What would you risk for the hope of a better future?
In a time when the world's finances are collapsing a few people take a chance on a well paying adventure that they hope will lead to a sucure future.
The Island has other plans for them though.
Shaun Fife jolted awake from as an alarm rang out across the deck. The siren made three loud beeps and then a two second pause until the beeps repeated. The noise was not coming from his room but was only slightly muffled by the walls. It was load and pierced his thoughts. He could see a flashing red light from under his door and decided it did not match the rhythm of the sound. Jumping out of bed, he pulled on some clothes, grabbed his packed backpack and tried the door. It was locked as usual. He had been locked in this cabin on a luxury ship for just over a month now. He had agreed to being confined and isolated until they reached their destination and began the adventure for which he was expecting a large salary. It had clearly begun or else something had gone horribly wrong right at the beginning. Shaun banged loudly on the door yelling: “Anyone there? Let me out!” and waited. No response. He pulled the fire extinguisher out of the top of the cupboard and slammed it against the door as close to the lock as he could. The wood splintered and gave way easily. After all this is a luxury liner and not a prison.
The red flashing light filled the dark passage and the siren hurt his ears now that he was in the passage. He knew it was best to get to the upper deck. When faced with the door to the room opposite him he knew that there was another contestant in there. He could always hear his handler, Sarah, deliver food to him just before she came into his room. He could make out their hellos before she closed his door and then it was just a muffle. The guy loved Westlife and was always playing it loud enough to hear across the passage. He had often thought about the man in the opposite room. So close and yet he could never communicate with him.
He remembered Sarah’s plea and reasoned that he could do with some people owing him favors if they were to spend a year away from normal society. His neighbor started to scream for help. He sounded panicked and genuinely frightened. Didn’t he realize this was all part of the game? Could it be a genuine danger even though they had received the backpack last night with supper? Not likely.
Shaun picked up his fire extinguisher again and started banging on the neighbors door. With the door frame on the opposing side it didn’t give way easily and it took him a few tries to bend the lock enough to open it. When he finally did get it open he saw a young, skinny computer type kid staring at him in panic. He was wearing nothing but silk boxers with the words ‘geek’ repeating across them. Shaun’s heart sank. This was not the favor he needed.
Calmly Shaun spoke in his usual commanding tone. “Get dressed now!” The boy looked down at his boxers noticing Shaun’s eyes and back up at the stranger and back down at his boxers. “Put on shoes too!” Shaun continued sternly. “Get your backpack. Please tell me that you have packed your backpack?” Shaun said with a touch of frustration starting to creep into his tone at the end. The room was in a mess, clothes and shoes lined the floor. He could see a towel on the floor in the bathroom. They cleaned every second day. How could this place already be a disaster?
“Yes, um. Yes its packed. Um. Mostly. Uh”, the boy mumbled as he flung into a frenzied chaos of dressing and grabbing things and apologizing. As he went Shaun picked up a few essentials and stuffed them into the kids bag along with the knife that was originally in the bag but had been taken out and left on the floor. This kid was a disaster! He threw the bag at the kid. “Keep up! The boat may be sinking.” Shaun said as he stepped out of the room.
“Sinking!” yelled the geek as he fumbled with one of the bags straps and tried to fling it over his shoulder. It bounced back around and fell back into his hands. He had flung the wrong strap on. “How could it be sinking? Aren’t we supposed to be on the way to an island for the year?” he said a little out of breath already.
“Perhaps the last bit will be a swim. Tell me you can swim.” Shaun said as he made off down the passage rolling his eyes.
“Yes, yes of course I can swim. But then ..” the boy looked down at his jeans and Nike running shoes, “… I may need to change.” Shaun stopped in his tracks and turned around to look at the boy a few steps away. Shaun gave him a look that immediately ended the conversation and they began running down the passage together.
Shaun knew the way to the lifeboats. Sarah had often passed by them when taking him for his daily run around the boat. The boat was large and designed for entertainment but with so many contestants that couldn’t be in the same place at the same time they only had thirty minutes a day to run the full track around the boat. Shaun loved that time the most. Sarah was young, beautiful and fit but she had many duties and was often tired. Shaun liked to goad her as he made large strides, trying to lose her in the jog. Most days Sarah allowed the light hearted mischief but lately she was not as much fun. Last week she had stopped overly panting by the lifeboats and whispered: “You know where you are now?”
“Of course I do. I know this ship like the back of my hand!”
“Good. You know how to row?”
“You make me row half an hour a day at the gym, Sarah. You know I can row.” She responded by taking a lingering look at the lifeboats and returning her eyes to Shaun’s. Shaun came in closer and could barely hear her words over his heavy breathing: “I am in charge of eight of you. Don’t leave anyone behind!” Her eyes went dark and determined. Shaun almost leant in to kiss her as she looked so beautifully intense in that moment of compassion and concern but she stopped the feigned cramp pose and loudly said: “Well off to the gym then if you think you can row!” and they never spoke of that discussion again.
The sirens brought him back to the present and the deep red flashing lights were beginning to disorient his wandering mind but once he regained himself they made it up the stairs and out into the low light just before day break. The sea was dark and ominous but the sky was showing a hopeful light in the distance. And there was the Island he had seen for the first time three days ago. It was closer now than yesterday. “Flip man, that’s still a long swim!” the quivering boy exclaimed but Shaun just let the words hang. When they reached the boats one was already being lowered with four people in. Shaun had wasted a lot of time getting the geek and it seemed had almost missed the people with muscle enough to get them to shore but they had made it. He jumped in and helped them steady the boat and lower it using ropes from either side when the math hit him. They were only six.
“Wait!” he yelled. “More are coming!”
“How can you possibly know that? Are you a handler?” an angry looking man with darker skin that Shaun’s replied. He had reflective eyes and they seemed to bore into you. Combined with the cool air of dusk Shaun felt a wave of gooseflesh across his arms and back.
“No, I am a contestant. But I am sure there should be more.” He replied not wanting Sarah to get into trouble.
“So let them take the other lifeboat!” the woman sitting in the middle added. She seemed calm and in control although she was doing nothing to help.
“We could use more rowing power to get to shore.” Shaun tried again. “They could be trapped on a lower deck!” he tried again in an attempt to stall them but as the words had just been spoked the boat shifted violently and their little lifeboat slammed into the side of the ship. Shaun fell onto the man on the left but he was pushed off instantly. The other lifeboat next to them creaked and started to drop slightly on the right side.
“I am strong enough to row!” yelled the man who had shoved him. He had a Spanish accent and a mustache. Shaun jumped out just before the man let the ropes drop which flung the lifeboat into the sea. As Shaun watched it descend past reach he noticed only four in it and turned to find his rescued friend standing on deck with him. That was the first time he noticed he was wearing a Darth Vader T-shirt. Westlife and Darth Vader were a combination that almost completely pulled Shaun from the gravity of his stupid decision to stay aboard.
“Jump in buddy.” You can swim to them and make it to shore.
“I’ll come with you if that’s ok.” The little guy said rather confidently. He actually didn’t seem that young anymore now that he was covering up his silk boxers and Shaun did not want to row to shore alone.
“Ok… What’s your name?”
“Ok I’m Shaun. You stay here and try to get this lifeboat stable; I just want to check the lower deck in case.” Shaun was pleasantly surprised that Eli didn’t object but as he threw his backpack into the lifeboat he realized that Eli no longer had his. Shaun sighed as he realized it must be with the other boat heading slowly away.
Shaun ran back into the ship. Back into the frustrating noise of the alarm and flashing red lights. The sirens hurt his ears as he strained to listen for the cries of others during pauses. He had never been on any other level besides his own but he knew the staircase. It was wide enough and had beautiful wooden handrails and spiraled down to the decks below. He jumped down them grabbing the rail for support so that he could take three stairs at a time. As he hit the lower deck the ship let out a massive groan and rocked to the side which threw him off balance and into the wall. They really wanted to start this adventure with a boom. He was convinced that the water was already streaming in below him. He ran along the deck listening for people and checking doors but they all seemed open and empty so he headed back for the stairs to try the lower deck when the ship suddenly dropped forward and he fell to the floor and began to roll towards the stairs for a moment. He got up and ran to the staircase and took them more carefully this time. Impulsively he decided to start at the bottom level as he could hear water was already inside. When he hit the lower carpet his feet landed in a puddle and water was flowing down the now sloping passage, collecting in a pool at his feet. The water was cold as it began to soak into his socks and surround his toes and he watched it flowing around his feet imagining its cold fingers enter his shoes. He looked up to see a large muscular man explode from the door on the right filled with rage and intensity. He slammed into the door across from him from the momentum and he took off towards the door higher up.
A woman was crying on the other side of the locked cabin door that the man was now trying to shoulder in. He didn't even seem to notice Shaun's arrival.
"The door frame is working against you here. We need to break it into pieces." Shaun advised as he took in the door. These lower rooms were not as luxurious as above and seemed like they were going to be much harder to crack then his above. The man eyed him for a moment. He had a welcoming face and a concerned brow. He visibly decided to trust Shaun from that one glance.
"Good man." The stranger said as he ran off in the opposite direction.
"Don't leave me." The woman screamed from behind the locked cabin door as she heard the sounds of his running footsteps. "Please!"
"We are still here." Shaun replied. "Do you have your backpack on?" He yelled to try and calm her.
"Um.. Ok. I will put it on."
"What is your name?"
"It's Lula. Where is Milo?"
"I am Shaun. Milo is on his way." He saw Milo running back with a safety axe and blood running from his hand and he knew what Milo was planning. "I want you to stand as far back from the door as you can. Ok?"
"Ok. But..." The boat rolled slightly and Shaun fell against the door. Face first. The water seemed to start flowing harder and bubbles came from under her door. "It's coming in." She yelled as Milo reached them.
Milo took a swing as Shaun yelled a final warning to get away from the door. Milo was strong and well-built so he had created a sizable hole in the door in a matter of second. Shaun could see inside and saw a slender girl frozen in absolute terror.
“Can I come out yet? I can fit.” She said pleadingly.
“One more.” Milo said as he forcefully plunged the axe into the door. A large chuck fell into the water which was now up to Shaun’s ankles. He placed the axe down and Shaun watched as a bead of water run down his bicep. He was soaked from sweat and looked warn. He moved straight to the hole to assist her in a way that made Shaun feel a little excluded and so he hung back. “Now.” Milo said simply but forcefully and she literally lunged herself at him in complete trust and he pulled her through without difficulty. She was small after all. Her leg however had lost a battle with one of the shards and she was bleeding rather heavily but she didn’t seem to mind.
“You stayed.” She said. Her voice filled with awe as she cupped Milo’s check with her hand. “You saved me. Thank you.” Milo smiled and gave her a good few seconds of eye contact before he was tearing up his shirt and wrapping her bleeding leg. She seemed to be genuinely surprised by the blood, as if she had felt nothing.
“I haven’t saved you yet.” He whispered as he looked sternly at Shaun.
“I know where to go. Follow me.” Shaun said as he took off sloshing down the corridor back to the lifeboat. He glanced back to see they were following and noticed Milo and taken Lula by the hand.
The water was clearly flooding in and it seemed to flow and move along with them downwards. The exit was now completely underwater and the level was rising slowly every second. “We are going to have to swim.” Shaun yelled back. “It’s actually quite far.” Milo glanced at Lula and she nodded. “Follow me,” Shaun said as he dived down. The water was cold and salty and difficult to see far through because of the low light coming from the emergency flash. Shaun swam as far as he could until the water was up to the roof. He looked back at the odd pair close behind him and took a deep breath for the last swim to and up the stairs.
There were obstacles floating that nicked and bruised him. The flashes of red were disorientating but Shaun kept his eyes fixed on the exit lights on the floor. He kept pushing forward and hitting his head on the roof as the ceiling gradually sloped down but he made it to the stairs before the panic for oxygen hit him. He still didn’t buy the time to look back though. He turned up the staircase and swam for a long period around the staircase searching for air. Panic gripped him as he knew it would. It was far too late to turn back. Where was the surface? He could do nothing but keep swimming as he instinctively gasped in a mouthful of water, his body searching for oxygen.
He burst into the air and dragged himself out and onto the floor which was now at quite an angle. The floor was hardly any dryer though as water was now falling past his vomit and increasing the level from the staircase. Nobody was behind him and he could feel the boat groan and shift back to realignment as the water took hold of lower decks. The water started to drain down the staircase as the boat shifted. Water was rushing to the lower decks and causing a current that the others could be lost in. His stomach wheezed and shifted from the movement of the boat and the stress of the escape as he sat wet and cold in a dim light waiting for his new friends. Waiting for the only reason he had gone down in the first place. Waiting to have saved the life Sarah had requested. Waiting and hoping to succeed.
Milo erupted from the water in a spectacular wave of motion. In a second he was vaulting Lula out of the water and onto the passage which was now level with the bubbling mess of liquid that was the staircase. Milo had clearly nicked his head as blood gushed from a cut above his left eyebrow. It mixed with water from his hair and was slowly coating the left side of his face. Exhaustion had him as he was panting for air and energy. He launched Lula onto the floor causing a splash from the small layer of water and now blood. She was not breathing. “That was way too far! What happened?” Milo yelled as he tilted her head back and tried to blow what little breath he had into her mouth.
“It was the only way I knew. This ship is sinking man. Let me try that. You are out of breath.” Shaun yelled over the sirens as he moved into a position. Milo started pumping her chest. They had all gone through a safety course during the long sea travel and knew what they were doing. He tried to remember how to position her head as he blew into her mouth.
“Now!” Shaun said as he stopped blowing. Blood had trailed from Milo’s wound, down his arms and onto her chest. He pumped desperately and Shaun realized his attachment to Lula would make it really difficult if she died. The exit to the outside was still a way away and the water was slowly flowing all around them. He paused and Shaun began to blow once more. Her chest rose with his breath. He pumped again. Shaun started to lose hope as he blew again, again nothing. "Again" Milo yelled as he ran his hands through his hair in despair and fell back to the wall. Tears visibly welled and fell as despair gripped him.
“Don’t stop.” Shaun said as he looked Milo in the eye. “Keep it together.” Milo came back and tried again and with the third pump of her chest Sarah convulsed. Water vomited out of her lungs as she spluttered back to life. Milo was close to hysterics and clearly emotionally exhausted. “We have to go now!” Shaun said and tried to pick up Lula in his arms but Milo nudged him away and took her himself. He lifted her easily and stood up straight. Tears, blood and sweat muddied his face as the exit lights silhouetted his muscular build. Shaun was halted by this image that he would not soon forget. This was an unexpected relationship. They ran to the exit and were finally free of the wretched inside of the ship.
The sun smacked Shaun’s senses as he emerged from the dark ship. The day had begun and it was calm and beautifully peaceful unconcerned of the ships turmoil. It was such a sensory overload that Shaun stopped for a few seconds to allow the mind to take control again. The sun was large and bright. How long had they been down there. The sea was beautiful and clear and so inviting compared to the awful mucky water he had almost drowned in a few minutes ago.
“Shaun! What the hell! Move!” yelled Eli from the other side of the boat. He had managed to get the lifeboat launched and ready but was clearly impatient to leave the doomed ship. Shaun, Milo and Lula crossed the deck and managed to get into the boat whilst Eli untied and shoved off. Eli started rowing frantically whilst Milo slowly put Lula down and checked out her leg. Shaun found the rather extensive first aid kit that was in the lifeboat and pushed Milo into one of the seats. “She is fine now! You are not.” He said forcefully. Milo looked furious but after a few intense seconds staring Shaun down his brow relaxed and so did he. He had decided to trust Shaun when they first met and Milo was the kind of man that sticks to his word, even when the words were not spoken. Milo wiped the blood away from his eye in a messy swish and put his head back in complete submission.
Shaun used the kit to sew up the large wound above his eye and tried his best to clean and disinfect it. Then instructed Milo to lie down and rest a little, much to the horror of the only rower. As Milo was drifting off to sleep Shaun turned to Lula’s wound and he asked Milo; “So is she your sister or your wife?”
Milo sighed and mumbled, “Never met her before today.” Shaun chuckled and got back to work. This was not the time to ask any more. The adventure had clearly begun.
Alex looked across at Greg who caught his eye. He watched a bead of sweat accumulate and roll down the side of his face. It seemed to invigorate him a little more to see that he was giving his all as well. He took a deep breath and the two of them regained determination to work.
"Last big push!" He yelled as he dug his oar in and pulled. His muscled burned as he tried to move the boat. There were four others in the lifeboat but only two oars. The others were desperately bailing out water and trying to locate the hole.
"We will never make the island!" one of the bailers shouted over the general chaos. Alex looked longingly at the beautiful Island ahead. The calm seas were bright and inviting whilst the boat was chaotic and claustrophobic. Six people frantically working to get to the shore, an impossible task, doomed to fail. The boat was sitting so deep in the water that water would lap over the sides regularly from the commotion.
Alex realized too late that he would have to swim and so he chose to stop rowing as hard to preserve his strength. He was already exhausted anyway but he continued to move the oars in a show of team support. Greg was still digging in deep but the boat had stopped moving much anyway so the imbalance would be hard to notice. Alex tried to catch Greg’s eye to indicate the change in approach. They had been on rowing duty as a team on and off since they left the luxury boat earlier and he didn’t want to see him too exhausted to swim. Greg was determined and working hard to hard to notice.
“That's it I'm afraid” said one of the bailers for Alex. He picked up his bag and awkwardly put it on over his life jacket and dived into the water. They had put on the life jackets as soon as they boarded the boat. The handlers had told them to and they hadn't said a word for the first couple of minutes as instructed as well. But they communicated more and more as the ship was left behind. It was a happy and excited chatter. That is until they heard a tear underneath. Almost as if it was detonated but they all said it must have been something they moved over. Or some fish that swam by. The water filled the lifeboat pretty fast and the pleasant conversation turned to panicked commotion. At least the weather was good for a swim. They left the ship around noon and had been moving for at least four hours. They estimated that they were more than half way to shore when it happened.
Another man followed suit but Greg seemed to increase his effort, rowing with more determination than before. "Give up Greg! Look how much faster they are going already.” A woman said to him as she jumped overboard as well.
“I can't swim.” Greg mumbled as he collapsed hopeless into the boats bath of water. His face looked distraught as he tried to tighten his life jacket. He had a warm way about him. Almost childish in his excitement a few hours ago and now in his pleading eyes there was youth. He looked at Alex in desperation, just holding his gaze as if waiting to see if he would help. It was hard to tear away from.
“Did you just say that you can't swim? That's insane man. What were you thinking? We all knew this was an Island adventure! Are..” The ginger haired baler was yelling and Alex chose to tune it out. He got up and put on his pack. He pulled Greg up off his butt and helped him to get his pack on too. He looked a little dazed but managed not to deck the ginger haired idiot who was still yelling. “... This is not our problem!” He continued this time at Alex. There were only three of them now and the lifeboat was just about done.
“You are right. This isn't your problem you sod. Just leave and shut the hell up.” Alex lost his cool a little but the aggression seemed to help Greg out of his funk. His face perked at the solidarity shown against the ginger tool. Shocked the Ginger swam off after the others.
“It's going to be a long swim.” Alex said as he scrounged around for anything they should take with. Greg just nodded, eyes fixed on the Island in the distance.
“You can go you know.” Greg replied softly.
“I know” Alex responded as he found a large inflated box in a compartment in the boat. It looked like a cooler bag “Ok hang on to this and jump in.” Greg took the box and followed the instruction. He held onto the side for a while until he could comfortably float on the box but his life jacket did all the work. The cooler just reassured him. Alex stood up in the boat just as the water consumed it and he slowly moved down with it until his life jacket took his weight and he watched it slowly sink deeper and be engulfed in the darker water a few meters below. “Well there she goes.” He said to no one because Greg was trying hard to move forward. “Straighten your legs, lean onto the box, kick harder.”
“Ok, I think I am getting the hang of it.” Greg said as he splashed around pointlessly.
A couple of hours later and Alex was convinced that the island was much larger but honestly it was still very far away. The men had shared most of their history with one another but had become silent in the last thirty minutes. They longed for this leg of the journey to be over but there was clearly many more hours ahead.
The sea was calm and the sun was slowly setting to their left. The clear blue of the water was slowly darkening and the bright orange of the sunset filled the sky. The small slivers of cloud in the distance were filled with color as the first star became visible.
“It really is surreal. Can you believe where you are?” Alex said to break the silence.
“I admit it's quite beautiful but I am so sick of swimming. Do you think we will make the shore soon?”
“I think we will be swimming for the rest of the night. I just hope the moon comes up so we don't lose track of the island.”
“Ok” was all Greg could muster. His feet were aching and his mouth dry. He longed to sleep and was no longer swimming with much enthusiasm. They drifted as they watched the sun set, the last sliver dipping below the surface, a beautiful stream of light illuminating a path from them to the sunset. It was very mesmerizing.
“Did you see something over there?” Greg asked as cold shivers ran over his body. A ripple in the path to the sunset had shocked him.
“I did. But we can't be sure it is.” Alex had seen it too, a fin perhaps.
“Do we swim harder or will that only attract it?”
“No idea. But I have a knife in the top zip of my backpack. See if you can take it out.”
Greg fumbled with the backpack instinctively trying to pull up his legs but still remain afloat. He got the knife out, unsheathed it and handed it to Alex just as the shark made a pass to their left. It was definitely a shark. The shark was casual and circled once but then seemed to move off.
“Where is the moon!” Alex mumbled aggressively under his breath. The darkness was coming fast as the glow from the sun retreated. Soon they would have no chance of even seeing the fin. It rose out of the water again coming straight for them. Alex knew he had to make this approach count. To avoid another potential pass he grabbed Greg and pushed off away from him just as it approached. His heart pounded with adrenalin as he aimed for the monsters head. He could only make out the dark shape moving swiftly towards him but he prepared to attack. The shark was only going to nudge them inquisitively but Alex dug the knife deep into its face. Aiming for the eye. He could not see what he hit but the knife caught and flung from his hand leaving it embedded in the thick skin of the beast or else slowly drifting to the ocean floor. Alex hit the animal as it flew by and tore his shirt as he slid past it's rough hide. He cursed at loosing such a valuable thing before they had even made it to shore but the gamble had paid off for now. The shark, not used to humans in these waters had just been curious. After the shock of retaliation the giant moved on for easier prey. Alex hoped with one less eye.
“Did you get it?” Greg asked in a voice that betrayed him.
“I hope so because I lost the knife.”
“You are crazy man.”
“Sorry about the kick!”
“Rather a sore rib than a lost leg.” They laughed as the stars flooded the sky.
“Man it's getting dark. Let's stay together and drift until the moon comes up.”
“Here grab a corner.” Greg said as he prepared to share his floating box. They locked in together as the evening went pitch black. Only the stars gave them light but they too dwindled as clouds passed over.
“Hey Alex.” Greg said a half an hour later.
“Thanks for staying.”
“You would have done the same.”
“But thanks anyway!”
“Let's try get some rest.”
“Ok.” Greg said as they both closed their eyes. The lack of fresh water had caused heavy dehydration and the salt water had led to their hands starting to wrinkle and hurt. They bobbed in the calm swell and rested their heads on each other's shoulders. The night was long and sleep was short and came in patches. Greg slept better than Alex but he would constantly jolt awake after a bad dream. At about three in the morning the moon was bright enough to see the island and the clouds had disappeared. They started again to swim. Tired and sore but determined. They reached a sandy shore as the sun tipped the horizon to the right.
“We made it!” Alex said as the two of them crawled slowly out of the water. The sand was cold and their wrinkled skin hurt but the sun was rising and it promised warmth and hope. They took off their shirts and lay on the sand exhausted and soaked but happy. “So what is that box you floated on anyway?”
“I have wanted to unzip it since we left the ship but didn't want to risk it.” Greg replied.
“Well now's the time.” Alex said as Greg opened it up slowly. The cooler deflated immediately as he unzipped it and flipped open the lid. They sat staring inside for a long time. Shocked and overjoyed. Inside was yesterday's lunch, six bottles of water, six energy bars, six tuna sachets and six packs of crackers. There was also a large medical kit. Their jaws dropped as their stomachs seemed to synchronize their grumbles.
“A feast!” Greg said before they dove in to breakfast on a secluded beach with a beautiful sunrise. Alex was almost giddy at the change in circumstance. He took a bottle of water and allowed himself to finish the entire thing.