Chapter 1

Copyright© 2016 by Wyden Long

After a disastrous experience with cruise ships many years ago, the very idea of taking another cruise was anathema to me. However, the great majority of my dissatisfaction with the earlier experience had been based on the extremely aggressive tipping demands of the crew during my one foray into cruise world.

Recently, several people have told me that this situation has been rectified and that service on modern cruises is not marred by the practices that drove me away, so long ago. In addition to my aversion to aggressive tipping demands, it has been my view that cruise ships do not represent an acceptable return on my entertainment dollar, as compared with fixed locations. Having lived in Europe for several years and having become accustomed to the wonderful world of all-inclusive vacations on offer there, the idea of paying significantly more for a ship than for places I valued much more has kept them off my plate.

However, never forget the power of female persuasion. The sweet lady with whom I had been enjoying a very enjoyable friends with benefits relationship prevailed on me to accompany her on what to her was a cruise of a lifetime. She would pay her own way, but did not want to go alone. If I would agree to go with her, she promised unspeakable delights in the form of pleasures she might introduce to our repertoire that had previously been non-negotiable.

In fact, she actually agreed in writing to nearly all the shocking practices to which she had so vociferously objected in the past.

It was not so much that she agreed to do these things, but that her willingness to put them on the table told me how much this meant to her. That was the true reason why I agreed to go. If she wanted it that badly, I wanted her to have the experience, even if she reneged on every promise she had made, which I strongly suspected would happen, regardless of the signed agreement.

Of course no plan ever survives first contact and my friend came down with a debilitating attack of hives just a couple of days before time to leave. I was convinced that the hives were brought on by her dread of having agreed to perform the despicable practices to which she had agreed.

Oh, well. Her illness, though painful was not life-threatening, so when she urged me to go ahead without her, I went. If I’m going to be paying $250 per night for a fifty square foot hole in the ocean, then by God I was at least going to see whether I could find something to enjoy from it. Who knows? There might even be a friendly lady or two on the cruise.

The first day at sea was boring, with much of it taken up with the logistics of getting the floating city under way and heading in the direction of paradise. I met with the purser and he agreed to bump me up with certain amenities to compensate for the fact that my roommate was not along and would not be consuming the food allowed for her. This meant that I was able to eat one deck higher than my ticket allowed for. It also resulted in my being seated next to “Queen” Elaine at meals.

She was no more royalty than I, but made it clear from the outset that she regarded herself as having infinitely more value to the universe than anyone else at the table and that if not for the incompetence of her staff, her travel agent, the cruise line or the local newspaper, she would have been eating at the Captain’s table every night.

She reminded me a great deal of that irritating and insufferable social climber in the BBC episode of a few years back, who constantly reminded others that her name was not to be pronounced “bucket”, as spelled, but in the French manner, with the final syllable pronounced as “ay”.

[Author’s note. Patricia Routledge was so excellent in the role that I could not suppress my gag reflex enough to watch it. When she later appeared in a different series as a sort of detective, I thought she was wonderful. What a great actress.]

Because of this, my pet name for my table mate was “Ms. Boukay”. If she had known, I have no doubt that she would have tried to have me executed or at least defenestrated, if such can be accomplished through a porthole.

She was quick to point out the deficiencies of everyone at the table, in the room, on the ship and on the planet. Her water was too warm or too cold or too wet or whatever she could come up with at the moment. The food was tasteless or over-spiced, delivered before she was ready or loooong after she had run out of patience. If there had been any way for me to escape to my initial booking table, I would have done so, but the purser gave believable reasons why it simply could not happen.

Consequently, I tried to ignore the fact of her existence, which really set her off. If we had not collided with the submarine, she may have actually managed to off me in some creative manner, perhaps by drowning me in the spittle exploding from her tongue as she lashed out at me. If she hadn’t been such a bitch, I might have enjoyed her company. She wasn’t bad looking, at all, and might have been damned attractive if she had quit her bitching long enough to let her face relax.

Wait! Did I say “submarine”? I meant to say “SUBMARINE”. I wasn’t to learn until much later that the cause of our sinking was the culmination of a series of errors by both our ship’s navigator and that of an Ohio-class nuclear submarine that should have been nowhere near us. Well, we were in the general area of the Bermuda Triangle, weren’t we?

That sucker was longer than our cruise ship. The Ohio class submarines are nearly 600 feet long and our fancy cruise ship was over 100 feet shorter. It wasn’t like we ran over a log. It was like fighting Rhinocerii (ok, Rhinoceroses if you insist), butting heads.

Of course, at the time, all we knew was that something waaaay out of the ordinary had happened. Cruise ships very seldom come to screeching halts unless some trainee has been left at the helm and has approached the jetty at full throttle. It is my understanding that this is not the norm. The odds of running into a submarine loaded with missiles should be astronomical, so it never crossed my mind.

Regardless of what had happened and why, my retort to the Grand Dame of, “Get the fuck out of my face”, had died on my lips as everything on the table, plus the table and the chairs and all of us at the table had wound up in a gigantic, bleeding pile at the side of the room. Some people were struggling to get up, while others lay unmoving.

A quick look outside showed what appeared to be hundreds of people and other flotsam that had been thrown into the water from the outside decks. Some were flailing. Obviously, none had life jackets. There had been no indication that the ship would simply stop and fling everyone outside into the water.

I did a self check and found nothing broken or seriously out of place, so I began going around the room, helping people stand and righting tables and chairs so they could sit. One little kid had a leg that seemed to be pointing in an unusual direction, so I lifted her up and began looking for signs of emergency services. I knew there was little hope of finding anything useful, but what else could I do?

Amazingly, we encountered a woman in the hallway who claimed to be a Naval Corpsman and she agreed to take the kid from me so I could try to help where I was more experienced.

There was damned little I could do, but I did it until it became quite clear that the ship was sinking, as ridiculous as that might sound. Ships that size don’t sink, do they?

I don’t know. Perhaps the collision had ruptured more watertight compartments than the design allowed for? Perhaps each of several variables had reached worst case limits simultaneously? Who knows? I was dimly aware of the ship’s screws beginning to race as they were lifted out of the water.

Oh! and Shit! Feets, do your duty. The time for introspection and careful fault analysis was next week some time. Right this very moment, the order of the moment was “Move, now or die”. As a devout coward and a huge proponent of life (mine), I capitulated to the inevitable.

Luckily for me, somewhere along the line my subconscious must have prepared for this type of situation because rational thought could never have reacted in the manner that my body did while my conscious mind was still working on, “What the fuck?, Over.”

I found myself at the rail with a life jacket and arms full of rations and and first aid supplies. How I got there, I don’t know. Whatever compelled me to try sliding down the side of the hull as the ship lay on its side, I don’t know. However, I do believe that should I have done any of the ten million other things I might have decided to do if acting on my conscious mind, I would not now be capable of reporting this experience.

Now I found myself afloat, my arms still clutching my precious load of survivables. Sometimes I dreamed, sometimes I sang and always I floated.

An indeterminate length of time later, I slowly became aware of a roaring sound which increased in intensity until it was discernible as breaking surf. Land! I had reached land! Maybe things were looking up. On the other hand, what little I could see from my sea level vantage point suggested that the land to which I was being propelled toward was only a large island, with no signs of habitation.

If I had not been so intent on hanging onto my precious commodities, I might have made it to shore with fewer contusions and abrasions. On the other hand, the stuff I had in my death grip was worth quite a few contusions and abrasions, so my reflexes made another smart choice that my conscious mind may have overlooked.

The next time I regained consciousness, something was missing. It took a while, but I finally realized that the missing thing was the sensation of bobbing in the waves. I hurt all over and was bleeding slightly from a few small cuts, but I was on land and still alive. What’s more, my precious supplies were still crushed in my arms.

I relaxed enough to take a quick power nap before beginning my life as a castaway. What a melancholy description. Something that has been cast away has little value, doesn’t it?

Nevertheless, my motto has always been, “When there is little choice, take it”.

I gathered my precious supplies to my breast and looked for higher ground. There was no way to know where the high water mark would be or how long before it would be reached. If I simply moved to the highest point I could see, at least it would be all I could do and I could die with that satisfaction if everything went to hell.

I finally made it to the top of the highest knoll I could see from the beach and plopped down to catch my breath. This seemed to be as good a place as any to put my stuff for the time being, so I managed to move some rocks and dirt around to provide a sort of cubbyhole that gave at least a bit of protection to it. After a moment’s reflection, I took my clothes off and added them to the cache. The temperature was very comfortable and there was no one around to be offended, so why not save my clothes for another time?

With my hands shading my eyes, I scanned what I could see of the island. At least it still looked like an island from this higher viewpoint. I could see an even higher point that appeared to be a couple of miles away, but there was no way to tell whether this was truly an island or if it was simply a peninsula of some sort.

While scanning, I noticed a splash of color in the surf line a few hundred yards from where I had washed ashore. Whoohoo! Was it possible that some additional supplies had made it to the same location? The few supplies I had managed to grab would not last long and there was no way to guess how long it might be before help arrived--if ever.

I made my way to the spot of color on the beach, but as the distance diminished, it became more and more clear that the color was not indicative of a source of sustenance, but of something almost diametrically opposed to sustenance.

I rolled her over onto her back with my foot. Yep, “Queen” Elaine in all her spiteful glory. At least she wasn’t spewing hateful dialog while unconscious.

What the fuck was I going to do now? I sure as hell didn’t look forward to sharing my supplies with her, knowing that this could well result in an earlier death than the potential one looming on my horizon. Neither did I want to put up with her putrid personality throughout what was likely to be my last few days on Earth.

What the fuck? I sat nearby and pondered life in general and our situation in particular.

Presently, she coughed a few times and began to moan. I sat and watched as she slowly came around. For the longest time, she seemed unaware of my presence, then appeared to lock onto me.

“Oh, it’s you!”, she spat, dismissively.

I got up and walked away. If she was well enough to be bitchy, there was no need to subject myself to her vitriol.

“Stop!”, she screamed at my bare ass. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Anywhere I like”, I snapped back without slowing.

“You can’t just leave me here!”.

Perhaps time will penetrate her small brain. Whatever bounds of civil politeness that had prevented my failure to strangle her on board ship were no longer in play. She had no idea how little I cared regarding her wishes. I had been about to offer to share my provisions with her, but she was determined to save me the burden.

I continued walking until I could no longer hear her, then kept on until my pulse rate dropped back to safer levels. Did she not realize that her life was absolutely in my hands, now? She had no food, no water, no shelter and only a thin cocktail dress for clothing, which would not last many days under these conditions.

In polite terms, she was way the hell up Shit Creek with no sign of a paddle and had just pissed off her only hope of survival once more. Who convinces these airheads that the rest of us only live to cater to their whims? I suppose that the mere fact of not having been strangled or called to task for her actions before this had caused her to believe that she somehow had the right to treat others as vassals.

Well, this vassal was not interested. I kept walking until my heart rate dropped enough to allow me to start looking around for the things I would need for survival after my precious few possessions were used up.

I needed fresh water more than anything. Shelter was no big deal at the moment, although I had no way to know what other seasons would bring about. All I really knew was that we were somewhere in the general vicinity of the Bahamas, so hurricanes could well be the most concerning weather-related problem.

The higher point that I had seen from my knoll seemed to be the best place to begin a more extensive search for water and other necessities, so I headed in that direction.

As I struggled higher up the slopes of the hill, things began to look more promising. I came across a trickling stream of clear water that smelled ok, so I drank deeply. What did I have to lose? It seemed no worse fate to die of parasites than of dehydration and those appeared to be the only two choices.

Then I found the bananas. Wow! If there were bananas, then there might well be other animals that would provide a source of protein. Wild pigs would be nice, but might be dangerous to hunt. I doubted that there were monkeys in this part of the world, but who knows? I was aware of the existence of monkeys in some parts of Florida swamps that were descended from a group that had been brought in for a Tarzan movie many years ago and had escaped afterward.

Having found a source of fresh water was a tremendous relief. Without it, I could have been dead within days. With the water, my odds of surviving long enough to have any hope of rescue were greatly enhanced.

After making careful note of the surrounding landmarks, I continued on to the peak.

I guess it is a natural law of physics that hills erode in such a manner that the slope increases nearer the peak. Climbing became increasingly difficult and much slower, but eventually I made it to the top.

It was certainly an island. There was no doubt about that. I thought, just maybe, I could see land of some sort on the far distant horizon, but couldn’t be sure. There was no sign of any form of traffic, neither aircraft nor boats of any size.

So much for hope of an early rescue. My best hope for survival would be to hole up here and work on trying to find some way to obtain food for the long haul. There was enough vegetation to give me hope that enough experimentation might reveal enough edible plants, providing I didn’t make any fatal errors.

Queen Elaine hadn’t crossed my mind at first, but then I realized that my moral compass wouldn’t allow me to simply abandon a helpless person. At the same time, my moral compass was having a hard time convincing me to put up with her crap.

Looking around my immediate surroundings, my hopes began to rise. For the first time, it dawned on me that the peak of the hill was not pointed. It was actually depressed, as if this were a very old volcano. If it had been the Pacific Ocean in which our ship sailed, it would not have surprised me, but There aren’t very many volcanic islands in the Caribbean.

Nevertheless, the more I explored, the more my first assessment seemed to be confirmed. There was a definite rim and a depressed area similar to an almost completely filled caldera.

Palm trees of various sorts were distributed around the depression and as I explored further, I saw a small lake of what I desperately hoped was captured rain water. As I approached the lake, my heart was in my mouth with anticipation.

My first test was a sniff, which gave me hope, due to the lack of any noticeable smell. My second test was going to be timid touch to the tip of my tongue until I saw a large bird sailing in for a landing.

I remained as quiet and still as possible while hoping the bird would land and drink the water. I would feel much more confident in the safety of the water if the bird drank some. The possibility that the bird would provide food in the form of meat and eggs was another exciting prospect.

The bird seemed to be completely unaware of my presence, which boded well for the possibility of snaring or killing one, which was very reassuring. I was well on the way to creating a clever plan to capture my feathered friend when I saw it drink deeply of the clear water. If he did not keel over within the next few minutes, it appeared that there might be a ready solution to my food and water requirements.

Dying men will grasp at straws, won’t they? As my belly began rumbling with anticipation, something large and indistinct seemed to move blindingly fast underneath the bird and my potential meal disappeared beneath the surface of the lake.

I was frozen in place. “What the fuck?”, was the closest my brain could come to assimilating what my eyes had reported.

What could this mean? Was there some sort of prehistoric Nessie down there or merely an alligator? Neither possibility made me anxious to jump in the water, although the clear evidence of some sort of life left a bit of hope that the water might be safe to drink.

On the other hand, the degree of danger in remaining near the lake was a total unknown. For all I knew, there was a float of twenty foot long Crocodiles just beneath the surface and anything venturing within six feet or so would suffer the fate of my ex-companion.

All in all, it did not seem as if the lake would be my first choice for settlement. Who knew if the underwater creature(s) was(were) amphibious?

I am not a person who generally lives in fear, but I like to know what dangers are before me so that I may prepare for them. Completely unknown dangers cause me to move very carefully. I have been known to approach a coiled rattlesnake to almost within its strike zone, but only with the intent of improving the accuracy of my shot.

Before leaving the caldera, I made careful note of the types of trees and other growth as well as anything else that might possibly be of enough value to warrant a return. If I failed to find an equivalent in a more secure location, I would consider returning here for it, if my need became sufficiently great.

At least I knew of another source of drinking water. I made my way back to it and drank my fill, while pondering my options. My conscience made me form a cup from a large leaf and fill it with water for the idiot woman on the beach.

Walking without spilling the water made my return to the beach much more difficult.

At least I didn’t have to waste a lot of time looking for her. As soon as I got back to the beach, she came running toward me, screaming her idiot head off. “Where have you been? How dare you run off and leave me alone? I demand that you bring me some food and water. Put some clothes on. How dare you expose yourself to me like this?”

My first impulse was to merely flip her off and leave her to her fate, but that damned conscience struck again. The penalty for stupidity and arrogance shouldn’t be death, should it? I approached her with my leaf cup held out to offer her water.

When she grabbed the leaf out of my hands, spilling all the water, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it never dawned on me that anyone was capable of such an extreme disconnect between their actions and their own welfare. She was a strong contender for a Darwin Award.

I simply stood dumbfounded as she launched into another tirade, blaming me for dropping the cup and demanding that I bring her some more.

“Lady or woman or bitch, whichever is appropriate in your restrictive little arrogant PC world, the only thing keeping you alive at the moment is my unwillingness to allow my common sense to override my conscience with regard to you. Everything about you compromises my odds of survival, so logic compels me to simply walk away and leave you on your own. However, regardless of how offensive you are to me on a personal basis, I do not want you on my conscience, so I am trying to help you stay alive, even though it decreases my chances of survival.”

She started to open her mouth again, with that same arrogant, entitled snarl she always had plastered on her face. Before she could get the first sound out, I stepped directly in front of her.

“If the next sentence out of your mouth doesn’t begin with ‘Please’ or ‘I, ‘m sorry’ or something polite, I will leave you here to die, without conscience or regret. I have extended the last one-sided courtesy you will ever get from me. Come to think of it, I will leave now before I strike you. When you come begging for help, it had better be with a different attitude and an improved vocabulary over anything I have ever heard from you. You can ride that high horse straight to Hell, for all I care.”

I stomped off a few paces, then whirled around for one final message. “In fact, you would do well to try to think of some way to make me want to help you. Who knows how long my conscience can override my baser instincts?”.

She seemed to begin to build up steam for another tirade, so I stuck my fingers in my ears and continued stomping off. It was time to stop worrying about her and make an updated assessment of my own chances of long term survival.

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