Nobody tells you about the cold ocean breeze at the end of the world that will send shivers down your spine. I clutch the thin shawl that’s wrapped around me even tighter, hoping that tightness of grip might make up for the immovable fact that the fabric itself is quite thin. At least part of the shiver can be accounted for by the fact that the barge has become absolutely abuzz with chatter now that we’re in sight of The Island that is to become my salvation.
“Is it everything you’d hoped for?” Miss Pembry asked me.
The shawl belongs to Miss Pembry, my new acquaintance who I’ve gotten to know a bit on the ride over here. Miss Pembry, as I’ve come to learn, is a British ex-pat who lived (until today) in the south of France. Her right hand clutches a cup of tea that she’s been nursing for the better part of an hour.
“It does look like the photos,” I say.
This rather lame response draws a polite grunt from Pembry, whose normally steely eyes are looking a bit misty.
Pembry, myself and the other ten passengers on the barge are the last twelve people on earth. Or, at least, we will be someday very soon. Rising sea levels have rendered nearly the entire world uninhabitable. So, here we are, at what scientists believe will soon be the last remaining piece of livable land in the world. The Island. An island which is owned by a proprietor of a boutique hotel called The Bellevue. Of course, the world’s rich and powerful tried every possible measure to take the hotel away from its proprietor. Legal attacks, unimaginable riches, open threats. But money and laws have no meaning when civilization has all but disappeared.
I take stock of the other eleven passengers on the barge.There is no discernible pattern that I can see. Old and young, from every country and class. Why had the proprietor chosen us? If anyone knew, they weren’t letting on. As far as I can tell, no one knows much of anything about the proprietor at all.
A large man in a cane ambles over to us. A retired Ghanaian doctor, he had told me earlier, his name is Isaac. He introduces himself to Miss Pembry and he remembers my name (Ciarra) from our earlier interaction.
“We are home,” he says.
As our boat docks, I take in the island up close for the first time. It looks like it was cut straight out of a tourism brochure. Pristine white sandy beaches, crisp waves, unspoiled nature. I can’t help but smile, though I feel guilt for this flash of happiness almost immediately.
I think of the people I’ve left behind - a dangerous prospect, to be sure. My mother, my little sister, David - oh, David. Those green eyes that I always thought had some preternatural power to them. Those green eyes, at the bottom of the ocean with everything else. When I received the letter from the proprietor, I screamed and cried. I tried to give it to my sister, but I was told in no uncertain terms that it was non transferable. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why I was chosen.
A wiry man with thick glasses lets himself onto the barge. Maybe this is the proprietor. My heart skips a beat. He addresses the group.
“Good morning, everyone,” he says. “Welcome to paradise.”
Cheers and applause for this man, tepid at first, then more enthusiastic.
“While the proprietor can’t be with us this morning, he sends his regards and he’s eager to meet you all very soon.”
Disappointed murmurs from a few on the barge.
“I will be reading a letter from him to you now.”
He adjusts his glasses and reads off of a small piece of paper.
“‘While we are very excited to greet you all on the property, there is one rather serious piece of business that we need to resolve first,” he continues. “‘In the course of our acquisition of supplies required for all of our survival, there appears to have been a slight miscalculation.’”
Pins and needles.
“‘Initially, we believed that we could house twelve survivors comfortably for the remainder of their days,” the man says. “‘Now, we know that that number is actually six. I will leave the job to you all to determine which six will stay on the island and which six will depart. Sincerely, The Proprietor.’”
“Is this a joke?” Isaac demands.
“I’m afraid not,” the man replies.
A slightly delayed mayhem. People shout at the man angrily. A pregnant woman weeps. Miss Pembry, shaking with rage, attempts to bargain with the man. I stand there on the barge, numb. My first foolish thought is to jump into the ocean and let the waves carry me away. Give everyone one less person to worry about. But I have to survive, I remember. I had told my mother I would. I had promised David.
“Well?” asks a middle-aged Korean man after a few moments. “I’ll be the first to say it. How are we going to choose?”
The silence is broken only by the sound of a terrible, guttural choking.
“Miss Pembry?” I say. “ Are you alright?”
She is choking, struggling for breath. The cup of tea falls out of her hand onto the ground. Within seconds, Pembry is on the ground motionless. I check her pulse.
“Dead,” I say numbly.
Isaac is on the ground next to me, but he has the tea cup in his hands. He puts a droplet on his index finger and tastes it.
“Cyanide,” he says. “Someone killed her.” And then, after a pause: “Someone is choosing for us.”
I look at the other faces on the barge. Some scared, some confused, some inscrutable. I wish I could remember this moment. Who had which expression. Lord knows that I’ve gone back to it again and again.