By on Oct 7, 2012 in Fiction

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Swamp with superimposed boy

They all run to the other side of the island, and hide in places we have, where we’ve dug holes and framed them over with branches, and covered them with dead palm fronds, so it looks like the forest floor, where fronds always fall, except you can crawl under and hide. But I can’t go with them, because I’m shunned now, alone, for bringing all this on them.

I know where a live oak fell, and lies there hollow now, and I crawl in. And I’m shaking.

I hear those sheriffs taking Uncle Zeb into their boat.

“Jesus, these ain’t guns — they’re just poles,” I hear one of them say, and then I hear Captain Tip Barstow’s voice.  

“Well, how the hell was I supposed to know?”

I hear them thrashing around, looking for everyone. But the hiding places are good. And then I hear the engines start up on those boats, and they’re gone. And I’m in my log, crying.

Night comes. I hear my kin moving about now, and talking low. I hear them getting up their tool kit and their clothes bundles and such. I’m not crying now, just lying on my back in the log feeling as if I’ve been dried out, because the whompus fire did sere me, and char me, even if they never did get to burn me with it. And I’m shunned, for bringing a bad thing onto my kin. And it’s true. I did that.

Later I hear them pushing out the skiffs, and I hear the oars slap, and their voices, rowing away, to a new island, to start again.

I’m thinking, but who’ll be your reader? Who’ll be the reader for all the kin?

I think how much I’ve broken for them, and I feel sick. And I’m alone.


Next morning, just when the sun comes up, turning all that water golden, I hear an engine sound, and then a voice, from over the water.

“Ebenezer?” she says. “Come with me, let me help you.”

I peek out from the ferns and there’s that raft boat again, “Captain Tip Barstow’s Hapacoochi River Wildlife Tours.” He’s on there with his black beard and angry brown eyes, at the wheel, and she’s standing up front, with her hand over her eyes, because that sun is up a bit now, and shining in.

I wonder how it would be, the schooling. And living in a house. It frightens me, but I wonder. I’ve done bad, though, and I’m shunned, alone on the island. I know I should die.

But I wonder….

“That little lizard won’t come out,” Tip Barstow tells her. “He’s run off with the rest of them.”

“Ebenezer!” she says. “Please — I’m so sorry!”

I’m thinking, maybe….

But then Tip Barstow talks again.

“Just a lizard,” he says. “Better let him live out here with the alligators and moccasins.”

There’s so much meanness in his voice.

I back away, into the island, and I go back to my log and crawl inside and lie on my back. 

After awhile I hear that raft boat chugging away.

It makes me feel empty inside, when the chugging is gone. Now the sun is higher, and all those palms and live oaks over me, they’re like green fire. And that river, it’s gold.

I’m thinking, I could swim, island to island, all the way to where the river starts, at those springs near Route 19. They’re always warm, those springs. On cold nights, manatees swim up there, when the Gulf gets killing cold. They swim to those warm springs and save themselves.

I think about that. 

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Richard Wolkomir is a long-time contributor of award-winning articles and essays to magazines, e.g., Reader’s Digest, Smithsonian, Woman’s Day, National Geographic. Now he’s turned to his original interest, fiction, with stories appearing in a variety of literary magazines. He’s especially interested in fiction with a speculative flavor, because our world seems increasingly permeated with the stuff of science fiction, and fantasy is everywhere. Richard lives with his wife, Joyce, in the Vermont mountains, where he keeps an eye out for oreads. You can find more information at RichardJoyceWolkomir.net.