Prompt: magnetism; nice job breaking it, hero
Amelia’s morning began with fixing breakfast, doing the dishes, and expanding the grocery list. Then she went to collect Chris from where he was playing with his blocks. They had eaten the last of the oatmeal, which meant Mom and Dad would probably make good on their threat to stop shopping at the science center’s market, the only place to get imported food on the island. Amelia hated the thought of eating the local stuff, which didn’t smell or taste like home.
At the door, Amelia slipped on her sandals. “When the tide goes out, we can look for starfish,” she told Chris. On the railing for the front steps, a bright green bird perched. It sidled closer when Amelia came up to it. She tried whistling and it chirruped back at her. Chris reached out for it, but it took off in a flash of colors. Amelia took Chris’s outstretched hand instead and led him out of the village and across the sand dunes to the shore.
A knot of other kids shouted and played just at the edge of the incoming waves. Amelia thought about turning around and going home. Before she could, the kids spotted them and, following the biggest boy in the group, charged up the shore. The biggest one, a native kid in cutoff shorts, sized them up. “Where’re you from?”
“America,” Amelia answered. Her hand was tight and sweaty around Chris’s. “Our parents work at the center.”
“Flora’s parents, too,” one of the other kids said. An Asian girl got shoved forward by the rest of the pack. She lifted her eyes long enough to flash a smile that looked more like a grimace.
The boy scoffed. “I thought Americans were white.”
Amelia, whose skin shone a darker brown-bronze than even that of the island’s sun-soaked natives, scowled. “Well, you’re wrong.”
The boy jutted his chin. “I’m Manny. I’m in charge around here. We’re going up to the Shell Cliffs. You come too.”
“No, thank you,” Amelia said. She started to pull Chris away.
“What, are you scared?” Manny asked in the universally recognized singsong tone of mockery.
Amelia gave him a withering look. “What on earth is there to be afraid of?”
Manny grinned. “You’ve never heard of Drifter?” Amelia shook her head. “It’s the turtle the island’s on. We’re all standing on its shell. There’s a palace, but you can only get to it if you wake Drifter.”
Amelia would have told them how ridiculous it was, but Chris tugged on her hand. “You want to go?” He looked at her hopefully. “There isn’t really a palace.” Chris had decided, possibly at birth, to be an architect. He loved weird and old buildings. They were the only things that got the shy eight-year-old to act like an excited kid.
“Yes, there is,” Manny insisted and Chris looked determined.
So Amelia was obliged to go with them. The beach sloped upwards. Ahead, a rocky breakwater rose out of the sand. The rocks were white, like marble. Up close, she saw the stones had been cut into huge cubes and slabs, like they had once been part of stone pyramids. Chris eagerly pulled her along.
“Hey, wake up!” Manny shouted. He picked up some small stones and flung them out to sea. He looked back at the others and said, impatiently, “Well, come on. Do something.”
Amelia and Chris watched while half a dozen children shouted insults at the sea and threw anything they could pick up. Waves splashed around the breakwater, sending up sprays of salt water. Amelia’s mouth tasted like seaweed. “This is dumb,” she grumbled.
“Maybe Drifter will come out for something to eat,” Manny said after they had exhausted themselves and their supply of throwable stones. He grabbed Flora and shoved her forward on the rocks. “Come and get it,” he called.
Flora stumbled on the rocks. “Oh, um, I don’t–” she protested. Her voice barely rose above the sound of waves. Manny bulldozed her farther out on the rocks.
“Leave her alone,” Amelia said. She picked her way forward on the rocks. Chris could not keep up and fell behind her. “Stop it,” Amelia said as she got closer.
Manny glared at her and grinned. “Maybe we should throw the little one instead,” he said and jerked his chin toward Chris, stranded on the rocks. “You try to wake Drifter or I throw your brother in.”
Amelia gritted her teeth. Flora looked like she would die of fright and Chris just kept walking closer to them. “Fine,” she snapped. She traded spots with Flora at the end of the spit of white rock. A turtle, huh? She knelt down on the rocks and bent her head so the sun stopped blinding her. Sea spray left droplets in her hair and dampened her clothes.
“What are you doing?” Manny demanded. Amelia just ignored him. No animal would show itself for shouts and threats. She didn’t say anything. She knelt with one hand on the nearest stone and waited. Like the bird on the railing, something edged closer.
The water level just below Amelia dropped, like the tide suddenly rushing out. What had looked like a rock jetty showed itself to be a wall of stone columns and arches, as man-made as the science center. Streamers of sea grass hung from it and mussels colonized corners of windows. In the open water beyond, another white stone structure rose up, perched on the leathery, weather-worn head of a massive turtle.
Water drained from the windows and doorways of the palace. It cascaded down the turtle’s neck, which now formed a bridge between the two islands. Amelia stood staring at it until she saw Manny clamoring down the stones toward the neck below. Chris followed at his heels. “Wait,” Amelia cried out, but Chris had started to climb and slide down. She hurried after him.
At the bottom, the air smelled of salt and decay, like a dead seagull. The cliff of rock opened up into shadowy ruins of buildings. While Amelia, Chris, and Flora stood huddled in the cold shadows of the turtle’s shell of rock, Manny made a dash for the palace.
The moment he stepped off the rock and onto the skin of the turtle’s neck, something happened in the ruins behind them. A noise, like a stone falling or door opening, split the air. Amelia thought she saw something moving in the darkness there.
Then the darkness itself, a tentacle of shadows, stretched out and wrapped Manny up. In an instant of panicked shouting, he and the tentacle disappeared. The three of them stood, gaping and breathless, unsure what they had just seen.
As if from a long way away, Manny’s voice drifted back to them “–anyone hear me?”
“Do we help him?” Chris asked. He had ended up in her arms, though she hardly remembered picking him up.
Flora said, a little louder than Amelia had heard her speak before, “Must we?”
Amelia gulped. “We can’t just leave him. I guess.” She stepped toward the ruins and the living darkness therein.