Thing a Week 1: The Island

When I was a kid, my father would read me tales of adventure from long lost tomes he’d acquired over his years of treasure hunting in the Atlantic. Some of the tales were often as dark and chaotic as you’d expect from their source, but their authenticity repeatedly struck a chord with me that vibrated and amplified over the years. I’ve followed in my father’s footsteps to be a treasure hunter, sure, but I’ve focused firstly on one particular tome he used to frequently read from: a thick, leather-bound collection of diaries ingloriously labeled “The Island”.

The following is a recreation of what I think transpired on the island, with my own research supplementing direct quotes taken from the diaries and records in that collection. Interestingly enough, there’s a noticeable lack of documentation from anyone acting at a high level at the research facility there, but the experiences shared by employees and, later, residents of the island give us a glimpse into a somber story all but lost to time.

I didn’t think to start a journal until now, but with all these safety talks and people always worrying about something going wrong, it’d be nice to have some kind of legacy, you know? Something to remember me by in case something happens with the magnetic fields or whatever it is the scientists are doing inside.

We’ve only been here a week, but most of that was spent in safety orientations (even though we went through safety tests to even get out to this island in the first place) and we’ve only just started doing real work. For all the worry, they mostly keep repeating basic stuff like wearing safety goggles and gloves, and these thick work jackets that go all the way down to our ankles. Nothing metal within the facility, either, even though it’s supposed to be safe in the outer circle. They only actually check you when you go in the inner areas, but I think that’s a restriction more for the real scientists that work in there. I wonder if it’s just an excuse to get everyone to leave our phones at home though.

Victor Gragson, personal diary, pg. 1

The island itself is almost a perfect circle, stretching just barely over two miles across in any direction. A large hill in the center housed the research facility, with what looked like employee housing on the outskirts of the hill. After the facility was destroyed, a lot of the original housing followed suit sometime after.

I’m still not sure I understand how the field shielding is supposed to work, and my manager Max doesn’t seem to like me asking about it. I’m not sure if he knows either. He’s probably just as much in the dark here as the rest of us. I’m starting to regret signing onto the job, but if we can do whatever new and crazy thing they’re saying we’re doing, the bonus should be worth all this bullshit — so far.

I just need to give it some time, probably. There’s a lot of tension everywhere right now, with everyone still getting used to island life and being so close to coworkers 24/7. Two ships dropped off a huge amount of supplies again yesterday, but a lot less of it was food this time. They say another ship’s coming next week with a farming crew and that a lot of the supplies were for them to set it up. Last I checked, farming takes forever. I’m hungry now.

Victor Gragson, personal diary, pg. 24

I haven’t been successful tracking down the ship logs to get a full inventory of what was delivered, by whom, and when, but I think that’ll be a huge piece of the puzzle in figuring out what went wrong on the island. Even the later ships seem impossible to track down, and I still have no idea why.

Dear Sonya,

Work’s pretty grueling so far, but you know what I say about hard work. They’ve got us in surprisingly nice studio apartments a short walk from the office, and the walk is absolutely gorgeous. You’d love it. It’s green everywhere and since we’re up on a hill, you can see and just barely hear the ocean from pretty much anywhere. It’s great! As long as you stay on the paths it’s clear, but pretty much everything as far as you can see looks literally like a wilderness. We might be the first people who’ve ever been on this island, and that’s crazy. We’ve also got a scientist here that’s found six new species already, and we’ve only been here for a week. How crazy is that? There’s a big meeting this Friday where he’s gonna show us a “bristleback” (I think that was the name) which is like a huge, spiky pig. You’d love some of the birds here too; I’ve seen a few huge ones, but the really cute ones are, no joke, as small as a grape. They’re so small! We see them flying in huge groups (like, a hundred of them at least) pretty often, but they always fly away before I can get a good look. Wish you were here to see them; I bet you could sneak up on them and get a good look.

I signed a contract saying I can’t talk about what we’re doing here, but I can probably at least say it’s important science stuff that’s never been done before. They say it’ll change the world, and there’s a huge bonus at the end for all of us if we’re successful, which is just win-win. Maybe we’ll finally get that big house in Kalingrad, or maybe we’ll just move somewhere crazy and retire forever! Either way, I’m excited to see you soon.

I love you very much!
Andrey Petrov

Andrey Petrov to Sonya [Petrov?], undelivered

As far as I can tell, the magnetic shielding around the facility’s “inner circle” that protected the rest of the island from the strong magnetic field failed sometime in March. In what probably took just seconds, the entire facility — now enveloped by what must have been the strongest magnetic pull the earth has ever seen — completely crumpled in on itself, literally imploding into a concentrated mass of steel and concrete wrapped around the electromagnet, which must have still been active at that point.

Every piece of metal on the island must have been ripped from its resting place and smashed into the growing amalgamation of alloys at this point. Every pipe for plumbing, foundation rebar, electrical lines, and probably more than we’ll ever know. Metal desks, shelves, TVs, tools, personal effects in each of the homes — the list goes on and on. Even the screws and nails holding what little was left must have been stripped out and flung through the air toward their final resting place at the top of the hill. The debris must have demolished everything — and anyone — in its path.

What followed afterward on the island can only be described as tragic. The majority of the diaries I have were from employees at the facility before the destruction. Diaries and records after the accident also exist, but they’re much sparser and tell a more dire tale of primal survival instead.

I was right to start a journal. The facility is gone, and so many people are dead. The rest of us aren’t sure what to do, but we’re all supposed to be consolidating what’s left right now. I’m just writing a quick entry to, I don’t know, leave something. I’m scared. My name is Victor Gragson, son of Ivan and Svetlana Gragson. I grew up in Novosibirsk with my sister Anna, who is now working in Omsk. If anyone ever reads this, please get this journal to my family. I love them so much and don’t know if I’ll ever make it off this island. Coming here was a mistake. Please forgive me.

Victor Gragson, personal diary, pg. 79

I’ve pieced together a rough plan of what happened next, but admittedly it’s just my own interpretation through the terror of what was written.

The survivors met at the beach (“as far from metal hell as possible”, as one diary points out), where they brought everything that was left and still usable. Furniture without nails quickly fell apart, but several people mention using rope and twine to bind chairs and shelves back in place. What was left of the houses would have at least provided shelter sans plumbing, but the nails holding the walls, roofs, and shingles had also succumbed to the magnetic pull and left soft structures that fell apart in the first or second spring rain. At this point, they probably began construction on one of the several makeshift villages we see near the eastern beach.

It’s been three weeks since whatever it was that destroyed the main building. We didn’t see anything since our fields are so far away, but I’ll never forget the horrible sound of crumpling metal smashing on metal. I ran up the path to the lab, but the time I got there it was gone. Rather, what it had been was gone. It now looked like God had crumpled up a sheet of metal like I would a sheet of paper and tossed it onto the hill.

The medics were overwhelmed with so many dead and injured. Honestly, if we had more medics they might’ve been able to save more. I know that sounds bad to say, to say that some lives were lost simply by chance and not actually from whatever that devastation was, but that’s the reality of it. From now on, we all need to see the reality of the situation if we want to survive.

I know those up on the hill don’t really know what we do down in the fields other than “grow us food” so I’m kind of worried about panic leading to riots down here, but the reality here — again — is that with fewer people it’s easier to feed everyone. I don’t know how to say that to them without inciting more panic or painting myself an emotionless monster, but I’ll keep that in my pocket in case they come to the fields to steal what food is left. My rifles are somewhere in that mess of metal, so I guess words are all I have left anyway.

Anonymous diary #5, pg. 34

There was probably some unrest, but it’s left out of a lot of journals. My best interpretation here is that people were too preoccupied with surviving what was happening to hide away and write much about it. Luckily, a few still wrote.

The supply ship crashed into the northern cliffs two days ago. I don’t know what they were thinking. Most of our supplies are lost to sea, most of the crew is dead or gone, and the boat has already sunk to probably the bottom of the ocean. I always thought the crew was dumb when I’d seen them around after unloading, freeloading on our island like we’re not all working hard here and taking more than their fair share of what we’d ration ourselves — because why not? They’re fat and happy from the mainland and don’t understand what we’re doing here, and they might’ve just killed us all with their incompetence. I’d say I can’t believe it, but I can’t believe a damn thing that’s happened so far. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes — and now we’re all dead.

Marina Babanin, personal diary, pg. 6

But that was only the beginning of the crashes.

The people on the island started to believe there was some kind of superstitious, religious, or paranormal effect emerging on the island, and some wondered whether whatever research they were doing was to blame (“angered ancient spirits” and “brought the just wrath of God” occur in several separate diaries, so I wonder if someone on the island was repeating these ideas to others).

WAX AND FEATHERS
STEEL AND SCIENCE

Unknown, graffiti, northern village.

With all the information we have now, I’m confident the crashes were caused by the same magnetic field that collapsed the research facility in the first place, even though the magnet had since been disabled at some point between then and when my father’s crew rediscovered the island. From the wreckage on the island, it looks like hundreds of other boats and planes were also pulled in.

Something crazy’s going on with this island. I don’t know if the curse is real or if we really did anger some god, but a fifth plane crashed this morning. The explosion woke me up and I recognized the sound immediately. The first crash was a crazy coincidence after our supply boat sunk, but the second plane crash convinced us all there was something weird going on here. Each new crash is like an echo of the curse trying to get inside us through our ears.

What have we done? The survivors of each crash have told us they’ve heard rumors about the island, but nothing concrete. I don’t know if anyone is looking for us, or if we’ll be stuck here forever. I do feel a little guilty for helping bring about whatever hell we’ve created here, and apparently trapping each new plane full of innocents in with us.

We’re making do with what we have. There are barely enough supplies to go around as it is, and even though each plane has had some supplies to salvage, it’s still not nearly enough — especially with more people. I think we’re all convinced whatever is causing these crashes is going to keep hunting planes or whatever it is that it wants, so I don’t see it getting any better any time soon.

There are a few voices out there clamoring to hide from the survivors and keep our resources to ourselves, but I’m not convinced yet. I still have hope we’ll get off this island. The lab technicians (that are left) are working on one of the planes, trying to repair it from salvaged parts from the others — so that’s a hope. It’s all I have, but it’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We need to get help, and we have pilots and we have engineers. At least we have that.

Victor Gragson, personal diary, pg. 141

It’s honestly depressing reading through this period in the diaries. As you read, what little glimmer of hope that was there gets violently extinguished almost immediately, and the echo of helplessness permeates through each diary.

We’re done for. Whatever this island wants, it’s going to get. I’m so tired of trying, and whatever hope anyone had left got snuffed out today when the second plane came back down. We thought the first one had to have been a fluke; the guys from the lab all but guaranteed it must have been something wrong with the plane, or the winds, or SOMETHING sciencey.

Well, they were wrong and now Andrey’s dead. My friends are gone, hope is gone, the food’s almost gone, and they just keep saying we have to try it again. That getting off the island is our only hope, even though more of us die every time we try. Maybe Max is right. Maybe the island is keeping us all here. Maybe the curse is real. Maybe it’s some god smiting us for something the lab rats up the hill did. I just don’t care anymore. It’s not like any of us are getting off the island any other way.

Marina Babanin, personal diary, pg. 49 (final entry)

It’s difficult to piece together an overarching timeline from so many disjointed points of view when they rarely referenced dates with each entry, but around the point of the second plane crash (that is, the second plane that was fixed — and then crashed again) there’s even less of a record.

Maybe some journals are still hidden or buried on the island, maybe they’ve been lost to time, or maybe fewer people thought it was worth writing at all.

This continues for what looks like generations. Many journals end while a few more start. There are mentions of children being born on the island, and fractured communities trying to keep the peace and keep to themselves.

Another crash up on the hill today, so it’s bunker in, no fire all day. Artyom said we don’t have the room or supplies for any more survivors, but my guess is we’ll need one or two this summer to keep our numbers up. Needing less food is nice and all, but we’ll have no food if we’ve got no one to stand watch at night. There’s more than enough work to go around; I wouldn’t mind spreading ourselves a little less thin.

On the other hand, they don’t know this island. Every time we take someone in all he can think about is fixing up a plane and killing more of us when he crashes again. I remember when villages were trying to fly at least once every Summer, but nowadays every crash I hear is a first-timer. Sometimes they even get violent when you forbid them from flying again. They’re useful to have, but dangerous to keep. I don’t know what to do.

Anonymous diary #13, pg. 18

There’s a psychological concept you may have heard of as a child called learned helplessness. We’re often introduced to it through the story of a newborn elephant, whose owner ties their leg to a post with a strong chain from the day they’re born.

At first, the elephant struggles. It rages against the chain, the post, and the owner, trying to break the chain, or rip the post out, or plead to the bigger elephants to set it free. Eventually, however, it stops. It learns it’s helpless to break the bonds that bind it.

And so, it stops trying. And then it grows up knowing better than to waste energy trying to break the chains of other children.

Interestingly enough, that learned helplessness persists even when that owner replaces the strong chain with weaker and weaker materials over time, eventually ending up nothing but a thin, inexpensive rope. The elephant forgets to think about escape; it doesn’t try to break each new rope; it simply lives its new, shackled life. Even with food just out of reach, you’ll see elephants starve to death. Breaking the chain just isn’t an option at that point.

It was a rough winter, but we made it through together. Food storage is low, but Denis assured us all it’ll pick back up in the Spring. I’m so sick of bristle meal after meal! We just have to be patient with the farmers. It’s not like they can speed things up, after all. Especially when we’re so low on people and those left are so overworked trying to get everything done.

It’s terrible of me to say, but I wish we’d get another crash soon if only for the plane rations and a couple more helping hands. It’s been so long since we’ve gotten an offering from the gods, I’m beginning to think the island is losing our trust — or we’ve angered it in some way. No planes mean no offerings to make back to the island, so it just seems like a deadly cycle to me. Unless the island wants locals now…

Sergey Petrov, personal diary, pg. 32

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