He brought himself to his knees. The blazing sun reflected off the water and white sand surrounded him. He averted his eyes from the glare and focused downward at his tattered tan pants. He was covered in wet sand.
Where am I?
He breathed in and out and listened to the waves crash trying to conjure memories. The odor of salt was thick on the breeze. He raised his hand to shade his eyes from the sun’s reflection, and a sudden jolt of pain shot up his right arm. He grasped his injured limb with his left hand and winced as he rocked back and forth.
A vile stench of fish wafted past him. He grasped his mouth and tried not to vomit. His body shook as he made his way to his feet and swayed as he tried to gain some balance. He gasped at the sight before him. His body buckled beneath him and he fell to the sand like a broken bridge.
As he lay unconscious, a woman came to him.
“Wake up,” she pleaded as she leaned over the injured man.
He opened his eyes and rolled over in the soggy sand to face the source of the voice. She floated backward. Darkness shielded her face. She spoke to him in ethereal rhythms and melodies that flooded his brain and sounded muffled and unclear.
“What’s happening? Where am I?”
“You are back and you are sleeping. You need to wake up,” the woman commanded with urgency. She stood and her dark robe straightened as she hovered above the beach.
“What do you mean I am back? Who am I?”
Shadows covered her hooded head and glimmers of blonde hair shined through, and she disappeared from the dream.
Waves covered his body as the tide rolled in and splashed him awake. The pain resumed like a slap in the face. He rolled over and up to his knees to view the sun setting over the horizon. Sand and spit sprayed as he coughed out a mouthful of the sea. His lips were chapped and his tongue felt swollen. He raised his arm to wipe his mouth. Sudden jolts of pain surged through his extremities.
A dozen tiny red dots pricked the side of his wrist, and the rest of the outside of his arm was covered in a large red welt. Something had bitten him. As the waves sloshed past his body, the cool salty waters eased the sting. With a deep breath in preparation, he made his way to his feet, taking in the view of the sea.
The sun had passed the horizon, and as a faint golden color glimmered across the waves, the sky melted into a blood-orange hue. Mesmerizing waves of blue spheres spanned across the water as if it was a wrinkled polka dot dress.
“What are the odds of getting stung by a jellyfish anyway?” he wondered. “One hundred percent.” He laughed at his luck. “One hundred percent.”
As he looked away from the setting sun to the west, he gasped at the sight before him. Dozens of boats had washed up, all destroyed. It looked as if the gods grabbed an entire harbor, crumpled it up, and sprinkled the boats across the shore. For a slight moment, the pain subsided, replaced with wonder, and he tried to comprehend what had happened on this beach. His heart thudded in his chest as he took in all the destruction and the realization hit him.
I’m trapped, aren’t I?
Sweat broke the surface of his skin. His breath quickened. Which boat was his? His thoughts wandered as he was unable to find his craft, his identity. The need for supplies and something to drink was imperative. He shook his head as he scanned all of the wreckage in the distance. There was not a single ship that hadn’t been covered in barnacles.
The jungle was the only possibility of fresh water. Tremors shook his exhausted legs as he stepped to the edge of the vast leaves and vines. He yanked at the vines and leaves trying to get a better view of the jungle floor to no avail. With dozens leaves, sticks, and vines aside, more obstacles were exposed. The jungle was too thick and intertwined to get in. He took a few steps backward, looking down the edge of the jungle, to see if there was an alternative way in. There was no entrance. He would have to cut his way in. He changed his direction in the search for a blade.
Littered amongst the sand, the contents of the sea crafts gathered along the edges of tidal pools all the way to where the jungle met the beach. The tide was coming in fast edging closer toward the jungle. From his position, he couldn’t see down the beach to the end in either direction. Was he on an island or the mainland? This must be a secluded island, or there would be a lot of people looking at this incredible sight.
He waded into the warm ocean up to his hips to get a better look at the shoreline, but something stopped him. Jellyfish were all around him blocking his path to a better view. He looked over his shoulder and sloshed back to the shoreline to safety.
Corroded by the elements and overtaken by barnacles, various items on the shoreline sparked his interest with their possible uses. He found several jars filled with different substances displayed as if they were used for scientific purposes. He moved through the sand and glanced across the beach in search of something he could use to cut some vines or trees. He uncovered dolls, boxes, jewelry, ammunition, crab traps, and many strange items he didn’t recognize.
“Thank the gods!” he let out as he dove to the ground. A scabbard protruded from the sand. It was possible this sheath housed a fine sword. He gave it a yank and the pain in his arm screamed, but the blade didn’t budge. He straddled the blade with his feet, bent over, and grabbed it with both of his hands. He let out a grunt, leaned back and used all the remaining strength in his thighs. It slipped out from the sand and he stumbled backward. With a thud he landed butt-first to the ground and latched onto his hurt arm, dropping the sword.
The leather rain-guard that separated the cross guard from the base of the blade was weathered and stiff. Made to keep moisture from getting into the scabbard, this seal fused the blade in tight. He tugged at the hilt, but he couldn’t get it free.
“If only I had a blade to score the leather to free this sword. The gods do have a sense of humor,” he mumbled at the irony. He didn’t want to take the risk of breaking the hilt off the sword, but he had no choice. He squinted as he smacked it down against the rocks. It worked. It must be a fine blade if someone also took the time to craft a scabbard. He drew the blade and admired the craftsmanship.
He let out a deep breath, and his nerves calmed a bit now that he had the comfort of a weapon and the means to get into the jungle.
Though the beach was deserted, the island itself wasn’t without a variety of sounds. He jumped and tossed his head in the direction of each noise in the distance. Thoughts of crazy natives crossed his mind. For all he knew, he was exploring in some sacred place where his presence would anger the island’s inhabitants. He searched over the sand for recent human presence. He found nothing, not even a footprint. Only destroyed ships and their contents were trapped in tidal pools.
If there were intelligent beings around here, then this place would have been looted dry. Unless this is all junk? He raised a theatrical fist, shaking it at the gods. Then ceasing his outburst, he frowned, remembering his amnesia. Was there anything he had accomplished worthy enough to merit rewards greater than junk? He imagined opportunity was only deserved by the worthy and he pretended to apologize to the sky.
To add to the theory of his isolation, sealed trunks and boxes were completely weathered which suggested no one had been there for a long time. Anyone with a sliver of curiosity would have opened them. Whatever phenomenon was at play had been active for some time without human interaction.
“What a treasure!” he yelled out as he placed his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest. This place in its entirety was his, and he declared himself king. He cheered for his luck and then paused to look at his wounded hand. The score of his fortune versus the wilderness was even.
The remains of the day poked above the horizon. He realized his time had passed to look for fresh water. It was time to build a shelter. He needed a safe place to rest, away from the elements.
Off the edge of the shoreline, he found a large, broken container. The box wasn’t big enough to create a shelter with, but it did contain various tools. On the bottom shelf, he found some dry wood and a perfect board to create a campfire.
As he rested the board on a flat rock, he placed some dry grass at the end of a shaft in the wood and rubbed a dowel in fast repetition across the groove in the board. His arms burned with each stroke. After five minutes and a handful of breaks and adjustments, the faint glow of an ember shined at the end of the board.
He fueled tiny cinder with a breath and rested it on a small pile of grasses. With a few tiny breaths, licks of fire enveloped the grass. He fed the fire fresh air by wafting his tired hands about. As the flames built strength, he concentrated on the crackles of the fire which produced familiar melodies.
With a few twigs and dried leaves, he fed the fire a few moments longer to ensure it would remain strong while he explored for more fuel. He stood and brushed off the wet sand from his legs and grabbed his short sword. At the edge of the jungle, he chopped and slashed, clearing a few feet at a time. He bundled plenty of dead vines and large dried-out leaves and brought them down to rest by the fire. With one final trip, he returned with some larger branches, stoked up the fire with some longer-lasting fuel, and enjoyed the warmth for a few minutes.
A large branch protruded from his carved-out section of the jungle, long and thick enough for the main support of a shelter. He laid down the sword and grabbed the tree with both hands. He leaned backward with all his weight and the branch broke free from its hold. He dragged the beam toward the opening he’d carved in the side of the jungle. He angled it up against the base of a large stump. For this basic debris shelter, he chopped and leaned sticks against the main beam and pushed them into the ground. Then he lashed the tops of the sticks leaning against the beam with some split vines. He adorned the outside of the shelter by covering it with leaves, moss, and ferns found on the jungle floor.
He sat back and admired the craftsmanship and believed his construction would hold through the night. He completed the makeshift shelter by lining the floor inside with a bed of leaves he had harvested while clearing the bush. He added more fuel to the fire and stretched out his sore muscles and let out a hearty yawn. With the opening facing the base of the fire, he inched his way into his creation and laid down.
Licking his lips proved useless for his swollen tongue. His mouth was dry and his lips were cracked like baked desert mud. He swallowed hard. The predicament invaded his brief accomplishments and positive attitude. Who cares where I am or who I am for now? I just need water, otherwise, it’s not going to make any difference. I’m going to die.
He closed his eyes and tried to get comfortable, but now the fire was stifling. No matter the position, a rock or a branch bore into his back. Despite his uncomfortableness, his mind calmed as he realized there was nothing he could do now, and he started to drift off.
Half asleep, a strange, high-pitched noise entered his mind. Foggy and in a dreamlike state, he focused on the sound to determine what it was. Each second it came clearer until he realized the source. It was a boar. He opened his eyes to see the beast squealing and charging toward him.
He tried to scoot into the shelter. Then he realized he was encased in fire.