An Excerpt from The Undiscovered Island

I thought it was about time I posted an excerpt from my dad’s novel in case anyone is interested. Here are the first few pages. Let me know what you think.

 

It was a time the people of the island would refer to as “the Year of Miracles,” due to the number of extraordinary events that occurred: fish rained down on several villages; a drowned man’s body was discovered halfway up the steep slopes of Pico; a ghost ship drifted in the waters off the isles; men who could always be found in the bars or working their fields disappeared without a trace; a mysterious, luminescent woman was said to wander the shores at night, or swim out beyond the waves, singing in a voice that would deprive a man of his senses. Some claimed the luminescent woman appeared only to certain individuals on whom she bestowed great powers, granting their every wish, every desire. Others,however, were just as convinced that it was only an early grave that she provided her hapless, unwitting followers.

In the Taberna Mendes, as in numerous other cafés and bars, men, young and old, gathered to drink and discuss these latest events.

“I was on my rounds just before dawn,” Carlos Neves told his companions, “when I saw a glow moving on the water.” Carlos, a refuse collector, had driven his truck up the hill towards the old cemetery, when he turned to see the trail of light upon the water. “It could only have been this siren, perhaps Venus herself, leaving a stream of fire in her wake.”


“You were drunk again, eh Carlos,” Manuel Mendonça said. “You’re always imagining things. Like the time you told everyone you had made love to Maria Soares de Almeida and Luís threatened to gut you like a fish, until you admitted you had simply drunk too much and let your tongue run away.”


“I remember, too,” said Raimundo Pinto. “Luís said he would come for you if you so much as thought or dreamt of his wife again.”


Carlos cringed and paled at the unpleasant memory. Luís was not a man who made idle threats. “I tell you I was sober,” Carlos said. “I didn’t drink anything the whole night.”


“Well, that would be a first,” Raimundo said, with a snort.


Carlos was always eager to share in the latest rumor, which led him to accept everything as fact, and to add his own touches to every story. Today or tomorrow or the following day, he was convinced, a miracle would greet him during his early morning refuse runs. For no one could say with any certainty that one day a man might not turn a corner and come face-to-face with a treasure, or a pretty woman waiting with open arms, or a sight that no one else had ever seen. Manuel, on the other hand, expected and found only the worst in everything and everyone.


The dingy, closed, smoke-filled atmosphere of the tavern mirrored Manuel’s mood.


“They say she is the most beautiful of women,” Carlos continued, inspired not merely by the first flush of intoxication, but also the melancholy of regret and longing. He hadn’t actually seen the luminescent woman with his own eyes, only an eerie sheen that shimmered across a stretch of the otherwise dark water. But this was enough to waken his desire. “A goddess who could lure even the most happy and contented of men if he gazed at her beauty even for a moment.”


“Anyone as beautiful as that is bound to be the source of endless sorrows,” Manuel said. “You should count your lucky stars, Carlos, that you were spared the unhappiness that would have dogged your heels the rest of your life, if you had actually seen this beauty.”


Raimundo and Carlos exchanged looks. “Manuel,” Raimundo said. “If Our Lady Herself came down to bless you, you would be sure to find fault in it.”


Manuel grunted. “That’s because I know that what God gives with one hand He takes away with the other, and while blessings come one at a time––when they come at all––they are usually followed by misfortunes which always bring company.”


Later that night an anguished voice was heard bellowing in the early morning hours: “Who is this woman who comes in the night, singing songs of the sea? Your sorrowful voice kills me . . . but I die happy. . .” The singing was accompanied by a cacophony of dogs, roosters, cows, sheep, and goats all squawking, barking, baying and bleating in discordant response. Villagers stirred in their sleep, roused by the plaintive cries; others, if awake, shook their heads, and proclaimed, “Ai, there goes another poor fool to his doom.”


There were also earthquakes day and night, the terrifying sound of stone grinding against stone, of basalt slowly being worn to dust, a groaning and rumbling heard from deep beneath the ground– –the world straining at its seams.


“Any moment,” the islanders murmured anxiously, “the seas will boil, fire will fall from the heavens and the island will sink below the ocean.” Some left their homes to spend days, even weeks, in the small sheds in the fields where their cows grazed, further up the mountain, believing the higher elevation might protect them from disaster, or at least delay the inevitable. Others gathered on the shore determined that if their time to die had come then resistance was futile. People searched the skies for a sign of Christ’s impending return, apprehensive of any sudden movement or unexpected sound: the flight of a bird nearby, the honk of a horn, a baby crying.


The slightest tremors sent people scurrying in every direction, filling the air with the screams and cries of those who didn’t know where to go, which way to turn. Nothing was secure, no place was safe. Although the threat from crumbling buildings was the more immediate danger, there was also the terrifying possibility of being burned alive by lava, smothered by ash, swallowed by gaping rifts in the earth, or drowned by tidal waves. Nothing but an inscrutable God prevented a complete catastrophe, such as the entire island sinking back beneath the sea. And if there was one thing the people of the islands had learned over the centuries, it was that if God was somewhat sparing in the production of bona fide miracles––the parting of the seas, or raising of the dead––He was generous, perhaps to a fault, when it came to displays of natural disasters.


Word spread quickly that a new island was rising from the depths of the ocean, igniting disputes as to whether this was an ordinary volcano, as people generally believed, or the Enchanted Island, as a number of devotees claimed. They whispered the old prophecy of a missing king who would return, while others spoke of a Messiah and the end of days. Some awaited the outcome with hope and expectation, while those who had the means abandoned their homes and fled the islands with their families, fearing utter devastation. Reports spread of entire villages swallowed by the gaping earth, the sea churning and boiling, set afire by bursts of lava and explosions. And when an impenetrable blanket of smoke and ash turned the daylight into night for three days, people naturally assumed the worst.


“The sun has been extinguished,” they cried. “O fim do mundo
––The end of the world!”

 

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