Thank you for opening this. Where did it wash up? I don’t know where I am, and these tides are so strange. Did the bottle travel the world like one of those lost rubber ducks? Sorry for the questions, but I haven’t talked to anyone in ages.
Our little plane went down somewhere between Peru and the Marquesas. Did it even make the news? I hope the others are okay.
I woke up in open water and drifted to this nameless spit of land. The sand here is soft, which makes it older than the rocky volcanic islands. There are palm trees and dense ferns but not much else. I can walk around the whole thing before the waves erase my foot prints.
I made a decent shelter from palm leaves and drift wood. I endured the boiling sun and long shivering nights. When the savage storms roared through, I clung to a tree and refused to give up. In the end it was the hunger that broke me. I was being digested by time itself. A drip of acid, one after another, melting the meat from my bones, dissolving my mind.
I saw a few sea birds, but they always saw me first. I cursed the Spaniards who had once seeded the South Pacific with goats. They never set foot on this shore. I doubt any boat had come near, because I couldn’t find a single mangy ship rat. Who’s ever heard of an island without rats?
A cloud of blood red algae enveloped the island as soon as I arrived. Every fish and snail, every piece of seaweed I found was sickly and inedible. The coconuts on the beach were as dry and empty as the promise of fresh green ones swaying in the trees. I tried climbing them. I tried shaking them. I tried throwing pieces of drift wood. I even groveled beneath them, but they remained out of reach.
I used the empty coconuts as buoys to gauge the direction of the currents. Each time I attempted to swim to freedom a freezing undertow would seize me and drag me back to shore. It probably saved my life. I was in no condition to set the world record for open water swimming.
I made rescue signs on the beach, big triangles and Xs. There are no straight lines in nature, so all I needed was a vessel to spot them. I watched the ocean until the reflection of the sun scorched my eyes. My hair turned brittle and my skin shriveled like leather. I had waking nightmares that I was becoming one of the dry empty coconuts, or that they were the skulls of those who had been stranded there before me.
Starvation had almost gnawed me to the bone when the little boat finally appeared.
Imagine my surprise when it sank.
It ran aground, disemboweled by a reef. A reef that I had never seen before, a reef I would have hit when I drifted to this island. I didn’t grieve. I simply collapsed in the sand and waited to die.
That night, the palms dropped bright green coconuts at my feet. I devoured their flesh and slurped their juices, delirious with joy. In the morning the water was crystal clear, and healthy fish practically jumped into my hands. Their flesh was scaly, raw and delicious.
A few weeks later the scarlet bloom returned. I dried my fish and rationed my supplies, but it didn’t matter. Hunger circled like a shark, patient and inevitable.
I recovered a few luxuries from the shipwreck. Some rope, a sharp piece of metal. And a way to make fire. I started each day with a signal fire, casting my thin trail of smoke into the sky like a fishing line.
I made a belt from the salvaged rigging and managed to climb the trees. There, carved into the bark twenty feet in the air, I discovered a series of slashes. There are no straight lines in nature. Someone had been here when this tree was much shorter. Another survivor, marking the days and months.
Who were they? When were they here? Had they escaped? My mind starved for answers as my body starved for food.
There was nothing to do but wither beneath the sun as it crawled across the empty heavens. Too weak to stand, I lay pinned between the sky and sea. I could feel myself being ground into sand. I cursed the sun until it withdrew. At night I was plunged into darkness, alone and adrift between voids that stretched in all directions.
I listened to the soothing whisper of the trees like a helpless newborn. The island was the only solid thing on the endless blue line between air and water. Its gentle voice assured me that I still existed.
And then the voice fell silent. I watched my trail of smoke straighten and heard the hum of engines. A small plane descended from the sun like an angel. I trembled, too drained to weep.
The tranquil surface of the sea erupted as a flock of birds took flight. I didn’t see the impact but I heard the engines sputter and scream. The plane smashed into the ocean. My angel was reduced to a smear of burning oil.
The red tide parted as I leapt into the waves. I salvaged this plastic bottle, this pen, and some paper. I eventually pried loose the cockpit radio. I did not find any survivors.
Throngs of fish welcomed me back to shore. Undiscovered fruit, succulent and ripe, bobbed low on branches. I gorged myself on the islands bounty while its breeze gently stroked my tangled hair.
The red tide returned before I fixed the radio. My rations are dwindling. I know that if I call for help more people will die.
This note is my confession. I will call for rescue.
And the island will love me.
Jeff C. Carter lives in Southern California with a cat, a dog, and a human. His love of science, adventure and Halloween inspires his fiction. His stories have been featured in Medium.com, Great Jones Street, as well as several magazines and anthologies. He is a host of The Six Demon Bag Podcast. Find more of his stories online.