Every day, for an entire year, I received an invitation to visit The Island. Handwritten but not signed, always with one glossy polaroid picture enclosed. Each day, a different picture: beaches stretching to the horizon, verdant forests with grassy floors, waterfalls plunging into ravines. In all of them, the sun stood tall and beaming.
The invitations were written in a personal style. The author knew me, knew where I lived and worked. But he (or perhaps, she) never gave any clues about who they were, why there were inviting me. And yet every time, at the bottom of the letter, there were clear instructions on how to get to the Island. Obviously this person wanted me to visit, but why would he not reveal his identity?
Curiosity, ultimately, got the better of me. On the three-hundred and fifty-sixth day, I packed a small bag with enough clothes for a handful of days, folded up the three-hundred and fifty-sixth letter and pocketed the polaroid. Then I set out to The Island.
The rusty boat I had chartered – all paid for: “we were expecting you, Sir” – bobbed on the dock behind me when I finally stepped onto golden sands. Seeing a trail of footsteps leading off the sand and into the trees, I headed inland. Before long, I was enveloped in the foliage. It was pleasantly humid under the branches, and soon I could hear the sound of falling water. I followed it deeper inland.
I came to a clearing in the woods. The roar of the waterfall was closer now, surely just barely out of sight, but that had faded into the back of my mind. In the clearing, I saw a wood cabin. And a man on the deck, lying in a hammock. I called out.
“Are you the one who invited me here?”
He didn’t answer me. “You’re just in time.”
His voice made me suddenly want to leave.
“Who are you?” I asked.
He sat up and turned to me. It was Barry Dresden. Non-descript, low-level book keeper’s assistant. He’d gone missing a year ago after I fired him; he was fiddling the books and skimming the petty cash. Not a lot of money, but I couldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior. Barry rolled off the hammock, lifting a shotgun from a table just behind him. He pointed it at me.
“This Island. It’s one in, one out. And I’m the one out.”
The muzzle of the gun seemed to fill my vision. He rounded me and headed back down the way I had walked. After a moment he started running. I stood in shock. One in, one out?
I ran after him.
I reached the beach and bolted down the sand, breath heaving. My rustbucket charter was edging away from the dock.
“One in, one out!” Barry called. “I’m glad I got you. That money I was pulling aside from the company was for medicine. For my son. And he’s dead now.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“I hope you rot here.” He held the gun pointed at me.
The boat’s engine fired. It pulled away from the dock. I was stranded, and no one knew where I was.
Barry’s voice whispered in my ear.
“You’re just in time.”
It had taken me a year to succumb to the invitation.
I walked back to the cabin. Inside, on a bare wooden table was a notice. It read:
“Supplies will arrive at the dock for a maximum of 356 days. Mail service daily. One in, one out, strictly enforced.”
A polaroid camera sits on the desk next to a sheaf of paper and a pen.
I start making a list of names.
One in, one out.