There is a painting of a shipwreck. In this painting, more colors have been used to portray the ocean than the vessel itself, which lilts, dangerously, to one side. The water has been painted in shades of blue, green, grey, black, and yellow, while the ship is mostly painted in greys and browns. The sky above is a similar palette as the sea, with some reds and yellows visible in the storm clouds.
In the painting, the ship is about to capsize. When it does, nearly the entire crew will be lost. Some will drown below-decks, either in their cabins or in common areas, trying until the last possible moment to affect repairs. Most will drown on the open sea. The waves are catastrophically tall. Men and boys will cling to each other, each scrambling for purchase, fighting to claim anything buoyant for themselves, and ultimately dragging each other down. The ship will sink, creating a temporary riptide that will pull even the strongest swimmers to the deep.
Only two sailors will survive: a cook and a cabin boy. They will not know each other well — the cook was a recent addition to the ship and the cabin boy a pet of the now-deceased captain. They will survive not due to anything they did or didn’t do but out of sheer luck. They will be washed upon a deserted shore. They will discover each other and rejoice. The island is bounteous. They can survive for very long before being rescued, and without any industriousness between them. But they become bored. They are poor company. The cook is a pious and sullen man and the cabin boy is practically a halfwit. Their pairing will soon feel like a particular form of punishment, even on this island paradise, even in light of the deaths of their crewmates.
One day the cabin boy will make a discovery — he will make noises of appreciation. The cook, sunburned and dehydrated, will come up behind him, asking to see. The cabin boy will keep his back turned to the cook, the treasure pressed against his chest, refusing to afford a glimpse. The cook will demand to see. The cabin boy will refuse. The cook will pick up a large rock and smash the cabin boy in the back of the head. The cabin boy will land face-first in the sand, dropping the thing he held so close, while his legs twitch spastically. A starfish — it was only a starfish. Not a very beautiful starfish, either, nor a rare find. The cook will inspect it. He will toss it away. He will then see, for the first time, the cabin boy — how he lays still and the pool of crimson blood beneath his head. As thick as molasses, the cook will think to himself.
The cook will sink to his knees and weep, but not for any sin he has committed. When he was a child and he stole eggs from a neighbor, he waited for weeks to be punished, not by the farmer or even his father, but by God Himself. As time passed, the cook came to realize that God wasn’t watching or that He didn’t care. Why should anything have changed? God’s judgment is reserved for the dead — the living suffer alone. So the cook will weep for himself. He will weep for all the days and weeks he must spend in isolation — and, yes, the eternal damnation he now expects, upon dying, but before that a different kind of Hell he has brought on himself.
It is a good painting.
A young man was out picking mushrooms when he ate a toadstool he knew he shouldn’t have. Immediately his stomach was twisted in knots.
First he thought of visiting the doctor. He started to walk toward the village, but then he imagined the man’s scowling face. “You fool!” the doctor would say. “Don’t you know not to eat strange things? Maybe this will teach you. Instead of saving your life, I should help someone who deserves it.”
The young man’s throat got thick.
Next he thought of his true love. He started to walk the other way, but then he imagined her face in tears. “I'll be all alone!” his true love would say. “I will spend all of my days childless — or else I’ll marry anyone who will have me. I've wasted my potential on you.”
The young man’s vision blurred.
Finally he thought of his father. The old man had been dead a year — his spirit felt distant, even if his memory remained. “I had such high hopes for you!” the young man’s father would’ve said. “I thought you would accomplish such amazing things. But now I see you are ordinary.”
The young man doubled over.
The ghost of his father howled. “That is not my voice!” the ghost said, shaking the trees with his tumult. “Those are not my words!” he insisted, startling the birds. “I love you, you moron! You idiot! My beautiful son! I love you, I love you! In death, as in life, I love you!”
The ghost stuck a spectral limb down the young man’s throat until he vomited up the poison. But not the vitriol.
A wizard moved into a cave just outside the village. People wondered about the bear who’d previously lived there.
Soon after he arrived, people began to turn to stone — only a few, at first, but more and more with each passing day. Thankfully, the condition only affected grownups.
People wondered if it was the wizard’s doing. It must be, they said. How else to explain it? They wondered if they’d somehow angered him. Gifts were left outside his cave — food and baubles. People wished the bear would come back. Maybe he’d been turned to stone, too.
Finally the day came when all the grownups had been turned to stone. A pack of children wandered throughout the village. The searched inside closets and under beds. Everywhere they looked, their mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandparents had been turned to stone.
In the last house they visited, on the outskirts of town, they discovered a teen-aged girl. As recently as last year she might’ve been considered a child — she’d laughed with them and played with them, too. But now it was spring and the girl was grown. To wit, she said, “It was you, wasn’t it? You twerps.”
The children marched the teen-aged girl to the wizard’s cave, where they found him sitting outside, on a tree stump. The food and baubles were gone, presumably inside the cave.
“You said all,” a representative reminded him. “You promised.”
The wizard squinted at the teen-aged girl. “So I did,” he agreed.
“Also, what happened to the bear?”
“Oh, he’s still here,” the wizard said. “The cave is big enough to share.”
The children agreed that this was a good thing.