“How are they doing?” I took Mother aside and quietly asked her.
It was the morning after I had nearly had Val, and after forcing myself to eat left-over fish that was “smoked” the previous night, I grabbed my mother and took her aside to ask the important question that was weighing on my mind. The twins were still in attendance at their mother’s side, and I wanted Mom to be honest with me.
“I’m doing everything I can to keep their fevers down, but neither girl has opened her eyes since yesterday and I’m struggling to get Lana to swallow anything. At this rate, I don’t know…” Mom stopped, tears forming in her eyes.
Although Mom was worried about them, she wasn’t looking any better herself. Her skin was white and pale. I reached out and instinctively touched her forehead. She immediately pulled away, but it was too late. She wasn’t burning up like them, but then again, she wasn’t sick so much as she had an infection from a cut. She was cold and clammy to the touch and felt like death. Meanwhile, she was hiding the cut, but I suspected it was swollen, red, and hot.
“Mom, you need to rest as well,” I said.
“Don’t worry about me.” Mom shook her head. “You… just take care of the younger girls, okay?”
I closed my mouth tightly, only managing to give a nod as she turned and walked away, her cut arm still hanging uselessly despite her best efforts to hide it. The twins didn’t react as she tried to reassure him. Even from where I was standing, I could see the creases in her eyes and the look of worry she was unable to hide. I had to fix this situation.
I had already tried once. I had nearly ended up sleeping with Val. We had gotten to that point, and then I had pulled away when she revealed she wasn’t a virgin. This morning Val had woken up with red puffy eyes like she had been crying all night. Thankfully, no one asked her about it. In the situation we were in, everyone needed to cry from time to time, so everyone just assumed it was hunger, helplessness, or hopelessness. They probably never would guess it was because her brother rejected her sexual advances.
I felt bad that I had hurt Val, but what was I supposed to do about it? Sleeping with her wouldn’t have saved anyone. It would only have been for my gratification. I wasn’t doing this for fun, despite what the goddess hinted. I was trying to save everyone’s life. With Val out of the way, I was running low on options. The twins or my daughter were the only other virgins left, and I couldn’t even say with 100% confidence that they were virgins. I had thought there was no way Val had done it before, only to be smacked in the face with reality.
Was there no way out of this? Did I truly have to take such a desperate step from which there was no return? I had this gnawing feeling deep inside me that if I took that step against my daughter or my nieces, that there was no recovering from it. From that point on, I’d slip into debauchery. Was I such a dark person? I was afraid to find out.
As I stood there glowering at no one in particular, my thoughts started to fall back onto the incest goddess. I wanted to bring back the anger I had felt for her a few days prior, but I just couldn’t. When I had woken up in her arms that time, something about the way she held herself had stopped me from seeing her as the manipulative, malevolent goddess I had originally assumed she was. She wasn’t as all-powerful as she put on, yet, she was still trying to help me in every way possible. Hadn’t she warned me? Hadn’t she tried to help me? If she wasn’t here, wouldn’t we still be on that beach and starving? If the incest goddess hadn’t brought us to this island, we might have all died at sea. Why did I keep expecting her to fix everything?
I shook my head. The incest goddess was right. I had been depending on her too much. I should have been the kind of man to build a shelter for everyone. I should have hunted for food. I should have done even more. I had been basing all of my hopes on the goddess, even while saying I wasn’t going to use her. However, this wasn’t something I could just fix on my own, right? I couldn’t just find some medical supplies.
The words came off my lips as soon as the thought hit my head. The goddess had told me I already had what I needed. She had told me I had the map! She might have been able to move things around a bit to help me, but those blankets wouldn’t have ended up on this island if there wasn’t someone who had been on this island. Perhaps that person had another base. Perhaps that base had a medkit! It wasn’t much to go off of, but I was willing to take anything at this point. At the very least, I was doing something beyond waiting for them to get sicker and sicker.
I went to a spot that had a bunch of light, and I immediately pulled out the map and spread it out as carefully as possible. I immediately began to study it. I was trying to figure out where we were on the island. It wasn’t like the map include the location of the tent. It also didn’t mention the cave either. Make a low noise of irritation, I picked the map up and then left the cave. I pushed through the unzipped tent flap that I had managed to stretch over the entrance with rocks and the remaining ties.
The entrance was supposed to be zipped at night, but with so many women, the need for bathroom breaks was plentiful and it ended up left unzipped more often than not. At the very least, it provided a small deterrent. Nothing would be able to push through it without making at least some noise.
Once out of the cave, I went to the side and then walked up the shallow hill until I was on top of the cracked hill that we had made our home. The crack had grown quite a bit. The lightning that had hit that fateful night didn’t just make the entrance, but also ended up creating the skylight that currently allowed smoke out from the firepit and oxygen in, all while protecting the majority from rain. Still, if there was another bad rainstorm, I had the tarp at standby. Of course, we couldn’t have a fire on such a night, which is why it was good we had blankets.
Things were coming along nicely, but it was all meaningless if I couldn’t save the people who were sick. I pulled the map out and laid it down on the rocky cliff, not too far away from the place where Cara and I had made love. Was it proper to call it that? Wasn’t it strange that when I thought of Cara, I called it making love, but when I thought of what I did with Sally, it was just fucking. I made love to my sister-in-law and fucked my sister. I shook my head. It was all just fucking. I didn’t deserve to make such bogus claims as love, especially when my selfish desires might still kill her.
There was more light out on the hill, but more importantly, there was a vantage point. I could see the shore to one side of the island, although the island was large enough that I couldn’t see the other side. It was just an endless expanse of trees. Perhaps there was some ancient building or radio tower lost in that forest somewhere. Why didn’t I just hope for a fully staffed hospital while I was at it? No, I couldn’t become pessimistic. I had to maintain hope or I might as well give up.
The first thing I did was look for points of interest on the map. I couldn’t read the language, but I could see three markings. One of them was an X, one of them was a square, and the final one was an ‘a’. Without being able to understand the legend, I had no clue what the markings meant. Why couldn’t they be clearer? Was it too hard to draw a medkit, a syringe, or a giant heart like you see in video games? Every night mattered at this point, and I felt like I only had time to head to one of the places.
My eyes focused on the one that was near the shore. That meant that it would be the easiest to find. There would be no thick forests obscuring my way. Whatever the X meant, I’d be able to figure it out immediately. At least, that was what I was hoping. This led to the second thing. I needed to figure out where we were in relation to the map. Just a quick look told me we weren’t that far into the forest, since I could see the shore in the distance.
“I guess X marks the spot.”
Lifting my finger and squinting, I tried to get a sense of the curvature of the shoreline. I was looking for any obvious or distinct features. I also took into account that the map was probably drawn North up, South down, and so on. That didn’t help too much, because the writings scribbled all over the map seemed to go every which way. I tried to orientate it based on the legend, but that made it so that the north side of the map was one of the corners.
After ten minutes of spinning the map around and trying to match the shoreline, I finally convinced myself I knew where we were. It just so happened to be somewhat close to the X too, as luck would have it. Even if I was off by a bit, I could just walk down the shoreline and map it out. Once I identified enough features, then I’d be able to reorientate us and be certain.
I looked up with my hand over my eyes to the sun starting to rise in the sky. It was still morning, and the weather was extremely nice today. It wasn’t too hot and muggy, although it was would probably get hotter as the sun got overhead. However, the important thing was that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. As long as they kept the fire going, the smoke billowing up could be seen and I’d be able to make it back here. It was as good of a plan as any.
If I didn’t find anything at the X, then the other places would require a longer journey, possibly one that would leave me out overnight. Plus, I wasn’t sure if the girls could last another three days or so. I just had to hope that we’d find what we needed.
“What are you doing?”
I had been so focused on looking into the distance that when a voice came from behind me, I nearly tripped over myself and fell. I spun around to see Callie standing there. She had left the cave and followed me up onto the cliff. Realizing she had startled me, she blushed slightly but still stared at me waiting for an answer.
“I’m… going to be going soon,” I responded after a moment of thought.
“I’m going with.” Callie declared immediately.
“Callie… you don’t even know where-”
“You’re going to look for something that can help, right?” Callie shot me a defiant look. “You’re not the only one that is worried, Cal. We’re all scared. You’re not going out there alone.”
“Callie, I can move faster on my own.”
“Don’t be like that!” Callie started to puff out her cheeks, something she had done since she was young whenever she didn’t get her way. “Last time you got bitten by a snake. If you were hurt, there would be no one who would know what happened to be able to help. We still don’t know how dangerous this forest is! Besides, aren’t I the one that found the cave in the first place? The only reason we have water and food is because of me, so you’re not leaving me behind!”
The last part sounded almost angry. I opened my mouth, but her cheeks were so puffed now that I feared she’d explode if I gave her any more trouble. With a sigh, I gave a little nod, and she finally dropped her arms and smiled.
“You need to keep up and be cautious. I don’t need you delirious with exposure again.”
Her cheeks flushed. “That was because we had been on the beach and I hadn’t drunk enough water. You know what happens when I get drunk. It’s like that.”
Whenever Callie got drunk, she’d start pulling off her clothes and getting touchy with everyone. It had happened at a couple of family gatherings, but she didn’t get into too much trouble because Sally and her husband would often get drunk as well and then start screaming at each other. A half-naked sister trying to cuddle with random people was far less of a problem comparatively.
“Fine… then let’s let everyone know and get going.” I declared, picking up the map and heading down the hill so abruptly that it took Callie a few moments to follow me.
I didn’t say much. Sally was sleeping in, not sick, but declaring her pregnancy was making her tired. That left Mother as the only adult. I felt very uncomfortable leaving everyone alone like that, but they were mostly grown up. I didn’t think they’d do anything dangerous.
“Dad, you’re coming back, right?”
My mouth nearly fell open as Cassie asked me such a question while looking a bit frightened. I reached out, putting my hands on her shoulders and making sure that she looked me in the eye.
“Cassie, of course, I’m coming back. We both are. Trust me.”
Cassie nodded, but her eyes still seemed to be full of unshed tears. I was just going to the beach and heading back. We’d be back before nighttime. It seemed like even my precious daughter was reaching the limit of what she could take. She was still smiling at me though, even with those wet, worried eyes.
I forced myself to turn away from her. I drank some water, ate some coconut, and we left the safety of the cave. With a breath, I plunged into the jungle in the direction that I had seen the coast. It was better to move in a straight line. The jungle was a dangerous place where we needed to watch every step. On the beach, it might be harder to walk, but it’d be safer too. At least, that’s what I was thinking.
We moved through the jungle at a slow pace. I found myself wishing more than once that I had a machete that I could use to cut down the vines and twigs. It was almost impossible to move through it without being cut up.
“Cal, how are you doing?” Callie suddenly asked.
“I’ll be better once we get out of the jungle.”
“I mean, how are you doing in life…” She continued. “At home?”
I stopped, looking back at her. “What?”
“Were you… I don’t know, happy?” She seemed somewhat awkward, holding her arm and looking away as she spoke.
“I have a beautiful daughter and a beautiful wife. Why wouldn’t I be happy?” I asked.
“Oh…” She responded.
When it was clear she wasn’t going to say anything else, I turned and started walking again. It was another few minutes when she decided to speak up again.
“Do you ever regret it?”
I didn’t stop moving this time and merely called back. “Regret what?”
“G-getting… I mean… you know, Fara pregnant?”
I stopped again and glared back. “You’re asking if I regretted having Cassie?”
She took a step back, looking surprised before shaking her head. “Th-that’s not what I mean.”
“What is with you?” I demanded. “This is not the time to talk about these things.”
“Then when is the time!” It was my turn to take a step back as her expression turned angry. “When will I ever have a chance to talk to you alone?”
“Callie, what’s bringing this on.”
“Lana… Cara… Mom… they’re all sick. Sally is completely useless. Soon, it’ll just be you and me.” She responded. “And then, even we’ll be dead.”
I finally reached out and grabbed her shoulders. “We’re not going to die.”
“We could… we could, and I need to say something. If I don’t say it before it’s too late…”
“Before you leave me again!” She wasn’t looking me in the eye, and her voice sounded frantic and disordered.
“I’m not… again? When have I ever left you?”
“You left me for her!” Her eyes finally snapped to me, and I saw a fierceness that I had never seen before on my twin sister. “You went off and slept with the first girl other than me that showed you attention.”
“We were supposed to do it together!”
I shook her shoulder slightly. “What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense. Do what?”
“Everything!” She shouted as tears fell down her cheeks. “We were supposed to do everything. You were my other half. You were my brother. We did everything together. We were in school together. We learned to read together. We took baths together. We slept in bed together. I was so focused on Lana trying to take you that when Fara came along, it was already too late. You abandoned me. You ran off ahead without me and left me alone!”
At this point, she was bawling, while I was standing there with my mouth open, trying to even grasp what she was saying.
“Callie, we’re brother and sister… surely you can’t be suggesting we should have…”
“We explored everything with each other. We learned about everything together.” She spoke in a quiet voice. “Why not that too?”
With that, she shook off my hands and pushed past me, walking off into the jungle in the direction I had been heading. With my head still spinning, I could only follow her quietly.