Island of Aquarius: Face to Face with Moro Kunda

Island of Aquarius: Face to Face with Moro Kunda May 21, 2020

Escape from the Island of Aquarius, pp. 56-66

So, Dr. Cooper, Jay, and Lila are locked in what the author describes as a “containment hut.” Fake MacKenzie, the local cult leader, has declared that they have been infected with a curse—“Moro Kunda”—and must be locked up while it runs its course. The last two people to have the curse—Tommy (on the raft) and Dulaney (who died clinging to Lila)—both wound up dead.

Occasionally they could hear a conversation outside, always in hushed tones.

“How are they?” someone would ask.

“Still alive, and quiet,” the guard would answer.

Then there would be a very hushed discussion about how long “it” would take, and how these foolish visitors should have known better, and how the great leader was always so wise and so right about such things.

But here’s the part that really gets me:

“It’s like a cross between death row and the zoo,” Jay said bitterly.

“Sounds like their great leader is making quite a show of it,” said Dr. Cooper.

“I just don’t want to die,” Lila kept saying to herself.

#FreeLila

Lila is that character who says what everyone in the audience is thinking—but what Paretti apparently doesn’t realize is that what she says makes him—and Dr. Cooper—look awful.

If Lila had been given the space to say what she wanted when they left the cult village and pretended to walk with their boat—and I don’t think she would have had that space even if she had been asked directly—I am fairly confident she would have said leave. 

I’m reminded of all the political events my siblings and I were required to attend with their parents as children. We were never asked whether we wanted to go. I was like Jay, I wouldn’t have objected even if I’d been asked. One of my siblings was more like Lila, though, and the one time she did state she didn’t want to be there, she got a verbal berating for her comments. She learned to keep her mouth shut after that. I think Lila learned the same, somewhere along the line. She knows she can only go so far, so when she does express displeasure with their ventures, it’s always veiled with some plausible deniability.

Her comments here, though, feel truly honest. She just doesn’t want to die.

It gets dark. There’s an earthquake.

“Dulaney was no madman,” said Dr. Cooper. “He was right about the tides, right about the animals and now we see he was right about the earthquakes.”

The earthquake knocks the hanging bulb light against a rafter and it goes out. They are engulfed in darkness.

“Now what?” asked Lila.

“Lila,” said Dr. Cooper, “you pray first. We’ll all take turns.”

And so they prayed, sitting there in that tight little hut, in the dark, waiting for whatever it was to come for them. Lila poured her heart out to God; Jay prayed with great fervor and just a little anger; Dr. Cooper prayed mostly for his children, that both of them could remain alive to serve the Lord for many more years to come.

Well maybe Dr. Cooper should have thought of this before he decided to stay on a remote island ruled by a cult leader who’d already proved himself capable of murder. Now he’s worried about his kids’ lives? Now?

For a little while, they pay attention to what’s going on outside—once again there are “strange chants” and “eerie cheering.” They also notice something else.

“You see something?” Jay asked.

“Candle,” he answered.

Jay and Lila went to the peephole to take turns looking. Far away, like some distant, twinkling star, the light from that torch moved steadily through the jungle, meandering, pausing, lurking.

“What is he doing there?” Lila was dying to know.

But this is all the time they have to think about The Dude, because at this point they hear a rustling in the thatch roof—this building alone of the town has a thatch roof—and then a noise.

Zzzzzzzzzzz … zzzzzzzzzzz …

This section is super boring. Basically, it consists of Dr. Cooper, Jay, and Lila trying to avoid … something. We’re not told what it is, but it makes a buzzing sound.

Basically, there are three solid pages of this:

“Duck!” Dr. Cooper yelled.

Jay and already ducked as the thing shot by his ear with a loud ZZZZZZZZZZZZZING like a revved engine.

Three. Solid. Pages.

Finally, Dr. Cooper manages to … it’s hard to describe, let me just give it to you straight:

The match went out. Dr. Cooper was struggling, stumbling in the dark. Suddenly there was a loud, metallic clang.

Dr. Cooper let out a bloodcurdling scream.

“Dad!” Jay and Lila shouted into the blackness.

The lock on the door rattled. The bolt was thrown aside. The door swung open and a big, burly silhouette appeared in the doorway, shining a light around the room.

From somewhere in the dark, a knee came up in the guard’s face, and then BONG! A large metal pot struck the guard’s face. The big man sank to the floor.

Jay and Lila were speechless and terrified. What had happened?

The guard’s flashlight was grabbed up from his limp hand.

…was grabbed up from…

“Don’t move, you two,” came Dr. Cooper’s voice.

“Dad, are you all right?” Jay cried out.

“Yes, thank the Lord,” he said. “Don’t move!”

The beam of the flashlight swept about the room in search of something, finally coming to rest in the middle of the floor.

“Ah, there it is,” said Dr. Cooper.

Jay and Lila saw a bizarre sight: a dark, smoldering circle was slowly spreading out over the floorboard, sending up a strong, burning odor.

In the center of that dark, smoldering circle was The Thing.

Actually, giving it to you straight might not have made it as clear as I thought. I had to read it a couple times to get what happened. Basically, once Dr. Cooper was sure he’d hit “The Thing” he decided to use the commotion for a second purpose, so he screamed, and when the guard came in he knocked him out.

Actually, I have questions about that, because what even is this:

From somewhere in the dark, a knee came up in the guard’s face, and then BONG! A large metal pot struck the guard’s face. The big man sank to the floor.

Dr. Cooper did what, exactly? Gymnastics? He somehow kneed the guard in the face and then hit him in the face with a metal pot? What was the purpose of the kneeing? (The pot is later identified as their intended chamber pot, though they had not actually used it, fortunately, as it turned out.)

Anyway, Peretti apparently realized that what he’d written was confusing—or wrote it that way on purpose—because he then has Dr. Cooper explain to Jay and Lila what happened after the fact—that he realized he’d hit it, so he decided to “take advantage of our situation” and knock the guard out.

But y’all. This bothers me:

“It was a gamble, but when he heard me scream, he must have thought that the curse had struck, and he couldn’t wait to get in here and see what hard happened.”

“And you clanged him!” said Jay triumphantly.

What. There is an unconscious man at their feet. Dr. Cooper hit him in the head with a metal pot. Hard. There is probably blood, and maybe worse. Witnessing this kind of violence—and injuries born of this violence—is traumatizing. Jay should not be joking about this. These poor kids.

Why has no one checked the man’s vitals? I get that they’re in a dangerous situation, and that this man was the guard keeping them confined, but it feels weird to me that Dr. Cooper has time to stand here gabbing but not time to check whether he just murdered someone. Offer first aide or scram. All of this standing around gleefully chattering about the cool trick they pulled when someone is badly hurt and maybe dying is bothering me. Am I off base here? It’s possible!

It’s the jovialness that set me off.

So, just what was this curse? Dr. Cooper explains that it was a cleft-winged African tiger fly. That’s what created the “strong, burning odor” and the “dark, smoldering circle” on the floor where Dr. Cooper smashed it. During the three pages of confused rushing that I spared you, “The Thing” landed on Lila’s coat, which she tore off and threw on the floor in response to her father’s command.

So naturally, after the fracas, they look at the coat:

They looked at Lila’s coat, tossed on the floor, and it too had a dark, burning spot on it, slowly growing and sending up a wisp of smoke.

“What is it?” she asked. “Acid?”

“Yes, the insect’s venom. Look here.”

Dr. Cooper raised the insect just a little with the stick and pointed out a viscious-looking stinger that seemed to be dripping boiling water. Every drop sent up a cloud of putrid, burning vapor. “Very acidic, and very deadly. The stinger hardly leaves a mark, but the venom works into the bloodstream immediately and causes the symptoms observed on Tommy and then on Dulaney. Both of them were burned, consumed, from the inside out.

Color me extremely skeptical.

I don’t have time to look up acid-spewing insects right now, but I would be fascinated to read if someone has the time/expertise. This just seems a bit over the top.

Anyway! After all this gabbing and investigating, while stepping over and around an unconscious body, they finally remember that they are in mortal danger.

“Anyone for getting out of here?

They locked the guard inside the hut, using his own keys.

“Now what?” asked Jay.

“We need to get our belongings back, and—“

They do not need to get their belongings back, unless their boat key is among their belongings.

Dr. Cooper stopped mid sentence. He was looking toward the jungle.

Jay and Lila looked, and there was that little point of light again.

“And I would like to find out just what that character is up to,” Dr. Cooper said.

Oh FFS.

Just how far can you see a torch through this jungle? This island must be really tiny. This just is not how jungles works, unless I am very confused about jungles. It’s not even how cornfields work.

They slipped silently into the jungle, crouching under the wet, gooey vines again, moving along that same trail with that one flashlight taken from the guard, now in Dr. Cooper’s hand.

Just. What.

What trail? I didn’t skip anything! Also, I’m sorry, but this verbiage is just bad! My gosh!

They were closing in on that point of light. Another branch of the trail seemed to lead straight toward it.

Well thank goodness for that. I do hope they aren’t getting lost.

They turn of the flashlight and sneak up close, and Peretti does everything he can to make it all dramatic, and big reveal there’s nothing there!

That torch wasn’t sitting on top of Candle’s head where it usually was; it sat, all by itself, on a large rock.

This must be a Minecraft torch. That’s the only kind of torch I know that can sit all by itself on a rock. I mean really, what’s holding it there, upright? There is no mechanism mentioned!

The Coopers discuss and conclude that The Dude is trying to trick someone. Who, they’re not sure.

Having investigated the torch, the Coopers head for their boat to leave the island. Just kidding!

“And that party is still going on,” said Jay, nodding his head toward the many voices still wailing and signing somewhere out in the jungle.

“We’ll drop by for a visit,” said Dr. Cooper.

What. The. Hell.

Wasn’t he just praying that his children would live to serve God a bit longer? If he actually wants that to happen, he needs to head for the boat and get help! It’s like he’s trying to get killed!

Fake MacKenzie just tried to murder them. And he almost succeeded.

I can’t even with this book.

Next week, we find out what’s going on in the jungle.

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