The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast
HIS JAW WAS THE FIRST thing to move, back and forth like a seesaw. His teeth rubbed against one another, pushing out the grit between them.
“Unhhh!” The boy’s mouth crinkled.
He tried to open his eyes, but light slapped them shut again.
He felt cold, his back damp. He curled his fingers and was surprised they obeyed. He wriggled his toes, and they wriggled back. He lifted his arms, then felt around his body. Two legs, chest, head, and nose.
Just as it should be.
He pushed up on his elbow, and a sickening feeling erupted in his stomach. Leaning over, he retched, but nothing came.
I don’t feel good. The thought slopped out of his murky mind.
The boy reached down to steady himself and a streak of pain ran up his arm. “Ow.” He pulled it back, glaring at it through squinting eyes. There was no sign of injury. No
cuts, or bruises, or scrapes. He pressed down again, but the pain bit back, clamping into his muscle.
“Ow!” His arm must be hurt on the inside, but how? Better not press on it anymore.
His head was sore too—a throbbing pain on one side. His fingers searched for the reason but found only curls of hair.
Struggling to his knees, the boy cautiously pried his eyes fully open, spying on his surroundings through gaps between his fingers.
He was on a beach of golden sand stretched out against the edge of a never-ending blue ocean. Curious waves crept up to him, then retreated, returning seconds later. The beach was cut off to his right by trees so large they hung over the water. Those trees fed into bushes behind him, then more trees and more bushes—a green wall, so thick he couldn’t see through it, carving around the sand as it ran alongside the ocean into the distance to the boy’s left.
That was it. That was all he could see.
The boy dropped his hands, the brightness no longer stabbing his eyes.
Where am I?
The question echoed in his brain and was joined by another.
How did I get here?
He gazed down at his body. He was wearing navy-blue swim shorts and a yellow T-shirt with a pattern on it. Nothing else. Not even shoes. He pulled at the bottom of the shirt so it stretched out before him. Even upside down, he could read the words: IN REAL LIFE I’M A PIRATE. The word “pirate” was curved around a picture of a skull and crossbones.
Skull and crossbones?
The biggest question of all screamed in his mind.
Who am I?
The boy staggered to stand. He was wobbly but stayed upright.
Had he just been born? No, he wouldn’t be wearing shorts and a T-shirt if he had just been born. He wouldn’t even know what shorts and a T-shirt were, or the beach, or trees, or the ocean.
He glanced at the emptiness around him. No ships or boats. Just rolling, white-tipped waves. The sand was clear too. No footsteps showing a path he had walked.
“Hello?” The boy flinched at the sound of his own voice. It was high and croaky, like a tiny frog. He coughed and pinpricks of sand scratched his throat. He stuck his fingers
into his mouth and tried to fish them out, but they found nothing. His tongue was no help either.
“Hello?” he called, a bit louder than before. This time his voice was high, but singed with a rasp, like the words had been grated over the sand.
Still no answer came. The water’s edge crept toward him, then backed away. The leaves in the trees purred in the slight breeze.
The boy’s jaw tightened. He couldn’t be alone. Not completely alone. There must be someone near, someone who could hear him.
He dug his feet into the sand, bent his legs as a brace, then gathered his voice from deep within himself.
An explosion came from the depths of the trees. A roar drove over him as every leaf and branch erupted. Riding atop the sound were the high-pitched squawks of thousands of birds, upset that their quiet had been disturbed. They rose up from the tops of the trees, so many that they changed the color of the sky. Circling above him, squawking in frightened, angry bursts.
The boy raised his arms to shield his head. Fear sparked in his belly.
The birds flapped their wings harder. Bones creaked as
they stretched with every beat. Their feathers stiffened to sharp, clanging points. The beaks lengthened too, gnashing with loud clack, clack, clacks. The noise grew deafening as the distended birds blocked out the sun.
The boy ran.
But there was nowhere to hide.
He scrambled across the sand away from the birds. But the ground trembled before him. Black spikes of rock shot up in his path, threatening to spear the boy.
Gasping, he turned back, but the birds still swarmed the sky above. The boy ran to the Green Wall. Dark, spooky, but maybe a place to hide. But when he got close, branches twisted and curled, creaking toward him. A loud HIIIIIISSSSSSSSS escaped through the leaves.
The boy cried out, then ran back and back as fast as his feet would take him. He ran until he splashed into the searching fingers of the incoming tide. The water had seemed calm before, but now greedy waves tugged at his ankles.
They wanted him to go in.
They wanted to take him down.
They wanted to drag him beneath
the surface. . . .
The boy fled to the center of the beach, the place where
he’d been born. He curled up as small as he could and shut his eyes tight. Everything had turned scary. Everything had turned bad. How was that possible?
“Once upon a time . . . ,” he murmured. “Once upon a time, there was a boy who was hidden.”
He waited for the birds or rocks or trees or water to attack. He waited to be hurt.
But nothing happened. After a while his heart slowed and the roar around him began to hush. The boy cracked one eye open. The birds had shrunk back to their normal size and jetted away behind the Green Wall. The trees swayed quietly in the breeze, their branches pointing to the sky. The sand stretched out along the coast, a pale ribbon that looked as soft as cream. And the ocean waves danced all the way to the horizon.
Quiet fell once again.
The boy’s arms slid shaking to his sides.
He didn’t know who he was or where he was, but he knew he wasn’t safe on this beach.
And he had nowhere to go.