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Thursday, February 25, 2021

An Island

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By Tasha Gacutan

Picture an island.

It’s a fairly simple island. From the air, it’s more or less circular, with a slight nub of sorts pointing out towards the east. However, if you let your mind’s eye wander…

You start at the capital city. It’s a maze of crumbling buildings, derelict houses, wandering streets and zigzagging alleys. It is crowded, bustling with life and heavy with sweat, hoarse voices  shouting out into the sweltering streets to come, come, come and buy, getcha luvverly apples fer on’y a dolla ah pair…

Now zoom out, out, and swerve to the east; specifically, the north-east. Your mind’s eye flies through the air, passing over farmlands and plains, until you reach a small village. It’s small, but not too small. Surrounding it is a thick, dense forest, crawling with evil creatures with glowing eyes and poisonous fangs. In the village, oblivious to nothing, children clad in scratchy clothes and tight-fitting caps run around, relaying and receiving messages, while the adults and adolescents exchange scraps of gossip, for everything is known in this little town…

And then you plunge into the forest, where branches shaped like clawed hands slash at your face and wolves howl for your lifeblood. Weaving in and out of the tightly-packed trees, going on forever and ever, while great hulking figures watch you with red eyes from the trees…

Photo by Chary Diño
Photo by Chary Diño

Then suddenly you come across a river. It is great and burbling, running from the north-eastern coast in a westerly direction. You swim along through the river, being pecked at by curious silver fish, and slick shining creatures with both scales and fur…

And now ice is forming on the river as you go further north, further west. It is cold, cold, cold, and so you emerge from the freezing turbulent waters and let your mind’s eye fly over a stretch of icy- cold peaks, stabbing the freezing air like defiant spears held aloft…

In the middle of these mountains, these spears, a particularly tall one punctures the air. It rises up far above its fellows, dwarfing everyone and everything to behold it. Then you take the plunge once more…

Underneath the mountain you go, pushing past tendrils of fog, breath huffing out in vision-obscuring clouds as you hurry along, the weight and ever-looming presence of the mountain spurring you onwards, the river from the forest rushing alongside you; and then you come to a grinding halt, for the tunnel with the river has fallen back, and now you watch as the river cascades into a giant lake, one so huge that it is hard to make out the opposite bank. Two other river-giants are flooding into this lake-monstrosity, huge and hungry and eternal.

But you are getting cold, and so up, up you go, your mind’s eye drawing back from the huge mountain and towards the east, where it begins to get warm, and hot, and now we are drenched in sweat, for there before us lies a huge band of volcanoes. They hug the eastern coast, some alive, others resting; only one has died, and that one is the largest, marking the mid-way section as the other volcanoes spurt lava and hiss in worship.

Photo by Jason Sy
Photo by Jason Sy

The volcano, though dead, lives on, and guards a strange black place that you saw before as a mere eastern nub; it is a place of lava, black lava, cool lava. Lava that has never moved for centuries, lava that will never be hot again. It is a place made for nothing other than the creatures of the flame, the six-legged salamanders and the beasts with blazing coats, the animals with bat-wings that fly through the air, fire bursting from their throats…

Now let your mind’s eye gain altitude, going higher and higher and higher…

Then the wind tugs at you, so you turn to the west and follow the breeze, riding the thermals and dancing with the zephyrs, until you see an osprey on your left, an eagle on your right, a falcon and a red-tailed hawk and a crow and a raven and a seagull, and suddenly the entire sky is populated with all kinds of birds, from tiny house sparrows to great winged albatrosses; and as your mind’s eye  follows their tails, you come across a gathering of sorts, a cluster of floating islands.

And as you follow this strange, magical phenomenon, you see that each and every island, now dotting the landscape displayed, is topped with its own castle, like a cherry on a cake.

Now you dive with the birds as the patchwork-quilt flock splits up, and each avian creature heads off to its own destination. And as they land in front of the castles, you see that their forms are suddenly changing; once all feathers and beak, now an upright human being. From this, you see that the humans are now changing again, some turning into foxes and dashing off, other forms collapsing into butterflies and flitting away. You watch in awe as a sparrow turns into a mighty bald-headed eagle, then beats at the air with powerful wings; you watch as the eagle flies to the top of the highest tower, and there it perches, preening itself like a king.

There are castles that are high, castles that are low, castles with holes in the roofs, castles with spiralling towers. There are castles with bricks the colour of acid, while others have gone for the traditional stone-grey theme. As your mind’s eye circles, you even glimpse a violently-pink castle; you decide not to question this.

Then you swoop up again, but this time you are going up, fixated upon some unknown destination. Clouds start to swirl around you, and the breeze begins to pick up. Your vision is becoming obscured, but you resolutely plough through the white wisp…

And then you break through.

What your mind’s eye sees is a wonderland. You see graceful, beautiful humans  ̶  are they humans? They look so perfect  ̶  with feathered, alabaster wings sprouting from their slender shoulder blades.

They pay you little heed as your mind’s eye wanders through this new, strange world, a realm of peace and tranquillity above an island with volcanoes and snowy mountains and flying islands and crowded cities.

The people with wings, the… the angels, for lack of a better word, are so painstakingly perfect, but your mind’s eye is tugging away from them, and regretfully you follow the urges, and so you dip beneath the clouds once more and fly away…

You’re going to the north once more, but now you soar above the stabbing spears of those snowy peaks, further and further, ignoring the winds tearing at you; then you dive, but now you’ve crested the ends of this frost-filled world, and you’re diving… diving…

Splash.

You hit the icy-cold water, but this doesn’t matter, because as you go deeper you hear the clicking of some strange crustacean’s pincers. Then suddenly you are surrounded by glittering fish and wispy-looking octopi and lethargic-moving squid. Your mind’s eye is brought down, then up, then down, then up, bobbing like a cork on a turbulent sea, while the denizens of the deep spiral around you. Then you turn to the west, and swim onwards, and the water changes from its icy-blue hue to a murky-green. You are suddenly struck with a sense of apprehension, as some strange and instinctual sixth sense tells you that you are being watched…

And then, out of nowhere, you are surrounded. You see alien-looking humanoids, leering at you through glinting yellow cat’s eyes. Their sharpened yellowed teeth are bared, their lipless mouths stretching into evil-looking smiles. Instead of legs, powerful silver, cobalt and amethyst fish-tails beat at the water with ease. They are green-scaled and sharp-clawed, and clutch spears made of strengthened bone, their hair floating around their angular heads like seaweed.

One makes a comment in a harsh, burbling tongue, and the others laugh hoarsely. Then, another, presumably a female, opens her mouth and begins to sing. It is nothing like her people’s gruff, grating tones, and it is both beautiful and horrible. You are entranced, but manage to wrench your self-control back. Chilled, you cast your mind’s eye up… up… up, to get away from those strange fish-tailed underwater people…

The cold air lances out at you, but you ignore it, and zoom over the island, paying attention to everything sprawling out beneath you. And this is what you see…

In a lush, green terrain, dragons raise their heads to the sky, roaring…

An angry sun sizzles a barren desert wasteland…

Tiny villages bear humble crops…

Your mind’s eye breaks the surface of the clouds, and circles the island once, twice, three times, before coming to rest just underneath the land of angels, looking down on the island with the tiny nub of cooled lava to the east. Your mind’s eye looks, and sees, and nods to itself. You think to yourself, and marvel at all these things.

You picture an island…

Tasha Gacutan

Editor’s note: With her short story An Island, eleven-year-old Tasha Gacutan bagged the 3rd place in the JuniorCategory of the 2013 Melton Short Story Writing Competition.  An Island is Tash’s second entry in the same competition, which she first joined and emerged as finalist two years ago. 

 


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Jilliean Sioson is a film and TV student from Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. She is currently writing and producing...

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