Island of Aquarius: Island Shells and Shell Games

Island of Aquarius: Island Shells and Shell Games June 26, 2020

Escape from the Island of Aquarius, pp. 98-117

You guys. This is going to go great.

Jay, Dr. Cooper, and The Real MacKenzie have just climbed into a volcanic vent, and are hoping to traverse the island and come out in the sacrificial pit in time to save Lila. Because in this book, that makes perfect sense.

They stared walking, climbing, crawling, squeezing through the passageway as it curve dand worked its way upward through the core of the island like some gigantic burrow. The island’s core was a bizarre place; they seemed to be crawling along through a huge black sponge, with openings on every side, dangerous holes to step around, low overhangs to crouch under. They tried to follow the main lava vent as it meandered upward, but sometimes it was difficult to choose which way to go. The movement of the air was their best guide. Whenever they found themselves in an area with dead, still air, they knew they had made a wrong turn. They would double back to where they again could feel the air moving upward through the tube.

This is actually not the worst idea: moving air would definitely suggest a way out. What it doesn’t necessarily suggest is the only way out. Remember, their goal is to exit the lava tubes in what everyone is calling the “sacrificial pit.” They are hoping to get there before Lila is left there as a sacrifice, which they suspect will happen at dawn.

The three come into a larger area with a sandy floor with “a strange, deep groove in the sand, as if something very large had been dragged through it.” This does not make them feel great—especially when Dr. Cooper notes that his gun’s cartridges got wet in the literally impossible whirlpool. Just what kind of creature lives in these tunnels?

Soon after this, there’s an earthquake. “They felt as if they were trapped inside a huge rock crusher,” Peretti writes. Maybe it’s just me, but being inside a volcanic tunnel in a massive earthquake sounds like an iffy proposition.

They could actually feel it: a strange, falling sensation like riding downwards in a very jerky elevator.

“It’s getting worse!” cried Adam. “The island’s shell is collapsing.”

Volcanic islands do not have shells. This is simply not a thing that volcanic islands have. This is nonsense.

They could hear loud cracklings like explosions booming and rippling up through the many pores and crevices in the earth; somewhere, far below, giant cracks were bursting open. The rocks were splitting.

They, as the other sounds died down a little and the shaking subsided, a new noise worked its way up to their ears from far, far below. It was the sound of rushing water.

From where? And why? This is so weird. 

“Do you hear that?” asked Adam.

Dr. Cooper nodded. The sea is breaking through into the island’s foundations.”

“It will erode away whatever base the island still has to rest upon!”

What the hell?

The base volcanic islands rest on is literally the ocean floor. 

Okay, but don’t some volcanic islands sink, or something? Once a volcano is extinct, things can change, right? Well yes. But it looks like the below examples, and it takes thousands if not millions of years.

But it seems none of this matters.

“We only have a matter of hours!” said Dr. Cooper, hurrying upward through the tube. “Let’s go!”

None of this is real. It doesn’t even try to be.

Since some of you seemed to appreciate the map I made a few weeks ago, here’s the same map, updated for the island’s “shell” as well as volcanic vents, the movement of our intrepid party, the sacrificial pit, and the cracks in the island—which are quickly filling with water as the island crumbles and collapses.

Volcanic islands do not in fact rest on top of water, but that appears to be what is happening here. The island’s foundations have been “eroded” and water is rushing up into cracks in the island from … somewhere. The island’s “shell” is collapsing, and the entire island will disappear beneath the water within hours. This drawing is all I can come up with.

So, now we begin switching back between Lila’s perspective and that of Jay, Dr. Cooper, and The Real MacKenzie—and with increasing rapidity. This is something Peretti does in all of his books, but rarely with more rapidity than we see here.

Lila—

The earthquakes our three godly menfolk noticed above while climbing through the island’s volcanic vents deep within the island can be felt across the island above ground as well.

“It is the spiritual forces of the island,” said the pretty Polynesian woman ho was combing Lila’s hair. “Lord Kelno says the spirits are grieved because their private sanctuary has been invited by outsiders.”

Wait a minute. How come she can speak perfect English, when The Dude (aka “Candle”) has English so limited he can barely make himself understood?

Another woman, a witchy-looking old crone from the island’s bygone days, was preparing a long gown of white linen.

“Ah, but in the morning we will appease them,” she said, holding the gown out to Lila.

Wait, the “witchy-looking old crone” also has perfect English? Is The Dude the only Polynesian on this island whose English is limited?

Here’s the thing—all of this might make sense if The Dude had taken to the forest and lived in isolation after the rest of his people either left the island or joined Kelno. Those who went to live with Kelno’s people would have a year of English learning on The Dude, after all. But Kelno has spoken to The Dude and given him instructions and errands, suggesting that The Dude was never all that isolated. Another possibility is that The Dude has a speech impediment or something else that makes learning English harder for him than for others. These differences could be explained if we had more information.

But we don’t have more information, which leaves this whole thing feeling a bit disjointed and weird. The only Polynesian we’ve met so far—a native of the island—has extremely limited English; the second and third Polynesian island natives we meet have absolutely perfect English. I’m left wondering why.

“What’s this, a tablecloth?” Lila asked sarcastically.

“It is your ceremonial gown,” said the pretty woman. “You must be dressed correctly to be presented to Kurdoc!”

“Who is Kurdoc?” Lila asked, certain she would not like the answer.

The old witch’s eyes lit up with awe as she answered, “Kudos is the Lord of All Nature, the Serpent God of the underworld! He lives deep beneath us, and the island quakes with his anger!”

Okay. Cool.

Jay, Dr. Cooper, and The Real MacKenzie—

The three come into a small cavern that “looks like a nest” and, what hey, they find an egg! A reptile egg.

“But look at the size of that egg!” said Jay. “It’s as big as a watermelon!”

Adam observed, “The parent must be large enough to easily … uh … swallow a human.”

The Real MacKenzie was on this island before Kelno arrived long enough to convert all of the natives to Christianity. Wouldn’t the natives have told him about this creature—especially if they’d been practicing human sacrifice? Why does he act, here, like he’s just learning these things?

Also, the largest snakes actually give birth to live young.

Lila—

Lila decides she doesn’t mind dying because then she’ll be with her father and brother—she prays only that it will be quick.

Before she knew it, her hands were bound behind her and she was being led along between two very large Polenysians in regal-looking feathers, shells, and skins. They walked down the main road through the village as the followers of Stuart Kelno, young, old, male, female, all appeared and followed them on a long column parade, heading up the road and then turning down that forbidden trail, drawn by the steady, pulsing, beating drum.

Yep, this will go great. I really want to know how all of these people fell under Kelno’s influence to this extent—to the point of being willing participants in child sacrifice. It’s not impossible; it just leaves me wanting to know more.

Jay, Dr. Cooper, and The Real MacKenzie—

All of a sudden they come up to a crack in the floor of the tunnel.

Incredibly, the earth had split apart as if cut with a knife. Dr. Cooper looked down, sideways, and above them at a huge rift, a jagged chasm that reached high above them and dropped away into bottomless blackness beneath. Somme thirty feet away, across the chasm, the lava tunnel continued like a hole in a slice of bread.

As they stand there trying to figure out what to do, the rumbling starts again, and the cavern walls begin to draw closer together again, then apart, then closer. Dr. Cooper says they’re going to need to jump. Just how large is this lava tunnel? We’re not just talking about jumping across a cliff, we’re talking about jumping from a tunnel in a cliff into another tunnel in the other side of the cliff.

Lila—

The “solemn parade of pagans” arrives at the pit, where Kelno is waiting. Kelno complements how beautiful Lila is, and his followers look on in some sort of bizarre sense of pride at the beautiful creature they are about to sacrifice to the island’s gigantic snake. They applaud.

Jay, Dr. Cooper, and The Real MacKenzie—

When the walls close to only 8 feet apart, Dr. Cooper tells Jay to jump, and he does. He makes it. The Real MacKenzie jumps next, and is also successful in his leap.

Lila—

We get a speech from Kelno:

“The spirits and forces of the Island of Aquarius have been violated, and this is the result. This is a good lesson for all of us, and let us pay heed to it. But fear not. Since it is the spirits of this island who are offended, then let the old traditions of this island now appease them.” He turned to the witch doctors and said, “You may proceed according to your customs.”

How did Kelno end up in charge again? He seems to be calling all the shots and the natives just follow suit. Throughout Peretti’s book, native peoples are treated as followers. Even The Dude is a follower, he just follows a different white man—The Real MacKenzie—than the others do. It’s white western colonial nonsense is what it is, and it presents the framing for this book—and, indeed, for the entire series (some elements of the Curse of Toco Rey present an exception).

With eerie cries, bellows, and chanting, the witch doctor started pounding hitter drums again. Lila winced at the racket and knew it was all demonic, pure witchcraft to its very core.

Great. Just great.

They tie Lila up and lower her into the pit.

She found herself face-to-face with an old, sun-bleached skull, its empty sockets ever-staring, its crooked teeth grinning with mocking delight.

Very Indiana Jones.

Jay, Dr. Cooper, and The Real MacKenzie—

There’s a problem. Jay and The Real MacKenzie made it across the chasm, but Dr. Cooper still needed to jump, and the chasm widened again before he could do so.

[A]ll three men could see a very small glimmer of daylight high above them, far up inside the rift. The horrible split had cut through eh entire island, clear to the surface.

At the bottom is rushing water. As they watch, there’s a clatter overhead and a western-style house falls into the chasm and floats away in the rushing water at the bottom. Jay tells Dr. Cooper that he better just jump.

He got back as far as he could in the tunnel and then, running faster than he had for a long time, he bounded for the precipice, launched out across the chasm, sailed through the air, and … he made it!

Cool. Cool cool cool.

Lila—

As she lays on the ground of the sacrificial pit, she realizes that Kelno and his people are leaving—“this must be a very sacred event, too sacred for anyone to remain and watch.” This is a necessary plot feature for Peretti, for Kelno and his people must remain unaware that Lila lives to be rescued.

Lila finds a rough rock and starts rubbing the ropes she’s tied in against them, hoping to cut them through.

Jay, Dr. Cooper, and The Real MacKenzie—

The three come to a split in the tunnel and have to examine it for a bit before figuring out which one they think is best. At least they’ve learned not to split up!

Lila—

Lila frees her legs, and then hears a hissing sound. Trying to remain calm, she starts working even harder on the ropes that tie her hands.

Jay, Dr. Cooper, and The Real MacKenzie—

Our intrepid team pauses as the earth shakes again, and watch in horror as the floor to the lava vent disappears in front of them. They work their way through this passage along the narrow ledge of flooring that remains along the sides.

Lila—

Trouble. Big trouble.

Just emerging form the darkness were two huge, golden, glistening eyes, rising higher and higher out of the opening.

The eyes focused on her. There was another puff of moist air from the thing’s nostrils. It had spotted her.

Finally, the ropes on Lila’s wrists snap through, and she’s free. She turns and looks at the snake.

The head itself was as big as a huge alligator’s head, supported on a long, leathery neck the size of a tree trunk.

Uh. Tree trunks come in many sizes.

Lila grabs a bone and prepares to fight.

Aww! What was that? Lila ducked backwards, startled by something that dropped right on her head. It was a rope!

The Dude has come to rescue her, and this time she does’ task questions.

Someone screamed from above, “Come! You come, girl!”

Before she can grab the rope, the snake lunges at her; The Dude is able to pull her up, but only after the snake rips her white dress off of her. She leaves that in the pit, and The Dude tosses down a large piece of meat to satisfy the snake.

Candle grabbed Lila’s hand, and they ran. She asked no questions. She just ran and ran.

This seems like a good call.

Tune in next week for the partner storyline to Lila thinking Jay and Dr. Cooper is dead when they’re not—Jay and Dr. Cooper thinking Lila is dead when she’s not!

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