WRIT LARGE: Ch 20, Part 1
Count Your Rainbows
I open my eyes and I’m shocked at the wave of dizziness that washes through me as my senses register where I am. It is only now I’m awake that I realise I’ve slept at all. My neck creaks as I straighten, and I glance at the others around me, hoping I’ve not disturbed them.
The sun is appearing on the horizon, painting the sky in shades of magenta and lilac. I remain motionless waiting for the storm sounds to kick in, the raging wind battering the trees and our makeshift shelter, the rain splattering everything around us in squally gusts as though the wind were taking a breath between rounds. But the world appears calm as though it is taking some time out to heal.
Moving only my head, I check out the others. Jeremy is upright, eyes closed, his back propped against the tree in one corner of the camp, Todd, Kim, and Olivia, asleep against him, giving him the appearance of a dad and his cubs. Olivia’s arm is stretched across his lap and Todd’s, while Kim’s head rests awkwardly against Todd’s shoulder. I am guessing that we all found sleep around the time the storm began to abate in the early hours. Prior to that, we had eaten the food from the ice box, drunk conservatively from our water bottles, and talked about our plans for when we returned to the mainland.
I hold my breath as I stretch my cramped legs and push myself to an upright position. My hand is throbbing, and I grit my teeth as I flex my fingers, the skin tight beneath the Band-aid.
Jeff and the others must have woken early, if they slept at all, and gone to explore the damage to the island. I crawl out from under the shelter and stand. The trees surrounding the clearing are remarkably unscathed; many branches are broken, hanging limply against the trunk, but apart from this, there appears to be little other damage.
Removing my phone from its waterproof case inside my backpack, I make my way down the incline that we’d previously clambered up, trying to find a signal. If one of us is lucky enough to have a working phone, we can at least alert the authorities to our whereabouts and the situation regarding the boat. I find myself skidding on slippery rocks, until I step out from behind a dense clump of undergrowth and I’m faced with a steep cliff-face falling away beneath my feet. Stones dislodged by my footsteps, tumble over the edge, bouncing down to the sea below.
I stop, heart racing, and wait for my breathing to regulate. When I can bring myself to move closer to the edge, one arm wrapped around a tree trunk, I realise that there is movement on the shore below. Jeff and the captain are rearranging large rocks in a pattern on the flat expanse of stone. Sandra and Tony are also there, shifting branches, seaweed, and other debris washed up from the storm to make the pattern more visible. They stand back and I can see that the stones have formed the letters SOS.
To the left of the small group, I can see what looks like a piece of the boat’s propeller projecting from the rocky plateau. Scanning the rest of the shore, I notice other equipment washed up from the boat’s wreckage, broken fishing rods, segments of fibreglass, one containing the letters PRINC from the boat’s name, but there is no sign of either dinghy. I wonder if they have pulled the dinghies ashore where they will not be washed away, but then I recall that our boat was secured to a tree higher up the island because of the storm-fuelled water levels. I have visions of the two vessels swinging halfway down the side of the cliff, impossible to reach from above or below. Without them, and with the realisation that my phone remains wholly disconnected from any signal, reality is taking hold, the Writer’s Retreat in Langkawi looking more like a glorious pipedream than a possibility.
I gaze across the sea, which is surprisingly calm, the waves causing gentle foamy ripples across the surface. There is another island in the distance, one that I don’t recall seeing yesterday. I think back to the boat journey, the damage caused to the bottom of the boat when we hit rocks, and the captain gesturing to Sepoi Island, and then I recall him telling Jeff that Labas Island was underwater. That must be Labas I can see now from my viewpoint. It looks how I imagine Sepoi to look were I not standing on the clifftop: rocky and uninhabited.
I call out to Jeff. There must be an accessible route down to the shore, one that doesn’t involve me sliding down a cliff-face and hoping someone will catch me, limbs still intact, when I land.
Jeff gestures to my right. He cups his hands around his mouth and yells, “It’s stepped that way, but slippery!”
I wave and tell them I’m heading down. At least if I have an accident, they’ll know where to find me.
I have to climb a little to reach the natural rocky steps that Jeff indicated, and the others join me as I make my way past our temporary camp.
“Thank God,” says Olivia. “I thought you’d been blown away in the night.”
“Any sign of the others?” Kim asks.
I tell them that the rest of the group are on the shore setting up an SOS sign, and that we should be careful as I discovered the sheer drop the hard way.
“I guess that’s the dinghy out of action,” says Todd. “Probably ripped to shreds on the rocks.”
“Would you believe that sky though?” Kim says. “After last night, you kinda expect the whole world to still be grey and moody.”
Olivia nods. “It would be impressive if we weren’t actually shipwrecked on a deserted island.”
I ask if anyone has seen the film Castaway as we carefully make our way down the cliff to join the others.
“The Tom Hanks movie?” says Jeremy. “Doesn’t he go a little crazy and befriend a football?”
“That won’t happen to us,” says Todd. “We’re all a little crazy already. We gotta be—we’re all here by choice.”
“I still blame the dessert,” says Olivia. “I’ll never eat a cheesecake again.”
I tell her that I don’t believe that for one second; I’ve seen her eying up the dessert menu in restaurants.
“Did you hear the howls in the night?” Kim asks.
“Howls?” Olivia turns to look at Kim and her foot slips off the side of a rock.
Jeremy grabs her hand and keeps her upright. “Okay?”
Olivia makes circles above the ground with her foot. “Sore, but it’ll be alright. Note to self: pay attention when you’re climbing down the side of a cliff. And besides, if Kim can do it with a sprained ankle, I’m not going to make a fuss.”
The island towers above sea level, and I notice that Olivia deliberately avoids looking down. I tell her that she has probably been in higher concert stadiums, only they wouldn’t have the same effect because they’re enclosed and filled with seats and people.
“You’re right,” she says. “The O2 in London is so high I was scared to stand up the first time I went.”
“Have you guys ever been to the Empire State Building?” Kim asks.
I tell them that I have, but never made it outside to the viewing balcony.
“That’s the best bit,” says Todd, who is leading the way. “No point going otherwise.”
I’m not sure I like the way the conversation has looped around from Castaway, which was set on dry, if deserted, land, to the Empire State Building looming above New York, especially in our precarious situation, but I keep it to myself. I take a deep breath when we finally reach the shore and realise how badly my legs have been trembling all the way down. Olivia closes her eyes briefly and gives me a smile.
Stepping onto the flat stretch of rocks almost feels how I imagine people in wartime London felt stepping out from an air-raid shelter, inspecting the damage, and wondering how on earth they were still alive. The shore is littered with vegetation, seaweed, crumpled plastic bottles, remnants of fishing nets, and the shattered remains of the boat. A glance up, and I can’t believe we spent the night up there, or that we made it down here. I tell myself that I am being dramatic and put it down to lack of sleep.
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Wonderfully evocative. Count your rainbows indeed https://groweatgift.com/2017/09/14/folklore-thursday-rainbow-folklore/
A gripping piece of writing, Rand.