This story is by George Lies and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Lost Isle of Buzios
Betrayed at birth by the gods, Bogart Sicani could not hear, nor speak. As a boy, he often played at the edge of his Isle of Buzios. He held his ear when ocean waves rippled but felt only muffled vibrations. He yelled at the seawater but no distinct sound emerged from his mouth. He pressed his fingers at his throat for he imagined one day hearing his name echo off the Black Rocks across the waters, near his island homeland.
At age thirteen, he waited no longer.
He grabbed his satchel containing his musical instrument, gifted him by his grandmother, and dived into the waves. He began swimming the two hundred meters toward his destination, the Black Rocks, formed long ago by boulders thrown by the Cyclops at Ulysses’ ships during a time of the gods. With sight of seagulls overhead, he endured the rush of cool waves lap over him but couldn’t shout his joy.
He dived beneath the surface into silence.
In the depths, he swam among a school of silver fish. A black eel shimmied past a horde of clams nestled among onion flora his grandmother used as herbs in soups. He dove deeper and played splish-splash with squibs that, he knew, had the sweet taste of roasted pineapple. He resurfaced and began stroking arm over arm toward the dark sands of the Black Rocks.
A rhythm of waves stroked the beach as he came ashore. He crawled like a crab. He flipped on his back and stared skyward; his lungs gasping in the air, his chest alive with oxygen. Clouds floated on their way, unmasking the sun but the glare pained him until he felt the soothing grace of his grandmother.
Bogart could not hear her words but he learned from her hand gestures: one day the gods will give you a voice. His grandmother crafted him a musical instrument at age nine: a whistling tonette. He practiced blowing into its thin lip, his fingers fluttering over air holes. He summoned flute-like tunes that made his grandmother sway.
He only felt the music’s vibrations but he became an adept master. He played his tonette as the pair journeyed across their Isle of Buzios. They hiked woodsy trails below the Great Volcano; she’d gesture, telling how the mountain once breathed red fire and dust. While he clung to her sheepskin, she told stories of gods above and sea monsters in the ocean.
Having a deep heritage in their village, she knew the past and held the gift of seeing the future. Here, she pointed at the now snow-capped dark mountain, is where Zeus tossed the Titans into the Great Volcano when they betrayed him. Pointing there, she showed him where she found lava-burned wood for crafting his gift of sound.
Lying on the wet black sand, Bogart traced the clouds now eclipsing the sun. He then scrambled to his feet and turned, facing the Black Rocks that towered toward the sky. He did wonder how one-eyed Prometheus detected a fleeing Ulysses after being blinded by the swift thrust of a spear, and how that Cyclops threw huge black boulders so far from his cave.
The Black Rocks formed the backbone of an island shaped like the collarbone of butchered oxen Bogart once found on his own shore. He counted the tall rocks—one-two-three peaks. That Cyclops had thrown three missiles into the air on that day and, without eyesight, almost wrecked Ulysses’ escape back home.
Bogart began climbing the face of the Black Rocks, heading to the summit.
Hand over heel, he navigated slippery ledges, crevices and footholds. With the wind rustling his hair, he stood at the top; he took in the view of forest and land that stretched to the Sea of Atlantis. His grandmother told him of distant voyagers that shared the water route and how the treacherous waters kept invader tribes far from their Isle of Buzios.
Bogart readied himself for playing music to the gods. From his satchel, treated with waxen olive oil to protect against salt water, he pulled an orange, peeled the skin, and ate it while he sat on a flat stone slab. Around him the ocean turbulence roused the the seascape’s horizon. Beyond the rocks, as his grandmother described, sea monsters stirred the waters. Gargantuan Scylla often grew agitated in her cave and, across the strait, the serpentine Charybdis created whirlpools.
He wondered how his own islanders’ fishing trawlers ever survived their wrath.
He undid the skincloth that held his tonette dry. His fingers fit into the seven holes on its top surface, his thumb pressed against the underside hole. He cleared his lungs and began creating music like he had for his grandmother before she left his world.
On her last day, she waved her hands in a circle: play your sounds, the gods will listen.
He took a breath and pushed air into the tonette as his fingertips danced in sequence. Soft flute-like sounds merged with a breeze. The music he made caressed the ocean’s rough waves, and the vibrations he felt swept far to the horizon where Atlas stood holding the burden of the world. The tonette trembled when the sounds reversed back toward the Black Rocks, forming a helix that spiraled skyward into the realm of Zeus.
Bogart paused, thinking the gods must hear his plea.
The gods did listen but debated on giving the boy a voice. They argued that his musical sounds might bring peace to the Isle of Buzios, and not the wars and violence expected among humans.
Zeus made a decision based on his action against the Titans. Before granting the boy a voice and hearing, he’d let the islanders know of his power. He motioned for lightning bolts and flung them deep inside the Great Volcano. On the Isle of Buzios, a burst of fire plumes erupted from the mountain top and red smoke spurted out; a red burning lava began flowing like a river all the way to the sea.
Bogart turned away from the Sea of Atlantis. From his perspective atop the Black Rocks, he tried screaming his name but no sound came out. Having faith in his grandmother’s foresight, he blew into the tonette and yelled his name again.
Out came a new sound that he heard: Bogart Sicani.
Thankful for his grandother, he heard his name bounce off the Black Rocks and roll down the cliffs and across the black sands; the first words his vocal chords ever made. Sounds mixed with the hissing of seagulls overhead and the rush of waves caressing the shore.
He looked across the vast waters, back toward his homeland
A firestorm spurted from the Great Volcano.
A flow of bright red came down the mountain and blanketed thick forests like a flood moving across the land. Seawater rose around the Isle of Buzios; the land began submerging beneath the ocean’s surface. Then his grandmother’s warning came back: you will hear and be given a voice but take heed—the gods like playing tricks on innocents.
Bogart weighed his next action. He held the tonette to his lips and played musical sounds again. He stopped and yelled his name three times more. Sounds floated across the waters to his Isle of Buzios; his people listened and shouted praise. They began running toward the music, to shore’s edge and to their boats. Their vessels’ sails unfurled as they set forth on a new journey. Like Ulysses, they began their escape across the sea.
Bogart Sicani played his tonette and paused at times, hearing his name echo off the Black Rocks again and again, a name his people followed to a new home as their Isle of Buzios sank into the Sea of Atlantis.