Chapter One: "Captain's Courageous"
That's me, Eric, I mean, but I wasn't always known as the Buffalo Boy. That came later. I guess I was your average spoiled rich kid. So how many 12 year olds do you know who get driven to their karate lessons in a Rolls Royce. Its not so easy being normal when your father owns half the town and your mother owns the other half.
But my story goes back before the accident at sea to a rainy afternoon in April. Jacob, our chauffer was driving me to karate lessons. I sat in the back trying to read from "Captains Courageous" but was distracted by the rain streaming down the windowsides. Our Rolls stopped in front of the Hyatt building which was owned by my grandfather. Jacob came around, getting wet, as he held the unbrella for me.
At the front door Leon, the doorman, welcomed me. "Good morning Master Eric," he said. I said hello back as I didn't want to be like that kid in "Captain's Courageous." I was learning something already from that book as I never talked to Leon before.
We took the elevator up to the third floor, then down the hallway to Jay Stone's Gym and I walked in while Jacob waited in the hallway as I went into the changing room and got dressed in my karate clothes. Then it was time for warmup on the mats and ready for the days lesson. My buddy Max was to my right. I winked at him as we didn't dare talk and he winked back. Later, during breaktime, we sat together near the window and watched the rain.
"My father bought a new sailboat," said Max. "We're going to try it out next week."
"Great!" I said.
"What kind is it?"
"Starclass. "Do you want to come with us?"
"'Can't" I replied, "Got to go with my granddad to a fair or something."
"Well, maybe next time."
"Okay, that would be great."
But I didn't get to go out with them for several months as my social calendar was all filled up. Finally I did get my Mom and Dad to relent and let me go off with Max and his family for a trip in August. Dad said it would be good for me though Mom didn't like me being away for so long. But I begged and she relented. I looked forward to that, just to be away from all the appointments and lessons and that kind of stuff.
Then it was August and I loaded my duffel bag. Actually my mother packed it, along with enough spare underwear and socks to last 6 months. Though I didn't intend to wear any underwear or socks either for the trip, just a bathing suit and pure skin and, of course my favorite Yankee T-shirt. "Aren't you tired of wearing that thing?" asked my mother.
"No, I replied, never."
On a Saturday morning Mom and Dad gave me a hug and a kiss each then each went off to their appointments while Jacob drove me down to the yacht club where Max and his family were already aboard. The Rolls pulled up and Jacob hefted my duffelbag and carried it up the gangway and into our room. Max and I had our own cabin and we immediately began wrestling and laughing and getting in the right mood for a vacation.
The first week was great as we sailed down the coast of South America and stopped at the Galapagos Island. What a fine place, with animals like you wouldn't believe. Then we tacked seaward, headed towards Easter Island. Two days later the sky darkened and clouds came on so Max's folks thought of turning back but already it was too late. About then the storm broke and what a storm; thunder, lighting and rain in buckets. At first Max's Mom and Dad made Max and me stay inside but then things started to get out of control and all hands were needed on deck. Since we were already wearing our life-jackets full time we hooked our safety lines up and tried to help reef the sails but the wind was too strong. We thought to head toward the edge of the storm and safety but had no luck.
I had just unhooked my line and was opening the cabin door to dry out when a big one hit the ship. I guess I must have whacked my head on something, then everything went black.
When my eyes opened I could see stars overhead. I signed deeply and roamed from one constellation to the next content, for the moment, to be a wandering star traveller. Time seemed to mean nothing as I drifted and I might have stayed there forever but for the cold seeping uip from my feet.
The sky changed color, gradually light, spreading like a purse opening and emptying its contents across the night.
I gasped then, coughed and suddenly was aware that I was alone. I panicked and tried to sit up but found dI was floating, in my life jacket. Thre was no boat, no wreckage, nothing, just myself, the sea and the night sky.
I would have yelled out, called for Max, his mother and father, but I was too cold and too afraid that they would not return my call. For a moment I thought I was dead, until I thought, "No, I'm too cold for that . . . but aren't the dead cold? Hmmm!"
I heard my teeth chattering and nothing else. Nothing, but a hissing sound. I knew I should turn and see, but I was afraid of what might hbe there and so I made no movement of any sort, just listened as the sound grew louder.
And then there was a movement, push or pull, as if something huge grabbed me and threw me. I felt hard contact and then blackness once again.
Next time I awoke it was warmth, not coldness that I felt. I blinked, pulled seaweed from my face and looked up into the eyes of a seagull standing over me. "Get out!" I croaked, pushing the bird away. It squaked and heaved itself into the air.
I lay back, stretched my arms and legs, savoring the warm sun on my body as I imagined myself lying on the deck of the sailboat. Slowly it came back to me, the storm, the stars, the cold. I sat up suddenly: "What!"
I was at the high water mark of a narrow beach. When I stood and turned there were mountain tops, 3 peaks, the middle one had an eye, like a cyclops. Well, it was a hole through the peak that looked like an eye. It dawned me that I was really alone. Again panic seized me and I ran down to the edge of the sea, looking for the boat, Max and his family, but there was nothing cept an empty horizon and then just miles of water.
After a while I got hungry and was thinking of how I could get the cook to make me a roast-beef sandwich. It dawned on me where I was and I had a good laugh about it. But that didn't solve the problem. What to eat? Come on now, I said to myself. With all the training you've got you can get out of this, somehow. There's got to be somebody on the island to help.
I decided to follow the shoreline until I came to a village or something. So I took off my damp sneakers, stuffed them in my back pockets and started walking. Ah! mussels. That's food. I pulled the mussels, cracked one open and slurped it, just like at the Sushi joint. Hmmm! Not bad. I tried another and then one more. It took me at least a dozen before I didn't want any more. Better! I thought, that's better. Now let's see where this beach leads.
It was easy walking along the shore and my mind was taken off the tragedy of being stranded by watching the sea birds glide in for a landing on the water. I stopped to pickup rounded stones and skimmed them across the surface. But then, I'd think back to the storm, and I'd worry about what had happened to my friend Max and his parents. Finally I agreed with myself that there was nothing I could do about that, only find some way to get help for them and myself as well.
When I came across a curve in the beach I suddenly saw that it was not one island but several, all connected by narrow sand bridges. But what interested me most were the structures at the base of one of the islands. They looked like huts. Wow! What luck. Now, all I had to do was get there.
Chapter Two: First Night
What I thought was going to be a short walk turned into a long hike. I realized how my eyes were tricked by the illusion of distance. After a while I stopped for some more mussels, then I realized I was thirsty too. I wondered if the little pools of water among the rocks were due to rain. But a quick sip -- water spit out -- too salty -- convinced me it was tidewater. I wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my shirt. I should look for a stream, or pond, something; and that sandbar was still too far away.
Half an hour later I was really thirsty from walking in that heat and I wasn't even to the sandbar yet. Oh oh! Sandbar! Where is the sandbar?
That bridge of sand connecting the islands was almost submerged. Of course! Tides! What a dummy I've been. Sure there are tides here. Well, I guess I'm not going across to the other island today. I'd better get some water and find a shelter for the night.
I shuddered as I wondered if there were snakes here or spiders? What kind of animals lived on these islands, besides the birds that is?
Now I was searching for a pathway into the woodlands, or was it a jungle or what? I could hear the chirping of birds from within the forest, other sounds as well, maybe frogs and . . . and other things. I watched the ground too for snakes -- didn't like them, never did, but then neither did Indiana Jones and he was tough.
Ahead of me was a rocky bluff and something that looked like tent frames,
lots of them, as a matter of fact. So I put on my sneakers to give me speed.
When I got closer I could see that the tent frames were not frames at all.
They were . . . No, couldn't be. . . but they sure look like. Yeah,
that's what they are, bones. Fish bones, big ones, lots of them, some bigger
than me. I mean really big. But what kind of fish? And, why are they here?
I walked close and was amazed at how big they really were. Carefully I walked around the skeletons, then among them, more in awe than fear. A trickling sound caught my attention and looking through the mouth of one giant fishhead I saw a crevice in the rock-wall behind it where the sound was coming from. Okay, I had to walk through the fish's mouth to get to the crevice. Hmmm! Didn't like that but I needed water. Well, it was only a dead fishhead, bones really, nothing to hurt me.
I stepped over the fishes jaw and climbed up his throat, several times
slipping on sand and shells. At the crevice I took a good look in and saw
a small pool with water running down the wall. The floor was wet and I
had to be careful not to slip and plunge into the pool as I didn't know
how deep it was and the water looked really cold. Cupping water in both
hands I sipped it and found it cool but with a slightly metallic taste.
Minerals, I guess.
After satisfying my thirst I backed out of the crevice thinking. Geez! That wasn't too smart. It coulda been poison water. Well, I don't feel sick or anything so I guess it's okay. I wished that I had a bottle, canteen, anything to fill up to take with me. Back among the fishbones I checked out and settled on a hollow bone with one closed-end which was better than nothing. Going back to the crevice, through the fishhead I filled the bone and tried not to spill it as I backed out.
Half an hour later I found what I was looking for, a break in the dense foliage, a field of high grass with one tall old tree in the middle of it. At first I couldn't get up the tree as it was too wide and there were no low branches. Then I spotted one limb that hung low, way out at the end. By jumping I could grab hold and shimmy up it and climb toward the trunk until it was wide enough to crawl. Suddenly I lost my grip, slid sideways, lost my hold and fell to the ground with a thump.
Dazed, I lay there in the grass, looking up at the tree. Stupid! I have to be careful. If I get hurt now I'll be in worse trouble than I am already. Before going up again I searched the foliage near the edge of the field and found vines that I then ripped loose and wrapped around my middle.
Back on the branch I took more care and got to a place on that branch which was wide enough to stand, if I wanted to. But to be safe I crawled the rest of the way to the trunk. Higher up, a short ways, was a forked branch that looked comfortable, for a tree, that is. That would be my bed for the night. I tied one end of the vine around a thinner branch and tested it for strength. When I had faith in the vine, I used it to climb back down again, using my feet to walk backwards down the bark as I held onto the rope. At the bottom I stopped and admired my cleverness. I was getting pretty good at this.
Good! Now that I had a place to stay I could explore the field and the hills above. Hah! a fruit tree: bananas. Going back for more vines, I went to the banana tree, wrapped the vine around my waist and started up the tree, but barely got started. I tried again but couldn't do it. How did those guys on the tv climb up those trees so easy. Nuts!
I found some rocks on the beach and threw them up, but even though I hit them, still the bunches wouldn't come down. Then I shook the tree and still no luck. Angry at myself I walked away and spotted a bunch on the ground. Some bananas were spoiled but the others were okay and so I gorged myself on bananas.
Afterwards, standing there I could see that the hills rose toward the peaks and I thought to hike up them to get a good look at the landscape around me and maybe see the village across the water better; maybe even signal somebody, if I could. So I headed up through the grass, stopping suddenly when I heard a sound. Looking down I saw sit, a coiled black hunk of rope with a head on it, and several other smaller ones around it. My backbone turned to ice. As I began to back slowly away I felt something soft beneath my heel. Yikes!
As the snake coiled around my leg I reached for it, threw it into the air as I spun and ran down the hill, faster than the wind, away from that field of snakes. For a while I stood by the tree trunk, breathing deeply and feeling creeping things all over me. No! those hills were not for me. Maybe there was another way up, but not today.
Night came quickly, almost like a shade being pulled down across the sun. I was down on the beach, having my mussel supper and bananas for dessert as the shadow of night rolled across the water. Quickly I scurried back to my tree, climbed back up and roped myself in.
Within minutes the sky had turned from blue to purple and soon faded to black, a dark black with no streetlights, nothing, just pure dark. I lay back against the bark, my arms folded, hugging myself and let my ears roam out through the night, trying to identify sounds: birds, crickets, frogs croaking and then a loud bellowing, like a foghorn, but not a foghorn, some kind of animal. That sound sent chills up both arms and I didn't want to find out what it was.
I heard the yapping of dogs and a light wind in the tree leaves, rustled them softly. I think there was the sound of thunder in the distance which came right after sudden flashes of light. I relaxed some and remembered nothing until morning when I awoke with my arms and face covered in a fine layer of moisture.
At first I stayed put, thinking on things and Max. I wondered if he was okay. What about my parents? Did they know I was lost? Were they looking for me? So many things.
I thought of the kid in "Captains Courageous" how he came to realize what he'd lost, when he didn't have it anymore; now I knew how he felt. Then, for a moment, I wanted to cry for him and for me too.
Oh no! I thought, Not today. Maybe later, but now I've got to survive, to find help, to cross the sandbar to those houses. Climbing down to the ground I left my vine -- never know when I'll need it again. I foraged for more vine, coiled it around my arm and chest like a bandito, gathered bananas, ate mussels, drank some water and headed toward the sandbar.
-to be continued -