For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
The following short story was entered for an online short story competition, on the theme of a person being stranded on a deserted island, and what items they might need. Needless to say, I did not win. But I had fun writing the story.
A Deserted Island, A Long Way From Anywhere
The man sat on a sandy beach, his blue eyes looking out at a calm sea. He was dressed in rags, the remains of clothes in which he had been dressed upon the Sallee Rover, and other ships.
There was a sword lying on the sand within reach of this man, ready to be grasped if needed. He had a flintlock musket across his knees.
A mongrel dog sat on the sand near the man. The dog had been the man’s constant companion ever since events had brought them to this barren place. The dog barely left the man’s side. At the moment is stared out at the sea, as though looking for something. Occasionally it would turn its head to one side to glance at the man, as though to confirm that there was something which it was supposed to be looking at.
The man was unshaven. It looked as though he had not shaved in many days, a light brown beard disguising his features, covering the fine line of his chin. His skin was cracked by the sunlight and the salty air. Dirt, not washed away, stained his forehead.
That forehead was shadowed by an old hat, which kept the sun out of the man’s eyes as he gazed out across the waters of the ocean. It seemed that he had an eternal vigil, looking out across the water for a ship which never came. How long had he sat hear, in this position, staring out across the waters for some sign that his time on the island might be coming to an end?
He did not know, not for certain. Sometimes he felt that he had only been on the island for a few days. But, at other times, he was sure that he must have been on this island for years. Yet he knew that this could not be the case. It had only been days.
The castaway moved slightly. His legs had gone to sleep. But he had no desire, yet, to get up from his position. Where would he go? He had explored his island, long ago (or was it only yesterday?). Apart from the rats and the birds he was alone on the island. But the musket across his knees suggested that he feared an attack; and the truth was that this man had suffered at the hands of callous pirates in the past. In his mind he carried the memories of that dread pirate ship, and the cruelties which he had suffered. He remembered the Moor, and the Maresco.
The castaway recalled all of the events which had brought him to the island. They were as clear in his mind as though they had been written in ink on parchment; and those recollections did not change or alter, from day to day upon this deserted island. no, the time that he had spent at sea was perfectly clear, from that day on the first of September, 1651, when he had first gone out to sea, until that day when some savage storm had sunk the ship in which he had been sailing. Those thoughts were as clear as the sky, untroubled by clouds as far as the horizon. No, it was more recent memories which seemed confused, for some days he imagined it to be less than a week since he had been washed up on these foreign shores; yet, at other times, it seemed more like years, and the castaway could not account for the discrepancy between the two.
On the beach, close to the ragged man, there were the remains of a raft, wood lashed together in a makeshift manner. The raft would only have been of use for a short journey upon that great blue ocean which surrounded the island on which the man sat; it would surely have foundered had he attempted any great distance. But the raft would have been of use in exploring the waters around the isle, or of securing any provisions from some ship which had sunk.
Of such ship there was no trace to be seen, anywhere that the man’s gaze fell. If there had ever been such a ship it must have long disappeared beneath the waves. Perhaps it laid there still, the bodies of the sailors who had been shipmates of the castaway now only food for fishes. It was settled on the ocean bed, on its side, planks ripped apart by the storm scattered about, what provision the marooned man had not been able to recover now lying close to him, yet beyond his ability to recover. Ship’s biscuit destroyed by the waters of the sea; black powder ruined; casks of grog lying on the sand beneath the waves. They were so much useless lagan.
The castaway continued to stare out across the water. There was not a cloud in the sky; there was not a ship to be seen. Not even the smallest dot of another island broke the perfection of this view. The castaway, perhaps, should have abandoned this vigil minutes ago, had he been here for days; or perhaps he should have abandoned it years ago, if his faulty memory was correct when he sometimes imagined that he had been here for decades.
There was a compulsion which, each day, brought him out to this beach, to look out at a featureless horizon. He felt, though, that should any ship come he needed to be seen. He needed to be seen. But, surely, he would see any ship long before they saw him…
Behind the ragged castaway, at the end of a little plain, there was the opening to a cave, which, over considerable time, had been fashioned into a home for this castaway. No, it was not just some cave for those abandoned by God, but had been turned into a veritable fortress.
Two rows of strong stakes surround the cave. Anybody rushing the cave in the hours of darkness would risk impaling themselves on the end of the wooden stakes.
The opening to the cave was not on the ground, but on high. A ladder, made by the maroon, provided the only access into the cave. When the man went back into his cave to sleep at night he would draw the ladder up into his cave. At the front of the rise, before the opening of the small cavern, he had constructed a tented canopy, to help protect the entrance of is home from the weather.
For the most part the weather on this island was good, with sunshine which bronzed skin and bleached clothing. But, occasionally, Hell released cursed storms upon the island, and the place was battered by the same winds and rains which could sink any sailing ship. When those storms struck all that he could do was to cower in the back of the cave and wait for the tempest to pass.
On the shelves of his cave were those items most important to this maroon. The items precious to the man were in shelves which had been fashioned out of the planks of some sailing ship.
There was some ship’s biscuit, not entirely rotten; raisins; a bag of rice, three Dutch cheeses, some pieces if dried flesh, of some indeterminate animal; and a little corn. The fact that the biscuit was still palatable, and that the cheeses had not yet been eaten, were surely the proof that the castaway could only have been on the island for a few days; and that the idea that he had sat on the beach for many years must surely be an illusion.
The stores were not limited to food, however. There were a couple of horns containing gunpowder on those wooden shelves; a musket; two flintlock pistols; and a rusty sword. There was a hammock hanging in the cave, where the castaway would sleep at night.
There were tools in his cave, ones which he remembered recovering from the ship. There was a saw, a hatchet and other items of carpentry, which he had used to create his ladder, and the wooden stakes which protected his home. Every ship had a carpenter – and without those tools his existence on the island would have been very bleak.
There were books, brought from the ship which had foundered and presumably sunk beneath the waves. He had three Bibles in English, so his soul would be saved, even if his body would not. There were a few books in Portuguese. There were Roman Catholic prayer books. There was even a journal, lying on one of the shelves.
Each night the man wrote in the journal – or, at least, he thought that he did. So why, each night, when he wrote, did he feel as though he had written those words a thousand times before? Yet those words were not in his journal. The page was blank; and there was nobody else on this island to change his journal, or to rip out the pages which he had written.
There were a pair of cats there, as well – when they chose to be there, for no man could command a cat. They, like the dog, had been on the ship, and had earned their keep by keeping down the numbers of mice and rats. Now they carried on that tradition, albeit on this island. They would keep safe what little grain the man possessed.
The man sighed, and stood up, slowly, his legs aching as feeling was restored to them. He had spent his time watching from the beach. Now it was time to search the island, although he had searched it many times before. He knew every little hillock, and every clump of grass.
The dog whined, and looked up at the man. The dog stood up, on all fours, and wagged his tail, perhaps happy that now they would be going for a walk, rather than just gazing into the distance.
The man set off, along the beach. He knew all of the other creatures of the island: of land animals, there were rats and goats. Seabirds nested on the island, and he had purloined their eggs more than once. There were parrots, but he had failed in his attempts to capture alive one of those birds.
Turtles came onto the shore of his island, as did penguins. Each of those animals had provided him with a source of fresh meat, in the past.
Beyond where he had created his home there was a small brook, which trickled down into the sea. As he walked across the strand he crossed that source of fresh water. He had to wait, though, as his dog stopped to lap at the water. Then they continued their walk along the isle.
They walked past where there were a couple of turtles on the beach. The dog ran over and sniffed at one of the turtles. The turtle desperately tried to skim across the sand, and back into the water, in the ungainly gait which turtles have on solid land. The dog followed the turtle all the way. It liked the taste of turtle.
With a whistle the castaway called the dog away. They were not hunting at the moment. There was food back in the cave. They would eat what they possessed, and only go hunting for turtle when they were low on supplies. For now the turtles got to live.
“Come on.” the man said. He carried on walking. The dog, pink tongue lolling from his mouth, followed along.
The island was more than twelve miles long. Perhaps it was as much as twenty, for the castaway found measuring distance to be difficult on his home. He had buried posts on both the north and south shores of the island, to mark where he believed the twelve mile mark to be. He would not go beyond those posts today.
Perhaps he would only walk a few miles on the southern sand, and see if anything had washed up on the shore. He hoped that some other items from the sunken ship, which he had not been able to recover, might by force of the tides become jetsam which he could collect. He had recovered everything which he had been able to get on his raft; yet he knew that items had gone down beneath the waves before he had been able to bring them to the shore. Some items, doubtless, had gone over the side of the ship before it had foundered, defeated by a storm it could not outrun or endure. Perhaps the captain had had a trunk of clothes, and that sealed trunk might, one day, wash up, waiting to be opened, and the castaway could clothe himself in fitting raiment, rather than the ragged vestments which his clothes had become. He tried to repair them as best as he could, but he feared that, one day, he would be forced to walk around like Adam before the Fall.
At the heart of the island he had discovered a deep, wooded valley surrounded by hills on all sides. He had not explored that valley, for he could easily have become lost between the trees, and not found the way back to the safety of his stockade. There had been no sign of any people there, anyway, only the colourful parrots which he had seen flying over the trees.
Only once had he walked around to the very far side of the island. That was not a trip which could be done in a single day. But he had had to know what was there, in case he had missed something of importance.
It had not been worth the trip. There had been a rocky bay in the far east of the island, slippery with seaweed underfoot. He had been forced to sleep outside, a long way from his protective stockade, his flintlock musket cradled in his lap, his back against a rock. The musket, and the dog, had been his only defences. Yet any animal could have come along and attacked him while he had slept.
There had been nothing in that furthest stretch of the island to justify ever returning to the region. There had been a few turtles, seaweed, and seashells. But those could all be found elsewhere on the island, much closer to the point which he had chosen as his home. Why risk injury and exposure to the weather if it would not lead to some material gain?
The marooned man could see small clam shells lying on the sand of the beach. He turned a few over with the end of his rusty sword. But these clams were only a single shell. Some creature had already got at them, and eaten the soft meat inside.
There was the shell of a conch a little further along the beach. The castaway investigated that, as well. But it was another dead shell.
He picked it up and held it to his ear, marvelling at the fact that he could hear the sound of the sea inside it. He tried holding the shell to the ear of the dog. But the dog backed off a little. He did not want to play.
The man sighed, and let the conch drop from his fingers, back onto the sand. He turned away from the beach, and headed off in the direction of his cavern home. Perhaps he would have something to eat. Or perhaps he would only record that day’s events in his journal. Life went on.
Fate – and the hard work of this castaway – had provided this man with everything which he needed to survive on the island. He had a secure place in which to sleep, where he could relax, without fear of some attack in his sleep. He had weapons, with which to protect himself from man or beast. He had food, until what he had recovered ran out – but, armed with his pistols, he could hunt what birdlife there was on his isle. He could collect the eggs of gulls, or shoot dead the parents. He had grog to drink. He had everything which he needed to survive.
The man had all that he needed, apart from companionship, for he was truly alone. He knew this, for he had searched the island time and time again.
The castaway had everything he needed, almost as though it had been provided for him. But the one thing which he wanted was to see footprints in the sand, and to know that there was some companion to share his time on this Island of Despair. The company of a dog or a cat was not the same as that of a human being.
Perhaps tomorrow… Perhaps tomorrow they would let him meet his Man Friday.
The visitors to the museum strolled past the hemisphere, looking in at the island in the distance. The entire island, and the sea around it, was contained in the exhibit, distortion of dimensions allowing miles of desert island to be shrunk down to a few decametres.
“Here we have a recreation of the island of Robinson Crusoe, from the novel by Daniel Defoe.” the tour guide said. “As in all other exhibits, the human inside the hemisphere cannot see out of the exhibit, and has no idea that he is a museum. He believes that he on an island on the planet Earth, in what the humans called the early eighteenth century. He has no idea that Earth suffered a cataclysmic ecological collapse five hundred Earth years ago, and is no longer capable of sustaining human life.”
One of the young aliens went right up to the plastic of the hemisphere and stared at the human in the distance. The alien picked one of his three novels with the end of a tentacle, which another tentacle operated the viewer, telescoping forwards for a closer look at this human as he sat on the shore of his desert island.
“He’s really ugly.” the alien said.
“We will come back this way on the way back, and you can have another look at our Robinson Crusoe.” the tour guide said. “But let us move on to the next exhibit. I think that you will find it really interesting. It is our recreation of the novel Dracula…”