Matt Hlinak


Part I


Diary of Culann Riordan, Day 1

I don’t know what day it is or how long I’ve been out here or how long it’s been since I found it, so I’m just going to have to call this Day 1. I’m not sure who I’m writing to, since I don’t think I’ve got very long to live, nor do I expect anyone who finds this diary to have long to live either. Maybe it will be found by people from a future society whose science (magic?) is sufficiently advanced to allow them to survive on this island.

Maybe I’ll be able to teach the dogs to read…

The point is—well, I guess I don’t have a point, since I’m really just killing time.

If I had a point it would be that I’m writing this for myself, not even with the expectation that I’ll ever read what I’m writing, but that perhaps the act of writing will help me understand what has happened. That I’m even in this mess seems to me to be clearly the result of my misdeeds, but the fact that I alone survived tells me… what? Do I deserve to still be alive, or is my survival continued punishment?

I feel reasonably good today (if you can even call what this is “today” when I haven’t seen the sun rise or set in weeks). The right leg is almost completely healed, which has taken a lot of the pressure off the left leg, leading to modest improvement on that front. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk without my trusty barstool-leg cane. As you (whoever you are) can see by my penmanship, the right hand is a mess, but I’m considering myself lucky that I can even write at all.

The dogs are driving me crazy. I can’t take more than three steps without tripping over one of them. It creeps me out the way their eyes follow me whatever I do. Dozens of guileless eyes always trained on me, monitoring my slightest movement. I can’t tell if it’s out of loving devotion, or whether they’re planning the perfect moment to leap on top of me and strip the flesh from my bones. I can’t get that image out of my head…

I don’t know what I’d do without them.


Like many of Pyrite’s other residents, Culann Riordan had run into some trouble in the Lower Forty-Eight and hoped for a fresh start in America’s last frontier. Pyrite is a remote island village about a mile off Alaska’s west coast. In the summer, the population peaks at around forty, mostly fishermen. The rest are the women and children hearty and unfortunate enough to belong to the family of an Alaskan fisherman.

Culann arrived in Pyrite in early June, just before the end of the school year.

Someone else would be administering the final exams for his classes. He stumbled off the ferry, dropping his near-empty thermos onto the dock. What little vodka remained soaked into the planks. Culann kicked the thermos into the water where it bobbed in the ferry boat’s wake. The captain, a fat, little man dressed incongruously in a Hawaiian shirt, smirked and reversed his engines, heading back to the mainland. Culann had been his only passenger, and no one had come to greet their arrival.

At this time of year and at this latitude, the sun barely dipped below the horizon in the evening. The sun was out of sight, but its light still bleached the night sky. Between the black water below him and the pale sky above, the world in which Culann found himself seemed completely devoid of color, like the surface of the moon. It was a far cry from the miles of lush lawns he’d been accustomed to back home.

He reached into his pocket and drew out a crumpled post-it note with 27 Pyrite Avenue scribbled on it. He walked to the end of the dock and stepped down onto a long, gravel road that seemed to stretch the length of the small island. Though it was unmarked, Culann assumed he was standing on Pyrite Avenue since he could see no other roads. Off to his right was a short trailer which ran right up to the road. A post pounded into the ground next to it had a 1 painted on it. To his left was little more than a log cabin, which had a 2 painted on its door.

He trudged up the gravel road, setting off a symphony of barking dogs. One dog owner or another would periodically tell the mutts to shut the hell up without success.

Culann didn’t encounter anyone aside from a sixtyish Native woman with long black hair wearing a raincoat despite the clear skies above. She waved stoically from the doorway of a humble dwelling as he passed by. Culann waved back.

About a mile from the dock, Culann came upon a dirty, white trailer with a rusty trash barrel out front that had a 27 painted on it. A thunderous barking emerged from behind the thin aluminum door. A familiar voice called out, “Fuck off, Alphonse,” and the barking ceased. Eager to be reunited with his cousin, Culann quickened his pace. He promptly tripped over a rut and pitched headfirst into the concrete step leading up to Frank’s front door.

“Culann, is that you?”

Frank flung the door open. The bottom corner caught Culann on the forehead just as he was pushing himself off the ground. He rolled to his back and lay on the grass with one bloody gash in his forehead from the door joined by a smaller cut on the temple from the fall.

“What the hell happened to you?” Frank asked.

“I believe I lost my footing,” Culann replied with a slight slur to his speech.

“And you’re supposed to be the smart one,” Frank said with a smile.

Frank grabbed his cousin under the armpits and dragged him up over the step and into the trailer.


Before moving to Alaska, Culann had been a high school English teacher with poor impulse control and a taste for liquor. He’d left Schaumburg, Illinois, before they could yank his teaching certificate and possibly toss him in jail. Frank offered to help Culann get on a commercial fishing vessel with him. Culann had no other prospects for employment, so he accepted. But it was more than just a job. The work was exotic, grueling and fraught with peril. It was like he was being punished and rewarded at the same time. If he could hack it, he would emerge stronger, wiser and cleansed of his sins.

The cousins had been close as kids, growing apart as they got older. Frank was a year older, and they’d spent much of their youth traipsing together through the woods by Frank’s house. Frank maintained his love of the wilderness into adulthood, while Culann developed into a suburban mallrat. In their teenage years, the fifty-mile distance between their respective high schools became an unspannable chasm. They had their own friends, their own hobbies. Frank was into ice hockey, hunting and White Zombie, while Culann preferred soccer, video games and Weezer. After high school, Culann went off to college, and Frank became a roofer. They’d only seen each other at a handful of family gatherings in the past decade, although Culann had attended both of Frank’s weddings.

After five years in Alaska, Frank was barely recognizable. He had a bushy, black beard that obscured his dimpled-cheeks. His hair, which he’d worn in a crewcut for most of his life, flared out wildly from beneath his tattered Blackhawks hat. Always taller and stockier than Culann, he now sported an impressive beer gut that strained against his t-shirt. Though Culann had softened considerably from his soccer-playing days, he was still slim. The two had often joked about the prodigious bellies their fathers hauled around, but Frank was now every bit the

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