Maybe the ones who went down with the ship were the lucky ones. I drifted on flotsam for days, only to wash up here, on a small cactus-strewn island.
Even in my weakened condition, it didn’t take long to walk its breadth. There was no water. This is how I would die.
I collapsed onto the coarse warm sand and closed my eyes against the midday sun. I awoke to a sound coming from the scrubby growth…
In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture and/or the written prompt above. Do not include the prompt in your entry. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.
Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.
Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time. No political or religious entries, please.
On Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.
On Friday afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!
Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted. See HERE for additional information and terms.
12 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: An Inhospitable Shore”
Stranded. Hours, already, on this tiny speck of shrubbery on an endless ocean stretching all around to that unlocatable horizon line, the sun beating relentlessly on my bare head.
If I hadn’t lost my notepad tumbling over the railing of the sinking liner, I could at least write a downbeat testament, instead of just slow-frying in the sand, without the slightest chance of shade.
I close my eyes, placing one arm over them. So this is it. A while ago I thought I saw a trawler made of eggshells approaching, the helmsman was Fenimore Cooper, the captain an eagle. Don’t see many ways to go from there.
Among the small cacti behind me there’s a faint rustling, then an even fainter, croaky chirp.
I turn my head slowly, spot a little bird walking with insecurity. A new arrival; with a shiny, bright blue chest and blue-yellowish wings.
He tries to lift himself off the ground again, but one wing seems to be injured.
“Are you hurt, little fellow?” My voice is as dry and raspy as the bird’s.
It saddens me, that we should both perish here, in this nowhere place. And I wonder.
With great care, I scoop up my newfound companion. He jerks his bad wing a couple of times, but makes no effort to get away.
He cannot have flown far.
“Where’d you come from? This direction?” I hold him close, smiling. “You and I, we’re getting off this island.”
Title: Miracle Script
They say things happen the way they are supposed to.
So, the fact I missed my original departure, having to take the only other ship leaving from the mainland was part of some script?
So, the fact that my wife left me after twelve years, to run off with a pilot was in the cards too?
So, the fact the steamer had seen much better days, and was no match for the tropical storm?
So, the fact I managed to survive, washing up on the cactus strewn island was the script writer’s means of prolonging my misery?
So, why present me an island with no trace of water?
So, is this how my life ends…my naked body being baked by that brilliant stage light in the sky?
The sound of the waves hitting near my feet was a hypnotic melody. This is really not a bad way to die. I felt the slightly cool breeze and wondered why I wasn’t already baked to death.
I opened my eyes. So, where the h— did this shade screen come from? I heard a sound and turned toward the scrubby growth.
It took a moment for my eyes to focus. My brain was denying what my eyes offered. There just feet away was this gorgeously tanned creature adorned only with what looked like a water flagon.
She saw me gawking and smiled. I can’t wait to see what things happen the way they are supposed to.
Water, water, everywhere nor any drop to drink, but I am neither a mariner nor ancient.
There’s a green rabbit barring my way. Am I with Alice the other side of the looking glass? No. It’s just a coney-eared cactus.
But different from the others, with a yellow flower settled snugly in its spiny fur. Colourful life under a grey and oppressive sky that glowers over turgid sea to their merging at the distant horizon.
Why this should give me hope, when I am dying of thirst amazes me. Even more, that I can still be amazed after a lifetime spent on the rocky shores of life’s often-turbulent seas.
I look around me. I see no other flowers.
How did this solitary seed arrive here? A random arrival brought here by the wind, as I was cast up here by the sea?
What quirk of fate allowed it to settle and put down roots in this inhospitable sand? Was it like that fickle tide that threw me on this spiny shore?
If you are hearing this, you have found me. Found my voice in the breeze. Found my bones among these ancient cacti, bleached by the sun in which they thrive and invaded by a sea of yellow, of persistent flowers that grew in the humble habitat of a dying man.
Were there other seeds that became other flowers?
Are there other people here that I cannot see?
I’d lost count of the days I floated in the ocean. I’m still not sure how I held on to the floating junk that kept my head above water. When you lose consciousness, your muscles relax, but somehow, I held on.
When the waves washed me up onto the beach, I knew it was an hallucination. I’d had enough of them to know I couldn’t trust my mind.
Yet, when my salt-pale foot stepped on a seashell, I bled red blood, and the pain from the salt in the wound seemed real. The blood transformed the white sand to an odd shade of pink. Maybe this was real after all.
I fell to my knees, and crawled in as straight a line as I could, hoping for some kind of water. I found a cactus and broke it open. A precious drop or two of moisture I savored with my swollen tongue. I dragged my body until I saw the other side of the island. No water. More cactus, but no water.
Without shade, my body was losing what little moisture it retained. I dug into the sand and buried as much of my body as I could, trying to protect it from the sun. When I awoke, the last of daylight was fading fast, and I heard a noise. Friend or enemy? I had no weapon; did it really matter?
As the noise moved closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Gilligan, is that you?”
My skin felt like over-cooked bacon. There was no water or food on this island, only a few spiny shrubs. Dehydration would probably get me first. Already my tongue felt thick and heavy. It would have been better to have drowned with the rest of the crew. Instead, I floated for days before washing up on this sandy deathtrap.
It was midday when I collapsed on the coarse sand. Something snapped in the scrubby growth. I opened my eyes. The sun hung low. I strained to hear past the steady crash of waves. Another rustle, even closer. Maybe it was something to eat. I scanned the landscape.
A dark shadow moved toward me. Two giant eyes peered from the darkness. Vertical slits reflected yellow in the failing light. My stomach twisted. To have come so far only to be eaten by a beast was fate’s ultimate cruel prank.
I forced my cracked lips open. “Make it quick.”
The beast towered over my prone body. Instead of death, furry arms scooped me up like a babe. I was too stunned and exhausted to fight. It carried me down a ramp into a bunker and place me on a bed.
“Catherine. We have a guest.”
Another creature appeared. “Poor thing’s dried out and terrified, Tom. Bring me some cactus juice.”
I sipped the offered juice and let my feline rescuers fuss over me. If this was a hallucination, it was a good one. If not, I’d have an interesting story to tell.
The galleon had proved no match for the wind and waves. Cabo de Corrientes, as this stretch of Florida coastline was called, had strong currents only intensified by the hurricane.
He awoke on that morning in July 1715 to find he’d been washed ashore along with wreckage from the Treasure Fleet ship. He wondered if any other crewmembers had survived. He found remnants of a sail on the beach and a portion of the mast. Salvaging what he could, he discovered some Peruvian escudos.
A sea turtle lumbered into view as noisy gulls flew overhead. Not finding a fresh water source, he cut off some prickly pears growing near the rocks. He used his knife to scrape off the thorny parts so he could eat the fruit. Later he discovered a bird’s nest in the shrubbery and stole some eggs.
“¿Voy a morir aquí? “ he demanded of the heavens.
At dawn the next day, he found a pair of eyes staring into his.
“Can’t beat going birding with a park ranger!” she said.
Becky had brought her binoculars and an identification guide, while Neil was toting a metal detector. They walked along a restricted portion of the beach only accessible to employees. Spotting some roseate spoonbills, she grabbed her camera just as the metal detector went off near some cactuses.
“Arrrgh, matey! A serendipitous find for Talk Like A Pirate Day!” said Neil winking.
“Bet that coin has quite a story to tell,” she replied.
Marooned on a desert island. That only sounds romantic in books. Let’s see, sun blazing overhead, sharp sand that draws blood if you try to dig in it, and salt to sting all your wounds. Oh and – nice touch – cacti – hundreds and hundreds of them. Then again, maybe I’m dead. Well this isn’t heaven – or else there would be a luxury hotel, a vibrant blue pool, fresh water fountains and oh yeah – a cabana boy bringing me a chair, an umbrella and endless ice filled fruit drinks. Nah, not heaven. I know – Purgatory – yep, that’s it – and I am in a miserable episode of Lost.
It was singing – a woman singing. I shook myself off and threaded into the cactus on a bare path which twisted directions every step. The sound stopped. “Who’s there?” A face peeked over a boulder: a stern expression gave me the once over twice. “Where’s your boat?” She never moved, so I stood stock still and answered “Sunk. I drifted here on debris.” She nodded to herself, confirming. “Are we the only people on this island?” She nodded once again, eyes bright and chin set firmly as if to thwart any ideas I might have about that situation. “I won’t hurt you – I’m married.” She laughed uproariously, sneering at my logic. “Married guys are the worst.” With a wave of my hand I turned and left, retreating to the beach and the soft pillow of sand I’d been resting on. The waves relentlessly tolled against the land, taking a flake or two with them as they retreated back out to sea. I didn’t have long to wait, for the woman was out in the open beside me five minutes later. She had sandals and a bandana and that was it for clothing. “You gonna leave me alone?” I smiled up at her in the least threatening way I could. “I’m Mike.”
I hear a noise near my head. Is it Darryl? Is he going to kick sand in my face again? If he does, I’ll tell Mama. She’ll come and she’ll stop him and she’ll, she’ll…
She isn’t here. Wake up.
I am alone. Mostly. My younger self is here, on the island too, but I’m not sure if he counts. He isn’t stranded like me. He often goes off partying, drinking, gambling his life away. He should be with his wife and children and I hate him for not doing it.
He likes to taunt me, reminding me of how the gambling got out of control. How my wife left after that with the kids. How alone I was at home even before I was stranded. I look at the wreckage of the plane in front of me. The awful cluster of debris and dead bodies just floating there. I do not like looking at it. I stay on my side of the island. Not like I could help anyway.
My older place was kind of like an island, anyway. This isn’t much different from home. Dangerous. Unknown. Painful. Where is home anyway?
A ship passes by one day. It’s a dream, far away. I wonder if there really is any use calling for help. I could swim, but then I’d have to pass the debris, and I can’t bear that. People say you never know what you have until it’s gone. Maybe my family will too, and they’ll, they’ll…
The light of the rising sun. So new. Born of the desert horizon, it screams, “Get up or die!”
The light of the setting sun. So old. Born in the womb of the sun eons ago, launched by a solar flare to this godforsaken island. It screams, “Lie down and die.”
My ship was lost, and now I wait here on this way-station of death. There is no water, yet there is an ocean of water. I will dry to death, surrounded by sea, as I become the stuff of stars.
The sound of silence. It lurks behind the pounding of the waves and the call of the albatross. It crouches, ready to strike, a noiseless requiem waiting for the cue from its conductor.
Now it is night, and I see light and hear sound from the undergrowth. Is it the sun, for I am all ablaze now, come to take me back to her womb? Is it the silence, preparing to strike the unsound? I struggle to get up, balancing on the soles of my feet as I try to remember how to walk. I recall being born, and like the slap of the doctor’s hand I feel the light pull me in and the silence shatters like betrayed trust as I scream.
“Put that floodlight down, sailor! You’ll blind the poor guy!”
“I’m not sure that’s an issue, sir. I believe he just had a heart attack. He’s dead.”
The Cactus Gardener
Someone has been here before me. It’s taken me days to realize it. Why has it taken so long? The damn cacti! As I picked another needle from my shredded lips I saw it. But I must find higher ground to make sense of it. I must climb the ridge. Just a little drink of sea water first. I know I shouldn’t, but a little sip is all I need. My tongue and mouth have melded and I must separate them.
The sun is at its spiteful zenith but I can’t wait till dark. I can’t risk a wrong step on the ridge. The ridge is like the jaws of a terrible night-beast and the rocks are its canines. I don’t want to be eaten. I must climb now.
First my feet, then my hands and knees, then my buttocks: the rocks have reduced them to pulp. Perhaps when I’ve left this island the next poor soul to land here can follow my fleshy breadcrumbs across the jaws of the beast.
At last I reach the summit. I look down on the beach below. It shimmers in the heat. My head swims and my stomach lurches bringing salt water to my mouth. I fall to the ground. But I was right! The cacti. They are not random. They form patterns, directions, and words. Praise the cactus gardener for I am saved! They will guide me from the island. But not yet. First I must rest.
Comments are closed.