A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Step"
Originally featured on 11-13-2007
As part of our series "Journey To A New Word"

The following is a transcript of the contents of a whiskey bottle found floating in the Caribbean:

The foreword suggested journaling. So here I go.

Spring — Afternoon — 1 Day since full moon

Today, I tried to capture Gilly on the Northeast end of the island. Willy told me that he had been hanging around by the waterfall (the one by the lagoon where I saved Gilly’s life). I crept through the bushes quietly. I froze when I saw a grub inching its way down the side of a tree. I dropped my net and sprang at it in the same second. I snatched it and mashed it between my teeth. I could tell it wasn’t Gilly. I picked up my net and kept going towards the falls.

I climbed a tree and waited. A few hours later and no sign of him.


Spring — Evening — 1 Day since full moon

I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in 2 years. I stopped drinking with God’s help. That’s what I thought at the time. I sit here in my carved tree trunk chair, having just looked over a twelve step manual that washed up in a crate last week.

This afternoon was my first direct contact with such material, the 12 Steps. I like it. I like a lot. I think I’ll be able to use it—to capture Gilly.

Gilly is a generally a monkey. But, I recognize Gilly in all his incarnations. All his shapeshifting can’t hide his venomous, SPITEFUL! — He’s so spiteful. To think how I rescued him, how I saved his miserable life and, for what? To be betrayed.

He’s primal. Betrayal is one of the most primal instincts man possesses. He’s not a man. But we’re all descended from the same copulating, miterating, fucking, peeing energy.

Evolution started with a much more diluted, hidden form of it.

Amoebas, though seemingly innocent and incapable of betrayal, take no responsibility for their offspring. They ignore their children, as do their counterparts on the evolutionary ladder, Man. They also fuck themselves, which can be a betrayal of the self.

I’m guilty of fucking myself, certainly. When I boarded the Silly Gilly, my thirty-five foot sailboat in a drunken rage two years ago, I fucked myself. And I fucked myself good.

My father was certainly guilty of the other type of betrayal, ignoring his children. And while the Amoeba and virtually all other animals are guilty as well. At least the Amoeba, and the Sea Turtle and even the Giraffe, grant their offspring a dignified equality in their ignorance. An Amoeba doesn’t watch his children grow, because he trusts them to survive (and survive well!) on their own.


(Drawing of a paternal Amoeba [with moustache] and son [wearing skipper’s cap] shaking hands)


My shredded loin cloth is flapping in the breeze as I look at the vessel of my former passion. You see, my father tried to ground me. His 35-year old son. He tried to ground me to the guest house. He didn’t want me to take out the Silly Gilly — the one thing that brought me pleasure.

I can see the remains of Silly Gilly from here. Leaned over on its side. Torn sails. The white paint chipped and eaten by the salt water and the sun.

Oh, the sun. I shall not forget the sun! Once I’ve got Gilly, I’ve plans for the sun.


(Drawing of a sun stepping onto a pile of leaves)

(Drawing of sun falling down a shaft)

(Drawing of sun impaled by spears)


But first, Gilly. The little bastard to which I gave everything, including my name. The little fucker responsible for the pee smell on my chair every morning. I’ll never forget when he tried to burn me alive in my tree hut.

I should document that story.

My tree hut reflects my ingenuity. It’s amazing, even to me, how cool it is. After I’ve got Gilly and he can’t steal the coconuts that I leave for the planes to see, I’ll be rescued. I plan to have the pilots photograph my hut. Then when I get back to Miami, I’ll take those photographs and show them to my father.

He’ll see what a man I’ve become!

It took resourcefulness to build. See, some of it is bamboo (the walls, the floor). Some of it is reeds (the windows, the roof, the bed). Some of it is guano (the roof). I took the mirror, the port holes and the telescope from the wreckage of the Silly. It’s perfectly asymmetrical. It’s like a five pointed star that’s been stepped on by something heavy.

When Gilly Tried to Burn My Hut:

I was putting on my face one evening in front of the mirror. For the past year, I’ve become quite reliant on face paint to relax me at night. I make the paint by crushing a purple orchid and blue flower and then mixing the powder with rain water.

I heard the sounds of disturbed tarantulas and thought nothing of it. They’re easily disturbed.

A few moments later, sitting Indian style on my bed, wearing my grass skirt and reading Curious George for the Nth time; I started thinking about Gilly. This isn’t unusual. When I read Curious George, it reminds me of Gilly. I always wanted to be his “man in the yellow hat” — a true father I never had.

I heard his voice. At first, I thought it was just my imagination because I was thinking about him. But I heard the big tree rustling and then smelled fur and I ran to the window.

Pushing aside grass curtains, I looked down and saw him. Gilly was stabbing the antenna from the Silly into the ground. He winked at me with his yellow right eye. Gilly’s wink and my father’s wink are identical. Their eyelids close and then open at the same condescending speed.

With the seven foot antenna stuck into ground at the base of my hut, he ran off. For a few blissful moments, I thought Gilly had changed. I assumed that he’d brought me the large rod as some sort of peace offering. In those moments, I remained completely ignorant to the weather.

I jumped as a crackle of lightning hit the antenna. When I came to, I was surrounded by flames. My hut was on fire.

I dragged myself out into the woods screaming “Gilly.” I found my way to the beach. I knelt and prayed that my hut wouldn’t burn entirely to the ground. God heard me, he must’ve cause at that moment a strong burst of rain came showering down and put out the flames.

The mirror survived, but the telescope did not. Gilly had planned it all. He was trying to kill me. He’d cost me my telescope (which I looked through everyday for passing ships) and wrecked two walls of my hut.

My knees digging into the sand, watching the smoke rise from my hut, I had to accept that he would never again be my Curious Gilly and our days collecting bananas together were over.

Why Gilly Tried To Burn My Hut

The short answer to this question is that Gilly is a spiteful, self-hating monkey that blames me for being stuck on this island. At the same time, he doesn’t want me to get off and tries at every turn to sabotage my efforts. From kicking the coconuts each night to the traps he sets throughout the island, Gilly does his best to keep me here. He even shifted himself into a grub once. He convinced an army of grubs to follow him in invading and eating my hut.

Spring — Morning — 2 Days since full moon

I’ll take another sip of my coconut milk before starting to journal this morning. The hot breeze is already coming in off of the water. I woke up face down in the sand today. I remember trying to chase Gilly and stop him from moving the coconuts and little else.

The stories of Gilly’s many betrayals are more upsetting to me than the story of how I got stuck on this island. Gilly’s attacks are entirely the product of his contempt. Perhaps his contempt just for me, or perhaps his contempt for all men.

That day my father’s new bride and he returned from their honeymoon.

For three in the afternoon, it was quite dark outside. We could see the big gray clouds through the glass sliding doors that led out of the guest house.

I reached for the bottle of Blue Label whiskey sitting on top the dusty box of chess pieces. Just as the neck of the bottle dangled over my high ball glass, the room caught my attention. I looked at the walls layered with photos of him. I saw my father behind regatta trophies and posing in ads for men’s suits. An eighties magazine cover that declared my father, surrounded by bikinis, “The Hugh Hefner of Yachting!”

My father’s boundaries had been clear. I was to pack up and leave the main house and go to the guest house. I wasn’t to leave the guest house and I was no longer allowed to sail my boat. If I didn’t listen, I’d be disowned. I had already been disowned, in my opinion. But I think he meant he’d kick me out and cut off my allowance.

(Drawing of man [wearing sailor’s cap] flying through air after being kicked by man [wearing moustache])

He blamed me for the breakup of his last marriage (his sixth). I wasn’t to even allowed speak to Ursula — I think it was Ursula. He never let me meet her.

I lifted the bottle to my mouth and swallowed. The next thing I remember is being warm rain hitting my face as I dragged a chest full of liquor and supplies down the dock. Shaking my fist and yelling at the main house.

I untied the Silly and set sail towards the gray horizon. A few hours later, I found myself in a hurricane.


Spring—Late Afternoon — 3 days since full moon

Sunset is close and I’m a bit nervous. When I get nervous, I sometimes find comfort in God’s will. God wanted me to stop drinking then, and he wants me to catch Gilly now. He used the sea to make both things happen, as is his wont. As he has often done in the Bible. So, I will use the 12 steps and perhaps triumph. I don’t have time for all twelve, but I can tackle the first of them.

Step 1: Honesty
”After many months of denial, recovery can begin when with one simple admission on my part.”

I haven’t caught Gilly because part of me doesn’t want to him to be caught. Or, well, to be perfectly honest, I’m the only Gilly on this island. There is no monkey to catch. I don’t remember most nights, but I know that I find a man’s footsteps and not a monkeys by the coconuts each morning. I know that I never wake up having to pee and my carved tree chair is doused. The last thing I remember every day is putting on my paint. I think that it makes me hallucinate. But I can’t help myself.

Sometimes, images flash in front of my face. Of me running around naked in the moonlit sand, kicking coconuts and chasing Gilly. In these bits of memory, I’m always grinning. I pray it’s not all I have left.

Read More By Doug Dean

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

Archives Archives