This story inspired by the following prompt: [WP] You’re a multi billionaire with severe god delusions. You have several small children kidnapped and leave them on an island with resources and carefully placed ‘evidence’ suggesting at your divinity. Ten years later, you arrive at the island.
I’ve always heard that there are things money can’t buy. But in all my experience as a billionaire, I have yet to find one.
It certainly can buy love. Both my wives loved me for my money. For the cars, the stature, the elegance. It can buy respect- employees will drop their foreheads to the floor for a hundred dollar tip. And it certainly can buy legal immunity- I discovered that after the death of my first wife, shortly after I discovered money can buy discreet hit men.
But there’s another phrase I’ve always heard, one that has attempted to limit my abilities. One my father said to me over a glass of fine wine in my study, as I told him of a firm that would start growing artificial organs out of his tissue now so that they would be available in ten years when his began to fail. “You can’t play God, Don.”
I assure you, with my wealth, you can.
So I bought an island deep in the Pacific, one accessible by helicopter alone, and transported ten orphans there, all aged seven. And I had them huts built, and tools designed, and jobs designated. Then I would leave them for ten years to their own capabilities, but first I gathered them for a speech.
“Welcome,” I said, my polished shoes digging into the sand beach and suit flapping as I spread my arms, “Welcome to your new home. A home I gave to you. A home with resources, with food, with all you need to survive. Given to you by me. Remember me, children. Your benefactor. Your reason for survival. Whisper my name at night when you are scared and I will protect you. Call out to me when hungry and I will provide.”
“But what should we do to entertain ourselves?” Asked the smallest of the children, “what about television, and books?”
“If you’re good, I shall provide them. I provide all things if you’re good.”
The child nodded slowly, his eyes scrunched together in half comprehension, and the group watched my helicopter rise from the beach. Then I was gone.
On the island, food and water were programmed to rise out of the ground overnight when my name was spoken. And the forest was programmed to make bear growls, tiger roars, and wolf howls each night until my name was spoken, though there were no natural predators.
The ten years passed quickly- there was much else on my mind. I bought a sports team, American baseball, and it was steadily climbing the rankings under my guidance and, more importantly, my quiet funding. I married again, and there was the funeral of my second wife to attend to. And of course, there was my own son, ready to start leaving for college in a year’s time.
But when I flew back to the island, I knew what to expect. Ten children, plus or minus a few from births or deaths, all calling out my name. Ten children that had proved an excellent point, and would make excellent servants.
No crowd gathered on the beach when I arrived. No one stepped forth from their huts with religious fervor.
All was silent as I trudged through the camp. And with a long, slender finger, I pushed one of the huts doors open, and looked inside.
A skeleton. One years dead, with no flesh left on its bones, alone on its cot, and with hollow eyes that stared at the ceiling.
I yelped and stepped back out of the door frame, examining the rest of the huts.
Nine other skeletons. One for each of the children.
“Oh God,” I whispered. Ten years had gone to waste. “But how?”
I checked the island controls, and found the solution to the problem. Nine years before, the food delivery mechanism had jammed. And ten children had starved.
I cursed. There was no time for incidents such as this. To prepare another island, to find ten more children, to wait ten more years- it was all too inconvenient.
So I walked back to my helicopter, a frown creasing my lips, and deep in thought.
But on the way, I heard a noise, and realized I must have forgotten to disable the controls speakers. On returning, the volume knobs were down, but as I walked to the helicopter I heard it again. A rustling. A mumbling.
I walked faster, and heard more sounds behind me. But whenever I turned back, the path behind me was empty.
I jumped into the helicopter, slamming the door shut, and started the engine. But it wouldn’t start. There was no response from the machine.
“Come on,” I shouted, kicking at the pedals, “Come on!”
But nothing happened. Nothing except for a small knock at the door.
And then the door opened, and there were ten children, all staring at me with smiles on their faces. Their clothes were slightly more ragged, their faces slightly more aged, but otherwise no different than how I had left them.
“How?” I whispered, straining away from them, but the seatbelt held me in place, “You all died. How are you here?”
The smallest one laughed then spoke, his eyes on me, “Oh Mr. Don, surely you remember. What sort of God doesn’t provide resurrection? We were good, and you provided.”
“Come on out, Mr. Don,” Said the smallest of the orphans, extending his hand, “We have so much to thank you for, our provider of all good things.”
“I think I’m good up here, thank you son.” I replied, and looked around the cockpit. No weapons within reach, and the helicopter remained unresponsive. The handle of the door was out of my reach.
“Nonsense,” He said, and grabbed my arm, his fingers too cold against my skin. “We made you a dinner, to thank you for all of your great kindness. For all the meals you provided for us. If you don’t come out then we’ll have to eat it in there.”
They’re just kids, kids who think you’re their god, I thought, Go eat their dinner, then sneak out when nightfall hits, fix the helicopter, and get the Hell away from this island.
“Fine,” I answered, and stepped from the helicopter to be surrounded by smiling faces. The girls skipped around me, their skirts fluttering in the wind, their edges seeming to melt into the beach. And the boys raced ahead, their voices seeming much farther away than the fifteen feet lead they had taken, and the colors of their shirts muted. I walked carefully, watching each step, and trying to keep a count of the ten.
They led me into the forest, among their huts, and to a long wooden table that I had ordered constructed in the center of a small clearing. The food delivery mechanisms were designed to provide around that table, and as I approached I saw it was set for eleven. There were cups and plates for each spot, and silverware laid upon napkins, and at the center were several large covered platters.
“Here’s your seat, Mr. Don,” Said the smallest, gesturing to a small stool at the end of the table. I sat, and the rest of the children filed past, each taking their own seats. These were raised, I noticed, and their eyes were level with mine as each settled into position.
I reached forward to uncover the first platter, and the smallest boy spoke again.
“But Mr. Don! Wait. We must say grace to you first. Marcus here always does it- he went to several years of Sunday school before becoming an orphan, so he knows the most about religion. Said he wanted to be a priest to, back when he thought he’d grow up.”
At the other end of the table, another boy smiled, and produced a tattered notebook- one of the few originals I’d left behind on the island ten years before. He opened it up, and I saw the lettering on the front, scribbled in thick sharpie.
The Book Of Don
“What’s that?” I asked, tensing. And around the table the children smiled.
“Marcus put this together for you, Mr. Don. We pulled together all the religious sayings we could remember, plus some extra that we could only partially remember, that we felt described you. And we read one before each meal as a blessing.”
Marcus cleared his throat, then began.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
“Amen.” Chorused the other children, and removed the tops from the platters.
“Here Mr. Don,” Said the smallest boy, “Serve yourself first. You deserve it. We’ll provide for you just as you provided for us.”
The children passed the platters around the table to me, held out serving spoons. I stared into each of the platters, hesitating. Each was empty, completely devoid of food.
“Go on, Mr. Don.” They chorused.
And so with a shaking hand I served myself, like at a young girl’s tea party, a helping of air. As soon as I finished, they each served themselves, each taking generous portions of nothing. And they began to eat.
They slurped on soup. They crunched on vegetables. And they ripped apart bread. I heard it all, I even smelled it all, but before my eyes there was nothing. But I pretended to eat, pretended to eat the empty air that they so voraciously attacked. And the smallest boy struck up conversation again.
“We owe you so much Mr. Don. It’s with your help we were able to come back. Back from the other side.”
“Because I’m a god? And what exactly is the other side?”
“If you say so, Mr. Don. And you know, the other side.” He said, and knocked a fork off the table to punctuate the point, “Really we shouldn’t be here. It’s only with your help that we are.”
“So I… So I could send you back then?”
“I suppose so, if you did the right thing, or willed the right way.”
The children ahead continued eating as if they couldn’t hear the conversation between me and the smallest boy. And meeting his eyes, I closed my own, and raised a hand.
Go, I thought, and the noise of eating around me stopped.
I smiled, and jolted my eyes open, but the ten were still there. They had stopped eating, stopped breathing, and every eye was upon me.
“Oh Mr. Don,” Said the smallest, “You really shouldn’t have done that. That wasn’t the right thing.”
“For there are some transgressions so evil that they cannot be righted by natural means. But the scale must be balanced, by other means if necessary.” Read Marcus from his book, “We made that one up. But I think you get the point.”
“Stop!” I shouted, trying to stand. But my legs refused to budge, paralyzed on the sides of the stool, “Stop! You were orphans! You were poor! I created a life for you here, where you were well fed, I mean, supposed to be well fed. And among friends.”
“You took our freedom and our lives.” Responded the smallest, “And reasoned it was ok because we were only orphans. Marcus here was supposed to become a priest. Jenny would have been a biologist. And I would have been a judge.”
“You’re already alive though. You’re here, before my eyes.”
“Not quite, Mr. Don. We live on borrowed time. Actually, we don’t truly live at all. We’re shadows of what we once were, confined to this island, and we’re always hungry. We’re ghosts of ourselves.”
“There’s nothing I can do. I’m not actually a god. The past is the past.” I strained again, but his gaze alone held me to the stool. My muscles would tense, but they would not move.
“We’re quite aware of that, Mr. Don,” He said, folding his arms, “But you took our lives. The only eight years each of us had. And now, we want those years back. There’s only one problem.”
“That I can’t actually give them back, you mean?”
“No, actually, that’s not a problem at all. We’ve been to the other side and back, Mr. Don. Not many people are allowed back. Only those who have unfinished business on this earth. But when they are sent back, they’re given the tools to make things right. The problem is that you simply don’t have enough years for us to take. We require eighty, eight for each of us to be restored, and you only have twenty five before you’re supposed to become sick and die. With your years, you can only save three of us, and seven of us will never live again.” He said, frowning.
“My years? I only have twenty five left? And you want to take them from me?”
“We don’t want to take them from you, we are going to take them from you. But we’ll need another source. And considering your view on orphans, we’ll use an orphan that’s alive. We’ve found just the one.”
“Just take all of them from the orphan then. Leave mine alone. I have money you can have- how’s ten million each?”
“It’s funny, Mr. Don, how money loses its value once everything is in perspective. Where you’re going, I’m afraid it won’t help you at all. Besides, the orphan we want only has fifty five years left. You see, the disease that will kill you is genetic.”
“My son.” I breathed. My seventeen year old son who was meant to go to college within the year, who I had left at my estate during my trip. “But he’s not an orphan.”
“Not yet,” Grinned the smallest, “But if you remember, you killed his mother, your wife. You already did half the work. And now we only have to take care of the other half.”
He walked towards me, hands outstretched, and placed his palms on my chest. He drew a deep breath, and as he did his muted colors became more pronounced, the tatters on his clothes mended themselves, and his palms grew warm.
I gasped, wheezing, as I felt my joints stiffen and my vision blur. Eight years passed in the span of eight seconds, leaving behind a collection of new grey hairs, wrinkles, and developing presbyopia.
“No,” I whispered, my voice significantly coarser than it had been as the second orphan approached and repeated the actions of the smallest. Then the third came and left, and I coughed as I felt the frailty of my heart along with a new muffling over my ears.
“And now you are drained, we will proceed to the son.” Said the smallest. And the seven other orphans approached, each drawing life from me, life that I had once given to my son but was now being drawn out from the source. I’ll never know if they reached him thousands of miles away, but I felt something leaving my body, along that paternal connection. And I feared the worst.
“Now we give thanks,” Said Marcus when they had finished, “To Mr. Don. For he taketh away, and he giveth life. Blessed be thy name.”
He shook the dust from his shoes at my feet, and spat into the dirt. Each of the orphans followed suit except for the smallest, who stayed behind, silent and waiting.
“Are you here to finish me,” I croaked, the words taking nearly all of my strength.
“No, Mr. Don. The debt is repaid. The scales are righted. We are satisfied.”
In the distance, I heard the helicopter motor come to life, accompanied by a chorus of yells that no longer sounded like distant echoes but rather the whooping of real children. Alive children.
“I can fly you back to shore. Surely none of you can do that.”
“We have means. And after that, we’ll live our lives as they were meant to be.”
He turned, and began walking towards the helicopter.
“We left you one year Mr. Don,” He said, over his shoulder, “But starvation only takes a month.”
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