That's me, Eric, I mean. 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 and your best friends Max and Alex, their parents own the rest. That's me in black and Max next, then Alex. That's my mom, of course, on my left.
But my story goes back before the accident at sea to a rainy afternoon in April. Jacob, our chauffeur 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 window sides. Our Rolls stopped in front of the Hyatt building which was owned by my grandfather. Jacob came around, getting wet, as he held the umbrella 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. I went into the changing room and got dressed in my karate clothes. Then it was time for warm-up 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 break time, 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."
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 promise to 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 gave in. 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 duffel bag and carried it up the gangway and into our room. Max and I and another friend Alex 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 the boat rolled and I fell forward. I guess I must have whacked my head on something cause everything went black.
When my eyes opened I could see stars overhead. I sighed deeply and roamed from one constellation to the next feeling happy, for the moment, to be a wandering star traveler. Time seemed to mean nothing as I drifted and I might have stayed there forever but for the cold seeping up from my feet. I was able to figure what time it was by the position of the constellations so at least I knew what time it was. But what good was that?
The sky changed color by the sun coming up, 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 I was floating, in the ocean, held up by only my lifejacket . There was no boat, no wreckage, nothing, just myself, the sea and the night sky.
I would have yelled out, called for Alex or Max, his mother and father, but I was too cold and too afraid that they wouldn't return my call. For a moment I felt that 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 be there and so I made no movement of any sort, just listened as the sound grew louder.
And then there was a swirling movement, a push or pull, as if something huge had grabbed me and threw me. I felt hard ground under me 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 squeaked 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 said aloud. Where is this?" I thought.
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, Alex, 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 thought as 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 pick up 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 or were they real buildings. "Wow! They were buildings, big ones. 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 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?" Was I really talking out loud, to myself?
That bridge of sand connecting the islands was almost submerged. "Of course!" I thought, " 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. . . " I thought, "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 fish head I saw a crevice in the Rockwell 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 fish head, 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 fish bones 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 fish head I filled the bone and tried not to spill it as I backed out.
I had to stop and take another look at the beach of dead giants. I bet there isn't another beach like that one in the world. Now to find a place to sleep. No, not the crevice, that's too damp and creepy. And what thing lives further back, in the dark. No! Not the crevice but a tree maybe; something off the ground. That would be best if I can't find a cabin or some people before it gets dark.
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 thought, " 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 them 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!" I thought, Now that I had a place to stay I could explore the field and the hills above. "Ha! 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 yelled to the wind.
I found some rocks on the beach and threw them up, but even though I hit the bananas, 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 gradually 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!" I yelled.
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.
Chapter Three: The Swim.
Well, finally I reached the sandbar and the tide was out. "Phew!" I said. The hard part was over. Now the walk to the other island would be easy, I thought. As I stepped from the beach to the sandbar my sneaker plunged deep into muck. "Oh God! Quicksand!" I yelled as I tried to pull back, but caught off balance, I fell forward, almost face down. In reflex I spun so that I landed on my back, face up but the muck sucked at me, pulling me down. I thrashed out, trying to get away but the more I pulled the harder the quicksand pulled back. Then I remembered, you had to quit struggling, like that horse in the movie "White Maine," you couldn't panic, that would be the end.
I tried to calm myself, to relax and lay still, though my heart was
beating like a piston. Already I was up to my chest, any further and .
. . better not think about that. What could I do? There was nobody
to help. "Ah! The vine. . ." I mumbled, "Could I . . . Maybe. . .
Without struggling I slid the vine up and over my head. What could I grab with it. A stump, a tree. No. . .
I looked everywhere, trying to find something that I could lasso and at least keep myself from sinking further until I could think of a way out of this mess. Rocks! There are lots of rocks. Were any of them big enough?
"Ah, maybe that rock," I thought. Making a loop in the vine I gave a sideways flip and the vine loop fell flat on the sand. But by moving, I had sunk a little deeper into the quicksand. Pulling the vine back slowly, gently, I tried again. "Nuts" I said. ! It was only halfway; that was better than before though I'd lost another inch to the quicksand. I lay still for a while breathing, trying to calm down.
Looking up, I could see a bird circling overhead. I thought, "It must be a vulture waiting." But if I went down in the quicksand he wouldn't get me, that was for sure. After a while it was time for another throw. "Got to make it good," I whispered, "There! Good, almost." But not good enough: close. Pulling the vine back I gauged my last throw, almost enough. The next one should do it, but it failed as did the next and each time I lost a little bit of space. One more time. Throw! Oh God! I think I got it. Please, let it be. Slowly I tightened the vine and for a minute I thought it was going to slip over the rock; but it held and at least I didn't go any deeper into the quicksand.
But if I thought it was going to be easy getting out I was wrong for the quicksand had me like it was glue and it didn't want to give me up. And, there was another thing. The tide was coming in. If I don't drown in the quicksand the water would get me. This was a bad day, a real bad day.
How long I pulled, gradually inching myself out of that muck, I'll never know. It might have been an hour or five hours I have no way to tell other than that it was the longest day in my life. My only clock was the slowly rising tide that seemed to inch closer to me, racing me, inch by inch. Finally, with a last slurp and a suck I pulled free and rolled onto the beach.
"Oh Wow! Oh Wow!" I moaned as I lay there watching that bird circle overhead. I stuck my tongue out at him. "No dinner for you, not on me," I yelled. Walking slowly into the water, feeling for the bottom with the toe of my sneaker, checking for more quicksand, I ducked myself and scrubbed away that smelly muck.
"Now what," I thought, "Okay! Since I can't use the sandbar I might have to swim across, unless somebody comes by in a boat. Yeah, sure! Any day now." It was too bad that I'd left the lifejacket back on the beach, but I was not going all the way back for it. Dripping wet I walked down the beach looking for driftwood to make a raft. There were lots of pieces of wood, some planks, a tree trunk that was too heavy to move so I looked for lighter stuff.
I carried the wood down to the water's edge and used my vine to lash them together. At first I wasn't going to build anything big enough to carry me, just to act as a raft that I could push ahead as a life preserver. When I was almost ready to go into the water with it I remembered those fish bones and wondered if those fishes, I mean the big ones were still swimming there. And I wondered what had eaten them.
A chill went up my spine as I thought of the very little meal I'd make for those big suckers. I was hardly more than bait. "Hmmm!" I thought, " better make the raft bigger." Going back down the beach I got more wood and had to forage around for vines to lash them together. Now at least I could lie on the raft, my chin on the boards and breaststroke with my arms. Also I took along a board as a paddle too, just in case I needed it.
With a stroke I was away from the shore, just as the sandbar submerged beneath the water. I didn't need that sandbar anyway. It dawned on me that I probably should have taken a little rest after all that exertion but I was on my way now and I wasn't going to turn back. I aimed for a spot on the bank and began breast stroking with as much energy as I had and was making good time, so I thought. But when I looked up the distance across didn't seem to have changed much, though that point of land, my reference, was now to my left. "Sure!" I thought, "Current, that's what it is. Hmm! .. . I'll just have to work harder."
I kept stroking and looking up and stroking and looking up but the landing point got no closer. I slammed the water with my hand and cussed then. Nothings was going my way today. "Nothing!" I said aloud. I guess the anger was what I needed for, after a while, I saw that I was making progress toward the other side. I was halfway there even though I was slipping sideways. So, I wouldn't land exactly where I wanted to but so what.
I would have got there too, I'm sure of it, but for one thing. I saw it coming, slicing through the water, right toward me, a fin and it sure was no marlin. Only one thing had a fin like that. Shark! Quickly I pulled in my arms and lifted my feet out of the water. The shark came at me, dived, went underneath, probably for a look I guessed, then came up and circled me. I held still, trying not to let him hear my panic -- that attracts sharks -- I willed my heart to stop beating like it was a pounding drum and coasted with the current. But overtime I thought he was gone and would think of stroking again toward the other shore he'd come up again and circle, one more time, then one more.
What could I do? If I stroked he'd grab me, if I didn't I'd get washed
out to sea, away from the island. This definitely was not my day. What
to do. But sharks don't like noise. I put my face to the edge of the raft,
my mouth underwater and yelled at the darned fish, cussed him out too but
I think it only made him more curious. Enough of that. What else? I lay
there, trying to think and watching that shark. He circled and dived and
I held my breath again as he slid beneath me. I swear I felt the tip of
his fin rub the boards of my raft. All he had to do was open his mouth
and I'd be gone in one gulp. Then I had an idea.
Grasping the board I was going to use as a paddle I lifted it over my head and slammed it down on the water. The fin jerked and veered away from me, but only for a moment, then sliced back. I did it again and again and this time the shark moved off a ways but didn't go away. Quickly I put down the board and stroked forward, keeping one eye open for the fin. When I couldn't see him I pulled my arms back in and slapped hard on the water with the board again, then stroked some more. I was getting there but could see the end of the island coming up fast. What to do? Stroke more. Bang less. Sure, and lose an arm for my effort. I could only continue to do what I was doing and so I eventually swept by the edge of the island.
Now I was caught in a rip tide and moving fast. I knew rip tides from the time when I was a little kid and got caught in one off Laguna Beach. The lifeguards caught up with me then and I was lucky. You had to use the current, go with it, use its force to take you where you needed to go, but I couldn't make it take me back to the island. There was another island in the chain, linked to the other two and the current was swinging me in that direction. I used my arms to surf, giving me more speed and the distance between me and the island decreased quickly.
Finally the edge of my "boat" touched shore and I jumped off the raft and, turning, saw the fin not far off and headed in my direction. With a surge I struggled out of the water leaving the frustrated shark to hunt for another meal. There were rounded stones on the beach and I grasped some and threw them at the shark, missing him mostly but a few bounced off his thick skin. I'm sure they didn't mean anything to him, but it made me feel better.
I pulled my raft up onto the shore in case I needed it again, which I probably would, maybe when the tide changed, then I might try to get back to the first island. But for now I needed to get something to eat, mussels again, and bananas if I could find them.
The mussels were easy to find and eat but I could find only rotten bananas on the ground. Well, okay. So, now it's time to find some drinking water and explore this island. I hope there's no snakes here. If I'm lucky there might even be people. . .
There were paths here leading upwards and I took one slope that didn't look too steep. A while later I came out on a flat ledge and could see the water below and part of the island. At first I couldn't believe it; this was like no other place I'd ever seen before. One mountain was the color of turquoise and looked like a pyramid, another hill had a giant crystal, green, like emeralds sticking out -- at an angle.
"Wow!" I said, thinking, "This is quite a place." I stood there exploring the island with my eyes for a long time. I never knew there were beaches like this. Even the Galapagos didn't have landscapes as wild as this one. But the Galapagos had more strange animals. Hmmm! I don't know though, those huge fish bones down there were pretty weird.
I was thirsty now and it was time to look for a drink. I thought that maybe I could find a cave like the one on the other island with a pool of clear water. So I began searching among the rocks as I followed the rocky trail leading inland toward the town that I'd seen from across the bay. It was my hope to find people there who could help me.
Chapter Four: Max's Story
"Well! -- Alex and I had the party going before Eric came on board ship and we really were looking forward to the trip out. Then Eric arrived and we got a good start. It was a fine sail, the Galapagos and all those fantastic animals. We were having a great time until that ugly storm came up. Then, well . . . then everything changed. We all got sick, of course, but we had to go out on deck anyway and try to help Mom and Dad and my sister Jane reef the sails though it was already too late.
We were all topside, tied to our safeties, trying to help. Dad decided that the only thing he could do was cut the rigging or we were going over. He ordered us back inside so we wouldn't get fouled in the sails when they came down.
We were almost to the cabin. I saw Eric unhook his safety and try to duck down through the hatch but the boat lurched and he must have whacked his head because he went down, then slid toward the railing. "Alex! Grab Eric," I yelled but he couldn't reach him. At about the same time both of us unsnapped our safeties and dove over to grab Eric. We had our hands on him too and were trying to get back to the hatchway when a big roller took us, lifted us up, then dropped us and when we hit the trough all three of us went spinning over the rail and that was the last I saw of those two or our boat for that matter.
It's a good thing the water wasn't cold or we wouldn't have lasted an hour. I bounced around like a cork. For a while I yelled out for my mom and dad or Eric and Alex, my sister too. And then I yelled for anybody. Afterwards there was a long time of rolling with the waves and sleeping and waking to the nightmare of being alone among those giant coasters. Then again, when I woke, the waves had quieted down and the sky was clear and something about that was even more scary, the understanding that I was truly alone in the middle of the ocean.
For a long while I couldn't see anything except ocean. The sun rose and then it set; it must have been pretty, the red on the water but I wasn't in the mood for pretty, just wanted to get dry and find our boat and Alex and Eric and my family. If I'd been able to ride out the storm they all must have too, I hoped.
I must have slept a lot and I was in a dream-like world when my feet hit something solid. Gradually my world came back into focus and I looked out at a wide, circular beach, a lagoon, I guess. I probably would have been overjoyed that I'd come into land if I wasn't so mixed up, thirsty and hungry.
Wading ashore I tried to walk up the beach but my legs were too wobbly and collapsed under me. So I just sat there in frustration, maybe cried a little, I don't know. It just wasn't right to come so far and not be able to go a few more feet up the beach to the shade of the trees. Probably my anger helped me get up, wobbly, walking like a drunken sailor but I got into the shade and sat down with my back against a tree.
Looking out I tried to see through the jungle but couldn't. There might even have been a stream on the other side of the bushes but I couldn't tell. I struggled out of my lifejacket and patted it lightly, thanking it for saving my life. Then I laid it there on the sand where somebody looking for me would find it. I thought to write a message on it, but was too tired to do anything about that.
Looking around at the wild bushes I knew that some of them had berries I could eat and that others were poison. I thanked my mom and dad again for sending me to that survival camp last year. For a minute my mind went back to our trip and how fun it was to lie on the deck at night, under the stars, while Mom played her guitar until we fell asleep and woke up the following morning in our bunks. But the next day it was study and I had to read something called The Survivors Guide.
"But Dad," I said, "What do I need to memorize this stuff for. I've got the book right here." I held it up for him to see.
"Listen Max," he replied. "There might come a day when you're stranded on an island somewhere and you don't have that book. Then what?"
"But Dad you know that won't ever happen." "You never know," he said. "All right," I replied, "I'll memorize it."
Suddenly I felt sad then, thinking of my friends, parents and sister. Where were they now? Was I the only one left? I was about to find out how much I'd learned.
Later, after eating a whole bunch of red berries and not getting sick I realized that I'd made the right choice, not by accident as I recognized the berries from my book, wherever it was now. Dad was right. But things felt better now that I'd had a little food and though I was still thirsty I could move around and begin looking for a stream. It took me a while to find something other than some smelly pools but finally there was a stream bubbling itself down to the beach and the water tasted a little like metal, but it was okay. So I drank until I choked from drinking too much, too fast.
Moving back to the beach I began walking along the water's edge. There
was something further up the beach. A ship! It was a ship. I yelled then
and started running and waving my hands. They had to see me. My lungs ached
from running at top speed but I didn't want the ship to to pull away from
shore before I got there. I kept yelling, when I could and waving, but
as I got closer I saw that there was something wrong. The ship was beached,
wrecked and as I got closer I saw that it had been wrecked for a long time.
Walking that last short distance I saw that there was no bottom in the
boat which was rusty and crusted with barnacles. It had been there a long
I closed my eyes for a while and wished that the ship would be whole. Slowly I opened them, nothing. The ship was still a wreck. Nuts! Kicking off my sneakers I waded into the water and climbed aboard the wreck, looking for anything useful, but there wasn't a thing that I thought I could use. No radio, nothing. They could have left something . . .
At the bottom of the old scow was a sea-shell. I reached down into the water and brought it up, a beautiful looking thing. I put it in my pocket. Might be useful for something later, but if not, then I still liked it. Hoping for a clearing in the jungle to be able to see more of the island, I walked for quite a while, looking back, now and then, at the ship, which got smaller and smaller. I didn't like leaving the wreck but it wasn't going to get me anywhere. Then there was a path, an old one, I thought. But what the heck. It was a path that had to go somewhere so I took it.
Along the trail was a lot of vegetation covering the path so I had to move slowly and watch out for snakes or anything. At first the going was level and I had to wade through water for a stretch or two but then it began to go upward, slowly at first, but steeper after a while.
A little further on I found I had climbed higher than the trees and could see more of the island. It was not one island but a chain of them. How many I couldn't tell or whether there were people living here, or there. There was a funny looking mountain to the south. It wasn't very high but was shaped weird, like it was an eye. I had the feeling it was looking at me but I knew that was only an illusion. I was climbing a mountain, that was obvious now. How high the mountain was I had no idea.
Now I had decisions to make. Should I continue on up the mountain to see where the path went or go back down and walk the beach around the island to see if there were any houses or people? From where I stood I couldn't tell very much about any of the islands except that there was a lot of jungle on all of them. Then I reached into my pocket and took out my lucky nickel, flipped it into the air and thought, Heads I go up, Tails I go back down. It landed Heads. Okay, decision made.
Since it was early in the day, by the sun's position, that was my clock, I wasn't worried about dark yet, but would have to think of that problem soon. Not now though. Already I was hungry again; those berries weren't much to go on and I was thirsty too. Too bad I didn't think to bring some water, even though I didn't have anything to carry it in. Got to shake up my mind and start thinking clear again; it could mean my life.
Back at school I remember a woman came to visit. What was her name? Marcy. She talked about how to survive in the woods. What was it she said: learn the language of the earth, read the clouds, watch animals, birds, know the tides . . . Use your senses she said. Okay senses, time to wake up. Let's see, what can I eat here. Bananas up there but too high, coconuts too, but it will take too much energy to open them. Grass. How about some grass salad? Anything like onion grass or milkweed. No, can't eat the milkweed, needs to be boiled first. But that was back there in New England; things are different here. How can I tell? Should have picked up some mussels from the shore. Why didn't I? Not thinking, that's all. If I'm going to get back home I've got to think. . . Got to think to survive.
First thing was water. As I climbed the trail, passing an opening in the rock I could hear sounds of running water. The opening was big enough and there was light. So I went down on all fours and went in for a look. The cave went back a long way and there was definitely water trickling back there, way back though. I was nervous about going too far. I sat for a moment and considered. Well, the angle of the light was giving me plenty of light, mostly on the roof of the cave so the angle was low and would climb shortly as the sun got higher. Now I was thinking. That's good. So I had a little while to explore.
How far back did this cave go anyway? Time to find out. Hmmm, feels damp, must be getting close to the water. I hope so anyway. Yuk! A little slippery here.
Hmm! This tunnel is going down and getting wetter. I better not go any further. Darn! I really want some water. But I don't want to get stuck in here. Better go back. Ummm! I can't go back, too slippery. I began sliding on the slippery green stuff and going downward. "Now what," I thought, " Don't panic. Stop. Think. I can reach up and touch the ceiling. Okay. Kind of stand and put my hands against the ceiling and take one step at a time. Back up the tunnel. Oops! Almost lost it. Wonder where I'd go if I slid all the way. Better not think about that."
I tried to move back to where I'd come but my feet wouldn't grab hold
and I felt like both feet were going to slide beneath me. I could feel
a growing sense of panic and worked hard to hold it down. With my feet
and knees wet if I went down I'd go on a slide to who knows where. What
to do. I couldn't go back up and I was getting tired. "Stop!" I said, and
"Get rid of the panic. What can I do. Look! See! What is there to do. Oh! Yeah. It's not all slippery stuff. There's some dirt. Move just a little. Aaah! Good, dirt."
I rested a while then, felt myself shaking just a bit. No, more than that. I was shaking a lot. But, after a while I calmed down and could see dirt clumps where I could step from one to the other. Only thing is, they didn't go exactly where I wanted to go and that was out. But, at least they didn't go down and there did appear to be light in that direction. When I felt ready I took a step, then another and made my way toward the other light. I kept moving but didn't get to the light. Must be farther away than I thought. At least the ground under me was solid now, but I kept feeling with my feet, making sure the ground under me was not slippery.
Too much time was going by. That opening must be really far away. Well, I could go back. No. I don't want to do that. Just keep going, its got to come out someplace. But where? I don't know how much time went by but I noticed that the ceiling was gradually sloping up and it was getting lighter inside the cave. Pretty soon it was a cavern stretching out in all directions, but I could see where I was going and so moved faster.
Then something stopped me in my tracks. I looked down and there were tracks, dinosaur tracks, big ones. Squatting down I studied the footprints. They were old, of course, but some of the best tracks I'd ever seen. Wow! They were huge. I wondered how I could dig them up and get them out of there, take them home. Oh yeah! Home. Well, maybe someday I could come back and find them again. But now, time to move on, find something to eat, and some water.
I found the water soon after, a cool dark green pool with water so cold it chilled my teeth but it tasted good. Unfortunately I drank too fast, again, and had a stomach ache. I should know better. Hey, I'm still a kid, aren't I? I sat for a while, until I felt okay, then had a little more water. This time I took it slower and only had a few sips. Then, I had an idea and, pulling the shell from my pocket, I filled it with water. It should make a good canteen, well, not a good one, but a fair one any ways.
I continued on and the passageways got even trickier, with narrow bridges to cross, carefully, of course, but still there was light ahead, enough to see by. It was a funny cave though, with walls that were almost like old bones; but there wasn't anything ever made that was this big, not even the dinosaurs, I think . . .
Chapter 5: Through Curtains of mystery.
I had to be careful now. Walking was difficult as there were lots of holes in the tunnel. Each one looked like a passageway to somewhere or nowhere. I listened at some of them for any sounds but nothing, just silence. Except once I thought I heard something back where I’d just come. That made me feel funny, scared really. Here I was, just a kid alone, with no adults to look to, just me.
I shook my head to get rid of the fear and moved on. Oh! oh! There it was again. What is it. Stopping, I listened harder and could hear something, almost like ... Like what? I don't know. but I donut like it
The hairs on the back of my neck went straight out and a chill ran through me. I began to walk faster, then I was running. Several times I came close to sliding into one of the pits and once I did go in, lost my footing, fell forward and only saved myself by grabbing onto the edge and pulling myself out. That did it. Now I was scared.
But wait! Stop! Don't panic. Think. I was breathing hard. Panic, that's what I'm doing. Can't do that if I'm going to survive; got to stay cool.
What can I do? Maybe stop and wait until whatever it catches up? No way! Best to keep moving, fast, but careful.
The tunnel was getting bigger now with more side passages going off at all angles, some in the floor, the walls, ceilings. I had to be careful not to fall into one of them as they were getting bigger too and if I fell into one I probably wouldn't be able to grab the edge.
Oh, I wish I was home, eating a cheeseburger and watching tv. But you're not stupid, I said to myself. Keep alert! No daydreaming, not now anyway.
The tunnel opened into a cavern, almost a sphere. It was big, I mean huge and seemed to have light flowing from the walls and ceiling itself. There was water too and I could see a stream flowing along a crack in the floor. I hardly stopped to look at it but jumped the crack, and then there was another crack, a wider one but I knew I could make it the whole distance.
That next jump was not a normal one. Halfway across, in mid space I felt something happen, liked I’d jumped into a barrel of molasses, things went into slow motion and I kept moving but like in a movie until I stumbled at the edge of the crack, crashed forward and rolled, suddenly back in normal speed.
I wanted to go back to explore that jump to try and understand what had happened, I knew I’d crossed a barrier of some kind, but my fear of what was following me was greater and so I tried to jump back to my feet, but again, it was like being in slow motion.
It was weird. If I tried to move fast I only moved slow. If I went slow I was okay and the slower I moved the more normal it was. I tried to jump, but never got off the ground. I took a step and that was okay. This was a very strange thing, like a dream I had once where a monster was chasing me and I couldn't run. Could this be a dream? I wondered. But how could I tell. I pinched my thumb. "Ouch!" I said, " that hurt."
"So, what is this?" I thought. Stopping, I listened but could no longer hear anything behind me. "Whew!" I sighed. " That's a relief. Maybe I left IT behind. Maybe it couldn't jump the crack. I hope so." I exhaled, in relief then and had time to look more at the cavern.
Still there was the light off in the distance. I had no hope, nor want to go back the way I’d come but I was afraid I’d never reach the light. Possibly the cavern went on forever. What then? What would I eat? How would I get home?
"Stop it!" I said, "You're doing it again! Keep focused on that light. It's got to be an exit. Just get there."
As long as I walked slow I made progress. Another crack to jump; but how can I jump if I can't run. Looking down I could see that the crack went deep into the earth with no bottom that I could find.
I measured the distance I had to jump against my own height. The crack width was a little less wide than I was tall. I could try falling forward and grabbing the edge. with my fingers then pulling myself out. "Yeah sure!" I gulped, "You can bet I won't try that."
I needed to test this new world, what were the rules here. And so I tried running in slow motion and jumping the same way. My first attempts were clumsy and miserable, but the more I tried, running even slower, jumping as slowly as I could, the better I got.
Next I made marks in the floor, with my heel, a take off point and a landing spot. On the first attempt I would have crashed into the crack's wall , if I had really jumped, but after two more tries I was almost there and on the jump after that I made my mark.
"Good!" I said, " Now for the real thing." But first I worked out a timing method and tried again, keeping count. "Okay! That one worked." I did another practice jump to make sure my system was okay. Finally, I took several deep breaths and started for the pit, keeping count as I did so, but in the end, I turned away before the jump.
Standing at the edge of the pit I tried to get myself under control. "Sure you're scared," I said, " but you know you can do it, you've proved it. So just do it, just the way you practiced." I answered myself with a nod. Gathering my courage I went back to my measured point, looked at the jump line I’d made at the edge of the pit and started a slow-motion run.
My feet pounded the earth with calculated steps as I slow-motion raced to the edge, and leaped. Then I was in the air and it was okay or! . . . I felt it, like a cold knife slicing me in thin strips, front to back. I was passing through something, a wall of ice, invisible but cold and . . . And time seemed to come to a stop. Hanging there, above the crack it was like there was no such thing as Time. And the cavern now was no longer empty but opened up, like a night sky full of stars, but stars like I’d never seen before.
My eyes could make out the shape of galaxies, spinning. Yet I knew they didn't spin, not like a wheel, but over thousands of years. Now, to me, they were spinning like a wheel, galaxies like pinwheels filling the cavern. And the colors between the stars, between the galaxies, were incredibly beautiful.
Then crash! I landed on the other side, shivering and exhausted. But I’d made it.
Except, there was something wrong. I was seeing double, everything was double, including my own hands. I had four of them, and four legs. Groaning I stood and took a step forward and two sets of hands disappeared. Where did they go.
Looking back then I saw myself looking at myself. I almost threw up and probably would have if my stomach hadn't been empty.
There I was, standing there, looking at me. I opened my mouth and said, “What are you? What do you want?” and a second or two later my double said the same thing. “What are you? What do you want?”
I wanted to scream. No, the truth is that I did scream. I let out a yell like a wild animal might make and then it came back at me, the echo. That settled me down, that sound, and then I laughed, and laughed and sat down while “my echo” sat down and laughed too. When I couldn't laugh anymore I stopped and realized that there were tears running down my cheeks.
So I wiped my face, stood slowly and looked down the cavern toward the light. Okay, time to get going again. I turned to the echo. “Let's go,” I said. “Let's go,” he replied. I could see now, across the cavern almost invisible lines, like fine curtains that I was going to have to pass through. Fortunately there were no cracks to jump.
Walking through the next curtain I felt the cold again, just as cold, and again the stars and galaxies but added to this were sounds. I could sense that the sounds were coming from the dark holes, whistling, popping sounds, like the crackling of fire, only great fires, not campfires, but maybe what volcanos sounded like.
I had the sensation, then, that my body was changing, that it was turning into plastic and stretching out and that part of me was behind and another part was way ahead. I became a long, thin string, reaching out from the ground to a galaxy, then to another and on to more and more. Yet I was still me, but the string was me too.
I donut know how long it took me to get through the curtain. There was no way to tell whether I’d been there a minute or an hour or a hundred years. It felt as though I’d gone through this curtain faster than my jump over the crack. As I came out, there was my echo standing beside me. Then, as I turned and looked back, another me was coming through the curtain and suddenly he too had an echo and now there were four of us.
This is ridiculous , I thought. So just for the fun of it I yelled, “Hello!” and there were 3 echoes, one after the other. I tried singing “Old Mac Donald Had a Farm” and 3 other voices joined me, like those “rounds” we sang down in 2nd grade. Each voice was a little behind the other. “All right,” I said, “Come on let's get going.” And a chorus replied.
When I passed through another curtain the sensation was not the same. Instead of feeling stretched out the feeling was entirely different. During the trip through, somehow I felt myself turning inside out and could see and feel all my organs, my lungs and heart, my brain and veins, until I was through the curtain. It wasn't a scary feeling and when it was over I felt like I knew myself, the invisible parts better. And now there were 8 of us.
Then, at the next curtain I began to contract, to grow smaller and move down so that I could see the atoms, much like planets in orbits. One planet grew in size and I moved toward it and when I touched the surface I emerged from the curtain.
Now I was 16 of me, and 32 by the 5th curtain. I laughed then as I pictured that time when I went to the movies with Mom, my Dad and my sister to see “Fantasia” and the scene of Mickey Mouse with all those brooms came to mind. Now here I was, Mickey Mouse, and the brooms were me.
After I passed next curtain I gave up counting and I could hardly hear myself think with the sound of moving feet, like the army I’d become. I didn't dare yell or sing as I knew the sound would go on and on. So, as quietly as I could, I moved, or WE moved toward the light.
It looked like only one more curtain before coming out at some kind of opening. I stepped through that vibrating curtain of light and looked to see how many of me there would be now. But I was alone, just me, no echoes.
For a moment I was tempted to step back through the curtain to see if they, the army of me, were all there waiting for me to come back. But the thrill of getting out of the cave, of being in fresh air and light was too great, so I went on.
And then I was out, at the opening, a huge open mouth where I found blue sky beyond. I stepped to the edge to see a long green valley spread out below, with waterfalls, and. . . and buildings, strange buildings looking like churches, No, more like temples. There were sounds too, the noise of water, lots of water pounding down the mountain. But the main thing was that I was out and into light and air. And I was terribly hungry.
Now, how how was I going to get down to the valley below. At first, wanting to get to those temples, I thought of going straight down the mountain, but after a closer look realized that I'd never make it. There were too many places that couldn't be climbed without ropes and stuff. A narrow pathway led off along a cliff wall and though that path had caved in in several places still, it looked like a reasonable way. It was a path, and paths usually go someplace.
That little path wandered down the mountainside. There were places where I had to put my back against the mountain since the edges of the pathway were crumbled away but the valley below kept getting closer and closer. And finally I was at the base of the mountain and there was a wide field of green waiting for me.
I realized that I could relax for a moment, but only for that, and then
I had to try and figure out how I was going to eat and where to sleep,
since night seemed to be coming on.
Chapter Six: From Alex's Point of View
What I remember most is the party we had on the day before our trip began. We met at Giuseppi's Restaurant, our favorite place for pizza and jokes. There were six of us guys that night, friends of mine, and Max's, who'd known each other since preschool. I think if the boat had been bigger we'd have taken all of them with us on the trip.
Giuseppi's is so small, I don't know how we all fit in there, but we
did. We told jokes and laughed like crazy; everything seemed to be funny.
I guess its that way when you're with people you really like. After pizza
we walked uphill to the movies and saw Pokemon, then an old movie, the
Marx Brothers in "A Night at the Opera," a real old film; we laughed a
lot. But when they started singing that opera stuff, we went crazy and
laughed even harder, it was so funny.
That night they all slept over at my house and we stayed up all night telling stories and jokes and bashing each other with pillows. Then the next day, the guys went home and Max and I packed up and Max's parents picked us up in their car and we drove down to the port. It was a beautiful yacht they had there and we spent the next hour chasing around on it, checking out everything, while Max's father and mother did their own check-list to make sure we had all the necessary supplies.
Eric showed up later and we gave him the guided tour of the boat, I mean yacht. Only amateurs call it a boat.
Some of the guys came down to the wharf to waving us off and we were sorry to leave them behind but excited too at the thought of the trip and the adventures to come. We never realized then just how exciting that journey was going to be. But the first part was great, the voyage down to South America and the Galapagos Islands were great fun. Then the storm came up.
I'd never been on the ocean with winds and waves as wild as they were. It was almost impossible to imagine how any ship could survive. At first the storm wasn't too bad, but suddenly it got brutal and Max's folks went to work trying to pull the sails down, but they couldn't and needed our help. The weather got even rougher and Max's father was going to cut the sails down and ordered us inside. That's when Eric got knocked out and Max and I tried to grab for him.
When that wave got us I was scared, more than I've ever been in my life. One minute we were onboard the yacht and the next I was in the air and dunked into that crazy ocean, with waves higher than buildings. I yelled my lungs out for "help" but who was there to help me. Max I didn't see again after we lifted off the deck and Eric was unconscious. I thought he must have drowned. Since he had a lifejacket on maybe he was okay.
But I thought of that stuff later, when the sea calmed down and I could see that I was headed toward a chain of islands. In between though was rough. Can you imagine sliding down a wall of water and then sliding up the other side, like you were a cork. Well, that's what I felt like. I was never too crazy about amusement park rides. Sure I rode them, just so's friends wouldn't say I was chicken, but I didn't care much for them. Here I was, on the biggest roller coaster ride anybody ever rode, and I wasn't very happy about it.
The storm lasted a long time, an awfully long time. Like I thought it would never end. After a while I slept and when I awoke the sea was calm and it was night. When I opened my eyes I didn't know what or where I was since there were a zillion dots all over the place. Finally I figured out that they were stars, more stars than I'd ever seen.
Of course we'd looked at them on deck of the yacht but this was different. No lantern lights, no deck to hug, no safety line to make you feel secure. I can't describe that feeling in my stomach that came from knowing that I was the only person from one horizon to the next. Yet, somehow I felt connected to the stars overhead, and their reflections in the surface of the water. It was like I was suspended in the middle of space with no up or no down.
So I floated like that, and watched the sun come up. It was probably the most beautiful thing I ever saw as I watched it from beginning to end. Well, no end really, just the end of sunrise. I paddled with my hands to turn me in a circle and gasped when I realized that I was actually close to an island. But the question was, would I moving toward it or away. Luckily I was moving toward it rather quickly, and before long I could hear the breakers and so I began paddling to make sure I controlled my landing spot.
The current took me in, faster than I thought it would and dumped me, face down, in the sand, among the rocks. Startled, for a moment, I lay there as several waves washed over me. I hadn't realized how much strength had drained out of me because when I tried to get up I fell face down again, almost hurting myself among the sharp stones. Wiping the sand from my face I sat for a while, then pulled myself up and out of the water. Little by little I dragged myself higher up onto the rocky beach and lay there, feeling the warm sun on my body.
There was a certain joy in finding myself alive, but that was lost in being tired, wet, hungry and thirsty. I closed my eyes for what I thought was a minute, and when I opened them again the light was different and my clothes were almost dry. I must have slept for several hours.
I'd landed near a clearing in the jungle and could hear water. When I was able to stand and move, kind of wobbly, up the beach toward the clearing I could see a river, a small waterfall too. That was great as I needed the water, needed it bad. Funny, I thought, how being in the ocean all that long and still I was thirsty.
-TO BE CONTINUED . . . .
"Well, here I am again, Old Llort himself. Have ya missed me? Well, at least do you see what I mean about this story going off in a zillion directions? And what do the boys have to do with the kids in "Time Enough For All," way back there in the dimensional clock of the witch? Yeah, I know, it kind of makes your head swim, doesn't it?
Well, you'll have to wait a bit until I catch up with that little piper, remember him, back at the Falls, when the Raggie family had to leave their home, I mean bridge, because it was torn down for a new bridge. Yeah, I know, that was a long way back. Just gimme a little time and I'll be back, I promise."
-to be continued - (when Old Llort gets back)
Well, while we're waiting for the next part of the story to begin you might go on to the next section, though it doesn't have anything to do with the story:
The Poetry of Antone G. Pimental: El Poeta Vagabundo
PUSH BUTTON to Return to: A Shop For Dreamers
Credits and Acknowledgments
With thanks to Marcy Klattenberg: Director of Outdoor Education, School
District 13, Durham and Middlefield, Ct.