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From the Diaries of Parson Reading

James Mason

29th April, Year of Our Lord _______

On the morning of the 24th we sighted the scrambled white of waves on the island’s coastline and there was great excitement amongst the crew as we had not seen land in many weeks. The brow of the islet rose out of the water, with a tangle of trees and thick vegetation ringing the top like a tonsure. There was much singing and cheering while the Captain named the men who would be first to go ashore. I volunteered to take charge of this landing party and, piling muskets and empty barrels and baskets into the longboat, we rowed with great haste towards that hump of green.

It soon became apparent that the island was a sand bar spreading in a wide disc outward from its green centre like a tortoise shell, being edged to the North and West with reefs. Had the ship approached too close, we would have grounded and then indeed been in the care of God. As the men heaved at their oars, I thanked the Lord for the Captain’s good sense. About ten yards from the shore, the keel ground into the sand and we waded knee deep through water as pale as blown glass.

The seven of us stood for a moment upon sand as fine and white as flour, and into which our feet sank up to our ankles. The whole island must have been three miles round and, beyond the beach, became a jungle that frothed green where it spilled onto the sand, and deepened into fleshy purples as it shrank into the interior.

At my command, the men dragged the boat further up the beach and, with long ropes affixed to trees, made her secure. We listened for the chatter or shrieks of birds, but beyond waves and breeze and our own commotion all was silence, even as we stood intent, our heads cocked to one side like spaniels.

Each armed with a musket and cutlass, we advanced up the beach and into the undergrowth. The air here was hot and full of a cloying, savoury smell like that of tomatoes ripening. This buoyed us greatly — it meant water, though we hoped that we would find a pond rather than have to dig a well.

Our search was quickly rewarded when we came upon a clearing full of a profusion of strange birds, the colour and size of Christmas puddings. These were as numerous as angels in Heaven. The birds viewed us with only mild concern, ruffling their brown, downy feathers and clapping their beaks together in a bored way that could have been disdain or excitement.

Drawing our swords, immediately we fell to killing them, walking from nest to nest, until we were soaked in warm blood and feathers and the air was full of a coppery stench. Even after the work of an hour, we had killed only a quarter of the flock. The remainder continuing to eye us with coy disapproval. Under the carcases, we found smooth, grey eggs and, on my instruction, the men divided their labour — half continued with me to kill the birds, the others collecting eggs, stacking them in a large wicker box we brought from the boat.

The birds were flightless, for their wings were dwarfed by their fat bodies. How they arrived upon the island, that is known only to God. By noon, we despatched every bird in the clearing. To the very end they remained docile; the final fifty, we killed firing our pistols and muskets at them, having spent too much energy using our swords.

While we were about our exertions, the Captain sent over two other boats, including one commanded by the First Mate. Upon landing, the Mate proclaimed the island to be set atop a pile of gold and precious metals; it being a paradise and that, as its finders, God must have rewarded us. At once, men, their hearts swelled with the hope of wealth, began hacking down trees and worked into the earth with picks and shovels. All our time on the island, no gold was discovered, though some of the men dug the whole time, clearing a great swath of forest.

Other of the men came on to find us and were greatly thrilled by the sight of the birds, which we had started to harvest and pile up in huge towers, ready to be brought back for the cooks in the galley.

Leaving some of the men to continue this work, I brought several of the crew through the clearing into the heart of the island. Here we found a deep pond of fresh water. Around this pool, grew a thick tangled mass of vivid purple flowers, with petals that flapped open like cow tongues, revealing saffron coloured stamens. Carefully, with our boot heels and muskets, we flattened these down and cleared the whole edge of the pond, better to haul buckets into it.

On the other side of the island, a colony of turtles was discovered. We salted the meat and packed it into barrels.

We stayed on the island four days, harvesting the bounty that God presented to us, even cutting down the taller trees, although later the carpenter claimed the wood too wet to use, so we left these where they had fallen.

It was with great regret that we continued on our journey, with many of us casting mournful glances back as the ship cut onwards, our sails fat. The Captain, a learned man, named the island Prodigentia and we hope to come back on our return voyage, such was the abundance it has provided.

1st May, Year of Our Lord _______

The Captain has given orders and the birds and eggs are to be thrown overboard. The crew complain bitterly when forced to eat any of the meat. The eggs are of a gluey taste and not even the ship’s dog will touch them.

James Mason has, in small and superficial ways, been a poet, editor and comedian. His work has been published in The Phare, Flash Fiction Magazine and Horla magazine, as well an anthology by Black Pear Press. He won the Tortive Theatre 101 Flash competition twice and had stories shortlisted in the 2020 Cranked Anvil and 2021 Worcester Lit Fest writing competitions. He lives in Worcester, UK

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