Chapter 37:

Ch 37: Even if flames do not consume all, it still burns

Castaway Isle

"Well I'll be darned, that hits the spot like a sweet iced tea in summer!" sighed an old woman in satisfaction.

Her wrinkles were prominent from a lifetime of the sun but stretched out over the wide expanse of her fat and frame. At her age her hair should be all white, instead, it was a permed updo of dyed rust and salt. She smacked her lips, thin without her favorite lipstick, chasing the fading sweetness of a cool dessert already long slipped down her dry throat.

"That's because it is summer Mary Beth." leaned in June helpfully, filling up the empty thermos with fresh water from her flask. For the old woman to keep.

"And damn hell does it sure hit the spot! You kiddos sure can work magic out here."

"Oh, it wasn't much!...Okay it was totes a lot of work because Mattie haaaaates getting dirty like I told you. So if it was even a little muddy I'm the one going in or grabbing something. And Sophie's all 'don't use so much sugar' which is true bc we got like a little itty bit between the 3 of us, but like if it's not sweet then what's the point?"

A little rambly but the child held nothing to her neighbors back home. The girl was spirited and sweeter than any dessert on this godforsaken island. The old woman listened on with a good attitude, it was easier to learn about the other two just from listening to this youngster.

The others seemed like good kids but were much more closed off. Good, they would keep this one alive, keep them all alive.

She had seen too many things in her lifetime. In the wars abroad, men would be drafted off, leaving villages of women and children for the picking. She had seen hundreds of girls like the one in front of her picked off. Too young to know better, too pretty to be missed. As an army nurse her hands were tied, she could only help so many, only on the surface.

It was the girls with hollow eyes and charming smiles, voices velvet smooth and words like crafted poems, that passed through the cracks and used the muddy stepping stones where they found them. The ones that could navigate the unstoppable tides in order to live. Some of them didn't want to do what they did, but in order to do better for themselves, they had to.

Mary Beth wouldn't judge, not after what she had seen.

Humans didn't need to die to witness hell, nor was it limited to one place. Mary Beth hadn't seen them all, wouldn't want to, but after two major wars and dozens of smaller but no less deadly ones across the world, she reckons it looks about the same anywhere.

The old lady stretched her joints, didn't want that arthritis acting up again.

The older sister, tiny thing, so small Mary Beth feared she could be picked up in some fellas pocket and just carried away, that girl was one of them. A fox with hollow eyes that grinned and sparkled in the presence of its prey, no that didn't feel right either.

Whatever she was, Mary beth had seen the likes of her before, the boy too. On another face, another country. In mothers and sisters speaking in foreign tongues while their hands beat their daily bread. In little boys who had to grow up too fast, before they were shipped out. Keeping their little world running in the midst of hell. Because life does not pause in the middle of war.

She lets out a sincere laugh at the funny recollection June tells, enjoying the lightheartedness. Something they were sorely lacking at the moment in time.

They were all like refugees out here, waiting in sun and sand for something. Rescue, relief, just something.

June did her best, careful of what she said, as Mattie and Sophie had warned her before. In between, she would gather information, the little threads of gossip among the survivors that maybe Sophie already knew, but allowed her to practice anyways. It was like playing spy!

Kind of bad weather to be playing anything though, or to be out in general.

Once again Sophie's casual prediction showed itself true. Water was an issue down with the main group, and relief didn't seem to be coming anytime soon.

It looked like a paradise here. All sunshine and ocean waves, the tall palm trees glinting gold in the daytime light. But one cannot drink from the salty sea and the summer heat seems to radiate in rays like heat lamps keep food.

"What grows best in the heat..."

Sophie finds herself asking, voice barely noticeable in the heavy air where she lounged, lazily like a cat from a nap. No one was bothering to listen anyways. The shelter's inhabitants were lively today as the day's rations were more decent, partaking in their meals. June was too far away, attending to her elderly savior like a filial child.

They had made and chilled the sweet soup pot the night before for themselves but they could spare for a few thermos worth. She had left one with Leon, unseen as he was.

A bit of a cool reprieve. Like balm on lips too dry, to the point of breaking and bleeding as many people's were.

"Is this a trick question or are we talking gardening? "

Mattie sets down the capped 5-gallon bottle of water with a dull thud, the contents clear but full. Everything solid was its own shadow at this time of day, this heat. When he arrives he came silently, no one noticing the boy despite the precious commodity he carried.

Sophie clicks the timer, her phone in her hand.

"19 minutes"

"You sure?"

She held the time out to his face, too lazy to even bother looking up at him. Everyone was, off in their own world, trying to bear through the afternoon wave. It would be unwise to be out in direct summer sunlight midday.

"19 minutes since you left. The water?"

"From the closest part of the stream on the mountain."

"19 minutes in a trip that should have taken you no less than 2 hours, and that's if you rushed. Did you run?"

"In this fucking heat? Hell no I took my sweet time, especially in the cavern up and down. I even stopped to harvest you another pumpkin. Shit, how are they everywhere up there but near nothing down here?"

Now that was a gardening question she was too lazy to answer. They would need to set up a patch or walkway to improve production for the next season. But that was for another time when they were back up in their little building homestead.

From his backpack, Mattie shook out a few more of the summer squash and the green leaves. Green plums, small enough to slip through rolled out and down from the pack.

Like a marble in a dream, one rolls up to Sophie's hand. She doesn't hesitate for a moment to snatch up the slightly damp fruit. With a wipe of her shirt, she bites down, the flesh crunchy and tart.

No more hesitation.

"You really took your sweet time. 3 hours then, wouldn't you say Mattie? Three to four hours?"

"Yeah, that sounds about right. A nice damn scorching 4-hour hike so you could play your little test."

The boy slides down to his bottom, stretching out his legs as he chugs down half of his freshly filled personal flask. They could afford the water where others couldn't. This jug was a test, long empty from the stores of the airplane and easy to obtain.

No one expected them to fill it up completely, not when they hadn't found the right spring and drips, not when they were so far away from the closest river point. That's fine, this would water those at the shelter for now. She may have wanted to avoid having the survivors waiting for handouts but the fewer dead at this point the better. It couldn't be helped in this heat.

Sophie peeks with one eye open, her brother's brow wet with sweat but his overall countenance wasn't red or overheating. He was fine if he took as many breaks as he indicated.

The impossibility of his timed results goes unspoken between them. Mattie was getting better at whatever this was. Faster...or was it slower. Either way, he was tired, In hazy weather like this all one wanted to do was nap. The dark cavern or even their mountainous cave was a better place to sleep than this. A sad patchwork tarp by the sea, filled with too many warm bodies.

Still, the sound of gentle ocean waves was soothing, and his sister's hand brushed with a towel against his forehead. It's fine, he could sleep here, could afford the time.

"What grows best in the heat....I think the list goes: fantasy; unreason; lust."

Mattie gives a slightly miffed groan, he was so ready to doze off in this corner of shade they had secured for themselves. But there goes Sophie again, speaking in hushed riddles that had no sense of time or place to them.

"You can't grow those Soph." he sighs, remembering to remove his glasses.

The slight relief of pressure on his temple outweighs his lack of clear sight, not that it mattered much. The heat already hazing the world around them. It's too hot to uncrack the code that is his sister today.

"What is it? What should I be expecting next? Is that why we're down here today of all days?"

"Hmm nothing much outside the obvious, I've already told you and June as much as I know about the move, the engine. It happened early and so quickly, not the freshest in my memory to be honest."

"Then what's with the ominous warning? Fantasy- reason -lust? "

"Unreason Mattie, unreason. It's not necessarily a warning. I was just remembering a line from a book I read."

"Oh, I'm sorry I was more concerned about the lust part, was ready to square up because just who do we have to beat up now? Summer beach reading?" he drawled out, disbelieving. He quickly looked up and around to make sure June was safe a short distance away.

"Mmm, you should do it a bit more. I stored a bunch of random things in whatever library app."

"I saw, you went crazy with kindle downloads."

She spits out the pit and picks up another plum, sucking up whatever sour juice that manages to escape. The sourness has a sobering effect almost, cutting through the drowsiness and rousing up something to resemble an appetite. They should pickle plums next chance they get.

"Doesn't have to be books, but let your mind go once in a while. This much stress isn't good for you, not long term."

"I am not that stressed, but I have every right to be."

Mattie groans, too lazy to avoid the green plum he saw coming from above. Like he's a child, Sophie nudges his face till he takes the fruit, that he picked and washed thank you very much, and crunches down.

"Yes, you do have every right to be. Just like anyone else."

"Why today Sophie, it's too hot for this shit. If the plane isn't going to blow today why are we even down here when we could be in the caves? We could have been setting up your mushrooms or whatever farm in there instead of...this."

Nothing, they were doing nothing but hiding from the heat.

"You'll see. Don't worry too much about it, you don't have to be on all the time. You know when to push yourself and when to cool down your muscles, right?"

"This isn't a sports practice Sophie."

"No, but it is a very long game and you need to ration your energy, mental and physical. Take a nap, read a funny comic, I don't know. Pick up a hobby, like bird watching. Anything Just rest once in a while. Condition yourself. I'll take care of the rest."

"I see your point but that's not very convincing"

He remembers when she repeated similar lines, "don't worry I got it". Remembers the sleepless eyes and collapsing at random times. No way they were going through that bad drama again, he wouldn't let it happen.

"Ease up Mattie...I know. I'll rest too, we got it for real this time."

Sophie reached down, to poke at her younger brother's furrowed eyebrow. Smoothing it out until he looked more like a teenager on the cusp of adulthood rather than the grumpy old soul he may have been born with.

"Fantasy, unreason, lust. It's only a story in a book somewhere, but it's a story about people. And it's not wrong. Be cautious but be careful not to be so tense." she murmurs, looking back towards a laughing June doing her job socializing.

The waves lap the shore, never-ending, and they dig their toes into the pale golden sand a bit further. It was almost a little hard to believe this little world was going to flames, even if it already felt scorched with it.

"I'm going to sleep then, wake me when it's not so damn hot."

"I don't know about the heat letting up, but it's going to get wet in a month or so."

"I meant today Sophie. I know there's something good, or really bad if you got us down here suffering through this shit."

The teen rolls over and then he's out, suffocating heat and all, sleep already claiming him. Sophie is still a bit envious of how easily he does that.

More importantly, how easily he seems to play with time. The water in the tank is still cool, fresh-tasting as mountain stream water. At least three hours worth of a trip back and forth in under 20 minutes. It's beyond her expectations.

She closes her eyes and forces herself to sleep deep enough, their immediate safety guaranteed in the day.

When she wakes up to June's nudging the sun has cooled considerably. Mattie rolls the water somewhere more discreet, but still accessible to the shelter's inhabitants.

But there were again no dreams and Sophie has nothing to show for her own personal tests.

She forces down the frustration once again, unraveling the troublesome emotion until it was at its base and useless. Not now, this was not the time to let her anger out, to lash out. Patience, it's all useless without patience.

Mattie's results were more than good enough, they had an unexplainable ace in their hands. Something beyond reason, beyond the average human. She herself had gone back in time.

Lost in her thoughts, she does not consciously notice where June excitedly leads her. Only the sound of familiar barking growing louder and louder rouses her.

At the edge of the main group, where jungle and beach meet in a halfway zone, there is an exciting roar among the survivors. A large group of people, young and strong, parts the gathering crowd with their presence and more importantly, the large catch they have lugged onto a rack.

Through the rush of excited people, seemingly revitalized out of nowhere, it was easy to see what had everyone in a frenzy.

They had successfully hunted and killed the first boar.

"Oh my god! Oh my god, Sophie look! Holy shit fresh meat!"

"June, quiet down...oh fucking shit."

Despite admonishing her, Mattie couldn't help but gulp at the sight of the dead creature. It was hairy for one, covered in coarse rough fur. Sharper still were its teeth, its tusks, a heavy set lawn mower on its legs. As concerning as those where it was the size that had him choking on his breath, massive. He knew farm pigs could get big, bigger than most people would imagine them to be. But this wild thing had to be at least 400lb of muscle and brute force.

"Please tell me they don't get much bigger than that. Sophie?"

He didn't like that amused smile she had, the kind where she was enjoying their reactions like it was a sick joke.

"But Mattie, you love bacon. The more the merrier."

"Yeah dude, omg fresh meat! Like no offense Sophie, we did not starve a day thanks to you and all but there was just no meat!"


That's because Sophie didn't think her siblings were ready to swallow down rodents and insects yet. There was plenty of meat around if they wanted. She should start conditioning them on that soon.

Neither June nor Mattie could stop the drool that their mouths were unconsciously producing. They were used to a certain modern diet that included tasty cuts of meat at near every meal. Even fish couldn't cut it when it came to the rich juicy taste they were imagining this fat hog creature could produce.

Still, Mattie was wary of the implications. His love and hunger for meat aside, there was only one way to get that kind of food on their plates. There were no supermarkets out here.

"How many of those things are on this island?" he was not squeaking he would claim.

If he was, Sophie didn't mention it, relishing humorously in how his face paled and how June seemed to bounce in her spot, ready to carve the dead thing into pork chops. Instead, she answered dutifully the spitfire round of questions.

"A lot."

"They get bigger don't they?"

"Yes Mattie, they get a lot bigger."

"Oh do they taste good? Like it's really hairy but we could burn that off. Oh my god is it lean or fatty meat?"

"They can yes if you process it right. More muscular than we're used to but there's always the belly."

"Goooot it, you hear that Matt? Bacon time."

"That's not important June, holy shit how hard are those things to catch? To kill? Are they dangerous?!"

"Yes Mattie, very dangerous. Can crush and trample a person in seconds if you're not speared through from its tusks."

"I knew it!"

"Matt you party pooper, just think of the bacon!"

"You try thinking of how to get the bacon in the first place! Hell Sophie, how did they manage to take this thing down?"

Sophie shrugged, recalling long dusty memories. It's not like she was part of that first hunting team, she wasn't there. But from the exaggerated stories told around the campfire that night, she would chalk it up to pure luck, more than enough people, and some well-dug unfinished traps.

It won't always be so easy, but manpower and a strategy were important to take down any number of the wild game this island had to offer.

A large barking dog circled the thing, like a sheepdog protecting its dead charge from the swarm of weak but hungry wolves. Its owner, a familiar bottle-blond veterinarian stepped up in the clearing with an unsure look.

"Uh okay, so we kinda bled it out but it's gonna need some more hanging time. Also, does anyone have something I can use to cut this thing up? Anything bigger than a pocket knife? Please?"

Sophie raised her hand only after the crowd half dispersed, hungry but not as desperate as they were in her memories. Perhaps the main group had foraged earlier in this timeline and went hungry a little bit less. Maybe, who knows?

She half dragged her siblings along with her to help butcher and dissect the meat into something decent and edible before too many inexperienced hands ruined it.

Their makeshift tools were sharp and banana leaves at the ready. If they played it right they could make off with a good pick of the raw meat and organs that few knew how to process let alone eat. Especially in this group.

Either way, dinner tonight was going to be a good one.


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