The boat jolts with the soft sound of wood scraping sand. I open my eyes and sit up from the boat. I’m here. I take a tentative step out of the canoe, eyes wide and irises dancing.
This is not where I’m supposed to be.
The once blue skies have turned orange with a storm like Jupiter. The sandy tan shore has withered, leaving ashen gray in its wake. The trees are dead and lifeless, with no more colorful leaves decorating their branches. And when I look back, the clear waters have clouded with mud and algae.
This is not the Isle of Reverie.
A coldness envelopes me, and my vision spins on a slanted axis. I don’t know where I am. I do not recognize this place, though it feels all too familiar. I frantically turn about, calling out for any soul who might be here.
My boat is now gone, and I hope it will return in three days' time, as it always does. I wonder if my boat will really come back for me. It abandoned me in this strange, tainted land. Maybe it would rather not return.
But now, I have nowhere else to go. I cannot stand here, frozen until I am saved. So, with one last glance at the water, I walk along the shore. The sand sifts through my sandals, catching underneath my feet. I yelp as the specks cut my heel. The sand is sharp like glass.
I nurse my injured foot, wiping away the blood-covered grains, hoping it hasn’t dug its way into my flesh. I retreat to the safety of the forest, where it is easier to tread.
The lifeless trees paint my heart blue. I run my hands along the ridges of their trunks, thinking of the trees of my own island. I wonder why my boat has brought me here. It must have been a mistake, I am sure.
A foreign noise startles me from my thoughts. I snap around, glancing warily around the thick forest. Only silence follows, but I do not let my guard down. After long moments of stillness, I convince myself I must be hearing things. I continue on, caution embedded in each footprint.
Only when I hear a distant chuckle do I freeze, one foot suspended above the earth. I don’t dare move a muscle or release a breath. Not when this bone-chilling resonance keeps getting louder.
A soft wind passes my ear—an exhale—and the laughter is silenced. My skin prickles and shutters, but I remain still.
A blurry figure comes into focus from the shadows of the trees. Still frozen, I take in its appearance as it approaches.
The figure is not a gruesome sight, no. I would call him beautiful if anything—such a strange thing, for someone to look beautiful in lands as ugly as these.
Sharp, angular features construct his face, with deep crimson irises adorning pale skin. His long black hair flows elegantly through the air, even though the sky is still and quiet. There’s an elegance about the man that seems… alluring.
And it terrifies me.
He walks with dignity, emerging from the shadows with amusement tugging at the corners of his mouth. The edges of his clothing waver and twist like smoke with each step he takes. Like an illusion, his image seems to flicker if I stare too long.
I lift my chin once he comes close enough to see the small gesture. I feign confidence, though my knees feel weak and my vision swims. He can not see how petrified I have become, how lost I am.
He stops but a meter away from where I stand, looking me up and down with analytical eyes. “You do not recognize this place,” he states. His voice is deep, gravelly, and… enchanting.
“I cannot recognize a place I have not been to.”
The man smiles cruelly. The smile doesn’t last for long before a restrained chuckle escapes his lips, low and menacing. “Look around. Isn’t it familiar?”
I narrow my eyes. Familiar? These estranged lands could not possibly be familiar. But something inside me pulls my eyes around like a puppy on a leash, forcing me to really look at the place.
I see what I saw before; dead trees, rusted clouds, sand like glass. But then I notice a small marking on a nearby tree. My marking; the one I had engraved so long ago to claim this island as mine.
And now it resides here.
“W-what have you done? How are you here?” I sputter.
That manic grin returns to the man’s face. “Oh, Angel. I cannot go anywhere without permission. Shame you don’t remember letting me in.”
“Do not call me ‘Angel!’ You’ve no right to be uttering such words, nor any right to be here at all!” I shout, anger seething under my skin like a kindling flame.
The man scoffs. “Would you prefer I call you darling? How about honey or sweetie pie? Oh! I have the perfect idea: Sunshine!” The man drops his pseudo smile, replacing it with a nasty scowl. “Do not pretend you have any sort of control here, child.”
“I do have control! I created this place, and you destroyed it! You deserve nothing other than hatred and… and… a life of horrors!”
The man strides toward me in a blink, suddenly right in front of me, leaning down close. “Oh, but Angel,” he brings up a hand next to my face, poised to snap. “I am the horror.”
I am plunged into darkness with a sharp click, falling helplessly through an empty expanse.
I hit something solid and end up flat on my stomach, quickly recoiling from the pain. My lungs plead for air, but my body does not cooperate, only supplying small gasps unsuited for breathing.
As the pain subsides, I slowly rise. The darkness still envelopes me, though it seems kinder here, more solid, concrete.
Strange sounds surround me, a cacophony of dread. I take tentative steps into the gloom, wary of what I might come across. A loud cry startles me into whipping around, and when I do, I gasp.
A small girl is chained to the ground, thrashing against the metal links binding her there. Her wrists and ankles are rubbed raw from her struggles.
The child snaps her head up, fear embedded in her drawn brows and wide eyes. She’s the perfect picture of terror.
And she wears my face.
I slowly back away as the girl struggles against the chains, screaming—pleading to be released. I’m tormented by her voice—by my voice—ringing in my ears and reverberating through the emptiness.
I cover my ears, about to turn and run, when my back bumps into something. I jump around, and the screaming is suddenly silenced. The strange man faces me yet again, his lips contorted into a cruel smile.
“This is only a glimpse into your fate,” he whispers. A forceful push on my shoulder sends me stumbling through the darkness again.
Distorted, glowing eyes follow me as I fall. Their edges are sharp and heavy like a child has scribbled them all across the walls. They watch with judgment, mocking and scoffing at my very existence. They make me curl in on myself, ashamed of who I am.
This time, I do not hit the ground. Instead, I am simply suspended in the air. Suddenly, I am watching myself from afar. I’m no longer in my body, but I am amongst a crowd of spectators. We watch as my limbs are moved about with strings. My lead falls to the side, a faux smile straining my face.
I am a puppet, being moved for other’s entertainment.
The image before me twists and turns until I’m submerged in a dark liquid, striving to reach a surface that does not exist. My lungs burn, my joints ache, my bones shiver from the cold. I swim and swim and swim until my body cannot keep me afloat.
I hear another click, and I am back on the black-sanded beach, facing the stranger once again. My legs feel shaky, my heart even weaker. I fall to my knees and will the tears stinging my eyes to stay put. I will not let them fall, no matter how far I have already plummeted.
“Just let me have my island back,” I plead, voice quiet to prevent the persistent tears.
“This isn’t your island, Angel,” the stranger’s voice is calm, void of any sympathy. “It’s mine now.”
This time, I do let the tears fall. The loss of my own dear creation is a death worth grieving. I meet the stranger’s gaze and scan his hauntingly beautiful features.
“At least allow me the liberty of knowing who you are,” I whisper.
The man laughs. “Who else would I be, other than Shame?”
And with that, chains wrap around my limbs, dragging me to the darkness once again.