The Paleontologist and the Pilot
Two Men With Vastly Different Interests Share a Little Slice of Paradise
Tommy gasped for air as he broke the water's surface. Only minutes ago, he had been flying his small plane over the same water. An unexpected collision with a flock of seabirds disabled the engines, and down he and his plane went. Not all was lost, however; he'd gone down just off of a small, tropical island. Slowly, he swam to the island, clamoring on with great gasps from his labor. As he lay, face against the sandy shore, a shadow approached, until it was standing over him.
"Rough day?" asked the owner of the shadow. Tommy turned his head to look at the speaker.
The other man seemed to be in his early thirties. A belt of hammers, chisels, and brushes hung about his waist, and Tommy could easily see the dust coating the man's clothes and skin. A small bucket hung from the younger man's hand, and within it were chunks of rock.
"You could say that," Tommy slowly replied, pushing himself up to sit on the beach, "But at least I'm not the only one out here. Name's Tommy."
The other man extended a hand, offering Tommy help up, "I'm Jake."
Tommy glanced around, but saw no one else near. "You by yourself?"
"Yeah, my buddies should be back sooner than later. We had a little injury that needed taken care of. I got left behind to look after camp."
"Lucky you, huh? Whatcha out here for anyway?"
At this, Jake motioned to the bucket of rocks. "Fossils. Well, I am anyway. The others mainly came out here for fishing, but it's a good place to look for exposed fossils. Supposed to be a boy's weekend camping out on the beach: fishing, drinking...and looking for fossils."
"Guess I never thought about fossils on a beach..." Tommy muttered. Jake laughed.
"Get that a lot, actually. So what about you? You okay? Were you in that small plane I saw a bit ago?"
Tommy nodded. "Yeah, I'm all good. I was heading to Bermuda. But once I flew over the island, a flock of birds came up. Couple through the turbines was all it took to bring me down; my plane's gone."
"Wow, that's a real shame. I'm glad you made it out all right..." Jake offered, shaking his head in sympathy. A moment of quiet passed between them before the fossil hunter spoke again. "Well, since we got nothing else to do until my buddies return... You wanna have a couple beers?"
"That sounds fantastic. Lead the way."
Along the way back to the camp, Jake stopped to scoop up more promising rocks. At one point, he located a dry piece further up the beach. After a moment of eyeing the stone, he brought it to his mouth and stuck his tongue to it, much to Tommy's confusion.
"Did you...Did you just lick a rock?" This drew another of Jake's amused laughs.
"Get that a lot too. Yeah, an easy way to tell if you're dealing with a fossil or just rock is to see if it sticks to your tongue. Works best with dry rocks."
Jake rushed ahead as they continued on, eagerly searching the lowest parts of the beach only exposed during low tide. He seemed to delight in every small discovery he made, lifting objects high to see them better in the light. Tommy followed the fossil hunter with a smirk, shaking his head at his companion's antics. He couldn't deny that Jake seemed to really enjoy searching for fossils; he wished he had a hobby he loved with such passion.
When the camp finally came into view, Tommy took a moment to glance it over. Four small tents were set in a semi-circle around a fire pit, each outfitted with the gear of the man staying in it. A large cooler sat like an offering on the side of the fire pit away from the tents, drawing a curious glance from Tommy. Jake noticed the look.
"Ah, yeah, we keep the cooler on the far side. When we kept it on the other side with the tents in the past, it always wound up being utilized by one person more than the rest; this way, everyone has to get up and go the long way around to get a beer. It's a pain, but keeps it more fair."
"I see. May I?"
"Sure! Mind nabbing me one while you're there?"
The two men made use of the folding chairs and sat down near the fishing rods anchored to the shore in rigs. None of the baits were out, but Tommy found himself studying the rods, curious of the attributes of the men who owned them. Two were very new, very expensive models. One had seen a few years of light use. And the last was the oldest fishing rod Tommy had probably ever seen; how anyone expected that rod to catch a fish was beyond him.
"So uh, which rod is yours?" he asked.
"The old decrepit one, naturally. I actually don't much care for fishing, so I bring it along but rarely use it; it's an old hand-me-down from my grandfather. Scott and Trevor - brothers - come from a bit of money, so the two nice ones are theirs. Reggie's is the last. If you wanna use one, I'd suggest his. He's a good sport and wouldn't mind."
"You said one of them was hurt earlier?" Tommy inquired.
"Yeah, Reggie. Gave himself a nice cut across the hand gutting a fish last night. We patched it up as well as we could, but when we saw it in the morning light, we decided it was bad enough to take him inland to get stitches. I am a little worried though; I expected them back by now and if they don't get here soon, it may be a few days before they can get out here again with the tides. The boat we use is fairly small and it isn't great outside of conditions like these right now." Tommy furrowed his brow at the information.
"Are there enough supplies if they don't make it for a few days?"
"I think so. Especially with only the two of us."
The two men settled into chairs, beers in hand. Tommy eventually decided to try out Reggie's rod, so he retrieved it, stating a bit somberly, "I'm out of practice, but I used to love going fishing with my dad. He passed about fifteen years ago, and I hadn't gone with him for about another five years prior to that."
As the two settled in with more beers, they watched the sea birds flying low as the sun began to dip. The sea sparkled and shimmered with a variety of colors, and Tommy found himself to be quite cozy when Jake mentioned he was getting up to get the fire started. Upon the younger man's return, he held another beer for each of them, and Tommy took his gratefully.
"Thank you for your kindness today."
"No problem. It's not everyday a pilot washes up! Couldn't just leave you there."
"I forgot to ask; how'd you know I was there? You weren't scouting for fossils that far from camp, were you?"
"Nah. I saw your plane fly over, and a little later I heard some kind of commotion - probably your plane hitting the water. It was out of place enough that I wondered if that's what had happened, so I started heading that way. By the time I walked over, you'd swum to shore."
"That much of a hurry, huh?" jabbed Tommy ruefully. Jake smirked and nodded.
"Hey, I was only assuming the noise I heard meant someone was in the water. Maybe if I had known for sure, I would've been a bit quicker about it."
The two sat around the campfire as night fell, cooking up provisions the group had brought for the trip. They ate well, gazing at the stars, the waves, the flames and talking about a range of things. It was the best night Tommy had had in a long time; most of his friend group had died, leaving him alone and adrift in his life. Jake and his friends sounded very close from the stories Jake told him, though - maybe as close as Tommy had been with his friends.
Tommy used Reggie's tent, noting he would have to thank the man profusely for his use of the man's belongings. Jake spoke most highly about the lax man, and he hoped his hand would heal well and Reggie would land a proud catch the next time he cast his line. With that thought in mind, he drifted off to sleep to the sound of a night wind through the palm trees.
When the two men awoke in the late morning, there was still no sign of Jake's friends. The water was much higher than the day before, and Jake reported that it would stay like that for several days; they'd likely be on their own for that time. Fortunately, the food and beer they had would last them through this trying time.
"So, what should we do to kill a couple days on such a lovely island?" asked Tommy.
"Hm, tough choice since we're spoiled for choice! Wanna go swimming in our favorite cove? There's so many fish! And starfish! Starfish everywhere. It's a great place." Jake mentioned. Tommy nodded.
"Grab a couple beers and let's go!"
And so it went for about four days; both men enjoyed a number of activities together from swimming, drinking, stargazing...etc. Jake even talked Tommy into fossil hunting one afternoon, and the next day, the older man persuaded Tommy to fish with him. They didn't catch much, but they had a great time nonetheless, and by the time the tides ebbed and Jake's friends returned to camp in their small boat, the two had made an impressive bond.
"Hey Jake! Who's this?" called Scott as the friends landed on shore.
"Ah, just someone who washed ashore after you all left," joked Jake, "His name's Tommy; his plane went down just off shore."
"A plane? Not like..." started another man. His similarity to Scott informed Tommy this was probably Trevor. Tommy jumped in to clarify.
"Just a personal plane. I was flying over to Bermuda but uh... well, I wound up here. Jake was kind enough to let me stay with him. I believe I owe you boys a couple cases of beer when we get to the mainland."
Reggie stayed in the boat while the rest packed up and loaded the vessel; almost everyone needed to be back to work within a few days, and they wanted to give themselves time to unpack at home. For most, this boy's trip was a letdown, and Scott and Trevor in particular grumbled about the fact.
So when it was time to head out, Tommy caught Jake's attention a moment.
"So, uh... After we part ways today..."
Jake, surprised, let loose a wolfish grin.
"Same time, same place next year?"
About the Creator
A fun spin on her last name, Baker enjoys creating "Baker's Dozen" lists for various topics, several of which have earned Top Story honors on Vocal.media! However, she also writes candidly about her mental health and a LOT of fiction.
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