Surf Monks of New Hawai'i
Ahoy, Ship City
Pallie slipped the needle clumsily through the sun-bleached banana cloth of the homemade captain’s hat, pulling the thick blue thread taut before snipping and tying it off.
“There.” She leaned against the ship’s railing and admired the day’s work. The short black bill shone, the golden band with her name sewn across glittered, and Hercules the Hero, her favorite constellation, hulked over the hat’s white crown to signify astronomy as her chosen specialty. Each of the constellation’s shining stars was connected by thread the color of the Pacific’s waves lapping against the Hawaiian Fantasy’s crooked hull below.
It was art. It was beauty. If triumph were a hat, it would be this hat. Pallie grinned. She couldn’t wait to show the Captain.
Holding the official symbol of the First Mates in her hands made the whole world seem brighter, like she could reach out and grab it for herself. The Mates were the most knowledgeable, respected, and beloved people in Ship City. They managed the chores, kept the ships’ few remaining systems operational, and even administered emergency medical care. When they spoke, Ship City’s citizens took them seriously with a capital S. When they were hungry, fresh pastries bursting with sweet coconut were heaped upon them in boxes tied up pretty with bows. But Pallie? When she spoke, she was lucky to get more than an eye roll and a Ha Ha, Pallie, whether she was joking or not, and there were no pies, not even ugly ones, when her stomach rumbled.
But Pallie wanted to join the Captain’s super select crew of helpers for more than just the respect and free baked goods. They were the Captain’s family, or as close as her hero would allow, and she wanted in. The Captain’s big shining smile and the feel of his strong warm shoulders as he bounced her around Ship City were her oldest memories, and some of her favorites. Besides that, they were a natural duo! They both loved stargazing, ambling across the gentle tilt of Ship City’s decks together, and daydreaming about life on the Big Island sparkling in the distance, forbidden to Tourists like them. Her without parents, him without kids, both loving fresh muffins with warm gooey centers. It just made sense. And while she’d longed for him to adopt her since she was just a wee shipmate, she got it now. Getting promoted to the First Mates was as good as adoption or better!
Even if it did require way more chores.
Now, she was finally eligible for promotion to his crew. She was twelve years’ old, she’d picked a specialty and studied her butt off, and she’d even made her hat, the wondrous thing! The only thing between her and finally belonging to the Captain’s family was the handful of hours until tomorrow’s big announcement. She scrambled across the empty deck and around hot tubs full of thriving fruit trees to reach the nearest porthole window. With the sleeve of her tunic, she wiped the speckled glass clean and placed the hat on her head as reverently as a crown.
She winced. That was no crown.
The ugly hat devoured her head and most of her face, too, like some blobby monster from the ocean’s deep. Pallie cocked its lopsided brim to the side, hoping the jaunty angle would help. It didn’t. “Pallie of the Hawaiian Fantasy,” she said to the glass, using her best impression of the Captain’s gentle tenor, “do you hereby accept your promotion to the First Mates and promise to serve the Tourists of Ship City for as long as you live upon these gentle seas?”
“Well,” she began thoughtfully, “it is a big responsibility, Captain…”
“Oh, pretty please?” her reflection interrupted. “Who else will help us finally return to the Mainlands by navigating with the stars above? Who else will make us laugh? The First Mates would be lost without our Pal—devastated, doomed, done for, not to mention terribly bored!”
“Now, now Captain, please don’t cry.” She placed the deformed hat against her chest. “I’ve wanted to join your family of First Mates my entire sad little orphan life. I humbly accept your promotion, but I beg you, no more compli—”
A deep, resonant honk sounded across the cluster of half-sunk cruise ships that made up Ship City, followed by two more of the same. Pallie sucked in her breath.
Three o’clock already?!
She spun around, groaning as she surveyed the tropical hot tub grove exploding with fruit. Fruit she was supposed to have picked by now, only she’d spent her entire gardening shift sewing and re-sewing her dang hat.
Farmer Stan was going to be furious. She shimmied up the nearest tree and cut down as many bananas as she could, littering the tub’s soil with fallen fruit, but it was hopeless. Farmer Stan would know she slacked off, again. A first attempt at haberdashery was no excuse, either. But, what could she do about it now? She was going to be late for dress rehearsal, and she couldn’t afford to make two adults angry on Founding Day Eve.
Especially not before the Captain made his decision about the First Mates!
She paced back and forth through the harvest cabana, brainstorming different excuses. She briefly considered telling Farmer Stan the truth, but no, that never worked. She needed something big, but not too big, with just the right amount of drama… Inspired, she scribbled a quick note on the back of her chore assignment slip.
Dear kind, understanding Farmer Stan,
So sorry to leave my chores unfinished, but halfway through my shift, I developed a life-threatening allergy to banana peels. I’ve ushered myself to the infirmary in hopes of finding a cure. Thank you for your concern for my wellbeing, but there’s no need to check on me! If I live, I’ll report for make-up duty as soon as possible. If I don’t, please don’t blame yourself. It’s only partially your fault.
She briefly considered signing in her own blood for emphasis, but nixed the idea. Too dramatic. Her wax crayon would have to do.
She left the note on the pathetic pile of bananas before heading towards the nearest down-ways stairwell. It better work—she couldn’t afford any negative reports before the Captain made her promotion official. Pallie grabbed a woven mat from the stack outside, plopped down, and launched herself down the stairwell-turned-slide. Her long braid flew behind her as she rounded the corners on the curved track, whizzing down floor after floor deeper within the Fantasy’s insides.
Ever since the Fantasy’s hull sprung a major leak during the storm season a few years back, the ship’s giant nose had started sinking degree by degree into the ocean. Eventually the tilt got so bad they had to stop using the cruise liner’s stairs altogether. At least, the normal way. They couldn’t take the elevators because, like all the other electric-powered machinery onboard, they’d been out of order ever since the world went dark. So, the Captain’s League of Scientific Minds converted down-ways stairwells into slides, which was fun, but they rigged up-ways stairwells with hair-raising chairlifts that lurched you up twenty stories, which was death.
She shivered in anticipation of her terrifying return trip up, but that was future Pallie’s problem. For now, she needed to get to rehearsal.
As she slid past the final floor before the ballroom level, she kicked out her foot and hit the lever. A smooth wooden divider rose, diverting her from the main track and depositing her at the door. She ran through the ballroom lobby, beneath its long shadows and the flecks of glimmering light that danced across its musty carpet from the leaning crystal chandeliers.
Inside, the windowless ballroom was even darker. Only the grand stage was lit, illuminated by strands of solar lanterns, a giant hand-cranked spotlight, and the weak emergency lighting that had stubbornly flickered throughout the ship for the last fifteen years. Judging by the set and the kids in airbrushed t-shirts, flowery leis, and goofy sunglasses, they were still rehearsing the first scene.
Pallie should have felt happy that she wasn’t that late, but her insides squeezed painfully. All it took was fifteen minutes for them to start the show without her? It was like they didn’t even need her.
“IT WAS JUST ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE,” her understudy Louis bellowed from the Narrator’s corner. “OR WAS IT.”
Never mind, they definitely needed her. Teacher Bruce, Ship City’s premier director, playwright, and educator insisted on casting understudies for all the major roles, which Pallie found completely unnecessary. Acting was her life. Unless she fell overboard and sank to the bottom of the ocean, she’d be there. But at least Louis’s terrible acting kept Teacher Bruce from noticing her sneak in. He sat with his head in his hands below stage and groaned. “Some personality, please.”
Louis barreled on. “ON THAT FATEFUL DAY IN JULY OF 2023, HAWAI’I, AND THE WORLD, WERE FOREVER CHANGED.”
Pallie cringed as she slunk towards backstage. Louis didn’t seem to know the difference between projecting his voice for the theater and, well, yelling for his dad to bring him a snack. While he murdered the opening monologue, the actors on stage played out a scene of tourists enjoying their fancy Hawaiian vacations beneath the palm trees on Big Island. Behind them hung a backdrop of a black sand beach with turquoise waves frozen mid-roll. Four cruise liners, all fully upright and ship-shape back then, were painted on the ocean’s horizon in the distance.
As long as Pallie could remember, they’d performed one of Teacher Bruce’s whimsical new plays for Founding Day, but this year, the Storms’ fifteenth anniversary, was different.
“We’ve had our fun, but now it’s time to explore cinéma vérité,” Teacher Bruce had announced when he’d first handed out the scripts.
“Huh?” Donovan, Pallie’s usual co-star and best friend, glanced at her for her dramatic person interpretation services. She shrugged. Teacher Bruce was always making up new words.
“I’m talking Realismo!” Teacher Bruce pinched his fingers together and flung them upwards as though he were releasing a small bird. “Kino-Pravda! La Verdad!”
“Er…” Pallie frowned.
“TRUTH!” he finally yelled at their confused faces. “It’s time to tell the Ship City story! A tale of woe, intrigue, apocalypse!” He jumped around, flailing wildly to get them excited. “Of daring heroes, angry goddesses, harrowing adventures.” He dropped to one knee in front of Louis and grabbed his chin. “I’m talking about the story of two feuding worlds, the Locals of New Hawai’i versus the Tourists of Ship City, an ancient conflict!”
Louis sputtered through his squished cheeks. “But it’s only been fifteen years—”
“ANCIENT, I SAY!”
And so they began rehearsals on The Locals Versus The Tourists: The Ship City Story; A Tale of Woe, Intrigue, Apocalypse, Daring Heroes, Angry Goddesses, Harrowing Adventures, and an Ancient Conflict Between Two Feuding Worlds.
“It’s a working title,” Teacher Bruce had promised, though it was still printed across the hand-painted banner she’d just ducked beneath to get backstage.
She closed the door quietly behind her, congratulating herself on her stealth when she ran straight into Donovan.
“And where’ve you been, m’lady?”
She grinned and motioned for him to come closer and peer inside her bag. “Whoa!” Donovan said, his light brown curls tumbling into his face as he turned the hat over in his hands. “You already made your First Mate’s hat! Don’t you make this after you’re officially promoted, though?”
“Yeah, but I wanted to show the Captain how dedicated I am.”
“Maybe next year when I turn twelve, I’ll be promoted, too.” Donovan tried it on. “How do I look?”
Pallie snatched it back, annoyed. It fit his big head better than hers. “Terrible. But I’ll put a good word in for ya.”
Artificial thunder clapped, making her jump as the tourists on set ran for cover beneath the confetti-rain sprinkling down. “THAT DAY BEGAN WITH STORMS, THE NORMAL KIND. BUT IT ENDED WITH…” Louis paused, “THE NOT-NORMAL KIND.”
“CUT!” Teacher Bruce groaned. “When you say it like that, all of the artistry is lost!” The tall, skinny director threw his hands in the air. “Where is Pallie?!”
Donovan pushed her sputtering from the stage’s dusty velvet curtains. “Uh, hi boss! Sorry I’m late—I got held up by a…”
“Ghost on the stair-slide? A violent seagull attack?” He crossed his arms, his black-waxed mustache twitching. “What’s your excuse today, Pal?”
“You called it, seagull ghosts! They’re quite… peckish today?” She smiled goofily and shrugged, as if hungry bird ghosts were just one of those things.
Teacher Bruce rolled his eyes, but he seemed to genuinely enjoy her tall tales. “Don’t let it happen again—we’re depending on you.” He flapped his hand at her. “Now, get into place. Louis, you may resume your normal crew duties backstage.” Both Pallie and Louis breathed sighs of relief as they returned to where they really belonged.
Pallie took a deep breath as the spotlight flared live, its clear beam silencing the anxious thoughts circling her brain. The Captain, the announcement, bananas… she pushed them all away and focused, letting the drama of the moment fill her up. After all, she was an actress, a storyteller, and she had a mission to do.
“Beneath dark stormy skies,” Pallie said, her voice low and ominous, “the Big Island shook and trembled! From Kilauea’s crater to the slopes of Mauna Kea, the island RIPPED apart, spewing gurgling plumes of HOT, FIERY LAVA!” Thunder crashed as a large paper maché volcano appeared on stage left, red streamers erupting from its core. Pallie flung herself into the paper lava.
“IT BURNS!” she yelled, writhing on her back.
Teacher Bruce pointed. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”
The lights shifted to a fake TV screen dominating stage right. A boy stood in its frame, holding a cardboard microphone. “This just in—catastrophic weather phenomena grips the entire planet. Large-scale interruptions in electrical power have also been report—”
Pallie’s wicked cackle drowned the reporter out, and the TV’s screen went dark. “The world was surprised, but the scientists weren’t. Too bad no one listened to them anymore.”
A group of kids in white lab coats appeared on stage clutching clipboards. In front of them, a sign read: INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIST CONVENTION (Nobody Cares).
“The readings show that earth’s magnetic poles are shifting—the north pole has practically disintegrated!”
“But without stable magnetic poles, electricity as we know it will no longer be possible!”
The stage glowed pink and green, and the scientists looked heavenward.
“The aurora borealis… here? In Hawai’i?”
“We have to warn the normal-brained!”
“We already did.” A girl in glasses and a fake white beard grimaced. “It’s too late now.”
Pallie paced in front of the scene. “Phones stopped phoning. Televisions stopped televising. Magnets RAINED down upon the floors of gift shops because—”
A scientist bent down and picked up a souvenir magnet. “The magnets have stopped magneting!”
Pallie turned to face the audience and threw her arms wide. “And then the lights. Went. OUT. FOREVAHHH!”
The stage plunged into darkness. A tourist screamed artfully.
Teacher Bruce hammered applause. “YES! Brilliant!”
When the lights rose, the tourists were no longer happily taking pictures with their cell phones, or going on tours, or riding zip lines through the trees. Instead they stood in a long, sad line waiting to board an inflatable lifeboat on stage right. They were prodded along by others who looked exactly the same. The Locals. The lucky people who happened to live in Hawai’i before the Magnetic Storms began.
One poked a straggling tourist with a golf club. “That’s for taking my picture without asking!”
“And mispronouncing everything!” another yelled.
“And crowding the best beaches!”
“Bye forever, tourists!”
Pallie gestured to the sad scene. “Friends, this was no ordinary sunset cruise for the tourists of Old Hawai’i. A year after the world went dark and contact was lost with the Mainlands, the Locals gathered every tourist from Puna to Kona and banished them to the water.”
Pallie watched grimly on as the forlorn tourists heaved and ho’ed their oars across fake ocean while the crew secretly dragged them offstage. This was the part of the story she’d never understood. What had the Tourists done to deserve banishment to a bunch of abandoned cruise ships? Surely it had to be more than being annoying, but that was the only answer she ever got. She couldn’t help but feel that a part of the story was missing, one that Ship City’s adults never talked about.
She frowned. So much for Realismo.
A new backdrop unfurled on stage as the crew quickly switched sets. The tourists stumbled aboard a theatrical copy of the Hawaiian Fantasy as they’d first found it, dirty and deserted, and promptly began to argue. Soon, luggage was flying in an all-out brawl. That is, until Donovan stepped forward holding a white hat.
A captain’s hat.
He cleared his throat before delivering his first line. “Tourists, all is not lost! A hero is speaking among you!” He ducked as a laptop case sailed over his head. “We’ve got good ships to live on, the ocean’s bounty beneath us, and a bunch of super smart scientists to help us return to the Mainlands!”
The lab-coated kids peered out from their hiding places on board and waved at the brawling tourists tentatively.
“Now put down your bags and other blunt objects,” Captain Donovan said. “We have a lot of work to do if we’re going home!”
Pallie took center stage. “Against all odds, the now capital-T Tourists listened, and under the dashing young Captain’s leadership, they united the four abandoned ships into one thriving city upon the water, the Hawaiian Fantasy, Ocean’s Maiden, Island Breeze, and…” Pallie swallowed. “Her Majesty’s Palanquin.”
The spotlight’s gleam felt hot on her skin as the same rush of anxiety she always felt when she thought about her namesake swept over her. She stared out into the dark audience while the rest of the cast peered at her from the corner of their eyes. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out.
“Pallie?” Teacher Bruce asked. “Need your line?”
She shook her head and forced herself to refocus. “C-cut off from all communication with the outside world—”
Light spilled into the ballroom as the double doors flew open. Farmer Stan! The stout, burly-haired farmer who perpetually reeked of homemade manure stomped towards the stage.
Pallie stopped, dropped, and rolled, which was technically advice for catching on fire, but it worked just as well here. She scurried beneath the curtains on her belly and watched as he marched straight up to Teacher Bruce’s face.
“Where is she, Bruce.”
The old rivals stared at each other, seething. They’d been enemies ever since Teacher Bruce wanted to stage a play in the Fantasy’s pool and jacuzzi gardens, and Farmer Stan had said no. Of course, Teacher Bruce staged his production of Teen Tarzan, Rebel Jungle-Dude Without a Cause there anyway in keeping with the play’s overall theme. It’d taken days to wash the graffiti off the fruit trees, and Farmer Stan had never forgiven him.
“Who?” Teacher Bruce pressed his hand to his chest.
“That lazy imp! This is the fifth time she’s ditched her gardening shift this month.”
“All my imps are hard-working, so I don’t know who you’re talking about.” Teacher Bruce crossed his arms.
“Your pet, that’s who! Pal, Pallie, a.k.a. Her Majesty’s Palanquin Orphan #1, the laziest lay about in Ship City!”
Her mouth dropped open, but she didn’t have time to feel insulted. Farmer Stan pushed past Teacher Bruce and was climbing the steps to the stage. She had to hide! Dashing through the dark, she spared a quick glance over her shoulder and WHAM! fell flat into a canoe full of blue-wigged kids waiting to be dragged on stage.
“Hey, watch it, Pal!” the head Surf Monk cried from somewhere beneath her elbows. The weird cult of surfing Locals who served as Big Island’s diplomats to Ship City were introduced in the next scene. The Surf Kahuna pushed Pallie up and out of the canoe. She flailed backwards, but big arms caught her before she hit the floor.
Big dirty arms that smelled like…like…
“Manure,” she whispered in horror.
“Banana allergy, eh?” Farmer Stan spun her around, sneering. “I don’t care if you’re up all night and miss Founding Day altogether, but you’re not leaving until every last piece of fruit has been harvested!”
“Unhand my narrator, you stinky brute!” Teacher Bruce slapped Farmer Stan across the face with a bushy palm frond. Farmer Stan shrieked and let go, Pallie tumbling to the floor yet again. While the two grown men tussled, Pallie ran.
“Over here!” Donovan yelled across stage, pointing to the inflatable lifeboat prop. She dove in headfirst, and he quickly stacked some of the tourists’ empty luggage on top of her.
“Tell Farmer Stan I left! Tell him I went back to the gardens or-or—”
“I’ve got a plan,” Donovan said. “Now stay quiet and don’t freak out.”
Pallie nodded and positioned an old duffel bag over her head. Wait…freak out? Before she could ask, the lifeboat lurched into the air, suspended between two ropes as Donovan and the others hoisted it up the pulley system. Her fingers scrabbled against the boat’s rubber insides, searching for something to cling to. She bit her lip, struggling not to scream as the boat bobbed upwards.
You won’t fall, you won’t fall, you won’t fall…
Below, Farmer Stan and Teacher Bruce were still fighting.
“I told you—she’s already gone back to the gardens,” Donovan shouted between them.
“Enough lying! Hand her over, Bruce, or I’ll report you all to the Captain!”
No! Pallie threw the duffel bag off and peered over the edge, but her shifting weight upset the boat’s balance. With a squeal, one of the metal pulleys released the rope, and the boat’s bow dipped. Her body pitched forward. Pallie’s screams echoed across stage as she plummeted towards the ground.
People always say your life flashes before your eyes in the instant before death, but not for Pallie. All she could think about was the Captain and how she wouldn’t get to show him her stupid hat, after all. But a burst of raw, chafing pain shot up her leg and cut her final thoughts unceremoniously short. Apparently the rope that got her into this mess changed its ropy mind about killing her and, at the last second, caught her by the ankle. Hanging upside down, Pallie swung across the stage in a slow, nauseating arc.
“Gotcha!” Farmer Stan hollered.
To read more, well, you're just going to have to wait until some publisher snaps it up, now aren't you.