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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-seven ISLANDS OF THE BOY KING

by
JASON HOWELL
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here are your friends?”



“Dead and buried.” The shovel blade punches into the ground.



“Where are your enemies?”



“Buried deeper still.” Pitched sand joins the ocean spray.



“Where is everyone else?”



No reply except the conversation between metal and soil. The interviewer moves on. How has the subject come to be the last living native of his tiny, floating world?



They snatched me up from the tunnels where I caught bits of food and anything useful in my makeshift sieve. I fought and lived with the others in the dark. Most looked up so rarely they forgot the world above existed. But it was up there, growing and changing. As for me, I studied the rain grate, my three-foot-by-six horizon, peering through tendrils of moss and dripping trash.



I searched, not for the buildings or the strong, healthy legs, but for the distant glimpses of clouds between them. Whether brilliant white or boiling gray, those drifting billows always seemed clean and unaffected. I felt kinship with the clouds. All I had was enough for me too. On my last morning in the culvert, I sat tilting my head up, eyes closed, and warming my face (and wondering why lately I had encountered so few of my dirty siblings in the dark) when the crate opened. A dozen gloved hands blocked out the sky.



A boy king, they called me. The Renaissance men and women said I was the answer to what the whole world needed. Thus they assured me as I struggled against being washed and dressed. Me, their missing quotient. And their equation? Calculating the balance and counterbalances needed to support a perfectly just society.



There must be some controversy, they said, for some reason it cannot be subtracted out completely. But the Renaissance mothers and fathers believed they could minimize it. Finding a way to do so had been harder than fixing the planet’s physical woes. These improvements were already completed by the time they captured me. So, while reflector satellites controlled the temperature at the poles, people still revolted when their neighbors enjoyed the greater share of warm months. And while the birth of the global government presented a chance to cut the umbilical cord to counter-productive practices, rumors of corruption lingered like a disease persisting in the most sterile delivery room. And while the water and air tasted sweeter than ever, people forever demanded something to shit upon, something to burn down.



Luckily, the Renaissance parents had finally refined the interlocking processes to curtail the pain the world seemed to crave. Not a perfect balance but near as possible. They finished their lecture as we arrived at a deserted, secret location. Next to a pit. Next to a masked figure caressing the whip in its gloved hands. I remember the black leather crinkled as I hugged my new mother. Finally, I thought.



For the first time, the world and the creatures on it worked as we were supposed to do. Finally, harmony. Of course, there is no harmony without harm. And all I had to do, as the chain rattled at my ankle, was to dig. Dig a hole and cry when beaten. That was my contribution, and has been since my shovel and I were roughly the same height. I was the key pin that held the cogs and wheels together that ran the world.



My injustice was broadcast and digested (media burned and shat out) and, of course, reformatted according to marketing trends. Digging under the summer sun during the regular season, shivering as I hefted the cold, wet sand of the frozen beach during the Christmas specials, battling the waves that tried to drag me into the sea during the hurricane episodes. I wondered if my former brothers and sisters, plucked up and plugged into the world I helped create, recognized me.



Meanwhile, they, nor anyone else on earth, felt pain, hunger or discontent. Instead, they felt the satisfaction of unending debate. Some vehemently argued my arrangement should be accepted, others implored eloquently that it must be improved—and both patting one another on the back afterward. They felt the sort of fulfillment humans can accept—the sort that cost something, the sort stained with guilt. And this was the smallest ration of misery the world could consume without starving, the lowest dose of contention a world addicted to quarreling could imbibe and still function. Anything less and it would have all fallen apart, or so they assured me.



I’m not sure when it all fell apart anyway. Just before you came. Your timing may be disappointing, but I assume you are explorers from a world built on better math than mine. Maybe that’s why your friends are all leaving already. And now as I pass you my shovel when you lean over for a closer look—what a surprise to see it fall right through you! An electric ghost interviewing me for the living far away. Am I being broadcast once more? Maybe your math is not so great.



What will I do now? Well, let me think. I smell the world smoking behind me. The final survivor left to perish. Is this why you’ve come to my tiny island on our great blue island? Not to observe us still standing but to gather some clue as to why we hadn’t fallen down long before now?



Well, if you can do a better job keeping your hands clean while squeezing sorrow out of life, you have my blessing. But what shall I do, how shall I perform for you? There is no one left to whip me. The old teacher, with its sexless leather, is only a skeleton inside the suit bleaching in the sun. So I lay down in the final hole I dug and squint at the sunset between the horizons I’ve cut into the earth. I close one eye—cool, quiet dirt behind my head—and measure the distance. Six foot by three. And I decide that’s enough.



   
   

 

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Jason Howell earned a degree in mass communication at the University of North Carolina. He is currently a human services worker and before that worked with the disabled. He lives with his partner and his son in the small town of Burnsville, NC. The sequel to Islands of the Boy King, Interview with the Renaissance Man will appear in The Realm Beyond later this year. Find Jason on Goodreads under the pen name, Jason Howl: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19515653.Jason_Howl



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