Escape from the Island of Aquarius, pp. 72-81
Oh boy are you guys in for a treat today! Oh boy oh boy!
The Coopers are trapped in Fake MacKenzie’s house as the cult townspeople bear down on them. Lila wishes Dr. Cooper had his gun, but the townspeople all have guns, and I’m not at all convinced one person with one gun is going to do anything at all against many people with many guns. Dr. Cooper has a plan, though.
The men immediately made a move for Dr. Cooper, but were stopped abruptly by a terrified order from MacKenzie. “Hold it! Don’t touch him! Get back, get back!”
See, Dr. Cooper is holding the cage of deadly flies.
Only Fake MacKenzie knows about these flies.
“Tell them to drop their guns,” said Dr. Cooper.
“Do it,” said MacKenzie.
Dr. Cooper demands to have the Coopers’ belongings restored. Fake MacKenzie complies, sending some of his men to fetch their things. The men drop the Coopers’ backpacks at their feet.
“Check the gun, Jay,” said Dr. Cooper.
Jay picked it up, checked ti for ammunition and action, and then helped his father buckle it on. The three of them quickly grabbed up their packs and then, with Dr. Cooper still holding that cage for all to see, went out the front door.
How are the cult townspeople taking it? Like this:
MacKenzie answered several whispered questions by saying simply, “It’s a bomb.”
I just remembered, by the way, that it is night.
Here’s our timeline:
Day 1: The Coopers arrive in the evening, after dark. They witness the capture and imprisonment of Dulaney. They are installed in a guest house, but when they hear chanting in the jungle they leave to investigate. While exploring, Lila is attacked by Dulaney, who has escaped custody and subsequently dies.
Day 2: The Coopers are given their things and encouraged to leave post haste. They walk halfway around the island but decide to stay and investigate. They sneak through the cult village to explore a stone circle in the jungle. They are caught and locked in the confinement hut. After some hours, it becomes night. A deadly fly is dropped through the thatch, and after a battle, Dr. Cooper smashes it with a pot. They escape the hut and go into the jungle, following the chanting noises, to find the cult villagers fire walking in a clearing (not the stone circle). They go back to the village to search Fake MacKenzie’s house, where they are caught by villagers returning from the fire walking.
Wait. That’s it. It’s still Day 2. Wow.
The Coopers made their way up the street, followed at a distance by what was beginning to look like a very curious and very dangerous smog. Obviously, the Coopers would not be invited back here.
These random asides by the author that are not placed in any character’s head are weird.
Don’t worry. We’ll get to the really weird part soon.
The Coopers troop across the island.
Jay and Lila kept the beams of their flashlights on the ground so Dr. Cooper could see his way, considering his deadly cargo. The tangled vines and tendrils reached down out of the dark, slapping, whipping, dripping on them.
Finally, they arrive at the bridge. Is this truly the only way to cross the island—to walk to the edge of the caldera and cross it on a rope ladder? Maybe they should have checked if the other way Candle showed them also led to the boat, before investigating the stone circle on the other side of the island. Lila crosses the bridge, and makes it to the there side. Jay crosses next, and as he crosses he notices something.
“Dad, it’s the boat!”
Lila stood on the other side, looking down with horror toward the cove. “It’s on fire!”
It seems like it would be hard to set a largely plastic and fiberglass boat on fire. What is burning, exactly? The seat cushions? I don’t think this boat even has an interior. I guess maybe the plastic would melt if you burn the cushions?
“The fools!” Dr. Cooper said. “Those explosives on board will detonate for sure, and destroy that entire harbor.”
Jay’s face turned pale. Yes, that was right! There were enough plastic explosives in the hold to make a crater of the entire cove.
This is why you don’t travel with explosives. How much plastic explosive would you need to make a crater big enough to fill a cove in a Pacific island?
Ok, hold on now, bc things are about to get WEIRD.
Dr. Cooper wanted separately to be rid of that horrible cage. Oh, to have both hands free again and get off this bridge! He tired to get his bearings for what he could see of the rocky cliff on either side of the chasm. Was he directly over that whirlpool yet?
Just so we’re clear, his plan is to drop the cage into the whirlpool. In the dark.
What? The rope rail on the left snapped and dropped like a broken kite string! The bridge twisted crazily, the world spun upside down, sideways, back again, rocking this way and that, a hat went sailing, fluttering, meandering down into the black nothing.
We are now reading a choose your own adventure book. Remember reading those, way back when? Yeah. That’s the genre we’ve jumped to.
Jake Cooper’s legs and arms kicked and hooked on to a tangle of ropes and boards. He was upside down. His blood pounded in his head. With nothing but the darkness of the chasm all around, he kept swinging, rocking, swaying, like a fly in a web, like a fish in a net.
The cage had snagged on a shred of rope, and now it was dangling, the lid cracked open—right next to his head! He could see the angry insects buzzing against the wire mesh sides, he could see their licking red tongues and dripping stingers.
What should he do next? Hit the cage in an attempt to dislodge it and send it into the chasm? Or check on his kids real quick? Check on kids, page 18.
He could hear Lila screaming. But now where was Jay? He twisted his head slowly away from the cage and looked ahead.
Oh no! Jay was hanging from twisted, tangled shreds of rope, trying desperately to crawl hand-over-hand to the side of the cliff. Boards were dropping like rotted teeth on either side of him. His pack was pulling him down.
OMG this book. WHAT EVEN.
On the far side of the chasm stood several of MacKenzie’s men.
“Dad!” Lila screamed for somewhere.
ZZZZZZZZZZ! whined the angry black insects, some of them trying to squeeze out through the slightly open lid.
So. Should he try to dislodge the cage? Or should he try to right himself? For try to right himself, go to page 34.
There was nothing to grab, no way to get free. Dr. Cooper groped about with one hand, trying to find any other rope, anything he could use to lift himself back up again. He could feel his legs and other arm losing their grip, sliding slowly out of that tangled web. His head was hanging down toward that horrible, roaring throat of raging water. The tiger flies were buzzing in his ear.
Okay, so that went badly. Maybe we can flip back and choose the other one … oh crap, what page number was that? Well shit. I guess we just have to keep going.
“Dad!” Lila screamed again, and then her scream became a constricted gurgle as if she were choking.
“Lila!” he shouted. “What’s happening?”
“Let go of her!” Jay collared.
“Doctor Cooper!” came a loathsome, terribly familiar, snickering voice. MacKenzie! Dr. Cooper twisted his head toward the rocky cliff behind him.
Yes, there stood the madman with several of his henchmen, and there was a knife in his hand. He had cut the rope.
I’m going to dispense with my whole choose your own adventure bit, because Dr. Cooper is about to turn into a pure observer—and because the passage returns to something more closely resembling Peretti’s usual writing style. But seriously, what was with all that “Sounds! Lights!” bit, and where was his editor?
“Your daughter is in good hands, I assure you!” said MacKenzie, looking across the chasm to the other side.
Dr. Cooper looked that way, and … Oh, Lord God, no! Now he could see her. She was being held by a huge thug, and even though she was struggling, he kept his big arms claimed around her.
Is that “huge thug” a former college professor, lawyer, or executive?
But let’s continue—I’m typing out this section in its entirety:
Dr. Cooper could feel a terrible rage mixed with a terrible fear as he shouted, “Let her go!”
ZZZZZZZZZ! said the flies in response, bouncing and clinking about the cage. Legs and tongues were exploring that crack.
“Speak softly, Dr. Cooper,” said MacKenzie. “My little pets there have very sensitive ears, you know.”
No! One had gotten out. It was now crawling with it’s well-coordinated, spindly, pipe-cleaner legs down the same rope Dr. Cooper hung from.
Slowly. Slowly. Free your hand, Jake Cooper! There.
MacKenzie kept talking. “I wouldn’t worry too much about your fair daughter, Dr. Cooper. I assure you, I’ll take good care of her. She’ll be very useful to me.”
Wham! Dr. Cooper found a piece of board and quickly crushed the insect. A whispers of vapor wafted form the rope where it had been. The venom began to dissolve the rope. Come on, Jake, find something else to grab!
Ok, my bad, it’s still weird.
“Jake” sees ropes hanging above him but can’t tell how frayed they are. Simultaneously, he realizes he could free his legs if he tried. For “Jake” to reach for the ropes and try to pull himself up, got to page 49. For “Jake” to free his legs and let himself drop into the water below, hoping to swing for it, go to page 52.
“Let her go, you creep!” shouted Jay again, hanging from the frayed ropes by two arms and one leg.
MacKenzie only laughed and said, “If I were you, Jay Cooper, I would be worrying about myself!”
Hang on a moment. How come all of this is in Dr. Cooper’s head? How come when things get exciting we get to be in his head? I suppose we were in Lila’s head when she was attacked by Dulaney—but this book is just so so weird. Did Peretti ever stop to think that the teens this book is written for might prefer to stay in teenage heads? Why not tell this whole story from the perspective of the kids?
Ping! The rope snapped, and Dr. Cooper dropped. His hand found another frayed shred just in time.
I mean, really, ping?
Let’s recap, because this is a little confusing. Lila crossed the bridge to the other side first; Jay was still on it when Dr. Cooper started across. So far so good.
Fake MacKenzie shows up on the side of the bridge they started at—not the one Lila was. When he tells Dr. Cooper his men have Lila, Dr. Cooper looks to the other side, where he and Jay were going before some of the ropes were cut, and sees some of Fake MacKenzie’s men, with Lila. I’m not sure how some of his men got across without taking the bridge; if there’s a quick way to do that (and it would have to be quick, as they couldn’t have left the cult village before the Coopers), why do people use this dangerous-ass rope bridge to begin with?
Regardless, Fake MacKenzie has men on both sides of the bridge. Jay and Dr. Cooper would be trapped even if they could right themselves. So, now, Fake MacKenzie orders his men to burn the bridge.
On either side of the black abyss, the men set their torches to the remaining ropes of the bridge.
I mean. Okay.
In just a moment the ropes burned through and snapped like very tired rubber bands, and the bridge—tangled victims, savage insects, and all—dropped like a writing necklace into the chasm.
I mean, I guess.
Jay was gone. Dr. Cooper was gone. And Lila, as if stabbed through the heart, collapsed like a limp doll in the big guard’s arms, her eyes closed in horror and anguish, her final scream only a weak, ebbing whimper.
Like. I don’t know, maybe they should have left the island that morning, when they had a chance to, especially since they already knew the island was under the control of literal murderers? Just a thought!
MacKenzie looked down into the black hole, smiled, and then looked across the expanse at the trembling Lila.
“Prepare her for the Pit,” he said.
These kids are going to need some serious therapy.
Oh by the way—the boat never explodes. Dr. Cooper warns Fake MacKenzie, when he shows up, that there are explosives, and Fake MacKenzie accuses him of lying, and says there were no explosives. Oh my oh my! What a mystery!
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