Free Story: Marooned Pt. 1
Stephanie woke up screaming the scream that her panic hadn’t allowed when their chartered yacht went down in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean.
One minute everything had been fine. Well, as fine as it could be considering that she’d been in a state of low terror since the day that Johnston suggested they celebrate their first anniversary by chartering a boat and getting away from everything.
She didn’t like boats because she couldn’t swim. She couldn’t swim because she was terrified of the water, whether it was an ocean, a lake or just a pool. Hell, she’d almost freak out in the shower if too much water hit her in her face. But she’d agreed to Johnston’s anniversary getaway idea because she loved her husband, and that’s what he’d wanted to do.
She’d been on the yacht’s main deck, staring back at the empty space on the horizon where Pitcairn Island had been, trying to keep her fear under control. But it had been hard to not be afraid when she looked around and saw nothing but water in every direction. They were alone, just the four of them: Her, Johnston, the yacht captain and the mate. They might have been the only living souls in the world – them and whatever creatures lurked below the surface of the blue sea.
All that water.
She’d told herself that everything was fine, that this was just a little fishing trip and they’d be back on Pitcairn in no time.
And then everything wasn’t fine.
She’d heard Johnston below deck, screaming out her name. She’d run to the top of the steps and saw him dashing up. He’d looked up at her wild-eyed, and said, “Baby, we’re sinking!”
Then she saw the water swirling below him.
She was going to scream, but the sum of all her fears hit her at once, and she’d fainted.
Stephanie bolted upright with the delayed scream ripping from her throat.
Her scream was answered by the trill and caw of birds and the sound of their fluttering wings as her cry scared them into flight.
She looked around and realized that though her shorts and halter top were damp, she wasn’t in the water and she wasn’t drowning. She was on land, on sand.
And she was alone.
When Joshua Wilson heard Mrs. Alexander scream he turned and ran back up the beach to the grove of palm trees where he’d left her.
He wasn’t sure if she’d suffered internal injury when the vessel went down. He’d done a cursory inspection of her body after he’d laid her on the sand, and found only a few minor abrasions. She’d been breathing, though shallowly. Her pulse was strong. Since there was nothing he could do for her immediately, he’d decided that the best thing to do was to find out what resources the island could provide for them in addition to what he was able to salvage from the yacht, which wasn’t much.
When Joshua reached the grove he found Mrs. Alexander on her feet, looking around frantically. When she spotted him running her way she turned and bolted up the beach in the opposite direction. She must not have been hurt too badly, because she flew over the white sand like an Olympic sprinter.
He called after her, “Mrs. Alexander! Mrs. Alexander! It’s me!”
She only slowed down because looking back upset her balance. Then she must have realized who he was, because she skidded to a stop, sending sand flying.
Man, she could run! Joshua thought it fortunate that she was in good physical condition. It would be to her benefit to be fit and healthy. If they were where he thought they were, her physical resources were going to be taxed to the limit before they were rescued.
If they were rescued.
Stephanie was so terrified that she didn’t realize that the short-dreadlocked, half naked man running toward her was Joshua, the mate from the yacht. But then he called out to her and she recognized his West Indian-accented voice. She stopped running away.
Thank God she wasn’t alone. And if Joshua was here, wherever here was, then Johnston must be near also.
She ran back to Joshua almost as fast as she’d run away. When they reached each other she fired a breathless barrage of questions at him.
“Where’s Johnston? Where are we? Are we back on Pitcairn?”
“He’s not – we’re on –“
“Where’s the boat? Did it really sink?”
Joshua reached out and gently grasped her shoulders. “Mrs. Alexander, please, slow down –“
“Where’s my husband?”
“He…he was on the other raft…”
“What? Where is he now? Where’d he go? Why didn’t he take me with him?”
Joshua didn’t know how to tell this woman what he knew. He had a feeling that if he told her the truth as it happened, she wouldn’t believe him. Or it would be like when someone tries to protect a woman from her abusive husband, and she attacks her protector for attacking her man.
Joshua knew that the truth would be difficult for her to hear. But he felt that considering the ordeal they might be about to go through together, it would be best to build their new association on a foundation of honesty and trust. Their lives might depend on it.
“Mrs. Alexander, your husband and the captain…they left us.”
“I was preparing the fishing gear when I heard your husband cry out,” Joshua said. I ran to see what was the matter, and then I saw you fall. You husband came up onto the lower deck, and him and the captain ran to the rafts.”
“Wait, you mean he left me lying there?” Stephanie couldn’t imagine that that was true. The mate must mean something else.
Joshua nodded. “I was thinking that in his mind, the first priority was to get the raft ready for sea, and then he’d come back for you. So I checked to make sure you were all right.”
“He didn’t even stop to check me?”
Joshua shook his head. “No.”
“Johnston left me?” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Joshua nodded. “While I was checking your condition, he and Captain Howard got the larger of the two rafts overboard. It has a six-man capacity and a twenty-five horsepower motor. The yacht was sinking fast. I saw them climb overboard, and then I heard the raft motor start up, so I ran to see what they were doing. They saw me and…your husband…”
“What? What about Johnston?”
“Mrs. Alexander, he said that if I kept my mouth shut I could come with them, and he would make me rich.”
Stephanie felt her legs go weak. Joshua reached for her, but too late. She collapsed down onto the sand.
He crouched next to her, his face a mask of worry. “Mrs. Alexander, are you all right?’ he asked. “Can I get you something? I managed to salvage a little from the yacht; some water, but not much; some saltines and potted meat. We have enough for a little while.”
Joshua’s last words added a new emotion on top of her shock and hurt: Fear. She looked at him and asked, “How little a while?”
“If we ration carefully, perhaps a week or so.”
“So what you’re telling me is that we’re stuck here. Marooned.”
Joshua had given Mrs. Alexander the worst of the news. Now that she knew the honest truth, it was time to give her a little hope.
He said, “I did some research on the ship’s computer while we were sailing out from Pitcairn Island. If my thinking is correct, we’re on Oeno Island. If we are, that’s a good thing.”
Just like that her eyes widened with newfound hope. “So there are people here – someone to help us?” she asked.
“Probably not. Of the four Pitcairn Islands, Pitcairn proper is the only one inhabited by people.”
“However, if this is Oeno, we might be in at least a little luck. People from Pitcairn Island come here annually to fish and vacation. According to what I read, they’ve built rudimentary shelters and rainwater showers, and even a pump with a well water source. I read that there are even generator-powered refrigerators.”
Everything Joshua told her was true. But he only told her about the refrigerators to make her feel better about their situation. If this was indeed Oeno Island and the information he’d researched was correct, the refrigerators and generators were here somewhere. However, the generator would require fuel, which they didn’t have. And it was unlikely that they would be able to find the kind of food in enough abundance to require refrigeration anyway. But Mrs. Alexander would find that out soon enough.
“That’s why I left you on the beach,” he said. “To see if I might verify that we’re on Oeno.”
“What did you find out?”
“Nothing yet. I came back when I heard you scream. Oeno Island is small, only three miles in diameter and barely eight square miles in area. With two of us surveying the island it shouldn’t take long to find out if that is where we are.”
Stephanie shook her head. “Oh no, uh-uh. I’m not looking for anything by myself. You’re not leaving me alone.”
“There is nothing to be afraid of, Mrs. Alexander.”
“What about wild animals?”
Joshua smiled at her. “The largest wildlife on the island are the birds. I read that there was once a population of rats, but they were successfully removed.”
“Oh thank God!”
Joshua figured it was best not to mention that the rats might have come in handy if finding food became an issue.
“So I got you on the small raft, which has no motor,” Joshua explained. “I grabbed what supplies I could, but not much. There was no time. I had to paddle the raft away from the yacht before it sank. The down current could have pulled the raft underwater.”
Joshua wasn’t sure that Mrs. Alexander was listening to him. She sat at the picnic table, staring off into the trees as he spoke. She gave no indication that anything he said was of interest to her. He hoped she wasn’t going into some type of delayed shock.
They’d found the little vacationer’s village – a collection of open air shelters in the jungle. As he’d suspected, there was no available power. Not only was there no fuel, but no generators. The vacationers must bring them when they came to the island.
The afternoon was hot, but at least they were protected from the direct rays of the broiling sun by the shelter. Joshua had found two sources of fresh water, which was a good thing, because he’d only managed to salvage two gallon jugs from the boat. Without water they wouldn’t last long. One source was a man-made well dug in the sand, which had to be pumped out. The water looked brackish; not good for drinking, but they could use it to wash their clothes. The other water source was rainwater tanks. That would provide them drinking water. There were even rainwater fed showers.
Mrs. Alexander hadn’t touched the meal he’d set up for them – a can of potted meat, saltines, and a halved coconut, which were on the island in abundance. This rich lady was undoubtedly used to more elaborate fare, but she would have to make do. But he’d try to make things as comfortable for her as possible.
“Tomorrow morning I’ll try to catch some fish,” he said.
“It all makes sense, now,” Mrs. Alexander said.
“This is why Johnston wanted to get married so soon after we met. My family has more money than his, and I have more money than him. I know our families have this thing about marrying each other and consolidating wealth, but now I can see that Johnston wanted something else. He wanted all the money, all for himself. This whole anniversary thing – this getaway to the middle of nowhere – it wasn’t about celebrating our marriage. It was his scheme to get rid of me. That’s why he wanted to go to the last place in the world where there are no people. He claimed it was some romantic Adam and Eve thing, but no – he wanted me out of the way, permanently.”
Joshua listened without comment. He had no knowledge of the ways of the wealthy, other than that it seemed that the richer they became, the richer they wanted to be. It didn’t surprise him that one would try to kill another for more money, even one’s spouse.
“Hillary warned me,” Mrs. Alexander said.
“Johnston’s former fiancé. She told me that he was all about money, but I didn’t believe her. I thought she spoke out of jealousy toward me.” She pounded her little fist on the table. “Damn it, I was so blind!”
“You should eat, Mrs. Alexander.”
“You’re right, Joshua. I need to maintain my strength.” She dug her manicured nails into the meat of the halved coconut, pried out a section and popped it into her mouth. She chewed and swallowed with vicious determination, then scooped a bit of potted meat onto a saltine and destroyed it, too. She washed it down with a swig of water. Then she looked at him and said, “I detest potted meat and coconut. You’re going to have to show me how to fish.”
Joshua smiled and said, “Absolutely.” He was glad that this rich woman wasn’t going to be prissy and helpless.
“I’m not going to die here,” she said. “I’m not just going to vanish from the face of the Earth and let that bastard live it up off my money. I’m going to get off this damned island. I’m going to live, and I’m going hunt that bastard down and make him pay.”
Joshua was glad that Mrs. Alexander was angry at her husband. Her anger would fuel her desire to survive if things got tough. Her desire for revenge against her husband would help to keep her alive.
Though Joshua had assured Mrs. Alexander that there were no dangerous animals on the island, she insisted that he stand guard as she took her shower. So he stood with his back to her, looking out for nothing as she bathed.
Behind him she said, “What if a lion or a bear or a gorilla comes from the other way? I’ll be dead before you even see it coming. What kind of guard are you, Joshua?”
Joshua turned around and looked toward the jungle on the other side of the shower. He tried not to notice the way the water made Mrs. Alexander’s sleek brown body glisten. He tried not to notice how beautiful she was.
Joshua decided that being alone on Oeno Island with Mrs. Alexander was going to be challenging for many reasons.
To be continued…