Adventure Fantasy Mystery

The Artic cyclone howled with the unquenchable contempt of a wrathful Viking god—a sentry at the gates of Eden! I could have never known that just past the gale was an island Shangri-la so beautiful, that if it were possible, it could draw envy from the City of God! As I steered around the eye of the storm, I took no thought of turning back—the success of the mission was everything.

The murderous storm heaved the sea upward and upward into a rising mountain of icy breakers that pulled on the creaking frame of our ship as if an angry giant were dragging the hull over rocky terrain, stretching and deforming the metal beams and joists with each bump. At every moment the tension of the movement of the raging walls of water threatened to snap the hull in two. It hurled boulders of ice the size of buildings down at us. It caked the portholes in blinding droves of hail. The storm drew up a curtain of foaming ice caps that blotted out the sun and blackened the world before us, dark as pitch. It screamed at us, producing huge gusts of frigid air that pitched our ship on severe angles that nearly capsized us.

Gilda Margraf was the first to lose her shit. Then Chase Langley. Then myself. For three vicious days and three vicious nights we emptied our stomachs and groaned in pain. We held on as the rolling surges dropped our mighty icebreaker Atlas’s Spear down into valleys, and then tossed it upward again. My spirit broke so many times that terror became my comforter, for the tremors of anguish confirmed I was still alive. “She’s going down,” I finally commanded, “get to the lifeboat.”

“Yes Admiral Wint.”

There were no other survivors, just us three. Chase Langley was the First Officer and Gilda Magraf was the Chief Engineer. Gilda and I had been carrying on together for a few months. But we were sane people--scientists. We both knew that an expedition romance never outlasted the voyage. Unless of course, the voyage ends in death. Chase was a practical man and diligent in his duties. He ignored our love making and the occasional affections we showed each other, and never spoke a word about it or showed any jealousy. I wondered now that we faced annihilation if his silent envy would reveal itself.

Just an hour after we huddled up in the small lifeboat, we reached the edge of the storm and suddenly found ourselves on smooth flat seas bathed in a blanket of fog. “Halleluiah,” I exclaimed. After momentary jubilation, we huddled in silence in our puffer shells and goose down outer jackets shivering for warmth, as we all knew being stranded in the arctic meant a certain, cold and painful death.

Then, as our lifeboat rolled through a belly of low-lying fog, spears of sunlight penetrated the veil and drew a vivid rainbow that unfolded like a fluorescent carpet across the surface of the sea, drawing us into a strange realm sitting in between worlds. 

In an instant, the sky was clear and bright, and warm temperate breezes hugged our faces and melted the frozen icicles from my beard, returning a shade of color to my pale, ice-stained brow. 

Before us gleamed a tropical paradise with swaying palm trees and lush foliage—a pink oasis in a vast desert of ice. The three of us looked at one another afraid to speak, lest we break the spell and find ourselves transported from this dream back into the throes of the nightmare.

* * *

“I will search ahead to get a lay of the land,” Chase said, leaving his heavy down jacket and making his way into the dense foliage.

“We need to find a way to contact another ship,” Gilda said. Her features were hard and sharp. Her body taut. Behind the rocky exterior though was an inner warmth and resilience. Holding her bony torso on freezing nights, she would look at me with a gentle mirth that revealed a child’s curiosity for the frozen expanse, for the undiscovered countries we sought, for the answers to the riddles of existence, and even for my unrelenting need to risk life and limb to discover the undiscoverable.

“We haven’t slept in days. We will get to the high ground and signal for help once we are rested and well,” I said, pointing at the Satellite Phone Signal Box I had brought on the lifeboat with its GMDSS distress frequencies and radio beacon.

“But Admiral,” Gilda said, “every hour we stay on this island is an hour closer to being lost forever.”

I took in the lush pink lotus flowers that sprung up among the crags in the palisades along the coastline. The flowers filled the little ponds and murky wetlands along the shore and bordered the banks of winding tributaries cutting through the landscape and emptying out into the sea. I plucked some red and purple berries from the stalk of one of the plants and put it to my lips—it melted like butter on my tongue and tasted like a rich fig jam. I felt light and rejuvenated.

“Gilda, try these.”

The two of us feasted on the lotus berries and waited for Chase to return. My cares faded and the urgency of rescue subsided. I felt a tingling in the back of my head and saw trails of fluorescent pink dancing in the clouds. Delight. Liquid satisfaction. Nirvana. 

The moment was dreamlike and my eyes filled with vibrant colors after weeks of nothing but grays and whites. “I think I’m high Admiral,” she said. And she pointed to a pink palisade sill with a series of pink patios carved from the rock. She laughed, and said, “It is like a Barbie dreamhouse. Come on Barbie, Let’s Go Party!” Her sudden goofiness was out of character. And she dashed off twirling and cavorting in the beds of the lotus plants.

While we were eating, we heard the snort of a large animal just behind the brush. The brush shook and an animal appeared in the clearing—a regal beast over ten feet tall faced us with the body of a moose, and giant, dead black eyes. 

This magnificent beast had a coat of inky black fir with red and white piebald layers. Its mane shimmered with stripes of gold, pink and vibrant red, and the heads of its hooves were adorned with little tassels of the same colors. Its mien was a feast of contrasts. A single curved and pointed horn emerged from its forehead, gleaming in the afternoon sun.

“It’s a unicorn,” Gilda said.

“More like a Nag Ox,” I said, naming the beast.

It scuffed its enormous front hoof and lowered its head before giving another guttural snort and turning and galloping back into the brush.

“What is this place.”

“Whatever it is, this is like no place else on earth.”

* * *

Walking along a forested path in the twilight, the three of us heard the sound of human voices. We reached a clearing ahead. Set out among the forest were a series of small straw huts. 

Little men with walking sticks scuttled back and forth. These gaunt creatures were but four feet tall, and resembled African pygmies, common to the Congo Basin. These diminutive, little dwarves were collecting and preparing lotus flowers and had a great bonfire going, with smaller bonfires in a circle around it. Pots and pans were perched on rock cairns, assorted lotus dishes were being prepared by small squatting women. The lot of them were naked except for waist aprons. The boys and girls around the fire beat small bongo-styled drums and blew on bamboo flutes.

Our approach startled them and two men with spears approached us and began speaking in a strange language, “Baaka mibu neg rayaka ick will attootoo.”

I waived my hand and held it out in an attempted greeting, but two spears pointed toward my neck in response.

* * *

We sat watching from a special guarded hut as the villagers danced and sang and ate. Despite our situation, my stomach was full of the berries and the sweet dishes, and I did not care for anything.

The pygmy we were calling the “pug dwarf”—because he had the same wrinkled brow, round head, and sparkling oversized eyes—came over with his spear and waved us to come with him, saying, “Mabikiki rep ick att ribibu.”

He led us through the jungle to a little cliff. We stood up there wondering if he was going to throw us down on the ragged cliffs below.

He pointed a finger down at the phosphorescent waves filled with sparkling baby blue and white pebbles, shimmering like liquid stardust. It was not clear if he was saying, this is where you came from or this is where you must go.

“Look at that,” I said, pointing to the fluorescent trails of the rainbow road, which led from the island cove out into the dense fog at the border of the oasis.

* * *

As we emerged from a clearing and arrived back at the settlement, the pygmy settlers were scuttling about and screaming in shrill shrieks and clicks and arming themselves with shields, spears, and small scimitar blades. 

A group of men in the shadows, with fluorescent war paint giving away their locations, were twirling some kind of sling weapons and hurling projectiles at the settlers. The settlers swarmed chaotically as they were stung by the little missiles, which seemed to be made out of something resembling an acorn, dipped in a thick tar paste. 

Suddenly, two of these attackers ran into a clearing with a huge hemp throw net and tossed it over one of the settlers, and as they snared him, they pulled a cinch and began dragging him back in the forest. As he was being dragged, another attacker appeared with a huge neolithic looking hammer and began beating him, cracking and crushing his bones, so that the hammer dripped red with blood.

The settlers also had men with hammers. And snare traps by the perimeter. When the attackers got caught in the snares and were pulled upside down, they approached and beat them until their bones were broken. Then cut them down and pulled the limp bodies into a pit of stones near the settlement. A cacophony of screams and traumas descended on the settlement.

The entire confrontation lasted less than ten minutes and perhaps eight men in total were killed in this time and reduced to pulp and bone by the respective warriors. The frantic dance was like the movement of hurrying ants breaking their military parade to scramble chaotically around an obstacle.

About an hour later, a new war dance started around the fire, and a great canvas tarp was laid out by the pit. The bones and flesh of the dead attackers were piled onto the tarp. The men began chanting, “Gachi Gachi… Gachi Gachi… Gachi Gachi.” The men gathering the fresh bones wore red silk brocade bags from strings around their neck.

There were prayers and ornate white flowers etched in white paint on the surfaces of the bags, which seemed to contain some kind of luminescent amulet inside, giving off a faint glow at the middle of the bags in homage to the full moon overhead. Not one of the settlers attending to the tarp was missing one of these charms, and they clearly believed the charms had the power to protect them from some unknown threat. I noticed that there was a word written on the bag in red: “Gashadokuro.”

A man who appeared to be an elder or witch doctor approached the warrior assemblage. He was dressed in a purple robe that was tied around the midsection, into a second section forming an apron, and then flared in a third section midway between knees and ankles, with two flaps, giving way to ornate fluffy leggings painted with all kinds of intricate symbols. In his hand he held a baton, and on his head was a tall hat with a flap trailing behind. He led the group, and us, deep into the thick underbrush of the forest. The assemblage dragged the dead bones behind them as we went.

At length, we came to an eerie clearing, with palm trees whose long drooping fronds dripped with the phosphorescent blues we had seen on the waves earlier, and the red spots of dripped blood. 

It was an elephant’s graveyard with huge pink tusks and mammoth skeletons strewn along the ground, forming a corridor leading to a stone alter, beyond which was a huge dug pit. The stone alter also had “Gashadokuro” written in red on its surface. 

In a flash of realization, I realized this was a sacrificial rite like the Aztecs where they were offering these bones to some unknown deity—or devil.

* * *

Beyond the pit, in the shadows of the huge twenty-foot tall Borrachero Trees, which shone in the night with their luminous hanging orange trumpets the size of parachutes, there was a rumbling along the palisades. An enormous human skeleton emerged which reached at least fifteen feet in height, each of its bones a composite of the bones of several men, its back hunched and its giant yellow eyes fixed on the alter. The pug dwarf pointed at the figure and said, “Gashadokuro!” 

And as it moved, the bones shook loosely, making a sound like a bag of bones. The pug dwarf stomped his feet to demonstrate and said, “Gachi Gachi.” 

So this was the monstrous overlord of this seeming paradise, an island that eats its own young.

A dozen of the Nag Oxs we had seen earlier appeared around the clearing of the elephant graveyard, snorting and stomping their hooves and neighing fearfully. The black eyes of these enormous beasts glowed orange as they beheld the Gashadokuro.

* * *

Days led into weeks, and weeks into months. In the early days, I travelled to a small mountain of a few thousand feet located near the Borrachero Trees where the Gashadokuro would loom once a month on the night of the full moon to inspect his sacrifices. I left my radio beacon on this mountain and came there to send out distress signals. There was no answer. 

“I think there is something about this foggy dome that is distorting our transmissions,” I told Gilda.

“So, are you saying we should travel back into the icy seas and the shuga, and take our chances?”

“I don’t know.”

We laid out on the beach on blankets we had made of hemp and luxuriated in the warmth of the aftereffects of the berries. I breathed in the palm trees—and was aware that the palm trees themselves were breathing back in a slow rhythm—and I felt certain that I could communicate with the ocean breezes themselves. Poems and music seemed to ride on the light beams. The waves and the trees and the sun seemed to be engaged in a conversation, amid the pesky eavesdropping clouds. The wind held all knowledge up like an open book for all. Gilda’s taught body seemed an extension of my body, as self dissolved.

“Will we ever leave this place, my love?” Gilda asked me.

“I’m worried that if we leave, we may be stranded at sea.”

“We could stay. It is so beautiful. But this is not our world.”

* * *

On the second night of the Gashadokuro, during our two months stay on the island, Chase Langley was struck by one of the bone crushers during the melee and suffered a compound fracture of his left arm. Gilda and I attended to him and stabilized the wound.

“My love, we will have to leave if Chase is going to live.”

“I know.”

“We will let him rest and regain strength for three days, then we must go.”

“I fear if we stay any longer, I would be so far gone that I’d sooner leave Chase to die than travel back beyond the veil.”

* * *

On a sad evening, after a meal of lotus berries and small game, we boarded the lifeboat and travelled off along the rainbow’s lane, back into the frigid seas beyond the fog. We kept a watch on Chase as we found ourselves back among the sea ice and the frigid deep.

It was only hours later that an arctic expedition picked up our signal and transmitted back its coordinates. The huge cradle arms of the cruise ship hoisted us up onto the deck. Gilda and I sat around a table in the captains’ quarters and discussed our voyage over strong coffee and a breakfast of eggs and pancakes that gave energy but did not satisfy our angst—not like the lotus berries had. We had lived, so why did we feel dead?

“You say you were on an island a few miles out?”

“It was through a bank of fog, like an oasis.”

“There is nothing out there.”

“We were there about two months. Like I said, it was an inhabited island, and I kept a log.”

“Admiral, I understand. I’ve read your log. But you must have been hallucinating—there’s nothing out there—look at these charts—look at the sonar signals bouncing back without disturbance.”

“Maybe so. Maybe so. But how did two of us, let alone three hallucinate the same thing, dream the same dream.”

“I don’t know. But, come on man—unicorns, giant bone monsters—do you know how it all sounds?”

“And Chase’s injury, it is consistent with a hammer blow, the doctor in the med bay said as much. There was no hammer on our lifeboat. How do you explain that?”

“I guess some things are just too marvelous to be real.”

“Look there, Captain,” I said, pointing to a blotch on the sonar images, “it is there! My personal theory is that there is some magnetic disturbance which holds the dome of fog and gives resonant heat or radiation, probably rising from deep below the earth. Possibly the remnant from an ancient asteroid impact. This explains its absence from your images and all of the characteristics of the land.”

“I see that spot, Admiral. I hear what you are saying. It could be, could be. But bone monsters, sir?” His eyes considered the possibility, the amazing possibility, that there are more things in this world than eye has seen or ear has heard or the human heart has conceived. Things of God, and things of the Adversary. Things the Spirit searches and things searched out by the Spirit. Who could say what purpose this spot held in the grand design?

I held Gilda’s hands under the table, already planning our return—which would break my rule about expedition romances—but I was restless and longing for more.

July 27, 2023 05:31

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Graham Kinross
08:26 Jan 02, 2024

Great scene setting. I like that Rumplestiltskin from Once Upon a Time inspired this. The quality of that show varied wildly but Robert Carlyle was always nailing it with some very quotable lines. You got the magic of that with this story.


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Aaron Tippit
12:18 Aug 03, 2023

The story is complex and it feels like a longer story but is wrapped into a short story, I like how you did that. If you dont mind a critique: Your pacing was a little choppy zipping by and then going really slow. And Chase disappears. It felt like you foreshadowed a conflict with him but then he disappeared. He scouted but that didn't get revisited and then suddenly he is a plot point. Great work


Jonathan Page
20:09 Aug 03, 2023

Thank you for the thoughtful commentary!! I was having difficulty with getting everything in with 3,000 words on this one.


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Mary Bendickson
21:30 Jul 29, 2023

Oh, my! You are a deep thinker. Your writing beautifully scripted. A superb world builder. You should fair well in this Reedsy land. Thanks for following my humble offerings. They don't compare to your craft.


Jonathan Page
20:10 Aug 03, 2023

Thank you!


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Jonathan Page
19:05 Jul 29, 2023

When I was thinking up this story, I was inspired by the haunting quote from Rumplestiltskin when he says, "All magic comes with a price, dearie." I believe this line is only from the show, "Once Upon a Time." But the original story is one of my favorites. A lot of these old Brothers Grimm tales involve a trade with a mythical being, that the protagonist can have what they urgently want and need at the price of their firstborn child. Rapunzel has the same plot device. And in many of these tales, there is a way to break the curse, by dis...


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