Isabelle sat at the edge of her bed, holding in her hands a triple-barreled pump-action combat shotgun that she had found less than one hour earlier at her doorstep, wrapped neatly in a white box with a red bow on top.
On any other day – ANY other day – since she had become the sole member of the welcome committee on Fauxtrot Island, this would have been the strangest thing to happen to her today. Instead, the list had become so long that choosing a single “strangest thing” would have taken hours of deduction and reasoning, penciling through the facts and interpretations of exactly what she had seen.
The facts were these.
Early that morning, Isabelle plodded gently through the sand, leaving perfectly manicured paw marks in her wake. The announcement of a new villager (one of her favorite things!) to Fauxtrot Island had been enough to keep her up the night before. She practiced her welcome speech four times in the vanity mirror gifted to her by Grizz, a grumpy but ultimately affectionate bear from her previous town. Words memorized and authentic smile draped across her face, Isabelle stood with arms placed lightly and politely in front of her waist as the seaplane touched down and shimmied up to the dock like an eager schoolchild approaching the door on his first day of kindergarten. Her excitement brimmed. Nothing in this world could alight the soul quite like meeting a new friend, except, maybe, for a hot cup of Brewster’s coffee on a cold winter’s day.
The door to the seaplane creaked open and Isabelle opened her mouth, words ready on her lips. “Welcome to Fa-“, she stopped, mouth still open, eyes creaking slowly wider.
The foot of the new guest didn’t place softly on the wooden dock as the previous villagers had. The… boot?… slammed onto the wooden planks, driving a bass note heard in the vibration of Isabelle’s bones. The very notion of the dock caused her to quake, nearly losing the grip of her hands to each other. She had difficulty reconciling what she was seeing with what she expected, and the dissonance of imagination to reality caused a temporary lapse in her ability to maintain a professional composure.
Ducking through the clearly too-small seaplane door emerged a behemoth of what could only be described as a “man”, for two arms and a head attached to a torso that was propped up on two legs, and each appendage appeared to move and serve the purpose that arms, legs, heads, and torsos normally did. But Isabelle had never seen a man like this man before. His spine erected and his true height – nearly three times her own – towered upwards above the roof of the plane he had just stepped out of. His armor (though Isabelle had never seen armor, save for a few decorative antiques) was of muddied olive and stained brass. Dark red gruesome splotches bore the tales of a thousand years of horrors.
Isabelle, of course, also could only assume he was a “man”, for his face was covered by a dark visor, and any emotions he showed were hidden behind its opaque glass. No body language lent Isabelle any hints to his demeanor, but his attire suggested something… unsavory.
The dock standoff between Isabelle and the new arrival lasted only four and seven-eighths seconds, but to Isabelle, time seemed to be moving at Mortimer’s walking speed. She swallowed the collected saliva in her mouth and, with determination to fulfill the duties entrusted in her, straightened up, held her head high, and gathered the remaining bits of courage she could muster. “Welcome to Fauxtrot Island,” she resumed. “We’ve been expecting you, Mr… Slayer, is that correct?”
The newcomer showed no signs of having heard her, only standing in the same military fashion with his gaze presumably fixed upon Isabelle’s face.
“Well, Mr. Slayer, if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you where you can set up camp! Other villagers have already arrived, of course, but there’s more than enough room on Fauxtrot Island.” She turned her shoulder and began her stride in a way that, from behind, appeared professional and courteous, but the second her face was hidden from his view, her lips once again spread several inches as her breathing accelerated. She dabbed a small bead of sweat from her forehead, the heavy rumble of his footsteps the only indication that he followed her. She slyly pulled a small notecard from her pocket to check she had the right name, in fear of offending the stranger. Last name: Slayer. First name: Doom. Her correctness provided little in terms of comfort.
The rest of the day progressed as abnormally as their unconventional meeting. Mr. Slayer set up a small camp to the east side of the island’s river, next to a beautiful bluebird named Lola. Lola, who was never shy, invited her neighbor into her tent to appreciate some of her recently acquired furniture, and their directional placements that inspired a certain feeling of zen. She’d expressed hope that one day, her tent would give way to the four walls of a home that she could call her own, and a flowerbed! “Wouldn’t that be nice?” she asked, unaware of her visitor’s oath of silence. If she did notice it, she showed no indication, and promptly asked to see his tent.
Isabelle later learned the screams she heard as Lola sprinted from the man’s tent was his presentation to her of a mancubus’ head. Isabelle didn’t want to ask what a mancubus was.
Tommy, one of Nook’s nephews, explained to the man that because of the abundance of natural resources available on Fauxtrot Island, most goods could be made by hand with just a little bit of elbow grease. He supplied Doom with an axe, showed him how to equip it, and explained the proper technique of swinging towards the tree just right to preserve the integrity of the wood, which could then be used for all sorts of things! Tommy’s excitement was infectious to most other villagers, and he’d hoped to inspire some creative use of materials in such an interesting character.
Moments later, Tommy had been found screaming at the top of his lungs for the man to stop what he was doing. Tommy wasn’t angry, of course, but rather had a hard time being heard over the sound of the man’s chainsaw. It was now Tommy’s duty to replant the nearly three hundred deforested trees.
Timmy, Tommy’s twin brother, sent Doom on an errand to catch a fish. He didn’t care which fish, that wasn’t the point, but it was important for any island dweller to have a good grasp on fishing, at least that’s what Uncle had told him, and no intimidating one-man military machine was going to stop him from making Uncle proud. It wasn’t until he returned with a net that must have weighed the worth of a hundred fish, had those fish not previously been the victim of something strapped across the man’s back, simply labeled “B.F.G.”, that Timmy thought he probably should’ve tagged along to provide some guidance.
Isabelle sighed after washing her dishes that evening. Her dinner was the usual fare – rice, a vegetarian stew, and a cup of warm almond milk – and had provided some sort of normality to an otherwise altogether abnormal day. She returned to her dark wood table in the middle of her kitchen and pulled out her walkie talkie. “Mr. Nook? Are you there?”
“I’m here,” buzzed the response. “Everything okay, Iz?”
“Everything’s okay, just… I don’t know.” She leaned onto the table and put her head down in her arms.
“What is it?” Nook was nothing if not a caring supervisor.
“It’s the new villager, Mr. Nook,” she said from the crook of her elbow.
“What about him?”
“It’s just…” Isabelle stopped. She didn’t know what to say, and let out a short burst of air through her nose. “He’s so different from us, Mr. Nook. He scared Lola. Lola doesn’t scare easily, Mr. Nook. You know that! Remember how she ate the level ten spicy curry!? No one else could do that, not Biff, not Mitzy, only Lola! She’s tough, Mr. Nook, and she-“
Tom cut her off. “Isabelle. Calm down. Breathe.” She stopped and caught herself in a moment of minor panic. “Is it just that he’s different? Is that all that has you worried?”
She took a moment to collect her thoughts, sitting up a little straighter. He didn’t seem particularly mean, and besides the rugged exterior, he almost seemed rather helpful and eager to participate in the island activities. “I think that’s it, yes,” she said quietly.
“We’re all different, Iz,” came Tom’s voice from the speaker. “You’re a dog. I’m a raccoon. Bruce is a human, I think, but he has horns? I’m not sure, and it’s not important, but Doom Slayer is supposedly Bruce’s friend. And even if he wasn’t, wouldn’t that be okay?” Tom gave Isabelle a short pause to reflect. He continued. “That’s the beauty of Fauxtrot Island. We’re all welcome here. There’s something for everyone here.”
Isabelle sobered now. Tom wasn’t wrong. Tom was never wrong. “You’re right, Mr. Nook.” She sat fully up right now, and a small smile curled across her lips. “Tomorrow, I’ll show him the museum. I’m sure he’ll love that!”
“I’m sure he will, Isabelle. That’s a great idea.” Tom’s voice remained the same even tempo. “Is there anything else?”
“No, Mr. Nook. I’m sorry to have bothered you. Have a good night!”
“You too, Isabelle.”
The walkie talkie returned to static. A small knock at the door returned Isabelle’s thoughts to her surroundings. Not expecting anyone, but always appreciating company, she stood up and strode to the door. She swung it open happily to find no one; just a small, white package with a ruby red ribbon and a bow on top.
And now, she sat at the edge of her bed with crumpled white paper at her feet with the red ribbon beneath it, holding a triple-barreled pump-action combat shotgun across her lap, entirely too large for her. Of course, Isabelle had never seen a shotgun – or any firearm, for that matter – in her life, and was completely unaware that it was a triple-barreled pump-action combat shotgun at all, but the dark, scarred wood, and chipped metals were a motif that only one villager on all of Fauxtrot Island could pull off in the spring. When she opened it, she hadn’t touched it for some time. It smelled faintly of sulfur and didn’t look like any furniture she had ever seen before. She walked around it once or twice, poked it with a stick (also once or twice), had just a minor panic attack (more than once or twice), and finally sat on the bed for almost thirty minutes, staring at it, nearly expecting it to move.
Finally, she approached it quietly, bent beside it, whispered a quiet “Here goes…”, and hoisted the weapon with great effort. And now, here she sat, metal heavily weighing on her thighs, a gift from the Doom Slayer, newest villager of Fauxtrot Island. “What does a secretarial pup do with a triple-barreled pump-action combat shotgun?” she would have thought, had she known the name of the item in her grasp.
Positioned squarely just a few feet above the pillow of her bed was a hung photograph. The photo, artistically sepia-toned and in a light wooden frame, portrayed Isabelle, overjoyed, standing next to a young boy, brown-haired with a horned cap, shovel in hand, smiling. He had come not long ago and had turned a once barren island into a tropical destination for animals and humans alike.
Bruce was helpful and kind and fun and a hard worker, but most of all he was silly. He would vault over the river for fun, and make deliveries to townspeople for no good reason, and he would call them nicknames and bring foreign fruit from other islands and sometimes, he would disappear into his home for a couple of days and Isabelle would miss him, but he would always come back. And the silliest thing he did was shortly after coming to the island, he began telling everyone about his friends, and they started to come to, and they would spend all day seemingly doing nothing, but the island was so pretty now, and so much better because they were here.
And now Mr. Slayer had arrived, and he was different. But Bruce was different, and Mr. Nook was different, and Isabelle concluded that maybe she was a bit different too. Fauxtrot Island, supposed Isabelle, was a place for different people, and no matter how different you were, you could come and be a part of this island, and it was so much better because you were there.
Before bed, Isabelle got a hammer from the red toolbox under her bed, and a small shelf she had kept in her wardrobe for an occasion that maybe she would find the perfect thing to put on that shelf. Under the framed photo of her and Bruce, Isabelle fixed the shelf to the wall and, with no small amount of grunting and heaving, lifted the triple-barreled pump-action combat shotgun to the shelf and positioned it so that its most appealing side (which in itself was rather difficult to choose) was facing outward to the room, as a token of her friendship with the new villager.
She put the hammer away, slid into bed, and turned off the bedside lamp. “Tomorrow, we’ll go see the museum, Mr. Slayer,” she whispered, as she drifted off to sleep and a headful of dreams.