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Off Duty

The Hero touched down on the island and was handed a glass of champagne on arrival. He’d greatly enjoyed flying business class—far more comfortable than what he was used to. The resort looked exactly as it did in the brochure.

His muscles rippled under a hideous collared shirt, the flowery kind that sunburnt tourists wear on vacation. It was the most visible he had ever been, and nobody looked twice at him. Why had he bothered with a disguise all these years?

He checked into his villa, and a grinning man gave him the tour: on this side of the island, sand; on the other side, more sand; at the bottom of the sand, ocean; in between all that, paradise. The Hero drank it in. Nothing was on fire or collapsing or in peril.

He ordered a pineapple juice at the poolside bar and was enchanted by the tiny umbrella that garnished the glass. He pocketed it and ordered another. He would have a collection of fourteen umbrellas by the end of his stay.

The grinning man had raved about the island’s sunsets, so the Hero reclined in a hammock on the beach after lunch and stared directly at the sun, unblinking, until it dipped below the horizon in a blaze of colour. He had never experienced such a silence before: he could only hear waves lapping playfully at the shore and distant screams from cities being destroyed, oceans and aeons away.

Each day, he danced on the ocean floor with stingrays and explored underwater caves with just one breath. He wore the waves like a blanket and allowed himself to be gently rocked by the tide, eyes closed. He could dive to depths undiscovered by man, and run along the water’s surface to race pods of leaping dolphins. Hundreds of miles away, whales would serenade him, drowning out the muffled cries for help from burning buildings and sinking ships and plummeting planes. He would resurface at dusk and the grinning man would have pineapple juice waiting for him at the bar.

He got to know the families and honeymooning couples around the resort. The children nagged him for piggyback rides; the parents gave him film recommendations. He was never without an invitation to join a group for dinner, a boat ride, or a game of soccer. They asked for his company and nothing else.

Free time was so foreign to him. He used it to acquire new skills. It took him seventeen minutes to learn how to knit, but several hours to master crocheting. At the end of the evening, he had made teddy bears for each of the children at the resort.

He watched Toy Story for the first time, then Toy Story 2, 3 and 4. He laughed and wept freely in each, then watched them again. The faint screams of faraway places were drowned out by Buzz and Woody’s banter.

One night, the screams were louder. The Hero drank his tenth pineapple juice at the bar and ignored them as ever. The grinning man cocked his head.

"Can you hear that?"

It was from the other side of the island. A crowd gathered at the water’s edge to watch an enormous shark circle two lovers who had swum out to the reef for some late-night skinny dipping.

The Hero watched them flounder, vaguely interested, then moved aside as the resort workers frantically launched a lifeboat. He strolled back to his villa as the screams became more desperate.

On his fifth night, he felt a tremble from an ocean away. He sighed and packed his belongings in a heartbeat. It was a full moon, and a beach party was in full swing. The partygoers cheered when they saw the Hero coming down the beach, and he walked among them, handing out his coveted cocktail umbrellas. Then he held his hand up in farewell. The people who had embraced him as their friend watched the Hero launch himself into the silver sky and fly away.

By light of the moon, he watched the ocean, miles below him, churn and heave and surge violently towards the island. The wave would bite down hard on the delicate aisle of paradise and reduce it to a memory in minutes. He could already hear the screams of the honeymooners, the families, and the grinning man, as they watched their doom approach. Save us. Save us.

He flew on, towards a change of scenery. He would sit atop a mountain, melt snow with his eyes, and be far away from the cries of people in need of rescue.

He would continue his holiday.

Eve is a screenwriting student from Melbourne, Australia, who teaches creative writing to school kids for work. She has recently launched Writing Hand Magazine, filled with writing prompts for every kind of writer, in an effort to relieve her laptop’s hard drive of the thousand prompts she’s written for her students.

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