December 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
He didn’t like it, not now. He used to like it; he used to crave it. Being alone these days felt more like his own subjective hell in which he had flung himself through a series of ridiculous, off-color choices. That, of course, was a ridiculous feeling in-and-of-itself. It wasn’t his fault he was alone.
“Sherrod, boy, you’re cracking up in the head.” He smiled, stoking the fire with another handful of kindling, followed by a few logs. The flames sputtered beneath the sudden choke of oxygen and then leapt back to life. “You know what Mila would say? She’d say you’re short a candy shell from a full nut.”
He laughed at the thought of his wife, trying to ward off the sorrow that was sure to dog-tail behind. Then he thought of his son, Rod, who would be sixteen in a few days. He thought about patting the boy’s head. The thought made his hand, his palm, ache to be filled with a clean, sun-brown mess of make-shift mohawk and skin.
His wife and son led to thoughts of his dog and then his sister. Wanting to escape the memories, he stretched out on his ersatz bed in the sand. Eyes closed tightly, he willed his mind to sleep. Sherrod’s memories funneled through, winding him down a lifetime of happiness that now created nothing but sadness and longing.
Rod sat next to him in the backyard. The boy was working on his bike and Sherrod was laughing at him when he swore at the chain.
“Stop the swearing, boy. Swearing never got no one nowhere, except to the kitchen for a mouthful of soap. How about that? You want to taste some soap today?”
“Don’t be sick, Dad. Of course I don’t.”
“Then stop the swearing.”
“Then stop laughing at it. You en… encourage me to do it.”
“You got a mouth, boy.”
“I do. I learned it from Gran to give you and Mom heart attacks.”
“I bet you just did. You want some help with that?”
“No. I got it. I only gotta figure out why it won’t work the way I want it to, but I want to do that myself.”
Rod looked at his dad who looked off toward the end of the road. “That make you mad, Dad? Did I hurt your feelings?”
“No, boy, I’m proud of you. I always worried if I had kids I’d screw it up, but I guess I ain’t doing too bad just now.”
“Not so much. You do okay as far as I know. ‘Least I don’t hate you like my friends hate their dads.”
After a while, the chain snapped into place and Rod rode around the block to test it out. When he rounded back into the driveway, he stopped in front of Sherrod, leaning his chin on the handlebars. They watched each other, just looking.
“Can I get a mohawk?”
“There used to be a guy who lived here, you remember him?”
“Yeah, Den. He was a screamer, you remember? Real good guy and funny to boot. No one would hardly talk to him.”
“You want a Mohawk because he had one?”
“Kind of, but not like that. I want one because folks in town was scared of him because of how different he looked. They all know me, though. You know? They know I’m a good kid and I work hard to be super nice, so I was thinking if maybe I showed them I can look different and be the same it might change some minds.”
“Boy, you’re too young to be taking on the minds of town.”
“If I’m old enough to think it, I’m old enough to do it.”
“Maybe. In some cases. People will start treating you differently. Your mom and me will get calls. People will be trying to get you in trouble most of the time.”
“And I’ll keep on being me just as I am now until they see it.”
“You’ll cry when your feelings are hurt.”
“No shame in tears or feeling.”
“You’ll lose some friends.”
“They ain’t friends then.”
“Teachers might start watching you harder.”
“I’ll help them teach the class.”
Sherrod looked away from his son, thinking about it; feeling proud of his boy’s initiative, but afraid to let him take it on.
He supposed a boy couldn’t learn if he didn’t get hurt. Sherrod nodded. “S’right by me, but if you lip a single person for givin’ you a hard time, I’ll shave it off. People are gonna mock you and make hard fun of you. You’ll be called a lot of names and treated like a plague by some of the older’s. You gonna handle that like the man you’re tryin’ to be?”
“Better. I’ll handle it like the man you believe I’ll be.”
Sherrod sat up, sputtering sand from his mouth and crying. Rod had been nine when he had first gotten his mohawk and had kept it. The first few months had been rough on him. He had taken it like a trooper, though. He had handled it like the man Sherrod had hoped he’d be.
Trying to shake off the dream and wipe away the sleep, Sherrod looked at the moon lazing in the starless sky. Somewhere along the tree line, something moved and rustled in the brush. Sherrod picked up his hand carved spear and backed up against the waterline. Whatever continued to hunt him each night would eventually find the courage to come tearing from the brush and he’d be ready. If it were small enough, he’d attack back. If it were too large, he’d dive into the water.
He stood as still as he could as the minutes wore into the hours. When he was certain whatever had been there had gone, he stoked his fire again and curled as close to it as he dared. With the flames reaching skyward, he drifted back into sleep.
The midmorning sun drove him out of sleep a few hours later and he stretched his body until it began to pop in protest. Against the morning horizon, the crashed plane lay like a beached whale. He wondered briefly if the others were ever coming back, but pushed it out of his head. If they were coming back, they’d have come back weeks before.
Part of him wished he had gone along with them. Whatever had happened to them would have happened to him as well and he’d be out of the misery one way or another. The other part of him was glad he had stayed. Whatever they had done wrong, he had done right and still had a chance. He pronounced them officially dead and swore not to think of them again.
For maybe the hundredth time, he wondered why the control tower hadn’t tracked the crashed plane. Didn’t those things have tracking devices in them? Or something that let the control tower know where they were at all times? It didn’t make sense to him.
It had almost been as if out of nowhere the plane had begun to descend at rapid rates. He barely remembered what had happened, but he did recall the pilot trying to calm everyone into preparation. The flight attendants had rushed from seat to seat, trying to help everyone. There hadn’t been any change in the feel of the flight, except when it had started going down; as if it had absolutely retired in midflight.
He had sat there, too terrified to move, looking calm and collected as everyone around him screamed and panicked. He hadn’t been composed, just too petrified to move. In fact, one of the flight attendants had buckled him in and placed on his oxygen mask while begging him to help her until she had given up and done it on her own. She had saved his life and he had thanked her profusely after the plane had crashed. She had just stared at him for a moment before breaking down into tears. Unsure what to do, he patted her gently and slipped away silently.
She had been one of the ones to go off into the jungle. In fact, everyone had except him. There had only been a handful of them to survive, but that handful, minus himself, had run off into the jungle or forest or wilderness or whatever it was to find help.
No one had come back. He was alone.
The very thing he had been pining for endlessly for the last year, to be alone. He had left his wife and son at home while he had taken off for a trip to England so he could pretend as if he were single and free, for a few weeks, to hide away in a hotel room. In his desire to be alone, he had become almost unbearable and they had nearly shoved him out the door after giving him the ticket.
It had gotten so bad, he had resorted to intentionally angering them so they would storm off and leave him to his isolation. Sitting on the beach, staring at the whale of a plane, he wanted nothing more than to hear his wife, her friends, his son, and a hundred other teenagers stomping through the house and yelling at one another through the walls. He wanted the noise and the overwhelming sense of pressure more than he wanted anything else. He wanted that even more than he wanted food, which was out. He had eaten everything on the plane. That meant venturing into the trees. Everyone else had disappeared after going in, there was something in there hunting him every night, and he still had to man-up.
“If your son can man-up to a town, you can man-up to beast too scared to attack.”
Taking a deep breath, he picked up his spear, and walked to the tree line. Looking in, he felt a little more courageous. It looked and felt no more frightening than the forests back home. It looked harmless. In fact, if he weren’t standing on the beach, he’d swear he was standing on his own lawn.
“You been actin’ like it was the yawnin’ mouth of a starvin’ demon.” He laughed. “Coward.”
Sherrod stood at the tree line, looking in. Taking breath after breath, he willed himself to move forward. Despite knowing how harmless it seemed, fear held him in place until he ultimately resigned next to his bed in the sand with his head in his hands. Hunger surged in his stomach and the light faded into darkness. He gathered more wood from the edge of the forestry and built another fire. There would come a time when the logs at the edge would dwindle away and he’d be forced to go into the forest for both food and wood.
The fire blazed while he lay staring into the sky. The stars hid once more, the moon hung as alone in the sky as he felt in the sand. As he thought about it, he realized he hadn’t seen a single star since they had crashed on the island. He glanced about the shore. It was peculiar. The sand was there, the water was there, but he hadn’t come across a single shell or starfish. There hadn’t been even one crab to saunter across the sand.
Strange, he thought, that nothing was there but sand and water and forestry edge. Where were all the creatures of the sea that so loved to walk the sand? Where were the shells and sand dollars? He hadn’t been bitten by a flea or heard a bird. He stared his skin; he hadn’t sweat or burned despite the heat of the days. He couldn’t recall the slightest draft of wind.
“Am I dead?” his voice seemed to fall short in the static air. Without thinking about it, he slapped himself across the face and the sting drew an involuntary curse. Nursing the stinging skin with his hand, he glanced back at the tree line. “I don’t get it.”
As the absurdity of it gathered greater and greater evidence of his impending insanity, his eyes grew wider and his breathing quickened with his heartbeat. The trees seemed to grow and the sands seemed to shrink until he found himself, spear in hand, standing at the line and begging it all to stop.
“Oh, please, please, stop. I don’t know. I don’t know. I… please, stop.”
The forestry bade him enter and the sands begged him stay. Sherrod, poor Sherrod, wanted nothing more than an answer. He didn’t think he was dead, the dead couldn’t feel. So he thought maybe he had gone mad — maddened by questions he hadn’t known he’d been asking with answers he hadn’t known he didn’t have… or something, yes? Something just as insane.
He looked at the spear in his hand. Had he made it? Had he found it? He thought he had made it, but he couldn’t truly recall the act of doing so. Sherrod’s shoes were as white as the day he had left. He kicked the sand and scuffed the grass, but his shoes were brilliantly white and his clothes were no worse for the wear than when he’d boarded the plane.
“You’ll go mad, you will. Yes, you’ll go madder still.”
The forest seemed to stretch and yawn before him. Instead of fearing it, he now ached to enter. The sands seemed so much more hostile, the waters were threatening, but he couldn’t will himself to move forward. He pushed himself with his mind until he thought it might explode. His feet stayed planted like weeds in the garden of a beginner horticulturalist.
He screamed into the night, begging the insanity to go away. To leave him be in peace and let him find his way home. He screamed until his throat was raw, until his head ached. Still he stood, perfectly still, unable to move forward or go back. He knew it was fear, not senselessness, which kept him there.
Finally, he dropped where he stood, weeping for his own confusion and sorrow. As he laid half in the sand and half in the grass, he heard his wife whisper somewhere in his mind.
“It’s okay, Sherrod. Baby, just go. There ain’t nothin’ so terrifying that it can’t be mastered. Go, Sherrod. Move.”
“But do I stay here? Will they find me here? Do I need to find them? What do I do?”
There was no answer, of course. The only thing he could do was make the decision on his own and then figure out why everything was wrong with the beach. It wasn’t easy; it seemed to take him hours to will himself to stand again. Hours more simply to get moving, but eventually he did. He stepped past the tree line. When he wasn’t bombarded, nothing was as terrifying has it had been before. It all seemed rather silly and maybe a bit childish.
Rod patted his mother’s hand, squeezing his father’s. The weeks had been harsh since they had found him lying unconscious on his study floor. They had waited, hoped, for him to wake.
“You did the right thing, Mom.”
The heart monitor wailed. “I was hoping he’d come back to us. I thought maybe if I…”
The doctor and nurses worked relentlessly. It seemed an eternity, but finally the wail turned to a steady, rhythmic beep and Rod choked back a cry.
Sherrod woke in the sand, the morning sun beating down on his face and he shivered. Somehow, it felt almost as if he had awakened from death. He looked at the tree line and then at the waterline.
He had to get out of there; he had to find a way back to civilization. He stood, walking to the edge of the trees. He stared into the branches and shrubbery, turned, and went back to the plane. Maybe there was a raft somewhere still intact. At the very least, maybe he could find enough things to create a makeshift raft. The others had never come back from the trees. That thing that had been stalking him at night… it was the thing that had taken them.
No, he wasn’t going in those trees. He’d take his chances on the waves.