“Sixty-four,” he muttered, staring at the latest knife mark on the dead palm tree that he’d chosen for such a task.
He sheathed the Bowie knife, which he discovered on day thirty-six. There it was, just lying there on a rock next to the crashing surf in its fine leather sheath, like it had been placed there by a helpful sea god. It gleamed brightly in the sun, and instantly replaced the wooden sticks and flint rock he’d fashioned for the same tasks.
His first use of it was to shave off the beard he’d grown while living here. The blade was razor sharp and did a great job.
He stared up at the settling sky. He thought of how, just after waking up here—wherever “here” was—that he’d not camp in caves ever again. Not after that giant spider. Fuckin’ thing had to be a hundred pounds!
But after running into even bigger ones and killing them—and eating them—he soon lost his fear of them. Their freakish size made them somewhat sluggish.
(They didn’t taste like chicken. More like chili rellenos. With extra green sauce.)
His cave was near the lagoon, just a half-mile in or so. Two weeks after waking up here, he fell in it. He was goddamn lucky: a deep pool of fresh water waited at the bottom, which was at least thirty feet down. It flowed out a large hole into a tumbling creek that found light a hundred or so feet later. The current dragged him there. He was damn lucky he didn’t drown or impale himself on stalagmites.
The cave’s vertical opening (as opposed to the horizontal one he fell into) was five meters in diameter and well-camouflaged, and was completely dry next to the creek’s bank. It was also spiderless and overhung with mangos and bananas. The creek tumbled happily out of it towards the lagoon. In fact, towards the very falls he had drunk from his first day here. This was its source.
He needed clothing. He had these torn black servant’s pants and nothing else: not even a clean pair of socks. His bare feet were covered in calluses when not bleeding or infected. There were needles buried in the sand and dirt here and there. They were like cactus needles, but thinner, about an inch in length, and hard as fuck to pull out. If he stepped in a patch it was a sure bet he wasn’t going to step on anything else for a week or more. His feet would swell up and then crack and bleed. Fucking painful.
He marked trails he knew were free of them. On this day, sixty-four days after being marooned here, he went back to the beach via the least traversed one. Hell, if a Bowie knife was just sittin’ there like a ready piece of tail, then why not clothes?
He was sunburned and covered in mosquito and fly bites. His dark skin looked almost like it had been dipped in coal dust, with red pustules here and there.
He got to the rock where the Bowie knife had been, and sat.
Rain was coming. He was damn grateful for it. The fucking sun was cooking him like a Christmas ham.
“All right,” he murmured. “I find my life here. I find food and water and shelter here. I find this knife right here on this rock. So why not give me some fucking clothes? Can’t you see I’m suffering?”
Who was he speaking to? He didn’t know.
He gazed seaward. The incoming storm, a green-gray veil over the water, made him think of the Minnow.
Was he the only survivor? Why? Why would anyone save his skinny ass? Why save it and then haul it however goddamn thousands of miles from the scene of the crime and dump him like a five-dollar hooker? Why?
The rain came in like a tsunami. In seconds he was drenched. It felt like heaven.
Wind quickly made everything horizontal. He struggled to his feet. The tree line was a hundred yards off. He got to it and huddled against a large coconut palm.
Lightning. Very close. That didn’t happen often here. He glanced up when hail began falling.
“Fucking A,” he muttered.
It was turning into a goddamn hurricane. He huddled even tighter and swore under his breath.
A gust caught him and actually pushed him away from the tree, which was swaying dangerously and threatening to snap. He rolled to his feet and lunged for a hold on the trunk and just managed to get his arms around it just as another violent gust grabbed him and lifted him off his fucking feet!
“Holy shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!” he bellowed, hanging on for all he was worth.
Another gust tore him away. He flew an unknown distance ass-backwards and smacked his head into something and blacked out.
He woke on his back in a puddle. His head throbbed. He had trouble uncrossing his eyes. Concussion.
The storm had passed. Clouds raced overhead like those in a video game. An apocalyptic sun peeked through them occasionally.
He tried lifting himself up. He was one giant ache.
Any broken bones?
He inspected himself while fighting dizziness and nausea.
Nothing but his noggin seemed damaged.
He leaned right and dry heaved. When the spasms abated, he tried standing.
“Bad idea,” he murmured as he swayed uneasily on his feet.
He woke face down next to the puddle. If he’d face-planted in it, he’d be dead now.
If he’d face-planted in it during the storm, he’d be dead now.
“Fuck me,” he groaned. “That’s twice now. How lucky a fucker can a guy get?”
He laughed at that. Lucky?
He was stranded on an island with no help on the way! No passing ships, no planes overhead ... He’d given up on the signal fire weeks ago.
He had his pants, a knife, and a cave for shelter! That was it!
He’d been here sixty-four fucking days! He’d been struck at by giant snakes, poisoned by a dozen varieties of plants, chased by boar, jaguars, and spiders, and, once, was swarmed by three-inch-long wasps!
He chuckled. “Yeah, bitch. Lucky.”
He remembered his CO’s words:
“The difference between life and death often comes down to the thin film of attitude. If it sucks, that film will be weak and easily defeated, and you’ll die. If it’s positive and strong, you’ll have a shot at getting to the next day with most of your skin. You listening, Santayana?”
He pulled himself to his hands and knees. “I’m listening. I’m listening.”
The dizziness and headache were gone. So too the nausea.
He blinked and looked around. He could just see the jungle around him.
The middle of the night, then. Fuck.
Nighttime on this island belonged to the many predatory species that called it home. He’d learned that lesson almost from the off.
He reached for his knife. Did he still have it?
Yes. Lucky yet again.
He got to his feet, taking his time. He started in a full crouch, pushing himself very slowly up. When his knees finally locked, he gingerly fingered the back of his head. A dried blood clot the size of his palm made him wince.
A concussion that severe would not heal so quickly. But this island had shown him that regular healing times anywhere else on Earth didn’t apply here. He healed much faster than normal here. All those wasp stings—probably two hundred of them—would’ve killed him anywhere else. But here? Here he screamed for two days straight with a raging fever that probably topped a hundred five, then woke the morning of the third with most of the welts gone or hugely diminished and the fever broken.
Lucky? Fuck yeah.
Even in the dark he could see that the jungle had been decimated by the storm. He was surrounded by downed trees. The air was still and, for once, cool.
How far had he flown? The beach, he guessed, was just ahead and to the left a hundred yards.
He climbed over the trees in a steady crouch, knife at the ready.
He gazed up.
The Milky Way was a glowing silver-white paint-brush across a navy sky. He spied Venus, well down to the west, and saw its reflection in the sea. He made his way towards it.
He laughed in disbelief. He had flown at least six hundred feet! Two football fields! The beach was a fucking long way off!
He was hungry and thirsty. He picked up a coconut—one of hundreds lying here and there, and sat at a boulder and began the work to open it. He drank deeply from the opening he drilled into its top, then stood with it in the crook of his arm and continued towards the water.
Giant waves crashed against the rocks, sending spray towards the stars. The continuous thunder they made shook the boulder he mounted. He gazed out.
“So I guess asking for clothes is a no-no?” he muttered. “Maybe next time you could think of a better way of telling me? You nearly fucking killed me!”
He squinted. Was there something out there?
It was impossible to tell. It was far too dark. In Venus’ reflection he thought he spied a mast.
But he’d suffered head trauma, and wasn’t at all certain that he wasn’t seeing things, so he found shelter on the leeward side of a big boulder, then gathered up a decent pile of palm fronds from the jungle line and brought them back in several trips.
Knife next to his head, he got as comfortable as he could on his makeshift mattress (not very at all) and eventually nodded off.
He woke sometime in the mid-morning, if the creeping glare of sunlight next to his palm-leaf bed was any indication. He rose, peed, and hopped atop the boulder that had provided him shelter. His hunger and thirst had become ravenous.
He gazed out over the water, and forgot both instantly.
A gleaming-white luxury craft—a catamaran, maybe a sixty-footer—floated a thousand yards offshore. Its sails were down.
It was a mast he’d seen!
“I’ll be a son of a bitch!” he laughed. He shook his head violently to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating, and continued staring.
He drank coconut milk and peed again. He had left the beach only to grab the coconut and get it open, then hurried back. The boat was still out there.
He made up his mind.
From the edge of his boulder, he took a deep breath and dove into the sea. The water was instantly deep and, despite the storm, almost totally clear. He frantically kicked and pulled to keep from being swept back into the rock. He was a good fifteen feet down and so incoming swells pushed him back five or six feet each time, no more than that, which he quickly made up. When he became desperate for air a minute later, he fought for the surface. He broke it rasping.
The ocean had calmed considerably since last night, else he wouldn’t have tried that stunt. He stroked for the catamaran.
He wasn’t a fucking All-American swimmer like Mennon, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t very strong in the water, which he was. Especially in seawater. He’d won his share of Ironman triathlons, largely on the strength of his swimming.
A thousand yards—three thousand feet. Even in calm seas that’s a lot of water to cross. If you’re hungry and weak from getting your head smashed in a hurricane, three thousand feet can feel like thirty thousand feet.
Eventually the boat grew large in his watery vision. He breaststroked to the port hull. The blue lettering on its side proclaimed the boat was named Lanie.
A woman screamed. From inside the cabin.
“Get away from me!”
The muffled sound of glass smashing, then sounds of footsteps and a struggle. She screamed again. It sounded like someone was choking her.
He hurried to the ladder and climbed it. He pulled his knife out and jumped to the deck in a crouch.
Lanie was of ultra-modern design and quite roomy. Her deck was littered with broken bottles and a downed sail, which had snapped from the mast and fallen over the starboard hull.
“Get off me, you bastard! Off! Off!”
He hurried around to the stern door and jerked it open.
“Help! Oh God, help me!” she screamed from somewhere sightless. “HELP ME!”
The assailant was suddenly there and lashed out with a fist, which just caught his jaw. His head snapped about as he crashed spinning against the kitchen sink. His clot throbbed and blood poured down the back of his neck.
The assailant grabbed his chin and tried snapping his neck as he fought for consciousness. He stabbed blindly at the asshole’s bare feet. The fuckhead screamed and released him, his foot spurting blood. His pinkie toe had been amputated.
He glanced at his attacker as he struggled to his feet.
Shit! It was the Argentinean fruit fly with the Madonna tattoo. From the Minnow!
Teeth bared, sweat pouring off his bow, the asshole snatched a butter knife from the kitchen table and brought it about threateningly.
The woman had gone silent. Was she dead?
“You fuck, Santayana!” roared the fruit fly with his ridiculous accent. “You’re supposed to be dead! DEAD! Fuck you!”
Gilligan had no room to maneuver. He smashed back first into a closet door as the butter knife came arcing down for his eye. He just got his head out of the way. The silver blade sank into his neck where it met his shoulder, and that was bad enough. The blade was out red and dripping an instant later and coming up for his exposed gut.
It never got there. His Bowie knife intercepted it in the next tenth of a second, blocking it out of the way, then came up and down into the fruit fly’s forehead, going in to the hilt.
The assailant gurgled, eyes crossed. He dropped to his knees.
Gilligan held the hilt with both hands, enjoying the shudder of death sinking through the knife into the dipshit’s brain. With a single motion, he yanked the blade out and put it back in the twat’s right ear. All the way in.
The fruit fly collapsed. Blood arced from his head onto the kitchen table and the half-eaten English muffin sitting partway on a small dish.
He pulled the knife out, wiped it on the fruit fly’s ass, and straightened with a painful groan.
His head wound sent streamers of blood down his back as he gawked at the muffin. He was so hungry he thought he might wipe the blood off and stuff it into his mouth.
If there was a muffin, there had to be more, right?
He looked around for more food, and barked out in pain. The butter knife wound was doing its own healthy share of leaking and hurt like a bitch with any turn of his head. He grabbed dish towels from a rack and slapped it over the wound and wrapped the other over his skull.
A moan. From down the corridor.
“Hello? Hello? Are you okay? Hello?”
He stumbled down it.
A young petite woman lay face down on the bed in the bedroom at its end. She wore denim short-shorts and a yellow knit halter top, which was torn up the back, exposing her pink bra.
“Hello? Miss? Are you okay? Miss?”
He pulled her over. The kitchen towels were already soaked. He was feeling faint again. Everything throbbed.
“Miss? Miss? Are you all right? Miss?”
She rolled on to her back. His blood dripped on her.
“Son of a bitch ...”
It was Mary Ann Summers ...
... from the Minnow!