Updated: Jul 16
"Did you ever watch Lost?" I ask Sunny as we bushwhack through the jungle.
(We're being chased by a herd of ghosts, so I should save my breath, but whatever.)
"Did I ever watch what?"
"A show called Lost. It was on ABC—"
"—starting back in 2004, I think—"
"That's the year I was born."
"You—you what? No way." I add some numbers in my head. I'm not happy with the result. "But I had my finale party only, like—ten years ago. Okay, damn."
She humors me. "What was it about?"
"This, basically. A bunch of people trapped on a weird island that doesn't make any sense. Different factions that don't understand or trust each other. A bunch of weird stuff that keeps happening at random."
"Oh. Well, how's it turn out?"
"I'm not sure. The finale didn't really make any sense."
"Yeah, I think it turned out that the island had been purgatory all along, or something? I don't know, not even anyone who made the show seemed to know or care what it was about. The whole thing was mainly about just throwing random stuff at people so they would keep tuning in every week, trying to figure out what it all meant."
"What's 'tuning in'?"
"You know what? Never mind. I was just going to make a joke about 'The Others'—"
"The Others. That was what the main characters called the—uh—other people. On the island."
"This show sounds incredibly witty and clever."
"Yeah, yeah, fine. I said, never mind, okay? Just stick to Jane Eyre."
"Wow, rude, considering that—"
I stop her because suddenly we're on the beach. In a circle of torches. In the center of the torches is a face like mine.
Y'know, sort of.
I guess I should be taking everything I see on this island with a grain of salt—none of it is quite real, and none of it is quite imaginary. But looking at Walter Theseus is like looking into the world's lamest funhouse mirror. He's what I might look like if you aged me ten years, broke my razor, and saddled me with a whiskey addiction. Oh, and dressed me up in a Napoleon costume in desperate need of a dry clean. We step toward each other. Circle each other. I look away from his eyes because they're full of an emptiness desperate to hollow me out. Everyone's pupils are empty and black, and yet...
"Welcome to the void," he finally says, "Welcome to all there is."
"It's true, isn't it? What Alice told me. That you murdered her."
He squints. Smiles. Those black eyes I can't look into sparkle like stones in a whiskey glass. "She was a pirate. A thief. A mulatto, at that. Who cares?"
"I mean, she still seems pretty sore about it—"
He laughs. "What would she have even done with the gold? Left it buried. Taken the secret to her grave. I took it and I built something. Devoted my life and my legacy to teaching the secrets of navigation and discovery to future generations. What's she got to show for her life of villainy? An imaginary island with a giraffe."
"Yeah, what's the deal with the giraffe?"
"Listen—" I say. "You seem like a pretty despicable human being, and I'm honestly a little horrified to think I share any DNA with you, but we're kind of at a loss here, so if you know a way off this island, or—I don't know—how to raise the dead, or whatever, that would be super useful."
He scoffs. "The dead are raised, Captain. We're standing among you."
I glance back at Sunny, Ted, and Manny, who all shrug. The rustling in the trees hasn't stopped.
"Listen, Captain," he says. "The clock is ticking. These ghosts wearing your faces are closing in. You can work with me, or you can take your chances with them."
"What do you want us to do?" I say.
He laughs. Snaps his fingers.
The circle of torches transforms into a wall of fire.
"Alice," says the man in the circle of fire, "never forgives and never forgets. My death wasn't enough for her. The curse wasn't enough. She still trapped me forever in the realm of mortals, still haunts even my dreams."
"Wait, do ghosts dream?"
"All I want," he continues, "is to pass on. To be done with this eternal purgatory."
"Even if there's nothing after this?"
"You tell me, Captain. Would you choose to be a wraith tormented by your sins for all eternity? Every second of ghostly existence is like being force-fed a watery gruel. You never feel the sun on your skin. Never drift off into restful slumber. Can't even get this suit dry-cleaned."
I turn to the ghosts standing behind me. "Is it really that bad?"
Manny shrugs. Ted says, "Yeah, it's not great. Just interminable aimlessness."
"Sounds a lot like watching Lost."
"Doug, will you drop that?" Sunny says. "We get it, TV sucked in the 2000s."
"Actually, there were some shows that—"
"Nobody cares." That was all three of them, all together.
"All I want—" Theseus interrupts—"is to steal back that centaur."
"And to throw it into the volcano."
"Uh—" I look at my companions, back at Theseus—"do what now?"
"It's simple," he says. "We destroy the talisman, we destroy the island. And Alice."
"Okay, but, what happens to us? Won't destroying the island destroy all of us?"
"Your choice, Captain." He snaps his fingers, the wall of flame disappears. Our doppelgängers snap back to attention.
"No, no, wait—"
Theseus snaps his fingers again, and the flame returns. "Yes?"
"Uh—" I look back at my companions. Ted shrugs.
"What choice do we have?" Sunny says.
"It just sounds suspiciously like The Lord of the Rings, is all—"
"Oh come on, it's not like Tolkien invented the concept of throwing things in volcanoes."
"Anyway, I'd rather be Frodo than the Others, or whatever—"
"No, the Others were—"
"Doug. Give it rest. We should take Theseus's deal."
"Yeah," she says. "I've got a plan."
"I hope it's better than all your previous plans."
Project CoNarrative is an ongoing multimedia experiment in collaborative storytelling from two award-winning authors. We're taking turns writing chapters and building on each other's work, improv-style. You can read them for free, here on the internet, as we write them.
If you're enjoying Project CoNarrative, please consider supporting us via Patreon. Supporters get early access to chapters, along with a monthly podcast, a quarterly newsletter, a print edition of the finished book, and more. Click here to support us for as little as $3 a month.