WRIT LARGE: Ch 19, Part 3
To Bend with the Wind
“They would have had to go around the boat,” says Todd. He takes a deep breath. “You want to go find them?”
Jeff looks at us, and at the dinghy slapping against the water’s surface. He shakes his head. “They know what they’re doing. I can’t risk taking you guys back out there.”
“Right,” says Todd. “First priority, shelter.” He stamps his feet on the rocky ground. “This is pretty solid. The higher up we can get the better, in case the water keeps rising. Then we need a roof over our heads.”
Kim takes one handle of the ice box. “Let’s go.”
I take the other handle, and we follow Todd inland and upwards. The slope, while craggy and slippery beneath our sodden squelching shoes, isn’t too precarious a climb, and Todd leads the way, avoiding any boulders or rocks that might slide under our weight. The trees offer little protection from the lashing rain. My face is stinging. Jeff stays level with Olivia, but we are a solemn silent group when we arrive at a small flat clearing, barely large enough for us all to lay side-by-side.
Todd studies the trees surrounding the clearing. The white stripes have been washed from his cheeks, but he still presents a determined formidable persona as if the battle armour is still present. “We need large leaves,” he says. “You’d normally find them on low ground, so dense branches will do, anything that we can tie together to keep the rain off our heads.”
I offer to search for leaves. “I’ll go with him,” says Kim.
“Whatever they bring back, will need tying together,” Todd continues. “Jeff and Olivia, can you look for vines?” He kneels, seemingly oblivious to the rain and wind battering his body and retrieves a length of narrow rope from his backpack. “It looks like nothing, but this is strong.” He demonstrates by giving it a hard tug. “I’ll use this to fasten the shelter between the trees.”
We all shed our lifejackets and set off to complete our various tasks. We are cold, wet, shivering, and none of us have said aloud what we must surely all be thinking—that this isn’t an episode of Survivor. This is for real. We are stranded on a deserted, uninhabitable island, our boat having hit a rock and sunk, in the thick of a violent storm.
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Todd was right—we find no heavy palm leaves this high up on the island, so instead, we break off the heaviest branches that we can reach without having to climb. Kim and I fall into an easy routine: Kim navigating the trees and assessing them for the most suitable branches, while I swing on them until they snap. The first one was the most difficult—it pained me to vandalise a tree this way, but I remind myself that we are a worthy cause, and that Mother Nature would want us to take advantage of her in these circumstances.
We don’t stray too far from the clearing, one of us always keeping it in sight and returning with an armful of potential shelter at various intervals. When we eventually return to our prospective camp, Todd has already begun to bind the branches together with lengths of vine that Jeff and Olivia have found. We all crouch on the ground to help. We are dripping. The storm shows no sign of abating any time soon, the wind still whipping our hair and clothes, and bending the trees, the slenderer ones seeming almost to be ripped from the ground.
We work together until the branches resemble a natural rug that almost covers the clearing. “That should do us,” says Todd. He raises one edge of what will be our roof, and it holds. We all stand alongside him and lift the roof upright and then hoist it over our heads. Surprisingly, no rain is reaching us through the branches.
“It’s great,” says Jeff. “But I’m not standing here all night, propping up our new home.”
“You don’t have to.” Todd is already climbing a tree to the left of the clearing, his thin rope looped around his shoulder. “Here, bring it closer.”
We all shift towards him, the roof above our heads, and I feel like a cartoon character balancing something impossibly heavy on my head and trying not to drop it.
Todd tugs it closer, shouldering the rain from his face, and weaves the rope through one corner of the branch-shelter, securing it to the trunk. He does the same with the other corner. When they feel secure, he repeats the process with the other side of the roof. When he is finished, we drop our arms, and gaze at the shelter above our heads, waiting for something to happen, for the rain to drip through, for the wind to snatch it away, for lightning to send it up in flames. But nothing happens.
“I can’t believe it,” says Olivia.
Todd climbs down from the tree and joins us. There are no sides to the shelter, but the trees are offering some protection to our backs, and the roof isn’t leaking. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Todd grins at her.
“I didn’t mean that,” she says. “It’s just … wow. It works.”
The relief of not standing in the heavy rain makes it almost feel cosy. Water still trickles down my face, and my feet feel as though I’m standing in a deep puddle, but the shelter means that we might dry out a little while it holds.
Not knowing where the others are is like having a hole in our side, and we all feel it. We’re lucky that we made it this far, but we are too worried to allow gratitude to sink in. I ask if we should scout the island for a glimpse of them.
“We should stay here,” says Jeff. “Stick together. When they reach the island, they’ll spot the dinghy, and they’ll find us.” He smiles at each of us in turn. “Well done, guys, I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks, Dad,” says Kim.
It’s the icebreaker that we need to settle into our makeshift camp. We remove our waterproofs and spread them out across the ground. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s dry, and none of us are expecting to get a good night’s sleep while we ride out the storm. We sit in a circle. We all have water in our backpacks; despite the drenching, I am surprised at how thirsty I am.
I tell Todd that when he suggested sinking a boatful of authors to see how they react, I didn’t think he was serious.
Everyone laughs. “Yeah, that kinda sucks,” says Todd. “But you made it.”
“I’m just glad I’ve watched Titanic at least fifteen times,” says Olivia. “I kept telling myself that if Rose could survive freezing water, I could survive a dinghy.” She smiles at me.
“We weren’t letting you get away that easily,” says Jeff.
We all hear voices at the same time, and leap to our feet.
“Was that them?” Kim asks.
Tony appears from amongst the trees ahead of Sandra, Jeremy, and the captain. He grins when he spots the small shelter. “Started the party without us, you guys?”
He draws Jeff into a bearhug, and we all embrace, relief evident in the teary eyes and shaky voices.
“What happened?” Jeff asks, when we’re all seated, knee-to-knee on the waterproofs.
“The tide was strong,” says Jeremy. “We caught it all wrong and ended up drifting in the opposite direction.”
“We saw you heading for the island,” says Sandra. “But we were way off course before we got control.”
Tony glances up at the roof and brushes water from his arm. “How about we get some walls on this house?”
I like all the action that has been in the last few sections. It's interesting to see the different sides of the characters while they are under stress. I'm looking forward to reading the next chapter.