The Red Herring
Earth was raining on the water.
Strange things happen when the world is ending, Celes thought casually as she watched the floating continent break apart; its pieces falling to the ocean below.
She stood placidly amidst the havoc. The continents split themselves asunder and reformed, killing an untold amount of people in their shifting. The seas began to boil as magma forced its way out of the splits forming underwater. The skies were bristling with electricity, the lightning poised to strike randomly and without mercy. But as she watched this, and as her allies and friends panicked and ran about the airship they were on, she remained calm.
Strange, she mentally remarked on her attitude, This must be a dream.
Then the airship was torn apart by the very magical forces that were tearing apart the world. She watched as her friends were scattered into the wind to disappear into the darkness, out of her sight, and she felt the sensation of falling overtake her. Turning her body, she watched as the ocean slowly reached up to claim her. She couldn't feel the wind or the cold, just the eerie lack of gravity during free fall.
It is a dream.
And then she woke up.
Celes grunted with pain as she struck the hard, dirt ground. Her eyes flew open then quickly squinted against the dim light streaming in from a vacant doorway across the room. She was in some sort of hut, thatched together with branches and palm leaves. Looming above her was a cot, fashioned with logs and various articles of clothing that had been stitched together. She realized instantly she had fallen out of the bed.
And triggered that dream about falling.
No, she corrected herself, Not entirely a dream. A dream about something that really happened.
She had blacked out before she hit the water, she remembered. And now she was here. Wherever here was. Distantly, she could hear the sound of waves washing up on a shore, telling her she was near a beach. That was a start, but she decided to do some more investigating.
Celes tried to sit up, but her body refused. Everything felt numb and weak, as if her mind had forgotten where her limbs were. A horrible thought flashed into her mind, had she lost her legs somehow during the fall? She slowly pulled her arms up to brush her hair out of her face and looked down with a sense of dread. She was dressed in a simple white gown, but more importantly, her body was intact.
She lay back down with a sigh, then tried to move again. With more effort this time. She grunted and her face strained under the effort. Finally, she was rewarded as her right leg slowly lifted an inch off of the ground. It stopped there, shaking under the strain of holding itself up. It was a start.
And then the light from the doorway was blocked out by a figure. Its shadow cast itself over her prone body, easing the strain of the bright light against her slowly adjusting eyes. She couldn't make out the person's identity as he was silhouetted against the sunlight, but the voice answered that question, "You're up?"
"Cid, is that you?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
"Oh, thank goodness you're up!" he exclaimed, hurriedly limping his way into the room towards her, "How are you feeling? Are you okay?"
"I'm not feeling anything," she explained, "My body is numb... But I think I'm okay."
"I wouldn't doubt it, as long as you've been out," he stooped over, offering his hand, "Here let me help you back into bed."
She accepted his offer and he pulled her back up into the cot. As he did so, she got a good look at him. He looked much older now, his dirty face pale and wrinkled, his hair graying. He was still dressed in his yellow lab coat, but it was torn and faded from time and use. A grimace of pain flashed across his face as he put weight on his bad leg.
"Thank you," she replied finally, deciding to avoid mention on his current state, "How... How long have I been asleep?"
Cid's expression tightened as he steeled himself for a reaction, "Almost a year."
But Celes didn't react loudly, she was too tired to go into shock. She had seen the world end the last time she was awake. The period of time she was asleep seemed miniscule in comparison. Instead, she sank her head back into the cot and calmly thought over the number, "A whole year."
"We're on an island, I don't know what island," Cid continued, "After the world fell apart, I don't think the islands we knew exist anymore. There were others with us, people from all over the world. But none of them made it this long. Disease or hunger got to some of them, but most of them just gave up hope."
"Who were they?"
"None of your friends, if that eases your mind," he assured her, then broke out into a coughing fit.
She forced herself into a sitting position and placed a hand on his shoulder as he convulsed, "Are you okay?"
Cid shook his head, "No, I'm fine. Just a bit of a cough. Please, lie back down."
She eyed him suspiciously, but complied. He turned and walked back towards the door, "I'll go get us some food and then we can work on getting your muscles back into shape, okay?"
She nodded her head, then asked, "What is there to eat on this island?"
"Nothing on the island," he said, then added with a smile, "but plenty of fish swimming around it."
Celes quickly became accustomed to fish as the days passed. Cid had become pretty good at cleaning and cooking them after a year. Water was brought in from a small pool that formed beneath a bluff after a rain. He collected it into a basin and refilled it whenever possible. It was enough to sustain two people.
Her condition improved rapidly. Soon she could move her legs, soon after she could stand. And after that she was able to walk. She still felt weak from the atrophy, but she was now able to do essential things without help. It was a start.
After they had eaten each day, Cid would leave for long periods of time to perform a scavenger hunt. He told Celes that he was gathering parts to build a boat that would get them off of the island. She offered to help, but both of them knew she was still too weak to do any heavy lifting. But at the same time, he was incredibly secretive about his supplies. Whatever he found, she never saw. He would store the parts at a location unknown to her.
Unfortunately as her health improved, Cid's continued to get worse. His coughing fits became more common, the coughs louder and harsher. It was becoming more and more obvious he was sick. Despite her attempts, he refused to rest. His obsession with his boat project drove him on and if she didn't intervene, it was going to kill him. She took action.
"No, get in the bed," Celes demanded of the stubborn old man, gently pulling on his arm towards the cot.
"I told you, I'm okay," he said, resisting her pull, "I Just ate something that doesn't agree with me."
"The only thing that's unagreeable right now is you," she retorted, "Now please, for my sake, lie down."
He stopped fighting and looked at her pleading eyes. She applied another small pull on his arm, "I don't want you to die. You're all I have left now."
With a sign, he relented, "Okay, but for one day. Then tomorrow it's yours again. You need it more than I do."
"Fine," she replied, "But please rest. I'll take care of the chores for the day. How hard can it be to catch a fish, right?"
"Just don't go after the ones that are floating on the surface," Cid nodded, smiling despite the situation, then turned serious, "Also, could I ask you a favor?"
"Sure," she replied without hesitation.
"I need you to find me a green acorn."
Celes stared at him for a moment, fighting the urge to laugh at the unexpected request. Cid stared up at her in complete seriousness however and she finally had to ask, "An acorn?"
He shook his head, "No, a green acorn. It needs to be green."
"Okay... I got you. What other boat parts will you--"
Cid shook his head, "No, it's not for my boat. I'll worry about my boat. It's for something else. Please, just find me one."
He broke into another coughing fit and Celes decided not to press the issue. He had taken care of her all this time, it was worth it for her to humor him this one request. She waited for him to finish coughing and asked, "Where do I find a green acorn?"
"It shouldn't be too hard, they're all over island," Cid explained, "Just wander the forest a bit and scan the ground."
Celes nodded, "I think I'll get the fish first, though."
She waited for a response, but noticed that Cid had fallen asleep. She sighed to herself and exited.
"No! Wrong way, you-- I-- Come back here!" Celes was having some minor difficulty catching a fish.
Her frustration was reaching a boiling point and finally, she dived fully into the water, hands striking at the erratic movement below her. But when she emerged, she was empty-handed. Sputtering and wiping water out of her face, she gave up for the moment and trudged back to the shore, cursing at the fish.
Reaching the sand, she flopped down into a sitting position, then fell backwards to lie down. The warm sand felt soothing against the cold water and her eyes began to droop as she relaxed.
Before she could fall asleep however, she felt something pinch her toe. Sitting upright, she looked down to see a white bird at her feet. It peered back at her with its black eyes, then bit her again. She jerked her foot away from it and laughed at the ticklish feeling it gave her, "Stop that."
She then noticed the bird had a bandana wrapped around its neck. Her eyes locked onto it, it was unmistakable. Locke's bandana. "Where did you get that?" she demanded, caught off guard by the sudden revelation.
The bird ignored the question however. It bent over and picked up a fish that had been at its feet. It hopped along the sand, then dropped the fish next to her before looking back at her expectantly. It was offering it to her.
"Um," she began intelligently, "Thanks."
She slowly picked up the fish and identified it as a herring. However it was red-colored instead of the usual silver she had grown accustomed to. As she stared at it, the bird took wing and few off. Celes made as if to reach out for it, but drew her hand back knowing she couldn't catch it. She could do nothing but watch as it departed.
"Where are you, Locke?" she muttered as the bird disappeared.
She glanced back down and noticed that there was another herring where the bird had been sitting. Now there was enough to feed both her and Cid. She uttered another thanks to the bird and Locke and quickly began collecting wood for a fire.
When she brought the cooked fish to Cid, she decided not to mention the bird. It was confusing enough to her, explaining it to someone else was out of the question. Cid accepted the meal and quickly ate it, coughing periodically between bites. After he finished, he looked at her expectantly, "Did you find one?"
She nodded, and reached into her pocket. His eyes lit up when the hand returned, holding a green acorn. He snatched it out of her hand, the excitement evident in his voice, "Thank you, thank you."
He quickly placed it in his own pocket, but still offered no explanation. Celes decided not to press the issue. She had enough on her mind as it was. Night soon came and they slept.
When morning came, Cid's condition had not improved. Celes managed to talk him into staying in bed once more, and it was much easier this time. Even he realized that he was truly sick. And when she left to get the fish, he asked her another favor. Not lumber or vines for his boat. Just a single green acorn once again. She complied without question, trusting he had a plan.
And once again, when she failed to catch a fish, the bird reappeared. The bandana still hung around its neck. It left her two red herring and departed, just as before.
The cycle repeated for days. Then weeks. Cid's condition continued to get worse despite her best efforts to help him. The bandana-wearing bird was always waiting for her with her fish, the two red herring. Cid complimented her on her fishing expertise, and she thanked him, never bothering to mention the bird did all the work for her. And then Cid asked her again for a single green acorn. He never explained why, she never asked why. And no matter how many he had collected by this time, she couldn't find what he had done with them. He was keeping them somewhere out of her sight.
It was becoming apparent to her that Cid wasn't right in the head anymore. The acorns weren't for a project, she realized. The sickness was jumbling his mind. He thought he needed them, but he didn't. The boat was never going to get finished by his hands, he wasn't in a condition to construct it. If she was going to get off this island, the path was through the bird. She had to get it to find Locke again and somehow communicate that she needed help.
But then suddenly, the bird was gone.
"Hello?" she called out to the empty beach, then followed it up with a sharp whistle.
Nothing reacted to her calls. The beach was empty. It was obvious the bird had left, and in her mind it was as if Locke lad left as well. Her shoulders drooped as the feeling of loneliness overtook her. He had abandoned her, she told herself.
No, that's stupid, her mind berated her gut reaction, It's just a bird.
It wasn't just a bird. It was her hope. Without the bird, she had no connection to the outside world. Without the bird, she couldn't feed herself or Cid. Despite her attempts to console herself, her mood didn't improve. She had lost all hope.
She walked down to the waterline, preparing to try and catch the fish herself. She had no practice, as the bird had done it all for her before, but she had to try. It was then that something caught her eye nearby. She crept over to it and bent over, gingerly pulling it out of the sand. It was the bandana.
She glanced about once more, but still no sight of the bird. She fanned out the cloth to get a better look at it, knocking all the excess sand loose. It was the same one the bird had worn she realized. She spun it around and glanced at the other side. Stitched along the inside seam were letters, spelling out a name.
With a yell she wadded the cloth up and threw it into the sea.
Without the bird to help her, her supply of fish began to dwindle. Oftentimes, she could catch one, rarely two; but sometimes they were all able to elude her grasp. She hid this from Cid as best as possible, giving him the larger half of portions. And at this point, he was so lost in his sickness that he wouldn't have noticed anyway. He slept most of the day, spending his few waking moments coughing and eating what little there was to eat.
But he still asked for the green acorn at the end of his meal.
She complied with his deranged demands silently. If it made him happy, it was the least she could do for him. After she had fed him and found his acorn, she spent the rest of the days alone on the beach, waiting for the bird to return with salvation. But it didn't.
It was then one day that Cid was beyond the point of recovery. His hands shook uncontrollably and his eyes had lost focus. His coughing had scratched up his throat so badly now that he could hardly speak. The bandana had washed back ashore and Celes was now applying it to his sweaty brow. They both knew he was dying and wouldn't last the night.
"I have one last request," he mumbled to her, his lips barely moving, "I need another green acorn."
The hand around the bandana tightened. Celes finally decided to end the charade. She shook her head and replied, "I'm sorry, Cid. Every day you've asked me for one, and I've done it. But it's not helping. Those acorns are useless, they can't help us get off this island. We need a boat. You need to tell me where you've got your boat stored now. So I can finish building it for you."
"I understand," Cid gave a thin smile back at her, "I keep the boat in a cellar I dug up behind the house. Under the dead tree. It's only half finished, though."
"Thank you," she replied, "I'll finish it for you."
"But--" he began to continue, then broke out into another coughing fit.
She waited him out patiently, wetting down the bandana once more and putting it to his forehead. He groaned after the fit subsided, then looked into her eyes and continued, "Those acorns aren't useless. They've been very important to me. The most important thing, in fact."
"What were they for?" she demanded, now confused, "I've collected them for months. I've put my trust in you. Please, tell me what they're for! Why did you need them?"
He tilted his head up, using the last of his fading energy to get near enough to tell her, "Well, you see..."
And then he died.
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