Mumbo Jumbo Island
Emerson Aldous woke up in a daze. He was on his back, laying in the swash of a sandy, tropical beach. Thin sheets of salt water were lapping all around his body. The last thing he could remember was being at the helm of his sailing yacht in the South Pacific and a horrible squall coming in and capsizing his boat. He sat up. His long silver hair was matted and caked with muddy, white carbonate sand, which had also plugged his left ear. He scooped the sand out with his finger.
He supposed it was nothing short of a miracle that he’d survived at all. Even though he had such a massive headache that he almost wished he hadn’t. He scanned his surroundings. The ocean water was calm, crystal clear and cerulean—a color that was also reflected in the sky, which was painted with cirrus clouds that looked like wisps of white cotton. Something caught the corner of his eye. It was a crimson crab the size of a bowler hat. It had its claws raised in the air and was doing its own version of the flamenco. He noticed there were other red specks along the shoreline also making similar movements.
Thank goodness I’m not allergic to crab, Emerson thought.
He then looked inland to see a jungle. It was dense and looked completely impenetrable. He squinted at it. There was something about it that had struck him as rather … evil. He felt anxiety start to well in his chest. It was becoming so severe that he had to look away from it. He then looked back to the ocean—a much nicer view.
As Emerson poked around his immediate surroundings, he found a cache of jet-black pebbles that he could use to spell out the word “HELP” in the white sands.
He then set out to adventure. He walked along the shoreline through the cool swash. His footprints faded away behind him in seconds as new waves of water continued to swell in and out. He scanned the coastline for anything at all that seemed worth investigating. It didn’t take him long to make a startling discovery. When he crossed over an earth embankment of palm trees and shrubs, he saw a man. It was then Emerson knew he wasn’t alone on this island.
The man was squatting on the beach about 50 yards away, shirtless, wearing nothing but a pair of tan shorts. He appeared to be furiously working on something with rope and a hunting knife. Perhaps it was some kind of fishing net.
“Hey!” Emerson called out to him.
The man startled and looked over his shoulder and yelled back: “Hey!”
The man had long sandy-colored hair, an unkempt beard, and piercing blue eyes. Emerson felt his heart beat out of his chest as he briskly approached. He was never more happy to see a stranger in his life. But then as Emerson got closer, something was striking him as rather odd. That is, the man didn’t seem especially surprised to see another human being. Rather, he had his head tilted in a seemingly bemused manner.
“Oh, hi,” the man said. He spoke with a crisp British accent. “You’re new. Shipwreck?”
“Uh yeah, shipwreck,” Emerson said.
Emerson then tilted his head and winced.
Did this man just say You’re new? he thought to himself.
“I wrecked a little over four years ago,” the stranger continued. He then held out a grimy hand, and Emerson accepted the shake. “Cecil Blessing’s the name.”
“Ah, Emerson…,” Cecil said. He then gave a little smirk.
He pointed his hunting knife to the center of Emerson’s chest and said: “Emerson.” He pointed it to the ocean and said: “Lake.” He then pointed it to the bank of palm trees behind Emerson’s head and said: “Palmer.”
“Ah, sorry,” Cecil said. “I guess this is what happens when you’ve been stranded on a desert island for years. Your social skills kind of go by the wayside. ...Besides which, that isn’t a lake. It’s the ocean.”
Cecil then squinted thoughtfully and said “Do you think it’s a desert island or a deserted island? You don’t happen to have a smartphone on you, do you? I’ve been itching for years to get on Google to look that up.”
“Um... if I had a smartphone that could access—“
“Ah, right,” Cecil interrupted, giving a wide grin. He was missing a tooth. “You’d probably call the Coast Guard or your friends and family and tell them you’re OK, or something. Good point.”
Emerson opened his mouth to speak but Cecil interrupted again.
“Whereabouts did you come from?”
“Ah, from Rhode Island to a real island. But that isn’t what I meant. Whereabouts on this island did you come from?”
“Oh.” Emerson pointed in back of him with his thumb. “Just over that embankment.”
“I would have thought so. You’re lucky to have snagged the spot,” he said. “That’s one of the nicer parts of the island. Nigel had just gotten rescued from there a month ago. I was thinking of snagging it for myself after he left, but I just couldn’t be bothered to move my stuff.”
Emerson blinked once and joggled his head, as though to shake himself awake.
“Did you say someone got rescued?”
“Yeah,” Cecil replied. He clicked his tongue and then gazed wistfully into the distance. “Lucky guy. An airplane spotted him. Called over a black helicopter.”
At that point, there were so many questions piling up in Emerson’s brain that it was becoming overwhelming. Why wouldn’t the helicopter have also rescued Cecil?
“Are you here by choice, by any chance?” Emerson asked.
Cecil scoffed and said: “I’m not that much of a social pariah, am I?”
“Um, no…,” Emerson replied, then taking a more cautious tone. “But if Nigel was rescued, why wouldn’t you have also been rescued?”
“Ah,” Cecil said, then closing his eyes and nodding. “They rescued Nigel because the helicopter was responding to a black HELP sign. My HELP sign is purple.” Cecil turned around and pointed with his knife. There indeed were the letters HELP arranged out in purple pebbles.
Emerson narrowed his eyes even further.
“But… if a helicopter comes to rescue one castaway, why wouldn’t they also rescue another?”
Cecil lowered his head and smirked, which conveyed a sense of condescension. He put a hand on Emerson’s shoulder.
“You’d have to ask them that, my man,” he said.
“But if a—“
“On second thought,” Cecil interrupted, then looking off into the distance again. “Maybe I should have taken your spot on the beach. I’ve been suspicious for a while that my purple letters might seem black from high up in the air. But at least I don’t have beige pebbles like dear old Dave on the other side of the island. It’ll be ages before he gets rescued. If at all.”
“Wait,” Emerson said. “There are other people on this island?”
“Oh yeah. Dave, Samantha, John, Nigel—“ Cecil’s eyes then suddenly flared as he snapped his fingers, “—not Nigel anymore. You. Frances, Danielle, Xavier, myself.”
“But why is everybody trying to get rescued separately?” Emerson said. “Why doesn’t everybody pool their resources?”
Cecil resumed that look of condescension.
“You’re beginning to talk like Harold used to,” he said. “And do you know what happened to Harold?” He brought the point of his knife inches in front of Emerson's neck and traced a line across it.
Emerson winced and asked: “Is there somebody in charge here?”
“Another excellent question, my man,” he replied, “and I don’t know the answer to that. All I can say is probably.”
“Indeed,” Cecil continued. “It certainly seems like someone's in charge, doesn’t it? But I don’t dwell on it much, to be honest. I have other things to be getting on with.”
Then a sudden look of disinterest manifested on Cecil’s face. He raised his eyebrows and exhaled. “Speaking of getting on with things, I hate to chat and run…”
He started to turn back to attend to his fishing net before he stopped himself and added: “And you should be getting on with things, as well. I’d recommend making your HELP sign.”
“I’ve already done that.”
Cecil then crossed his arms and gave Emerson an impressed nod. “Look at you, getting all ahead of the game.”
He slapped Emerson’s shoulder before turning around to resume attending to his fishing net.
As Cecil seemed to have no interest in further discourse, Emerson headed back to what was apparently his beach. After he was nearly out of earshot, Cecil called out: “By the way, I wouldn’t go too far into that jungle, if I were you.”
“Why?” Emerson yelled back.
“It messes with you!”
“I don’t remember!”
“I said I don’t remember!”
Emerson retreated back to his corner of the beach. However, instead of just remaining there, he kept going. He estimated the island was about five miles in circumference. Quite small. Just as Cecil said, there were eight total castaways on the beach, and they were all just as flighty as Cecil was. Each had their own color of pebbles that spelled out the word HELP in large letters. They also had the same ominous message for him about avoiding the jungle at the center of the island. The other peculiar detail: They were all missing one or more of their teeth.
Emerson feasted that evening on crab and coconut. However, instead of gazing out into the ocean, taking in that enchanting sunset, he looked into the jungle. He could not see anything farther inside of it than a couple of feet. He could feel anxiety well in his chest if he looked at it for too long. However, he found the more he practiced at it, the more that he could tolerate it. Despite the warnings issued by his fellow castaways, Emerson was determined that he would venture in there the next day.
As the sun went down, and the light from the campfire started to glow orange off the flora of the jungle, Emerson could swear he would blink sometimes and see faces hidden within in the leaves with eyes that glowed orange. He would blink again, and then they would disappear. It was then that Emerson realized he was feeling something he’d rarely felt before: Fear.
Exactly as planned, Emerson step foot past the palm trees, pushing himself through a dense wall of bushy ferns and tropical flowers into the forest. He had expected to struggle, but he ended up finding it surprisingly easy, like walking through a beaded curtain. As soon as he made it through, he was awe-inspired about what he saw.
The place looked like a Byzantine cathedral. The wooden trees were like columns, and the yellow rays of sun fighting through the green rainforest canopy rendered it like a painted dome ceiling. The forest floor was surprisingly clear of obstruction—perhaps a loose leaf here or there or a clump of red or yellow flowers. The air was thick, humid, and heavily scented with flowers—really too scented—like sticking your nose into a jar of potpourri.
Then suddenly something hit him squarely between the eyes. It was a rock. He immediately put a palm to his forehead and rubbed it. It had nearly knocked him out. He looked to see where it had come from, and…
There it was. A baboon. It had a thick brown pelt, a deeply furrowed brow, and orange glowing eyes. Then he heard something rustle to the left of him. He shot a glare to see another baboon. Then rustles erupted all around him. More baboons. Dozens of them. And they all had rocks. Just like that, Emerson was being pelted from every which way with flying projectiles. Baboons were coming from all directions and closing in quickly. Emerson ducked and covered his head.
Then, he lost consciousness.
Emerson woke up on the beach in the same place and position he’d awaken the day before. He scooped white carbonate sand out of his left ear. He thought briefly about what had just transpired in that jungle, but he had only a hazy recollection of it. Like it had been a dream. Was it a dream? He scraped his tongue across the front of his teeth and quickly realized one of them was missing. It was an incisor. He thought back to the jungle and realized that he was already forgetting details about it: What it had looked like, what it had smelled like. As more seconds went by, it seemed like he was forgetting even more details. He was even starting to doubt that the creatures that attacked him were baboons. Maybe he wasn’t even attacked at all.
Mind overflowing with questions, Emerson decided to pay Cecil another visit. He crossed the earth embankment to find him in much the same position as the day before—squatting and furiously working on a fishing net with a hunting knife.
Cecil startled and looked over his shoulder and said “You’ve returned."
Emerson had opened his mouth to ask a question, but Cecil spoke first: “Well, I see you didn’t listen to me.”
“What?” Emerson replied.
“Your…” Cecil pointed to one of his own missing teeth. “You went into the jungle. Like I’d specifically warned you against doing.”
Emerson’s mouth then went agape. He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes and asked the most fundamental question of them all: “What the heck is this place?”
Cecil gave a tiny chortle. “I’ve heard people call it different names, usually rather vulgar ones. I like to call it Mumbo Jumbo Island.”
Just then, Emerson heard something in the distance. It was coming from the sky. It sounded like a…
Then he saw it. It was a beige helicopter.
“Well wouldn’t you know,” Cecil said, beaming. “Looks like ol’ Dave’s going to get out of here, after all.”
Emerson took a few frantic steps towards it and fanned his arms out, waving them around wildly. “Hey! Down here!” He then started to jump, as if doing that would somehow make his arm movements more noticeable.
Cecil shook his head contemptibly said: “That isn’t going to do any good, you know. That is a beige helicopter. Beige helicopters only rescue castaways with beige pebbles that spell out the word HELP.”
“What?” Emerson was then breathing heavily. “I don’t understand why that matters.”
Cecil shrugged. “I don’t either, to be honest. It’s just the way it is.”
The helicopter was quickly coming in for a landing on the other side of the island. It seemed like less than a mile away. Emerson began to panic. He widened his eyes and pressed his hands to his head. He was hyperventilating. He needed to get to the helicopter and fast.
Cecil knew exactly what Emerson was thinking, and said “Again, I wouldn’t—“ but Emerson had already dashed off, headed directly for the woods.
Cecil exhaled, fluttering his lips.
When Emerson entered the woods, he felt an overwhelming sense of deja vu as the lost memories of the place gushed back to him. The sense was so profound that he'd nearly passed out. However, he kept on running.
It was then he'd suddenly remembered the place was populated with rock-wielding baboons. It wasn’t long before he sensed one zipping past an ear. Quickly, more rocks started to flail at him from every direction. Then in front of him, an orange-eyed baboon jumped in his way. Emerson tried to change his path to avoid it, but there was only another baboon there, ready for him.
A rock then hit him on the back of his head, and he fell to the ground. He lost consciousness.
Emerson woke up, back on the beach. He scooped the white carbonate sand that had plugged his ear. Once again, his memory of what had just transpired in the jungle were quickly escaping him, like sand sifting out of his hand. He felt around his mouth with his tongue and discovered that he was missing yet another tooth. Emerson startled when he heard a voice call out behind him. He sat up.
It was woman Emerson didn't recognize. Perhaps she was the one who took Dave’s place. She had long, brown curly hair and a look of intense worry and confusion etched on her face.
“Oh hi,” Emerson said. “You’re new.”
Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.