Opera Mouth challenged me this week to tell a story about being stranded on a desert island, while I challenge Christy with the single word "Balance". Here's my contribution, "Survival Gear"
I said I wanted to be alone. Well, I got that much of what I asked for.
Flying cargoes of I Don't Want To Know from God Knows Where to Not Even God Knows Where, being paid in cash to keep my ex wife's lawyers out of my pocket, I learned to ask for very little. I wanted a clean plane, simple and straightforward (if extralegal) instructions, and some hard currency in a duffel bag when I was finished. Other than that, I wanted no conversation, no entanglements, no deals- just cold beer and a comfortable place to sit by myself and relax during my downtime.
I missed out on the beer, but I got the alone part right. Jerry, my contact, part time mechanic and full time alcoholic, had assured me the plane, which looked like it had been assembled from discarded parts of other planes, was fine. "It may not look like much," he said, quoting Han Solo, "but it's got it where it counts." After a routine beginning, a sudden squall blew me off course, and then a fuel leak gave me all the drama one could ask for, 1200 miles from civilization and suddenly flightless. I tried all the emergency tricks they teach us to, quickly realizing I was about to become a smallish grease spot on the ocean surface.
A distress call was pointless- not only was I not exactly carrying Christmas ornaments, I couldn't even tell the searchers where to look. So I jumped, stuffing my gear into a waterproof bag and parachuting out of the plane's wake and into, eventually, the unforgiving water. I cut myself free, then crawled and sputtered and eventually swam my way to a tiny strip of land. It was large enough to play American football on, as long as you didn't mind the end zones being underwater. I spread out the gear I had managed to haul out of the sinking plane before it made an anticlimactic smack, sinking like the heavy object it suddenly was once the engines quit.
Windup radio/cassette player, a Johnny Cash cassette, a couple of paperbacks, some pens and writing paper and survival gear-poncho, canteen, dried fruit, flint and steel, fishing line and hooks, evaporator to collect fresh water, frying pan and eating utensils- this was my world, this and this tiny spit of dirt, trees and shrubs. I was alive, wet, but whole and relatively hearty. It beat being dead, but not by a whole lot.
I thought about the movies, TV shows and books about being stranded. "Hatchet", and "Gilligan's Island", and "Lost", and Jack London stories, and "Cast Away". They all managed to put it together, and make it work where they were until they got rescued. I had doubts about my own abilities, but with my equipment laid out in front of me, I felt more prepared, more ready to make a go of it. Besides, what choice did I have?
I was looking around for a place to keep my stuff safe from rain and sun, some sort of a cave or outcropping, when I heard what for all the world sounded like an airplane. It can't possibly be that easy, I thought. Rescue on Day One? No movie producer in the world would approve that script. But the more I listened, the more it sounded like an airplane, until suddenly one popped into view, a yellow and white seaplane, turning left, dropping out of the sky towards my tiny little outcropping of land.
It couldn't be. But it was, as the seaplane dropped lower and lower, finally dipping its long, angular skids onto the water's surface, slowing down, bleeding off momentum by using the friction of water against metal and fiberglass. Were they following me? In that gale, I could have been followed by the RAF and I wouldn't have known it. If so, why me? Were they aware of what I was carrying? If so, they certainly had something on me. Were they intending on stealing it, and my crash had spoiled their plan?
The engine slowed and finally stopped, two men getting out of the cabin carrying rifles. It suddenly occurred to me what their agenda was- whether their plan involved theft or monitoring, it had now changed. And it certainly didn't now involve rescue. I didn't bother running- there were two of them, with guns, and there wasn't any place to hide. They didn't say anything. The taller one made a long shadow against the desert sand.
Being shot wasn't like in the movies- it really felt like a punch, a startling, rude blow into my upper chest. The strangest part was the sound of it- I could hear the wet slosh of my tissues as the bullet punched through them. They didn't say anything, and as my life drained away onto the equipment I had so carefully unpacked, it struck me as funny how useless all this survival gear turned out to be.