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An Excerpt From The Island

by Z-Man about a year ago in fiction · updated 6 months ago
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The Unearthing of Ernest Chadwick

* * * * * * * * * *

Ernest Chadwick stood rooted to the spot, a pawn to puzzlement. He felt like a tree that has suddenly borne the most unlikely of fruits and contemplates a sly sacrifice to the passing breeze. It seemed that all but his mind was motionless as questions ricocheted back and forth in his head, amorphous pinballs dragging vapor trails in their wake.

What had directed him to this nondescript sliver of wood, and the unkempt chaos of floor upon it?

What was the nature of this little black book?

Who had buried it here?

And why?

But that wasn’t all. Because there was one further question that stood both among, and apart from, the others. Try as he might, it was the only one he couldn’t deny. It hit so close to home with its peculiar irony that, even if he had succeeded in letting it go, its potential implications would remain inevitable. The book’s open cover held the key, but not the answer.

When had he opened the book?

For all intents and purposes, it was an inhibition that really shouldn’t have been. He could only surmise that some unconscious shock had stunned him to complete disassociation for those few critical moments. How else could he have acted without being aware of doing so?

And why then? Why was everything else clear, while his opening of the book was not?

Why.

An odd sense of recognition was the first thing that surfaced in his mind as he pursued the answer. He realized that there was a why that had carried forth even when the other had not.

It was his conclusive reasoning for opening it.

It stood there in his understanding as if he had consciously made good on that action. While he sensed the book was preternaturally inscrutable no matter the justification for or otherwise, his common sense had remained dominant. Apparently, he had rationalized that its unadorned cover easily took it out of the running as a diary or personal keepsake. The absence of even rudimentary precautions had strengthened his resolve even further.

Yet, at the same time, he had breezed over the obvious fact that it’s lack of a safeguard—be it a lock or forbidding insignia—didn’t actually take it out of the running at all. He already knew the “fact”, in reality, was merely a widely-accepted generalization. People had come to associate diaries with things like heart-shaped locks, covers embellished with “This is the diary of…”, and so on.

Suffice it to say, if he was being completely honest here, it was more likely that isolation and intrigue were the real culprits, proving once again their deadly influence as a parasitic combination. Could they have planted the seeds of treason in his unconscious mind and somehow accelerated their growth to monumental proportions?

Questions, questions, questions. He felt he would burst at the seams if another unanswerable question took residence in his head. He was unable to make complete heads or tails of any of this. The corners of his mind felt taut under the might of intertwined paradoxes.

All he could do was surrender to the fact that what was done, was done. Preemptive dissolution was null and void; robbed by some alien manifestation. The only way out was forward.

Frozen in place, his new destiny beckoned him forth. His eyes fell to the first page.

With all the sentience of a soliloquy, volumed silence clarified its owner as one Alec Samuelson, of 37 Crescent Street.

He considered the information for a moment. While he was familiar with the street—even its residents, to a certain extent—the name was lost on him completely.

No. Not lost. Understanding had flashed into his mind, but was just as quickly—

Snatched.

Snatched back out of it.

It was as if some unseen force had stolen the knowledge away from him, acting with all the underhanded malevolence of a voracious feline who steals a dreaming child’s life force.

Except, as far as he knew, he wasn't dreaming, and he wasn't dead. If anything, he was cursed now; cursed to live with the monumental repercussions of knowing that such a violation had taken place.

However, daunting as the reality of that notion may be, that wasn't the only force that tussled with him now. If the remaining text hadn’t registered like a sledgehammer in that same moment, driving all thought out of his mind and breath out of his lungs, he could have suitably blamed the first twofold. But, in this case, the evidence to the contrary was overwhelming. His focus had been stolen nearly verbatim not by some unknown influence, but by the acknowledgement or ignorance the text demanded of his mind now.

A, shall we say, generous reward was promised for the book’s return: a whopping $20,000.

$20,000.

He had to read that again, not believing his eyes.

Twenty GRAND? His previous considerations of self-control were snuffed out in a flash, the phantom forces nearly forgotten. All he could seem to contend himself with now was that what he held in his hands must be precious indeed. While right and wrong still clashed mightily in his head, he felt the balance tipping in such a way that he felt assured in believing that he had made the right decision in opening the book after all.

He remained frozen for some time still, though more by conscious decision than otherwise. His eyes were heavy as they evaluated the sparse content over and over again with almost mad turbulence.

Cradling the unfathomable enigma that was its remaining bulk in his right palm, his fingers stood at attention. He wasn’t quite on the verge of continuing on to the next, presumably irrevocable, revelation, but he knew his next decision was fast approaching; whether he made it consciously or not.

Ultimately, either renewed willpower or thoughts of exponential damnation brought him to one conclusion: to close both the book and the matter entirely.

As he regarded his find one last time, he suddenly came to the realization of how astounding its condition was. Aside from the writing on that first page—which was, in itself, neat to the point of haunting precision—the ensemble appeared denuded—if not virgin—of wear.

Strange.

But just as quickly as the thought had come, he realized that its peculiarity was, like all that had preceded it, only in effect of some greater abnormality. It had been virtually buried in a thick settlement of decayed leaves and dirt when he had first come across it, intermingled nearly to the point of indiscrimination. As if its renouncer had purposely tried to make sure it wasn’t found; or, at least, as far as could be accomplished without revealing complete, baleful denouncement of the thing.

The mystery came back full circle, now with refreshed vigor: why go to such a length to lose something so presumably valuable?

And, with that, the circle was broken. His previous questions were shattered to redundancy as the tautness of paradoxes gave way to a sense of elasticity toward resolution. His responsibilities now numbered one, or zero. New questions surfaced more delicately within his mind.

Had it already been found once before, chanced upon by some discoverer with full intention of claiming the lavish reward, but lacking the means or—shall we say—constitution to do so?

Was it a peculiar time capsule left behind by this…Mr. Samuelson himself? A capsule he had left up to the workings of nature to conceal by some supposed, dutiful obligation to him?

Or had it perhaps become the bane of both? Like some cursed, ancestral artifact that evidently could only be passed onward; an unshakeable companion that neither founder could, in effect, find the courage to bestow or bury?

Somewhere within him, he could feel a rising urge to flip that opening page and take in its real first.

Perhaps if he got a rudimentary taste of what was contained therein, he could suppose as much of the relic as a whole, and could quash any eventual notion of inquisition entirely.

But why? After all, there was a name and address listed. He could ask Mr. Samuelson directly about its origin. Perhaps even get permission to look inside the book to his heart’s content. For all he knew, it was as mystical as a makeshift day planner.

He wouldn’t bother attempting to recapture the information that had been apparently seized from him earlier. Even if any recollection of who this man was had been stolen by some supernatural means, his reputation could certainly be investigated about town. How much power could such a force truly have, anyway? If that was the only trick it had pulled so far, it didn't appear to have all that much.

As far as Ernest’s own apprehension in meeting him face-to-face was concerned, why exactly did he feel so hesitant to do so?

His hands were tied all the same. There was only way of discovering the reason behind the laughably prodigious reward, and that was by returning it to the man directly.

He had found himself at quite a crossroads, indeed. Would he return it? Leave it to its own devices and fate? Perhaps place it in direct view of the path? Directly on it?

After careful deliberation, he decided to leave it where it lie. Maybe he’d inform the man of his find; maybe he wouldn’t. Either way, the name and address were imprinted on his mind now. The shock of the reward had done that.

That still didn’t shackle him to any further responsibilities regarding the book. In fact, there wasn’t concrete proof that it had been lost at all. The evidence, as far as he saw it, was far more supportive of the contrary. Unless Mr. Samuelson had fatefully abandoned the Way for a more tumultuous stroll.

Above all else, it was clear that no one would ever have to know that he had found it.

Leaving it here wouldn’t put it in any more harm than it had been open to before. Nature’s course notwithstanding, it was in eerily mint condition.

So, set in his decision, he buried the book as before, and turned to see—

* * * * * * * * *

a black book that was virtually buried in a thick settlement of decayed leaves and dirt, intermingled nearly to the point of indiscrimination. As if its renouncer had purposely tried to make sure it wasn’t found.

Strange.

He knelt down to pick it up. There was a name and address penned inside, on top of a note promising a reward for return that came as an obvious shock to his senses. There was an ambiance of eeriness that seemed preternatural to the object. He couldn’t place the exact source of the feeling. All he knew was that its presence brought a hint of pungency with it. Like the primal stench of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Somewhere within him, he could feel a rising urge to flip that opening page and take in its real first. Perhaps if he got a rudimentary taste of what was contained therein, he could suppose as much of the relic as a whole, and could quash any eventual notion of inquisition entirely.

His hands were tied all the same. There was only way of discovering the reason behind the laughably prodigious reward, and that was by returning it to the man directly.

He had found himself at quite a crossroads, indeed. Would he return it to this…Mr. Samuelson himself? Leave it to its own devices and fate? Perhaps place it in direct view of the path? Directly on it? Surely, if it was actively being sought, that would do wonders for the man himself. Either way, odds were somebody would bring it home.

After careful deliberation, he decided to leave it on the edge of the path, in plain view of whoever came across it next. Maybe he’d inform the man of his find; maybe he wouldn’t. Either way, the name and address were imprinted on his mind now. The shock of the reward had done that.

That still didn’t shackle him to any further responsibilities regarding the book. In fact, there wasn’t concrete proof that it had been lost at all. The evidence, as far as he saw it, was far more supportive of the contrary. Unless Mr. Samuelson had fatefully abandoned the Way for a more tumultuous stroll.

Above all else, it was clear that no one would ever have to know that he had found it.

Leaving it here wouldn’t put it in any more harm than it had been open to before. Nature’s course notwithstanding, it was in eerily mint condition. Surely leaving it here would provide a best-of-both-worlds scenario.

Both.

Another ambiance of eeriness poured into his senses. Why did that word seem so…imperative?

All of this he somehow knew. Somehow. As if it were pre-ordained that he do.

So, set in his decision, he left the book on the edge of the path, to its own devices and fate.

* * * * * * * *

He continued on along the Way, passing a secondary path—this over to the Cove—on his right. He glanced over half-heartedly, not quite in the mood for further off-course ventures at the moment, even when he thought he saw—

He shoved the notion away. I’ve got no time for these games, he thought to himself. Not meaning to introduce the idea, really, but wanting adequate reason to get straight back to his own business at hand. He was already late as it was.

So, set in his decision, he left the adjunct path behind and headed onward again, deeper into the woods, turning the next bend to see—

* * * * * * *

a black book lying on the edge of the path, assumedly left in plain view for whoever would come across it next.

Strange.

His immediate assumption was that it must have been dropped by accident, perhaps from a back pocket. With greater disdain, he surmised it could even have been from a pack that was left open, propagated by some premonition disguised as a distracted moment. Things like that always worried him—for both himself and for others—and he double-checked his own wares consistently in case he inadvertently lost something. Even now he incanted his wordless mantra. Still, if fate meant to have it, there wasn’t much you could do, was there?

He knelt down to pick it up. There was a name and address penned inside, as well as a jaw-dropping inscription he couldn’t entirely believe.

Somewhere within him, he could feel a rising urge to flip that opening page and take in its real first. Perhaps if he got a rudimentary taste of what was contained therein, he could suppose as much of the relic as a whole, and could quash any eventual notion of inquisition entirely.

Or he could just return it and find out simultaneously? If a reward that generous was offered, assumedly for the mammoth personal value it must hold by this…Mr. Samuelson himself, perhaps it was a boon that could be shared mentally—even spiritually–as well?

That seemed as good an idea as any.

So, set in his decision, he continued on down the path, the little black book clasped thoughtfully within his grasp.

* * * * * *

He wasn’t entirely sure how he had ended up here.

The Cove stretched out before him, steeped in the liquidity of its cyclically nascent glory; a cavalcade of countless summers and stories long since sent to the shadows; phantoms that exploded like ethereal buoys to its surface as invisible pressures were released by their vivacious summoners’ very minds or breath.

Nevertheless, it was exactly as he had seen it, all those years before. He had spent nearly his entire life on this island; had seen many summers recede into the Sun; had left countless stories of his own to the murky depths of the Cove’s memory.

Yet, that concept felt almost artificial in his mind at the moment. It had always been real and quantifiable. But…

Standing here now, he felt as if he were instead looking at a crystallization of concepts, synthesized into one conglomerate image. As if something was trying to fool him into believing that what he was looking at was real, but all its cunning couldn’t quite make up for its nature as a bungling outsider.

In what he could only imagine was a baleful retort to being found out, a dense, existential expectation invaded his mind, propagated by some force he couldn’t place. He tore his sight from that vision, bracing himself for the illimitable darkness he feared would surround him in place of any other contradictory sights.

And, indeed, that was exactly what he had found. But not at the level he had expected. And not without an instant semblance of recognition and surprise to hold himself—at least for the time being—to what he had always known as reality.

He saw not a choking abyss, but a rectangular depression; a recess dug into the sand, its short ends parallel with the shore. As if someone had begun to make good on a bonkers intention of installing a bulkhead door there.

Implausibility turned into déjà vu as the whole situation registered inside him. He felt as if he had seen something in this exact spot before; in a dream perhaps.

Either way, whatever form of memory it was, it felt close. Closer than he’d otherwise think was possible.

Apprehensive all the same, curiosity propelled Ernest to move toward the fissure. Oddly enough, the idea of a bulkhead door gained fast traction as the closing distance brought higher visual clarity. It appeared there was already a stairway set within it.

Another insane notion came into his mind, though more of a forgotten knowing than déjà vu this time around. It was a certainty that the concavity really had always been there. That as a resort island community, perhaps someone had undertaken the albeit incredible task of building some underground control network, like that of an amusement park, beneath the Cove. As if something were mechanically operating here out of a necessity that was, in itself, not a necessity to disclose.

Had there always been a door hidden here; expertly—hell, masterfully—camouflaged?

He couldn’t help but laugh. It all seemed so incredibly stupid and implausible. No doubt someone—a child or sandcastle champion, to say the least—would have noticed it ages ago as they probed the sands to their hearts blind and carefree content?

He closed the distance to the oddity, positioning himself directly before the top of its case. The darkness within looked as impervious as a wall. With reluctant intrigue, he kicked himself a bit for not having thought by some instinct to bring a flashlight.

Perhaps even my instincts, he mused impartially, want no involvement with this thing either.

It wasn’t long before he noticed something else peculiar. With the ebb and flow of the water intermittently lapping higher regions of the shore, the tide would doubtless reach far past the lower limits of the hole, sending water down into the darkness. However, as he peered more closely at the walls, it was unnervingly obvious that they were completely dry.

That word came to him as before.

Strange.

Déjà vu once again settled firmly onto his mind, but receded just as quickly back into darkness, leaving nothing but a hollow inquiry that, too, faded soon after.

How many times before?

He turned away from the hole and began to move back toward the Way.

As he did so, an instinct exploded inside of him, like the payload of some ethereal slingshot. Through no exact resolve of his own (but perhaps through their own—meaning his instincts), he felt his intentions for the day shift completely.

And yet, a sentiment that he had made the decision for himself proclaimed itself queerly within his mind, as something else reassured him, before the fact, that it would be catastrophic not to do so.

So, somehow set in his decision, he ascended the path back to the Way and, without looking back, headed toward town.

* * * * *

As if knowing it wouldn’t be found out, the doorway began to fade back into indiscriminate sand once again, Ernest Chadwick centered in the iris of its implacable stare.

* * * *

When he finally took in 37 Crescent Street, he found it quite unremarkable. It looked tastelessly indistinguishable from any house he had ever seen before in his life. Every angle of view seemed to convey the same sense of average, unbiased familiarity. Although he hadn’t been entirely sure what to expect, he found himself reconsidering the promised reward, and even the true extent of inspiration and necessity it held for its owner.

Had the contents of the book really been so valuable to this Mr. Samuelson that he had preconceived staking a significant portion—if not all—of his hard-earned life savings to get it back?

Or was the truth much, much worse?

Was it, in fact, a key component of some nefarious enterprise, the reward merely a sly enticement to expedite its return should it ever be misplaced? Would its hospitable restoration thus amount only to the keeping of one’s tongue, through either participation or virtual extrication, as a "silent" partner? Would the only bond that left his doorstep that day be printed in blood?

His mind was beyond tired of the day’s discourse. It seemed like it had been going on forever. He felt like simply forsaking the enticing sum to the wispy clouds of brainstormed suggestions, considering the venture a good deed done, and leaving it at that. It completely absolved his tongue from potential damage, anyway.

But still, somewhere within him, he could feel a rising urge to know.

Perhaps he could knock on the door, return it to its host, take the reward—

Take the reward and just run; hoping that the man never sought him out for any reason; hoping that the mystery of the prospect would pass silently forth, out of his life forever.

Or, his mind reasoned for him, I could simply ask for a rudimentary taste of what was contained therein, and thus of the relic as a whole, and I could quash any eventual notion of inquisition entirely….

Without having to flee into the darkness of uncertainty.

It seemed he only had one choice.

* * *

As he closed the distance to the front door, haunted by a sense of some sort of impending surprise, one final realization did come to him.

It didn’t appear seemingly out of the blue, as the others had before. In fact, it was the final answer to a question that had formed in his mind as soon as he began taking in the property. He had hoped to find as many answers to that question as he could before that final, contemptible reveal came: that knocking on the door was absolutely necessary.

What came as no surprise was that the final answer was a dreadful one.

Mr. Samuelson didn’t have a mailbox. He saw now that the man didn’t even have a mail slot.

Even if he had, Ernest was quite sure—quite sure—that the little black book wouldn’t have fit them, anyway.

* *

So, set in his decision, he approached the door, took a deep breath, raised his hand to knock, and—

Was SLAMMED with the realization that he could just LEAVE THE BOOK ON THE DOORSTEP. It was as if his subconscious had shaken the shackles of its imprisonment and shoved the prized wisdom to the very top of his mental ladder.

A flood of relief flashed through him as the thought seemed to nullify the entirety of the day’s events to redundancy. It was as if a bridge had been dropped across the gap between yesterday and tomorrow and he was home free.

This was it! The answer he had been looking for.

All he had to do was place the book at his feet, turn around, and RUN. Run as fast as he could and never look back. That was ALL.

The answer was right in front of him this whole time. How had he not thought of this before?

Captivated by a sense of ultimate redemption, he knelt down and placed the book first in front of, and then to the right, of the door. For a moment he had been overtaken by an urge to place it down in the same manner that the Cove oddity had been erected, its short ends parallel with the shore.

The threshold, his mind suggested.

Yes. That was it.

He had done so, but the thought that Mr. Samuelson would trip over it had crossed his mind as well. He really didn't know anything about the man after all, good or bad.

And, besides: he was feeling quite generous, himself—quite generous.

So, set in his decision, he stood up straight, breathed a deep sigh of relief, regarded the closed door one last time, and turned to leave.

*

A rectangle of darkness stands fatefully before him.

Ernest Chadwick stands rooted to the spot, a pawn to puzzlement. He feels like a tree that had suddenly borne the most unlikely of fruits and contemplated a sly sacrifice to the passing breeze. It seems that all but his mind is motionless as questions ricochet back and forth in his head, amorphous pinballs dragging vapor trails in their wake.

In a manner of speaking, the bulk of his journey has come to a head.

* * * * * * * * * *

The $20,000.

It wasn’t a reward for returning the book.

It was a reward for disposing of the damnéd thing.

For casting it back into that curséd passageway, carved out of the unassuming shoreline.

fiction

About the author

Z-Man

\m/,

Hello all! I am an aspiring vocalist, filmmaker + writer. I hope you gain something personal + inspiring from my work here. You are also welcome to subscribe to my YouTube Channel: Ad-Libbing With The Zman.

Thank You!

Zach

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