Chapter 25:

Take a breath- you cannot serve from an empty basket

Castaway Isle

"You get two options" stated Sophie.

Her siblings, seated below were like obedient pets waiting for a treat. Cats focused on the laser.

"We either have a perfectly substantial meal of taro, greens, and mushrooms in the pot. It will take the taro a bit of time but there are other veggies, we can hot pot it and sit back and relax. Or...."

From behind her back, she pulls out the real goods, a shiny red package of spicy Korean instant noodles.

"For at least 30 minutes of core exercises plus some squats and lunges, I throw in the ramen."

There is out roar, a minor mutiny in the small camp.

"But we're tiiiiiiired!" cried June.

This was the most active day she's had since arriving on the island. Why in the world did they have to work out? Didn't they need to do the opposite and save strength? Save precious calories?!

Mattie, being more used survival Sophie, was on a different page.

"Just one? After all we went through today? You're being cheap again and just giving us one single packet of ramen?! No! That ramen is automatic! We get ramen each if we do the core!"

"An interesting proposal. However, none of you get ramen if there's no exercise going on. I'll be nice in consideration for June's first time, only 25 sets of everything. Get in starting positions, go."

The campfire was flickering, a bubbling pot of water and wild vegetables over it. The sun had just made its final descent and the sound of summer insects, cicadas and crickets, was chirping. That was the background of Sophie's core and endurance workout class of the day.

"I'm injured here!"

"You don't need arms or shoulders to do squats June. Nor Russian twists, or bicycles or actually any of these. I made them easy for you. Let's go, get those legs moving in position."

Occasionally Sophie would break out of the exercises she was leading them in to fix June's posture or movements. Mattie was already experienced and did a more than acceptable job, in fact, he could probably take more exercises. He was a disciplined high school athlete but Sophie did not want to push them too hard yet. They all needed to build up their strength but it would do them no good to strain and mentally burn themselves out.

"Shut up June do not make it worse " gritted Mattie.

He was tired and would not settle for sharing a single pack of ramen between the 3 of them.

"But it huuuuuurts."

"Good that means you're doing it right."

"Owwwww. This isn't fair!"

Of course, mild pain did not mean they were actually doing it right but it kept June going, whimpering and all. The exercises were short, little concentrated burst of strengthening parts of the body, especially their core and center of gravity. Being stronger, even by a little bit, would help them all out in both short and long term survival. They had too many things to climb over and outrun.

While her siblings were distracted moaning and crying through the exercises, Sophie secretly tore up pieces of beef jerky to add into the simmering pot. They would need the protein to recover muscle fatigue.

Like this, the simple meal could be eaten tastily as is, enriching the otherwise plain vegetable soup. At the very least they had fire-roasted the taro slices before throwing them in, to prevent the starch from breaking down and spreading everywhere. That and it added a pleasant aroma.

Nothing brought down morale like bad food.

It seems like such a mundane skill but truly good cooks were priceless on this island. Humans needed to eat every day, and if each meal was a tasteless or bitter one it would be difficult to swallow over time. You would lose strength and willpower. Sure you could hunt down a wild boar, catch a non-poisonous fish or successfully pick edible plants, but if you didn't prepare them properly it would taste foul or even worse, make you sick.

Without skilled cooks, they ate no better than pigs. Just roasted or burnt meats, the slop where everything was thrown in. Those community meals were truly terrible.

There were some professional chefs in the survivors' list, yes but not all of them were useful, not without their modern equipment and familiar ingredients. Compared to them the recreational hunters, fishermen, and even the archaeologist were better cooks in this wilderness. That did not mean they were all bad. It just depended on the person.

All three of the siblings were decent cooks, not just for their ages. Both their mother and father made sure of that. They lived in a modern 1st world country and had never known starvation but their parents were not born to the same circumstances. Due to their background, the sibling had a different attitude and culture around food compared to their peers, for one they were more gluttonous and considered not picky eaters.

"If it's not tasty then do something about it yourself." scolded their mother, back when they still occasionally burnt a dish.

"If it moves and has four legs, you can eat it. Except for our friends and relations you can even eat everything on two. Except for airplanes or ships, you can eat anything in the skies and sea."

Their father had joked when any of them made fun of how Chinese their household was. It was a famous Cantonese saying, he would recite to their blank curious stares. He would then scare threaten them by saying they could just eat plain sandwiches every day instead of rice, soup and their usual full spread meals. That would get them to shut up.

If it was not for the other passengers and their limited more Western line of thinking, they as siblings would never have starved. There was no shame in eating offals, tree roots or insects. Frightening looking things such as snakes, rodents, lizards, even giant bugs were not so scary with they were dead and properly cooked.

In her last two years on the island, Sophie did not have to starve even for a single day.

It took more work but she knew how to identify, prepare and even replant the wild mountain vegetables. These things were not so exotic in her eyes, nor would they be to her siblings or many people of their culture. She could milk the goats steadily or make traps for game. Not once was she even tempted by cannibalism in those last few years, despite all human kills she managed to bag.

Never again, human flesh was not very tasty.

"Done! Oh my god that was 25! We're good right?! No more squats right!?"

Sophie looked over at her still a teenager little sister, she still had so much to grow. She could still see that night as they sliced up that woman, held June down and forced the raw meat down into her mouth. There was nothing Sophie could do then but choke and cry, her hands and legs bound, the taste of blood already running down her throat. They were all guilty that way, bound together by this sin and it would not be the first time.

In the times she was in recovery, locked away from television and the internet she had done what research she fancied in the library. It felt so good to read again, to have things to read and controlled places to send her mind to. There she had read a report that too much consumption of human flesh drove could one insane. It wasn't just the possible blood-borne illnesses, infected flesh or iron overload.

Of course, it could just be psychological as well. She wasn't a scientist.

"Alright, hand over the ramen Soph. We finished fair and square, I don't even care that you bought it, the ramen is ours now. " complained Mattie.

Sweet kind Mattie, he died so soon. His corpse was already too rotten, mush and bones, by the time those fuckers tried digging him up. They should have buried him somewhere safer, somewhere so hidden and safe no one would even think of trying to desecrate his grave.

Not again, they would never get anywhere near that point again.

"Good job everyone! You win the ramen." and Sophie smiled.

Genuinely beamed in a way that no one would suspects the sort of dark thoughts crossing her mind. Normal people don't think that way, but she didn't have to be normal or non traumatized neurotypical, whatever the medically correct terms were. It didn't bother her anymore, not for a long time now. And if no one asked then well she didn't have to answer, no one but her therapists asked anyways.

"Oi that can't be it, throw in another pack!" cried Mattie, stomach rumbling loudly.

"Pleeeease, please stop being so cheap Sophie! We deserve it." begged June, sniffing the air as their pet dog Peanut did during meal times.

Sophie could almost call the action cute, she missed the little dog already. Odd how her priorities lay.

"Alright alright you win, I'm opening another pack but we're not using two seasoning packs. Eat before the noodles get soggy and don't forget the greens you Peanut wannabees."

With a grand flourish, she broke another bag of ramen to mixed cheers and complaints.

"Hot! Ah hot but so damn good!" slurped June happily. This was her first hot meal since before the disaster. The familiar noodles comforting and filling to her senses.

"Eat your greens too June." reminded Sophie as she poured the last of the foraged taro leaves in.

"Nice touch with the jerky." commented Mattie, chopsticks fighting with June's over a large piece of the re-hydrated meat.

It wasn't the MSG or childhood nostalgia that made today's dinner so delicious. For the first time in a long time, Sophie felt warmed up all the way from inside. She felt a little closer to normal, whatever that meant.

There wasn't any need to be mentally anywhere else but here.

After eating and cleaning the pot, they couldn't rest just yet.

With the help of leaves and clips, they manage to hang the mosquito netting as a flap door over the entrance mouth. The cave was an awkward place to hang hammocks but that was acceptable. This was to be their base, their safe place and so Sophie pulled out the sleeping bags.

June cheered at the sight of the practical bedding. Food and sleeping bags? This was more than she had the first few days here. Her siblings were really well prepared. She pushed away from the scared voice in her that asked "prepared for what?". Mattie and Sophie had made it clear, they weren't getting rescued off this island for a long while.

That carried an immeasurable weight, the implications beyond their imaginations. It was a thought for another time. For now, they had full bellies and somewhere safe to sleep for the night. If her siblings weren't scared, she wouldn't be either or drag them down.

Sophie didn't mind if June kept her childishness but she did have to step up in many areas if they were going to efficiently work towards survival. She could see her little sister was trying to be brave. So what if she made the occasional odd humorous comment, it was fine between them.

"Tonight let's sleep around the fire, we'll clear out inner cave floor tomorrow. In fact we stay here and set up all of tomorrow, the day after we head back down to the main group again. Without luggage, I think it will take us maybe 2 hours here and back but we'll get faster as we get used to it. For now, layer the ground with palm leaves for beds and rest up."

"Sound good me." muttered Mattie, already sleepy.

As soon as they cleaned up and set an appropriate sleeping space he was honestly ready to knock out. That wasn't clean though, and as the neatest of them all he marched them out to clean themselves, take care of business and brush their teeth.

Gods it was going to be a hygienic hell for Mattie out here.

"Are you going to sleep too?" asked June to her sister, half tired but not yet yawning.

"No. I've slept too much lately," said Sophie.

Because she really had, she's slept much more than she was used to sleeping without drugs. But she didn't need to sleep so much, she knew it herself.

"What cha doing then? Can I help?"

"....Yeah, yeah sure."

Sophie lifted the palm fronds in her hands, cut off the leaves at the bases and started weaving against the light of the fire. Before letting June try, she made her watch a couple downloaded instructional videos on a tablet.

The videos were a bit different than Sophie's techniques but June quickly picked up on the plan and process. She was also delighted in having her phone charging again, a usb transferring power, guides, and videos over to her device. June was as prepared as her and Mattie, Sophie would have to focus a bit more on catching her up. Luckily June was a visual but fast learner.

In Sophie's opinion, it didn't matter too much what pattern one wanted to use as long as it worked and made the mats tight and comfortable. The bad ones were learning experiences and they could use them anywhere, from the floor to making baskets or cloaks. There were a lot of versatile things they could make, could build with just their two hands and what was available.

The action was repetitive but not mindless, not when one had a purpose or a design. It was soothing when the daylight was gone but one had too much energy with nowhere to go. Watching as June grew fascinated to the point of making her first leafy basket, Sophie had the blooming hope they could successfully build a life here.


When Mattie woke up the next morning, an hour or so after sunrise, it was to June's light snoring in her sleeping bag and a freshly dressed Sophie boiling a pot of water.

That wasn't the weird part, he was getting used to an early rising Sophie.

He hastily put on his glasses to be sure of what he was seeing. The odd thing was that the mouth of the cave door now had three tied panels of slim study wood and palm-frond mats on each side to secure the mosquito netting, like a folding screen door.

On the floor was a large woven mat rug made of only the leaves, devoid of the stalks that held the screen together. Their dirty shoes were neatly lined up and next to them sat two green woven baskets, both filled with what looked to be more tubers and something that looked like papaya. Sophie herself was squatting on one of their usual palm mats, there was enough to line the fireplace. Besides what lied under his bedding there wasn't a whole palm frond left in the cave.

"Did you even sleep?!" Mattie wanted to roar but sleep and the early hour had it settle into a harsh whisper.

"Of course I did, do you want coffee or tea?"

"How did you? You know!" he waved his hand around, pointing at all the craft projects that magically appeared the span of one night's sleep.

"June helped out, we watched some more videos last night and she's very good at knot tying. The panel screens are pretty short but can be added onto, they're not bad. Do you like it? "

"It's not about me liking it!"

"Since you didn't say which one you wanted, I'll just make you the same thing I'm having. Do you want cream? It's only the powdered kind though."

*sigh* "Yeah, yeah sure."

"Great, afterward can you set up the solar panels and chargers? Just outside where the sun can reach is fine."

"Yeah, yeah I can do that."

"Great. Today's breakfast is overnight chia oats and papaya, I found a pretty big tree out here when I went to get water this morning. Did you know papaya leaf is a natural anti-bacterial? I know how clean you like things so I picked plenty for plating or whatever. Later we can find bamboo leaves and use that to make a cleaner."

"....yeah, uh thanks Sophie. "

By the time she handed him the steaming mug, he had given up entirely. There was no use trying to go against the flow that was Sophie. She usually knew what she was doing anyway, as odd as it was to believe. Even more so now that she seemed so changed after that first dream of hers. To be honest, she hasn't really changed at all, this was definitely the naturally bossy elder sister he grew up. Now was just the setting that differed, she still acted like how she was when she was comfortable at home.

This was just his life now. It wasn't anything he wasn't used to, both his sisters were a lot to handle.

At least June's expert knot tying was coming into good use and not just pranking them.


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