5. Island

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"Land!" Chris shook a fist at the heavens as if defying the gods, or the airline's board of directors, hiding up there. "Let's go for it. Paddle."

And paddle we did—everyone except Bruna. Frantic, like a pack of maniacs.

My legs ached from kneeling on the raft, but the pain was nothing compared to the pounding of my heartbeat against the inside of my skull. I dipped my hand into the water, pushed, and propelled us forward.

Every time I looked up, there was the island ahead—twin peaks, one rounded and one tipped, huddled together as if for comfort.

The rift in the clouds widened and was joined by others, revealing a sky of deep blue. Sunlight made the island glow in hues of brown and green.

"How far away is it?" Yves asked, panting.

"Still some miles," the co-pilot replied. "Take it slow. Save your strength."

I squinted at the land, missing my glasses. "Does anyone see any buildings yet?"

No one answered.


~~~




Getting there took an eternity.

First, it didn't come closer.

What did come was the sun, though. It chased the rain away and took its place, its rays frying us from above. What began as a welcome warmth to dry our drenched clothes, quickly turned into a furnace scorching us.

The wound on my head burned in the heat, and my aching back was cramped. The only part of me that didn't hurt were my feet—kneeling for hours, I had lost all feeling there.

And the unsteady bobbing of our raft twisted my insides.

Later, bit by bit, parts of the island revealed themselves. Rock formations, plants, the surf against its stony coastline.

"I will drink all the beer they have," said Yves.

The thought of beer nearly made me heave.

"Are you sure there's beer over there?" the woman sitting with Bruna and Farid asked. She was a nurse, from India. Her name was Nita.

"They've got beer everywhere."

"I don't see any buildings, roads, or villages," Nita said. "There are just plants and rocks."

"Civilizations start with beer," Yves replied, a grin on his face. "The houses, they build them only later once they've stilled their thirst."

Nita giggled, a hand over her mouth.

I stopped paddling and looked ahead. The two mountains were mostly green, except for the steep parts where gray and brown dominated. From this distance, the size of the island was hard to guess—maybe a mile or two in length.

The sea around the land had changed from a hue of dark steel into an expanse of blue that was even deeper than the sky above it.


~~~


We were floating in a small bay, a stone's throw from the land.

No white beaches to welcome us. No coconut trees. The shore was just stones and dark gray, volcanic rock, stoic under the incessant impact of the waves breaking against them. Beyond the shoreline, a steep slope covered by bushes, grass, more rock, and scree ascended towards one of the island's hills.

"Let's land here," Chris said.

Pamela, the co-pilot, shook her head. "This doesn't look like the main entrance. Let's paddle along the coast. We're sure to find something better."

"We can climb that slope."

"Not with her." Pamela gestured at the still unconscious Bruna.

Chris huffed. "Whatever."

As we steered our raft along the island, we all had our gaze on its rocks, ravines, and plants. It was forbidding wilderness. Birds circled in the sky above. There was nothing made by man.

We rounded an outcrop, a frozen waterfall of hardened lava. On its other side, the slope behind the shoreline flattened, and the vegetation stood denser. The shrubs off the shore were taller than a man, the gaps between them dark and brooding.

"This reminds me," Yves said, "of Jurassic Park. This island must be full of velociraptors."

Pamela laughed. "Good. So we have food."

"Or we are food," Yves replied.

"What are velociraptors?" Nita frowned.

"They are fast and hungry dinosaurs," Yves replied. "Carnivores."

"This is not funny." Nita's gaze searched the island. "You shouldn't joke about it."

"Sorry." Yves held up his hands. "I was just joking."

We landed on a short stretch of beach covered with rough, almost black sand and rocks. I helped Yves, Farid, and Pamela to carry Bruna into the shade of a group of thick-leaved shrubs.

She moaned as we settled her onto the hard ground. There were scorch marks all along her pants, and the skin above her ankles was red and blistered. I covered my mouth and turned my gaze away.

Yves returned to Nita, the nurse, to help her across the hard and uneven ground. She was slow because she had left her shoes on the plane.

When they reached us, Nita bent over Bruna and put a hand on her brow.

"She's got severe burns on both legs and on her lower body." She gestured at Bruna's scorched pants. "She needs water. But most of all, she needs medical care. Without it, I don't think she'll make it to tomorrow."

Farid stood beside her, looking down at his friend, or whatever she was, hands on his hips, lips pressed together.

Yves pulled his phone from his pocket and checked its display. "There is no network here."

Chris scoffed. "No surprise there. I don't think this place has electric power or any buildings, let alone people. Didn't you have a look at it?" He gestured inland. "There's only rocks, shrubs, and birds here."

"Still, we have to check," Pamela said. "I'm going to have a look. Who's coming with me?"

"I will." I held up my hand. The co-pilot deserved some support against Chris' bullying, and I was eager to do something, anything.

"Good luck," Chris said. "The rest of us will stay here and make sure the search parties can see us when they get here."

The man was an optimist.

"I'll stay with them," Yves said, looking at Pamela and gesturing at Nita tending to Bruna. "If you see the velociraptors, run," he whispered, winking at us.

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