“Whoever says bright sun and blue sky make a perfect day?” I complained mildly as I helped two of my classmates heave a weighty box of emergency supplies out of the cool ocean water and onto the sandy beach. I shielded my eyes with one hand, the other hanging on to the box’s handle until it was set down. I breathed a heavy breath and started to open the box, hoping to find the necessary tools of survival. The inflatable yellow life rafts drifted by the shore, now unneeded.
“I guess that this setting does make them less welcome,” one of my classmates agreed, looking around as the ocean breeze blew her hair and uniform skirt about. The coast of the tiny Pacific island curved noticeably, since the island was perhaps only several hundred feet in diameter and roughly circular. The middle of the island was a thicket of palm trees, heavy with coconuts and wide, green leaves. The sand ended after a dozen feet and then converted to grass and shrub, along with the palms. The scenery was completed by the burnt out, wrecked corpse of a small airplane floating in the ocean. It had been miraculous how we all had escaped unharmed from it.
“Talk about it,” I responded, then managed to get the box opened and bend back the lid. I started to remove items: sturdy ropes, medical equipment, a compass (“What good is that?!” someone had complained), multiple ration bars in silver packaging, and fishing gear. “Okay, this is all the stuff in this one,” I announced as he set the items down on the sand, side by side. “Anyone a good angler?”
“There’s no way I’m eating any fish,” one of my classmates, Ayane, pouted, giving nasty looks at the fishing poles and hooks. “Not out of the ocean like this, caught by rusty old hooks that have probably come out of some second-rate supply warehouse —”
“You worry to much,” another girl, Yuki, said brightly, squatting and inspecting the gear. “Really, what choice do we have?” she picked up a hook and inspected it in her hands, seeing how it caught the overhead sun. “These aren’t rusty or anything. I used to go fishing with my uncle all the time last year, I can handle it. Hey Takeshi, can you fish well?”
“I, um, guess so,” I laughed nervously, scratching the back of my head. In reality, I had tried fishing once, and that one time, I had caught a fish way too big for me and had been pulled off the dock and into the water. I had carefully skirted the sport ever since. Hopefully, this time would be different. My hunger would depend on it, at least.
“Well, that’s two,” Yuki said, standing back up. She marched right up to me and pulled on his arm, tugging him closer to the water.
“Wait, what’s going on?” I asked.
“We’ve got to try it all out,” Yuki explained. “Come on, you and me. We need to see if the reel is strong enough and all that.”
“But what are we going to use as bait?” I objected, digging my heels in the sand as brakes. “I haven’t found any.”
“Strictly speaking,” Karin, the most brainy of my fellows, said while flipping open her science book and pushing up her glasses, “there are other methods to attract fish with. For example, any lure with a shiny object may attract a fish’s attention. The light can often imitate that of their natural prey…”
“Oh, can it,” another classmate scolded, her fist bonking Karin in the head, affronting her.
“Let me just try out my casting,” I said loudly, starting to move the rod. I flung the rod forth, and to my surprise, there was a bright glint on the hook — but the hook had been empty when I put it on.
“Aaaaaah! My earring!” Karin squealed, running up and down the shore, her hands clasped on her throbbing earlobe. “Your hook snagged it right off!”
“I’m sorry!” I apologized, starting to abandon my rod, but I couldn’t: the hook and “lure” had gone in the water, and something big was pulling like crazy! I cried out as I was flung and dragged up and down the shore as the unseen, monstrous fish zoomed all about, even as Karin and the others chased me, trying to help me get the fish out to recover the earring, and perhaps a fish dinner besides.
The sun was red-orange by the time things had settled down, and I was sitting on the sand with my school uniform’s coat off, worn out. The fish had been a monster, over three feet long and many pounds heavy, and it had been a real job holding the fish down long enough to get the earring out of it and secure it back on Karin’s lobe where it belonged.
“Help me scale this thing,” Mitsuko called out, as she worked the skin off the fish with one of the all-purpose knives while kneeling in the grass. “It’ll take longer by myself.”
“I’m getting this thing to work,” another girl, Sayuri, retorted a dozen feet away, her cherry red hair in a bun as she worked to get the emergency stove to light. “It’s not cooperating with me.”
“We’re going to scout the rest of the island,” Yuki and another pair of girls called out, starting off. “We should know what there is here, after all.”
“There’s nothing to see!” Mitsuko snapped, her fingers slippery with her work. “Really. Help me out!”
“Fine,” Yuki rolled her eyes, as she approached to assist. Karin, meanwhile, was studying the health effects of a limited tropical diet, her announcements largely ignored.
“We’re the science club from school!” she insisted, irritated. “We were going to go to the Bronx Museum of science in the United States! Don’t just forget that!”
“Excuse us for putting survival first,” Yuki joked as she got the fins off the caught fish. “We’ll make a study group by campfire, don’t worry. Want to sing the facts as we roast coconuts?”
Karin grumbled as she nosed deeper into her book. “When help arrives and we get back, I could make a report over this. There’s a lot to learn this way.”
“Well, it had better come soon,” Yoko said in a positive but impatient tone, scanning the horizon, one hand shading her eyes. “Think a ship’ll arrive, or a helicopter?”
“There’s nowhere close enough for a helicopter to take off from,” Karin pointed out.
“What about another island like this one?” Yoko said. “Must be lots like this.”
“Who would put a helipad in the middle of freaking nowhere, idiot?” Mitsuko snapped, making a sound of victory and getting up to stretch her muscles before settling back down, to carve the fish into pieces. “There’ll be a ship. Don’t stress yourself.”
“Fine,” Yoko grumbled, wandering away from the shore and into the grass to be by herself. She passed by Kitty-chan on the way (that was her nickname, since she was rather small), who hardly even looked up as the other passed. She was a pretty shy girl on most occasions, and I doubted that being stuck on a tiny Pacific island with loud classmates would make her open up any more. Well, I was sure she would contribute somehow. This would have to be a team effort until help arrived; it could be days, and the packaged food would only last for around…
“A week and a half, I guess,” Sayuri said, rifling through the cartons of it. I had walked over to her to check after our fish dinner as the stars had come out (the fish had been surprisingly good). “Maybe a more if we’re careful, you know, rationing it. Don’t worry, though, I doubt we’ll be here any longer than that. Plus we have seafood around to fish for. Heck, if there’s any rice in here, we could practically make our own sushi!”
“Don’t get carried away, miss gourmet,” someone called over, making Sayuri frown. Getting bored, I walked back to the others, who had managed to make a fire from wood from a fallen coconut tree (no singing science facts) and most of us were sitting around it, grateful for the heat and light in the increasing night. I settled down, and looking at my assembled fellow science club members, I realized something I had neglected before due to the crazy antics of the day: they were all girls. I tried not to blush.
Yoko gave a sigh. “Now everything finally settles down,” she said contentedly. “What a day.”
“And we have so much more work and organizing to do,” Karin stated. “We were kind of sloppy today.”
“I can get everything in shape,” Mitsuko said, but the others would not hear it.
“Takeshi, can you help us out?” Sayuri asked sweetly, edging closer to me, rubbing her shoulder against mine.
“Um, something like that,” I said uneasily, aware of the others starting to crowd a little closer to me. “I mean…”
“Come on, you can care for all of us, can’t you?” Yoko cajoled, against my other shoulder.
“We need someone to help us out,” another girl told me from behind, her hands sliding across the base of my neck. “You’re bigger and stronger and…”
“Now, really,” I said with a nervous laugh, trying to get up. “This’ll have to be a team effort and all. If we…”
“I need help climbing the coconut trees,” Yuki said, grabbing hold of my arm. “Will you give me a boost tomorrow?”
“I wanted him to help me get the equipment more organized,” Sayuri insisted. “I can’t do it by myself!”
I was soon engulfed in a wave of not ocean water, but squealing girls bent on owning my services for the whole next day, swamped under a multitude of them. Only quiet Kitty-chan and equally shy Ai sat alone together, in the presence of the palm trees. They were known to be friends, only really opening up to each other. They had not said or done much all day, though I didn’t blame them — the shock of the plane pilot (who had been our chaperoning teacher) suffering a stroke and crashing the plane must have put another layer of silence on them. Well, there was still eight of us, and we would hold out.
“I’ll see about what I can do tomorrow, okay?” I said loudly, fighting my way out of the crowd of girls and heading to the supply boxes. “We ought to think about shelter tonight. Could get cold, after all. There must be some blankets.” The rest of the night was mercifully uneventful.
I stood on the rough rocky part of the island’s shore, preparing to dive into the water. Several days had passed since our arrival, and I managed to get enough work done to afford some time to myself. There was radio equipment with us, but it was damaged from the crash and seawater, and did not operate at all. Our cell phones were equally mute, being well outside any tower range. I gave a slight shiver out of anticipation, since I had not swum in some time as I stood in just my briefs, preparing to dive.
“Takeshi! Going swimming?” Yuki called out from a distance, waving at me, several coconuts under her arm.
“Yeah. Just going for a quick dip,” I called and waved back. A wind picked up, rustling the coconut tree leaves and ruffling my hair. “I won’t take long. Having some time to myself.”
“I can swim with you, if you like,” someone said right behind me, and I whirled about. Yoko stood right behind me, wearing only her undergarments as she stood with her hands behind her back and a friendly expression on her face.
“Gwaaaahh —!” I cried, twirling in the air as I fell into the water, pinching my nose as it bled like crazy. I broke the surface, gasping. “Yoko —?”
She gave a giggle. “What’s wrong?” she piped. “Are you shy around me?” she dived in after me, treading water.
“No, it’s not… just the shock,” I sputtered, trying to calm myself down, shaking my wet hair. I was feeling slightly jumpy, despite being on a small island with nine other people. “You just startled me. I’m fine.”
“Oh. That’s good,” Yoko beamed. “Anyway, let’s get going!”
She started to swim — faster than I had been counting on. I had to stroke hard and fast to keep up with her as she made a lap around the island, arousing the others’ attention.
“Hey! We can’t just mess around!” Mitsuko said, irritated. I could see that she was in the middle of hard work. “What are you doing swimming around?”
“Calm down,” Yoko said back, not letting anything ruin her mood. “It’s only for a short while. You won’t die without me being there.”
“The radio might be actually working,” Karin said, rushing up to it and adjusting her glasses. They caught the sunlight. “If the circuitry has dried enough and not all the fuses are blown, and the —” she railed on, rapidly flicking through her science book’s pages. I ignored the rabble and now swam at a leisurely pace away from everyone else, enjoying the water’s relaxing effects and the warm sun overhead.
“They just won’t shut up, will they?” Yoko asked humorously, drifting to me and sharing my privacy on the island’s opposite side, where it was quiet.
“Always some fuss to make,” I agreed, moving to the shallow water and floating. “I can’t blame them, though. Survival isn’t easy and we’ve got to work to make this happen.”
“You always say that,” Yoko smiled, getting a little closer to me. “All business, Takeshi, being the leader. It’s a good thing, too, cause the others will only really listen to you, though Ayane Manami stay by Mitsuko’s side. They’re like some little group or something and try to boss us around.”
“This situation would be better if Kazuki and Makoto were here,” I said modestly. “They would do better.” Kazuki and Makoto were the other two boys in the science club, though they had to play at an important regional baseball game and couldn’t make it to the field trip. Little did they know how lucky they were!
“Don’t be modest, Takeshi,” Yoko said with a short giggle, tilting her head and smiling. “You’re doing great just on your own. We’re all depending on you, seriously, and you’re not disappointing us at all. Say, do you think the rescue will really happen? It’s been a while.”
“Now, you wouldn’t be helpless without me,” I assured her, my modesty persisting as I gestured with my hands. “I’m not a miracle man, at least.” This would be a good time to mention that at least most of the girls in the science club, and in fact our whole high school, had something for me, and it was carrying over to survival, lost in the ocean. I felt flattered and even more modest at the thought.
“Miracle man. You’re funny,” Yoko laughed. “But really, how long have we been here? I haven’t kept track of that.”
“Just a few days, I think,” I said, trying to remember the number of sunrises I’d seen. “This is day five right now, and the packaged stuff’ll last around eight for ten people. We’re okay. Once we’re out of here, we’ll just go back home and pretend this never happened. Everyone will be relieved to see us back.”
“I know,” Yoko agreed, drifting even closer to me. I edged away a little. “Some of them are saying that we’re doomed and we’re just putting off the inevitable. The packaged food’s running out and most of us stink at fishing. It doesn’t help that Ai and Kitty-chan never do anything besides eat and huddle together in the vegetation in the island middle by themselves. Everyone’s getting annoyed at them.”
“I suppose I can just talk to them once I’m back on land,” I said, fully meaning to. “Don’t worry.”
“Thanks, Takeshi,” Yoko glowed, then lunged and wrapped me in a splashy hug. I felt my face redden. “You can do anything! We really want you around, Takeshi, and I don’t know what we’d do otherwise!”
“There’s nowhere I can run off to,” I pointed out with nervous humor, hoping no one else would find us. “Can’t just sprout a fin and join the mermaids or whatever.”
“You’re funny,” Yoko laughed, now nuzzling my shoulder, making me loopy. “Don’t give up, Takeshi. We’re just…”
“Hey! Look!” a voice shouted, and Yoko shot off me like I had electrocuted her. I swiveled my head around quickly, and was engulfed by almost all of the girls, clad like Yoko, crowding around me, all their voices going.
“Hey —!” Yoko started, affronted, but the crowd pressed in on me, squealing for my attention, bosoms pressing against me. It was too much; I managed to worm my way out of the group, grasping my nose as I got another nosebleed. The girls started towards me, not giving up, when I saw something else in the water.
“Shaaaaarrrk!” I cried, swimming like a madman as I beheld the dark gray fin slicing the water as it zoomed towards me, attracted by the blood I had bled from my nose. The girls moved as one, now squealing in terror, forgetting their attachment to me and swimming away from the approaching predator, then running with me on land to fully escape.
“Sharks are well-known for their sharp sense of smell in the water,” Karin, fully clothed, was saying a few feet inland, her glasses pushed up as she read. “They are most often attracted to prey not by sight but by scent, capable of detecting a wounded animal from over —”
“Shut up and run!” I told her, grabbing her as the massive shark flung itself on land, its many teeth comically frightening as it mouthed in the air for a few seconds before slinking back into the water in defeat.
Fortunately, the surprise shark attack was the closest we ever came to actual harm, I decided as the days wore on. Survival was the main thing on everyone’s mind; there was a lot of work to do, from fishing to preparing what we caught to maintaining the supplies. Fresh water was provided by several devices that would collect and boil seawater, condensing the fresh water into collection jars. It required constant work to keep the things working; we took shifts operating them, not to mention keeping a watch for any rescue ships, even though the likelihood of one appearing got smaller every day.
Speaking of days, I kept track in my head, and we were marooned for over two weeks as of when I stopped to notice, and things became a little more grim and tense as those days went. The packaged food ran nearly out, rationing coming in as we tried to focus more heavily on eating from the ocean with limited success. Our food intake invariably shrank over time, causing constant hunger and thoughts on food impossible to satisfy. Worse, everyone’s mood began to decline, becoming more irritable and tense, snapping at each other and disagreeing, whatever effort I made to keep things on control.
Further, I had thought I would be able to maintain a cool disposition and manage the island from a distance, but the girls became quite bored and annoyed at each other, feeling boxed up and focused more of their attention on me. That made it harder to focus on what I was trying to do; it was flattering and funny during the first few days, but it gradually phased into something more primal and desperate, something I did not like. About the only civilization on the island was the dwindling emergency supplies and the clothes on our backs, and even our mannerism and countenance of being civil began to melt.
The first major argument had stunned me, Mitsuko and Sayuri screaming in each other’s faces of whether or not to abandon Ai and Kitty-chan and keep all food and materials from them. I was chilled when I heard Mitsuko seriously proposing to practically starve them and save food for the rest of us, since Ai and Kitty-chan became only more withdrawn and frightened by the suffocating situation and avoiding all contact and work. The argument ended in Sayuri storming away and calling Mitsuko a cannibal, to which Mitsuko and her two friends, Ayane and Manami, called Sayuri a soft idiot, among other nasty things. The sleepy silence was quite heavy and tense that night. Other, later fights had involved physical force, resulting in some minor injuries, fueled by hunger and despair and increasing madness. My “control” was powerless to stop it.
Finally, as of a month and two days into our isolation, I had finished doing a late-evening check on the supply crates, grimly noting that even with our heavy rationing, just a few days’ worth of packaged good and medical equipment was left, and no spare blankets. Most of us were sleeping exposed, losing blankets to sudden and strong night-time winds, and leaving us to shivering under the uncaring stars overhead. There had been a few more blankets left in the crates, but they had been lost; a crate had somehow tipped over, its contents presumably being washed away to sea. I had been bitter at the loss.
I got up, tried to ignore quiet arguing and name-calling further down the beach, and settled at my area of border between sand and vegetation, grateful for the blanket I still had. I sat with my knees to my chin, watching the ocean’s horizon, a whisper of hope drifting through my mind and encouraging me to keep watch for lights of a rescue ship I knew was unlikely.
I faintly heard footsteps, and I turned my head, expecting to find Yoko or Yuri or someone else wanting a word with me or asking what I would have us all do the next day, as they often did, or else seek words of comfort I knew were hollow. Instead, Ai stood before me, her large eyes sad and afraid, her hands together under her chin, her expression distraught yet slightly hopeful, somehow.
“T… Takeshi?” she said quietly, after a few seconds of working up her courage. “Um… g-good evening…”
“Well, good evening, Ai,” I said, unusual cheer and warmth in my words, as I was pleasantly surprised by this for a number of reasons. I shed my blanket, inviting her to sit by me; she complied, settling down. “How are you?”
“I’m f… f-fine, thank you,” Ai answered, her voice strengthening a little as she sat like I did. “A… and you?”
“I’m okay,” I said, looking back at the horizon. “I like watching the sea. It calms me quite a bit.”
“Oh. That’s nice,” Ai agreed, then waited a little.
“What’s wrong?” I asked finally, knowing there would probably be a lot wrong. I could ask anyone and get a tirade of answers.
“It… I’m not sure what, exactly,” Ai said, fiddling with two of her fingers as she thought. “It’s a number of things, actually. Um, I know the others ask you this a lot, but do you think we’ll be okay?”
I knew that we were not okay and things were getting worse every day, but I could not say such to her. “We’re hanging tight,” I assured her with a friendly smile. “Don’t worry. The others are just cranky about the whole thing. A ship’ll come any day now.”
“Oh. That’s good,” Ai said, a pulse of hope in her voice; I knew it was false hope, but there had to be something to keep us going, from turning us into desperate, crazed beasts. Unless we already were. “I-I just need someone to talk to, Takeshi, so I came to you.”
“Well, I appreciate it,” I told her warmly. “Though don’t you usually stay with Kitty-chan, or…?”
“She’s Mayu,” Ai said. She and Kitty-chan did not go by that nickname.
“Sorry,” I said quickly, hoping not to get on bad terms. Relationships were fragile and treacherous on this island of madness, I grimly knew.
“It’s fine, Takeshi,” Mayu said, understanding. “Most people at the school, even outside of it, don’t really understand her. She doesn’t hate the world or think she’s too good for us, and she’s not a mute or crazy. I… I hope she wouldn’t mind me telling you about her and me, you know…”
“I can keep a secret,” I smiled. “I’ll listen.”
Ai took a deep breath and let it out, calming herself. “Sh-she is scarred, Takeshi, by what her family did to her. It sounds sudden, but you should know. She had abusive step-parents, since her real ones didn’t want a child and they couldn’t afford or even have access to abortion. Her step-parents were horrible to her, and their whole neighborhood was just as bad. School wasn’t much better; she decided that p-people were all savage and hurtful and want everything for themselves, and she didn’t want any relationships with anyone. It could only bring more harm.”
I took this in silence, respecting the new insight I was gaining. Ai went on, “She was made fun of and picked on at school, only making it worse. When she started going to our high school, she and I met, and we understood each other. We became close, and watched out for each other.”
I understood this too; Ai was very shy and, like Kitty-chan, or rather Mayu, was picked on often and called a mute, or recluse, or snob, and it hurt her, like the world was an ocean of monstrous people threatening to drown her. It made sense; they needed each other, they had that common ground they could stand firm on and weather out the storm. I lost all of my grudge and irritation at their lack of work or input on the island survival; I could not be a face in that crowd, a tooth in that hungry and misunderstanding maw.
“I… I understand,” I told Ai, voicing my thoughts. “I respect the both of you and what you must do to cope. It must definitely be pretty hard being on this island with the rest of us running around and arguing and hitting each other.”
“You’re not the same as them, Takeshi,” Ai told me tenderly, surprising me by moving close to me, wrapping her arms around my right one and holding tight. I resisted an impulse to blush. “They’re beasts, Takeshi. They brought a piece of the outside world with them, and it becomes worse, though still related, here. People are savage by nature, Takeshi, but not all of us. Some understand, can feel and be felt, can be like a lighthouse for a ship lost in a dark sea.”
“Are you saying I’m the good person, the lighthouse?” I asked, amused but respectful of her metaphors.
“Yes,” Ai told me softly, looking up into my eyes, her own large ones surprisingly radiant and affectionate. “We’re frightened, Takeshi, we’re scared of the madness going on here, the people here. It took all our courage and will just to join the science club and come along on this field trip, thinking only gentle people would be in it, and now look. We’re starving and crazy! You’re the only one who can really help Mayu and me, Takeshi.” Ai started trembling, from fright and agitation, letting her primal fear dictate her. She began to cry, the tension great. Her voice was a little higher and louder as she tried not to choke. “I-I know the others have been saying it, too, but we really mean it! F-f-from her heart, from mine! I just need the light so I don’t lose m-myself in the dark.”
I had already made up my mind. “You can stay the night with me, if you like,” I told her, wiping her tears as she watched me, cautiously realizing the comfort and safety I was providing. I now started to adjust to a lying down position, preparing my blanket to accommodate both of us; it was big enough for that. “I think I owe you at least that much. You know, you’re the only one I’ve offered this to, and-”
Ai, who had been sitting in a kneeling position while watching me, suddenly started closer, her right hand taking my lower cheek. She drifted closer, starting to closer her teary eyes as her lips came close to my own: she stopped, giving a muffled, embarrassed giggle.
I said nothing, not sure what to say or do. Then, Ai bent close again and kissed my cheek, her lips surprisingly soft and warm, a good feeling on my skin. She withdrew, radiating passion and warmth, clearly feeling accomplished and relieved by expressing herself.
“You’re a good man, Takeshi,” Ai told me softly, lying down next to me. “Can I really stay with you for tonight?”
I lay down next to her, enveloping us both in the voluminous blanket, wrapping my arm around her. “Of course, silly,” I said nicely, and she gave a small giggle. “You’re welcome. You’re safe with just me and the stars overhead.”
The rest of the night was quiet, yet words were not needed for what Ai and knew in our hearts.