Sunday, April 7, 2013


Muted light. Eyes adjust.  Blonde sitting alone at bar. Yellow sun dress. Bare shoulders. Dark tan. 

The last hour is all he can remember. He begins to connect his thoughts. The street had been like some damn crazy cartoon--all the colors more brilliant than life; palm trees sighing and murmuring their secrets as he passed; the beach a white sequined carpet glittering in the noonday sun. He'd shuffled along trying to take it all in at once, the tropical breeze like a woman's warm breath on the back of your neck. ..

No drug induced stupor here. This was real. He stroked the coarse stubble on his chin. Inhaled the salt-spray air in deep deliberate breaths. Contemplated his next move. A neon sign flashed the name of some cocktail joint in lurid red, blue, and pink letters: EL PORTAL. Suddenly, he was thirsty as hell. 

 He slides onto the adjacent stool.  The blonde turns and loans him a smile, then goes back to sipping her drink, a creamy concoction filled with exotic fruit and crushed ice. "That looks like it goes down easy," he says. "Think I'll try one myself." 

"Manolo," she calls to the small dark man behind the bar. "Another Island Surprise, please."

He pats the back pocket of his shorts, locating the lump of wallet,  and breathes easier. 

"I'm Susan " she says, tendering a hand. "Susan White."

He wants to make up a name, but answers are what he needs,  so he blurts it out.  "I have a bit of an embarrassing problem see, I may have fallen or something and I can't seem to remember...uh...who I am or anything of that nature.."

She touches his arm. "Oh, you poor man--let's you have a driver's license?"  (Almost too quick on the draw, as he would think back later.)

"Hah, I don't even know."  His face feels flushed. He opens the wallet, then changes his mind and says, "Here, you look at it."

She removes a card and holds it at arm's length. "Paydirt!  Your name is Robert-- Robert Riddell. You are thirty-one years live at 19 Calle Miramar."   She gives him the once over. "And in case you haven't passed a mirror lately, you're a decent looking guy, despite the unshaven face, hapless grin, and sloppily buttoned shirt."

He looks down at himself and grimaces. 

She laughs easily.

Squinting at the license he says, "Santa Isabel--is that the name of this place?"

"The city. And the island."

She wears a silver ankle bracelet. His eyes follow up the curve of her leg. She is pretty, in an understated kind of way, with a casual sophistication he finds appealing. What makes her beautiful  is the way her liquid green eyes sparkle when she smiles. "It's weird," he says. "I would have guessed that I'm from somewhere else. There's nothing vaguely familiar here, though the place is incredible. I'm thinking maybe I should check myself into a hospital. "

"That's a bit drastic. Look, I have the rest of the day off. My car is outside and if you'd like, we could drive around the island, see some sights. Maybe jog your memory a bit."

"Best offer I've hour,"  he says, thinking he must have a way with women from way back.


The street vendor's cart is loaded with everything from candy bars to wristwatches. Robert tries on sunglasses, settling on a pair with mirrored lenses. "Guapo." says the peddler, a young man wearing the exact same style. "A handsome choice, my friend."

Robert whirls and models the specs for Susan. "I think they're me. I can really see myself in about you?" 

She moves in close, their noses nearly touching. She swats him on the head. "No, I can see ME  in those shades, genius...that's all I can see!"


The squishy feeling between his toes is exquisite. "This has been a week I'll never forget,"  he shouts.

They look at each other and burst into laughter. She breaks into a run and he chases her down the beach--bewitched by the rush of the wind...gulls  skreeking overhead...the ocean rumbling onto shore...the thump of bare feet striking wet sand.  

When he catches her they wrestle playfully and fall into each other's arms. The cove is secluded. He reaches around and unties her white bikini top and she lets it fall away. His mouth finds her breast. They sink to their knees and he jerks the triangle of cloth from her hips, as she struggles to remove his swim trunks. They topple together in the sand. He hovers for a moment, gazing into her eyes and then, trembling, sinks deep into a warmth that washes over him like a wave.


"This may sound like a dumb question, but we've been together two weeks and you've never mentioned exactly what you do around here."

"More wine, Robert?"

"No, thanks, I'm fine."

She refills her own glass, sets the bottle down and gazes into the darkness off the veranda of his second story apartment.  Palm fronds rustle in the breeze. From somewhere in the distance comes the sound of conga drums and bass--he is certain the music is being performed live. 

Susan clears her throat. "  I like swimming and scuba...fooling around on the piano-"

"C'mon,  you know what I mean."

"Oh, that. I work for an agency. Desk job. Not very exciting. I had some vacation time coming anyway, so after I got a look at you I figured-"

"Reclamation project."

Her easy laugh again.

"I guess the real question is what I do around here--the puzzle has lots of missing pieces."  He flails his arms. "There's not a bump or scratch on my head, so how do you explain..."

"Calm down. You can't get all the answers at once." She guides him toward the bedroom "You're in my capable hands now. Relax."


He wakes to the rattle of pots and pans and the aroma of breakfast being made in the kitchen. He showers, dons a purple bathrobe,  (ambivalent about the color) and saunters into the the dining nook where eggs, toast, coffee, juice, and sliced papaya adorn the table.

"Good morning, Sir!"  She stands at mock attention, nipples saluting beneath the flimsy nightgown she wore to bed. "Anything else you would like?"

He is beaming. "Mmm...that should be obvious. 

Sipping the last of his coffee , he says, "Why don't we ride out to the airport later, or maybe down to the docks--see if it might trigger something for me. Can't shake this feeling that I might have been off the island for a while and recently returned."

"How was breakfast?"

"Loved it. So what do you think of that idea?"

She looks down. "I think you're trying to force it again. There are other, more interesting places you haven't seen."


The next day is a Friday, and he spends most of it waiting for Susan. She doesn't show. As the day wears on he feels like a slowly deflating balloon. She'd been such a distraction that he hadn't noticed there was no radio or television in the apartment. Come to think of it, he hadn't seen or heard one playing anywhere on the island. He remembers scanning briefly through a newspaper the other day in hopes of spotting names of places that might sound familiar, but--and this also seemed strange--every story was local in origin.

By nightfall he's had enough and ventures into the street. A genial sea breeze greets him. This would be the perfect opportunity to follow up on that hunch. He has no car, but the money in his pocket--a loan from Susan--will pay for a taxi. 

He flags one down on the second try. "To the airport," he tells the driver. 

The old man gazes at him through the rear view mirror. "No, Senor," comes the reply.

"What...what do you mean?" 

"Is not possible."

"You mean the roads are blocked or something? Take me to the harbor then."

"No, Senor."

"What the-"

The driver turns and looks at him with sad kind eyes. "You are as a child now. Soon you will learn. I wish you well...find all the happiness you can here in Santa Isabel. "


Susan returns on Saturday, telling him she had to catch up on some paperwork at home. His dour mood prompts her inquisitive look. She asks if anything is wrong.  He will not say that he has spent the night drifting in and out of restless dreams that shattered like glass. Looking up at the fickle moon. Searching for the sense of it all. 

They eat lunch on the patio of a small sidewalk cafe. He watches the beachgoers parade by in varying degrees of undress. Today his is oblivious to bikinis. He is looking at the ears. After an hour or so, he feels his suspicions are confirmed.

"Miss me last night? she asks.

"Terribly. Not to mention it's goddamn boring in that apartment with no radio or television."  He tries to sound casual. "I was wondering if you might have a portable you could lend me."

"Well, ah..."

"That's what I thought. You know, I've been sitting here people watching and I've just realized something is missing, Susan."


"Yes, what would be the logical thing for people to do at the beach while frying their asses off in the sun?  I'll tell you what. Music. Doesn't anybody around here listen to music?"

She shrugs, her smile frozen in place.

His voice is urgent, intimate. "Isn't it unusual that not one adult is wearing earphones; not one kid is toting a boombox; that there is no music--except for maybe a guitar here and there--and the reason there is no music is because there are no radios...or televisions for that matter, anywhere on this island.  I'm sure it will come as no shock to you that when one attempts to visit the airport one is informed you can't get there from know all about these things, don't you Susan?"

She stands. "I need to find the ladies room."

He explodes from his chair to block her retreat, grabbing her arm more roughly than he'd intended. 

She turns away. " wasn't time yet."

"Time?  Time for what?"

She meets his eyes, reluctantly. "You may never trust me again, but you must trust me now, today.  I'll tell you what you want to know, but not here. I want to go back to our secret cove."


They sit beneath a clump of sheltering palms, the sun's rays baking the sand around them . 

"Where should I begin?"

"With the airport."

A sigh of resignation. "It doesn't exist. Ordinary citizens are not allowed inside the port area. Radios and televisions, as you so astutely observed, have been banned on Santa Isabel. We are totally cut off from the outside world. And that hunch you had about being from somewhere's accurate."

"Jesus--what is this then, some kind of penal colony?"

"You'll have to reach your own conclusions about that. I never indoctrinate my clients."

"Oh, so now I'm your client."

"You have been since the moment we spoke at El Portal. Some of what I told you is true. I do work for an agency. I have been your guide--or hostess if you will--to help you assimilate into our society."

" whore as well?"

She picks up an alabaster and orange colored shell half buried in the sand and studies it for a long moment, then  stands and gazes out over the water. "I know that in a way I deserve that, but I swear it wasn't in the script."

"I'm sorry," he says.

She looks at him and forces a smile. "You're wondering how we hooked up when it seemed like coincidence. Remember the neon sign?  Your hypersensitivity to colors is what snared you. The fish always takes the bait. That's when my work begins."

"Wait a minute, I had a local driver's license and a place to live before I ever laid eyes on-"

"Advance preparations. All part of the service. We try to think of everything--makes it easier on the initiates when we have to give them the truth. Soon you'll have a job assignment, but there will be some latitude to select the kind of work you like."

"Alright then...where the hell did I come from?" 

"I don't know that either."

"Goddamn it...then who's running this show?"

"That's what I'm trying to explain. Everyone here has one thing in common. Amnesia.  It's selective, that's why you can remember things like radios, but nothing of the people or places you left behind."

"But there's got to be someone who knows..."

"Only the ones who are secreting us on and off the island, but no one ever sees them. There are theories, of course. One is that we've been kidnapped by aliens and they're observing us, like an ant farm. That's a bit farfetched for me.  Others believe we may be willing participants in a kind of field experiment, the memory loss induced with our prior consent. If there were any rhyme or reason to it, we would have a clue, but all we do is live our lives pretty much the way we choose."

"And I take it that any of us could disappear in the same abrupt manner as we materialized, so to speak?"

"Whisked away in the middle of the night,  usually.  Without warning."

He spins round in a circle, palms outstretched to the sky. "But a a magical place like this?"

"The prison is of our own making. We become obsessed with the mystery. Many grow bitter when at last they realize that they will never know. Not here. Some drown themselves in the wine. Others manipulate and cheat. There have even been killings. We become increasingly lost in the labyrinth of our own minds. The colors, the euphoria, the joy--everything you experienced when you woke to this enchanted world --fades and dies. We blind ourselves to the incredible beauty that surrounds us.  The spell is broken. Paradise is lost.  In my heart I feel that this is the way it must have been before, in that other place...perhaps the way it has always been."

"Why do you do it for us...the initiates?"

She kneels, scoops up a fistful of sand, then opens her hand and watches the grains sift slowly through her fingers. "It helps me to be like them. Like you. So that I may see once again with open  eyes."

It is a glorious morning for a picnic. Susan would have everything prepared. They were to meet at her place and drive to the mountains in Robert's car, newly supplied by the agency. 

At nine o'clock he arrives at her cottage and rings the doorbell. No response. He gives it a couple more tries, then calls out her name. He listens for movement inside but hears nothing. An image is forming in his mind. She will step out of the shower and greet him, wrapped in a towel, her hair still wet and clean smelling.

The door yields. He steps inside. No sound of running water. No sound except the wind. 

He senses it immediately. 

Moving furiously through the house, he hurls open closets and cabinets, trying to keep the sick churning feeling in his stomach at bay. 

She is gone.

Whisked away in the middle of the night. Wasn't that how she had put it?  He collapses onto the sofa, burying his head in his hands. The breeze gushing through an open window toys with the wooden shutters.  They thrash about, battering the wall.

He gets up to leave. In the doorway, he turns for a last look. A slip of paper protrudes from beneath a rock  on top of the piano. No...not a rock,  but an iridescent gemstone of blue, orange, and green, its colors shifting and dancing in the light as he examines it from one angle and then another.   

He reads the hastily scrawled note.


The young woman squeezes through the door and hesitates, a hypervigilant doe gauging her surroundings. 

He watches from the corner of his eye as she stands motionless, adjusting her vision to the sunless room. She is dark-haired and willowy, a slightly off-kilter expression on her face. As she moves toward the bar, Robert feels a flutter of excitement,  then reminds himself to play it cool. 

The woman squints up at the list of drinks on the wall, and the words of Susan's terse farewell--ages ago, or so it seems, before his new assignment--come back to him. The pang is bittersweet. With his finger he traces the outline of the gemstone resting inside his shirt pocket. The note had said: Robert, carry this always. At first its meaning had eluded him. Afterwards he would spend hours gazing at the jewel, watching its colors mutate in the sun. Transformed by the light.  

He turns to the woman and smiles. "This one goes down easy," h e says, pointing to his drink. 

Oh, well then," she replies giddily, "it certainly looks delicious...I'll try one too."

He signals the small dark man behind the bar. "Manolo...another Island Surprise,   please. "    


  1. Wow! This is an amazing write! I love your descriptive detail. You just drew me in, and I hated to see the story end.

  2. RAZZAMADAZZLE: Thanks so much. You always know who your true fans are if they take the time to read something of this length!

  3. Well, that was something totally different, Timo. I was definitely Twilight Zoned from about the middle on, waiting to find out they were all dead, or part of some X-files experiment-but your take is much more subtle, and really more sinister, I think. Not just wth is going on here, but what the hell is EVER going on? Enjoyed it.

  4. This is an amazing write. You captured my attention and kept it! Nice.

  5. I always love reading your short stories, Tim. And this one didn't disappoint because I loved the twist about the amnesia...and think you could really stretch this one out even more.

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  7. "A visitor from Edmonton" it shows on your people count thingy ... well, I'm not from Edmonton ... nonetheless ... I'll be over to try your Arizona catnip some time ...

  8. Amnesia. We forget that which we were... to be what we can be... for one moment in time.

    __So many threads here Timoteo; I hope I found the needle. _m

  9. HEDGEWITCH: What the hell is EVER going on...that's some insight into the story right there!
    MARY: Thanks. That's all I wanted to do!
    TALON: I appreciate that, from one story writer to another.
    CAT: You are too from Edmonton.
    MAGYAR/DOUG: Your first sentence tells me that you did!

  10. No, this cat is not from Deadmonton/ Edmonton ... still, want some of my snow ... I'll deliver ... free of charge ... anytime ...

  11. he. rather makes me think m night the twist and an interesting concept to this as well...very nice short story man...

  12. CAT: Pretty close to Edmonton...close enough for me to say Edmonton instead of Ottawa!
    BRIAN: Aha, M. Night...interesting...thanks, dude!

  13. ..I don't usually read stories this long... I don't have the time. BUT i had to find out... so, it's his turn to give back, his turn to share the peace he found before he had to go back to... where he came from? Yes, twilight zone indeed!

  14. MARGARET: I like your assessment there--yes, correct on all counts!