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  • William Mullins

A Castaway's Mystery

Jeremy awoke from his slumber, unsettled by a dream that he could not remember, except that he was certain it dealt with his lack of confidence in his ability to extricate himself and those he cared about from a dangerous situation. Such a dream came as no surprise since it was the fifth night of sleeping in the mouth of a cave on an unidentified island for Jeremy, his sister, and his uncle. They were stranded, having lost their pleasure boat to the ocean's ever gaping and tumultuous throat. Jeremy wrapped himself in his arms, reminded of parental embraces that had steadied his nerves on many previous occasions during his fifteen years of life.

He had been resting well under the circumstances, but it was cooler on the island than the previous night. Jeremy instinctively sat up and looked around for something to pull over him for warmth before realizing that such efforts were futile. He resolved to make the best of the night's sleep, but before he could drift back into the realm of dreams, something bizarre caught his eye. A soft light shone from somewhere in the depths of the cave. At first, he thought that it must be an optical illusion of some kind. Perhaps the moonlight was seeping in at just the right angle to reflect off of something in the rock. Jeremy rose to investigate, walking further into the cave. The further he advanced, the surer Jeremy became that this phenomenon was more than a reflection of some kind. The deeper into the cave he walked, the brighter the light became.

When he arrived at a point slightly beyond the reaches of their daytime explorations, Jeremy saw something that stunned him. A gem embedded in the rock was shining as if it were a light bulb. Another such gem was only a few feet away from where he stood.  Light emanated from it as well, but it was covered in something that significantly dulled its brilliance. Jeremy was taken aback by what he saw and moved deeper into the cave to explore the second gem. 

Suddenly, nothing supported his weight. He was falling. 

Too stunned to cry out for help, he grappled with the walls for something to grab onto. The walls seemed oddly smooth, not allowing him to halt or even slow down his descent. When he landed at the bottom of the shaft, Jeremy blacked out briefly from the impact, but he soon awoke to find himself in a passageway well-lit by the same gems he had witnessed above.

Jeremy fought the sensation of shock that attempted to overwhelm him. Keeping a clear head could make the difference between getting back to Lester and Rosalind before dawn and spending the rest of the night in this hole. Jeremy reminded himself that he wasn't stuck in the bottom of a dark oubliette. A tunnel extended into the recesses of the cave. 

He knew his companions would hear him if he were to scream, but an instinctive desire drove him to explore this discovery. He expected that crying out for help in the middle of the night could create a potentially hazardous situation for his sister and uncle. They had no idea where he was, and if they did make it safely to the edge of the hole, Jeremy would have no plan to offer for his rescue. Daylight would be a safer time for them all to act. Reasoning in this fashion, Jeremy determined that he would at least explore the mysterious passage before him.

As he walked along, Jeremy was comforted by the presence of the glowing gems in the wall. The tunnel was so well-lit that Jeremy expected sixty-watt light bulbs would not have done a much better job of illuminating it.  How could their light be almost as bright as bulbs in an electric lamp? Jeremy was so preoccupied with this question that he did not even notice at first that he had just reached the end of the passageway and stepped into a small chamber.

If the brightness of the gems had amazed him, what he saw now perplexed him more than anything he had ever experienced. The light grew even brighter, due to a greater concentration of gems in the walls and ceiling. The light revealed a room that had once clearly been used for some purpose by human beings. 

A large panel, carved out of the rock itself occupied one wall. Two ancient chairs sat in front of this panel. Even from across the room, Jeremy marveled at their exquisite craftsmanship. In several places, the rock of the walls seemed to be blended with a metallic substance. Messages were carved into each of these smooth rectangular areas. The words were in a foreign tongue that Jeremy did not recognize in the slightest, although the look of the language made him feel it must be as ancient as the rock surrounding him. 

Jeremy walked toward the curious panel with great caution, as if the answers to all the mysteries of the world waited for him there. He was sufficiently afraid to be paralyzed by what he saw around him, but his need to understand what he saw pressed him onward to the wall with the panel. 

Wonders did not cease, as he arrived at his intended destination. The panel was inlaid with one gem of its own, and a few inches beneath its light were three round knobs. There were also two raised pieces of metal that he would swear to be buttons, as if they were on and off switches for a piece of machinery. He paused. Was his mind playing tricks on him, or had he just discovered something for which there was no possible explanation? He plopped down onto one of the chairs, too puzzled to appreciate their beauty any longer. He knew there was only one way to discover what he was dealing with, but he was afraid of what the results might be. What would it do if anything?

At that moment, Jeremy noticed yet another surprising feature of the panel. A small drawer protruded from the center of it. Inside were three of the gems that were so abundant within the walls. He took one of them in his hand and examined it. This gem was like the others in appearance, but it did not give off light. As Jeremy wondered why this would be the case, he repeatedly tossed the gem in the air and caught it in his hand. Strangely enough, it made an odd noise each time it flew upwards. He laughed softly, too dumbfounded by what he was hearing to receive it with anything other than stunned humor. 

It was static; He heard static!

Whatever purpose thing may have been built to serve, it was indeed some sort of radio. Jeremy could not seem to locate the devices that the static was emanating from, but he knew that there were several of them. He began juggling all the gems. The crackling hum filled the room around him.

Jeremy decided that he must experiment with the knobs located above the buttons. He let the gems rest for a moment. The first knob could be rolled to the right or left, but neither direction produced any noticeable results. In stark contrast, the purpose of the second knob quickly became clear to Jeremy. It was a volume control. He moved it slightly to the left of where it had been set, reducing the volume somewhat.

Jeremy then reached for the third knob, eager to discover its function. He rolled it to the left until it stopped. Aside from a few fluctuations in the intensity of the static and an occasional beeping noise, nothing dramatic occurred. He turned the knob rapidly to the right, listening carefully for any hint of a signal. Nothing happened. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, staring blankly at the curiosity. The static drove into him like an insult, threatening to steal away all hope that this astounding machine could be of any help to him. Then he remembered that the first of the three knobs was set at the extreme left position. Perhaps it would make a difference if he tried moving it again. He pursued this course of action with surprising results.

As he moved the first knob to the right and further manipulated the third knob, a signal could be heard with sharp clarity.... a voice! It was a radio operator on a naval ship. Jeremy was astounded.

He stopped himself, asking silently the rhetorical question, "What good will it do us?" He knew the man on the other end of the transmission could not hear him. Listening to someone's chatter was not helping them out of their predicament.

Putting his head in his hands, he cried, "What good will it do us?"

Jeremy trad not been expecting a reply, but he received one anyway. The operator from the ship had heard his cry of frustration.

There was a distinct crack in Jeremy's voice as he began to have the most wondrous conversation of his life, explaining the circumstances of their wreck to the sailor whose voice filled the room through an ancient and mysterious sound system. 

The naval ship set course to the island immediately. The only explanation Jeremy offered to the radio operator in regard to the source of his transmission was that he had discovered an abandoned military radio on the island. 

The next morning, Lester and Rosalind heard his cries for help and managed to lift him up from the tunnel with tremendous difficulty. He explained what had taken place to them, noting the concerned looks on their faces. Perhaps they thought he had suffered a severe concussion from his fall, but when the ship arrived that afternoon, Lester and Rosalind knew that Jeremy had solved a perplexing mystery while they slept.

About William Mullins:

Will's poetry, short stories, and guest blog articles have appeared in Half Tones to Jubilee, Riverwind, REAL: The Journal of Liberal Arts, Limestone, Cyclamens and Swords Magazine, Scrittura Magazine, California Quarterly, Off the Coast, On the Veranda, Orange Coast Review, Rune Bear, Rye Whiskey Review, Salmon Creek Journal, Ripples in Space, State of Matter, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Theme Park Magazine, Startup Nation, Submittable's Guest Blog, and the Institute of Internal Communication's Guest Blog. His novella Miller's Ridge is available from World Castle Publishing. His novella Darius Dimension and the Seventh Pillar of Elpis is available from Alien Buddha Press.

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