Smeern island

by BRK

It’s a strange island, but the other side of the hills is even stranger.

Added: 27 Dec 2010 1,842 words 13,841 views 4.0 stars (2 votes)

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On Smeern Island we have a saying: You don’t eat the heart of a knucklefin fish, and you don’t go in the caves on Darkfern Mount. Not unless you’ve sworn your will and said goodbye to your loved ones, because either way you’ll never be seen again.

Of course, since I come from a family of stubborn idiots, sayings like that are merely prompts for us to say, “Haha, says you,” and proceed to do exactly what a dozen generations of Smeernites have known better than to even think about. And since my moron of a crazy uncle had already eaten knucklefin heart (rest in peace, Uncle Rup), in restrospect I guess I was stuck with the caves.

Actually, to be honest, it was even stupider than that. It was a dare.

Our little village lies on the temperate southern shores of Smeern, near the only port. On a clear day, from the portside lookout tower, you can see Granite Island, with the waves smashing madly against it. And it’s said that from there you can see, maybe, just barely, the nearest island to Smeern, a flyspeck sandpile at the end of our long archipelago where lives, depending on who you talk to, either six hundred bad-tempered gulls with poor hygiene, or one bad-tempered dragon. With poor hygiene.

Not that anyone has ever seen it. But when there’s nothing else to talk about on an island full of sheep, barrel-shaped women, and toads so raucous they sound like the belching of a hundred drunk warriors, you talk about anything at all. Even nonexistent dragons.

“I heard it’s a hundred feet long,” Lop was saying one night to the rest of us, softly because we were supposed to be sleeping and not hanging out in Lopp’s barn smoking bacta-leaf, with only a few shafts of moonlight through the slats of the barn to keep us company.

“Get real,” said Hub. Hub was the biggest of us, by almost any measurement, including appetite. Especially appetite. And skepticism. “Dragons can’t be any bigger than two oxen lengths.”

I sighed. “According to whom, exactly?” I said. I’d been staring at Lop’s bare chest and bulging shoulders, a recent fixation I attributed to the effects of the bacta-leaf. In fact I was still staring at them as I argued, pointlessly, with Hub. A soft strip of moonlight fell across Lop’s thick left shoulder and his great round boulder of a left pec, its mate just discernable in the darkness.

Lop glanced up and his bright, slate gray eyes seemed to stand out in the moonlight. He held my gaze. I couldn’t look away.

Hub answered my question around great puffs from his bacta pipe, unaware of the crackling tension suddenly erupting between his friends. “My dad,” he said. “He says nothing in these islands is bigger than two oxen lengths.” He took a long, satisfied drag. “That’s gotta include dragons, eh?”

“I know one thing that’s bigger,” Lop said with a crooked smile.

“What’s that?” Hub said lazily.

“Kud’s boner.”

For the record, my erection is not bigger than two oxen lengths. Or even one.

Hub looked sharply at me, suddenly alert. “Fuck, really? Kud?” But he could see I was still locked helplessly in a staredown with Lop. Hub looked at me amazed, then at Lop. He whistled, appreciating the significance of the moment.

My heart sank.

See, here’s the thing. In our village the whole guy-loves-guy thing tends to crop up once in a generation, which sucks, because you kind of want it to crop up twice in a generation, you know? I’d suspected for years that I was the dudelover in my age group, but I hadn’t been in any hurry to spill the beans to my peers, because of our little tradition.

The basic idea is, we Smeerns, we’re really considerate. We want the dudelover in each generation to have a happy life, so we let him choose the guy he wants to spend his life with. So the lucky straight boy is given a three-week course of twice-daily infusions of prugg root, which invariably turns you into a dudelover yourself.

Pretty drastic, right? Which is why the natural-born dudelover has to prove himself worthy. He has to undergo some kind of test, set for him by the man he’s chosen.

Lop now controlled my life.

“It’s his fault,” I sputtered. “If he’d wear a shirt just, I dunno, once in a while—”

“Why should I hide this?” Lop laughed, gesturing to the hard, thick muscles of his torso and his impossibly tight abdominal muscles.

Suddenly I had a flash of insight. He’d known! He’d been trying to trap me, using his own gorgeous body for bait. And it worked! I was lovestruck. And normally Lop’s the nicest guy on Smeern, but every once in a while he can be a real prick.

Like now, for instance.

Hub was looking back and forth from Lop to me and back, engrossed by the drama. “What are you going to make him do?” he asked Lop.

“C’mon, like I’d even choose Lop,” I said unconvincingly.

Lop got up and walked toward me. “I mean,” I stammered, “he’s gorgeous, yeah, and a great hunter, and tall, and considerate, and all,” I went on yammering, as Lop stood before me. “But—” I went on mindlessly, and Lop bent and lifted me to a standing position, so we were face to face. “And he—” And he moved in and kissed me, hard, and deep, and impossibly sweet. That kiss, the first real kiss of my life, was like a dream, a shuddering bolt of joy from Uris, the god of sex.

Our lips parted. “That was nice,” Lop said very, very softly. He sounded just slightly surprised. “Kiss me like that, and I might not need the prugg root.”

We were deep into each other’s eyes again. The moonlight seemed bright on his beautiful face. “I’ll kiss you like that for the rest of my life,” I breathed. I was bone hard. My hands were on his bare shoulders. I don’t even know how they got there.

A smile flickered on Lop’s lips. “If you pass the test,” he said, still just barely audible.

My stomach twisted suddenly, but knowing I was in Lop’s hands was weirdly comforting. “I will.” You can count on it.

“I want you to bring me a red quartz stone,” he whispered.

I stepped away from him involuntarily. Red quartz was found on Smeern in only one place: the caves of Darkfern Mount, deep into the uninhabited northern forests of the island.

He seized my hands. “It’ll be okay,” he said urgently. “Trust me.”

Hub was staring at Lop in horror. “But no one comes back from those caves!” he said, amazed and a little angry.

“Kud will,” Lop said, keeping his eyes on me. He looked at me intently, as if willing me to believe him. And, somehow, I did. I nodded. He squeezed my hands in his.

“Go tomorrow. I’ll be waiting for you to return.” And then, I don’t know how much time had passed, but I was alone with the moonlight, staring at nothing, knowing that I would have gone to Darkfern even without his promise, just in the hope I’d make it back and see him again. Even if I never came back, that kiss was probably the best moment of my life anyway.

I wondered if I’d feel as confident with the bacta wore off.

I decided not to wait until morning. I snuck back to my house and climbed into my room from the window, listening anxiously to the rasping snores of my parents and five brothers as I gathered up a change of clothes, my long knife, and—padding into the pantry—some bread, cured meat, and dried fruit, enough to last me a few days. After that I’d have to fend for myself.

I climbed back out my window and slipped silently through the moonlit village, watched (unknown to myself) by a pair of slate gray eyes. I vanished into the inky blackness of the forest and was gone.

The first stage of my voyage was easy enough, since the deeply forested valleys north of the village were our regular hunting grounds. I even snared a coney the second night and roasted him, saving my remaining provisions for later in the journey.

But as I walked, and especially as I rested for the night and gazed up at the stars, my thoughts kept turning to Lop, and I drifted as I kept walking northward into this soft, luxurious state of constant arousal. As the dappled sunlight played on the forest leaves on the countless trees I passed, I felt his breath on my neck, his warm hands on my shoulders. My tool—not two oxen length, as I said, but ample enough, especially now, it seemed—throbbed stiff in my buckskin trousers, and as it rubbed against the soft leather I imagined Lop’s lips, the lips I’d enjoyed once so deeply and so briefly, sliding along it, around it, exploring it, taking it.

I stopped. I was so deep in my reverie that night had fallen and I had no idea where I was.

The land had been rising and the trees thinning, becoming both fewer and skinnier. I was standing on a small rise, and I could barely see my feet, much less the landscape beyond where I stood. This seemed strange somehow and then suddenly I realized what was wrong with a gasp.

“There’s no moon,” I breathed.

I stared up at the sky. The stars were there, cold and mute, and it was the right hour for there to be a moon, I was sure. My mind raced. The moon had been bright even at a quarter full that night in the barn. I wondered wildly if I’d lost track of time, if I’d walked for weeks until the moon was new. That seemed as plausible as a corner of the island where the moon was not.

As I stood there, perplexed, a hand rested on my shoulder—a very large hand. I wheeled around, and looked up at the barely perceivable stranger hidden in the dark—and up—and up, finally discerning his head a body’s height above mine.

The shadowy figure spoke, its deep voice coursing pleasingly through every part of my body. But it was what the voice spoke that held my attention.

“Welcome, brother,” it said.

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