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PLASTIC GIRL: EVOLUTION
The first novella in the Plastic Girl Trilogy
The Earth has been ravaged by acidic water, toxic air and polluted lands with most of its inhabitants dead or dying. A lonely girl discovers new life in the unlikeliest of places and embarks on a grand and dangerous scientific and magical journey that gives birth to a new era. Plastic Girl functions as a cautionary tale for adults and a hopeful one for youth, affirming that every end, even the darkest, makes room for a new beginning.
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Bullets blasted straight through a rusted tin can and into the concrete wall of an abandoned gas station. The can spun off an old milk crate and clanked to the ground. Cheers and laughter filled up the empty station. Two near-feral boys sprinted along the gas station, slapping the faded adverts that hung like wraiths on the windows.
The larger boy kicked the can out of reach of the smaller boy who had leaned over to pick it up.
The smaller boy shoved the kicker hard.
“Don’t do that!”
The larger boy shoved him back. “Or what?”
The smaller boy slugged the large one in the nose. Blood gushed from his nostrils down his lip and into his mouth. He howled and lunged at the smaller boy, taking him to the ground with a loud thud. The smaller boy’s head hit the corner of the sidewalk with a crack. He went limp. The larger boy was on top of him and pulled his arm back to punch him.
A bullet hit the cement right next to the two boys.
“Knock it off, jerkwads. We need to find food and shelter for the night,” a gruff voice barked. An older boy with long tangled black hair, green eyes and a dangerous smirk glared down at them, gripping a pistol, resting the barrel on his forearm while touching the trigger menacingly.
The larger boy smacked the smaller boy’s shoulder as he stood up.
“Yeah, knock it off.”
The smaller boy didn’t move.
The larger boy glanced back. “Come on, Griff, stop playing.”
A pool of blood expanded under the smaller boy’s head.
“Griffin?” The larger boy ran back and leaned down.
“Come on, man, wake up.”
The older boy holding the pistol laughed a mean laugh. “I guess that’s one less mouth to feed tonight.” He turned and stalked toward the small town about a quarter-mile in the distance.
The larger boy touched the smaller boy’s face. He shook him, but the boy remained limp. The larger boy’s bloody lip quivered, and tears created dirty streaks down his face.
“Let’s move, Jake, or should I just put you out your misery now?” The older boy shouted.
Jake rubbed the blood, tears and dirt off his face with his sleeve. The smaller boy’s fingers twitched a few times and then went limp completely. His eyes were open, lifeless. The large boy choked back a sob as he turned and hurried to catch up.
As the boys disappeared behind a hill, the door of the gas station creaked open.
A small, completely covered figure stepped out, clutching a quart of motor oil. A red scarf and goggles concealed her face and head. She wore waterproof fishing boots, long rubber gloves and a bright red parka with a hood.
She approached the boy’s body and knelt down, avoiding the expanding pool of his blood. The girl closed his eyelids. She spotted his satchel and carefully opened it. Inside were a few cans of food, a bottle of water, a pocketknife and a photo of a family with two very little boys, one could be the dead boy before her, the other was probably the larger boy who had run off.
She took the two cans of food and shoved them in her bag along with the oil. She picked up the family photo again and gazed at it for a long time. She placed it on the little boy’s chest, closed her eyes and whispered a prayer.
“I can’t believe you forgot to grab his bag, do you want to starve? I tell ya, I have half the mind to leave you here-HEY! What the-stop! Get her, she’s stealing our food!”
The small girl’s eyes shot open, and her head jerked toward the voice. The older boy was pointing his pistol at her. She sprinted away as bullets started flying past her, barely missing. She veered off the road into a neighborhood, hopping over a fence. She dodged through a couple of yards, zigzagging between houses with swift and familiar steps, quickly putting a few houses between her and the boys. She crept into a garage and shut the door behind her. She stood perfectly still and quiet. The boys ran through the yard and past the garage and into the next yard. She peered out of a dirty windowpane and watched them search the adjacent yard for her as they kept jogging in the other direction.
When they were out of sight, she slipped out of the garage and retraced her steps back through the neighborhood until she arrived at a thicket. She glanced back toward the abandoned neighborhood. The boys were nowhere in sight. She ran quietly through the trees until she stepped onto the garbage-covered shoreline of a debris-filled lake. She shoved a fishing boat into the mucky waters.
The angry, but now muffled shouting of the older boy faded slowly as the boys searched for her deeper into the neighborhood. She gripped her oars and began the hard work of rowing her boat through the thick, tar-like water, putting as much distance between her and those boys as possible. She stared down at the shotgun at the bottom of her boat and gagged, swallowing the bile back down that had risen up in her throat. It wasn’t the first time she had seen someone killed, but it didn’t make it any easier.
Eva snored quietly, burrowed deep within a pile of sleeping bags atop a brown leather couch like a pebble between layers of sediment.A massive maple's gnarled branches clawed at the cabin's large bay window, reaching for the small sleeping girl inside. A squall tore across the stagnant gray lake and the stained beach, blasting debris in its wake. The trunk of the old maple slammed hard against the center of the cabin's large bay window, hammering a chunk of glass out of the window. Eva lunged out of her pile of blankets, breathing heavily, groggy eyes searching out the source of the noise and landing on the new crack in the window. She hissed her mother's favorite curse as she staggered toward the damage and sighed with relief when her hands felt the still smooth interior of the window. As her breathing calmed, she reached for the roll of packing tape in the toolbox next to the window. In the dim pre-dawn light, she reinforced the weakened section of glass, and the gusts calmed slowly as the sun crept over the horizon. Exhausted from beating the cabin, the diseased branches of the maple tree rested with the wind.
Tossing the tape back into the tool box, Eva snuggled back into the heap of blankets, rubbing her eyes as she watched her planet's star continue to rise as she did every day. Eva normally waited to rise with the sun, the one reliable natural phenomenon left, the one thing that still gave her comfort. No matter the dismal air quality, no matter that the song birds had long stopped singing in the morning and the owls hunting at night, no matter that her mother had died when she was eight or that her father had followed two years ago, no matter that Eva lived completely alone on the desolate, polluted shores of her once great lake—no amount of devastation on one of its planets would stop the sun. Earth couldn't transfer its wasting disease to the sun; her star was completely healthy. Eva peered from under the covers as the world outside emerged from the shadows, revealing the grey sludge that covered the surface of the lake. It went on and on like a sea: wrappers, cups, and bits of plastic littered the surface like ornaments. The dark silhouette of a small island was the only other land in sight.
As the room warmed, Eva stuck her feet out from under the covers and slipped them into her father's worn wool slippers. Sculpted butterflies, metal birds, and all types of crafted animals kept careful watch over Eva from every corner of the cabin, her still and silent sentries. She whisked her red parka from the wooden coffee table, revealing carvings of dolphins, bears, otters, ducks, turtles, and birds, most of them exquisitely life-like. She slipped on the parka, blew air into her hands, and picked up a small pocketknife from the table. She flipped out its blade and turned to focus on a half-finished snake slithering next to a large snapping turtle. Her mother had insisted that Eva spend two hours a day doing something she loved, something that brought beauty into their home. Her mother had played the fiddle and her father had sung. Eva had chosen woodworking and sculpture. Despite her young age, she was talented and disciplined. She brushed loose wood shavings away from her latest creation, uncovering the carved snake's eye. She held the cunning reptile's gaze for a moment; he had been giving her a very hard time. She became distracted by the urge to pee and set the knife back down, relieved to look away from the complicated beast. She hurried over to the only room with a door in her small cabin, the bathroom.
Inside, there was a white five-gallon bucket with two lids. Eva removed one lid and placed in on the ground. She grimaced; she had pooped the night before. The other lid had a hole cut into it. She sat and peed, tapping her foot against the bucket. The day-to-day tasks of basic survival made her extremely impatient. She slammed the other lid back on when she finished and hauled the bucket out into the living room, a single large open space shared by the kitchen and entryway, all beneath a tall cedar ceiling. The stairs leading down from the storage loft ended at the front door, which was made of oak and adorned with a carving of a giant fish.Eva pulled the heavy door open and placed the bucket out into the enclosed patio. She shivered, the morning chill nipping her neck. The gusts of wind had decelerated into a strong breeze. She pushed the door closed and scurried to the kitchen to squirt hand sanitizer into her palms.
Eva scratched her scalp with thin grubby fingers, mussing her short blond hair as she opened the cabinet under the wooden island in the kitchen. Her brown eyes examined the meticulously color-coordinated collection of canned food items. She grabbed a can of pears and a can of black beans and placed them on the countertop. Climbing up onto one of the four stools circling the island, she reached for the can opener and rushed through her breakfast as the sun continued to rise. She wanted to be ready to go out onto the water as soon as the winds calmed.
On the days when the weather allowed it, Eva went fishing, just as many of the past inhabitants of the town used to do, as her father had done before her. Her dad had taught her the danger of idle hands and the value of a hard day's work. Fishing the polluted lake was a hard job, but one she took great pride in. It was the job she used to do with her dad, the job that had given him purpose and now gave her purpose. Catching an actual fish was a whole other obstacle since fish were scarce, and Eva rarely spotted one. Despite the odds, there were still a few fish out there, and Eva believed the best time to catch them was in the early morning. This was based on the three fish she had caught over the last two years, each of them caught in the early morning before the sun got too high in the sky. Eva never ate the fish she caught, partially because they were critically endangered, but mostly because they smelled like everything else that came out of the lake: sulfuric and poisoned. She caught them, examined them, made notes about them, and then released them. She watched over them, studied them. She felt a responsibility to check on them, keep track of the ones that were still alive, and make a record of those that weren't.
Eva shimmied into her wetsuit and rubber boots. She slid on a red wool ski mask and a pair of pilot's goggles and finished layering up with long black gloves designed to protect their user from chemical burns. They went all the way up to her shoulders. On her way to the front door, she gathered her tools: a plastic water bottle, a can of mini-hot dogs for bait, and for lunch, a can of SpaghettiOs and a can of peaches. She added them to a brown leather knapsack filled with fishing gear and her field journal.
At the front door, she touched the carving of the fish. She shut her eyes and whispered a prayer, the one her father used to pray. Eva had memorized every prayer, poem, song, and direction her parents had taught her and kept them close to her heart. She repeated them often, her little rituals of remembrance. She grabbed the fishing pole resting next to her mom's old shotgun, plucked up the white bucket and rushed toward the back of the house to the beach.
Outside, the still water was thick with garbage and gunk. The wind, temperamental and dangerous during the night and in the early morning, usually calmed down by the time she arrived on the beach, and that was true today.
Eva placed the bucket at the side of the house next to the motorized golf cart. She would drive it down the road to bury her waste away from her home once she got back. She adhered to the system her parents used when they were alive: never let garbage or waste linger too long or sickness will follow. Later would be soon enough.
She walked toward the shore. Debris had accumulated by the water's edge. She picked up a rake, leaned it back against the tree, and set another bucket upright, pushing its scattered debris back into it. She stepped over bits of garbage strewn over the beach. She glanced along the banks of debris on either side; her beach was a small reprieve from the filth.
When she returned from fishing, Eva would rake and haul garbage, but right now, the lake was calling to her. She placed her things into the small Ranger aluminum fishing boat, tossed out a plastic lid and newspaper advert, and checked the old black Evinrude motor. She plopped down on the fancy fisherman seat she had found at the sports shop in town. The sole perk of being the only person living in an old fishing town was having first dibs on all the supplies. When she couldn't find what she needed in town, she found them in a neighboring town, equally empty and close enough to travel to by golf cart. She frowned, remembering that she still needed to replace her back-up boat.
Occasionally, since her parents had gone, a traveling child wandered onto her shore. If they were friendly, she invited the young wanderers to stay with her. Her visitors would usually stay for a few days, sometimes a week. One time, a boy, a few years older than her, Jacob, had stayed for a month, and it had been the best month of her post-parent life; until one morning, Eva awoke to find that Jacob had disappeared, having stolen her boat and some of her supplies, breaking her already damaged heart. He was the only friend she had ever made, and she was lonelier for having known him.
With maximum effort, Eva shoved her boat out into the lake, careful to jump in without touching the water. She felt angry with herself for thinking about Jacob and how much easier it had been when he was around. Eva was quite small for her 12 years of age, still less than four feet tall, slim and wiry. She wasn't starving, but she quickly burned every calorie she consumed; her exhausting schedule and acute fear of slowing down ensured that her hunger and thirst remained unsatiated. The act of jabbing the oars roughly through the sludge and pulling them back stressed Eva's arm and back muscles. Panting and sweating, shoulders burning, Eva revved the motor right as the boat trudged past the white and red buoy indicating deeper waters. It sputtered but quickly hummed to life, propelling the boat through the sludge at a slow, even pace. Eva watched the motor cut through the thick, slimy surface of the lake.
A white, old-fashioned water tower with a rose painted on it watched over Eva's town. She used it as a landmark to guide her back to the cabin each night. Her father had taught her how to use a compass and the sun to navigate, but still, she felt more confident when she kept the tower in sight. She had been determined to travel farther out one day, once she was a little older and had finished studying all the books she could find on navigation and boating. Her reading skills were average, so it was slow going, but she would keep improving, advancing, and evolving.
Today, she would go a bit beyond the island, off the point of the peninsula. She hoped that on the other side she would find a fish, maybe even a bird. She would let the tower out of her sight for the first time, circle the island, stop and explore the shore, and return, following the shoreline until her tower came back into view. She grinned as she considered her low-risk plan, watching the water tower shrink as she navigated toward the tip of the peninsula. She was happiest in this moment of each day, knowing her route precisely, the promise of discovery on the horizon and any disappointments a few hours away. The only other part of the day that rivaled this moment was when she was creating one of her animals.
She frowned at the thought of her latest project, squinting up at the sun. She hadn't actually enjoyed a single minute of making her snake. She was partway through the carving of the complicated creature; she had been for weeks. She finally completed his eye the night before, but then suffered another melancholic paralysis that prevented her from finishing the second. This snake had triggered these now chronic episodes. The last episode started with her questioning whether snakes were extinct or if she had just never encountered one. She mulled over the fact that she knew snakes ate small rodents and that she had never seen any of those, so she didn't think it was likely that any snakes were still slithering the planet. She hated thinking about never seeing the real animal that she was making. She preferred to think she was creating the likeness of a creature that existed beyond the wood she carved it into. This line of thinking forced her deep into the pool of mass extinctions and immobilized her under the weight of its water, until she fell asleep drowning. So, this morning, when she faced her unfinished carving again, she felt completely blocked and afraid. The snake felt unnatural to her. As much as she had once yearned to see a snake, finished on her table and alive on the planet, she now dreaded bringing it to life.
Eva stretched and shook her arms, rolled her back and shoulders, and shed the thoughts of her snake like a skin. She gazed back across the water at the island, forcing a smile. A while back, in the town's visitor's center, she had learned that the island had originally been named after another extinct animal, the bear. The island's real name filled her with sorrow, so, since she was the only citizen of the town, she had renamed it. Just like that, it became Rainbow Island because it was the place where Eva saw rainbows most frequently. Yes, her name was more accurate. Her name brought happiness as it conjured up the image of something that actually existed. Islands named after animals no longer made sense. Most kids had never even seen an animal, and the adults who had were gone. She was lucky. She had seen a few birds and fish, but that was only because she searched for them relentlessly. Maybe that only meant she was obsessive since she sure didn't feel lucky.
Eva kept careful watch as the island got bigger and bigger. She set foot on Rainbow Island once a month, just to see if there was any sign of animal life, and she fished in the waters surrounding it once a week because she had caught one of her three fish there. It had been a sickly bass, not even four inches long with a tumor bulging from its stomach, but it had been breathing and gazed into her eyes. It had been a connection with another living being. She had held onto it as long as she could before she slipped it back into the polluted waters.
She stared toward her uncharted destination, anticipating the discovery of a school of fish that had been thriving on the other side all along, shielded by an unpolluted lagoon. She imagined fishing from the new perfect shore, pulling a fresh catch produced from the water daily. Eva shook her head, knowing she shouldn't entertain fantastical thoughts because that only led to feeling dreary later. Still, she hoped there would be fish. It had been too long since she caught one, 242 days exactly.
Today was a special day. Today was her mother's birthday. Eva was always more hopeful on special days. Her mother had taught her to count days, weeks, months, and years. She had taught her it was important to acknowledge special days with rituals. She said the act of tracking time and recognizing and honoring our short passage on the Earth's timeline was what made us human. Eva's father taught her how to tell time using the sun and to navigate a little using the stars, enough for her to understand her place on the planet and in her galaxy. Eva did not feel connected to other humans anymore, but she did feel connected to the Earth and its cycles. She thanked her parents for that gift. On special days like today, she allowed herself to hope more than usual, to take bigger chances. She veered the boat port and began rounding the island.
Eva stood up, hand over her eyes, squinting toward the new shoreline as the waves bobbed her and the boat toward it. On initial assessment, the east side of the island looked a lot like the west side. She flopped back into her seat and sighed. No matter the side of the island, beaching the boat was the trickiest and hardest part of her day. She had to get as close to the shore as possible without her propeller blades hitting the large rocks beneath the sludgy water. It was impossible to see through to the lakebed, and today, being in uncharted waters, she had no landmarks or memory to guide her.
Her nose and cheeks scrunched together as her propeller scrapped against a rock, sending her heart skipping like a lopsided stone on the water; if the blade was damaged she would be stuck, and getting stuck out here meant dead. A few lurching turns of the motor jerked her small craft, but then, to her relief, the boat puttered smoothly forward, only momentarily delayed by its encounter with the rock below. Eva pulled the kill switch and lifted the motor up to examine the damage. The blade was twisted slightly in the wrong direction, nothing severe enough to slow her down on this trip. She could fix it back at the cabin. She peered toward the unexplored shore, now close enough to row to. As the boat closed in, she concentrated on gaining sufficient momentum to wedge the keel into the sand. That way, she could sprint along the keelson and jump over the stem onto the beach, and she wouldn't end up in the water. Eva always stayed out of the water unless absolutely necessary. Her father never avoided it, always trudged in the shallows and dragged his fingers along the surface of the lake when they went boating together. Eva believed he got sick earlier because of that contact, died harder and sooner, left her alone longer. She never touched the water. It was her number one rule.
Eva was sweating now. She rowed as fast as her small arms could rotate forward and backward, the tar-like muck at the lake's edge making hard labor of the task. The rocks scrapped against the metal bottom of the boat, and then the whole boat lurched when it hit the beach. Eva pulled in the oars, dropped them on the thwart, and dashed across the boat toward the shore. She grabbed a rope tied to the hoisting eye as she leapt over the stem and landed lightly on the damp sand. She ran until the rope tightened and jerked her back a bit. She trudged forward hauling her small boat onto the beach. Once the stern was all the way on the beach, Eva flopped back onto the sand and took a few minutes to rest and catch her breath.
A misty rain created wet impressions in the sand of the backshore. Eva frowned. She wasn't a fan of getting rained on either; it burned if it got past her goggles and into her eyes, but, she hoped, it might at least bring a rainbow.
Eva stood up slowly and gathered her knapsack. She peered warily into the island's forest of mostly dead, gnarled trees, half expecting something to jump out at her. Nothing did. Eva noted that the forest did indeed cover the entire island as she had suspected. She had never explored this side before; there wasn't enough time to get to this side and back by foot before sunset, and it was too cold to be out at night. After sundown, the relentless winds blasted the land and water, but even without the dangerous winds, Eva had no desire to sleep in the skeletal woods. There was always a chance someone could be out there, maybe even a spirit. She had never seen a spirit, but she had read about them. Based on the number of books written about them, Eva believed there used to be a lot of them on the planet and that they were really good at hiding and playing mean tricks on people. Eva's research suggested that spirits had gone extinct, but that did not change the fact that the island's graveyard forest seemed the perfect home for dark spirits who came out at night to scare little girls. She would not risk getting stuck in it overnight.
In all her visits, Eva had never found any animal scat or prints, so she no longer believed there were animals left alive on the west side of the island, the only side she had visited until today. This evidence did not stop her from hoping the east side would bear life. Sack over her shoulder and pole in hand, Eva charted about half a mile along the lakeshore, surveying the beach and woods, taking notes in her field journal and making no effort to go further inland. She decided to conclude her fruitless search for minnows in the three inches of clear water between the sludge and the shoreline. Earlier, she had confused a small soda pop bottle wrapper disintegrating in the lethargic current of the lake for a fish. Eva had been surprised by the intensity of her disappointment. She cheered herself up by remembering the time she drank a golden-colored soda pop last year. She had found it in an old fridge in a neighbor's garage. It had been warm, but fizzy and sweet. She had liked it and kept an eye out for more. She longed deeply for many things these days. If she did find another pop, she would wait until winter to drink it to allow the sweet liquid to get icy cold in a snow bank. Of course, in the winter, she would probably want a hot drink.
Eva perched atop a pile of large rocks in the water, opening the can of hotdogs, her sack and fishing pole next to her. The other side of the island did not have boulders sticking out of the water forming a natural dock. These rocks allowed her to reach deeper waters without wading into the water or being on her boat. Eva liked these rocks. She slid a chunk of mini-hot dog onto her hook. She gripped a long and thick branch and was carving a hole in the soft sludge on the lake's surface, breaking through to the cleaner water. Fishing on this lake was a bit like ice fishing, except it was a grimy crust of debris that had to be broken through rather than a clean sheet of ice. Eva held her fishing line with care and lowered her baited hook. A satisfying plop sounded when it submerged into the water.
Eva had finished her can of SpaghettiOs an hour ago and was now halfway through her peaches. The sun had finally broken through the clouds, but the rain had stopped before the sun appeared, so no rainbows materialized. Eva sighed and set her can of peaches down next to her sack. She wiggled her pole, bobbing the piece of hot dog in and out of the water. She set it down on the rock. She was bored, restless. She fought against boredom's grip constantly. Boredom was dangerous. She believed that it was one of the early killers of Earth's remaining children. They became bored. They wandered. They were killed. Eva explored. She meticulously planned out every single one of her expeditions, always with a set beginning, a practical purpose, and a concrete end. Nothing she did was left open-ended or took her too far from home. She wanted to survive as much as she wanted to help her planet survive, so she did not wander but always searched for clues to end this wasting disease.
Her gaze shifted to the woods; maybe she would explore them a little today and search for insects under the bark of the dead and less-dead trees. She shivered as the sun slipped back behind the clouds. A gray fog rolled in from the other side of the island through the forest. It hovered near a patch of trees a bit deeper in. Eva squinted her eyes as she watched the rapidly traveling fog blow around a particularly stout and twisted tree and creep up its bleached bark. A few wisps protruded out like arms, embracing the trunk. Eva shook her head and stared harder. The arms were gone, but the fog enveloped the tree's trunk and grew darker, nearly black, obscuring the white bark completely. A large gust of wind rustled the branches of the trees leading up to the strange fog. As the wind whistled through the fog, two angry eyes and a mouth formed and stretched out toward Eva before retreating back into the forest.
Eva yelped and jerked back, kicking her pole.
She immediately lunged after her fishing pole as it rolled down the rock, her sprawled arms dangling just above the sludgy surface, her white-knuckled fist clutching the pole. Her face squashed against the smooth stone as she watched the ripple expand around the spot where something had dived in and out of the water. Eva wasn't breathing, afraid to move, worried that any vibration on the rock might scare away whatever had just disturbed the water. After what was probably ten seconds, Eva released the breath she was holding. She cursed herself for having looked away from the lake to the forest. The forest always got the best of her worst fears, her overactive imagination making monsters out of molehills. There was never anything in the forest, not even a dark spirit, but occasionally, the lake, her lake, produced life.
Eva kept her eye on the water as she pulled herself up to a seated position. Hopeful, she reeled in her line slowly. The hot dog felt heavier on the hook—maybe there was something else—no, only the hook and bait emerged from the water. Eva had missed whatever had visited.
From behind her, near the lake's edge, the improbable happened again.
Eva, still clutching her pole, scrambled across and over the boulders down to the shoreline where she had heard the noise. She searched frantically and spotted the ripples. Something had been there. She froze, her eyes frantically seeking the shadow of a fin or the shimmer of a scale under the surface. The sun slipped out from behind a cloud and its light reflected off the water and into Eva's eyes. She squinted and frowned. The sunlight's glare made it difficult for her to see anything underwater.
This time, it came from further down the shoreline.
Whatever it was, it was on the move. Eva ran toward the sound. She caught sight of something small moving quickly just below the water. Something green would break the surface every once in a while. The creature was racing along the shore in the very shallow water. Eva sprinted as fast as she could to keep up with it but could not get close enough to view it completely. It submerged. Eva panted, waiting. Her gaze darted along the shore. Two minutes passed. Eva deflated. She had a sinking feeling in her stomach telling her that she had lost her catch.
CLANK. CLINK. CLANK.
Eva whipped her head toward the sound of metal hitting rock. Off in the distance, small translucent creatures wiggled over the surface of her new fishing spot, glimmering under the sun's light, tiny rainbows refracting through them. Stunned, Eva jogged slowly back toward the shimmering rocks. The iridescent creatures, about two inches long, swarmed the rocks, moving in orchestrated circles. Eva spotted her half-full can of peaches slowly filling with water at the edge of the rocks. Peach juice dripped over the creatures down into the water. Eva's heart pounded, her skin tingled, and adrenaline flew through her bloodstream. Exhilarated and terrified, she sprinted toward the boulders, knowing she must catch and study these amazing little beings, feeling, that for today at least, she wasn't alone.
As she got closer, the creatures flopped in unison, flattening on the rocks, and then they ceased moving entirely. Eva slowed and crept closer. She leaned toward the rocks, which were now covered with what looked like hundreds of thin multi-colored plastic remnants. But Eva knew they couldn't be plastic; she had definitely seen them move. Plastic doesn't move by itself. They had to be alive. She carefully reached out with her gloved hand and picked one up, raised it a few inches in front of her squinting eyes.
The one she had picked up was green like a 7-Up pop bottle. It had no writing on it and was smooth, glistening in the sun, a few beads of water dripping off its surface onto Eva's covered arm. Eva clasped her hand around it and scurried up the rocks to grab her sack. She quickly collected as many pieces of the plastic as would fit in her bag, the whole time watching the remaining pieces, waiting for them to move again, but they remained immobile.
Eva stayed, studying the still pieces of plastic for the rest of the day, examining them for any signs of life. They revealed none. She fished and kept watch until the sky's color warned her that sunset was a few hours off. She placed her sack and pole into the boat and shoved the boat through the sand and back into the water. As the last bit of the keel entered the water, she jumped inside and rowed away from shore, still watching the pieces of plastic on the rock. She kept watching until another splash startled her, then another and another. She was a far way off now but could still see the rocks where thousands of tiny pieces of plastic were plunging back into the water.
Another smaller splash sounded beside her. She rushed over to the side of the boat and peered into the water. She did not see a creature, only several ripples in the water. Another break in the water, and a plopping sound reverberated inside the boat from behind her. She turned back toward the sound. The top of her sack was open a bit, and the small piece of green plastic from earlier inched along the boat's edge toward her. When it was about a foot away, it stopped and tilted its top half as if sizing her up. Eva deftly swept the creature up in her gloved hand before it could dive into the water and closed the top of her sack with her other. She stared at her bulky closed fist. Her eyelids twitched. She could feel the small creature moving, batting against her gloved palm. She curled her thumb to let light into her closed fist. The strange worm inside had no mouth or eyes that she could see, but it was moving, responding, batting against her gloves, frantically trying to escape. Eva could tell it was scared. It was how the fish she had caught acted when she pulled them up out of the water. They wanted to be free again, safely away from their captor. Eva didn't want to scare it, but didn't want to let it go either, so she started singing an old song her dad had taught her, a song he only sang with her. She sang it at night when she felt especially alone.
After a few lines into the melody, the creature calmed down. Eva continued to sing as she pulled out her field journal and added an entry describing the new creature, noting that it may be able to hear since the music seemed to soothe it. As Eva sang the next verse, she opened her hand a little, enough so that the creature could crawl out if it wanted. After a few more lines of the song, the green little flatworm wiggled out into the light atop the back of her hand, down to her wrist. Eva wanted to scoop it back up and make sure it didn't squirm away from her, but she just kept singing and watched as the little worm crawled up her arm past her elbow until it settled on her shoulder. She made another note that she was now ninety-nine percent certain the creature could hear her and that the music indeed soothed it.
The sun slipped behind the island. Eva knew if she didn't turn the motor on and head back full-tilt immediately, she would either be sleeping on the island or navigating in the dark. Eva placed her hand over the creature on her shoulder. It flinched. She held it gently but firmly. She used her other hand to start the motor and steer the boat along the edge of the island.
The deep orange sun slowly set behind the cabin as Eva finished securing her small craft. When Eva's boat had crossed over the sandbar, the strange green creature had settled into a fold on her parka and appeared to sleep the rest of the trip, remaining perfectly frozen on her shoulder. Eva hurried up to the cabin. She dashed past the bucket and the golf cart, her practical chores postponed until tomorrow; she would use the spare bucket in the bathroom for one night to give herself more time to study her new companion.
Once inside the enclosed patio of her cabin, she stripped off her contaminated outer-gear, sprayed it with disinfectant and hung it to dry. She furiously scrubbed her hands with soap and bottled water over a small green bucket. After slathering herself in more disinfectant, she grabbed her bag and entered the cabin.
Later, in the kitchen, she rubbed her palms with hand sanitizer and settled onto a stool. She cracked opened a can of corn and a can of peas, grabbed a spoon and took a few bites as she slipped the motionless, flat green plastic worm out of the large, glass water bottle half-filled with other plastic pieces. None of the other pieces had moved since they left the island. Eva scribbled in her field journal that the last time she had felt the green piece move was by the island's sandbar as she entered the deeper waters of the bay. Eva grabbed a plate and utensils, spooned some peas out and mashed them up with the fork. She gently picked up the green piece of plastic and laid it next to the mush on the plate. She observed the plate as she continued to eat her food right out of the cans. She finished dinner and slurped up a small can of fruit cocktail for dessert, but the little piece of plastic never moved. Eva scratched a slightly angry note and closed her journal for the night, scowling.
Eva poured the plastic pieces out of the glass container onto her carved table. She briefly gazed at her unfinished snake and shrugged an apology to him. He would have to wait. Eva had an idea for a new sculpture. With the green piece of plastic back on her shoulder, she ran her fingers over the other pieces and plucked up a small bright orange one. She sang a happier song, one her mother taught her to sing while she worked, one Eva always sang when she created art. She felt so silly; her heart even ached a little. She was now sure she had imagined the events of the afternoon, wishing them to be true. As she sat on her couch in the living room staring at a table covered in small pieces of unmoving plastic, it was even clearer that she must have experienced one of her vivid hallucinations, something that had happened only a few times since her father left when she was particularly tired and lonely. She had just wanted the plastic to be alive so badly. She sorted the pieces into piles of colors. Eva's true talent flourished in her ability to lure life-like animals out of whatever material or surface she chose. Tonight, she visualized the plastic pieces coming together, where she would need to fold, crease, cut, reattach, glue and manipulate them into shape and coax them into being. She sang, and a small peaceful smile appeared on her face as her hands went to soothing work.