would never find you!” His best friend Becky ran toward him with her arms wide open and she fell to her knees as he jumped all over her, covering her face in kisses. She laughed through her tears as he wiggled and barked in joy at seeing her. Fred ran from her to the boat and back again. He looked at the boat and back at Becky. Becky laughed and said “yes Fred, we are going home!” and before she could finish the sentence he was already in the boat waiting for them.
Fred sat on Becky’s lap with the wind whipping up his long tan and white hair and a grin on his face. Becky was holding him tight and had just given him some chicken jerky, his tummy was comfortably full. He couldn’t be happier. He was going home, his best friend had found him, and his island adventure was over. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell Phoebe all about it. She would be so happy to see him. She was too old for adventures now, but she loved to hear his stories. She called him her little escape artist and her biggest fear was that one day he wouldn’t find his way home. But he always did. He was fierce for such a little guy, but after all he was a descendant of royal wolves chosen to be sentinels for the monks in Tibet.
Johnny lifted the pickaxe for the last time. Time calloused his hands and toned his muscles, but left his mind free to think. Maybe there was a life somewhere- away from the orcs. Free of the mine.
“Time’s up Johnny Elf” the warden called. “It’s day 60, and I’m letting you go a half-day early.”
“You can leave your pickaxe there.”
Johnny set the axe down at the base of the mine. He took one last look around before he started walking. The warden followed behind Johnny as he headed up the shaft.
“You know Johnny, your kind are pretty rare these days. The wood elves never were a match for orcs, but they put up some fight.”
Johnny paused and looked at the warden before walking on.
“Where will you go?” the warden asked.
“I don’t know. Galone I suppose. It was once our land.”
“Galone?” the warden reflected. “That Island? Place is in ruins. Ain’t nobody been there for years. How will you get there?”
“A boat I guess. Got to start somewhere” Johnny said.
“Well better you than me boy” the warden patted his hand on the elf’s shoulder. “Don’t come back here. Understand?”
“Yes sir” Johnny nodded and walked outside the mine.
He squinted his eyes nearly shut as he locked his gaze on the sun. The light blinded his eyes until they hurt. Johnny didn’t seem to notice. The light was a long-lost friend, and he had missed it as if they were once lovers. It was hot, and Johnny soaked up every dab of warmth that he could. It had been awhile since he had seen a day this good.
Johnny caught the next carriage to Navarre- a coastal town not far from the island of Galone. He earned the fare playing cards in the mine. The trip left him little coin, but it took him away from the Rio Grande and away from the band of orcs. He spent the first of many nights camping outside of Navarre under the stars. His dreams were more lucid and vivid than ever.
There was but one job available in the whole town of Navarre- the headsman at a chicken slaughter house. The first day spent on the job was the worst. Johnny turned more shades of green than he knew existed. But he promised his Momma that he would earn an honest living, and so he did. And for many days that passed, so he did.
Navarre was close enough to Galone to be within rowing distance. The rumors and superstitions about Galone flowed through Navarre like water. There were a few who disagreed whether or not wood elves still lived on the island. Some say the island was haunted by the living dead. And still, a few spun rumors of hidden treasure deep in the forests of the island- blind to everyone save for wood elves. Johnny could never afford a boat, but it would cost very little to build one!
Johnny knew nothing of building boats or working wood. But Johnny longed for the vast sea, and all of the immense endlessness that it offered.
“Why the heck was I tagged in the Iron Writer group again? Someone else taking offense to my presidential candidate? Let’s see. Nope, I am in a challenge this week. Okay so we have one hot summer day, a deserted island, buried treasure, and a chicken with its head cut off as the elements. Nice. These are rather easy this week. Of course, there is an obvious story here but how do I change it up so it’s not so easy?”
“Steven L. Bergeron came up with these elements, huh? He must be tired or just lacks imagination this week. Let’s see…Michael Cottle, Sean Bracken, Chrissy Garrison and Reiven West are in with me. I am not very familiar with the writings of Sean, Chrissy, and Reiven too much, but I am very familiar with Michael’s drivel. I’ll bet his buried treasure will be an Algebra textbook or some crap like that. At least stupid Mamie isn’t in this challenge. So, how can I make mine different? I could have my protagonist wake up on a deserted island after being shipwrecked…have him run around scared like a chicken with its head cut off…have him trip over a buried treasure chest…hahaha…maybe my buried treasure will be an Algebra book and beat Michael to the punch, and of course, he will be shipwrecked on a hot summer day. No, dammit. I have to be different in my story, Ouch that hurt a bit. Shouldn’t have slammed my hands down on the table so hard. Idiot. Okay, a story…a story…come on story…appear.”
“Curses to you, Steven L. Bergeron for making the elements so easy that it is hard to write a good story and be different. You just made the list. Come on, Vance. You can make a compelling story out of these elements. Think, idiot. Think. I can throw some comedy in there and have my castaway think about making a two-way radio out of a couple of coconut shells and some vines like the professor on Gilligan’s Island. I don’t know, I need a break. Let’s see what is happening on Facebook. Oh look, Mathew W. Weaver stopped playing a video game long enough to pop in and make a stupid comment…let’s see…hahahaha Roger Campbell has a comment for everything. I think he stalks me because he has to comment on everything I post. The new king of controversy. I picture him sitting at his computer and wondering who he can piss off today. Apparently everyone. Okay, I need to go into my slot game and collect my free coins. I will get back to writing in a bit.”
“Okay, back to the challenge. I hate these freaking things. I don’t know why I sign up for them. They just cause me undue stress. Stupid Brian Rogers…coming up with this idea in the first place. He just made the list too.”
E. Chris Garrison
Dr. Victoria Princess sunned herself, seemingly unconcerned. Massive waves threatened to wash over the tiny beach island she lay on. Each time the surf struck, a little bit more of the island sloughed away with the tide as it rolled back out.
Victoria wondered idly whether the shadow of the island’s lone palm tree would move to cool her sooner than the island eroded to reach her toes.
Through her nearly opaque owlish green plastic sunglasses, she watched as the bucket-like lifeboat sank into the water with a sucking sound. There went her only other clothing, as well as any hope of getting off the ever-shrinking island. Victoria’s face remained cool and impassive, the hint of her trademark smile unchanged.
The cloudless sky darkened. Something blocked the sun. The something grew larger; a whisper grew to a scream as it tore through the air, right toward her island.
Victoria peered at it through her shades, but remained perfectly still as a small airplane crashed into the ground nearby, scattering sand in all directions. Almost instantly, water filled in the crater it left.
A soldier clawed his way from the wreckage, with no time to spare, as the plane exploded. Bits of debris rained down all around, hot metal sizzling in the salt water. The palm tree was knocked to the ground, away from Victoria.
Victoria sprang to her feet. “Oh, are you hurt? I am a doctor, let me examine your wounds!”
The soldier raised his grizzled and craggy face and said, “A doctor? That’s okay, I’m fine, I’m too tough to need a doctor.”
“Don’t be silly, everyone needs doctors sometimes.”
“I don’t. I eat shrapnel for breakfast.”
“That can’t be good for your digestion. Here, would you like a cup of tea?” Victoria produced a small plastic tea set out of nowhere. She sat on the ground, next to his prone form, and prepared the teacups.
His face betrayed no emotion as he snorted. “No! I am here to seek buried treasure, not to drink tea, lady.”
Victoria made no visible reaction, but said, “Buried treasure? Is that why you crashed here?”
The soldier sat up suddenly. “Yes! I was shot down by enemy agents, they don’t want me to find the treasure.”
“I haven’t seen any treasure,” she said, looking past him at the new lagoon that had been dug by his plane’s impact and explosion.
“That’s ’cause it’s buried,” he said, refusing the teacup she offered.
Victoria sipped at her own tea. “Well, how will you dig for–”
A shrill shriek shattered the air, and a giant’s foot, wearing a flip-flop pushed them both deep into the sand.
“Moooom! Aiden just ruined my island party!” cried a voice far up in the sky. “He’s running around like a chicken with its head cut off again, make him stop!”
The surf lapped at the foot-shaped crater, and Dr. Princess and the soldier stared up through the water, the smiles on their plastic faces unchanged.
“Watch my back, Nick,” I whispered, from behind a stack of empty crates. “I’m going aboard. She looks deserted, but you never know, someone might be on guard duty below decks.”
I waited for the moon to duck behind some clouds, before I made my move and ran in a crouch to a gangway tethered to the yacht. Keeping low, I sprinted up and onto the deck of the Silver Tassie. Still seeing no signs of life, I made my way to the main hatch. It was secured with a stainless steel padlock, confirming that the boat was deserted. I beckoned to Nick to join me on board, before pulling bolt cutters from my backpack.Seconds later the lock was only fit for scrap. Nick was busy pulling the boarding ramp onto the deck as I made my way below.
I’d spotted the crew leave that afternoon. A man carrying a young child and a woman. It was obvious from the blotches on their faces that the woman and child were infected. The man’ appeared healthy, but after being in such close contact with the others, he was doomed. They were probably looking for medical help. They hadn’t got a hope. Ninety percent of the world’s population were dead already and there was little hope for the rest of us.
For my son Nick and me, stealing this boat was a matter of survival. We’d avoided all contact with others for weeks and so far our luck held. Now we needed to find a deserted island and hide away for as long as the disease, K9h5, continued to spread.
A week later we found the island. Five hundred miles out in the Pacific, it would become our refuge for the foreseeable future. The Silver Tassie was well stocked, with provisions to last us over a year. The island was unspoilt, with fresh spring water and wild game inhabiting the dense woods. There were even wild chickens in abundance, probably a legacy of some earlier attempt at settlement.
Life on the island was pleasant enough. A couple of women and some booze, it would have been Paradise. As the days rolled into months, radio stations disappeared, until eventually, the airwaves fell silent.
One bright sunny day, six months into our stay, I was cutting the head off a chicken, to prepare it for dinner when Nick came running up from the beach, shouting “Dad, Dad, come and see what I’ve found.” I dropped the chicken, who ran off, leaving his head behind, and I ran down to see what all the fuss was about. He pointed back the way he’d come, yelling “It’s treasure Dad, it’s treasure.”
The tide had exposed part of an ornate chest, like a pirate treasure chest. Using our hands, we scooped away the sand and opened the lid.
Inside we found a scroll. “A treasure map?” I wondered. I opened the scroll to read “Congratulations! You are the winner of ABC Television’s Secret Island Quest. Contact 085-085-085 to claim your prize.”