I come back to myself in bits and pieces. There’s a rushing sound, like a watery heartbeat. Gritty sand beneath my cheek and the hot sun beating down onto my white racerback tank top. Salt air, carried in on a stiff breeze that stirs my tangled brown hair. Birds calling out to one another in a sky that I’m sure would be blue if I could just get my eyes open.
One eye pops open. The other is buried in the sand and I push myself up onto my side. Pain flares to life, dancing up my scratched legs and battered torso, all the way to my right temple. There’s something warm oozing down over my eyebrow and I reach up to find blood. I reach up farther, explore the edges of the cut with careful fingertips. It doesn’t seem too bad. It could have been worse.
Sand showers off my torn black leggings with a raspy hiss as I stagger to my feet. The waves pound against the shore beneath a pure blue sky and I block my eyes from the sun. There’s nothing out there. Only a few scattered pieces of wreckage from what had once been my friend’s boat. At least the sky is clear again. Last night it had been angry with dark grey storm clouds, barely visible between flashes of lightning and sheets of rain.
A tear escapes the corner of my eye. My friends are all dead. When the storm had hit, they’d fled below deck, hidden in the cabin buried in the belly of the boat. A bad place to be when the boat had at last capsized. They’d been trapped inside, unable to open the doors against the crushing waves. I’d only escaped their fate because I’d been on deck, trying and failing to keep the boat on course.
They’d closed the door in my face. Left me out to face the storm’s wrath all alone. An uncharacteristic act of selfishness after a lifetime of faithful friendship, from high school on into adulthood. I can still see the look of terror in Alicia’s eyes as she’d closed the door, the desperate screams from Angela and Kate. I can’t hate them. They were afraid. Now they’re dead and I’m here, all alone on what is hopefully not a deserted island.
Fear makes my mouth feel dry. I fight it down, quell the rising sense of panic. It won’t help me here. That can come later. For now, there’s a chance, however slim, that someone may have been listening to Alicia’s repeated mayday calls on her battered old radio. They might be out there looking for me. I only have to survive till then.
“Ok,” I whisper to myself. “Let’s see what the damage is.”
I spend some time walking briskly along the shore in my soggy hiking boots. It’s not a large island. In fact, I can see all the way to where the shore curves around the interior, and I’m soon right back where I started. Three hours, maybe, just long enough for the sun to reach its zenith. That doesn’t bode well for me. There's nothing on the horizon. No searching ships, no planes crisscrossing the sky.
It is beautiful here, though. Like a dangerous slice of heaven carved out of the ocean's watery flesh.
I turn to look at the heart of the island. A dense jungle awaits me just past the swaying palm trees at the edge of the shoreline. The canopy is so thick that the sun’s rays barely reach the jungle floor, casting everything in dim shadows. I make a face. There could be anything in there. Predators, quicksand. Even a mosquito carrying a viral load of something I’m not vaccinated against could end this adventure real quick.
Maybe tomorrow. For now, I need to make some sort of shelter here on the shore before night comes. Pieces of the boat have made it past the breakers, swirling in endless eddies just past the shore. I wade past out into the water to start pulling whatever I can find to dry land. A few waterlogged blankets, the torn sail. Even a few bottles of water, cans of soup, and the metal first aid kit. I spend an inordinate amount of time dragging a large piece of the hull onto the sand. It's too cracked to be seaworthy but it’ll make a good floor for my shelter.
Something bumps into my leg. I stare down through the clear water and a choked sob forces its way out of my mouth. A body, floating facedown, tangled black hair drifting like seaweed. I reach down to turn her over. Alicia. She’d left me to die and now here I am, holding onto her battered body as the current tries to pull her away. I wish I could bury her. I wish I could give her a proper funeral but I can’t and so I give her a gentle shove. The current takes her and she vanishes beneath the foamy breakers.
The sun has begun to slide toward the horizon by the time I’ve gathered everything I can see. I work quickly to build my shelter, moving further onto the shore and planting my new home at the center of a copse of palm trees. I shove the hull between them, loop lengths of vine around their trunks to hang the torn sail. It’s not much but it’ll do for now. Hopefully the blankets will be dry by tomorrow.
I sit down in my little shelter then crack open the first aid kit to clean and bandage the gash on my head. I use a rock to beat open one of the soup cans, scoop broth and meat out with my filthy fingers, wash it down with one of the water bottles. This won’t last long. Tomorrow I’ll have to set up some sort of water collection, maybe using the broad leaves in the forest. But tonight, I’ll go to sleep with a full belly, wake up tomorrow strong enough to keep going. I hope my luck holds out.
My skin is tanned and leathery. My waist long hair is pulled back into a messy braid. The wound on my temple has healed over into a jagged, raised scar. My poor leggings are nearly done for, so shot through with holes and tears that I’m barely decent, and my ragged tank top is no better. I've taken to tying one of the blankets around my head and shoulders, just for some protection from the sun.
I'd lost interest in keeping track of time when I hit the six month mark. The little piece of driftwood I’d carved daily tally marks into sits where I threw it all those weeks ago, half buried in the wet sand. Time has no meaning. I’m here and I’m still alive, somehow. The snakes have long since stopped trying to enter my camp and I haven’t seen a single mosquito. There’s only me, the sand, the unending, annoying, nauseatingly blue sky and equally blue ocean.
I spend my days wandering through the forest in what remains of my rotted hiking boots. I collect the fruits that I figured out were edible through some truly terrible trial and error, stuff them into the little sack I made from a long piece of cloth. I check on my water collections sites and transfer fresh water into the long emptied bottles of water from the boat. I fight off the occasional snake or aggressive little mammal. I fish with a sharpened spear, make my cooking fires by rubbing two sticks together.
My little camp has spread. As the days passed, I found more pieces of wreckage and I was quick to add them onto my shelter using vines and crooked nails pulled from wood too ruined to be of any use. Now I have…well, I don’t want to call it a cabin. Maybe a shack. It has four mostly intact walls, a blanket over the doorway, even a roof protected by pieces of tarp that I fished out of the water. I have a makeshift bed of leaves, a few spears, a handful of trinkets that I made from thread and shells.
It was fun at first. Building, crafting, scavenging. Watching my camp grow from a little tent to what could almost be called a home. But boredom and loneliness had set in before too long. I haven’t spoken out loud since I chucked the tally board away, not even to myself. I miss my sister. I miss my stupid cats and my video games and even my job. I miss my life.
I know now that I had never been grateful for what I had. My sister and I had owned a house together, filled it with cats and food and wine. But I’d always been searching for that next thing that would make me happy. The better job, the new college degree, the next boyfriend. I’d even agreed to go out on the boat as a way to escape my life, even though I get motion sick and am terrified of deep water. How stupid is that? I’m literally here, missing my life, because I hated my life.
The sun is lowering itself toward the horizon. Another day down, not that it matters. I go through my little routine. Use the hole in the ground that counts as my restroom, bury the fish bones from my dinner, leave the fire smoldering in place. I’ve long since given up hope that someone will see my fire but it helps keep the predators at bay. I lay down on my bed of leaves as the sun vanishes and darkness falls. Sleep comes quickly to me here. I close my eyes, eager to escape this misery and dive deep into dreams of what I once had.
Thunder sends me spinning out from underneath my blanket. My heart pounds in my chest as lightning splits the sky and the thunder hits again, rumbling through my chest. Rain follows, pounding down onto the roof as wind whistles through the gaps in my walls. I jump to my feet and hurry out onto the sand, as I always do during storms. Half to see the show, half to dare it to wash me away again.
The sky is a boiling nightmare backlit by near constant bolts of lightning. The wind tears my hair out of its braid, sends it lashing against my cheeks as I stare in wonder. I've seen storms here before but they were nothing like this. The ocean is crazed beneath the wind’s fury and the shore line has swelled so far that water caresses my toes even this far inland. Is this it? Is this the end of my tragedy?
A bolt of lightning dazzles my eyes but not before I realize that it’s going the wrong way. Sideways, cutting a fresh scar across the sky. Storm clouds curl around it as though trying to rip it down and I fall to my belly as the sound hits me. An ear shattering boom that pounds me flat into the sand. I’ve been in enough war zones to know what it sounds like when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier. Whatever this is, it’s going fast. And it’s landing here.
I can hear its passage as it buries itself deep into the jungle. The ground trembles with the howling death of trees that snap like twigs, their bodies tumbling to the ground and sending a flock of birds screaming into the air. I plant my hands against my ears, open my mouth to keep the cacophony from pulverizing my innards. All is chaos and breaking screams and shaking ground.
I wake up with my cheek pressed once more into the sand. Déjà vu. I pick myself up off the sand and turn to inspect my shack. It seems mostly untouched, save for a chunk of the roof that was torn off by the storm. The sky is clear and the sea calm as though they’d never ripped themselves apart. But the jungle is no longer whole. I can see the passage of the thing from the sky, see clear through the trees to the other side of the island. What was it? A jet forced down by the storm? Whatever it was, maybe it has something useful, and I take off into the jungle.
The animals sure cleared out of here fast. I only see a few snakes and birds that weren’t able to get out of the thing’s way in time, and I gather them up into my sack for an easy meal later. This place is ruined. All of the little trails I’ve made over the months have been utterly wiped out, as have three of my water collection sites and one of my favorite fruit trees.
I at last reach the edge of the jungle. Something sits in the sand, clicking and steaming in the morning sunlight. I skirt the edge of it cautiously and wish I’d had the wherewithal to bring one of my spears. I fish a stone out of the sand and hold it high as I approach the craft, ignoring the heat that shimmers in the air.
If this is a jet, it’s not one I’m familiar with. For one, it’s too blocky, like a giant triangle that ends in a massive set of twin engines. That’s what’s making the clicking noise, hot metal pinging as it cools. Black metal, sharp edges. Can’t be a jet. But I can see the cockpit beneath its glass canopy, just above where the nose has buried itself into the surf. The canopy cracked from the impact. All I have to do is take a few steps forward and I’ll see what’s inside.
My feet feel heavy. It takes an almost herculean effort to force myself to take a few feet forward and even more to lift my eyes up. Then it’s just a matter of making my brain make sense of what’s inside that shattered glass. I’ve been alone for too long. I’m seeing things, I’ve gone crazy. Because I surely can’t be seeing what I’m seeing.
I try to break it down in my head. Deep purple skin that gleams iridescent in the sunlight. An oblong head with a long nose that comes to a sharp point and eyes that seem too large even behind closed eyelids. Two sets of long, muscular arms sprouting out from a powerful torso, all of it wrapped in a skin tight black body suit. I can’t see the rest of it beneath the edge of the craft but I’m sure it’s equally unbelievable.
It's chest rises and falls but there’s no other sign that it’s alive. I risk a quick poke to its shoulder and there’s no reaction. I do it again, harder this time, so hard its head lolls to the side and still nothing. I look at the shoreline. The tide will come in soon and bury the entire front half in water. It’ll drown. I could leave it here to it’s fate. That’s probably the smartest option.
Yet I still find myself hauling it out of the craft, setting it across my shoulders, and carrying it all the way back to my camp. It’s so heavy. If I hadn’t spent the last eternity hauling water and food around this island, I never would have managed it. With every step, I call myself stupid and I turn around no less than six times, ready to take it back into the craft and let it drown. But I don’t. It’s soon safely ensconced in my bed, its eyes still tightly closed.
I stare down at it with a mixture of disgust and wonder. Other than the extra set of arms, the rest of it seems normal enough. Two legs, just as muscular as the arms and also encased in that strange black suit. A flight suit if the little diodes and regulators built into the chest are any indication. One of its arms is clearly broken and there’s a wound at its temple that leaks black blood. I splint the broken arm, bandage the head wound. It sleeps through it all.
Night comes. I sleep outside of my own shack beside the fire with my arms wrapped around my sharpest spear. I wake up every so often, race inside to find it still sleeping. When the sun rises, I make my breakfast of fruit and water then mush the remains into a sweet slurry to force down the thing’s throat. It swallows the slurry without a single flicker of its eyes and I stand guard over it for several minutes to ensure it doesn’t have an allergic reaction.
Days pass like this. I sleep out on the sand, feed the creature slurries of fish and fruit. Its arm seems to be healing and the head wound has stopped bleeding. That’s a good sign. I scavenge through the thing’s aircraft but, if there’s anything useful here, I have no idea what to do with it. I do pry up a few loose plates of metal to fix my roof, pull out the cushioned seat inside the cockpit and plant it beside the fire. My nights are more comfortable now and I even get some decent sleep.
I wake one morning to find my shack empty. The pieces of wood I used to splint its arm lay on the ground and the blanket has been draped carefully over the bed. A bit of panic threads its way into my heart and I grip my spear in one sweaty palm as I scan the shore line. No sign of it save for a set of tracks that head back into the jungle. Back to its craft. I follow it in spite of the fear pounding through my veins. The jungle has never seemed darker, nor more quiet, than it does today. My nerves jangle like windchimes in a hurricane as I at last pop out on the other side of the island.
Its head and shoulders are buried in the cockpit of its craft. I creep up on it, brandishing my spear in both hands. It straightens and I have to fight down a sudden scream. But it only stares at me from across the sands with eyes that look like pieces of the starry night sky, clutching a boxy piece of machinery in its long, spidery fingers. It takes a step forward and I raise the spear as adrenaline tightens my skin.
“Don’t!” I shout, my voice raspy and harsh from disuse. “Stay right there!”
Its fingers dance across the machine’s surface. There’s a grinding sound and it falls silent. The creature loops the box around its neck, lets it dangle against its chest. Then it opens its mouth. An unintelligible stream of words so foreign and strange that I could never hope to understand. I shake my head again, plant my feet and ready myself for a fight.
“I will not hurt you.”
It takes a second before I realize the voice came from the box. Tinny, cracked and mechanical, but still clearly English. The creature bares its teeth in what I’m sure is meant to be its version of a smile and speaks again.
“You healed me,” it says, lifting its arm. “Thank you.”
Questions crowd my head. What is it, where did it come from, why did it crash, what does it want. But there’s only one thing that matters to me in this moment. Only one question that I need answered more than anything else.
“Can you help me?” I ask in a voice that shakes a bit more than I’d like. “Can you help me get home?”
The creature tilts its head as the box translates. Its lips pull back again in that smile that looks more like a prelude to a biting attack than anything friendly. “My ship is damaged,” it replies. “I will need time to fix it. But, once it is repaired, I will take you home.”
Relief floods my veins. So strongly that I begin to weep for only the second time since I found myself here alone. The creature closes in and I let it, let it take hold of my forearm in some strange gesture of friendship. It’s two feet taller than me. It’s probably strong enough to rip me to pieces but it doesn’t. Instead it turns me around, gently presses me toward my camp.
I learn that their name is Ēlī'ana and that they're neither female nor male but something in between. I learn that they were on a scouting mission but some faulty calculations had launched them out of their own galaxy and sent them spiraling into ours. That's what the storm was, the backlash of their abrupt arrival. They’re pretty sure that they can get back. I offer to let them stay with me for a while, though I can’t imagine my sister’s reaction if they take me up on it.
I warn them about what might happen if they're found here. They only give me a sage nod as if they had anticipated as much. But they're sure that they can drop me off as close to home as possible and be long gone before the government can scramble their jets. I hope they're right. I don't want them to be hurt because of me.
They're strong. Adaptable. They can eat and drink almost everything, though they don’t seem to like fish much and prefer to devour ten melons in one sitting. We talk about our respective planets over the fire, complaining and bragging in equal parts. I tell them about my sister and they tell me about their clutch kin. They pull out metallic still captures to show me a glimpse of their strange world and everything looks magical, all hues of deep purple and glittering blue.
We replace the pieces of metal and the chair that I stole. I hold their tools while they solder chunks of machinery back together, patch wiring with quick twists of their deft fingers. I help them mix the amalgam that they use to patch the broken canopy. They show me where the ignition button is and I hold it down as they watch the engines for signs of overheating, shouting for me to shut it down when it begins to smoke. Apparently, fixing an alien space craft isn’t easy.
I’ve started keeping a tally of the days once more. In precisely one month, we’ve gotten the spacecraft up and running once more. It’s engines chuff and flame, crisping the sand into prickly black shards of glass. Ēlī'ana tucks me into the cockpit and I jam myself into the space between their legs and the controls. Their hands grip the various levers, pushing and pulling and twisting. The canopy slides shut and the engines growl.
“Are you ready?” they ask, somehow managing to sound eager even through the tinny mechanical voice box.
I gaze out through the canopy. This little island was my home for so long. Maybe one day someone will find my shack filled with the detritus of the life I'd made here, the hole carved into the jungle and the shards of black glass on the shore. They’ll wonder what happened here, who came and went with such fury that they left such an indelible mark. But we’ll be long gone. With any luck, both Ēlī'ana and I will soon be home.
“I’m ready,” I tell them.
The engines howl with effort. I’m shoved back against Ēlī'ana’s chest as we soar high up into the sky so fast I can feel the skin on my cheeks wobbling. I swear I'll be grateful. I'll be happy to have my life, small and meaningless as it is. Just let me get home.
About the Creator
You have potential. Keep practicing and don’t give up!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
I like your use of descriptive language, really well done! Specifically they way you describe sounds and feelings that go through someones mind. It made the story feel more real and relatable. Overall a good read!
Enjoyed the story. Great descriptive writing.