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850 A.D.

Sunlight reflected off the boys’ tanned backs as they floated face-down, human flotsam riding gentle waves back to shore. Thane’s net was empty, and Nimrod’s spear was clean. As children of the primordial island, their eyes were acclimated to salty water and their reflexes were finely tuned to predators in the familiar cove.

Thane reached the sand and rolled to lay belly up as the tide retreated around him. His gut made noises to match his hunger pangs. He scanned the watery horizon for his brother, but only Nimrod’s feet were visible, kicking at the surface. Unconcerned, Thane leaned back on the warm sand to wait for Nimrod’s solo dive to either satisfy his curiosity or stoke his hunger enough to lure him from the sea.

Thane was roused from a shallow nap by his brother’s clumsy arrival.

“Can we find something to eat?” Thane asked as he flicked fresh sand from his face and jockeyed for shade beneath Nimrod’s shadow.

“There’s fruit all over the ground,” Nimrod replied, pointing toward the tree line.

“What is that?” Thane asked, watching Nimrod palm a black and white stone with rough, misshapen edges. “Besides an ugly rock.”

“It’s too light to be a rock.” Nimrod held it to his ear and shook.

“I need food,” Thane said as he stood up and knocked sand off his bare backside. The hide flap hanging over his genitals had already dried from the sun. “Wanna help?”

Nimrod followed his brother to where sand turned to loam and the sky filled with giant palm trees.

He kicked a fallen pineapple with his bare foot.

“Here,” Nimrod said, barely looking away from his ugly stone.

“Helpful,” Thane said sarcastically as he picked up the spiky fruit. He slammed it against a jagged branch from a fallen tree. The pineapple burst, exploding juice over both boys. Ripe pineapple, warmed from the sun and only hours from spoiling was Thane’s favorite.

The boys squatted low to the ground and started with the largest pieces. They ate carefully, tearing at the yellow acidic meat while adeptly avoiding its spiky skin.

“I think there’s something in here,” Nimrod muttered about the stone in his left hand while he gnawed on the pulp in his right.

“Such as?” asked Thane, disinterested.

“Dunno. It just feels hollow.” Nimrod tossed the pineapple rind and stood, searching the ground.

“What now,” asked Thane with an exasperated tone.

“I need another rock.”

“Oh goody. We can come home with two hideous stones. We’ll be heroes.”

Thane was not looking forward to returning to the village with nothing but a cluster of pineapples and a few mangos they’d found on the ground. Neither boy liked climbing trees or catching fish, especially after Zeb had that fatal misstep two moons ago. It was his own fault, though. At least that’s what Thane whispered to Nimrod as Zeb’s lifeless body was ceremoniously wrapped in palm fronds and then set ablaze. Everyone knows the rule: spiky fish are pretty but dangerous.

Nimrod walked in ever larger circles, scanning the ground. He stopped when he found a black, stony outcropping protruding from Earth as if it had been expelled with force from somewhere far away only to come to an unexpected stop on their little patch of dirt. Nimrod lined up his ugly stone with the black stalagmite and pressed down. He wiggled the stone a little and then pushed down again.

“Ah-ha! I knew it!” Nimrod said as his bounty split open just a bit.

“Stop. Stay away from that!” Thane protested, tossing the rest of the pineapple over his shoulder.

“It hasn’t killed me yet.” Nimrod maneuvered the stone a bit and then pressed down with sudden force. The mystery stone gave way enough for him to grab both sides and pull. He pried it open into two pieces connected by a sinewy hinge. Thane appeared at Nimrod’s side to gaze in wonder at the guts of the stone. Its interior walls were luminescent and smelled of brine. Nimrod ran his finger along the smooth surface and flicked gingerly at the fleshy pulp floating in its own slime. Then he smelled his finger.

“Ewwww! What?” Thane asked in horror.

“I don’t know, but…” Nimrod prodded the slimy alien further, sliding his finger beneath it, separating it from its iridescent ties until it floated freely in viscous broth.

Nimrod slowly pulled his finger out and put it in his mouth.

“Oh Nim, are you crazy?” Thane reacted.

“What? I’m hungry.” Nimrod answered.

“Wait. Wait. You’re going to eat that?” Thane expressed disgust. Nimrod looked from the ruptured sea creature to his brother’s bemused face and shrugged. “You’ll die. Put it down,” Thane admonished the impetuous Nimrod.

“At least I won’t have to eat pineapple anymore,” Nimrod said with a cock-eyed grin. He leaned his head back, opened his mouth and let the alien slime drip into his mouth. He bit down just a bit, grimaced, and then swallowed. Thane watched in horror, his hands clasped over his mouth.

The brothers stared at each other for a long while, silently waiting for something to happen. But nothing happened. No convulsions. No sudden death. No vomit. Nothing. Until Nimrod’s belly grumbled audibly.

But he was in no pain. He was ready for another.

“You’re insane,” Thane whispered.

“Why?” Nimrod gripped Thane’s chin and turned his attention to the line of pineapple trees. “Who would have thought that hideous, armored plant would have such delicious nectar inside? I mean, who looked at that tree and thought, gee, I bet those plant porcupine things are heavenly when hacked apart! This is how it’s done, brother.”

“You just ate snot from a flimsy sea stone,” Thane responded, unmoved by his brother’s soliloquy.

“I’m going back for more,” Nimrod walked away, picked up Thane’s net and marched into the waves until it was deep enough to swim away.

“No one will ever eat these,” Thane mumbled, sitting down to wait for Nimrod. “Never. Sea snot from a rock… fool.” He watched his brother’s feet kicking at the surface.

Natalie Brandt

Natalie is a lawyer and mom trapped in Texas. Wildly outspoken about the separation of church and state, she can quickly kill a dinner party but always brings good wine.

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