The pool was going to be a problem.
All morning, Isla had stared at the water collecting in the shallow basin at the front of the cave, imagining a complex series of pulleys and levers that could transport the water the five short feet to where the rock graded down toward the ocean. Cutting through the rock would be impossible—she couldn’t think of a tool capable of cutting something that hard—so the solution would have to be something that defied nature altogether, something that lifted and transported the water back to its mother’s bosom.
Welcome to Flashes from the Verse, a sampling of unedited, unrevised, and often out-of-context scratch writing that takes place in the Vinestead Universe. Somewhere in these interconnected ramblings is the next Vinestead novel, so keep your eyes peeled and enjoy!
How exactly to accomplish that remained a mystery.
Isla smiled and sat down on the fresh palms near the edge of the pool. There was a slight acidic smell to the water, but the air never stopped moving, and for the most part, carried the offending odor away from her and out to sea. She could see the waves churning through the cave’s small opening, could see the peaks rising and falling as they fled the dark clouds gathering on the horizon.
A storm was coming.
Dad had said so that morning.
That was why, instead of being seated at her desk at school, she was hanging out in her little cave on the backside of the island, using the extra time to make improvements to Castillo de Isla. Over the last year, she’d brought in small comforts to make the cave more hospitable: a rug, some lashed-together palm leaves, several strands of LED globe lights, and of course, her diary. There was no lock on her door in the house, so keeping the diary in her room was out of the question. It was safer in the cave, stashed away behind some rocks with a few bags of chips and a pint-size bottle of wine she’d snagged from the store room.
Isla saw the wine every time she removed and returned her diary; just the shape of it in the dim light made her heart race. How exciting and foolish it had been to steal it. Not that she’d ever tasted wine or any alcohol for that matter, but knowing the choice was there somehow made life more interesting. She looked forward to the day when school got too stressful or some boy tried to tease her and she’d run off to her cave, peel the foil from the bottle, and down every drop in one gulp.
It would be the bender to end all benders.
But, it wouldn’t do to get tipsy in a cave full of jagged edges, and certainly not with a pool of standing water right in front of the entrance. Not only did it smell weird, the water was hosting its own ecosystem of flora and fauna that had come out of the sky as far as Isla was concerned. There were things in the water, and she had no intention of falling into the pool and accidentally swallowing some of them.
Her first inclination had been to simply place a cover over the pool. There were plenty of downed trees nearby, but there was no way to make them airtight. The water would still be underneath, festering and growing, ready to unleash a swarm of mutated insects at a moment’s notice.
Isla sneered and shook her head.
There had to be a better way.
She reached for her diary a few feet away and pulled the attached pen from its loop. A frayed purple ribbon marked her progress, and when she opened to a blank page, she wrote the date in thin, swirling letters.
A Cloudy Monday Morning on the Thirtieth Day of March, Year of Our Lord 2071.
The pool of water is going to be a problem, as it is improper for a moat to be inside the castle. We are going to ask Dad to help us build a contraption to remove the stagnant water before it breeds something equally foul. In meteorological news, a storm is coming. Hence the brevity.
With her diary entry done, Isla closed the book and got up to replace it in its hiding place. She glanced at the wine, felt a tingle alight in her stomach, and quickly replaced the flat rock covering the hole. The string lights above her head were all controlled by a single switch connected to a battery; she flipped the black rocker on her way out of the cave. Even though the rocky ground was dry, she took extra care stepping around the pool of water, not just for her own well-being, but also because she had borrowed her mother’s running shoes on her way out the door that morning, and she didn’t want to ruin them.
Outside, errant rays of sunshine were peeking through the heavy clouds above. They moved quickly through the sky, opening pockets of light that baked the sand below her shoes. The weather on the island was always changing. Dad said it was because they sat at the apex of two ocean currents, so warm water was always running into cold water and that somehow created the constant storms that were always sending her scurrying inside.
She’d learned about weather systems in school, but much of the instruction had been focused on the continental United States—how the wind blew hard in Oklahoma, how snow battered New England, and how Arizona was already a desert. A lot of what she learned at Dahlstrom Academy was mainland-centric, as if the procession of grifter Presidents had anything to do with life on the island. So much of school was learning what to keep and what to discard.
Isla kept to the beach on her way back to the main compound. There were paths through the brush, but she always felt safer out in the open, with nothing between her and the endless ocean except a few feet of damp sand. The sound the water made as it came ashore sounded to her like a giant taking a deep, steadying breath, only to release it moments later. The constant in and out reminded her the island was very much alive, quite the opposite of the stagnant pool in the cave.
The storm was not much closer when she finally turned the corner on the south beach and started seeing the house peek out from behind the swaying palm trees. Its white walls stood out against the lush, green foliage, as if it had fallen whole out of a passing plane and embedded itself on the west side of the island. The sharp lines cut into the rising land, disappearing into the earth. Only half of the house was visible from the outside; the rest was underground, away from the dangerous storms.
Thunder rolled in the distance, creeping up on her back like an angry spirit. She hurried onto the network of raised boardwalks that spread out from the house like roots of a tree. Her footsteps grew louder and echoed as she trotted the hills and valleys back to the wide front porch. Dad hadn’t been by to secure the furniture yet, so Isla took a minute to push the wicker chairs and couches together into a small clump. She dumped the loose pillows into a well created by the arrangement and then covered it with a bare chair frame. It wouldn’t hold up in a bad storm, but maybe if they got lucky, she wouldn’t have to go hunting in the brush for pillows again.
Isla caught a glimpse of herself in the floor-to-ceiling windows that faced the west side of the island. The wind was catching her hair more than she realized; it fluttered out to the side in long, golden strands, defying gravity.
Perhaps wind was the answer to her problem. Would it be possible to simply blow the stagnant water out of the cave? What did she have that could generate that much force?
“Hey, there, Pinwheel.”
Isla watched her father come around the side of the house carrying an assortment of short bungee cords. He tried to give her a little wave with his free hand but only succeeded in dropping a black and orange striped rope. He dumped his items on the coffee table near the clump of furniture and reached for her head.
She didn’t pull away as he ruffled her hair. Even at fourteen, Isla could appreciate the comfort of his touch, the feel of his palm on her head. He’d done the same movement since before she could remember, as if that was the only way he knew how to show affection. Not that she minded. He was a good dad, and he loved her. Who cared if he was awkward showing it sometimes?
“Haven’t seen you all morning,” he continued. “Where’ve you been?”
“Nowhere,” she replied, smirking a little. They both knew nowhere meant my cave.
“Uh huh, and how are things in Nowhere today?” His eyes drifted to the water, and half of his attention slipped away like a receding wave.
“Nothing to report except a small problem,” said Isla. She waited a beat, then added, “A small engineering problem.”
“Ah, interesting.” Dad rubbed his hands together. “I want to hear all about it.”
“But after the storm, right?”
He smiled, glanced at the water again. “Yeah, sorry, Pin. After the storm. Radar says this one is gonna be pretty bad. Category 3 if the models are correct.”
Isla groaned. She was definitely going to be hunting for pillows in the brush.
“How much time do I have?”
Dad looked at the sliver of metal in his wrist. “Well, the storm’s not due for another couple hours, but you know I like it when you’re down in Missle Command early.”
“One less thing for you to worry about,” she offered.
“That’s right. One less thing for me to worry about.”
He had dimples when he smiled. Years ago, Isla had spent hours in front of the mirror looking for her own only to come away disappointed. According to Dad, she’d inherited most of her looks from Mom, including the blonde hair and light blue eyes. Dad’s were more green or gray; she couldn’t decide which. Still, she delighted in seeing the tiny indentations in his cheeks. It meant he was smiling for real, that he was happy for real.
“Well, I don’t have anything else to do,” Isla said, looking around at the patio. “I already pushed the chairs together. I could lower the shutters on the windows before I go.”
Dad shook his head, checked his wrist again. “I’ll take care of that, Pinwheel. Why don’t you head on down and keep your mother company while I finish up out here?”
The hair on Isla’s arms stood up for a moment at the mention of Mom. Isla could already imagine her sitting in Missile Command, in the plush chair in the corner of the room. She’d probably still be wearing her night clothes—something purple or pink but always satin. For certain, she’d be wearing her mask, that bulging piece of molded plastic that covered her eyes and conformed to her face. One time, Isla had snuck a peek at the mask as they were leaving Missile Command after a storm, but there was nothing on the inside except thin lines of gold filament.
She didn’t know what purpose the filament served and didn’t have the nerve to ask Mom. Dad had told her later it was to help Mom dream of whatever she wanted to dream of.
Mom was always sleeping, for as long as Isla could remember. What could she possibly have left to dream about anymore?
Isla looked at her feet, dug the toe of a sneaker into the evercrete.
“Okay,” she said, “but can I take a drink down? I forgot to take one with me this morning.”
“You know there’s plenty of water down there.”
“I know, but it’s just water.”
“Alright, Pin,” he said, putting his hands on his hips. “One can of Blue Rain, and that’s it, okay?”
She turned and ran before he could change his mind.