I wrote this story as a submission for a competition a while back. The theme was desert island, and anything to do with being stranded alone or otherwise. Mine didn’t get accepted (which is why it’s appearing here!)
In the light of the reality TV shows about survival, I quite liked the idea of a group of office workers who brought all their work ‘baggage’ with them. Two of the characters; Martin and Steve are heavily influenced by two members of the League of gentlemen (sorry guys), and there’s a passing nod to a well known story by William Golding! Anyway, this is ‘Emilio’, hope you like it:
“How d’you learn to do that?”
Colin shrugged shyly and pushed his spectacles up his nose, I smiled and raised my bottle to him. The engine hummed like a giant cat. Colin took the wheel.
“Untie the painter.” He called.
“The what?” Simpered Soo.
“I’ll get it.” Called Martin, staggering, bending over to untie the rope that held us to the quay. The rest of us tottered and swayed around the deck, grabbing at various handholds, giggling like a bunch of teenagers, waving bottles of beer and vodka. As we sped off into the night, in the stolen yacht, Sharon at the rear of the boat, red kitten heels in one hand, raised her almost empty bottle in the other and loudly slurred,
“How’sh this for team building Peter! Up yours!”
“They don’t know we are here Ray!” I yelled, stomping up the beach. “No-one knows we’re here!”
Ray jogged occasionally to keep up. Ray annoyed me. Ray had always annoyed me. With his weak eyes and weak smile, his brown suits and mustard ties. His mustard tie was currently tied around his profusely sweating head.
“And why are you wearing your tie like that? You’re not Rambo!”
It was really hard to walk indignantly on hot, soft sand. Ray was jabbering something but I had given up listening. I found a fallen trunk in the shade and sat on it, hard.
“OW!” I squeezed and itched the buttock that had been inadvertently jabbed by tinder dry bark. God how I wanted a chair with cushions and a back.
We had sat on the beach dazed, hung-over and sullen for much of the first day, after the accident. A kind of silent numbness having infected us all. Everyone had cuts and grazes and bruises, nothing serious. Miraculously. Unfortunately, I thought meanly, looking at Martin. Now Martin, in his attempt to take charge was trying to organise people into building some sort of camp.
“Ellen, go and gather some of those banana leaves for the rooves.” He said coming up behind me, panting, with a load of large leaves clutched in his arms. Alan trudged heavily behind with a larger load. “Come on, don’t just sit there.” Martin said.
“Martin. I have been trying to see where we are.” I snapped.
“Well I’d have thought that was pretty obvious.”
“Is it? Is it really?” I said standing to face him. His nose was already peeling pink from two days of sunshine. “How do we know we’re not on an isthmus, or near some mainland, or, something?” I ended lamely. I didn’t know what other geographical terms there were.
Martin dropped his bundle. “And what did you find?” he asked, feigning patience as if talking to an imbecile.
I shrugged. “Nothing. Just beach and trees.” He gave me one of his smug I told you so looks.
“Well I’ve only looked along here.” I pointed.
He began to busy himself, “Well then, I suggest that until we know better, we make ourselves shelters.” He straightened, “Or do you think we should all wander around seeing if there is a nice little hotel bar somewhere Ellen?”
I wandered a few feet away before mumbling what he should do with himself.
“And they’re mangoes!” I shouted as I headed into the trees.
I collected Sharon from a mangrove swamp she had got herself stuck in, and headed back to, what Martin insisted on calling, base camp. A group of four was organised to go looking for drinking water. Me, Soo, Martin and Ray. Sharon, Alan, Steve and Colin were to improve the shelters, make a fire, and collect whatever food they could find. The initial recce took us along the length of the beach until it narrowed to a low, rocky outcrop. We made our way inland. Beyond the mangrove swamp lay a vast forest. We stared at it glumly.
“There could be anything in there.” Whispered Ray.
No-one answered. Martin simply waved towards the left where the ground rose and a lumpy section of rock, like a mound of crumbly cheese, peeked out from the greenery. We plodded off after him. We skirted continuously around the dark trees, but eventually realised that we would need to go in. If water was anywhere it would be down there. At one point I turned to make sure Soo was still following. She had stopped to tie something bright around a sturdy branch.
“What’s that?” I asked.
Soo smiled her calm, Mother Earth smile. “Markers.” She indicated her hippie shawl; one of those loosely knitted things. She had been pulling threads off at intervals and tying them around bits of undergrowth. I was rather impressed at her ingenuity. I had thought Soo a bit dippy to be honest. This act of practicality gave me a new respect for her. We did eventually find what we were looking for; a small pool fed by a trickle of water from the direction of the cheesy rock. But we had nothing to carry it in. So we drank our fill, washed our faces, and then returned to the camp to inform the others. The lushness of the trees, the whistle and peep of the birds and the pristine, white beach should have delighted me – but we were alone here, we shouldn’t be here, and an odd sense of unease filled my steps.
I was scraping inside the hard skin of some green fruit. With the insides removed, they made good bowls. Soo was attempting to fish with her shawl. I think the fish were too small or the holes too big; she never caught anything. Alan was attempting to make a device to carry multiple containers of water. I think Martin and Steve were off hunting somewhere with Sharon.
I squinted along the hot beach. I could see the shimmery figures of Ray and Colin heading our way. Colin was doing a kind of sideways trot alongside Ray, gesticulating wildly. I could hear his shrill whine even at this distance. Before they came too close. Ray stopped dead and leaned into Colin. I could see his mouth moving. The body language was clear. Colin leant back.
They approached the camp with an uneasy gap between them. They sat apart.
“So what was that all about?” Alan’s quiet voice.
I didn’t know he had even seen the exchange, he appeared focused on twisting lengths of plant life and threading them through holes in fruit skins.
Colin glanced nervously at Alan.
“Nothing.” Said Ray. “Personal.”
I looked at Colin. He seemed in pain.
“Come on Ray. Spit it out before Colin wets himself.” I said.
“He said-” began Colin.
“You shut your mouth!” snapped Ray. Colin stood, fidgeting with a leaf.
“Colin?” I urged. He looked like a frightened turtle; he had a habit of sucking in his lower lip when anxious.
“Look. If this affects us, then we should know.”
“It was a set up by Peter! He’s a drugs runner!” Colin slapped his hands over his mouth. Ray stood and pointing at Colin said threateningly,
“You little worm. I said it was none of your business.”
Alan, me and Soo were now standing too. We all stared expectantly at Ray. His brown suit, reduced to torn, knee-length shorts and a sleeveless shirt. He looked suddenly thuggish. The beige man from the office long gone.
Peter was our manager. He had organised this trip as a team building exercise. We were all astonished; team-building abroad! All except Ray, who was often brown-nosing around Peter for favours. Ray looked at our expressions, he could see he had no option.
“Pete had contacts in Colombia from way back. Been doing small deals here and there. He had a big offer – I mean huge– and so he arranged for us to be his cover. A small British company on a team building exercise with the addition of opening a buyers’ market.” Ray looked around at our faces.
“Go on.” Prompted Alan.
“I met with the contact.” Ray continued.
“Contact?” I said.
“You?!” Said Soo.
“It was supposed to be a simple exchange of goods and cash. The goods would be on a luxury yacht owned by the local…”
“Goods?” I queried, nervously.
Ray ignored the comment. “I was to make the exchange and then, we all go home.” He ended lamely.
“Except that’s the yacht we stole for our jolly. Isn’t it Ray?!” I said becoming hysterical.
“You fucking idiot!”
We all turned. The others had returned. Martin, Steve and Sharon were standing silently in the shade. Martin and Steve were seething.
“You absolute, great, steaming pile of-“
“Ray! What have you done?”
“Look, I didn’t mean for this to happen. How was I supposed to know that was Emilio’s yacht?” Ray stammered.
“Oh. It’s Emilio now is it?” snarled Martin advancing.
“Martin.” Said Alan in a warning tone.
I chewed my nails. Sharon was sucking her thumb.
“So.” I began nervously. “When someone does come to rescue us. In all likelihood it will be Emilio’s men who arrive looking for their boat and their goods?”
“Shitshitshitshitshitshit. Shit!” cried Steve, running his hand through sweaty hair.
“Oh my God Ray. When were you going to tell us you’re a drugs mule for the manager?!” I cried.
“So someone’s coming to rescue us?”
I was sitting with Soo and Sharon in what we had named- Pink Ladies Corner. A section of the beach about a minutes’ walk from the base camp, with rock pools to dabble our toes and overhanging trees keeping the sand warm rather than scalding. The men were fishing, building, hunting or something of that ilk. Colin and Steve seemed to be going for a swim.
“He was awfully cross.” Sharon was saying.
I dreamily brought my attention back. I had been thinking about Emilio. What would he do to us? “What?”
Sharon had a tiny compact mirror and was applying mascara. “Roy. When he found out about the e-mails.”
“What e-mails?” I asked, more out of politeness than interest.
Soo, Sharon and I had pooled our feminine resources; Mascara, eye-liner, mini pack of playing cards, cigarette papers and tobacco – it turned out that Soo had a lighter in her denim sac-bag and so beginning a fire was no longer an issue. After we had dried the papers individually on a rock, alongside the tobacco, we went off for sneaky smokes, like a trio of naughty schoolgirls.
“The misspelt e-mails, remember?” she began filing her nails. “Roy said he would fire me if it happened again. Well it did. I think he was going to get rid of me next week.” I looked at Sharon’s slender legs, her tiny waist and shapely bosom. She was a natural blond, with a pretty face. We all knew why Roy kept her on as his personal secretary.
“I really don’t think he would.” I said.
Soo smiled from her recumbent position. “Steve changed some of your keys.” She said.
“My keys?” said Sharon.
“Hm, on your keyboard, when you weren’t at your desk.”
I looked at Soo, amazed that she knew about this, but more so that she had never told. “Not really my business.” She said.
Sharon was thinking. It was evidently hard for Sharon to think, her forehead crunched up, she chewed the inside of her cheek. Then her face lit up. “Oh my God! The D and the F.” She looked at me like I should know what she meant. “The D and the F Ellen. When I wrote to Duckworth and Sons about late payment, I kept getting e-mails from this cranky old biddy – well I think she was old, she is in my head -“
“Sharon, stick to the point.” I snapped.
“Okay. God Ellen, chill. Finally, Mr Duckworth himself wrote to Roy demanding his secretary stop referring to him as Fuckworth in e-mails.”
Soo rose up onto her elbows. “You mean to say, you never checked the spelling?”
Soo and I started laughing.
There was a commotion along the beach. I squinted beneath my hand. Steve and Martin were toe to toe shouting in each other’s faces. Soo, Sharon and I approached quickly.
“It was you all along.” Shouted Steve. “You hid my pro-biotic yoghurt’s.”
“Just like you’re hiding something now.” Martin shouted, making to grab at Steve’s arm.
Steve shrugged him off. “Get lost.”
“Why would I want your stupid pro-biotic yogurt?” sneered Martin. “Eh?”
The others had taken notice now and stood at various distances from the arguing pair. Colin was the closest, he was clutching a bundle of stuff to his chest.
“Anyway, you won’t need pro-biotic yoghurt now with all the fruit you’ve been stuffing in your fat face.”
“I’m not fat. I have a glandular condition.” cried Steve.
“If you got off your fat arse and walked to the photocopier once in a while, instead of getting Colin or Ellen to do all your work-“
“I don’t!” Steve protested.
I walked over to Colin. “What have you got there Colin?” he looked at me, his eyes wide behind the lenses. He looked down into the bundle.
“We found the yacht.” He mumbled. “All smashed up round the other side of the rocks there.” He nodded past the designated lavatory inlet.
I pulled open the shirt he had wrapped around his parcel. I pulled out a packet. It was the length of an A6 notebook, thick, plastic and filled with white stuff.
“Oh, my God.” I stared. “Guys.”
“And I never got those e-mails you were supposed to send me from Pargeters.” Martin was shouting.
“Oh stop being such a puritan.” Steve shouted back. “Have a laugh once in a while.”
“Guys. Martin, Steve.” I tried again, walking towards them, the packet held out before me like it would explode.
“I lost a sale!” yelled Martin.
“Oh boo hoo. Martin lost a sale. What’s new -?”
And that’s when Martin slapped Steve.
I stopped dead. I could see Soo with one hand on her hip, the other at her mouth. Sharon was suppressing a laugh. Alan had his hand over his eyes in mild exasperation. Colin yelped, dropped the bundle and ran off to his hut. Steve’s hands came out from behind his back. He pointed a gun at Martin.
“Whoa!” A number of voices called. Martin blanched, even under his tan. His face went slack.
“What the…” said Ray. “Where did you get that? Did you bring that with you? How did you get it past customs?”
“Okay Steve.” I tried to sound calm. “It’s gone a little too far now.”
“He found it on the motor boat.” Said Martin, his eyes never leaving Steve’s.
“Yacht.” Said Steve quietly. “It’s a motor yacht.”
“It’s a bloody wreck.” Interjected Ray, “Which is why we’re here.”
“Shut up Ray.” I hissed.
“Boat. Yacht. What’s the difference?” Martin still managed to sneer.
“About twenty feet and three hundred thousand pounds.” Said Steve. Someone gasped.
“Listen Steve. You need to lower the gun. We have a more pressing problem.” I continued.
Soo and Sharon had come to huddle beside Alan. Probably hoping his bulk would protect them from any stray bullets, should it come to that. They looked like something from a poor version of a Frank Frazetta painting; large male protecting a semi-clad female on either side. Except the sun didn’t glint off Alan’s square jawline, more like rolled around his double chin.
The birds and insects seemed to have ceased their noise, the tide had hushed for the moment as we all stood regarding the gun in Steve’s hands. The sun burnt my eyes. And then.
“God aren’t guns heavy?” Steve let his arms flop down suddenly. An expression of bored exhaustion on his pink, round face. I felt a group release of breath. Martin sagged, hands on knees and breathing heavily.
“It doesn’t even work. Look.” He pointed it into the sand and pulled the trigger.
“No!” shouted me, Alan and Ray together.
Nothing happened. “I think it’s jammed with the seawater or something.” Steve continued.
“You bloody, great…wanker!” Martin croaked.
It was decided that it was probably best if Alan was in charge of the weapon. We discussed burying it, but finally we thought it best to have even a useless gun if the owner turned up. I had a vision of Emilio in my head; tanned, white suited, cigar smoking, brutal.
“Eew!” cried Sharon. She hopped on one foot briefly, before dashing past me to wash it in the sea.
“Oh for Gods sakes, who crapped on the beach?” I sighed. “We agreed that the toilet was to be over there, in that inlet.”
“You agreed. No-one else did.” Said Colin.
“Oh shut up Colin. Who asked you?”
“Exactly. No-one asked me.”
“We need a loo. It’s the most obvious place.” I paused. “So where have you been going the past four days?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve just been dropping your pants whenever you fancy one?”
He gave a mumble.
“I haven’t been, you know, for a -”
“A poo!” shouted Sharon coming back from washing her toes free of stodge. “It was a poo!”
“You haven’t had a shit in four days?” asked Steve, amazed.
Colin looked around us all totally embarrassed. “I can’t go when I’m nervous. Or uncomfortable. Or there’s people…”
We all stared at him.
“What. At all?” said Ray.
“But we’ve been living off nothing but mangoes. How can you not? I’ve had the shits something rotten.”
A collective groan went up.
“Thank you Steve.” Said Martin.
“Am I the only one then?” Steve continued. Sharon and Alan both raised their hands. “See!” said Steve triumphant.
“I’ve had a dickey tummy too.” Admitted Soo.
“Please! Can we not discuss everyone’s bowel movements? God. We have more pressing matters. We need to organise ourselves.”
“Agreed.” Said Soo and Alan.
“We need to make the shelters sturdier.” Interjected Martin, stealing my lead. “Arrange a hunting rota, keep a fire going.” Heads nodded.
“Hunting?” chimed Soo and Sharon.
“We sharpen some sticks. Make spears. I’ll be in charge of the hunting party.” Martin was warming to his own idea of Man the Hunter, “Colin. You make a fire and keep it going.”
“Why me?” Colin whined.
“Because you’ve got the specs.” Said Martin.
“This isn’t Lord of the bloody Flies Martin.” I said.
He scowled at me. “Well at least I’m trying.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” I retorted.
“Oo, I’m just going to take a look over here and see what might be hiding behind this tree.” He said in what he imagined was a female voice. “Perhaps I shall find a nice young man to cuddle up to at night.”
My mouth gaped. Everyone looked shocked or embarrassed. Then the moment was broken by Sharon bursting out laughing. “Oh my God. You’re talking about that waiter she had in her room.”
“Shut up Sharon!” I snapped. Martin smiled his smarmy smile. “Why is it any of your business anyway Martin.” I stood over him.
The sun was descending and we still had not made a fire. Light from the sea illuminated one side of his face and bare shoulder. The other side was in shadow. “Jealous that you can’t get anyone to share your bed at night?” I turned on my heel and stomped off to my mango lean to.
As I lay still in the dark, listening to the waves hiss and sigh up and down the beach, I was aware of quiet conversations in other shelters. They weren’t exactly soundproof. Single sided pallets of broad leaves, propped up on sticks. I shared my ‘hut’ with Soo. She was apparently fast asleep, after having done some prayers to the goddess and her weird nasal breathing. I could hear Alan’s deep, steady voice trying to whisper.
“That was a bit uncalled for Martin.” He was saying. He got no reply. I didn’t know whether Alan was referring to what I’d said, or what Martin had revealed.
The following morning, I awoke to find Soo’s leg draped over mine. During the night she had managed to turn ninety degrees, somehow. Her head was pressed into the leaves of the shelter. Alan and Colin were trying to make a fire.
“Morning.” Said Alan. I greeted them with a nod and vague smile. I scratched at something on the back of my neck.
“Been bitten?” asked Alan.
“I don’t know, but it’s not half itchy. Alan had a look, then showed me the top of his chubby arm, just before it went into the armpit. There was a horrible reddish lump, about the size of a Jelly Tot, with a dot in the centre.
“It’s one of these.” He said. I itched again.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Might get infected if you scratch the top off.” Alan had taken the First Aid course the company offered last year. He was the only one, well, if you didn’t count Sharon, because Sharon couldn’t remember anything. Sharon’s head was like a beach ball, bright and pretty, but ultimately empty.
When we had all eaten our fill of mango, we tidied up. We kept the camp as clean as we could under the circumstances.
“Right. Today’s duties.” Started Martin rubbing his hands together in a preparatory manner. “Colin, fire. Ray, foraging. Alan-“
“Hang on, hang on.” Interrupted Ray. “Who put you in charge?”
“Yes Martin.” I smiled, folding my arms. “Who did put you in charge?”
“Well, I er, as senior member of staff-“
“Senior member of staff?!” came the incredulous squawk from Ray and Steve.
“I’ve been with the company longest.”
“So what? Doesn’t make you senior.” Ray said. Martin glanced at Soo, who stood with her eyes closed, arms slightly raised, smiling at the sky. Ray grinned.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” said Martin.
“She is senior buyer.” I said, backing up Ray, not because I agreed with him, but because I despised Martin.
“Really?” he pointed at the still shut-eyed Soo. “You’d rather have, her in charge? Mrs Hippie-Mother Earth- Lets all have a Love-in.”
“I don’t want a Love-in Martin.” Came the calm, wispy voice.
“She doesn’t want a Love-in Martin.” I teased.
“Oh. I get it.” He was nodding and stepping back. “This is just like – Let’s not invite Martin to the lunches.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Alan.
Martin was pointing, waggling his finger at each of us. “I know you’ve been having lunchtime get togethers and not inviting me. And screwing with my desk. Let’s turn down the contrast on Martins screen, see how long it takes the dick-head to notice it isn’t actually broken.” Someone giggled. “Altering the Autocorrect on my Word docs.” A snigger. “And don’t think I don’t know about your whistling Steve!” he suddenly shouted.
Steve burst out laughing. Martin was furious. I couldn’t help myself, the laughing began deep down. I pressed my lips tight, but I was shaking all over. The others were in various states of giggles by now. Even the kindly Alan was smiling.
“Look, Martin-” he began, reaching out a hand of friendship.
“Fuck off!” Martin shouted before stamping away along the bright shoreline.
I looked around at the scorched faces that were variously creased with hysteria, or attempting to restrain smiles whilst looking towards the lonely figure kicking sand. I felt like a naughty kid.
“I’ll go and talk to him.” Said Soo as she drifted past.
The rest of us avoided looking at each other. Except Sharon who was looking puzzled. “What did he mean about the whistling?”
“Steve did it to annoy him.”
“But Steve can’t help not being able to whistle.” Sharon said.
“He can whistle. He just doesn’t?” I hinted. Sharon frowned.
“Oh for Christs sakes!” said Steve as he began to walk away too. “Sharon. I was pretending I couldn’t whistle so it annoyed Martin. I can whistle, listen…” and he whistled a perfectly tuneful little number. Seeing the incomprehension on her face, he gave up and wandered off.
There was something, or someone, moving through the trees beyond. They must have come ashore on the opposite side of the island. A bird called in the treetops. The hairs on my arms prickled. I could feel my heart thumping wildly beneath the remains of my cotton blouse.
Martin was creeping along, slightly ahead and to my right. He had his face painted, his spear raised. I didn’t know whether to feel comforted or chilled. He moved stealthily. Which was more than could be said for the figure ahead. It crunched its way assertively through the shade.
Martin slowly rose from the undergrowth. I could see the whites of his eyes, wide, focused. He drew back his arm and screeched as he flung the spear forwards. An immense explosion went off close behind me. My body jerked automatically to a crouch as the figure in the trees beyond hit the deck. My ears were ringing. Martin dropped into the cover. I turned to see Alan standing surprisingly near, arms stretched forwards pointing the gun. Did I imagine the smoke drifting from its muzzle? He looked terrified. As the ringing faded I became aware of three more figures racing through the trees. Now we’re in trouble, I thought. I couldn’t see Martin. Should I leave him? Now I could hear shouting, but it was a jumble. I grabbed Alan’s arm and tried to yank him down. He shrugged me off saying “It’s OK. It’ll be OK.” He began to move forwards.
“Alan!” I hissed. “Alan, get down.”
My mind was crazy with visions of Tony Montana, black suit covered in white powder, going mad with a machine gun; ’Say hello to my leetle friend.’ I began whimpering. Oh my God, I’m going to die on an island where no-one will ever find me. And I haven’t got any make-up on!
I was paralyzed with terror.
Emilio had arrived.
The ground crunched and snapped as people made their way towards me. I squeezed my eyes tight shut.
“Just make it quick. Just make it quick.” I wept.
“Ellen. Ellen.” It was Alan’s calm voice.
He was okay. He was okay! My stomach felt squiffy. I peeked from between my fingers. There were two men stood behind him. All I could think was, how pale their faces were and I could smell soap. Alan reached down to take my trembling hand. “It’s a research team Ellen. Not drug dealers.” I frowned at them. The two men nodded, one held up a recording device.
“I think he’ll be okay.” Shouted a voice from the bushes. “Get onto the radio and call for air ambulance Tony!”
Tony gave me an odd smile then pulled a walkie-talkie out. He turned and walked off giving instructions.
Alan led me to where Martin lay groaning with a horrible wound in his shoulder.
“I’m sure he will be fine.” The visitor, whom Martin had been about to spear, was doing something with folded leaves and his own shirt, padding the wound and tying it tight. I couldn’t help notice how incredibly muscled he was, his broad shoulders had a light sprinkling of freckles. I peered at his profile, he seemed familiar. He gave instructions to Alan to apply pressure to the wound. Alan did as he was told.
“You shot me! You fucking shot me!” Squeaked Martin.
“I couldn’t let you kill him.” Replied Alan.
The shirtless man stood and offered his hand to shake, “Hi, Bear Grylls. We thought this place was deserted. Looks like you’ve been having fun and games.”