By Shellie Westlake
2012 Winner: Young Adult
I could think of about a hundred and forty-seven things I’d rather do than spend the next two months on a goat farm. And just for the record, none of those things involved hitching a ride in something that barely qualified as a flotation device with a hairy chauffeur named Andre. At least, I thought that was his name—it was hard to understand through all the fur on his face.
Did I mention fur-face was wearing a cloak? Like a full on, hood over the head, hem sweeping the floor, thick black cloak. This may have been normal if he had picked me up somewhere like, the Antarctic, but it struck me as an unusual choice of clothing, seeing as how we were within thirty degrees of the equator.
The boat, ironically called The Titanic, Too, rocked precariously. I held on to the slick metal railing beside me with both hands and squeezed my eyes tight as a huge wave splashed over the side. I forgot to close my mouth though and swallowed a mouthful of seawater. It wasn’t the first; I’d already had way more than my recommended daily intake of sodium.
“Who puts a goat farm on an island, anyway?” I yelled. I didn’t expect Andre to answer me; most of my other attempts at conversation had been met with grunts of varying intensity. It didn’t stop me from trying though. “And how did they even get there in the first place? I can’t imagine goats as cooperative sea travellers, if this boat ride is any indication of what is normal around here.”
Andre turned halfway around that time, so I yelled louder. “I mean, I can think of about a zillion places that would be easier places to live if raising goats was your thing.” The very idea of being trapped on an island with a bunch of animals made me shudder.
I opened my mouth to say something about it being polite to speak when you were spoken to, when another wave left me chocking and spluttering. The saltwater stung the inside of my nose and throat, and when I tried to breathe, I must have inhaled half of the ocean, because my lungs were suddenly on fire.
Great. I was totally going to die here, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.
“Why are we going north anyway?” I yelled over the relentless crash of the ocean. I’d had a world map hanging on my bedroom wall as long as I could remember, that I pushed pins into whenever we travelled somewhere new, and I was positive there was nothing north of the Canary Islands. Not until you hit Greenland anyway. Another grunt was all I got as a reply.
The boat shifted under me making me scramble to regain my hold. I was glad to be holding on a moment later when Andre started steering the boat erratically back and forth as if we had suddenly stumbled upon an obstacle course. I didn’t see anything in the water ahead of us.
Andre straightened the boat out and his bearded face swivelled towards me. He shouted something that sounded like, “Over you go!” as he stood up. I thought he was on his way to throw me overboard. He reached for the coiled rope that hung on the back of his chair. Oh, great! Not only was he going to throw me overboard, he was going to tie me up too, so I didn’t even have a chance to swim for it.
I started laughing hysterically. I was on a boat somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. I was already soaking wet and starting to shiver. If I went overboard, I’d freeze to death and drown long before I actually managed to swim anywhere.
Andre sat back down with the rope in his hand, and over his shoulder I could see the island. I guess he must have said, “Land Ho.”
He slowed the boat and it settled deeper into the water. No longer fighting with us, the waves now seemed to coax us towards the shore. I slumped against the railing, relieved that it was almost over.
Andre steered the boat in a half-circle and cut the engine. As we drifted in towards a patch of dark sand surrounded by lush green, a bird cried out. The sound sent goose bumps up my arms, despite the heat of the late afternoon sun. What kind of bird made noise like that?
Andre jumped out of the boat with the rope in his hand and pulled us towards the shore. I was tempted to jump too and swim for the shore, but one look at the dark water swirling around the boat’s hull quickly changed my mind. Who knew what was in the water here? Sharks, stingrays, poisonous jellyfish…could even be an octopus passing through—you just never knew.
I abandoned ship the second I felt the bottom scape up against the sand. My legs felt like jelly and I only made it a few steps before collapsing into an inglorious heap. It was okay. I wanted to be down there, closer to the ground, the glorious solid ground. I closed my eyes and rubbed my cheek against the hot, gritty sand, and thanked the universe for bringing me through that boat ride alive and in one piece.
Andre pulled a long rope that was attached to the bow of the boat and trudged through ankle-deep sand to tie the boat to the base of a lonely looking palm tree that leaned towards the water, fronds swaying in the hot breeze. It looked like it was trying to break free of its roots and get the heck off the island. I didn’t blame it one bit.
Off to the side of the sandy clearing, a wooden sign stuck out of the ground, its surface weathered from years of salt and wind. The barely legible words must have been hand-painted years ago.
Isla Olvidado. Forgotten Island.
How did a whole island get forgotten?
Andre pulled the nose of the boat out of the water, until half of it was resting on the sand. He tossed my suitcase on the ground in front of my feet, grunted something that might have been, “Stay,” and plodded off into the trees.
In a panic I scrambled back to my feet. I was supposed to just stay here?
I turned to follow, but one step and that eerie bird cry ripped through the air again, freezing me in my tracks. Maybe I didn’t want to go into the forest after all. It would be dark soon, and apparently somewhere in those trees was a very large, angry bird. It was also probably full of humongous insects and gigantic spiders.
I shuddered. Thinking of arachnids made me start thinking of that time Mom took me to Mexico and I almost stepped on a bark scorpion. They’re the most venomous scorpions in North America. I decided I didn’t want to stay here on the beach, after all, because what if there were scorpions here too, lurking just under the surface of the sand? I racked my brain, trying to remember if scorpions were indigenous to the Canary Islands, but then I remembered that it didn’t matter if they were, scorpions could be accidentally introduced anywhere. My mind was made up, since now it didn’t matter that I had survived the harrowing boat journey; I was surely going to die by scorpion poison.
Then it occurred to me that I wasn’t even technically on the Canary Islands, since there were only supposed to be seven of them. We were too far north; I was sure of it. Geography was kind of a specialty. My mom travelled all over the world for work, and usually she took me with her. This time though, she said she couldn’t bring me and instead, I was being carted off to stay with my only other living relative, an Uncle I had never met.
Something snapped behind me. I spun around, but I swear, I didn’t scream, no matter what anyone else says. A girl stood on a boulder near the edge of the beach. I don’t know where she came from, but I’m sure she hadn’t been there two seconds before.
The girl’s dark blonde was hair plastered to her face. Drops of water ran down her cheeks and dripped down onto the sleeves of her t-shirt. She had these ridiculous yellow rubber boots pulled up over her pants. The bottom half of the boots were crusted in thick mud.
“You must be Alex,” she said, hopping down from the rock, and picked her way over the seaweed and broken shells that littered the edge of the beach. As she got closer, I noticed that her hair had kind of a green tinge to it, as if she’d spent too much time in a pool.
“Who are you?” Mom hadn’t mentioned anyone other than Uncle Sal.
“I’m Lily,” she said. “I’m kind of your cousin.”
“What do you mean, kind of?” I asked. What was a kind of cousin?
“I’m sort of adopted.” She stuck her hand out. “It’s nice to meet you, Alex.”
I stared at the hand. There was brown stuff on it. I’d never actually seen goat poop, so I had no way of knowing if that’s what it was. She wagged her hand at me. Shaking hands? Who does that? I shook it gingerly, for the shortest amount of time I thought I could get away with, then wiped it on the leg of my pants.
The tropical breeze must have slightly changed directions then, because suddenly the smell hit me. Lily didn’t smell anything like a flower. The smell coming off her was more like she had fallen into a vat of toxic waste, and by toxic waste I mean the kind that comes out of an animal’s rear end.
It occurred to me that maybe that was why these goats were kept on an island—they were the most horrible smelling goats in the whole history of goats and were hidden way out here in the middle of nowhere for peoples’ protection. Well, that was just fantastic. Not only was I stuck on a goat farm for the summer, but it was a goat farm that was a public safety hazard.
“Come on.” Lily waved at me to follow her. “Sal is sorry he couldn’t come meet you. There’s some eggs hatching, and he needs to be there.”
“Wait,” I said, confused. “What kind of goats lay eggs?”
Lily’s head swivelled back towards me and she scrunched up her eyes, looked at me like I’d just sprouted an extra head. “There’s no such thing as an egg-laying goat. But birds? Birds lay eggs, Alex. Anyway, He’s busy, so you have the privilege of my company instead. Aren’t you lucky?”
I wasn’t sure what luck had to do with, but decided it was lucky I could follow ten paces behind her, and that the wind was blowing at my back, carrying at least some of the eau de manure away from me. The path, littered with dead tree branches and rocks hiding under a carpet of leaves, twisted and turned on a steep uphill trajectory. I climbed over a particularly fat fallen log, hauling my suitcase behind me and letting it fall to the ground on the other side. I half slid, half fell beside it, landing hard on my behind. Lily disappeared around a bend in the trail ahead of me. I took a deep breath I and let my head rest against the trunk behind me. The bark caught my hair as I stood up, and I felt the ping of several hairs being pulled out.
My right arm tingled and my fingers had fallen asleep. I rubbed at it, opening and closing my fist to try to get the blood flowing through my fingers again. The bird cried out for a third time, sending a shudder through me. I jumped up and tried to pick up my pace.
“Okay, seriously. What the heck is that?” I yelled after Lily when I had her in my sight again.
She stopped and leaned against a tree, waiting for me to catch up. “That’s just Vagar. You’ll get used to the noise.”
“And the smell?” My suitcase felt ten pounds heavier than it had been at the beginning of this walk. “Will I get used to that?”
“Oh yeah. When you smell this bad too, I promise you won’t even notice it.”
“Super.” This was already setting up to be the worst few months of my life.
The hill levelled out and I breathed a sigh of relief, glad for the end of the climb. The relief lasted precisely three and a half seconds, because at that moment I saw the house. The house itself was pretty interesting. It was round; each floor was slightly smaller than the one below it, like layers of a cake. The third floor was a giant expanse of windows, and a pointed brown roof sat on the top of the expanse of glass, slightly crooked, reminding me a bit of a wizard’s hat.
Yes, the house itself was cool, but less cool was the fact that it happened to be perched in a quite precarious looking manner on the very edge of a cliff. A staircase crisscrossed the front of a crevice that split the cliff face in two. It sure didn’t look like it met modern day safety standards.
“I’ll meet you at the top,” Lily called over her shoulder. Bounding ahead, she took the steps two at a time. Just watching her made me tired. I sighed, adjusted my grip on the suitcase, and started after her.