Thanks to Brenton Harper-Murray of Poor Brenton's Almanac for this two-parter!
For all of little Cyril's eight long years, there had been one threat that had hung over his head like an overripe fruit ready to drop at the slightest provocation. He had never dreamed his father would go through with it.
"Cyril Credence Stokabbye! Clean your room or I'll sell you to a banana plantation!" His father would bellow from his study in the east wing when the nearly geologic layers of filth in Cyril's room fermented enough for the stench to wander far enough to interrupt his study of far eastern trade routes.
This oath rang as empty as a lending library's coffers, to be sure. Cyril knew little of banana plantations, aside from the fact that his father held a substantial share in a shipping line that serviced one in the West Indies, and that they would scarcely be interested in an anemic little fellow that could hardly cut his kipper casserole without assistance from a servant. So, more and more, as years passed, he became more surly and and less quick to comply with his father's ridiculous demands, until one day, he simply ignored them.
His room's filthiness had risen to unparalleled heights, the floor quivering with every cautious step, the aroma very closely resembling that of the titanic pile of fish heads by the docks, so highly coveted by the neighborhood Tom's and transients.
"Right away, father!" Cyril had chirped back down the marble hall. But, in fact, he was lying. He had determined through seconds of deep thought that it made much more sense to continue playing with his Fabergé hoop and stick, rather than clean his room, which wasn't all that bad if you dabbed rose water under your nose from time to time and refrained from glancing at the chandelier, which had developed a strange growth that groaned at night.
He fell asleep, tuckered out from an overabundance of Stick-Hoopery, but was awakened in a way that could be called much less tan pleasant. His father shook him awake in the dead of night, Cyril's bleary eyes hardly able to take in what was happening.
"You will learn a proper work ethic if it kills you."
And down came a foul smelling cloth, clamped over Cyril's face like some sort of stinky vise. His head swam, and the last thing he remembered was his father, saying "You will thank me when you are older."
Cryril remembered coming to in a steel room on an oily cot, a man stood at a rusted basin, shaving his scarred face with what looked like a smallish machete, his reflection glowering in a dusty mirror.
"Ooi, you lil' cuss, make water so's I can get you sleepin' 'gain, don't relish kinderfolk, I don't." He made a menacing gesture with the blade. His incredible swarthiness made Cyril tremble, so he did as he was told, and within moments he was under the rag once more, floating, floating...
His awakening was not in a cot, and it was alien in every way imaginable. The roof above him looked like it was made of a lattice of leaves - huge leaves. He sat up and saw he was in a small room with rough sandy walls, devoid of anything save the dusty mat he sat on and a bucket in the corner. He tried the door, but it was locked. He began to cry, his tears trailing in the dust like dotted lines across the cerulean seas of his father's many maps.
There was a jangling of keys, snap of a padlock, and the door swung open, nearly knocking Cyril down. Before him stood a man shaped like a chimney, dressed in sooty black cloth and a cracked pith helmet. It looked like his mustache hadn't been waxed in days. The unmistakable tang of gin followed shortly after.
"Ah, the fancy lad is up, I see." He smacked a bundle of twine against his knee. "Well, up, up! Let's see that neck, then. Not too snug, eh?" The man lifted little Cyril up by his shirt waist and tied the rough sisal around his neck, it felt like a sliding knot, the sort one puts at the end of a yo-yo string. It was terribly uncomfortable and Cyril continued to mewl in bewilderment. The bad man yanked the cord, silencing the boy.
"Stiff upper lip, lad. We've got two rules here at Golden Acres Bananas," he was slurring badly, leading with the cord, nearly dragging poor Cyril along. "Firstly, any little boy found without a rope around his neck will be thrashed with rattan a dozen times. Secondly any little boy found crying will be shot." He yanked the cord again, Cyril stifled a whimper. "I'll grant you pardon on your first offense back there, as I am a kind and magnanimous man."
They passed a multitude of huts, men unloading carts of bananas and nailing them together to form crates, swearing at the sun and drinking from flasks. Soon they entered the jungle on a well worn path. The air was as dense as peas pudding, but tasted much worse. They came to a clearing and Cyril felt all the color spill from his face.
The clearing was a tornado of crawling activity. A hundred, maybe more, little boys were all tied by their necks to a stout red post in the center of the clearing. They dashed up and down the trees that dotted the area, coming down with bundles of bananas and climbing up with bare scabby feet. The ropes rose and fell like waves in a loose circus tent. A handful of men dressed even more motley then the bad man paced the area, lightly thrashing a boy from time to time if he moved too slowly or got his rope tangled. He was tethered to the post and pointed in the direction of an unoccupied tree, laden with an impossible amount of bananas.
"Get to it!" The bad man shouted, and Cyril did.
A week later Cyril was a changed boy. His hands and feet had become tough as a pair of ill-kept dressage boots. His skin was tan and pocked with the bites of the frightful spiders that made the banana trees their home. The boys tormented him during the little free time they had in the filthy bunkhouse before lights out. The food was little more than a tasteless gruel of coarse flour mixed with lukewarm water. Cyril had grown used to the terrible conditions, but he feared for his body, which grew weaker every day. He didn't think he would last a fortnight.
Until the evening the airship arrived.