“Ryan, would you be so kind as to help this old woman move this log?”
“Of course, Margareth.” I give her one of my famous smiles. I drag the log towards an empty spot next to another log. We’re making a circle of logs around the remains of the fire from last night. All the logs are big enough to sit on comfortably, so they will be our chairs for now. I wonder if we’re going to keep them here to have some kind of meeting area to chat with others, or if we’re going to put them on the fire tonight. Well, it doesn’t really matter, I guess it’s not up to me to decide.
Many people from the camp are helping. Some others are still gathering anything that might be useful from the wreckage while the rest are fortifying whatever hut or tent they made throughout the morning. Almost everyone is doing something useful. Well, there is the grumpy man who is negative about everything. And of course the pompous family, they are just watching what’s happening around them. The youngest child - and yes, that isn’t the cute one from tonight - is just sitting on the sand. He watches us, and even laughs a bit when someone trips over a branch hidden under the white sand.
Only now do I notice that the older one is wandering around, constantly looking at us and at the logs that still have to be moved. I call out to him: “Hey, do you wanna help us?”
He smiles, which is, to be honest, adorable. “Yeah man, what are you doing all this for?”
“You don’t know? We’re having a gathering this afternoon. You know, to divide tasks and talk about the future.”
“Aha, of course. I could’ve guessed that.” He smiles again… or is he still smiling? He grabs one of the logs and helps us finishing up the circle.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see the contempt on his brother’s face. Why doesn’t he like helping out? I really don’t get it. It’s one of the best things in life, noticing how you can help someone else a lot by only doing a little.
When we’re done I walk up to the boy that lent a hand. “Hey, thanks for helping out. I just realised I never asked what your name is? I’m Ryan.”
He brushes some of the hair out of his face. “Hey Ryan, I’m Milan.”
I sit down on the log Milan just moved here. “Your brother doesn’t really like helping out, does he?”
The cute boy sits down next to me. “Nah. He loves watching everything and making comments on what goes wrong.”
“What is his name, by the way?”
“Ronny, but he prefers to be called Ron.”
“Ronny it is.”
Milan laughs. “So when will this gathering start?”
“Not sure. It’s not as if we all still know what time it is.” I point at my pockets, in which my phone is clearly hiding. With a dead battery, of course.
He points at a big Rolex watch around his wrist. “Being old-fashioned has its upsides.”
I roll my eyes. “Old-fashioned… riiight.”
At least he has the decency to blush a little as a response.
Kai comes running towards me, with waving arms. “Ryan! Ryaaaan! Kyra said you wanted to play with me!”
“Yeah!” He literally keeps running around us, making me wonder how long he will be able to keep it up before he collapses on the sand.
“Well, I was just talking to the boy next to me. Who you obviously already know, right?”
He stops running and looks at me confused.
“Well, I could only assume, as you didn’t introduce yourself to him.”
“Oh, right. Hey, I’m Kai! Who are you?”
Milan shakes his hand. “I’m Milan.”
“Can we play nooow?”
I think about that for a few seconds. I liked getting to know Milan a bit more, but it was only yesterday I made the promise to be Kai’s big brother. Playing with little brothers is what big bro’s do, isn’t it? “You know what? We can try to make a fishing rod together. But, when the gathering starts, I’d like to go there, okay?”
Kai is already running away, even though I’m pretty sure he has no idea what to do next. Well, to be honest, I’m not too sure about that either. I used to go fishing sometimes with my granddad, but that was a few years ago. We used normal fishing rods, of course. Still, I feel like this is one of the only things I can do to play with Kai, while not feeling too useless for the camp. I turn around to Milan and shrug. “Duty calls.”
“Can I tag along, if you don’t mind?”
“Not at all. I’m not sure why you would want to do that, though. Kai is a sweetheart, but he can be very… let’s call it active.”
“No problem. I’m sure it’ll be fun.”
During those first days we made our own fishing rod, which we only improved over the days that followed. At some point, we became very good at fishing. I think in the end, I can proudly tell you I saved at least one life with the fish I caught, but I can’t be too sure about that of course. One thing I know is that the fish was delicious.
It took us some days to come up with a plan on how to make the gear, so when Elisah called out on the beach to gather up, we hadn’t even found a rod.
“Listen up, everybody,” I hear the faint voice in the distance. “We’re going to discuss the future, so I’d like to invite everyone to gather at the campfire.”
I look up from the hook I was bending from a thin piece of metal I found. “I really want to go there.”
“Yeah, sure. I’d like to know what it is all about too.”
“Aw, do we really have to go? I was having so much fuuun.”
I put my hand on Kai’s shoulder. “Little bro, this is really important. We will finish the rod later, okay.”
I pick him up, but he is heavier than I expected him to be. He may be small, but he’s only four years younger than I am and I notice he is fairly muscled for a boy that age. I try to run away while carrying him, but I end up putting him down only ten meters further. “You’re too big for me, little boy.”
“My mum always said carrying someone on the back is easier than in your arms,” he pouts.
I smile, take a hold of his hand as a reply to that and together we walk to the meeting area. I notice Milan isn’t following us and deep down I wonder if he doesn’t want his parents to see him with me. No, that can’t be it, what’s wrong with making friends on a deserted island?
Mom is already sitting on one of the logs. She smiles when she sees us walking towards her, holding hands. I have to admit, it feels a little weird to hold hands, but Kai is only ten. He likes it, obviously, so why should I care.
If I could go back to that happy feeling, if I could go back to holding his hand I would do it within a heartbeat. I cannot stress it enough, but that boy really had something special about him. Of course there was this unlimited source of happiness, especially when you consider he lost so much and is pretty much on his own here. But even apart from that, something was special. I am, for example, one hundred percent sure that everyone on the island loved the boy. When I was busy some days and couldn’t play with him, he would just skip around the beach, making everybody’s day.
I’m not exactly sure what was discussed at the meeting, but I know it was the beginning of the hierarchy we held on to for so long. People always dream about freedom, being away from things like governments and institutions, but when you strand on an island like this, you realise in the end everyone longs for some structure. That’s why Elisah became our leader. We didn’t call her that and we never voted for her, but it just gradually became that way. Rick the Weather Man, as Kai always called him, was always by her side.
“There are a few things we should do today. First, we will use this moment to introduce ourselves, tell each other a little bit about what we do. Tell anything you think is important for us to know. Then we should try to make a division of tasks. I know this is hard, I have literally no idea what to do either. I do know we have to think about rationing our food, deciding how long it will last. I bet we’ll be rescued very soon, but rations are never a bad idea.”
“People should start looking for food. Try to find edible berries, catching fish and whatever. You don’t know if we will be rescued.” I don’t even need to look to know it’s the grumpy old man who said that.
“Why do you think we will not get rescued?” Elisah asks. “We aren’t that far away from civilisation, I bet. There is no reason to worry or to expect we’ll be stuck on this island!”
“There was no reason to worry when we were on the plane. Or to expect we would crash.”
Elisah rolls her eyes. “Let’s start with the introductions now. Why don’t you kick it off, since you were talking already?”
“I’m Oliver Cascay. I’m a partner with Cascay and Brandock, International Business Lawyers. What else do you want to know?”
“Why were you on the plane?” Margareth asks.
“I was… uh… I was going to Aruba to take a few days off from my busy job.”
Elisah glances at Margareth. “I say we go clockwise from here on? Just tell us your name, your profession and, Margareth, I liked what you asked. Let’s share the reason we were on this flight in the first place. Oh, I think it’s also nice to tell us where you’re from, right?”
That’s how I learned all of their names. I learned about a family with two kids, a boy and a girl. The girl was as old as Kai and the boy two years younger. There were two teens, a couple, Noah and Ava. As you would expect there were people from other countries too, even though the flight departed from Florida. There was a Russian woman, with whom no one could communicate, but she was a real sweetheart. And there was a Dutch physics teacher. He was cool, just like you would expect from a physics teacher. Now, I must say I do not remember all the names, as it was so long ago, so I will just make some up when I write this down. I was never good with names to begin with and now there is of course my memory, which isn’t working as I wish it would. Sadly, I think the biggest reason I forgot their names is simply because some died too early to imprint a memory in my mind.
When I was rescued from the island I believed I would remember every little detail of the story, it was such a traumatising experience. I couldn’t believe I would ever forget about it. And for the first years, it was like that. I had nightmares every night, Tom. Every night! Finally, I went to a shrink, but you know that much of course. In some way I think I forgot all those little details intentionally. I had to stop thinking about the island in order to have a normal life and I fear that’s the main reason I can’t recall much anymore. I’m sorry about that. You asked for this story for so long and I never wanted to tell it and even though I’m writing it all down now, it could just be too late.
“I’m Milan Bachmeier. I’m fifteen years old. I’m here with my family. And as for what I can do to help, I’m not sure. I’m from Maine and of course I believe we will be rescued soon.”
Well, you know what always happens in those introduction rounds, don’t you? Someone adds something new to the line and suddenly everyone has to add that information to the introduction. The last one in the queue always has to say much more than the first one.
“I’m Ron Bachmeier. I’m fourteen years old. I’m here with my family as well, as it is the same family.” He laughs, which makes me realise that was a joke, somehow? “I’m the best of my class, so I bet I can help us. Just ask me if you need anything, like anything with fahrenheit and celsius conversions or calculations. I’m from Maine too of course and I believe we will be rescued soon.”
Oh no, it’s almost my turn. I listen to the introduction from the parents of Ronny and Milan, then to my mom and finally it’s my turn. “Hi, I’m Ryan Richardson. I’m fourteen years old, I’m here with my mom. We were going on vacation to Aruba too. I like doing things with my hands…”
“I bet,” Ronny laughs.
“So, I’m currently trying to… make.. a fishing rod. Not sure if it’ll work, but fresh fish would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes,” Elisah says. “Such a nice idea to make a fishing rod, Ryan! So, do you believe we will get rescued soon?”
“I sure hope so!” “Paul, since you are a carpenter, do you think you can maybe help the other people building a nice hut like you did?”
“Well, we used some scrap wood we found on the beach and parts from the plane. I don’t think we can gather enough of that to make huts for everyone.”
Elisah looks at the beach around her, as if she wanted to verify that statement. “We could make huts for the families with children first and when that’s done, we can decide what to do then. If we didn’t get rescued by then, we can use twigs or branches from the trees, right?”
“Who are you going to send into the forest, Elisah?” Oliver asks. “You don’t know what lurks in there.”
“As I said, we will focus on what we have right now. You were the one who offered to look for edible berries, remember? Were you planning on finding them on the beach?” Oliver was silent. “We need to work on communication too. It would be great if you, Jan, could take a look at that?” She looks at the Dutch physics teacher.
“You mean trying to find the radio and fix it?”
“I can try,” Jan admits.
The cop looks around her for one more time and then decides to sit down, which obviously meant she had something more serious on her mind. “Now, I know for sure we aren’t the only people who were on the plane. We all know that Kai’s grandfather, unfortunately, died during the crash.”
To my surprise Kai listens very carefully. I expected him to start crying and screaming, but he is very calm.
“According to Casey he wasn’t seriously injured in the crash. He suffered a heart attack during the crash. He wasn’t seriously injured and he probably never knew what happened. We will bury him tonight.”
I feel someone moving next to me. It’s Kai. He grabs my hand tight. I quickly glance over and notice how his eyes are filled with tears. But, he isn’t crying. I’m so proud of the boy, even though I’ve always been one for crying. I think crying really helps when you need to let things go. Yet, I understand why he doesn’t want to cry here in front of everyone. I ruffle his hair.
“Apart from Jonathan, however, we still weren’t the only ones on the plane. And as you guys could’ve noticed, the plane split apart when we were still pretty high in the air. I think the fuselage split in half during the crash or something. I talked to Jan and Rick about that and they have some interesting ideas.”
For some odd reason everyone in the group automatically looks at Jan. Kai still holds my hand tight, his grip didn’t loosen. I think once he realises we’re not talking about his granddad anymore, he’ll relax a little bit.
“Well, to begin with, the angle of the plane tells us something about the direction we came from. We flew over the ocean here and the pilots probably tried to crash land the plane on the beach. It didn’t work, the plane must have hit the trees approximately on the way down or on the approach. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it myself. I checked out the perimeter and couldn’t see any trace of the front half of the plane.”
Elisah starts speaking right at the moment Jan stopped, making it a perfect transition, almost as if they practiced beforehand. “That means we have no ideas where the others might be and there are no traces to follow. Jan estimated they could have crashed as far as one to five miles from here.”
“One mile is 1.61 kilometres,” Ronny interrupts.
I’m pretty sure everyone starts hating those stupid remarks, but it looks like his parents are proud about it? Don’t they see he’s being an annoying little brat? Only now I notice that Ronny is right in the middle of his parents, they’re all three pretty close to each other, but Milan is further away. Did he choose to be that far away, or are the parents favouring their other child? Both situations would be sad, to be honest.
“Anyway,” she continues, “we don’t know where the others are. As we don’t know anyone from there, as far as I know, that won’t be our first priority. Oliver pointed out already that we do not know what’s in the dense rainforest over there. There could be dangerous plants or animals, so as long as possible, I’d like to stay out of there.”
Of course, we didn’t stay out of there. I even think Milan and I were the first to venture into the forest, but I don't know what others have done while we weren’t watching, of course. Slowly people were going in, up to a certain point. You can guess how that goes, at first it’s scary, but when the first person walked in a few meters, someone else follows and goes even further. Finally, no one is scared anymore, we just walk through the forest as if it is our home. We kept doing that until my mom went in to look for edible fruits and never returned.