Island of Aquarius: Listen to the Locals

Island of Aquarius: Listen to the Locals May 8, 2020

Escape from the Island of Aquarius, pp. 42-49

When morning comes. Fake MacKenzie bids the Coopers farewell.

Remember, the evening before this the Coopers looked on as Dulaney—a man who seemed perfectly fine—was dragged off by gun-toting guards; they encountered Dulaney again in the jungle later in the evening, where he died while clutching Lila. This would be a good time to leave. A very, very good time. They could send a new group to the island, this time with more adults and fewer children. They investigated; it’s time to go report and regroup.

But of course, they won’t do that.

Adam MacKenzie very graciously and benevolently said good-bye to the Coopers. As a matter of fact, he seemed overjoyed and relieved to see them go. he quickly barked orders to Candle, who saw to it that soon all the Coopers’ belongings were on their backs again and that they were ready to leave.

Wait, did the Polynesian man Fake MacKenzie calls “Candle” do the Coopers’ packing? 

But MacKenzie did not stop there. HE ordered Candle to escort the Coopers to their boat to be sure they did not get lost. As the Coopers, saw it, he wanted to make very sure they were entirely successful in leaving. 

Read that bit again, and then forget about it, because it might as well have not happened at all. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

Dr. Cooper tells Fake MacKenzie that he should send a letter to the missionary alliance, since the message Tommy had never got through, but for god knows what reason he doesn’t ask Fake MacKenzie if he has any note he wants Dr. Cooper to take back now. Instead, he’s like hey, at some point you should send another letter—how. No one leaves this island, remember? No one even knows all these people are here! All they know is that a missionary went here and never came back. How exactly is Dr. Cooper expecting Fake MacKenzie to send a letter? 

“Yes! I’ll do that,” MacKenzie said, waiving goodbye.

And I’ll bet you won’t, Dr. Cooper thought, as they left the village and headed through the jungle, followed by the tall, silent, imposing Candle.

Okay. Fine. Whatever. Just leave!

As they walked along, all three sent silent little visual signals to each other. They knew it could not end here. It would not be like them to just leave, and it certainly would into answer the many questions this whole trip had put in their minds. Sure, for now they would walk with Candle down to their boat, and they would probably even put out to sea—as long as Candle was watching.

But when they got to the boat—then they would talk things over.

Note how prominently Candle features here—they’ll go to the boat, they’ve all decided, as long as Candle is watching them, to make sure they really do leave. Except that that is not what will happen, at all.

Also, this book feels like it was written by Dr. Cooper, because Lila has already expressed reticence about this trip multiple times. If Dr. Cooper knows nonverbally that Lila’s going to be good with them staying and continuing this mission, it’s because he’s decided that’s what she wants, and not because he actually cares about knowing.

Jay, on the other hand, will jump at anything to please his father. Poor Jay. He needs some therapy too. Losing his mom, and then falling his dad around the world, doing anything he possibly can to please him. He’s 14, poor baby.

Here’s where things get weird.

Candle started shouting at them, but as usual they couldn’t tell what he was trying to say. They turned and looked back at him.

“You, you come!” he said, pointing off to the side of the trail.

Dr. Cooper stepped over to have a look. It was another trial, so small and obscured by the jungle that they had not even noticed it.

“Go!” said Candle, pointing down the trail.

I don’t know about you, but it definitely seems like Candle is making himself understood. He’s being very clear.

Dr. Cooper tried to explain. “Candle, no, listen, this is not the way we came. We must return to the cover where our boat is anchored. Do you understand?”

Could he be more condescending? Does the idea that Candle might want them to go a different way this time not even occur to him? Candle is his guide for crying out loud! Candle is the one who knows the island!

Candle only knew that he wanted them to take this trail, and he kept pointing at it in great earnest.

Jay and Lila looked at it, too. This little space between bushes did not look like it could go anywhere.

“He must have misunderstood his orders,” Jay suggested.

Oh for god’s sake! 

The Polynesian man must be confused. We white westerners definitely know better than him! Gods this is awful.

Dr. Cooper nearly matched Candle’s wide gestures as he explained, “We must go back the way we came … this way … this way, you understand.

Awkward. 

Seriously, this just reads as so damn condescending.

Candle looked frustrated.

Well, yeah!

The Coopers continued walking down the main trail. Candle remained where he was, his face full of anger and despair. That was fine with the Coopers. They had had enough of being pushed, ordered, and escorted around this island.

I mean, what did I tell you.

This is not where the Coopers should be directing their anger. Candle hasn’t pushed them around or ordered them, until now—and here it’s only within the context of taking them through the jungle and back to their ship. It’s Fake MacKenzie who has been pushing them around and ordering them this way and that. Not Candle.

Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

But here’s the weird thing—Candle doesn’t follow them and none of them remark on this. If Candle isn’t taking them to the boat, they have no need to go to the boat anymore. The plan they formed—without talking—was to go down to the boat, sail away even, and then almost certainlycome back and solve the mystery of Moro Kunda and the dead Dulaney. But no! No one mentions that because Candle isn’t following them, they don’t need to go to the boat.

It’s like they’ve completely forgotten it.

The most generous interpretation centers on this line:

But when they got to the boat—then they would talk things over.

So, maybe they’re going back to the boat to use it as a clubhouse to talk over what they’re going to do next. But there’s no reason the boat has to be the place where they do this. All they have to do is look for a clearing to take a break in, or just talk. Someone should at least say “hey, maybe we should talk about the plan before walking all the way back down to the boat?” Especially when walking back to the boat is going to require crossing that rope bridge again.

But no one says boo. They have to get back to the clubhouse—err, I mean the small cruiser with a spotlight on top and a hatch full of explosives—come hell or high water. For literally no reason. Like, why.

So! After hiking for some time, they come up to the caldera at the center of the island. It’s daylight this time, and they see the whirlpool in the caldera—what Jay terms “the biggest toilet in the world.” Lila says that’s “not one bit funny,” and Lila has rather a point, because things are about to get very, very iffy for her.

Here is how the whirlpool is described:

The chasm was several hundred feet across at its widest point, and the walls dropped sharply for a hundred feet or so to form an immense crater. It had to be an extinct volcanic crater, the main vent for the volcano that first formed the island. Now, with no more lava to spew forth, its throat was hollow and full of water, including the biggest, most ferocious, most thunderous whirlpool any human being had ever seen. The water churned, foamed, and raced around and around in a vast, deep-throated funnel shape; the very center of that funnel was a dark, bottomless, spinning hole that swirled with a continuous sucking roar which echoed and rumbled off the sheer walls.

I’m going to go out on a limb here—it’s not much of a limb, really—and say that this does not sound scientifically possible. What is powering this thing? Where is the water that is being sucked into the funnel at the center of the whirlpool coming from? You can’t have water flowing out without water flowing in. Physics does not work like this.

But! For no explicable reason, they must needs cross the rope bridge to the other side! No one stops and mentions that they do not need to do this. No one asks why they are going down to the boat, to just come back up again. Nope! They must cross the dangerous whirlpool caldera! They must! They must!

Jay crosses first, then Lila. But oh no! A board breaks under Lila and she ends up hanging from the ropes over the whirlpool! She freezes up, able to do nothing but cling to the bridge as she bobs over the abyss. Dr. Cooper comes across the bridge to her position, picks her up, and carries her “clinging to him like a two-year-old” back across the bridge to where we started. (Why not to the other side, if that’s where they’re going and Jay is already there?)

When Lila gets back to solid ground, she starts crying and apologizes, because of course she does. “I really lost it out there,” she says. Dr. Cooper and Jay tell her it’s fine, they don’t blame her at all. Which. Really?

“I’m sorry,” she said again, feeling her control returning. “But I don’t think I can cross that thing!”

The three exchanged glances, and then the same thought hit all of them.

“That other trail …” said Dr. Cooper.

“Let’s try it, please,” said Lila.

“I’ll bet Candle knew exactly what he was talking about,” said Jay.

You think?!

But also, why do they need to cross it to begin with? They aren’t planning to leave the island. Did they forget that when I turned the page or something? What gives! They don’t need to try that other trail at all, they need to decide where on the island they want to be, and then go there. No one is with them! No one is surveilling them!

The new, unexplored trail would down a steep hillside for quite a distance and then flattened out, taking the Coopers through thick jungle, working its way toward the sea.

It’s almost like there is more than one way to get places.

Also, is sea a synonym for ocean? This is the ocean.

As they continue down the trail the Coopers come to a cluster of deserted buildings—grass huts. They notice footprints in the area, with marks of modern shoes, and signs that objects were dragged. They also notice a “primitive” corral—our first sighting of that word this chapter!—that’s empty and has a broken fence.

As they walk through the deserted village they notice something startling—the lower half fo the village was underwater.

“I wonder if this is why Candle wanted us to come this way?” said Jay.

“Like he wanted us to see this,” Lila added.

You think?!

If we’re learning anything from this series so far, it’s that white westerners need to stop assuming they know everything while traipsing around the globe and start trusting the intuition of the locals instead. Which is funny, because that’s pretty clearly not the moral Peretti had in mind when writing these books.

The Coopers compare notes and come to the conclusion that it’s all connected. All of it! The island is sinking, and Tommy and Dulaney both knew, and tried to say something—only to be silenced by Fake MacKenzie.

“We’re going back,” said Dr. Cooper.

There it is, at last! Except notice that there’s no discussion. None at all! Just a decision from above from Dr. Cooper. Whatever happened to having a conversation and making a decision together? Nope. Daddy’s in charge.

Seriously though, this passage was just so weird. It’s like Peretti forgot where it was supposed to go for a minute in his excitement for dangling Lila over an abyss, and remembered just in time to wrap things up neatly. Quickly.

Next week, we look at what happens when they go back.

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