No. 13.—The Desert Isle, Part 2.
THE CREATURE BORE some resemblance to a man, but dressed in such an outlandish fashion as I had never seen in all my travels. He wore a pair of trousers or breeches that came down a little past his knees; simple sandals in a garish red color; the most outrageously colored blouse or shirt with printed pictures of palm trees and sunsets in bright reds and oranges; a pair of glasses with the lenses darkened, so that I wondered how it was possible for him to see at all; and a kind of hat made of a sort of net or mesh, with a protrusion jutting out over his brow, as though it had once had a brim but three-quarters of it had been cut off, and the outline of a palm tree emblazoned on the front of it. The whole effect was something unearthly and yet sinister. I have had dealings with the demonic forces before, but none that frightened me so much as this strange being.
“Welcome to Sandy Palms,” said the strange being. “You must be one of our lucky vacation winners. Why don’t you come in and join the others while I explain a little about how the vacation-ownership concept works?”
No matter how demonic the appearance of my interlocutor, good breeding and native charity have long since taught me to respond with perfect politeness. “I fear you may have mistaken me for someone else,” I told the strange apparition. “I am but a poor shipwrecked sea-captain, making a humble attempt to survive on this island, which I had previously supposed to be uninhabited.”
“You are not one of our happy party of vacation winners?” The creature’s face momentarily turned purple, but then immediately a calm and sunny smile spread across his visage. “Won’t you please join the rest of us inside my trailer, then? I may be able to be of some assistance.”
I cannot say that I suspected nothing. But my choices were to trust this strange fellow, who seemed at least to have some notion of civilization, and who had indicated that there were persons, possibly of my own species, within the confines of his strange abode; or to turn in unbecoming fear and flee, knowing that, without help, I was unlikely to escape the small island on which the object of my unreasonable terror also resided. Picking up my little bag of supplies, I stepped through the door into the dim structure.
No sooner had I stepped inside, however, than the demon slammed the door shut behind me and blocked it with his own considerable bulk.
“Now,” he said with a fiendish cackle, “you are in my power, and you will not leave until you have thoroughly understood the awe-inspiring benefits of time-share!”
As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could see a few rows of simple chairs arranged to face a blank wall on which a kind of magic-lantern show was projected. The chairs were occupied by a dozen or more persons of the most appallingly haggard appearance, pale and emaciated, staring at the images as if in a Mesmeric trance. From some hidden source a mild and monotonous female voice could be heard making soothingly vacuous remarks about something called “vacation ownership.”
“Despicable villain!” I cried with all the justified indignation I felt. “What have you done to these people?”
“They are merely happy vacationers who have had the good fortune to be introduced to the concept of vacation ownership. It’s very simple, really. Luring them with the promise of a free vacation to this deserted spot, from which they cannot escape without my assistance, I offer to sell them a property—but one which they are allowed to use only one week per year, since I intend to sell the same property fifty-two times over. They quite naturally laugh in my face. Then—ha ha!” (He laughed a wicked laugh.) “Then the torture begins! I break their spirits with endless presentations and pep talks, until they are completely under my command! Soon they will sign any paper I put in front of their noses, if only I will promise to take them away from this endless torment!”
“You shall not break my spirit,” I warned him. “Your wretched tortures may bring civilians to their knees, but you have now met with a captain in Her Majesty’s navy.”
“Ha!” the fiend laughed. “What power can you possibly oppose to the mighty force of my timeshare presentation?”
“Merely this,” I answered, and with a lightning movement I whipped it out of my bag and struck the fiend a resounding blow with Brandt & Screever’s Comprehensive Guide to Tuscany, a book I heartily recommend as essential equipment for any traveler.
Having prostrated the villain, I found the magic lantern and stopped the procession of hypnotic images, freeing the unfortunate prisoners from the thrall of the fiend. We all retired to the modest cabin I had constructed, where we made ourselves quite comfortable.
Doubtless you have heard the rest of the story: how we made use of the small rotary press to print a large number of warning posters, which we put up all over the island, to keep the unwary from falling for the wicked schemes of the time-share charlatans; how we printed a plea for our rescue and sealed it in the cookie jar; and how I fitted the cookie jar with a sail and, by calculating the wind and current with a fair degree of accuracy, was able to send it toward the main shipping lanes, where it soon attracted the attention of a passing vessel. These things are common knowledge; but, until now, I have not had the opportunity to present my own account of the transactions on that little island. I confess that it does not compare in historical interest to some of my other adventures; but I do have some hope that my example will inspire younger people to stand up against injustice, and to come to the aid of all who are oppressed by evil wheresoever such evil may be found.