Fiction by Justin Boote
It was a shit-splat lump of sand, a hideous wart poking through the face of the sea. Nothing breathed or moved save the sea and himself. It was a dead place.
He’d awoken on these golden shores still clutching the five-gallon drum of water he’d managed to salvage from the lifeboat, and he’d been thankful for that at least. He’d patrolled the island, and found nothing but sand. There were no distant islands he might try and swim to, no trees to seek refuge from the burning sun, and certainly no food. It was almost comical really. Saved from death twice; first the burning fishing boat, then the cracked lifeboat, only to find himself on this Godforsaken island with no chance of rescue. Condemned to an even slower death.
He scratched at the red sores on his arms, his neck, his face. Everywhere. They looked like bite marks, but he thought them more likely the fevered skewering of the sun and sand, the rending of his skin in this endless heat and loneliness.
The sand rippled to his left, though there was no wind. The sea was so calm it might have been an endless field of blue grass. If such a thing existed. Another ripple to his right. Something scurried beneath the sand. He was imagining things now. Great.
Night fell and he slept, deeply, like a dead man.
The next morning he awoke with his legs buried beneath the sand, and the burning feeling of paint thinner stripping a wall. He pulled his legs out and winced. They were covered in red welts, green pus mixing in the sand. They burned. He walked to the water and rinsed them off in the salt water. They burned more. The sun started its own long burn through the track of the sky.
The day moved slowly. He drank as little water as he could manage. His stomach ached from days without food. How long had it been? He couldn’t be sure but three days at least. Maybe four.
He slumped to the ground, laid back and looked at the failing sun, the emerging stars. Not a single plane had flown over since he’d arrived here. No birds, no whales or sea creatures. No one knew he was here, and no one would be coming for him. He grunted heavily, thinking of the absurdity of the situation. He’d wanted to discover a new species, become famous among his peers, and so he’d traveled as far as he could to come somewhere no one else had been before. And now he was here, yet nothing lived here, nothing stirred.
How was this possible?
He fell asleep thinking about the emptiness around him.
The next morning he woke buried up to his neck. Sand was in his ears, up his nose, in his mouth. He tried to move, but his weak arms and legs could do nothing against the weight of the dry sand. How did he do this? He couldn’t have possibly squirmed so deep during his restless, pained dreams. He shouted though he knew no one would hear him. Panic set in and he started to thrash his body back and forth. He panted and screamed and grunted, and slowy he worked an arm out, and then the other, and then somehow he pulled himself free.
He flopped onto the sand and dry heaved. A streamer of saliva hung from his mouth. He went and got some water from the water barrel, and then went to the sea and washed the sand from his body. He looked at his naked body. He was covered in the red sores, little trickles of blood running down his body like minute worms. They burned in the brine of the salt water.
“Ouch!” he shouted. He turned sharply to see something scuttle back beneath the sand. Blood oozed from above his ankle. The thing poked its head up. It looked like a crab. It had sharp pincers like a crab, but crabs didn’t have eight eyes. Or teeth. It disappeared again, and then all at once huge areas of sand rippled and scuttled like the sea. More eyes poked out of the sand. The little crab things were everywhere.
He looked out at the ocean, at its vastness and depth, and realized he was utterly without options. He turned back to look at the growing mound of crab things as they skittered out of the sand.
He laughed then, and it felt good to laugh. It was the right thing to laugh because oh my god, it was so damn funny when you thought about it. Here he had been, traveling to distant shores to find a new species of animal, and he’d found one. He’d actually found one! And no one would ever know. His discovery would die on this island. With him.
He howled with laughter and splashed in the water. He got onto all fours, crawled toward the shore. He reached the sand and laid down, rolled onto his back. He looked at the jewel blue sky. So this was what discovery felt like. He was tired and thirsty and burned out, but he kept laughing and laughing.
Then the crabs started to move.