An Illusion Spun: Part Three
"You don't know anything about making a shelter, Adriana."
"Do too! It looked better before you ran into it."
"I suppose you've never done anything to my shelters, have you? Whacking them up with logs?"
"That was an accident."
"Right. You accidentally ran up, and accidentally swung your log back, and accidentally hit it."
"Like you accidentally ran headlong into mine."
"That was an accident. I tripped on a rock."
"You don't seem too sorry about it."
"What sort of idiot runs into a pile of logs on purpose?"
"I can think of one."
Cherry sat, her arms around her knees, on the beach, her eyes glazed over as she stared at the sea, watching the waves but not really seeing them. Just a few days ago -- was it really just a few days ago? -- she'd been sitting here with Dash, chatting about nothing in particular... and then about his life, as Karik and Adriana argued, just as they were right now.
Dash. He'd been such a young kid. An eager-to-please Cloud Mynci who spoke as if he'd swallowed a textbook, possessing every grain of knowledge that was accessible to anyone with a keen eye and a love for reading. Dash... now, we was gone.
The Xweetok hugged her knees tighter to her chest, retreating inside herself again, as she had been doing for the past couple of days. Brooding, Adriana called it. But Cherry couldn't bring herself to crawl out of the suffocating darkness that had seized her.
I could've saved him...
No, that was useless thinking, and she knew it. There was nothing she could have done for Dash. While she and Adriana tackled the responsibility of building a shelter, Dash had set off to find leaves and twigs for the fire that would send up a signal to get them rescued.
But Dash had disappeared.
I could've gone to look for leaves instead... he could've stayed here, and it could have taken me...
She didn't exactly know what "it" was, but one thing was clear.
They weren't alone.
But the island was deserted. They had all, at least, agreed on that. They had scoured the island with a treasure hunter's eye, searching for anything that could help them escape this island -- because in whose wildest dreams did four pets wind up on a forgotten speck in the middle of the sea, unable to remember how exactly they had gotten there?
In Karik's, obviously. He believed that this was all a nightmare that he'd soon wake up from but had decided to play along for the sake of the dream pets -- Adriana and Cherry.
But not Dash. Not anymore.
It did seem like nightmare quality. Something straight out of the scariest mystery novel. But Cherry was certain that one couldn't feel the aching pain she felt -- the painful, yearning desire she felt to see her owner, Laura, again, and her brother Arak -- in something as inconsequential as a dream. She wanted to see Laura and Arak.
And Dash. The wishing and wanting was so painful.
This is no nightmare.
Of that, she was positive.
"Can't you two give it a rest?" she snapped to Karik and Adriana, as they had begun to argue about the possibility of a revolving door.
They stared at her.
"Don't be so touchy," scoffed Karik.
"Cherry, you've been sulking for days," Adriana said, nodding and gazing sadly at Cherry as if she were a toy that had been ripped to shreds by the neighbor's vicious Warf.
Cherry set her jaw. "It took Dash. What do you want me to do? Tap dance?"
It was a cloud of depression that had settled over the trio of prisoners, and Karik and Adriana fell silent at once.
Karik broke the stillness that had fallen. "I'm going to get some bananas, okay?" He was already heading for the jungle.
"We've got a basket filled with bananas," Adriana told him, gesturing to the woven basket. As she said it, a banana fell and hit the sand with a dull thud. "Why not eat one of those?"
Karik shrugged. "I want fresh fruit."
As he disappeared, Cherry frowned in his direction, at his swishing tail as he vanished into the overflowing abundance of jungle that raged and flourished behind them. An alarm was ringing somewhere in the back of her mind. There was something she should be paying attention to here. But she couldn't figure out what.
And then she figured it out. And wished she hadn't.
Karik was constantly making unplanned departures into the jungle, under the pretense of "getting fruit," "taking a walk," or "answering nature's call."
And he'd been in the jungle when Dash disappeared.
No way. Karik is just as clueless as Adriana and I are about this island. He's got nothing to hide.
But a sick feeling of dread plagued her, and she turned toward the sea with a new fear stirring in her heart.
That one of their own would betray them. To what, she didn't know.
The boredom on the island was maddening. The three pets lay on the beach, beads of sweat on their foreheads. Adriana spoke up. "Who wants to play a game?"
"Like what?" challenged Karik. "It isn't the ideal place to play Gormball."
"Says who?" She jumped up, suddenly bursting with energy. "Come with me! I have a splendid idea!"
Cherry and Karik locked eyes, presumably to exchange a look of incredulity that they often shared at one of Adriana's suggestions, but this time she looked away quickly, afraid her suspicions would reflect there.
"Come with me!"
Against their better judgment, Cherry and Karik found themselves trudging after the eccentric Adriana as she darted ahead of them, positively giddy with excitement. She was jogging about in the jungle, leaping over rotten logs and sidestepping tree after tree.
Does this jungle ever end?
Cherry began to wonder if Adriana even knew where they were headed, until the Wocky halted in front of a tree, looking delighted. "See?" she said triumphantly.
Cherry and Karik stared. "Er... what exactly are we staring at?" Karik said, nonplussed.
"Look! Up there!"
The Xweetok saw them too. A handful of coconuts, just out of reach in a tree that seemed miles tall. Her sudden desire for milk instead of the neverending supply of fresh water from a nearby pond was overwhelming. "How did you know these were here?"
"I saw them earlier. Before I found you guys on this island. Then we met up and I forgot all about 'em." She beamed at them. "So, who's climbing?"
The simplicity in Adriana's voice boggled Cherry's mind. Karik stared at her, too. "Climb up there? Sure, after I leap over Terror Mountain and stare down the Snowager. What about you? Why don't you fly? You're a Faerie Wocky, aren't you?"
All of a sudden, Adriana's expression changed. Her eyes were twin laser beams, straight from something that the Mad Scientist at the Secret Laboratory would have created. Her tone was uncharacteristically icy; Cherry had never before heard Adriana without her usual delighted, optimistic mood shining through. "Fine. Forget about the coconuts."
And she stomped off, back in the direction from which they'd come.
Karik was bewildered. "What'd I say?"
Cherry, too, was confused beyond belief. "No clue."
They had no choice but to follow Adriana back to the camp, because neither one could even consider attempting to get at the coconuts, and neither one knew the way back as well as Adriana obviously did, and so they hurried to catch up but remained at a safe distance, as she quickened her pace when they attempted to walk beside her.
But Cherry noticed that Karik did not seem to be following Adriana; he was gazing off into the trees and did not seem to need directions as much as Cherry did, straining to catch a glimpse of Adriana's fluttery, color-streaked wings through the trees.
Did this prove her point? Was Karik really someone else? He obviously knew much more about the jungle than she did...
Don't be stupid.
But as the two of them emerged from the jungle, Karik jerked his thumb in the direction from which they'd come and said, "I'm gonna go take a walk. You mind?"
Cherry numbly shook her head. It was possible that Karik merely didn't want to force his company upon Adriana, who was obviously very angry with him for reasons they both couldn't fathom. But what if he had a darker motive in mind?
She shook the thought from her head and padded along to where Adriana sat in the sand, gazing out to the water. "What was that all about?" Cherry asked, as softly and as gently as she could.
Adriana swallowed. "I... I don't know how to fly."
Now Cherry was surprised. "You don't?"
"I just... never learned. Karik was right." A dry sob escaped her, but she forged on. "We are a rich-royalty type of family. All my life, I never exactly had to do things. Pick out an outfit, make breakfast. There was always some maid or that butler that was there to do it for me. And so..."
"You never learned to fly."
"It just seemed unnecessary," Adriana said with a gulp. "I never needed to. We could walk, take a ferry, whatever..."
"It isn't too late to learn."
"Yeah, and who's going to teach me? I don't know if you've noticed, but the Pawkeets we keep hearing... they never come out. I've never seen one. Not one."
That was a bit strange. But Cherry waved it away.
"I'm sure you could teach yourself... if you really tried..."
Adriana perked up at once. "Cherry -- you could help me!"
The Xweetok was struck dumb. This was not what she had had in mind. "But... but what do I know about flying?" Cherry stammered in protest. "I haven't got wings!"
"So what? You're smart. Clever. Intelligent. You can help me figure it out!"
Cherry foresaw a great disturbance in her physical and mental health looming in the near future, but Adriana's face was already shining with hope.
Relenting, the Xweetok said, "Fine. But I'm going to regret this."
"Are you sure this is the best place?"
Adriana was perched precariously on a boulder that stretched from the edge of the shore where waves pounding the sand to the tangle of jungle beyond. The boulder reached for the sky, towering overhead and blocking out the sun.
Cherry had her doubts. This did not seem like the ideal place for a Faerie Wocky to learn to fly, especially from a Xweetok that had zero experience in the matter.
"Positive!" Adriana was beaming. "I mean, it's not like I can scale a tree and jump off that."
Cherry eyed the boulder. In her opinion, there wasn't a heck of a lot of difference between a tree and this sturdy mound of rock by the sea. They both equaled danger.
"So, what should I do?"
Cherry tried to approach this from a logical perspective. "Flap your wings a bit... yeah, like that. Maybe wave your arms around. Visualize yourself in the air." She thought she sounded rather like a real flying instructor.
"Okay!" Adriana lowered herself into a crouching position and remained there, face scrunched up so that she looked as if she was struggling to lay an egg.
Biting back a laugh, Cherry called, "You okay?"
"Just waiting for the wind to stop."
And stop it did. The moment the breeze let up, Adriana sprung from the boulder, flapping her wings furiously.
Time stood still.
And then gravity yanked her down with the force of a strong air current, down to the sandy (but still hard) ground beneath her, with a sickening thud and a squeal of pain from Adriana. Cherry was at her side at once, a picture of worry. "Adriana! Are you okay?"
The Wocky rolled over in the sand and sat up, massaging her slightly bent wings and fluttering them a bit. "Hmm. I could use a bit of practice, you think?"
Cherry didn't know whether to laugh or cry at this.
Suddenly, there was a resounding, but gentle, thud! from the jungle, that echoed and bounced against every tree trunk in the vast tangle of trees. Both pets looked up at once, startled.
"What was that?"
Adriana was off like a shot, before Cherry had a chance to straighten up and follow. "Adriana! Wait!"
"Hang on, Cherry! Let me check it out first! It could be dangerous!"
The Xweetok hovered near the boulder, leaning against it and gazing fearfully at the leaves into which Adriana had disappeared. In Cherry's mind, heading into the jungle alone wasn't a wise course when the two of them had just heard a suspicious but very real thud from within the depths of the darkness. And she wasn't certain that whatever had made the noise would spare Adriana, an overeager but vulnerable Wocky.
No answer. Fear slicing through her like a knife, Cherry took a few steps closer to the canopy-covered jungle, torn between sprinting into its depths to rescue her friend and remaining where she was, on the safety of the beach.
"Cherry!" cried the Wocky, and Cherry was relieved to hear that her voice was blooming with characteristic delight. "I found a coconut! Just lying on the ground! Come and see! There's another! And another! I've got three!"
The Xweetok exhaled her relief briefly and then, grinning in spite of herself, took off. She parted the large leaves and darted through them, feeling the warmth of the sun's diminish on the spot. She peered past a large tree and called out to her friend. "Adriana?"
There was no reply.
That was curious. Cherry could have sworn she'd just heard Adriana's voice come from right there. Perhaps the enthusiastic Wocky had just found a trail of coconuts and had hastened to follow, without a thought of the repercussions.
Wouldn't that be just like her. All action, very little thought.
But when Cherry came upon a clearing, fear clawed at her from the inside, a sudden jolt of panic that had her gasping on all fours. Through streaming eyes, she looked up, to make sure that she had no just imagined it.
Two coconuts lay side by side. But Adriana was nowhere in sight.
"Adriana?" Her voice startled even her; the fear was so raw, it distorted her voice. "Adriana!"
Cherry bent low in the dirt, examining the footprints there. They were definitely Wocky prints -- they spiraled in a circular motion for a moment, and then stopped. Completely, utterly stopped in the middle of the clearing.
How is that possible?
But sick dread leaked into Cherry's brain as fear consumed her on the inside like acid, and she moaned as a tear slid down her cheek, gazing with blurred vision at the footprints. She then noticed something peculiar. Adriana's were not the only prints present. She bent low, wiping away her tears as best she could, trying to fight down the awful panic that was gnawing at her inside.
It was round. Almost circular.
Almost like a Kacheek.
"What happened? What's going on?"
Karik appeared in a bushel in front of her, looking puzzled.
In his hand he held one coconut.
To be continued...