The sky was on fire.
There was no denying that the sunsets from the dock of her home on Krawk Island were beautiful. Tonight’s display was a mix of pastel oranges and vibrant pinks – a view that could not be captured in a picture. A view that could take someone’s breath away.
A view that Elaine had seen every day of her sixteen years of life.
She focused her attention back toward water. It was relatively calm tonight, and she could glimpse a few ships off in the distance. As always, though, her attention soon returned to the island across the sea. The island that everyone called Mystery Island. The island that seemed so close to her – and yet, at the same time – so far away.
Her parents had never gone beyond Krawk Island. How could they not be curious? Elaine wondered. The volcano that loomed in the distance was both terrifying and exciting. She had heard tales about Mystery Island from her teachers and the older natives of Krawk Island, but its name seemed to ring true – much of the island was a complete mystery to her.
Elaine sat on the edge of the dock until the sun dipped below the horizon and darkness began to greet her. Sighing, she swung her legs up onto the dock and stood up. She glanced briefly at her father’s sailboat tied to the dock, watching it rock softly on the small waves. She recalled how her father used to take her on brief cruises along the shallows when she was younger, how he had taught her the very basics of sailing; nowadays, though, her father rarely used the vessel.
Stretching slightly, Elaine began trudging back to her home on the shore.
She had no complaints of her humble home; she had had a great life there so far. As her tiny log house came into few, she slowed her pace to take in the sight of it. To look at it. To take it all in. To remember it.
To remember the time she had slipped down the wooden steps of the abode as a child during a particularly wet and rainy day, and laughed off the entire incident.
To remember the time she had spent with her mother in front of the fiery oven, learning to bake her timeless recipes that had been passed down mother-to-daughter for years.
To remember the time her father had taught her how to build a fire – a proper fire – in the allocated area in the backyard; how to gather kindling, stack the logs, strike the flint.
She smiled at the thought of all of these memories, but the emptiness inside of her did not fade.
And at that moment, she made a decision.
Elaine drank in a last look at her house, and made her way inside.
Her mother was stirring a meal – presumably a stew – in a large pot on the stove. The aromas emitted from the pot momentarily ensnared her senses; however, while Elaine normally cherished the nights her mother cooked her noteworthy stews, tonight she had no appetite.
"Hey there, Elaine. How was the sunset tonight?" her mother asked upon Elaine’s entrance to the kitchen. Her mother was known in the area to be one of the kindest Krawks around – and she was all that Elaine hoped to be as an adult. Many people joked that Elaine and her mother looked less like mother and daughter and more like sisters – both the same shade of green, both the same height, both with the same emerald-colored eyes. Her mother certainly got a kick out of those compliments.
"Hi, Mother. It was beautiful, as always" Elaine replied, attempting a casual tone. She continued with her plan that she seemed to be formulating just before she spoke. "I’m going to sleep over at Lysa’s house tonight. Could I bring some snacks?" Lysa was her best friend; they had been inseparable since they were three years old. She supposed a separation was about to happen, though. Elaine truly wished she could warn Lysa beforehand, but too much of the night would be lost.
"Of course," agreed her mother. "Will you be eating dinner here, though? I’ve made your favorite stew. Some of these ingredients were imported today, and the seafood is fresh."
Feeling slightly guilty, Elaine answered, "No, the snacks will be enough. I’m sure Father will be more than happy to eat my portion, though."
"That he will," her mother chuckled. She stopped stirring the pot, added a sprinkle of what appeared to be a brown spice, and proceeded to the refrigerator to wrap up two Famous Krawk Pies and two Forbidden Plunders; the local Krawk Island food was delicious, thanks to the presence of the Golden Dubloon restaurant nearby. Her mother handed the bag of food over to Elaine. "So, I will see you tomorrow, huh?"
Elaine hesitated. She hoped the pause was not obvious. Quickly, she replied, "Mhm…oh, but before I leave, where’s Father?"
"He’s working late at the import dock again." Her mother sighed. "That’s the third time this week he has had to work late. He should be home soon, but I can let him know you asked for him."
"No, that’s okay, I was just wondering. I didn’t need anything in particular…" But to be truthful, Elaine was upset. It seemed that more and more recently her father had been going to work earlier and coming back later. Every time he came home, he tried his hardest to put on a smile, but both she and her mother could see his exhaustion behind his tired eyes.
Even so, Elaine hadn’t expected her father not to be home from work on time again this week. But she had made her decision. "Well, I’m headed off. See you soon, Mother." Elaine gave her mom a hug, and headed to the door. However, on the way out, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted her glass jar of dubloons on the kitchen counter that she had been saving for years. She quickly grabbed it and continued outside.
It was now or never. This was her opportunity.
Elaine began to make her way back down to the dock. Moonlight lit her path. This time, she did not gaze up at her home. She did not want the flood of memories to resurface, to make her second guess this choice.
Upon reaching the dock, she looked down at the boat. For the first time, she realized how small it was. But she would not let this detail deter her now.
First, she dumped the glass jar of dubloons into a pocket of the bag that her mother had given to her. It wasn’t much, but it was more than nothing. She left the jar on the dock.
Suddenly, Elaine had a quick idea. She searched in her pockets for a scrap of paper, finding a small piece. Then, she walked over to the fire area and scavenged for a small amount of charcoal. Procuring a tiny, rigid piece, Elaine used it to write out a brief message: "I went to solve a mystery. Don’t worry about me – I will be fine. Love, Elaine."
She walked the message back to the dock, slipped it into the glass jar, and screwed the lid back on top. She left the jar out in the middle of the dock. Her father would see it.
Next, she lightly placed the bag of food and dubloons into the boat. Finally, she stepped inside herself.
After getting situated, Elaine unwrapped the rope from a barnacle-encrusted post of the dock. Locating the paddle, she took it in hand and dipped it into the green, salty water. Pulling the paddle back, it sliced through the water gracefully, propelling the small sailboat forward on its way.
Attempting to recall her limited knowledge of sailing, she put down the oar and took the proper ropes of the sails in hand, directing the boat for a straight path towards Mystery Island, and sat back down in the boat’s seat.
Elaine tried to observe the reality of her situation.
She looked up at the sky; stars were beginning to peek out as it darkened, and the moon was full, looking back at her.
She gazed behind her shoulder; she looked back at her home, pushing the guilt she felt inside out of her thoughts.
She returned to face forward; she could just make out the outline of Mystery Island, its volcano standing tall in the twilight. It’s now or never, she repeated to herself once again. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, feeling the gentle breeze of the night caress her cheek.
She was going to Mystery Island.
The journey felt longer than she had anticipated.
Luckily, it was a calm trek out at sea. At night, the stars kept her company, twinkling and forming patterns in the night sky. Although her father had pointed out a few significant constellations to her, she was not familiar with star-directed navigation; and it was not until she was surrounded by nothing but water and an unobstructed view of sky that she truly realized how many there really were.
Eventually, the sun rose around her, awakening the world. The sky lit up, shining brightly onto the surface of the water. At first, her view was so vibrant that she found herself shielding her eyes, but she adjusted quickly, embracing the warmness of the day.
Every so often, Elaine would get up and adjust the direction of the boat, pulling the ropes as her father had taught her. She was surprised at how much she recalled.
Sometimes, it did not seem like the distance between the Island and her boat was shrinking at all. "Patience," she whispered, reassuring herself that she was inching forever closer.
Both the Krawk Pies and Forbidden Plunders were eaten by the end of that long day. As she took the final bites of the Pie, she watched as the sun began to creep toward the horizon.
Sunset – her favorite time of day – had come.
The sky was a conglomeration of light and dark pinks and purples, an uncommon color scheme for a sunset.
Elaine took it as a sign.
When the sun had disappeared and the stars began to peek out, Elaine sat back in her seat, as the boat rocked over the small waves. Even though the world was dark, she could still make out the outline of the volcano.
Mystery Island stood only a few more hours away.
And it was time to unravel its secrets.
To be continued…