Where The Lost Things Go
By J.L. Thurston
The circumstances involving those who wash ashore on Lost and Found Island are always mysterious and are never solved. I, for one, went to bed one night on a completely routine Wednesday and woke up sunburnt and salty on the sandy east shore of the island. I was found not long after by the other lost humans who inhabit the mysterious place. They came to the shore with goat-pulled trolley carts and filled them with the random debris that washed ashore. They collected the debris and took it, and me, to their village that was nestled in a grassy clearing. When the shock wore off, I spoke with them and learned that everything that gets lost in the world comes here to Lost and Found Island. This includes people.
I was, quite understandably, sure it was all a vivid dream.
If I could boast that I’d seen every tropical island in all the world, I know none would compare to the supreme beauty of the paradise in which I’d washed ashore. The island had a spine of rocky mountains, clearings of soft grass, burbling rivers of clear water, waterfalls, and a jungle of tropical plants. There were no predators and hardly any bugs, thanks to a large bird population. I couldn’t help but feel moments of paranoia that a camera crew would suddenly burst forward and announce it was an elaborate prank. It was too perfect.
I made a friend, Kris, a man about my age, who said very little but hovered around me like a big brother. He was tall, largely featured, and had a face reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster in the way that it was almost perfectly square and much larger than expected. We spent much of our time exploring the thousands of majesties that could be found on the island. We shared coconut milk by the rocks and watched the lion seals sunbathe. In the sun-sparkled sea, dolphins could be seen almost daily. We swam in warm lakes while the sun set, watching waterfalls turn into liquid gold. Kris would share dried pork with me as we lay on our backs in the soft grass and listened to the songs of the tropical birds.
The people of the island never felt want, and soon I was the same. At first, the living arrangements seemed meager, austere, down-right third world. But a group of us set to work on building my own shanty. Surprisingly, it did not take long, and I had a little island home that was far lovelier than anything I’d ever lived in. No, there was no plumbing, no electricity, but the breeze that blew from the ocean kept us cool, and there was plenty of fresh water all around. I needed no entertainment besides the view of the mountains or the shore, and the company of my new friends.
We feasted daily at a large community table where we all ate together. Plates of roasted pork and chicken, steamed clams, boiled crab, oysters, fish, sweet seeds, dried coconut, cheese, and fresh-baked honey bread were just a daily regularity for our evening feasts. Occasionally, a crate of liquor would wash ashore and the bottles were kept underground in a cool cellar, awaiting our nightly bonfires where we would feel buzzing in our heads that had very little to do with alcohol.
One day I asked Kris if he ever missed a single thing about the world.
I thought he hadn’t heard me, as I often think when I speak to him because he rarely chooses to speak. But he gave me a sideways smile and said, “Ice cream.”
I threw my head back and laughed for a long time.
There was one rule of the island; never go inside the Cave. Though the island had a good handful of caves, this one was avoided as though some kind of deranged beast lived inside. The Cave mouth rested in a shallow lagoon that no one could draw too near without viewing warning signs of red x’s and skulls. I asked what was wrong with the Cave, but no one could answer. They just knew, from generations of those who had come before them in this place, that one should never enter the Cave.
In the months following the completion of my shanty, I had an abundance of time for my thoughts to wander. A majority of my thinking was on the Cave. Visions of it invaded my dreams. I grew restless. My mind was obsessing over the rule. I stole away from the others on more than one occasion to peer into the opening. I went at night and shone a torch near the entrance, hoping to see a little inside. Kris found me, that night, and gave me such a look of fear and sadness that I stayed away for nearly a year.
But I was drawn back again. I have always been over-curious, and though it was a trait I had learned to regret on more than one occasion, it was something I could never successfully suppress. It was beyond reason, in my mind, to blindly accept a rule without explanation.
I decided to go inside. When stepping in, I half expected the walls to close on me like some fool’s trap. I expected snakes to rush out, bats to swarm, the watery floor to fall out into a gaping pit. Something. But nothing happened. I traveled the Cave, holding a torch, breathing cold and damp air. My splashing footsteps echoed pleasantly on the walls. It was all so regular. Beautiful, as most caves are, but very ordinary. Dripping could be heard in the distance. I squeezed myself through a tight hole and suddenly I was falling!
I plummeted a short distance onto a carpeted floor. My torch was lost and I could not see. I reached my arms out blindly and smacked them into a strange object. Fumbling in total darkness, I felt a table. And a lamp. The switch flicked on and I cowered on the floor, stunned.
I was home. Not my shanty on the island, but the place I called home in my living hell of real life. The clock read midnight, my cell phone told me it was still Wednesday. From the look of my disheveled bed, I had rolled right out of it and fallen onto the floor. But… I had over a year’s worth of memories of Lost and Found Island. It was impossible that I would dream so much and in such great detail. I still wore the tattered clothes, my skin was tanned and still sweating from the tropic heat. I still had sand on my feet for God’s sake!
But nothing in my apartment had changed. Barely any time had passed by the evidence of the objects all around me.
After a few hours of pacing, pondering, and downright panicking, my alarm began to bleat. I stared in utter confusion. It was time to get ready for work. Time to shower, dress, and catch the bus.
With a great heaviness, I continued my life. I was like an automaton. I carried out my life like a tired ritual. Work, store, chores, sleep, repeat. The only active part of my brain was the part trying to figure out what had happened. I knew the answer, in my heart of hearts, but I could not admit it to myself.
Then, one day, I was passing through the crowded sidewalk, and I glimpsed a very familiar face. He stood tall above those around him, his square features were bored and tired. Though his tan was gone and he wore a business suit, I recognized Kris instantly.
“Kris!” I exclaimed, racing to him with a hammering heart, my joy at seeing a piece of my paradise returned to me outshone the reality of the situation.
Kris gave me a startled look that very quickly turned to malice. I froze in my rejoicing and he shoved me. Hard. I stumbled backward and fell through passersby who made no move to catch me and hurried on their way. I hit the sidewalk hard and watched in stunned silence as my best friend stormed away, scowling.
I never saw him again. But I know what happened. After that day, I could not pretend to be a victim of unknown forces anymore. I had broken the rule. I went into the Cave, the portal back to the real world. I left heaven for hell. We weren’t lost on that island, the way we are lost in our lives. But it still wasn’t enough for me.
In this world, we mill about, forced to do our daily dance and pretend we like it. But not on the island. I let my stupidity, my inability to be satisfied, ruin my chance at a perfect life. And Kris, worried for me, had gone into the Cave to find me. To help me, if I had need of it. And he, too, lost his paradise.