FLIP FLOP by James Hancock (3rd place Apr20)

Barry was a flip flop. Kid’s size eleven, regal blue, with white stripes and a slightly worn underside. He was the right, and his brother, Gary, was the left. Brothers, and similar in most ways, except for personality. Gary was your typical flip flop; laid back and quiet.
Barry was the opposite; excitable and talkative.The morning of the seaside day trip, Barry wouldn’t stop talking… packed in the car boot, yapping away at the sun lotion, Susan’s paperback romance novel and Arnold the beach ball.
“What if there are slushies? Oh, and ice cream. I had some ice cream land on me once. A big dollop. A plop on Jonathan’s flip flop.” Barry laughed. The other items in the bag weren’t amused, and Gary made an embarrassing sigh.
All the way there, Barry talked about fish and chips, seagulls, and the one time it was so windy he saw a beach ball roll off along the sand with people chasing after it. Probably never to be seen again. Arnold the beach ball told Barry to shut up! Barry didn’t shut up.
After an hour of Barry’s chatter they arrived, the car boot was unpacked, and Barry and Gary were set in place on Jonathan’s feet and introduced to pebbles and sand. Good times! Until the rain came. Two hours into the afternoon the skies turned grey and the heavens opened. It poured. Jonathan’s parents packed everything up as quickly as they could and ran back to the car. But they’d forgotten something. They’d forgotten Barry. In their haste, Barry had been overlooked and found himself alone on the sand. Barry was frightened.
The rain didn’t ease up for nearly an hour and by then the beach was deserted.
Unknown to Barry, Jonathan and his parents had driven to a restaurant, eaten burger and chips, and driven home. They wouldn’t realise Barry was missing until they unpacked the car boot, and by then it would be too late. Barry stared at the tide as it advanced ever closer.
Hours passed, and although the sun was out again, it was late in the day and high tide. Barry was picked up by a shallow water wave and carried off. Off to sea.
Barry had never been to sea before. He’d heard Philip snorkel talk about it, but hadn’t ever been out beyond the shallows. Never so far out that land couldn’t be seen, like now, floating further and further into the vast expanse of ocean. Barry thought his fear of being left alone would have amplified, or his lack of night-time experience might have made him freak out, but he was okay. Calm, just like the ocean waters. He was seeing this for what it was… a big adventure.
After three days of cooking in the hot sun and suffering a reasonable amount of salt water damage, Barry wasn’t as convinced this adventure was going to be anything more than a long game of count the seagull. Until there was land. Land at last. Barry was washed up on the sandy beach of a small island, late morning on the fourth day. An island without people. An island whose beach was dotted with objects similar to Barry. Washed up and forgotten. This was The Island Of Forgotten Things.
“What you looking at?” came the snappy and unfriendly welcome of a half chewed dog’s toy. As far as welcomes go, this was very unwelcoming.
“Hello, I’m Barry,” said Barry. “Can you tell me where I am, please?”
“The Island Of Forgotten Things,” the dog’s toy glared at Barry and made him feel uncomfortable. “Go and check in with Margaret.” The dog’s toy gestured to a deflated armband further up the beach.
Barry wasn’t the best reader of body language, but the dog’s toy looked like he wanted to hurt him, so Barry smiled and moved on. Maybe Margaret would be more willing to enlighten him on how things worked on the island, who was in charge, and the likelihood of him ever getting home again.
Margaret was much more pleasant, although incredibly dull and matter of fact. Barry needed to speak with the king, and was taken to him directly. An impressive figure, and fully understandable how he was elected ruler of the island, the king was nearly two metres of solid pine wood. A rowing boat oar. He stood tall and proud over all of his subjects.
“Welcome!” said the king in a booming voice. “We have been waiting for someone like you.”
Oh how special that made Barry feel. Until he knew the truth of it. He learned quickly that everything on the island is paired up with a similar item. They operated on the buddy system. Which would have been nice, except Barry’s partner was a bad-tempered wellington boot called, Gladys. Oh how Gladys moaned at Barry.
‘Sweep the shingle out of my way, Barry’. ‘We’re looking for snails, try to keep up, Barry’. ‘Pay attention, Barry’. ‘Stop talking, Barry’. Barry was miserable and decided that tonight, under cover of darkness, he would sneak off the island and leave grumpy Gladys and the other forgotten things behind him.
Before night there is dusk. A time when the sun has sunk and darkness is on the way, and at this time all islanders are expected to meet in the centre of the island, at the great clearing. Gladys made sure Barry and herself weren’t late. Over two hundred objects gathered around a low burning camp fire, and the king stood on a tree trunk to address his people.
“Once again, my friends, names have been taken from a hat, and one of you has been selected.” Everyone looked at each other, concerned, uneasy. Barry stopped chuckling with excitement and his smile dropped. From the looks on faces of those around him, selection wasn’t the reward Barry thought it was.
“The fire must never extinguish, and our supply of wood is limited. Tonight’s offering will be made by…” the king looked around at the dog’s toy which Barry had encountered this morning.
The dog’s toy stepped forward and cleared his throat, “Kenneth!”
A torn and faded baseball cap yelped in shock, and a pair of sunglasses next to the cap burst into tears.
“No wait!” the last words Kenneth the cap got to blurt out before a lifejacket grabbed him and threw him onto the fire. A dozen or so cuddly toys made excited yelping noises and gathered closer to the warm fire as Kenneth burned and the fire increased. Margaret consoled the sunglasses. Barry stared in horror. Kenneth was gone in sixty seconds.
As the crowd slowly dispersed, the king made a speech about greater sacrifice and everyone working together, but Barry wasn’t listening. Barry moved into the shadow of a nearby boulder, away from Gladys, and away from the other islanders.
That night Barry flopped his way back into the ocean and let the tide take him. Goodbye to The Island Of Forgotten Things. Goodbye to the evil king and his doomed subjects. And although he expected nightmares, Barry slept well as he floated further and further away. The moon shone and the stars twinkled in the sky, but Barry slept.
It was the next morning and Barry was awoken to the lifting sensation of being picked up. He was about to shout ‘weeeeee’, but stopped himself. He had been picked up by a little girl. A human. Once again, Barry was on the mainland, gathered up from a pebble beach by a happy-faced eight year old, whose smile widened as she examined Barry.
“I’ve got the perfect shell, Karen,” called a man from nearby. Karen’s dad held up a smooth and well-formed shell. Karen ran over to her dad, Barry in hand.
“Oh boy! That’s a beauty. Thanks dad!” Karen took the shell and added it, and Barry, to her bag. They joined the bag’s other occupants… Some dried seaweed, a small piece of driftwood, a bottle top, and the pincer of a crab. The pincer  freaked Barry out a little bit. Barry kept quiet.
Later that day, Karen placed all of the objects into a cardboard display box with words painted on the side… ‘Life’s A Beach’. Barry was part of a school homework project. Not ideal, but at least he was safe. He considered what his fate might have been if he’d stayed on the island, or what his brother Gary’s fate might be as a lone flip flop. Nobody keeps a single flip flop. One day the school projects would come home again, and Barry’s days would be numbered. He looked at the cat flap in Karen’s kitchen, and listened to the seagulls calling to each other overhead. The sea was nearby. When the time came, Barry would be ready… ready to escape, through the cat flap, and flop his way to the sea. Once again, he’d let the tide take him wherever it pleased. Take him across the ocean on another adventure.

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