JUST AN ILLUSION
Katie Oliver’s brilliant piece of flash fiction was inspired by news of billionaires buying remote islands and land to escape to in the event of a climate catastrophe or pandemic. Illustration by Fran Hu.
“How hard can it be?” he thinks, hitching up trousers that pouch around the jutting bones of his hips. His once-pristine shirt is filthy and threadbare, yellow sweat stains hardening at the armpits. But no matter: he’s always had a can-do attitude, always been solution-focused. Blue sky thinking. He ignores the fact that the sky above his head is a sickly shade of green, and begins to scrape at the dry earth with his fingertips.
He’d been smug at first, when he’d arrived on the island, purchased at enormous cost after a brandy-fuelled evening in Silicon Valley. It was still lush and green then, as yet untouched by the stain of disease and drought. The house was an architectural feat complete with wraparound solar panels, and more importantly, there was an underground bunker crammed with tinned goods he’d never really believed would run out. For a while he’d enjoyed the freedom of scooping tuna straight from the can, the anarchic eschewing of kitchen utensils that went hand-in-hand with the rolling news coverage.
Intermittently he wonders what happened to his pilot, Rico; he’d left to transport someone else to their island and never returned. He thinks about Agata daily, with a pang in his heart and a growl in his belly. He’d always assumed she’d be with him, but she was one of the first to go when the virus hit. She’d just stopped turning up to work one day. He finds that twenty four hours pass very slowly now that the newsreaders have stopped turning up as well.
As he claws at the parched earth his fingers crack and bleed, oozing scarlet drops of blood that remind him of ripe cherries. He scatters the seeds and covers them over, pausing to stare accusingly at the queasy, cloudless sky. A sudden movement catches his eye and his heart pounds when he sees it is a beetle. He falls on it gratefully, fragments of shell ricocheting from the corners of his mouth as he crunches. He feels like howling, and so he does.
A few days later the rain comes and he weeps on his knees with his mouth open, patting the damp earth as if it were a dying animal. The fat drops of rain catching the light make him think, just for a second, that he can see a pair of long-forgotten diamond cufflinks twinkling in the dirt. He looks down at his bloodstained, tattered sleeves and shakes the worthless jewels from his mind. He realises that it was just an illusion.
This piece appeared in The Earth Issue of Popshot Quarterly.
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