Introduction by Lydia Conklin
I’m so jealous of anyone who hasn’t yet read Allegra Hyde’s propulsive masterpiece Eleutheria. Hyde, for those who have not yet encountered her work, is a master of the weird and magical and funny as it appears in everyday life. She’s a visionary writer—she draws out the most bizarre and striking threads of reality and weaves them into a boldly colored tapestry that could unspool from no other hand. To get to live in her world for the course of an entire novel is a rare privilege.
Hyde is the perfect shepherd to take us through the history and present of environmental destruction, which she does here with grace, humor, and a tight band of tension pulled from the first page all the way to the end.
Revisiting this first chapter after having consumed the entire novel in a compulsive fit, I’m struck by how Willa’s airplane nearly crashes in these first lines. Our heroine hardly even blinks as the aircraft nosedives and the cabin panics. This near-crash is only the first disaster of the book, and each time Willa faces a new horror, we learn again that we’ve been gifted an idiosyncratic character, raised by strange people in a strange land, that this child making terrariums alone in the home of survivalists never lost sight of herself, and for that reason, she’s the perfect person to ferry us through a queer awakening, the exploration of a cultish society, and a string of brutality and betrayal set against the backdrop of generations of environmental devastation. We get so many visions of Willa in this first chapter: is she a child, a surfer, a fugitive, a tourist, a Camp Hope convert? Willa says, “If I could have, I would have traveled to the island naked.” But she can’t. She brings along with her the scars of a neglected childhood and a love affair gone sour and, more than that, her resilient tenderness, a pitch of hope that few of us can still manage to achieve. I wanted nothing more than to follow Willa as she moved through the beautiful terror of Eleutheria, shedding her light on the darkest storms and violence.
– Lydia Conklin
Author of Rainbow Rainbow
An Unstoppable Optimist on the Way to Camp Hope
Chapter one of Eleutheria by Allegra Hyde
My name, my full name, is Willa Marks. There’s nothing in the middle. My parents must have had their reasons for the omission, though I’ve always considered it a sign of honesty. A middle name can lurk in a person like a bomb: a secret identity poised to pop off. I’m simply me.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m going to tell you the truth. I don’t have time to tell you anything else. And it’s important for you to hear the truth because what has been said about Camp Hope, about me, is a shadow of what really happened.
Let me start with the easy parts.
I was twenty-two when I boarded a plane and flew to Eleutheria.
I was drunk on ideas.
I was so drunk, in fact, that when the turboprop shuddered into a nosedive—cabin lights flickering, pilot crackling over the intercom—my limbs remained limp. While the other passengers hunched in their seats, prayers on their lips, I kept my eyes open, savoring the rush of arrival, the jarring smack of it reverberating through me.
The turboprop did not land elegantly, but it landed intact. Even so, had the plane crashed onto the island, I’d still have walked out of the wreckage, beatific. I’d been awake the length of a day, a night, and that had not yet become a problem. I was the kind of person who took exhaustion in stride, let it warp my surroundings into dreamscapes. And so far, everything had gone right.
Out the airplane window: palm trees, a heat-seared tarmac, men in orange vests strolling from the steel maw of a rusted aircraft hangar. Around me, a dozen other passengers unbuckled their seat belts. Some smiled relievedly, others wiped away tears. A woman’s purse had spilled into the aisle and I helped her collect her things, though I curbed my impulse to ask if she was from Eleutheria. To get caught in conversation might break whatever spell had whisked me from Boston to the Bahamas, a spell meant to carry me on to Camp Hope. I wanted to arrive unimpeded, unburdened, slick as a fish released into the sea. If I could have, I would have traveled to the island naked. As it was, my backpack contained only a change of clothes, a passport, sixty-five U.S. dollars, and my well-thumbed copy of Living the Solution: The Official Camp Hope Guide to Transforming Ourselves and Saving the Planet.
I had the envelope as well—the one from Sylvia—but I tried not to think about it.
What I thought about was Camp Hope. Specifically, about arriving at Camp Hope and making my life mean something. Had you watched me exit the airplane, my preoccupation would have been obvious. You would have seen a young woman who tripped over her own boots—a size too large—as she entered the hangar. You might have noticed one of my overall cuffs was rolled up higher than the other, that my backpack zipper gaped partially open. Back in Boston, I would have been a person your eyes glazed over on the street: shiftless, among the masses of the newly unemployed. I had an oval face, brittle yellow hair that went dark at the roots, a stub of a nose. I was thin, but not jagged. Scrappy, though in an untested way: like a runaway who has only just left the house, or an actor playing a role. Familiar enough to forget.
In the echoing dimensions of the hangar, however, I stood out. I’d traveled to the island alone and there was no one there to meet me. I had little luggage. I was white and the only person queued in the International Arrivals line. A weary customs agent took my passport, studied it, shrugged. There were no biometric scanners here. Not in this makeshift terminal, arrivals separated from departures by a plastic partition. The original building, like so much else on the island, had been ravaged by hurricanes. Under different circumstances, I might have been made teary-eyed by the scene of my fellow passengers embracing loved ones, opening luggage to reveal supplies from elsewhere—bags of dried rice, baby clothes, phone chargers—but I fixed my attention on the airport exit: a square of sunshine on the far side of the hangar.
I have what you could call a tendency toward fixation. This tendency has been described as childish by some. People have told me, in general, that I have a childlike demeanor. My short stature is partly to blame. Also, my smattering of freckles—though these would multiply, day by day, colonizing my complexion the longer I remained on Eleutheria. I did not have any muscle tone, though that would change as well. I had little coordination. I have only ever been graceful in photos. Pinned under someone else’s gaze, I look best in stillness.
I was not still. Walking with rollicking, over-long strides, I burst out of the hangar into dazzling sunshine. A parking lot shimmered, woozy with heat, its perimeter rimmed by a chain-link fence. In the distance, a narrow highway disappeared into a low swath of scrubland.
My skin burned hot; I had Living the Solution churning inside me and with it the heat of my own ambition. I tended to flush in odd ways—in my fingertips, mostly—though if you’d been watching, this would have been invisible. You would have seen only a pale girl striking out across a parking lot. A lost girl, harmless—or even in harm’s way—easily manipulated. A rube. It was true, my official education extended only through high school, homeschooled at that. But I was not entirely inexperienced. At twenty-two, I’d had my own unusual education. I considered myself intellectually advanced in one significant way: I was too wise for cynicism. I had outsmarted doubt.
No one at Camp Hope knew I was coming. No one would know who I was when I arrived. I maintained, nevertheless, a propulsive confidence. Reaching the edge of the parking lot, I started down the side of the highway, soaking in sunshine, electrifying my body, intending only to move closer to my destination—a place in my head, rather than direct view—so that, if you’d been watching, you might have seen my eyes go unfocused, my chin lift, my chest tugged forward by an invisible string.
Someone was watching. A pickup truck trailed me out of the parking lot and onto the highway. There were four men in the truck: two in the front and two in the back. The pair in the back wore sun-faded T-shirts that billowed in the breeze, their arms stretched along the edges of the truck bed. The man in the passenger seat wore an orange vest, as if he’d just stepped off the airport tarmac. The driver was obscured.
I kept walking and the truck kept rolling, until the man in the orange vest called: You a surfer? Or—
A fugitive? interrupted a man in the back.
There was laughter, but I didn’t care—I didn’t even break stride. In my mind’s eye, my destination glittered: an eco-paradise, a pragmatic arcadia, an answer to the problem that had haunted me my whole life.
Are you lost? said the man in the orange vest.
Though I’d barely spoken for a day and a half, my answer burst forth, bell-like and bright: I’m going to Camp Hope.
The truck stopped rolling. The men’s laughter ceased. I continued on, unperturbed, reciting lines from Living the Solution beneath my breath, swinging my arms as I walked the ragged edge of the highway.
Ten minutes later, the truck again rumbled alongside me. All the men had gotten out except the driver. He leaned across the passenger seat, his face visible for the first time. He was handsome in a plaintive way, his eyes half-closed, his jawline shadowed by a beard, his dreadlocks pulled behind his head. He asked if I was really going to Camp Hope.
Sure am, I said.
Camp Hope is far, far from here, he said.
I can manage, I said—though in truth it was hotter than seemed possible for the month of May. Only squat palms and brambly foliage stretched before me, with no sign of a settlement or even the sea, save for the wheeling arc of a gull overhead.
Also, said the driver, you’re walking the wrong way. He told me to let him give me a ride. He said he didn’t mind, speaking in a tenor of nonchalance I should have perhaps recognized as forced. He was, in fact, keenly interested in what I had to say and where I was going. Deron was his name. For a long time I was angry at him, given what would happen later on, though my feelings have since changed. I hope Deron is well and happy wherever he is now, even if—in his own way and for his own reasons—he did make everything more complicated.
The truck roared down the highway, wind slicing into the cabin through the open windows. I might have remained quiet, watched the landscape blur past, convinced an invisible current was carrying me closer to Camp Hope—but of course, that was not what was happening. That was not happening at all.
The truck cabin was cramped and Deron was tall, yet he maintained a casual posture, except where his hand clenched the stick shift. The grip meant little to me; I hadn’t spent much time in trucks and didn’t know anything about driving them. What I noticed was that Deron had used an elastic tie with pink plastic beads—the kind little girls wear—to gather his hair. This made me like him. When he asked my name, I told him.
I’m Willa, I said. Willa Marks.
Out the windows: scrubland sprawled in every direction, except for a tumbledown gas station, plywood fixed over one window like a pirate eye patch. Further on, a worn sign indicated an upcoming settlement.
Willa Marks, said Deron, you don’t look like the Camp Hope type.
I’m exactly the type, I said.
Deron nodded with exaggerated slowness. The truck rumbled into a small community comprised of cinder-block homes painted pastel pinks, yellows, teals with white trim. A group of men watched the truck pass from the shade of a garage. A lone woman, scowling, sat beside a spread of cucumbers, tomatoes, and papayas. Farther on, a pair of children dangled from a swing set. Chickens skittered into the brush.
Deron repeated my name to himself, as if trying to remember where we had met, and for the first time on my journey, I felt uneasy. I did not like hearing my name said aloud, chanted like a password to a history I’d forgotten.
Willa, Willa, Willa. What does that mean—Willaaaa?
I shrugged. My mother once told me she named me Willa because there was a willow in her front yard growing up: a tree everyone thinks of as peaceful, with its long droopy branches, thin leaves. Really, it’s a ferocious tree, with roots spreading underground, fingering the foundations of houses, bubbling up the asphalt of driveways. I never quite believed my mother, though. If she had admired the tree so much, why hadn’t she named me Willow? Now she was too dead to ask.
Why don’t I look like the Camp Hope type? I said.
A smile hitched one side of Deron’s mouth. As if he hadn’t heard my question, he said he had an interest in names. He asked if I knew the meaning of the island’s name—Eleutheria— his accent smoothing of vowels at the beginning and the end of the word, the way ocean water smooths down glass, making me feel a little seasick, storm-tossed too. He started talking about the island’s history. There’d been a shipwreck, religious colonists. My attention drifted. Out the truck window, confectionary-colored houses gave way to abandoned buildings, vines snaking their walls. Beyond them lay piles of twisted metal, roofs displaced from their frames. A rowboat’s rotting stern crested a wave of fruit pods in the branches of a tamarind tree. This part of the island had been hard-hit by hurricanes.
Isn’t that interesting? said Deron—his smile turning too friendly—How you can end up so far from where you originally intended to go?
My unease intensified. I did not know if we were actually driving to Camp Hope. I had no map, only the promise of a place spelled out in Living the Solution: the book’s hard corner pressing through the fabric of the backpack in my lap. Perhaps I had trusted too quickly; it wouldn’t have been the first time. And for all the merits of Living the Solution, the book wouldn’t help me if I was about to be abducted.
They’re expecting me, I said. If I don’t show up at Camp Hope, they’ll wonder where I am.
Deron steered around a section of washed-out road. He asked why, if the Camp Hope people were expecting me, no one had picked me up.
Got in on an early fight, I said.
No other fights coming in today.
I’m a day early.
A truck passed from the other direction and Deron lifted two fingers from the wheel to wave. The coast surged into view: the water crystalline, tourmaline-tinged, lapping a stretch of bone-white beach. Deron said that since I’d gotten in early, I should see other parts of the island. Better parts. Better people. He could take me to the new hotel.
Bahamian-owned, Bahamian-operated, he said. We’re trying to rebuild—
I’m not a tourist, I said.
Call yourself whatever you like, said Deron. It might be worth taking your time, before diving headfirst into something you don’t understand.
I understand Camp Hope perfectly well.
The truck rounded another bend; we entered a settlement overlooking a harbor. On a stretch of sand, the metal carcass of a backhoe hulked like a beached whale. The corner of Living the Solution pressed deeper into my ribs. That book—it had offered me an option when there seemed to be no others. It described how, despite the odds, a small group of people could change the world for the better. If I tried hard enough, believed hard enough, my life could be more than a series of disappointments, failures, half tries, and hurt.
When Deron started talking about the new hotel again, I interrupted.
Look, I said. All I care about is Camp Hope. And getting there. It’s going to launch any day now and I have to be there. I have to help.
Deron flexed his stick-shift hand, resqueezed.
Any day? he said. Like tomorrow?
The truck turned onto a side road camouflaged by overgrown brush. Branches slapped the windshield. I had no idea when Camp Hope would officially launch into the public eye. Living the Solution had not included a precise timetable. All I knew was that the launch was likely soon; it had to be. I said this to Deron, describing the planet’s track toward climatological disaster—how Camp Hope was humanity’s best shot for changing course—my voice raw by the time the truck lurched to a halt, just short of a clearing.
Please, Deron, I said.
He lifted his chin toward the windshield. Past the clearing stood a vast wall: twenty feet high and draped with cascading bougainvillea. An emerald city. A green mirage.
I grabbed my backpack and leapt out of the truck. A huge pair of double-doors were set in the bougainvillea wall, their brass handles sparkling in the sun. I might have run straight to them if I hadn’t felt guilty for doubting Deron.
You’re coming too? I said, as he eased himself from the driver’s seat.
Deron tugged at his hair tie, cleared his throat. He said: I wanted to give you my number, in case—
He beckoned for my hand.
I held it out, trying to be patient as he turned my palm to the sky, pulled a pen from his pocket, and pressed the inked tip to my skin. That close, I could see the stubble around his jaw. He was younger than I’d initially thought; he smelled faintly of paint solvents and I noticed, for the first time, the blues flecked on his T-shirt were the same blues around the island—turquoise, indigo, aquamarine—as if the sea and sky had splashed on him and stuck. A current of anxiety hummed beneath his casual manner, though if it had always been there, or just appeared, I could not be sure.
He finished writing his number but did not release my hand. I discovered I did not want him to. Hand in hand, I remained anchored to someone known, however slightly.
You should call me, he said. If you ever have something you want to discuss about Camp Hope. Such as the launch, and what it means for the rest of the island. Or, Willa, if you need to talk—
My heartbeat quickened; I pulled my hand back against my own body. Intimacy, I reminded myself, slowed down progress. I knew that from experience. I also knew that one of Camp Hope’s many revolutionary elements was its approach to two-person relationships: there were none. Love was a distraction—an ethical pollutant—in relationships both romantic and platonic. The same went for family ties, which could poison a person’s moral compass. And morality meant everything at Camp Hope; morality would win our environmental struggle.
I sprang away from Deron, flinging a goodbye over my shoulder as I hurried toward the doors set in the bougainvillea wall.
I did not need a partner. I did not need a family. I did not even need a friend.
By design, Camp Hope did not yet have a web presence—or a public presence of any kind. Everything I knew about it came from Living the Solution: a book I had encountered under unusual circumstances and, technically, not been meant to see.
There was, however, an abundance of information about the book’s author: Roy H. Adams. A military man, for years he had basked in the computer screen glow of command centers, in the adulation of joystick warriors, his approval one link in the kill chain that turned foreign villages to dust. In photos online, he stood in front of American flags, his hair razor cut, his square jaw set, his eyes flinty. He looked like a man who expected his steaks rare and his golf courses pesticide-drenched; a man who believed he was entitled to all that he touched.
And yet, that same Adams had written, in Living the Solution, about giving up his military career, his marriage as well. Such sacrifices, he explained, were a small price to pay in the WAR against climate change, a WAR for humanity’s very SURVIVAL.
We’d been losing that war. There’d been decades of environmental marches and bumper stickers, special light bulbs and bike racks, sit-ins and die-ins and speeches, NGOs and IGOs and NPDESs and panicked scientific studies—and for what? Torrential rain spurred landslides in China, smothered whole cities. Spore-laced dust storms forced mass evacuations in Australia. There were the ongoing food shortages— a drought squeezing Brazilian soy, a wheat blight hitting Russia—along with the desperation brewing on the force of that hunger. Boat people, pundits called the hundreds of thousands of refugees floating from coast to coast. Begging for the right to dock. Begging for scraps. Dying. Bodies washing up along the Bay of Bengal. On the flooded plazas of Barcelona. Americans looked on with ephemeral pity, the tragedy ever seeming elsewhere—acute or temporal—even as wildfires seared the west and toxic algae bloomed in the Great Lakes. We were moored in apathy, in the comfort of willful blindness. Even as CO2 levels ticked upward and glaciers sweated smaller and entire ecosystems expired. The average environmentalist, according to Adams, only whimpered, equivocated, begged for corporate salvation, gave into the ease of greenwashing, the capitalist diversion epitomized in reusable shopping bags: keep on spending. In America, we still had our guns, our flags, our stranglehold on exceptionalism. We still had the distraction of virtual realities, the Hollywood phantasmagoria, the pharmaceutical raft of painlessness. We still had the audacity to call climate change a problem for another time—another country—as if we weren’t already proverbial frogs, our skin sloughing off in hot water.
Our challenge boils down to one thing, Roy Adams had written, the distance between what people want and what people need.
Camp Hope was a prototype. A nucleus. A revolution waiting to hatch. It modeled what could be: made progress into paradise, showed how environmental living could be desired rather than feared. And while it’s true land was cheap in the Bahamas—the post-hurricane government desperate for income, any whisper of industry—Adams had also chosen to build Camp Hope in Eleutheria because the location sent a message: he wasn’t afraid of hurricanes or sea-level rise or anyone else’s opinions.
I couldn’t wait to tell him I wasn’t afraid either. Because in truth, it was Adams I wanted to see as much as Camp Hope. It was Adams—as a repentant man, a reformed man, a visionary—who made me believe humanity could be galvanized, the planet saved. Because if Adams could change, anyone could.
The doors to Camp Hope opened with ease, well greased, silent. I had to shield my eyes as I stepped inside: the compound’s low breezy bungalows and pavilions and laboratories all painted in a wash so white, the buildings gleamed with snow-blinding brightness.
But this was Eleutheria: an island blessed by equatorial warmth. Between the buildings were garden plots flush with melon leaves. Feathery carrot tops. Rows of purple beans. An orchard offered trees loaded with avocados and sugar apples. Hibiscus blossomed everywhere, at once jewel-like and giant. This was Camp Hope: the text of Living the Solution rippled into reality. Solar arrays glinted from rooftops. Carbon capture units hummed near the shore. A wind turbine twirled overhead. All of it, all of Camp Hope, spread out as immaculate and people-less as a museum diorama.
I giggled—astonished and perplexed—and as my voice exited my mouth it diffused into the landscape.
Hello? I called, but that sound also dissipated.
Sunlight dappled a pathway of crushed shells. I meandered along it, ducking under trellised passion fruit vines, through open-air hydroponics labs, into sleeping quarters filled with bunks made bandage-tight. From an observation deck, I watched an egret slide over a curving stretch of sand, settle on a gnarled clump of mangroves. At the center of the grounds, a geodesic dome humped from the earth, its glassy surface composed of honeycomb panels.
One of the panels flickered. I rushed forward—bracing for my first encounter with a Camp Hope crewmember—but met only the reflected slouch of my overalls, my knot of hair, my own wide eyes.
Behind the glass, rows of tables sat empty.
I licked salt from my upper lip, the sun squeezing sweat from my pores. Everything was right and yet nothing was right. On a rigid laundry line, dish towels fluttered in the breeze, as if trying to tug themselves free. I let one flutter against my face. I turned in slow circles, wandered onward. Time elongated, minutes expanding, doubling back. I became unsure of which pathways I’d taken, the hibiscus blossoms I’d already passed. Though the Camp Hope compound was contained on a stubby peninsula—covering a square mile at most—it seemed city-sized, sprawling.
I leaned against a raised garden bed to catch my breath. My elbow upset a watering can perched on the ledge, sending the container crashing onto the gravel below. Water glugged out and disappeared.
My throat tightened; I called another hello into the grounds—still serene, fragrant with flowers and ripening fruit. The wind turbine pinwheeled overhead. The ocean sparkled in the distance. That Camp Hope’s crewmembers could have given up—abandoned everything—seemed impossible. That Roy Adams could have, even more so. I entertained the idea of foul play: there were corporations, governments with something to lose if Camp Hope succeeded. Yet the grounds showed no sign of a struggle.
I wondered if the crewmembers were hiding.
I wondered if they were invisible, Camp Hope’s advanced eco-technology having spurred unprecedented genetic mutations.
I wondered if they’d all been sucked into the sky by a green god who welcomed them into a chlorophylled paradise.
The sun pressed down like a hot thumb, crushing these ideas. I slumped into the leafy shade of an elephant ear and unpeeled my backpack straps. Sweat swept my forehead, stung my eyes. I had forgotten to pack a water bottle. In my rush to leave for Eleutheria, I had forgotten to pack a lot of things.
I had Deron’s phone number inked on my palm, but no phone with which to call him. This omission had been deliberate. According to Living the Solution, Camp Hope was equipped with a central communications hub, but crewmembers otherwise abstained from the Internet and its environmental cost: the mineral mines and server farms, the unquenchable thirst for electricity.
The absence of personal phones and computers would also help keep Camp Hope a secret until its launch.
I reached into my backpack, my fingers skimming the pages of Living the Solution. The book had compelled me away from everything I’d known—compelled me in a way that made it hard to go back. Even if I wanted to, I didn’t have the funds for a return ticket.
I pushed my hand deeper into the backpack, past the wad of crumpled bills, my spare underwear, my passport. I touched the envelope from Sylvia.
Cream-colored, made from smooth, expensive paper, the envelope refused to reveal its contents even when held to the light. Sylvia had sealed the envelope with crimson wax, stamped an insignia with one of her rings—a flourish at once preposterous and elegant. Wasn’t that her way? She must have enclosed a letter; she was the kind of person who wrote letters—her script sinewy, spring-loaded—though it was also likely she had enclosed money. I knew she had: a crisp set of hundred-dollar bills, sharp enough to draw blood.
I pressed the envelope between my sweaty palms, held my palms to my forehead, closed my eyes. To open the envelope would mean admitting Sylvia had been right. I could hear her telling me so: You try hard to be good, but there’s no such thing as good. Her voice, it reached through my rib cage, squeezed the air from my lungs: There is only scarcity and plenty, our fear of—
The island wouldn’t let my eyes stay closed. Sunlight tunneled under my lids, pried them open, filled my vision with a quivering orange brightness—like live stained glass.
I moved to rub my eyes; the color shattered into the air.
Monarch butterflies. As a child, I’d seen them perched on the milkweed growing along the back roads of New Hampshire. I’d thought the species had gone extinct. Yet here they were, whirling upward. I stuffed the unopened envelope into my backpack and scrambled to my feet. Sylvia would have called it juvenile, taking inspiration from butterflies. I remembered I no longer cared. At that same moment, I heard voices—real voices—drifting across the grounds, sweet as light through a church window: a promise made good.
The Camp Hope boathouse was a leggy, square structure with a breezy deck. From this deck, a wharf extended into a turquoise cove, and beyond that cove, the ocean stretched to the horizon: the edge of cloudless sky.
At the boathouse, I found the crewmembers.
They numbered seventy in total. Men and women of many complexions, mostly young—all youthfully athletic—with their hair cut short or drawn into neat ponytails. They wore neoprene wet suits, the letters CH emblazoned on their chests. Some stood knee-deep in the cove, ushering a flotilla of kayaks onto the sloping sand. Others carried the kayaks to storage racks in the boathouse. Still more passed snorkeling gear and scientific instruments toward stations for cleaning.
I marveled at them. These were modern pilgrims: environmental devotees, who’d heard the call for revolution. The crewmembers were among the best and brightest, the most physically exquisite people in the world. They were here on Eleutheria because they believed in Roy Adams’s commitment to reforming society by living it anew.
While I was disappointed not to see Adams himself, the crewmembers’ operation otherwise enthralled me: balletic in its ease and synchrony. I might have gone on watching, enjoying the sheer perfection of their movements, had I not been noticed.
Three women rose from beside a pile of snorkeling gear. They approached with a bounce in their steps, a light in their eyes, their ponytails swishing. Even now, it’s easy to picture them. They bore down on me like the future.
Those women; those newborn women, their skin soft with baby-fat radiance. Women with big straight teeth and strong hands agile enough for knot tying, dexterous enough to play cello. Women who were well hydrated. Women who ate ice cream, but only twice a week. Women with a smug wholesomeness: who knew a lot, but not too much. Women who were swift decision-makers. Women who slept through the night. Women who swam laps at dawn. Women who were pretty without makeup, but not so pretty it caused problems. Women who knew what they were doing and had come to do it.
Women who looked me up and down.
It’s an intruder, said one.
It’s only a girl, said a second.
Shall I find Lorenzo? said the third, smirking at the others as if to reject the idea.
I’m here to join Camp Hope, I tried to say—but my mouth had gone dry, my tongue immobile and fat.
The trio squinted at me, whispered to one another. The word girl buzzed between them, which seemed strange since we were all about the same age.
The girl can’t stay, said one.
The girl can’t leave either, said another. She’s seen the grounds.
It had never occurred to me that I might face resistance to joining Camp Hope. The main challenge, I’d always assumed, would be getting there. When I’d imagined arriving at the compound, my mind shot forward—past the logistics of initiation—to the good and important work I’d do as an official crewmember.
My dizziness made the surrounding landscape spin. I became aware of my scuffed-up overalls and matted hair, my odor. The intense heat and the long journey had caught up to me. Exhaustion plucked at my attention—though also a sense of recognition. I knew these young women: these fellow girls.
The trio started asking questions, their voices overlapping, interjecting: When had I arrived on the island? How did I get here? How had I found Camp Hope? How long had I been in the compound? Had I touched anything? Had I taken photos? What was the matter—was I going to faint? Would I like something to eat? Would I like something to drink? Did I know even minor dehydration could reduce cognitive function fifteen percent? Had I really come all the way to the island planning to just enlist? Didn’t I realize there were procedures for recruitment? That a person couldn’t just show up? That the crewmembers had been carefully selected for their specific talents, skills, and traits?
The trio asked and asked, often without waiting for an answer, as if the articulation of a question was the point of the exchange. Occasionally, they glanced over at the other crewmembers—continuing to put away the kayaks—as if verifying the distinctiveness of their status. They relished this small performance of knowledge.
It was then, even through my exhaustion, I realized how I knew the trio—or knew their type. They were quintessentially collegiate, as if plucked from a manicured quad between classes and dropped in the Bahamas. They were like the young women who had once hovered around Sylvia.
Liberal Arts Girls, I labeled them in my head, putting an emphasis on girls.
You do realize, said one—the tallest among them, whose name I’d later learn was Corrine—that under no circumstances could a person walk in and “join” Camp Hope.
You also can’t leave, said the second tallest—Dorothy. For security reasons.
We’re about to launch, said the shortest—Eisa—with a flick of her ponytail. Isn’t that thrilling?
The young women who’d hung around Sylvia intimidated me at first. They had read Foucault, and could differentiate Doric and Ionic columns, and they knew what happened to Prussia. They wore sweaters without crumbs embedded in the fibers. They never burped. And yet they’d sought out Sylvia because they’d wanted her approval, not because they’d wanted to truly know her. Let alone love her. Those young women were all so competent, yet their competence was built on the head-pats of supervisors. For all their book knowledge and their museum visits and their semesters in Rome, they were hoop-jumpers. Box-checkers. Résumé-builders. They were so well rounded they had no edges. They were just ethical enough.
Liberal Arts Girls, I thought again and smiled, even as Corrine said something about putting me in a containment cell. I understood why this trio was here: Camp Hope had been designed as a perfect composite of function and form. This trio had been recruited to fulfill a specific role and to cultivate a specific desire among external viewers. When Camp Hope launched, these young women would look good among the other crewmembers, all of whom had their own roles, talents, desirable qualities. But I had not come all the way to Camp Hope to be sidelined. Liberal Arts Girls could be tamed, you only needed a hoop.
Well done, I said—interrupting Dorothy’s recitation of international trespassing laws—you’ve nearly passed the Intruder Alert Test.
I licked my lips, my thoughts racing forward, the premise unspooling: There’s only one more step, I said. You’ll need to take me to Roy Adams.
What are you talking about? said Corrine.
Your response to the test was excellent, I continued. Especially given the lack of forewarning. But the lack of forewarning was the whole point. All that needs to happen now is for me to speak to Adams so I can confirm your proficiency.
The Liberal Arts Girls narrowed their eyes.
This test is being timed, I said.
How are we supposed to believe that? said Dorothy. No one said anything about an Intruder Alert Test.
Maybe we should get Lorenzo? said Eisa.
Out in the cove, crewmembers continued their graceful machinations as they stowed the last of the kayaks, though I had the feeling they were listening—that the whole island was listening. All the palm trees and seagulls and hermit crabs and starfish had perked up, trying to catch what came next.
I reached into my backpack and pulled out Living the Solution.
The Liberal Arts Girls drew in a collective breath. Corrine started to ask how I’d gotten a personal copy, only to be overtaken by Dorothy, who murmured that the book hadn’t yet been sent to anyone outside Camp Hope, before her words were overwhelmed by Eisa, who twirled her ponytail with a finger and said: It all makes sense now.
The Liberal Arts Girls moved quickly after that. The trio was nothing if not efficient, task-oriented, rhetorically effective when it came to explaining the situation to the others. Roy Adams, it turned out, was snorkeling around one of Eleutheria’s most magnificent reefs. If I was supposed to see him, I could travel to his location.
So, I was installed in a kayak, handed a paddle, and pointed down the coast.
Once you’re around that peninsula, said Corrine, head north. Just keep an eye out for the coral outcroppings.
Put in a good word for us, said Dorothy.
Eisa squeezed my shoulder, pushed.
What to say of the journey that followed?
I remember it only in pieces. I know beyond the shelter of the cove a stiff breeze sprang up. Once around the peninsula, larger waves jostled the kayak’s sides. My paddle strokes— arrhythmic, unbalanced—launched saltwater into my mouth, sprayed every inch of my skin. I hacked forward anyway. I no longer felt thirsty. I no longer felt tired. I did not feel much of anything except the distance closing between me and Roy Adams. We were two planets, orbits aligning by degrees. We were two people who’d soon be able to sit down and talk. I’d explain why I’d come to Camp Hope, my commitment to helping. I’d officially join the movement that would make the world new.
I paddled harder, breath seesawing from my lungs. I felt giddy. Sun-drunk and helium-hearted. The sea and sky tilt-a whirled, and more monarchs fluttered past, though they may have been the wink of sunbeams on water, my own eroding consciousness. Below the waves, purple forms bloomed with metropolitan ambition. I was no longer sure where the sea began and my paddle ended, what was large and what was small. I stirred up cyclones with every stroke. I summoned in breakers. I jolted as the kayak’s yellow bow struck an underwater obstacle, sending me splashing out, crawling out, my feet kicking coral, my clothes so heavy, so wet, they felt like a skin I no longer needed to wear.
I was not surprised when a monstrous figure rose dripping from the water.
Its horn broke the surface first: blunt-tipped and tubular and channeling a hideous rasping breath. The crest of its head followed. Ten a glassy cyclopean eye. And, finally, a massive man-torso.
Did Sylvia send you? I wanted to scream—and maybe I did—though I can’t be sure, because the world had faded into elsewhere. I was gone.