Disclaimer: Not mine! And frankly, I think they'd laugh their heads off if they were.
SUMMARY: The TRUE secret of the island -- revealed!
RATING: PG-13, for a little wee bit of language
CHARACTERS: Sayid, Sawyer, Jack, Shannon, Charlie, with a little Kate, Walt and Claire.
Oh boy, this was a fun one. Y'all are going to wonder what I was smoking as you read this. ;) I don't want to say more than that. Just have fun reading it -- there's nothing like silly fluff in the angsty world that is Lost! Enjoy!
"Sayid, are you certain this is a good idea?"
"If we are to truly understand the geography of the island, Jack, then we must see it from above the tree line. This mountain seems central to the topography. We barely ventured beyond the tree line on our previous expedition, but if we reach the pinnacle, we should have an excellent view of the island."
"I realize that, Sayid, but it feels awfully exposed up here. We don't know who might be watching."
"Get your jockeys outta their twist, Metro. What're you afraid of, the Boogeyman?"
"Why did you come along, Sawyer? Couldn't you be a jackass on the beach?"
"I could ask the same of you, Sticks. Didn't your mommy write you a note to get you out of strenuous activity like climbing and doing actual work?"
"Bloody shut up, will you? The whole lot of you. Do you hear that?"
The odd collection of castaways came to a stop behind Charlie, who had come up short and tilted his head as if listening for faraway music. Sayid leaned on the walking stick he'd been using to pick his way over the uneven terrain of the steep incline. "What is it, Charlie?" he asked, looking puzzled. "What do you hear?"
Charlie furrowed his brow. "Don't any of you hear that?" he asked.
Everyone else tilted their head in identical fashion, listening intently. Even Sawyer.
"I don't hear anything, Charlie," Jack said with a frown, tugging on the straps of his canvas backpack. "What do you hear?" He shared an anxious look with Sayid, their eyes communicating the same thought: Whisperers.
"It sounds like… water," Charlie said, sounding confused.
Sawyer snorted. "We're on an island, Britcom," he reminded cockily, spreading his arms out to encompass the landscape.
"We're nowhere near the ocean, bonehead," Shannon shot back testily.
"It doesn't sound like surf," Charlie mused, ignoring their bickering. Idly, he began wandering towards a cluster of towering boulders to their left. "It sounds like a fountain."
Sayid and Jack shared another glance, shrugged, and followed him. Sawyer and Shannon brought up the rear, still sniping like kids at Christmas.
That stopped the instant they rounded the boulders.
"Whoa," Shannon breathed, echoing aloud what each of them was thinking.
The boulders were only part of a screen that was comprised of a deep ridge in the side of the mountain which sloped down into a green, luxuriant valley. Like something out of a Hudson River school painting, trees dotted a landscape that was dissected by no fewer than three rivers. If a woman with wild red hair had gone galloping past on a mighty white stallion, it would not have looked out of place.
"I thought I heard something," Charlie said, pointing to their immediate right. All eyes followed the gesture, and they found themselves staring at a natural fountain that spurted up through a fissure in the cairn of rocks. "And you all thought I'd gone loony."
"Not LOONY, Charlie," Jack said hurriedly, scratching the back of his neck. "Just-"
"Mad as a fish?" Charlie finished, arching an eyebrow.
Jack gave him a hopeless smile. "This island does weird things to people," he offered as an apology.
"Oh for God's sake, get a room," Shannon muttered, shoving past them and heading towards the sparkling water.
Sayid was already kneeling beside the fountain, watching the plumes fall back to earth in delicate arches like silver filigree before running in rivulets down the rugged, moss-covered rock face of the ridge. "This is fascinating," he mused as Shannon came to stand beside him.
"What, you ain't never seen water before, Achmed?" Sawyer asked from where he'd perched himself on a rock to shake a cigarette out of his ever-dwindling pack. "How'd you manage to survive being a genuine Iraqi?"
"I have seen water many times," Sayid replied. "But this is not water."
"What?" Charlie furrowed his brow as he and Jack came to stand behind Sayid. "What else could it be?"
Shannon, who had stuck her hand into the stream, pulled it out quickly. "Yeah, what do you mean it's not water?" she asked, looking at her dripping hand with minor panic. "What is it, like, kerosene or something?"
Sayid gave her an amused smile. "Taste it," he said, nodding to her hand.
"It's not arsenic or something, is it?"
"It won't hurt you."
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Sawyer muttered, jumping off his boulder and striding over to the fountain. "Never get a woman to do a man's job."
Jutting his head forward, he opened his mouth over one thin stream. Standing straight, he swished the liquid around in his mouth a few times -- Listerine style -- then swallowed, smacked his lips, and whooped, "Hot DAMN, it's gin!"
"WHAT?" Charlie, Jack and Shannon exclaimed in shocked unison.
"He is right," Sayid agreed. "Gin."
Charlie and Shannon shared a look, then both made a dive for the fountain, cracking skulls as they went.
"Look, sorry, but that's my bit there."
"Like hell it is, has-been. You go stand over there."
"Why should you get the biggest stream?"
"Because I'm a girl."
"Alcohol will give you a gut, you know."
"It also kills brain cells."
"All the more reason you should step away. You can't exactly afford to lose more of those."
Sayid and Jack watched quietly as Shannon and Charlie fought over prime positioning beside the fountain. "Sayid, what is gin doing coming out of the ground?" Jack asked, watching as Charlie elbowed in front of Shannon, only to hop away howling in pain as she stomped on his foot.
"And not just any gin either," Sawyer said excitedly, drawing up next to Jack's elbow. "That's top shelf or my name's no- Or I'm a monkey's uncle!"
Sayid ignored him. "That is an excellent question," he mused, standing up and crossing his arms over his muscular torso. "Perhaps some sort of geological effect whereby hot springs fermented with indigenous plant life?"
Jack's response was interrupted by the sound of feet pounding down the ridge. Everyone turned to watch Sawyer bounding down the rock face towards the valley. "Sawyer!" Jack called after him. "Where are you going!"
The southerner stopped long enough to turn around. "Say what you boys want!" he called back. "But if there's a gin spring, I'm gonna see if there's a goddamn scotch river!"
"What is that SMELL?" Shannon said, wrinkling her nose as they stood in the lush green grass of the valley.
"I'll have you know I took a bath just yesterday, thank you very much," Charlie countered angrily. His foot was still smarting from where she'd dug her heel in.
"I'm not talking about you. Claire wouldn't let you anywhere near her if you smelled like this."
"It smells like… broth."
"Broth. Don't you smell that?"
"I do," Sayid agreed, sniffing the air. Pointing towards the nearby river, he said, "I think it's coming from over there."
They made their way towards the slow moving ribbon of water.
"It looks a little… brown," Charlie said as they came to a stop.
"And sludgy," Jack added, trying to be charitable.
"It looks disgusting," Shannon concluded, tossing charity out the window in favor of truth.
"Is that a potato?" Charlie asked.
Four pairs of eyes watched as a pumpkin-sized yellow lump that looked strangely like a boiled potato floated down the river. It bumped against an orange disk the size of a frisbee that might have been a carrot, before rubbing shoulders with a limp bit of green the size of a log that smelled vaguely of celery.
Charlie started swiveling his head, as if searching for something.
"What are you looking for?" Shannon asked.
"Rod Serling," he answered.
"I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation for this," Jack said. "Right, Say- What are you doing, Sayid?"
"It's beef broth," the Iraqi said from his position on the riverbank. He had knelt down and stuck a finger into the brown river to give it a taste. "Quite good."
"Sayid, oh my God, don't taste the river!" Shannon exclaimed. "You don't know where it's been!"
The former Republican Guard member stood up and smiled. "I'm sure it's quite safe."
"All right, Jack," Charlie said, pointing to the river. "Explain THAT logically. Sodding beef broth with bits of potato and celery. That's stew, that is."
"That is NOT stew," Jack said firmly.
"It bloody is!"
"Charlie, it isn't!"
"And why not?"
"Because there is no such thing as a river made of stew!"
"Hellooooo, doctor!" Charlie made a flourishing gesture to the river. "Tada!"
"No," Jack argued, shaking his head and tightening his jaw. "There's some perfectly sound reasoning to explain this."
"Such as?" Shannon asked, crossing her arms over her stomach haughtily. Even Sayid looked intrigued.
"Such as…. some kind of… radiation leak," Jack said, visibly searching his brain for any kind of rational explanation. "Yes, there must be some kind of unusually high radiation center on the island, and it caused the wild vegetables that grow on the island to morph into unnaturally large sizes. Over the years they've tumbled into the river with the natural process of erosion."
"And the broth?" Charlie asked skeptically.
"Perhaps some animal fell into the same hot springs that made the gin up there," Jack gestured back over his shoulder to the fountain from earlier, "and it turned into broth."
"Ewww, gross," Shannon said, making a face.
"Something fell in the hot springs, eh?" Charlie said, nodding. "Right. It'd have to be a bloody big cow, don't you think?"
"Do you have a better explanation?" Jack asked, annoyed by the fact that he didn't really believe his own theory either.
"Nope," Charlie said with a shrug. "I just think it's a bit odd that natural erosion knows how to slice carrots."
"Where'd Sawyer go?" Shannon asked, breaking into the conversation.
"I saw him heading in that direction," Sayid said, gesturing across the river. They could vaguely make out Sawyer's figure further down the valley.
"What did he do, leap this thing in a single bound?" Charlie asked, staring at the width of the river.
"He must have discovered a natural bridge or ford," Jack surmised.
"Or maybe he paddled across on an enormous Saltine," Charlie countered.
"Let's just find some way to cross it," Jack said, shooting the rock star an annoyed glance. Charlie grinned cheekily.
When they finally found Sawyer, he was flat on his back beside the next river, smoking a cigarette.
"You look comfortable," Charlie observed as the quartet lined up beside the reclining southerner.
"That'd be because I am, cochese," Sawyer said, taking an extra long drag on his cigarette before letting out a cloud of blue smoke. "Hoo-boy, am I ever. This is a little slice of heaven, this valley. Don't figure it's worth going back to the caves."
"Why, because it's got a gin fountain and a river made of stew?" Shannon asked.
"Is that what that was?" Sawyer asked, squinting up at her with an inquisitive smile. "I thought it smelled a little funny. But it didn't smell like alcohol, so I gave it a miss. How'd you all get across?"
"We… found a canoe," Jack said, sounding insecure and scratching the back of his head.
"Jack refuses to believe it was real," Charlie explained.
"I never said it wasn't real," the doctor argued.
"No, you just said it was impossible."
"Did you see the SIZE of it? I've never seen a canoe that big!"
"How did you cross?" Sayid asked.
"Found a set of stepping stones. Or stepping somethings. They felt kind of mushy, if you ask me."
"Were they whitish?" Shannon asked.
She nodded. "Potatoes."
"You don't say?" Sawyer rested his head back comfortably on the verdant grass and closed his eyes. "Why don't y'all pull up a seat and relax for a while. Or better yet, clear out entirely. You're blocking my sun."
"We must continue to explore this valley," Sayid said. "We should not rest before nightfall." An amused smile flickered across his face. "At least we will not have to worry about rations."
"Or spirits," Sawyer added. He gestured to the nearby river. "Take a gander at that."
All eyes but his raised to look at the river. "I imagine it's safe to assume it's not water," Charlie said, voicing the opinion of the whole group.
"You've got that right, brother," Sawyer agreed. He picked up the water bottle at his hip. It was filled with an amber liquid. "That there is the finest scotch-whiskey I have ever tasted."
"You're kidding," Shannon said in disbelief.
"Slim, I don't kid when it comes to liquor. And that ain't all." He patted the front pocket of his shirt, which was bulging. A few cigarettes protruded over the top.
"What about them?" Charlie asked.
"Let's just say I didn't bring 'em with me when we started out on this little adventure."
"You're saying you found a pack of cigarettes?" Shannon asked.
"Not a pack, Blondie. A TREE."
"A cigarette tree?" Jack snorted. "Sawyer, you're losing your mind."
Sawyer shrugged, closing his eyes and basking in the sun. "Believe what you want, Doc, but I'm the one who plucked the filtered Menthols off the branch, not you."
"This is ridiculous!" Jack said, throwing his arms up into the air in frustration. "This place can't exist! A gin fountain pouring down the rocks, a river of stew, and whiskey, too. You can paddle all around them in a BIG canoe-"
"-in the Big Rock Candy Mountains," Charlie sing-songed the end.
Dead silence fell. All eyes slowly turned to Charlie.
He swallowed uncomfortably. "What?" he asked.
"What did you just say?" Jack asked.
"What, you mean what?"
"No, not the what, dumbass," Shannon said snippily. "Before that."
"What, the Big Rock Candy Mountain thing?" Charlie laughed nervously. "It's a song, you know? A bluegrassy folk song. The band did a cover of it once in Bristol. I thought everyone knew it."
Darting eye movements ruled for a minute as everyone looked at everyone else while simultaneously trying to take in the entirety of the valley.
"This is so stupid," Shannon finally huffed. "We DID NOT crash on the Big Rock Candy Mountain. It's not real!"
"So a river of stew is NORMAL?" Sawyer asked.
"It's the most rational explanation I've heard," Jack agreed. He paused. "I can't believe I just said that."
"What evidence do we have?" Sayid asked reasonably. "A river of stew. A river of whiskey."
"They should be lakes," Charlie mused.
"Lakes," Charlie clarified. "In the song there's a lake of stew and whiskey, too." The others stared at him. "Okay, fine, I'm nitpicking." He crouched down to pat the grass, as if debating giving it a taste.
"Alcohol trickling down the rocks," Jack continued the list, turning back to Sayid and pointing over his shoulder towards the gin spring.
"Would that count as a crystal fountain?" Charlie asked, looking up from his spot on the ground. "There's a bit about a crystal fountain."
"Don't forget the cigarette tree," Sawyer reminded, blowing a perfect smoke ring.
All eyes turned to Shannon expectantly.
"What?" she asked, holding up her hands defensively. "I don't listen to bluegrass!"
"Here, eat this rock," Charlie said, standing up and offering her a pebble.
She looked at him like he'd grown a second head. "No way!"
"If this is a Big Rock Candy Mountain, it would seem to suggest it's made of candy, right?" he said. "Look, you don't have to eat it. Just suck on it a bit."
"I am not sucking on your pebble!"
Sawyer snickered. Shannon kicked him.
A chicken chose that moment to go clucking past them, pausing only briefly to lay an egg.
"Well, that doesn't happen everyday," Charlie said.
"Soft-boiled?" Jack asked as Sawyer picked up the egg.
Jack buried his face in his palm. "I don't believe this," he muttered.
"Take heart, Jack," Charlie said, slapping the doctor on the back. "Think of it like this. At least we aren't going to all die of radiation poisoning from eating mutant potatoes, right?" He popped the pebble in his mouth, sucking thoughtfully. After a moment he raised his eyebrows.
"Grape," he said.
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE CAVES…
"Shhh, little guy. Don't wake your mom, all right?"
Walt watched with interest as Kate gently rocked Claire's baby boy. The infant's mother was sleeping nearby, thoroughly exhausted. Walt wondered if it was really hard looking after a baby on a desert island. His mother and Bryan had always said he was difficult, and they'd had TV.
Kate had offered to look after Peter so Claire could get some much needed sleep, and the younger woman had agreed gratefully. Walt was fascinated by the little boy -- the only human on the island younger than he was. He ended up hovering near Kate's elbow as she lulled the newborn to sleep by humming quietly.
"What song is that?" he asked curiously.
Kate smiled at him. "My father used to sing it to me to help me sleep," she said. "It's called 'Big Rock Candy Mountain.' Have you ever heard it?"
Walt shook his head. "How does it go?"
Kate grinned. "Well, I don't have much of a voice, but…" She turned back to the sleeping baby in her arms and began to sing.
"One evening as the sun went down and the jungle fire was burning," she sang softly. "Down the track came a hobo hiking and he said, 'Boys, I'm not turning. I'm headed for a land that's faraway beside the crystal fountains. So come with me and we'll go and see the Big Rock Candy Mountains…'"
Walt listened to the song with rapt attention. A whole world made of food. It made his stomach growl just thinking about it. He thought it was silly for there to be LAKES of stew and whiskey; rivers were more fun. It would be neat, drifting down a river of stew in a big canoe. The best thing about rivers was you never knew where you were going to end up.
He closed his eyes, trying to picture what a Big Rock Candy Mountain might look like. If he concentrated really hard, he could almost see it…
Author's End Note: This is what I get for listening to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack one too many times. LOL!