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I woke up on an island. I hardly even knew that I’d fallen off the ship, found it hard to even recall what I had being doing because in my drunken stupor I must have clunked my head on the deck chair as I’d grabbed at it on the way down. When I came too I was sprawled on a beach of white sand, the sun blazing onto my bare back with the said deck chair lying on top of me.
My head was throbbing and I could hardly think as I automatically staggered to my feet and stumped up the slanting beach toward a grass bank and some shady palms. I collapsed on the grass and the lights went out once again.
When I came around again, the lights had gone out. It was night and my throat was parched and I groaned involuntary as I sat up. The pain had lessened and I starred out to sea past the white sand, grey in the gloom and the whispering surf. Far out past a line of white fluorescent foam the night sky touched down on the ocean and it was filled with bright twinkling stars.
The Southern Bell had disappeared. There wasn’t the tinniest light to show where she may have been. There was nothing man made in this whole desolate expanse. Just me, the stars, this island and the sea.
Or so I thought.
For a long time I lay flat on the grass looking up at the stars and listening to every tiny sound the island made. It was odd, just lying there, listening to the singing of insects, the occasional bird cry, even in the night, the gentle wind in the trees blowing out to sea and the far off boom, boom of the surf on the reef. It was strange not to hear the sound of vehicles roaring by, of people chatting, city sounds that had always been a part of my world. Strange to be here with the sounds of this world magnified it seemed so that I caught every whisper and breath of wind, every chirp of the bugs in the bush as if my senses were magnified, as if my ears were hearing for the first time what they were designed to hear and then I was asleep.
I awoke with the sun on my face and in an instant was fully alert. I scrambled up and stood with my hand shading my eyes searching the coast line as it swept in a long curve and there on a point jutting out from the reef half submerged in the lagoon was a boat. Not large and not whole, the planks stripped away from half of the side facing me exposing ribs as if it had been picked clean by predators. The bow was submerged and facing shore ward sunk beneath the calm waters of the lagoon but the cabin was well above the water line. A forty foot sloop with no masts or spas, just the shell of the boat basically and the cabin.
Thirst was causing me to swallow and my mouth tasted salt. I needed to take stock. I wore a T st louis cardinals zip up los angeles dodgers shirt and a pair of jean shorts. My sneakers were soggy and uncomfortable and I quickly took them off and tipped them up removing sand and grit. I placed them on the grass to dry in the sun. I had a wallet and a handkerchief in my pocket, a set of keys and my glasses case. That was it.
I needed to get water fast. I needed to find out where I was fast.
I was feeling refreshed after my nights sleep although my head still pounded and there was a goose egg on the left side where the deck chair had whacked me. For the life of me I couldn’t remember a lot about that tumble into the sea. I couldn’t remember much about anything.
My skin was itchy, not from insect bites thankfully but more from the stiff clothing, starched from the sea water. I took them off, removed the items from my pocket I felt reasonably sure there was no one about in these parts, at least my instincts told me so. There was no sign of life and the beach was deserted, the only sign of humanity, or where humanity had been, the wreck across the lagoon.
I shook the T army veteran los angeles dodgers shirt vigorously and pounded it hard on the grass, scrunching it up and rubbing the material together softening it up then I did the same with my shorts. I trotted down to the water across the white sand. A sheet of wafer thin sand crunched under my bare feet.
The water was almost warm and I carefully waded out to my waist checking the bottom for coral or sharp rocks but it remained sandy. There were fish there, some quite large, half a meter in length flashing blue and red as the light caught them. I dove under and came up shaking my head tossing the water from my hair, laughing. Grabbing at fish with my bare hands was as successful as grabbing at sunlight. It lifted my mood however. Things could be a lot worse. I could still be floating around in the ocean out there on that damn silly deck chair waiting for a pina colda that would never come.
When I returned to my pile of clothes my new york yankees hawaiian shirt had dried. I shook out the remaining bits of sand and slipped them on, dressed quickly, had a last look out to sea and then was off into the jungle behind the palms. There was a large hill, tree and bush covered but at least if I got up there I could get a better idea as to just where I was. Already I could hear cries and squawking coming from the forest and the flap flap of bird wings was constant overhead as sea birds went about there tasks.
What I wasn’t too happy about was the loud calls and chatter echoing down from that hill. I searched about as I left the brightness of the beach and headed into the jungle. It didn’t take long for me to find what I was looking for. A fallen branch a couple of meters long and a good grip for my hand. I pulled off some leaves and small twigs leaving a smooth walking stick. It would also serve as a weapon if the creatures in this forest were in anyway predatory.
One thing was sure, I had to find water and I had to find food.
Immediately on entering the jungle the gloom came down after the brightness of the day like an eclipse. My eyes adjusted easily and the whole atmosphere was a relief, a respite from the heat of the beach. The bush was thick and I began picking a path through it. Sounds of chattering were loud up ahead and I hadn’t gone far before the first curious monkey swung between the branches and into the foliage of a giant tree. The larger the trees the less dense the bush where I walked and I began to climb upward. To my surprise I was able to follow a winding track and as my body adjusted to the exertion and the coolness so too my mind cleared.
I remembered the ship, the Southern Bell, a cruise ship with twelve hundred people aboard, eleven hundred and ninety nine now, and the events leading up to my fall. The two men at the bar, singing and getting drunker, one large, the other thin and weasel like his face quite pale, obviously having spent hours in front of a computer screen. I sat watching the videos that flashed onto the wall of the Swingers Bar minding my own business when they came and sat down beside me. Immediately the atmosphere had altered become a little strained as they jostled and jigged in time to the music intent it seemed on annoying all the other patrons. I knew who they were. Lady Ingham was aboard and they were her minders. Fred Ingham had employed me for a specific job and they had been the only difficulty. But then they were easily side-tracked and I’d already accomplished my mission.
I began to breath hard, the path was steeper now but it was still a path that wound its way up the hill and then it leveled out. I pushed past a large clump of bracken into a clearing and then looked up. A tree house was nestled about fifty feet above the forest floor. The whole area was planted in banana and despite the forest being populated by monkeys the banana plants were laden. It took me very little time to prize down a large bunch with my stick and peeling back the yellow skin I ate into them.
There was a rope ladder that reached down to ground level. “Hello,” I yelled causing a great flapping and an outbreak of chattering. Silence returned except for the far off sound of surf on the reef.
Listening hard I waited but the forest was strangely silent after my yelling. I took a grip and quickly made my way up the ladder swinging slightly and twisting, hoping nothing would snap and send me hurtling back down to the ground.
The ladder led to a small landing area and I climbed onto it and walked across to a door. I listened some more and then pushed. It seemed to be stuck so I put my shoulder to it and with that burst into the room beyond. With rushing and screeching about half a dozen monkeys took off through the oblong space forming what would have been a window if there had been any glass but which was effectively an archway onto a wide veranda. There in a crude rocking chair made from bamboo was a figure.
“Hello,” I said coughing. The figure didn’t move and I took a tentative step into the room. Eerily my neck hairs rose but I kept on, walking over the bamboo, fern covered floor, past a long table and out onto the landing through the archway. I walked around to face the person sitting there silent, unmoving and then my hand flew to my mouth. The skeleton sitting there, still clothed, was grinning, it’s jaw-bones open, a few sparse hairs clinging to the skull.
Backing into the room I crashed down into another bamboo chair. I was breathing in quick gasps and then slowly I took stock. There was a table beside the chair where I sat with a few odds and ends, tins of food, and on the floor stacked against one wall, bottles of water. I went over and scooped one up. This old sailor had become marooned when his sloop had run aground, perhaps in a storm, perhaps on purpose some long time ago and here he stayed living out the last of his days the best way he could.
His misfortune was going to be my good luck. I would survive now and I would be found. I went back to the table opened the bottle and swallowed and swallowed. The water tasted like the best drink I’d ever had. For a time I sat there relishing the moment then I took the glass case out of my pocket and opened it. I’d never had to wear glasses in my life and in fact had twenty twenty vision. The row of diamonds still glistened there and in the center nestled amongst them was a tiny flashing beacon of light.
Sir Fred Ingham had trusted me to swap Lady Ingram’s jewels with imitation copies but he hadn’t trusted me completely enough after that. I was quite glad about this state of affairs now, especially after Lady Bingham stooges had whacked me on the head with the deck chair and thrown me and the chair overboard because the homing beacon would insure the diamonds would be found and me along with them. At least that was my hope. I sat for a long while out on the veranda next to my new found friend and then I knew what I had to do when my rescuers arrived. It wasn’t only going to be bananas for brunch that day.
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write by Gladys