Plastic Beach

Isabella N. 7A

The sky was plastic.

To some, it seemed as if the sky was never there at all; they’d look up from earth and see a large, monotone cloud trudging its way from continent to continent. The ancient sky was somber under the structures of artificial clouds. Smog slumped over landfills, hushed towns, and mountains with not a single tuft of grass inhabiting the hilly surfaces that had now become battlefields for the Pirates. It was as if the only thing thriving on earth was the war, and nature was too afraid to peek out from under the rubble and garbage. So, instead, it saved every droplet of clear water, every breeze of breathable air, every tree and flower, and reverted them into the ground and into a myth, a legend, that seemed like heaven on earth: Plastic Beach.

Plastic Beach was the only place in the world untouched by war. Sailors who dreamed of an escape from the gruesome battle searched for Plastic Beach by following three steps: One: start your journey at the caves on Shadow Cove; Two: sail approximately 90 yards west across the sea; Three: let go of the sails, allow the sea judge your soul, and let the water guide you to the golden land.

And that was exactly what Rome and Romeo were planning to do.

“We leave at sundown,” Rome suggested to his younger brother, Romeo. “There will be less questions to answer and less people following us.” Rome packed small packages of stale bread into the boat. “Romeo, would you take a look at our boat? I want us to look our best when we land there. And also, make sure you have your journal with you. I want to be the first to map a route to the island.”

Romeo walked toward their small boat made of black metal and ran his calloused hands over their ship. “If we get there,” Romeo said. “It’s called a legend for a reason, isn't it?”

Rome pushed aside his brother’s comments. “Come on, Romeo, let’s bring this thing outside and out to the shore.”

Rome and Romeo both took one end of the boat and ponderously carried it out of their temporary tent. They swept past the wispy nylon walls of their home, lumbering across the rocky ground until they reached the grimy sand of Shadow Cove. Rome panted as he scanned the gloomy area for any Pirates or foreign ships.

When Rome and Romeo reached the edge of the land, they stared out into the harsh ocean. The sun slowly died under the gray air, melting away into the water and burning away the dull, blue skin of the sky. The water thrashed on the shore with foamy fists, sizzling at the damaged land with a radioactive voice. The salty lips of the ocean harshly kissed the rough skin of Rome’s ankles like a manipulative lover. Romeo shivered at merely the sight of the open sea. Their boat sat in the evil hands of the dangerous water, and the brothers shared a look of uncertainty. Rome hesitated, turning away from the sea and looking back at the smoky realm they had emerged from. But something in his heart knew that the water was safer than home. Rome steadied his gaze upon the endless void of ocean blue.

Rome entered the black boat first.

“Rome,” Romeo whispered, stepping into the ship with his grip on Rome’s arm, “I really hope we know what we're doing.”

“Romeo,” Rome whispered back, “me too.”

And so, the two brothers pushed through the radioactive sea of plastic, equipped with nothing but a few loaves of bread, two bottles of dirty water, a worn journal turned to an empty page, a blunt pen, and two valiant hearts that led them to the border between reality and legend.

“We’re about 90 yards in already,” Romeo noted, nervously twirling the pen in his calloused fingers. He marked the empty map in his journal with a star. “Should we be moving toward the island soon?”

Rome retrieved his hands from the sails. When the boat remained stationary, Rome groped for his brother in the dark for security. “We’ll wait. And if we don’t move, we’ll turn back—”

The two brothers were startled by the sharp jolt of their ship. And even in the moonless night, Romeo swore he saw a gleam of hope in his brother’s lustrous eyes as they felt the water slowly propel them forward. Rome laughed with relief and joy, wrapping his frigid arms around his brother and smiling into his shoulder. The two cheered in the silent and foggy night at sea, taking turns sketching at the map until they recognized the muted, amber glow of lights in the distance. Romeo had dozed off by the time Rome saw the empyrean lands of Plastic Beach.

“Romeo,” Rome said with a dry mouthful of bread, shaking his brother’s shoulder until Romeo’s eyes fluttered open, “I think you might want to see this . . .” Rome pointed to the island they were approaching with a pen in hand. Rome vigorously sketched at the journal. There was no doubt that it was Plastic Beach. A large volcano stood securely in the center of the island, and palm trees snuggled around the sand. “Oh my gosh . . . we . . . we did it, Romeo!” Romeo woke at an instant. The two continued to laugh and celebrate their victory until they were nearing the shore. The sight of the island was heavenly; flowers and trees had been painted so carefully on the deep shades of olive that were draped across the beach like a blanket. As they approached the small island, Rome could feel his heart relaxing; he breathed the crisp scent of the fresh ocean easily and he even saw the sun smiling at him and Romeo through a brush stroke of creamy clouds. Rome peered at the diamond sea that was guiding them to the beach. “Look,” Rome said softly, running a tired hand through the cold water, “the sea . . . is not hurting me . . .”

Rome and Romeo let the blue breeze calm them as they sailed into the island. The water that had been their guide suddenly halted, and the two brothers stood up from the boat, eye to eye with a large crowd of clapping citizens. They were barefoot and mostly shirtless, all sporting a sun kissed tan. They cheered as the two brothers marveled the beauty of the island.

“Congratulations,” a deep, calm voice spoke. It was a man with light gray hair, the same rosy complexion as the people, and wrinkles on his face that were like smiles. “You have proven yourself to be worthy of nature. Please,” the man motioned, “come on to this land.”

Rome stepped onto the soft sand first, and then helped Romeo onto his feet. They beamed at the elderly man who welcomed them to the island. “My dear,” the man said with a light laugh, “you two look so similar. What are your names?”

Rome and Romeo looked at each other and laughed; it was true—they did look awfully alike. They were brothers, after all. Rome introduced himself and his brother.

“I am Father Forest. Welcome to Plastic Beach,” Father Forest announced as the crowd clapped again. He turned to his people. “My citizens, I believe we have reached our one hundredth sailor . . .” Gasps sprouted across the crowd. Rome and Romeo stared at each other with confused expressions. Father Forest explained, “Every one hundredth sailor is said to become our island’s new leader.” Although the the crowd was clapping again, Father Forest wasn't quite receiving the response he was hoping for from the two brothers; they looked troubled. Father Forest asked, “What is wrong?”

“Father Forest, there are two of us . . . and only one ruler.”

“I am well aware of that,” Father Forest voiced to Romeo in a soothing tone. “But Rome set foot on this island before you, so he shall be the new leader.”

The enthusiasm of the crowd seemed inappropriate to Romeo. He turned to his brother, who looked equally as disappointed. Father Forest smiled gently at the two brothers. “You two must rest, for the journey here must have made you both terribly weary. I shall take you to your cabin now, and tomorrow, you shall tour the island and learn our procedures.”

Rome looked into Father Forest’s earthy eyes and nodded. And before the two brothers knew it, they were sound asleep at the top of the dreaming volcano in a warm cabin, their tired bodies hugged in soft sheets of cloth and silk as their souls were calmed by the humming of the crackling fire.

The next morning, they began their tour at noon. They started from the mountain and travelled down the island, visiting various sites, including the crystal waterfalls and radiant flower fields. Rome carried his journal around to sketch the landscapes they passed, and Romeo captured the different animals in drawings.

“This is the parracida,” Father Forest explained to the two brothers, as he motioned to a large, black bird that was feeding on the sweet nectar of the wildflowers that bloomed under a swaying tree. “It has abnormal behaviors for a bird, but it is extremely intelligent. Its name means traitor in Latin, because its black wings make us think of the Pirates. Some even believe the parracida was a bird made by the Pirates to spy on us, but I disagree. This is a very beautiful creature; he is a gift from nature.”

The two brothers nodded. Rome continued to walk the verdant green roads with Father Forest, but Romeo stayed, marveling the creature they had met. “Um, R-Rome? How about you two go on . . . and I’ll catch up later?” Romeo asked, never leaving sight of the black bird.

“Of course,” Father Forest answered. “I am glad to see you enjoy this island.”

“Yeah . . .” Romeo trailed off. “I'll be back at the cabin by sundown.”

But when the sun hugged the edge of the earth, Romeo’s broken promise hung. Strands of gold and red lingered in the night sky as the rhinestone stars twinkled in the ebony atmosphere. Rome looked up into the unobstructed view of the universe and sighed. When the sun had been nearly completely wrapped in the sapphire blankets of the water, Rome heard quick footsteps pacing up the wooden stairs that led to their isolated cabin.

“Hey,” Romeo muttered with exhausted breath escaping through his dry mouth, “sorry for making you wait.” Rome frowned at his brother and motioned for him to take a seat on the ground. Romeo’s drained breathing echoed.

“You missed dinner.”

“Sorry, Rome,” Romeo repeated, an arm around Rome’s shoulder. “I just . . . I was carried away and I walked too far. I lost my way back.”

Rome handed Romeo a small woven basket, covered with white cloth. “You should eat before you go to the bathhouse. I saved you some of the bread and cheese we ate at supper. Father Forest and I stopped by the bakery to get you some milk and cakes if you’re still hungry.”

Romeo accepted the basket with guilty hands. “Thank you, Rome. And . . . I’m sorry. You know . . . I really am.” It felt like there was a lie laced in his words.

Rome shared a sad smile with Romeo. “I know.” Rome steadied his feet on the ground and walked the stony ground with quiet feet. Rome placed his hands on the worn handle of the door. “I am going to bed now. Goodnight, Romeo.” And as Rome lit the lonely fireplace and slid himself into bed with merely the lambent flames as his only friend, he could not stop thinking about his brother.

As the days on Plastic Beach slipped by, Rome felt the trust between him and him and his brother dwindle. While Rome explored the island with Father Forest, Romeo was out all alone, following the bird. The lowing beaked chorus woke Rome at sunrise. Romeo was still sleeping, and his worn journal sat by his side with a pen holding a page. Rome swam out of his sheets and grabbed ahold of the book. Rome flipped through the inky illustrations and stopped at the page with the pen. Rome was disappointed to see a lack of drawings on the sites he visited. Instead, there were blueprints being developed of a mechanical bird that looked identical to the parracida. Rome flipped back a few pages and noticed that the map to Plastic Beach had been torn out. Rome touched the rough edge of the jagged paper with sad fingers. Disappointed, Rome tiptoed outside to watch the sun’s rebirth in solitude.

Rome watched as the sun rose with elegance, delighting the sky with its golden light. It was not long before Rome heard brisk footsteps behind him.

“Morning,” a voice said hurriedly as it rushed through the door.

“Good morning, Romeo.”

And before Rome could say anything else, Romeo was gone.

Rome let out a raw breath of frustration into the morning air. He pondered about why his brother disconnected from him after they had landed on the island. Is it because I’m ruler? Rome asked himself. Rome believed his brother would never let something that mundane tear them apart.

“My boy,” Father Forest called from behind Rome, “are you alright?”

Rome quickly turned around at Father Forest’s worried tone. He looked into the man’s honey-brown eyes and shook his head hesitantly. It took a great deal of silence before Rome could utter a few sentences of truth. “I’m afraid my brother is angry at me. We have not been talking much.” It felt strange to share his feelings with someone other than his brother; they had been stranded by themselves for so many years, Rome felt as if he could only trust Romeo. “I wish we were still as close. I don't know what happened.”

Father Forest put a sympathetic hand on Rome’s fingers. “I wish I knew what was happening too,” he told Rome. There was sense of anxiety in his calming voice. “The trees are telling of danger approaching our island.”

“Do you suppose they are speaking of another sailor?”

“Never mind that, Rome. We shall have answers soon. But you must focus on restoring your relationship with Romeo by speaking to him about your troubles,” Father Forest advised.

“I suppose I could try. But he is rarely home. I will have to wait until after sundown.”

“Then you shall wait with me. The trees tell me I should be awake tonight. Perhaps you should stroll around the island and calm your nerves while I speak to some of our elders for advice. We shall have dinner together again and wait for Romeo to return,” Father Forest offered.

“That is very kind of you, Father Forest,” Rome thanked. “I will see you this evening.”

Soothed by Father Forest’s guidance, Rome traipsed the gravel path. As he walked farther and farther across the land, Rome realized that there simply was not enough time to spare on this island being upset. The island emanated happiness in everything—everything except the parracida, which sported a pirate black coat of oily feathers. The deep, artificial gaze of that bird made Rome feel uneasy.

As Rome took a lonely tour of the island, he met a small boy who was resting his head on a sunflower. Rome thought it was the most peculiar thing. Rome touched the sunflower gently with a finger, and at an instant, the small boy awoke.

“Hi,” Rome said softly. “Who are you?”

“Hello. This island is much better than the others,” the small boy mused, paying no attention to the question Rome had politely asked. “Even better than the planet I come from.”

“I—uh . . . yes, it quite nice here,” Rome answered awkwardly, unsure of how to approach the little boy.

“Are you new?” The boy questioned. “I come to earth all the time. But sometimes, breathing is hard.” Rome nodded; he knew firsthand about the heavy air of the polluted world. “The other lands are not as beautiful as this one. But they do work hard to make clouds. I recently spotted one over there.” The boy pointed to the hazy blue horizon.

“Clouds?” Rome asked. “The other islands do not make clouds.”

But the little boy insisted they did. He shook his head and said, “No, no. They come out of those metal tubes attached to the factories.”

“No, those are not—” Rome had a moment to think about his words. He wondered why the little boy would ever think of smog charging into a place like Plastic Beach. The boy shrugged his shoulders and slept.

That night with Father Forest, Rome thought of the clouds as they watched the sunset turn red and gray.

Rome sat with Father Forest at the balcony of Father Forest’s grand home, which was only a short walk away from Rome’s cabin. Rome and Father Forest watched the sun trail across the sky, getting closer to the edge of the water as they indulged in sugary desserts.

“Your brother will be here soon,” Father Forest spoke. But his smile was short-lived. “The trees are moaning again; do you understand them?” Rome shook his head. He could only hear the howling of the wind behind them in the deep forests. “They say I should watch out for anything along the horizon.”

Rome asked, “Is it something dangerous?” He absentmindedly scanned the rippling waters that slept along the shore. He kept a close eye on the darkening ocean as Father Forest translated the secret language of the trees.

“They tell me they will take care of it,” Father Forest reassured, listening intently to the roaring of the black breeze. The two stared into the bloody sky as the sun ducked under a thick sheet of foreign, gray clouds.

“Could you ask them if they have any knowledge on Romeo?”

And that was where things began to turn very, very bad.

Father Forest responded to Rome’s request without words. As the sky boiled red and the wind screamed louder with every movement of the sun, Father Forest’s attention to the burning horizon grew. The sun sizzled the water as it plunged down to sleep, setting the ocean aflame with gold and rage. The waves crawled toward the rocky edges of the island with the same poisonous voice that Rome had heard only days ago on the darker side of the world.

“Father Forest . . . my brother?”

“Rome . . . gather the townspeople,” Father Forest ordered. “Immediately,” he added, pointing a shaky hand to the black Pirate ships that dragged a mountain of slate gray, factory-produced clouds into the thin air, trudging along the rich waves of the black and gray sea.

The frightened citizens of Plastic Beach listened carefully as Father Forest quieted down the settlers and gave a short speech behind the sturdy and strong volcanoes. Rome stood close to Father Forest and the other elders as they prepared their carefully chosen words.

“As many may already know,” Father Forest began, “our island is under attack.” The crowd was in hysterics. The bronze toned people weeped as Father Forest continued his announcement. “ The elders and I have spoken about what we shall do to combat the Pirates.” Rome peered around the backside of the island. The Pirates were moving closer with every thoughtful word that flowed out of Father Forest’s mouth. “The Pirates can hurl every cannon they want; they can dirty our waters and ruin our air, but we will not fight. I order every single citizen of Plastic Beach to cease all fire and bow beneath the land and pray.”

Whispering erupted from the crowd. Rome spoke out first. “Father Forest, if we do not fight, we will die.”

“Then we shall die,” Father Forest decided simply.

“But we can—”

“No,” Father Forest finalized. “I have been advised by the trees, the water, and the mountain of fire itself. We will put our full trust on the shoulders of the world. Nature is on our side.”

Father Forest was the first to reveal himself from the protective body of the tough mountain and bow beneath his home on the center of the island. He set himself down on the bed of cold grass with both knees to the floor and his burly arms draped across the ground.

And so, he was also the first to be shot and killed.

Rome ran through the weeping trees behind the mountains as he listened to the shrieking of the wind around him, swirling him into the chaos. Rome breathed heavily as the burning air thrived. The black ships had already crashed onto the delicate sand; the Pirates surged onto the island and left radioactive footprints with every stride they took. Rome staggered into his cabin door and nearly jumped when he met his brother’s familiar, chestnut eyes.

“Romeo!” Rome exclaimed, fresh tears gripping onto his cheeks. “Romeo, I am so glad to see you . . .” Rome approached his brother with emotional steps. When Rome wrapped his exhausted body around Romeo, Romeo tore his brother’s heart-heavy arms away. Rome stepped back from Romeo with drops of salted pain falling from the edges of his cocoa eyes, his lonely arms still open and longing for home. Rome could barely utter a word after he was violated by a wave of hatred. “Romeo . . .”

“If you must cry, go outside,” Romeo hissed at his brother. “I did what I had to do!” Romeo fumbled behind him and searched for a knife they had used for cutting rope for their ship. He wielded the short, silver weapon at Rome, who was too overwrought to fight back. Rome choked out sore words in broken sentences.

“R-Romeo,” Rome struggled, “w-why must—” Rome steadied his blurry vision on the silver knife that was pointed towards his neck. He stumbled away from his brother, who was following him with every small step he took. “I-I—”

“You’re selfish!” Romeo screamed into the red air, following his brother’s slow strides out of the cabin and onto the rough patches of dirt that awaited outside. In the midst of the cacophony of war, a metallic bird that looked like the parracida circled around the two brothers and landed next to Romeo with the map of the route to Plastic Beach in its mouth. “You take everything for yourself!” Rome shook his head violently as his tears rushed down his burning face like blood.

“You betrayed me, R-Romeo! W-why would you do this t-to our home?” Rome cried, pointing to the bird. He took the map and gave it to the Pirates with the bird, Rome connected in his racing mind. Rome tore the map from the programed beak of the creature’s mouth as his head thumped with pain.

“This,” Romeo roared, “is not my home.”

But before Romeo could seal the weapon into his brother’s bleeding heart, the ground rumbled.

The ground screamed so heavily and shook so horribly that even the weeping trees and the crying waters were hushed. The mountain howled into the crimson sky, blasting a blistering, black breath into the deadly air. The color of charcoal tumbled down Plastic Beach and thrust through every tree, rock, and flower, the island reeking with pungent destruction  It engulfed entire Pirate ships and cannons, choking the land with ashy fingers. Steaming, molten rock oozed out of the mountain, turning Plastic Beach into nothing but fire and smoke as the ruined lands of earth bled and the raw sky cried out the words of Father Forest: Nature is on our side.

The blood of the mountain had wiped the island clean. The clouds grieved for the loss of Plastic Beach, showering the ghostly fields of rock and rubble with the tears of the ocean. Hope stitched the horizon with pearl thread, healing the broken, moonlit water for the sun to rise again. The animals and humans had tried to hide from the wrath of nature, but none were successful; their bones were buried deep within the mountains, locked away from the new beginning that swept the island—after all, the land remained, and hidden under the rich deposits of soil were seeds. The mountain retrieved its dusty breath and sealed its cuts when daylight broke. The plastic in the sky had been burnt away.

And the sun rose with great elegance the next morning.

Plastic Beach is an allegory about how nature will stand and fight for itself regardless of humans and their impacts. It highlights the strength and resilience of nature by utilizing characters, animals, and forces of nature to symbolize themes and ideas. The immediate change in Rome and Romeo’s relationship represents how greed can easily turn one against others and break even the strongest of bonds. The parracida symbolizes Romeo’s betrayal; the bird was ultimately the leader of his idea to construct a mechanical bird which would fly the map to the Pirates. The clouds that the little boy (The Little Prince) was explaining represents the smog that was present in every continent except for Plastic Beach. It also symbolized how Plastic Beach was slowly being tarnished by the pollution, or the impending doom that awaited the island at the end of the story. The volcano symbolizes nature’s wrath and fury. The volcano was the island’s way to reclaim the land by essentially wiping out all human life and prints. Finally, the constant mention of the sunrises and sunsets represents how nature is a continuous cycle that cannot be broken or disturbed, echoing the powerful theme that nature will never be broken.