...::: 1 :::...
Ron and Willy managed not to drown, but just barely. They crawled up the beach, collapsed in the sand and lay there for a while with waves breaking gently around them. Their little bamboo raft had been crushed. Pieces tumbled in the surf and washed ashore.
After a few minutes of silence Ron began to stir. “I’ve still got nine toes,” he managed while struggling to sit up.
“Well I guess that’s good news,” Willy answered, making no effort to sit up himself.
“How about you? You ok?” Ron asked.
“Oh, I’m fine, thanks.”
“You don’t sound fine.”
“I’ve got a fish in my pocket,” Willy sounded more amused than annoyed.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means I have a fish in my pocket.”
Ron considered it for a few seconds. It seemed unlikely. “Sounds like a personal problem there buddy.”
“Oh it is Ron. It surely is,” Willy rolled over on his side, coughed up some salt water and cursed a few times while he wrestled his body into a sitting position. He surveyed the scene, taking a moment to appreciate how thoroughly the ocean had destroyed their raft. It had been one hellacious ass-kicking. If you could look past the near-drowning, it was really quite impressive. Eventually he reached into the right front pocket of his ragged jeans and pulled out a small, wriggling fish. He regarded it thoughtfully, then held it out for Ron’s consideration.
“See,” he waved it in Ron’s face, “fish in my pocket.”
Willy tossed it into the surf and fell over backwards. His head hit the sand with a wet slap.
“Well that went better than last time,” Ron said.
“Oh shut up.”
...::: 2 :::...
“We’ll just have to try again,” Ron said as he bent to pick up another piece of the raft. He and Willy were scouring the beach, trying to salvage whatever they could from the wreckage.
Ron and Willy were stranded on a tropical island. They weren’t really sure where the island was except that it was somewhere east of Barbados. They had been on another island near Barbados and the circumstances surrounding their departure had not allowed a lot of time for planning. So they didn’t know much about where they were. There were two things they did know; they seemed to be the only people on the island and it was really difficult to launch a raft from it. Ridiculously difficult actually. They had yet to find a place where the offshore reefs did not produce really large breakers and so their efforts to paddle out had thus far ended in complete and total failure.
Ron dragged a big piece of wood up the beach and dropped it on the pile he had started a half hour ago. A tall guy with light brown hair, a strong face, square chin and wide shoulders. He had been a wrestler back in college and was genetically lucky enough to continue being fit even though he did nothing to stay that way. He moved with direction and purpose. Not given to long bouts of contemplation, Ron was a guy who made up his mind quickly, then quickly acted out the things in his mind. He had already gathered five times as much wreckage as his friend Willy and he showed no sign of letting up anytime soon.
Willy, on the other hand, was smaller with a gentle face, wild dark hair and a certain multifaceted ethnicity that people found really difficult to pin down. His few close friends knew he wasn’t much help in that area since he didn’t know who his biological parents were or where they came from. His earliest memories were of a loving foster family in a Chicago suburb. They didn’t know much more about his origins than he did. They only knew he had been left in the ambulance bay of Cook County Hospital when he was five months old in an empty Amazon.com box along with a shipping slip for three books on yoga, one book on tantric sex and the full BlueRay box set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The intended recipients of that Amazon order were located and found not to be Willy’s parents. And also they were pretty upset that some total jerkhole had stolen their Amazon order.
In the way of description it might be worth noting that both Ron and Willy are pretty raggedly dressed. When they began their exciting adventure Willy was wearing a Led Zepplin t-shirt and jeans. Ron was wearing a blue button down and some khaki cargo pants but they have been lost on the island for almost two months. Two months on a tropical island in the middle of summer.
They're looking pretty rough. That's the takeaway here.
Willy found his backpack and gave up helping Ron in favor of unpacking it and taking inventory. Judging by his facial expressions, he was not very happy with the results.
“I said we’ll just have to try again,” Ron repeated, louder than the first time.
“Of course, we’ll have to try from somewhere else. This reef was just like the last two.”
Willy looked up at that. “And by ‘just like the last two’ do you mean impossible to paddle through and certain to capsize our crappy little raft sending us back into the water that happens to be filled with all types of vile little fish who try to devour us? If we’re lucky enough not to drown?”
“Hey, I’m the one who lost a toe!”
“And yet, you’re the one who wants to get back in the water. Maybe you lost your mind too.”
“I’m losing my patience. I can tell you that much. Now will you help me out here?”
Willy shook his head. Not angry so much as bemused by his friend’s attitude towards this whole raft-escape endeavor.
“Boo,” Willy called over to him.
“Did you just ‘boo’ me?”
“I did sir. I certainly did.”
“Well shut up.”
Willy waved a hand at him and went back to checking the contents of his tobacco pouch. It was depressingly empty. There might have been three of four pipes worth in there.
Willy was vexed. He had gotten drunk on another island with some old men a few months ago. They had been smoking pipes and Willy decided to pick up the habit. He’d be damned if he was going to give it up now that he had gotten over the nausea and dizziness. Learning to smoke was disgusting and not particularly enjoyable, but Willy was not one to give up on a bad habit once he set his mind to it. He could lose a good habit at the drop of a hat but he held onto those bad ones like herpes.
Not that I’m saying Willy has herpes. I don’t think he does. But it wouldn’t surprise me.
He shook his head sadly, stood up, shouldered his pack and started searching the beach for rope. Rope was the most valuable part of the raft because it took forever to make. Besides, Willy didn’t want to carry a bunch of heavy, water-soaked wood if he could carry some rope instead.
He waded a few steps into the surf and started trying to un-knot a clump of rope from the wood it had been holding together. Two minutes into it one of the aforementioned vile little fish bit him on the ankle hard enough to draw blood. He cursed it heartily and dragged the rope up the shore. He worked on the rest of the knot from the shaded safety of a palm tree.
The palm leaves rustled in the gentle breeze. The sun shone brilliantly and cast a million shimmering diamonds across the great blue expanse that seemed to go on forever. Gulls cried out on the wing above. It was a scene of divine majesty if ever there was one.
Ron and Willy hated it.
...::: 3 :::...
“Another gorgeous morning on Isla de Willy, don’t you think?” Willy said cheerfully.
“I am not calling it that.”
“But that’s its name Ron!” Willy mocked offense. “I christened it thusly when first we arrived.”
“When ‘first we arrived’ you were screaming like a little girl and begging Rat Tooth not to get us all killed.”
“That was an intense situation Ron. I had never been in a plane crash before.”
Ron thought about that for a few seconds. “That’s not even true. I know you’ve been in at least one plane crash before!”
“Well not one in water!” Willy was quick to point out. “And having been in both, I can assure you, a water landing is far more terrifying.”
After a few moments of silence from Ron, Willy continued, “If you’re not gonna call it Isla de Willy, what are we gonna call it?”
Ron chose to ignore him. Having known Willy for many years, Ron knew that was bait. Conversational chum. Little dissected chunks of nonsense meant to lure Ron closer. Were Ron to start nibbling he would be hooked into some idiotic tug-of-wits which he could never win. He had learned that lesson well. There was no winning or losing because Willy’s goal was not to win, only to keep the argument going. This was how Willy amused himself when boredom set in. And since they were stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere, boredom had not only set in, it had changed the locks and started getting mail.
In the 52 days since coming here topics of serious argument had included such gems as:
• The War of 1812 (was it really in 1812?)
• Was Paul Rudd the guy making out with Winnie on the last episode of The Wonder Years?
• Why does the sky change color at sunset?
• Is it bad for your car to let it warm up in the winter?
• Would dinosaurs taste like chicken?
• What exactly, was the deal with Ron’s ex-girlfriend and that douche bag from the deli counter?
• Is tofu actually unicorn meat?
• Are there still alien bodies at Area 51, or have they been moved to a new secret location?
Ron stopped walking and signaled for Willy to put down his end of the makeshift stretcher. It was really just a random amalgamation of raft parts tied together with their bark rope. Even so it was heavy as the dickens and they had to stop pretty often. This time, however, Ron had stopped to check out the view.
They stood on the crest of a rise several miles down the shore from their last launch attempt. They had been cutting inland instead of walking down the beach. The going was easier on the hard-packed ground and Ron had been aiming for this rise so they could get a look around. The body of the island rolled up and away to the northeast culminating at the peak of a small mountain. The vegetation grew thicker the further inland they ventured until eventually becoming a proper jungle. As their eyes climbed naturally up the line of the mountain they could see the treeline peter out two thirds of the way up the summit as though the trees couldn’t be bothered to climb that high, not on a day as lovely as today. The peak of the mountain itself was actually a fairly flat, multi-tiered affair some twelve hundred feet or so above sea level.
Willy palmed the sweat from his face and flicked it towards the mountain which was closer now than ever before. He could make out splashes of color on the hillside above the treeline. He was tempted to guess it was a field of flowers, but he had learned not to make assumptions about those kind of things. He resolved to go check it out at his earliest possible convenience.
Ron had no interest in the mountain and was studying the waterfront off to their right, following the slope of the beach up to a point where it ended abruptly in a wall of volcanic rock. The wall was a giant rib of stone some ten feet high running out of jungle and rudely violating the ocean until terminating a hundred yards out into the surf.
Ron pointed to it and shielded his eyes against the sun. “What about that? Looks like that might get us out past a lot of the breakers.”
Willy thought it looked dangerous as hell but he kept it to himself. “Maybe,” he replied.
“Well it’s definitely worth checking out.”
“Or maybe we should, you know, check out the rest of the island before we decide where to try next. Who knows what secrets Isla de Willy may hold?” Willy grinned and wiggled his fingers like he was about to do a magic trick. He was really not excited about the prospect of spending another couple weeks building another raft so he could have another shot at drowning and becoming fish food.
Ron was having none of it. He spit without seeming to realize he’d even done it. “I don’t want to know what secrets it holds. The secrets I’ve seen so far suck and I don’t have any reason to think they’re going to get any better. I just want off this stupid island.”
“Well that’s a pretty negative attitude.”
“No it ain't. Now let’s go.”
“That’s a double negative attitude!”
It took them another two hours to get to the volcanic rock wall. They were streaming sweat and had almost drained their water supplies which consisted of a single one liter coke bottle and three shittily hollowed out coconuts. They took shelter in the shadow of the rock wall and sat breathing heavily for a few minutes.
“One of us is going to have to go back for water until we find another stream,” Ron said.
“Rock, paper, scissor for it?”
“Two out of three?”
Both too tired to get up and face each other they displayed a slight breach of etiquette by playing side by side. This was outlined clearly in the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society Official Game Handbook which, for totally unrelated reasons, they had both studied in detail.
“One, two, three...”
“Shit!” Ron said.
“One, two, three...”
“Dammit!” Ron yelled, throwing his hands up. “How do you always do that?”
“I’m a lucky man Ron, what can I tell you?” Willy polished his fingernails on his filthy shirt and grinned.
“You’re cheating and I know it. I may not know how you’re doing it, but one day I’m gonna find out,” he pointed a finger at Willy and shook it for good measure.
“I can read your mind Ron.”
“Then what am I thinking about right now?” Ron asked.
“Definitely nothing involving blunt force trauma. I think it might have to do with hugs?”
Ron snorted laughter despite himself and tossed a handful of sand at Willy as he got to his feet. He now had to retrace their steps back towards the old camp until he could find the freshwater stream again. It would be a long walk.
“Just try to find something to eat while I’m gone, you jackass,” he began walking away. He paused to pick up Willy’s backpack which held the water containers.
“You sure you don’t want a hug? I have a special going on hugs today, two for one!”
Ron shot him the finger without looking back. “And get a fire going while you’re at it.”
“Fine. Have it your way. I will start a fire Ron, ‘cause you know I can start a fire like nobody’s business!”
Willy could start a fire like nobody’s business. This was because Willy had a lighter he kept hidden from Ron. He didn’t mind Ron using it, but he knew Ron would yell at him for wasting it every time he lit his pipe. Plus rubbing sticks together in the dirt for hours trying to make a spark kept Ron busy and frustrated him to no end. Both were fine things as far as Willy was concerned.
He sat down against the wall of rock and pulled the lighter from his pocket. He fiddled with it idly for a while. He didn’t light it but flipped it around in his fingers and regarded the plastic decal wrapping. It had cost him .49¢ and he had been carrying it for over a year. He had wandered into a gas station one night after a particularly rowdy party and painstakingly selected it from a five gallon bucket of discounted lighters. He looked through that bucket for almost five minutes, but when his eye fell on this lighter, it was love at first sight. It featured a picture of a North American River Trout onto which someone had drawn crude male genitalia with a black permanent marker.
Willy tried, not for the first time, to remember the name of the girl he met at that party, but it was lost. Much as he was now lost. He could only assume her name was tattooed on one of the hundred million or so brain cells he killed that evening. Decimated in totality by cheap tequila, cheaper beer and weapons-grade marijuana.
“Oh well,” he sighed. He was not one for regrets, never was. Instead he jumped to his feet, stuck his secret trout lighter back in his pocket and set out to find a sharp rock.
By then they had found some things to eat on the island that didn’t give them the shits too badly, but Willy didn’t want any of those things, he wanted a coconut. And he wanted a sharp rock to open it.
But he also wanted to pee, so he did that first.
...::: 4 :::...
By the time Ron made it back it was almost dusk. The sun was beginning to settle into the ocean like a super-hot, bikini-clad woman dipping her toe into the pool when everybody knows damn well she’d be better off to just jump in and get it over with. By which I mean, sure it takes her a while to get in the water, but it’s a nice thing to watch.
That description got out of hand, but you get the idea. It was a nice sunset.
Willy was sitting by the fire, admiring the spectacle.
“Wow, that’s a nice one huh?”
Ron sat down, dropped the backpack in the sand and considered the majesty of nature before them. “Yeah, those are some nice nimbostratus formations over there,” he said pointing to the south.
“Nimbo-what?” Willy asked, following his finger.
“The clouds, over there. Nimbostratus.”
“You mean the ones that look like bunnies?”
Ron shook his head smiling and took the canteen from the pack. “Yeah man, the ones that look like bunnies,” he took a long drink from the canteen and passed it to Willy.
Weather, like fate, changes quickly out on the lonely sea and Ron was grateful for the fire as the first chill breeze of the evening came in across the beach. He looked around to see how much spare firewood Willy had gathered but his eye stopped on something peculiar. There appeared to be several crabs cooking on a rock by the fire.
“Willy, are those crabs?”
“Oh, yeah. Crabs or something. I don’t know what they’re called but I’m gonna eat the hell out of ‘em!”
Ron picked one up and eyed it suspiciously. It certainly appeared to be a crab. He put it down pretty quickly though since it was a very hot crab. “They look kinda squashed.”
“Well I squashed ‘em with big-ass rocks.”
“Cause they’re really fast man. They were coming up on the beach but I couldn’t catch them. They kept running back into little caves in the rock there. So I got some rocks, climbed up there, waited for them to come out and dropped rocks on them. Pretty good huh?”
“Yeah, nice. Have you eaten one yet?” Ron asked.
“Well that would have just been rude buddy. I was waiting for you.”
“You mean you were waiting for my knife so you could get them open.”
“I am truly offended by that accusation Ronald. My only intention was to wait and enjoy the company of my good friend whilst savoring this culinary treat.”
There was a flash of blurred silver as Ron snapped open his pocket knife, flipped it around in his fingers and offered it to Willy. “Well by all means good sir, get to savoring.”
After a little effort, a few minor burns and some cracking of exoskeletons, they both sat enjoying mouthfuls of steaming crab meat. Even considering there were no lemon slices or melted butter, they agreed it was the best crab either of them had ever eaten, or could hope to eat.
A short while later they lay back in the sand, gazed up on the bright half-moon and Willy lit his pipe with a stick from the fire (not with the secret North American River Trout lighter, mind you.)
“You’re still smoking that stupid thing?” Ron asked through a yawn.
Willy turned a warm smile on him and clapped him jovially on the shoulder. “Ron old buddy, if I can’t enjoy a few creature comforts while stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere... well then I’d rather just not be stranded at all.”
“Amen to that.”