N.Jon woke up with a broken rib and a mouth full of sand. The sun was burning atop the cloudless blue sky. His throat felt dry, so dry that he could drink his own blood, had it still been flowing out from the seashell cuts on his limbs, to quench this thirst. He cried. He wept his own misery as he lay on that empty beach, wishing dehydration would take him out quicker.
Then, he picked himself up, shed a life jacket that seemed to weigh a thousand pound, and dragged his wet feet on the hot sand to the nearest shade.
Oh how he missed the luxuries of F.City! Air conditioners blew in every corridor from subway to high rise. The outdoor then seemed torturous and a shade, this shade, his former self would deem hell on Earth.
Every summer, his father would take him on a long road trip across the county to the less grey town in A.K. His father’s favorite spot was at a stone bench next to a crepe stand overlooking a large swimming pool where he said he had come every day in summer break to watch the girls in their swimsuits.
N.Jon came in and out of consciousness several times.
“Find a shade, stay out of direct sunlight.
Be patient on the hunt.
Be bold, be fearless.
And, more importantly, never relent.”
The words of his father echoed in his mind; funny how these were his most endearing memories and it took him an air crash, a day drifting in the ocean and the onset of dehydration to realize the fact. These were the words of a man who could spend summers in ambush with only a bottle of water and brought home the girl of his life.
These wandering, gibberish and chuckle-worthy thoughts ceased to creak in by sunset. What was left was depression, hopelessness and hunger.
In his first night, N.Jon walked for many miles under the silver moon. Past the sandy beaches and up the standing cliffs laid the vast dark ocean stretching to the horizons in all directions. His worst fear was confirmed; he survived an air crash only to be stranded on a deserted island. And all he got with him was a life jacket, a whistle and a few strands of seaweeds stuck in his hair.
On the day he consumed these seaweeds, he vomited and lost more water than the stagnated rain water he could find in pools formed by crevices in the rocks.
He sometimes wished he had gone down with the airplane.
There was no sign of any mammal but himself, no body of fresh water, no boiling hot volcano, and no convenient cave to speak of. But, there was a small patch of green shrubbery at the shoreline onto which he was washed, and also from which he hauled enough driftwood to build a camp fire. A tall rock wall shielded his back from the ocean wind, an overhang put a roof on his head, all he had to do was clearing the floor of debris and getting a fire going.
He could not start a fire.
His fingers blistered and swelled red like tomatoes. Flints, drills, bows; he tried them all but to no avail. No ember, no smoke, nothing.
He would try again, and again, and again for two more days. His strength was slipping away. He found it more and more painful to lie down and rest. His chest ached; it ached much worse than he could feel the day before. He could feel his own rib bone impaling his chest every time he inhaled. Adrenaline had long worn off. Exhaustion, thirst and hunger kicked in.
His second day sleeping on a deserted island, a life jacket, tinder and some driftwood were all that kept him above the sand. He slept at day and worked at night and in early morning. With a pointy wooden stick, he dug up small clams hiding beneath the sand and carved out oysters from rock faces during low tides. He left them on a flat boulder to dry under the sun for half a day, then washed them in a bowl-shaped driftwood bark of sea water.
Food and shelter asides, on this barren island, water preservation took the utmost highest priority.
In F.City, fresh water was in abundance and he would empty an entire water bottle on his hair in summer. Outdoor activities were never his favorite, but he was willing to; or more precisely, had to; make an exception for the girl next door, R.Lina. She was flamboyant and full of energy, and she was an unlikely owner of a bug collection.
That one summer, his father’s red pickup truck carried an extra passenger.
The road trip to A.K seemed twice as long outside of the cab. But halved to a half by a smile whose brilliance put that of the summer’s sun to shame. Waving a bug net and a clear plastic pin as they were heading back to the motel, R.Lina spoke fondly about the emerald cicada she caught in the forest.
N.Jon had the same dream every day, seeing R.Lina chase after a colorful butterfly with a bug net, listening to the reel of his father’s carbon fiber fishing rod, and wrinkling as sun glares caught his eyes through the forest’s canopy. He stood on the sideline as a silent observer, a prisoner in his own dream.
His health deteriorated. His sleep hours spilled over to night time. Three days, five days, one week; he could no longer tell for how long he had been stranded. The first time he broke into high fever, he was scared. For the first time in the real world, he could not move. He was a prisoner of his own body.
The end drew near.
Early morning on the day his fever was the highest, he was woken up by loud rumbles. In his eyes, he saw emerald cicadas, a swarm of emerald cicadas, singing in the sky, circling above him, and darkening the sun. A cold hand gently touched his forehead. Oh R.Lina, her bright smile faded…
It started to rain.
Digging his fingers in the sand, he crawled out of the shelter. Lying on his back and opening his mouth, he drank from the rain; and when he saw that more water was dripping down the edge of the overhang, he began to drink from the rock face directly.
The fever rapidly subsided as soon as there was water in his system, but the rain intensified.
The storm raged on for two days. Sea water flooded his camp in the middle of the night while he was still sleepy and feverish. The sky, the sea and the ground shared one uniformed color: pitch black. The horizon and the shoreline blurred by the rain. Thunder and lightning streaked the heaven; and, between the flashes he saw tidal waves two hundred feet high.
The waves thrashed the rock wall. Ferocious, unforgiving and relentless, they eroded the shoreline and claimed the beachfront for the goddess of sea.
N.Jon quickly realized he had been trapped between the old and the new shoreline. He had to make a break for the new shore before the gap grows wider. Putting on his life jacket, he prepared himself for the dive. He waited for another flash of lightning to show him the destination. The wind and the rain battered his exposed skins. His heart pounded harder in his chest. Adrenaline surged through his veins. And then…
The flash came. He heard the reel of a fishing rod in his mind.
“Be bold, be fearless.”
His father whispered these words into his ears. In a split second, he saw his father with the brand new navy blue carbon fiber rod standing by his side, posing to cast the line.
“And, more importantly, never relent.”
His father cast the line. He dived into the murky waves…
One stroke, two strokes, three strokes…
He began counting the number of strokes he made and surfaced to take a breath every third stroke. He had learned this from his father one summer, at the swimming pool where his parents first met. His eyes were sore. He could not see in the water without goggles. Worse, every six strokes he made, the torrent pushed him back by four.
Then, it happened. Debris in the water punctured his life jacket. He began to sink beneath the roaring waves, sinking closer and closer to Davy Jones’s locker every time.
“And, more importantly, never relent.”
His father’s voice continued to echo in his mind. Almost there! He was so close to shore, he could feel his feet touching the bottom before the torrent pushed him into the sea again.
He took a deep breath for one final home stretch.
But, he was immediately pulled under by an unseen whirlpool. His arms and legs tangled in a nylon net. Calm, emerald currents rushed to his location. The raging black water became tranquil and crystal clear. The sun shone down from the surface and time seemed to have slowed down.
N.Jon saw R.Lina at the bottom, her chestnut hair fluttered in the water. Her brown eyes locked his eyes and he was reminded that he was in the river in A.K.
Her lips curled. These silent words, he understood so well.
“This is retribution.”
It was him who jumped into the river first. But it was the girl next door who left her body at the bottom of the river that summer. The bug net that steered him to shallow waters became the trap that sealed her faith.
A deafening thunderclap shattered the scene from his memories. The storm returned and so did the roaring tidal waves. But, there was a new glow of fire, a flickering yellow at the peak of the rock wall.
Thank to the light, N.Jon saw his left foot tangled in driftwood and like a yellow-fin tuna the block of wood dragged him away from shore with the speed of a javelin. Though he could see the danger, panic got the better of him and he was unable to shake free. There was nothing for him to grab on. He could barely stay afloat with a punctured life jacket.
Oh R.Lina, she got him good…
A heavy object fell from the cliff and made a splash ten feet away from him. Standing on the burning log starting to drift in parallel to him, his father shouted.
“Take me, R.Lina. Leave my son alone!”
There dark semicircles under his father’s eyes and untrimmed beard he had seen so frequently since the day R.Lina died. Both his father’s arms charred dark like coal and steam was coming out of his body. Those fierce eyes fixated on the block of wood that was dragging N.Jon to his watery grave.
The sixty-year old cracked a smile, gritted his teeth and leaped toward the block. The branch that was holding N.Jon’s feet snapped, his father’s body and the block vanished into the torrent. By the time the clouds cleared and the sun rose again, his fever had gone and his muscles were aching all over.
He lived off raw shellfish and rain water for another eighteen days before a patrol plane spotted his distress signal written in the sand and rescued him. He survived for a total of twenty three days on a deserted island without ever starting a fire. It took him two more months to be released from the hospital, during which he learned of the passing of his father.
They found his body in the swimming pool in A.K the night one of the strongest hurricane in history hit the west coast. His father’s carbon fiber fishing rod was struck by lightning. Both arms were burned to charcoal. The body suffered extensive third degree burn.
But his father was smiling. He was smiling in the end.