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Authors: Olivia Levez

The Island (5 page)

BOOK: The Island
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Then I slide off the side of the raft into warm water. When I try to stand, I can't. My legs are liquid.

I crouch in the shallows, the raft butting up against me, half-deflated. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know that it's useless now, that the sharp rocks pierced the raft as I slept, but I'm staring at the fronded shadows raking the sand, the clotted darkness of the forest's edge, the white-gold shore.

And like a dreamer, I leave the raft bobbing against the rocks and half swim, half wade through the lazy shallows, over the sucking sand and through the dragging breakers, stumbling, splashing, till I'm on the beach.

And I throw my bag down and fall to my knees and stare and stare.

 

First Steps

A million years later, I wobble to the forest's edge.

I don't know how long I knelt there in the sand.

I stare up at the palm trees; stare into the forest. At the other end of the bay is a cliff that looks like a mountain. And all this time, the sun pounds and throbs.

I crawl under a palm tree and try to think.

‘So there are three things you should always do first in order to survive.' Steve's voice, with his Cockney twang.

I don't remember what they are.

I stare at my hands; untie my hoodie from my waist. Then I place the Red Nylon Bag on the sand and take out a water sachet. A lot of crumpled energy-bar wrappers flutter out.

I lay out all my things carefully. Line them up like a row of toys.

Then I strip off my filthy leggings. My feet are blistered. My legs are dirty and bruised. They have blood streaks down them where I must have scraped them trying to get out of the plane.

Don't think of that. Don't think of her hair.

I peel off my damp top. Lay it out in the sun to dry. Sit in my bra and pants. Think about opening another sachet of water. Don't.

Instead I take out the tangled earphones from the pocket of my hoodie and put them in my ears. Remember I have no iPod to attach them to.

There's something else in the pocket: a little sweet wrapped in a twist of paper.

‘Here, have a sweet to take your mind off it.'
Hi I'm Rufus!'s voice, posh as plums.

When I put it into my mouth, its sweetness bursts and makes my cheeks ache with the sugar-shock of it; I suck and stare over the shifting, sighing ocean. Take the sticky sweet wrapper and press it to my tongue.

There's no antiseptic –
threw it overboard
– so I take the sun cream and squeeze it from its little tube and rub it in over my cuts, my grazes, my blood-streaked legs.

I take my damp hoodie and fold it into a pillow. I walk unsteadily over the beach and put my pillow down. Drain the last mouthful of vodka. Lying down on the hot, beating sand, I gaze at the seabirds wheeling over the sea and try to ignore the gnawing feeling in my belly. The last thing I ate was a sandwich on the plane from Heathrow.

But I have water.

‘
But only three sachets. What are you going to do when your water runs out? What are you going to do, Frances?
' Steve's voice, in my head.

I lick my lips. Blink tears back. Blink them dry.

Rock girls don't cry.

I force myself to not cry.

I am an island.

Because that wastes tears, and tears are water.

I bet that's what
Hi I'm Steve!
would say.

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

I stab the sachet too hard this time and nearly lose half of it as the water spurts through my fingers out into the sand.

I press my mouth to the hole and glugglugglug till it's all gone and I'm just sucking air from the shrivelled plastic. It helps my thirst – a little.

Two sachets left.

I put them inside the Red Nylon Bag and stand up shakily.

My legs are jellified and sun-slapped where I didn't put the cream on properly.

Have to find more water.

I take deep breaths to steady myself and sway over to the forest's edge where it's shaded. Even that short walk makes me pant like a heart attack and I clutch my sides with my hands, as if that's going to help.

I lean against a tree that looks like a giant pineapple. Beneath, dry leaves crackle in the sand, and it's cool here in the shade. In front of me, the forest shivers with strange noises:
whoops
and
caaaas
and
kukukukukukk
-ing sounds.

I swallow the sand that's in my throat and move forward into the jungle. It looks dark in there. And I still don't like the dark.

I get about five metres because:

I have no shoes on my feet.

The ground is prickled with dead leaves.

Creeper things are barring my way in all directions.

Those screaming noises are creeping me out.

So.

I'm left with the beach and the sea and the mountain.

I pick all the prickles and dry leaves out of the soles of my feet and set off the other way.

The sun is high in the sky and flings my shadow sharp beneath me. I wonder if I should put my clothes back on, but it's too much bother and much too hot, so I just walk in my bra and pants, quick as I can because the sand is burning, burning.

But it's slow, walking over the sand, so I go to the sea's edge and let the water cool my scalded feet, and it's nice here, just me and the water. At some stage I untie my hair; let it straggle over my neck to stop the sun biting it.

I stare and stare over all that ocean, into all that blue. The horizon is milky where the sea and sky touch.

It's easy at first, climbing the rocks.

The bristly surface feels good on my bare feet and it's easy to grip. A tiny breeze freshens the hot air. I climb and climb because I've always liked climbing things.

I even get into a kind of rhythm, despite the beating sun.

After a while, I make it to an overhang, where a bent tree clings and grapples for the sky.

I hold on to the tree for support and look down across the bay.

For some reason my heart is stuttering and jerking. I take deep breaths to clear my head, tighten my hands on the tree trunk.

I see that I'm no way near to the highest point – not even a little. The mountain rears behind me, impossibly high. But I'm at the top of the cliff and I can see well enough, despite the sun-spots blinding my eyes.

I crouch on the dry, scabby ground and look over my new world.

There is only endless sea and sky and the huddled jungle. The sun pulses. Below me, the sea winks and twinkles.

I am on an island.

It is small and high and rocky.

It is joined to another, smaller one.

No houses. No huts. No signs of life.

I am totally and completely

alone.

 

Would You Rather?

‘Would you rather: sniff a tramp's bum or eat a dog-poo sandwich?'

Me and Johnny always play the same game going up Sydenham Hill. We get off at the train station and walk past the housing estate and the big posh houses.

As always, I wonder what it'd be like to break inside, to have a wander round, maybe drink a little something from the cocktail cabinet, make myself a salad from their well-stocked American-style fridge; have a little swim in their pool, use their gym.

‘Would you rather,' Johnny repeats, ‘sniff a tramp's bum or eat a dog-poo sandwich? Tell me, Frannie.'

‘Hmmm…' I pretend to consider, but inside I'm in the kitchen of one of these houses, shoes off, Ella crackling out of the top-of-the-range speakers, a nice glass of Pinot on the go. ‘The tramp's bum,' I say. ‘Every time. Much as I like eating dog poo.'

Johnny goes off into gales of giggles and then falls silent as he thinks up another one. This takes him till we get to the play park, where he has to have a go on the witch's hat.

‘Got one,' he says.

‘OK, Monkey,' I say, spinning him. ‘This had better be good. The last one was way too easy.'

‘It is, it is. Would you rather: spend the night in a deep, dark wood all alone or…kiss Big Wayne with tongues?'

I stop the witch's hat and turn him round to face me. ‘You've really thought about this, haven't you, Monkey?'

I'm keeping my voice light but inside I'm thinking of Big Wayne with his oily black hair and those hands that he's always shoving into bags of cheese 'n' onion crisps.

‘You're gorgeous, you know that?' he said to me once, when Cassie was asleep, running his hands through my hair. ‘You could be my backing singer, love. You've only got to ask.'

And he was playing his own music on the stereo, his own crappy band and crappy voice crooning away, curling round us like fag smoke. His cheese 'n' onion breath and cheese 'n' onion fingers.

‘Kiss Big Wayne?' I say. ‘Ugh. It's got to be the deep, dark woods. Anyway,' I say, ruffling his hair, ‘I wouldn't be alone, would I? I'd have
you.
'

‘No, no,' Johnny says, ‘that's cheating. You've got to be on your own.
All
alone or it doesn't count.'

‘We-ell, I'd be thinking of you and you'd be thinking of me and that would be the next best thing, yeah?'

‘Yeah, Frannie. Spin me again?'

‘Only if you let me on too.'

And I climb on and sit facing him and our legs are intertwined and the sunlight is spinning and our smiles are flying and, just for this moment, I am, we are, truly, truly happy.

 

Space Girl

The beach has a single tree on it, right in the middle and separate from the forest.

One Tree Beach.

My new home.

Climbing down the way I've come seems impossible in this sun so I walk along the top of the cliffs instead, banked by the mountain on my right side and the endless sea on my left. If I crane my neck I can see the bright yellow paint-splodge of my raft, still caught up in the rocks.

There's a trail on the left that looks like it's been made by animals and which looks shady, so I take it and start to weave my way down. I soon regret it. Any animal that's made this track must be as small as a mouse because rocks and thorn bushes and brambles bar my way, and it's not as shady as I thought. Nothing stops this pulsing heat, and I'm tired and my feet are sore, so sore.

It's turning into jungle and what if I lose my way?

But then who cares, because there's nothing to go back for, is there? Only two sachets of water.

I lick my cracked lips with a dry tongue and walk on.

I must have caught my foot on something because, next thing I know, I'm falling, falling, and the thorn bushes are wrenched out of my hands as I grab them and rocks are skittering past and the ground has fallen away and there are no trees in this dry dusty ground and I

bash my leg on something and rip my nails and grab a root

and

hang,

feet scrabbling on loose gravel,

and all around me is

air.

 

Marshmallow

Another metre and I would have sailed over the sheer drop like a shooting star.

Fran Stanton followed a rabbit trail and fell off a cliff. The end.

Shaking, I place one hand over the other on this overhanging branch and use my feet to edge my way up the gravel to the firmer rocks. It's lucky I don't get vertigo; the beach swims below me. My hands and feet hurt like hell and there's something tickling my eye as it trickles down my face.

Somehow I get back to One Tree Beach.

I still haven't found any water.

I collapse under the palm trees by the edge of the forest, but not too close because there are things in there screaming and the shadows are stretching and the sun's all streaky like melted marshmallow.

So it's getting dark.

I'll have to spend the night here on this beach, alone.

I wade into the sea and drag what's left of the raft over the sand to the edge of the forest. There's flat sand and soft sand and sharp rocks, and I don't know if I should care about the sharp rocks, but the raft is ruined anyway so a few more holes won't matter.

I pull on my top and leggings then root about in the Red Nylon Bag for the torch. It throws out a thin beam and I swing it around the darkening beach and forest.

These trees aren't like the trees in Brockwell Park.

They're tall and swaying and hanging with green things that look like giant seeds. Fronds like ogre's fingers.

It's so dark in the forest.

I drag the raft over to One Tree and sit with my back to the forest so I don't have to see.

I arrange the life raft round me and stare over the ocean. It looks like someone's got a brush and dipped it in pink and orange paint and dragged it across the sky and the sea, streaking it all together. I may as well be on another planet.

I want my London sky back, blank and dull and grey.

I keep the torch on.

As the sun sinks, the noises rise.

 

Rats and Monsters

The torch beam is dying.

Something is behind me, rustling.

I hear it rooting around in the dry leaves.

I shrink further and further into my life raft, into my hoodie and, when that doesn't work, I slip outside of myself altogether and hover at the top of One Tree.

Dark shapes, squeaking and scrabbling in the leaves at the edge of the forest. I see one of them creep across to the life raft and scramble over to Other Fran's leg. Soon she'll feel its little clicking claws dig into her skin. I want to warn her but I'm scared to come down.

There are other things out there too. Howling and calling and screaming. One of them is restless and snuffling like a pig; it's giving low, mean growls as if it's warning off intruders.

The girl covers her ears and sobs, but silently – ssshhh, she doesn't want them to know she's there.

Make it all stop.

 

Voodoo

Hunting is a work of death, and it attracts death.

BOOK: The Island
10.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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