Getting my short story challenge back on track, via some slightly different inspiration this time.
So, as promised I’m getting my short story challenge back on proper track by running three stories this week. This one is the second, filling in for the “missed” week I had back in January due to surgical complications. Mainly the complication that I was in too much pain to think and creatively plot a story, to be honest with you.
A slightly different challenge for this one, because I’m deliberately taking inspiration from a somewhat random source.
Specifically, the title of this story has been the simple inspiration for the story that follows, and I’ve taken it by pulling a book out of my bookshelf entirely at random, opening a page at random and pointing at a sentence. This one’s actually a fragment of a sentence, because it worked better.
Want to know what book it was? Read all the way to the end.
(Or, I guess, scroll all the way down immediately, it’s a free web and all that, but you’ll make me sad if you don’t at least try to read the story)
Oh, and if you want to read everything in this challenge to date, you can check out the full archive of short stories here.
And if you do like what you’re reading, you could always buy an eBook, you know. I’ve run this challenge before, which lead to my first collection of short stories, Fifty Two:
If you’re more of a long fiction reader — and especially one who likes B-Movies about Australian secret agents featuring way more exploding sharks than any other novel* then I’ve got just the book for you:
*Nobody has yet challenged me on this claim. There’s certainly a lot of them in that book.
And now, on with this week’s short story…
What did the sea throw up?
The storm had been a particularly violent one, with winds breaking trees, ripping apart rooftops and water rushing down every pathway, walkway and inlet.
The villagers had prepared as they usually did. They moved themselves and their livestock into the caves on the north side of the island.
It was a dark, wet place, but while the storm gods above battled, they knew they could remain safe overnight, or until the storm receded.
Keru, as the tribal chief, had the job of both building the wood and stone barrier that protected the islanders, and of knocking it down and emerging first to examine the damage.
He had built the wall as his father had taught him, stones at the base and wood as would best fit at the top, because that way he knew that they would be able to knock it down at least partially to escape.
Still, the effort to push away the wood was more than he expected, with a large palm tree having fallen directly over the cave mouth. It took Keru’s strength, as well as the strength of Hiku and Hiramu to finally shift enough material to allow everyone to escape.
The tribe emerged to a sunny day with light breezes, as they looked up climbing out, there was little evidence of the wild storms that had pummelled the island the night before.
Bringing their gaze down showed the true extent of the storm’s damage, however. The island’s trees were scattered around wildly, taking much of the soil and many of the huts with them. The livestock would have to remain in the cave for now, Keru decreed, because their pens would also need rebuilding.
Still, he pondered, this was as his father had instructed him, a matter that had always happened and would always happen. Every five cycles of the sun there would be a big storm, and before it, the skies would turn to darkness. That was the sign that it was time to retreat to the caves, or risk being swept away.
Keru recalled his first big storm as chief, when Abala had declared that he would not spend a night in the caves, challenging Keru’s authority. Abala had always wanted to be chief, and Keru had to decide whether there was time to fight or retreat to the caves. He had gone to to the caves, figuring that it was his duty as chief to protect the people.
The morning after, all they had found of Abala was his robe, stuck up a tree and soaked in blood. No other trace of him was ever found, and the people took it as affirmation that the gods were not to be challenged.
Keru busied himself assigning tasks to the entire tribe, starting with the rebuilding of the pens and shelters. While the huts were downed, there was enough material, he thought, to start putting a simple temple together, where the people could shelter together for a few nights while the larger rebuilding took place.
“Keru! You are needed on the shore!”
Keru heard the voice, and identified it as Emba, one of the old mothers of the tribe. When he was younger, Emba had taught him the ways of swimming and of catching of the fish.
“Emba? Why is anyone down at the shore? Today is not a day for fishing. We have more important work to do.”
“There is something on the shore. Something from the sea gods.”
“Very well. Assende – you take over, make sure no materials are wasted, or we sleep outside in the cold with the snakes tonight.”
Keru headed with Emba down to the shore, in the little inlet with the rocks that glowed green when the sun set. It was a special place, he knew, where the boats were stored when not in use. As was always the case, they had been swept away by the storm and would need to be rebuilt. But for now, there was the matter of what the sea gods wanted.
“Over there, Keru. Behind the big rock.”
Usually, the big rock on this beach would have been adorned with seaweed, but today it lay bare, the greenery swept away also by the savage storm.
Keru walked around the big rock, trying to maintain a chief’s posture, while inside he felt more like a timid little boy taking his first swim all over again.
Behind the rock in an indent lay a large silver egg, shinier than anything Keru had ever seen before.
“What is it, Keru? What has the sea thrown up?”
“I… I do not know, Emba.”
“Is is a gift from the sea gods?”
“Maybe. I do not think it is the egg of a sea creature!”
“No. But do not touch it.”
“Selba was the one who found it. She came to get me, and showed it to me, pointing to it, but her finger brushed over it… and it burned her!”
“Where is Selba now?”
“I took her back to the cave. Her mother is helping keep the livestock calm, so she can help with that. The burn was not expected, but it was no worse than if she had brushed it by a fire.”
“That is good to hear. I will not touch it.”
Just then, the Egg shifted its position, starting to spin around slowly on the sands.
“What is it doing, Keru?”
“Why do you keep asking me, Emba? I do not know. My father mentioned nothing of this when he was training me to be Chief!”
“But you are Chief, Keru. You must find out.”
“I will watch it, and guard the village from it if I have to. You go back and tell the others.”
“Be careful, Keru. It would not be good to anger the sea gods. Remember what happened to Abala.”
The egg was speeding up its spinning process, Keru noted as Emba started to hobble back up the beach. Underneath it, the sand was warming up and starting to glow, as though a fire had been lit on the beach somehow.
Keru looked around for something to protect himself with. No sticks were to be seen, but some larger sharp rocks were just down by the water. Keru ran down, scarcely wanting to take his eyes off the rapidly rotating egg. He picked up a sharp edged rock, and readied it to defend himself and his people from this strange intruder.
The egg was spinning so fast now that it was hard to make out its true shape, appearing just as a circular ball. Hot sparks flew out from the sand underneath and Keru had to jump back to avoid being singed.
Then with an almighty crack-boom sound, the Egg flew straight up into the air, so fast that before he could even blink, it was gone into the blue sky.
Keru stared upwards towards the sun. Was it instead a warning from the sun gods? One could never be sure. He walked back down to the shore to return the sharp rock, which the tribe might need later on for making tools.
That’s when he realised that the very loud sound it had made had taken something from him. He should have been able to hear the breeze and the sounds of the sea, but instead there was nothing. No sound at all, though he could see the waves lapping at his feet.
“EMBA?” he tried crying out. She turned from far away, so she had heard him… but he could not.
Keru knew that the tribe needed many things, but a chief who could no longer hear was not one of them.
OK, so I did promise that I’d say what the inspiration for this particular story was. It was page 68 of a paperback edition (15th impression, 1978 if you care) of Enid Blyton’s “Five On A Treasure Island”.
Turns out I do like a challenge.
And before you ask, no, I don’t know why it was in my bookshelf either.
It just was, and that was the page that fell open, so I chose my sentence fragment from there.