Through The Eye of The Needle

(Authors note: This is an excerpt from a work in progress. It had since grown from its original intended length and is well on its way to becoming my next novel. This is the original short story.)

“Go home! Go home now!”
“We will, Ben. As soon as the storm blows over.”
For Jarred Tate, Ben’s fear was unmistakable. Palpable and laced with urgency, the proclamation left little doubt he was terrified. In all the chaos, it was a miracle they had found this island.
No, Jarred. Go home now!”
Jarred turned to his brother sitting cross-legged beneath a stunted palm. Normally quiet and impassive, whatever had triggered the outburst had passed, and was now replaced with another litany of names. Over the years the list had grown to include species of birds, fish, mammals and reptiles, germs, variations of word tenses, their antonyms and synonyms and beyond. There were more but he couldn’t remember all of them. How Ben did it was a mystery to him.
Today’s featured dinosaurs and he knew it was useless to interrupt him. The recital would continue until the right synapses fired and normalcy returned. Until then there’d be no breaking through to him, no matter how hard he tried.
“Abrictosaurus. Acrocanthosaurus. Agilisaurus. Alamosaurus. Albertosaurus.”
Sighing, Jarred edged closer to the surf, shielding Ben’s scrutiny. Though autistic, Ben was not stupid. At least not how he had been. He’d know the predicament they were in if he spotted the compass again.
“Bambiraptor. Barapasaurus. Barosaurus. Baryonyx. Brachiosaurus,” drifted down the beach as Jarred checked the compass again. And as before, the dial spun in a circle, searching for the ever-elusive north. “This is crazy. I’m sure North is that way.”
But the compass would not confirm it. Neither would the Global Positioning System, his cell phone nor the micro band radio onboard Hoover, their twenty-five-foot Boston Whaler. Spacious and equipped with the latest technology, Hoover’s electronics had stopped working long before the compass started spinning in circles. It was as if the satellites had been plucked from their orbits, their coordinating signals lost to obscurity.
“This is not good,” Jarred said shoving the compass back into his pocket. “Preston’s not gonna like this.”
The Jackal, Jarred’s pet name for Preston Danner, demanded to know their whereabouts constantly, especially Ben’s. Failure to maintain contact, even remotely, was a taboo; an intolerable breech of security punishable with hours of harassing questions. Yet even Preston Danner couldn’t have expected this total breakdown in Hoover’s state-of-the-art equipment.
With nothing more than intuition to guide him, Jarred guessed they were still 20 miles due east of Miami harbor. At least in theory that seemed the most logical conclusion since that was the last coordinates from the GPS. But if that were true, it didn’t explain the presence of this island or the Paleolithic jungle growing upon it. Neither one should be here, but they were. And what lay further up the beach was definitely a spooky-looking rainforest straight out of some artist’s rendition of prehistoric times.
Turning around, his nerves tingled as he headed back to Ben. Chills skidded down his spine, clinking like ice cube against the vertebras as he tried to rationalize his fears. “Stay cool, bro. You need to focus. Keep it light for Ben’s sake.” But he was having a hard time convincing himself everything would be all right.
“Diplodocus. Dorygnathus. Dromaeosaurus. Dryosaurus. Echinodon. Edaphosaurus.” The names tumbled out of Ben with ease, slipping off his tongue in perfectly annunciated syllables. Yet as amazing as his ability was, it only exemplified Ben’s autism for Jarred. Intellectually, he ran hot and cold. There were no in betweens as far as Jarred was concerned. But according to their mother, a genius was trapped inside that twisted world. All she had to do was free him. And if not for the amassed library of picture books she had gathered for him, the world would indeed be a terrible place for Ben to live. His favorite, safely stowed away in Hoover’s cabin, was John Malam and Steve Parker’s, Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs.
“Edmontosaurus. Elasmosaurus. Eogyrinus. Eryops. Euoplocephalus.”
Jarred squatted down and took Ben’s head gently into his hands, trying to calm the fear he knew was there. “Listen to me, Ben. There’s nothing to fear. We’re safe. It’s only a storm. We’ll get out of here once it blows over.”
“Not scared of storm. Don’t like this time. Bad time. Very bad.” Ben looked up mournfully, turning his stubby fingers over and over in a rhythmic pattern similar to washing one’s hands. “Eurhinosaurus. Fulgurotherium. Galliminus, Gallodactylus. Gargoyelosaurus. Gastonia.”
“Yes, little brother, it certainly is a bad time,“ Jarred said. “I’ve gotten us into a bit of a pickle.”
“Not pickle,” Ben interjected between Hadrosaurus and Haplocanthosaurus. “Bad time.”
At least Ben was coming out of his self-induced mantra, though his insistence on referring to a ‘bad time’ worried Jarred. It hinted at their mother’s research. Over the past few months her efforts had intensified, and he often worried she was pushing him too hard. But what did he know? Loving brothers didn’t qualify as experts, not when it came to measuring the psychological affects of her experiments. But they was there, and whether anyone else saw those haggard lines or not, he did and he feared for Ben’s well-being.
Then only yesterday, she made him promise to protect Ben should anything happen to her. Odd as her request was, he passed it off as nervous mothering, but later that afternoon discovered her concerns were directed more at Danner when he caught The Jackal rifling through her files. The creep was definitely up to no good.
Hoping Ben might know the reason, Jarred probed deeper. “Why is it a bad time? Do you mean this place is bad? Heck, if you ask me, I think this beach is nice. Kinda pretty don’t you think?”
“Kinda pretty,” Ben mimicked. “Appealing. Nice looking. Attractive.”
“Yes, pretty. Thank you for the lesson in synonyms. Now, mind telling me why you think this place is so bad?”
“Yes, bad place. Unappealing. Awful, dreadful. Not good. Bad. Very bad.”
“Yes, I know, you already said that, but why?”
“Bad place. Time is slippery here.”
“Sorry buddy, I don’t understand what you mean,” Jarred said helping Ben to his feet.
Lightning flashed in the distance. The sky looked bruised and swollen. More rain was coming. “Com’n, we gotta make sure the Whaler’s secure before that storm hits. Wouldn’t want to lose it.”
“No. Can’t lose boat,” Ben said scrambling up. “Can’t lose boat.”
“Right. Can’t lose the boat. Wouldn‘t want to be marooned on this place forever.”
Jarred waded into the surf, tugging at the ropes that held Hoover secure while Ben waited. The Whaler drifted to the side under his inspection then settled into the wind again.
“Snug as a bug in a rug,” Jarred said returning to shore.
“Yes, snug as a bug. We go now?”
Jarred took Ben’s hand and led him up the beach. They wouldn’t go far, just deep enough to shelter them from the storm. “We need to find a better place. This beach isn’t gonna cut it.”
“No! We go home. Now!” Pulling free of Jarred grasp, Ben ran back to the stunted palm and started untying Hoover.
Before he could finish, Jarred grabbed the rope. “We will, I promise. But after the storm is over.”
“No. Bad time. Time is slippery here.” Pointing at the stunted palm, Ben continued, his face a mask of concentration as he drew upon his new found intelligence, “That is not a new palm tree. The book says it’s a Cycad; grew in Triassic period before the land shifted into continents. Dangerous staying here. We must leave! Go back into Storm.”
“What?” Jarred couldn’t believe what Ben wanted to do. It was suicidal tackling those waves. The storm would batter Hoover to pieces. Securing Hoover again, Jarred explained, “We can’t do that, Ben. We’re safe on this island. And as long as we’re safe, we’re okay. Do you understand? We can head back later. There’s no way I’ll chance motoring through that storm.”
“Not a storm.” Ben said stiffly. He fell silent again, as though preoccupied with something. How could he explain what he knew to be? He had tried with Mommy and found it impossible. His vocabulary was so limited and although it was improving, the defining words didn’t come when he needed them most. Tilting his head to the side, he grimaced and spoke rapidly, hoping his meaning was getting through to Jarred, “Time is slipping. Hurry! Hurry!” Jarred again followed to where Ben was pointing into the teeth of the approaching storm. “Trust me. We have to go there! Now before they come.”
“Before who come?”
“The dinosaurs! Dilophosaurus. Ornitholestes. Eoraptor. Herrerasaurus. Maybe Allosaurus or Ceratosaurus. Maybe even Albertosaurus and Ben doesn’t want to meet him! This place not safe. Time is slipping faster! We have to leave now!”
Angry bolts of lightning crackled overhead, spreading across the heavens like the fine spirals of a spider’s web, filling the air with nauseous ozone. Bowling pin thunder hammered the earth into submission, drowning out Ben’s words as he worked to free Hoover again.
Still confused over Ben’s insistence, Jarred watched and only after the line fell away did he move to stop him, but it was already too late. Hoover was adrift. Scrambling aboard the two brothers eyes locked and Jarred noticed something flicker in Ben’s eyes that made him gasp in awe.
Ignoring Jarred’s protests, Ben hurried to the bow and leaned into the railing, pointing in the direction he wanted to go. “Go there Jarred! Now!”
Within seconds the churning seas caught Hoover’s bow and tipped it dangerously close to capsizing. Jarred was positive they were going to die when the winds pushed them past the breakers and into the heart of the approaching storm. But within seconds an eerie silence settled around them.
Moments later, Ben rejoined him in the cabin smiling wide, the dinosaur book tucked protectively under his arm. Settling onto the wide bench seat next to Jarred, he pointed through the windshield to the visible thin line where blue skies met dusty land. “Home,” he said.
Still shaken by the near catastrophe and what he had seen flicker across Ben’s eyes, Jarred switched on the GPS. The screen shimmered to life outlining the eastern coast of Florida. When he turned on the radio, Clifton’s familiar voice was calling them.
“Tate, here,” Jarred answered.
“Thank God. You two all right?”
Jarred looked at Ben, then at the GPS and then back the way they had come. White froth followed in Hoover’s wake, yet it was the lack of the roiling clouds that startled him. They were gone. Blue skies and calm seas stretched to the horizon behind them.
Picking up the microphone again he hesitated when Ben looked up, then said, “Everything’s fine Clifton. We should be back in port shortly. See you then.”
Jarred checked his watch for a more precise arrival, then the time display on the GPS. Only five minutes had passed since the last time it worked. Five minutes.
“That’s impossible. We were on that island for the better part of four hours.”
Seeing the confusion on Jarred face, Ben tapped a stubby finger on the navigational chart and said, “Bad place. Time too slippery. Won’t go there anymore. I like the picture books better.”
Startled, Jarred said, “You’re responsible for this?”
Ben looked up sheepishly, but didn’t answer. At least not immediately. And it took several long moments before he said anything at all. But what finally came out was more than Jarred expected. He wasn’t sure if he understood everything, but there was enough to reinforce the importance of his promise. More than ever, he understood why Ben needed to be protected. And from whom.


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