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By: Roman Genesis
Apart From the Emptiness
I awoke to the sound of waves gently lapping along the shore. The sun was to bright for me to open my eyes at first, so I just laid there and let the light fall upon my face. I was feeling a lot better than I was earlier. Over the sound of the lapping waves, I began to make out voices.
"Do you think the other boats made it back?"
"I don't know, Austin," the other voice replied. I finally opened my eyes and sat up to see who was on the beach with me. Jack and Austin were sitting together about ten yards away, facing the water. Neither of them saw me wake up.
"I'm sure someone will come by today to pick us up." He didn't sound so sure.
"I don't know, Austin," Jack replied in the same distant voice. I stood up and began walking over to them. Looking up and down the beach, I could see we were we were surrounded on three sides by water. We must have been on some sort of peninsula. I began to wonder if we were on one of the Keys.
Jack turned around and spotted me and instantly rushed over. "Eric," he said, placing his hand on my shoulder. "Are you okay? I was worried when you passed out last night."
"Yeah, I think I'm okay. Still a little light headed, but besides that I'm fine." I turned around and looked inland for more signs of life, but all I could see was thick woods. "What happened?"
"You don't remember?" Austin said, walking up to us.
"I remember the storm, but I'm not sure what happened after that." I searched frantically in my memory for the truth, but couldn't find it. It was kind of scary not being able to remember.
"The boat sank, Eric," Austin blurted out. I looked into his face for a while and then looked over at Jack. They were serious."
"Where are the others?"
Jack continued to look at me, in his mind thinking of how to tell me. "I don't think they made it." My eyes wandered over to the watery horizon as I tried to make sense of what he had just told me. It didn't seem real for some reason. It was like I wasn't really hear right now listening to these words.
"Dennis, Henry, Mr. Arnold, the captain..." my voice trailed off.
"Yes," Jack said, answering my unspoken question. I tore my eyes off the horizon to once again let them fall on the smooth, youthful face of Jack. The bridge of his nose and skin under his eyes wore the pink mark of a newly formed sunburn. I wasn't sure if I was imagining it or not, but his hair looked lighter.
"I remember what happened," I said slowly. "I told you all to go down into the cabin after the winds picked up." Jack and Austin looked at each other. There was something they weren't telling me. "What is it?"
"Look, Eric. We don't have to..." Jack started to say.
"Tell me," I interjected, cutting him off in mid sentence.
A look of defeat crossed his face. "We went down into the cabin like you told us to and the whole place was rocking like crazy." He didn't look at me while he spoke. He was looking down at his feet. I looked down and saw he was barefoot, twirling his toes through the sand. "The whole place tipped on it's side and before we knew what was happening, the glass windows above us broke in."
He paused and looked up at me. "I barely had time to grab Austin and make it up the stairs before the whole thing became flooded."
Tears were forming in his eyes as he relived the whole thing. "Are you saying..."
"Dennis and Henry were still down there as the boat went down," Jack said carefully, fighting back tears. Now it was my turn to look away. I turned my head to stare at the spot far away where the woods, the beach, the water, and the sky all converged far down the beach.
Jack was probably blaming himself for letting them die, but I knew that I was the one who had sent them down there. I hadn't been thinking and in my absentmindedness, I had sent them to a watery grave.
My chest tightened as I fought back the emotions that were gathering inside me. Jack must have seen that it was bothering me as much as it was bothering him. He came up beside me and placed his hand on my shoulder and rubbed his thumb gently across my shirt that had become stale from the saltwater.
With Jack and Austin standing there it was just to much to hold back and I let go and began to sob, wave after wave of grief washing over me. I kneeled down and placed my face in my hands. I killed those two boys and their blood was now stained in my hands. I wanted to run from this beach and far away from Jack and Austin. I couldn't take the pain.
Jack leaned down next to me and I could see he was crying softly too. "Come on, Eric," he pleaded. "Please be strong." I fought to get myself under control again. I whipped my face frantically to hide the tears. Pushing the images of Dennis and Henry out of my mind and stood up to face Jack and Austin.
They watched me for a moment and I turned to look at the thick woods. "Have you gone inland yet?" I asked, acting like my little breakdown hadn't happened. Jack was right. I had to be strong.
"No," Jack said nervously, suddenly trying to hide his tears as well as I had. "We were waiting for you to wake up."
I was about to tell them to follow me, but I didn't want to make another blunder like I had on boat. "Do you want to see what's in there?"
They looked at each other and then back to me. "We should probably stay here," Austin was the first to say.
"Yeah," Jack continued. "If there's a boat looking for us, we should be here when they come."
"All right. You two stay here and try and get a fire started. I'm going to go down the beach to see if I can find anyone." It was a good idea to scout out where we were, but I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to get away from Jack and Austin so I could continue sulking. The death of Henry and Dennis was still weighing heavily on my heart.
Jack came up right next to me, almost seeing right through me. "Okay, but don't go to far. If you can't see us anymore, you've gone to far." I nodded and instantly turned my back and began walking down the beach.
For a long time I didn't look back. I kept my eyes forward, looking to the horizon for signs of life or for some sign from god that I was truly not responsible for the death of two innocent children. I didn't receive a sign from either of them.
I thought back to the first day we had arrived at camp, when I had looked at the faces of the younger boys and saw the wonder and excitement in each and every one of them. I was slowly losing control again so I placed my hands together in front of me and squeezed as hard as I could. It was all I could do to ignore the situation.
When I had decided I was far enough away, I turned around to look back at Austin and Jack. I could make out two tiny figures dragging dead wood from nearby trees out into the middle of the beach. One was about a head taller than the other one and I knew it was Jack. Even from this distance I could tell that he was the one in charge. His body language dictated power and responsibility.
I looked ahead and saw that the beach came to an end almost and turned into a rocky crag, where the waves from the sea crashed mercilessly against huge stone walls. I walked over to the first of the rocks and climbed around it to the other side. Below me, the water was twirling and foaming with each wave that crashed against the rocky bottom. I continued climbing across the rocky ledge until I could see that the beach continued on the other side.
I froze there on the edge of rocks though, because out in the water I could make out a shape that almost looked like a sailboat half submerged in the water. It was only about thirty yards out in the water. I jumped down to the sand on the other side of the cliffs and began running out to the place where the swim from the shore to the boat would be smallest.
I didn't have to run very far though, because I froze in my tracks when I saw that there were people sitting around on the area of the beach I was running to. I lost any amount of self control I had at that instant and began running toward them, yelling as loud as I could.
I could see their heads turn to look at me and they all stood up and ran to me as I neared. Shawn was in front, running straight toward me. We caught each other as we met, both of us out of breath.
"Oh my god," we both said at the same time, through our panting. "You've alive," I said, looking over as the rest of the kids who had been on his sailboat ran up to us. Everyone began talking at once and it was total confusion. The younger kids were laughing and all trying to tell me what happened at the same time. I looked over them and saw Mark, the other guy in my patrol, and the three younger kids that had been on he and Shawn's boat, Bobby, Tim, and Alan.
Mark grabbed my arm, "Where are the other guys from your boat?" he asked loudly, over the noise of the younger kids.
"I left them further down the beach," I said pointing. "Where's Mr. Johnson and your captain?" I asked. I hadn't seen them on the beach.
"They went inland to see where we were," Shawn replied. "They told us to stay here and wait for them to return."
"This is crazy," I heard one of the younger kids, Alan, exclaim. "We're like on a deserted island." The thought had crossed my mind as well and I began to wonder if they really would be sending a rescue team after us. They must know where we were before the storm hit, I thought.
"Look," I said to Mark and Shawn. "I'm going to go back and get and get the others,"
"Let me come with you," Shawn said. "It will be safer." He turned back to Mark and told him, "Stay here with the younger kids and wait for Mr. Johnson to come back." He turned back to me and we both began sprinting across the sand.
"Do you think the rescue team will be able to find us out here in the Keys?" Sean asked as we ran. "There are a lot of islands out here."
"I'd almost count on it," I replied as we continued running. We made our way around the rocky ledge over the turbulent surf and continued running on the beach at the other side. We were running so fast Jack and Austin didn't see us until we were both to them. They were sitting next to the pile of wood they had gathered, but there was no fire to be seen.
"Shawn?" Jack said in disbelief as we got to them, both of us panting. Austin was merely grinning ear to ear.
"Hey Jack," Shawn said, leaning on his shoulder for support as he caught his breath. I sat down in the sand next to the non-fire to catch my breath.
"I can't believe you guys found us," Jack said, still in shock. "I thought we were going to be stranded here forever."
Shawn and I looked at him oddly before we realized what he was thinking. "No, man," Shawn said. Our boat is totaled. It's sitting out in the water about thirty yards out and it's half underwater."
Jack's suddenly excited mood was visibly brought down and his eyes shifted away again to the horizon. I spotted Shawn looking around and realized he was looking for the others. "Where is everyone?" he asked.
We all looked at each other in shame and looked back at Shawn. We were going to have to tell everyone eventually, so now was as good a time as any. "They didn't make it," I answered. Shawn studied my face for a moment, not really sure how to take what I had just said. It was like the idea that there would be casualties hadn't crossed his innocent mind.
After seeing the look in my eyes, he knew he didn't need to know anymore. "I see."
There was an awkward silence and I decided it was going to be that would have to break it. "We better get back to the others," I said. The others quickly agreed and we began walking down the beach, leaving the pile of wood where it was. "No luck getting a fire started?" I asked Jack.
"It's not as easy as the Boy Scout handbook makes it look," he said shaking his head.
"Mr. Johnson will be able to make one for us when he gets back," I said.
"Mr. Johnson could make a helicopter out of toothpicks if he wanted to," Shawn said, correcting me. We all laughed but I was sure we were all secretly glad there was adult here with us. We were soon making our way around the rocky cliffs. The first time I had been over them, I hadn't found them that dangerous, probably because I was so upset about Dennis and Henry. As we crossed it this time, I realized one bad move could send you tumbling over the edge into the deadly rocks and water below.
I looked over at Jack and realized he was scared shitless by the carefree way we were moving across the unstable rocks. He didn't say anything though, probably because he didn't want to seem chicken. His face had gone colorless for a moment though and it looked as if I was seeing him in the grave. I shook the image out of my head and jumped down onto the beach on the other side.
The other kids saw us this time and rushed over to greet us. There were eight of us now on the beach and everyone was talking at once. I decided I couldn't take the noise so I began walking over to where they boys had been sitting. As I approached, I noticed that there was bags and gear all over the beach. I looked at the half submerged boat in the water and realized they must have gotten as much stuff off the boat as they could.
There were pots and pans and they had even taken all the food off the boat. Things were looking pretty good and I sat down in the shade next to the gear. They must have unpacked it while I was sleeping this morning. I looked down at my watch and realized that the face was shattered. I tore the thing off and threw it in the sand. I laid back and closed my eyes. Mr. Johnson would be returning soon and the responsibility I had felt earlier in the day was wearing off. It felt good just to be relaxing in the shade by myself.
The rest of the troop was off, still talking about god knows what. I looked out at the water and suddenly realized how beautiful it looked and how beautiful this beach we were on looked. It was like we had been standed in paradise. The older kids were off on their boat somewhere, far away from us, and a rescue team would soon find us and steal us away from this tiny piece of heaven.
The deaths of Henry and Dennis still played out in the back of
my mind, but it was slowly fading away as I drifted off to sleep in the
peacefulness of the cool shade.
"Eric," I heard someone whisper. I opened my eyes and rolled over. I was still on the beach next to the equipment, but the sun was now lower in the sky, casting an eerie orange glow on everything.
Jack was kneeling next to me and in the orange glow of the sun, his skin looked twice as dark as it really was. He looked so lovely. "What is it?" I asked, sitting up.
"I'm not sure. It's been several hours and the adults are still not back. Some of the younger kids are getting worried." By the tone of his voice I could tell he was worried as well. I stood up and saw most of the other kids laying down in the shade relaxing. There were a few pockets of kids who were talking quietly, but most were alone, contemplating their own personal thoughts and desires. My eyes fell on Austin who was staring out at the water. His expression conveyed a feeling of emptiness and longing. I felt bad for these kids. Their trip had come to a devastating climax and now there was nothing to do except wait to get picked up.
"Let's try and make some shelter," I said. I had to keep Jack and the kid's minds off the hopelessness of the situation.
"Good idea," Jack replied, perking up a little.
"Get the kids lined up by patrol. I'm sure if we treat this like a camp out it will be a little easier on the kids." Jack practically marched to where the kids were laying and told them to line up. They were slightly confused for a moment, but then did as they were told.
I walked up to the formation of kids and looked them over one last time. "As you know, the adults are not back yet. Being the oldest here, Jack and I are going to be in charge. We're probably going to have to spend the night here again, so we should start making some shelter."
"We have some tarps that we got off the boat," Mark said. "I bet those would work."
"All right, let's do it," I said. The kids ran off to the
packs and started unrolling the tarps.
Jack walked up to me and smiled. "We have enough food that was unloaded from the boat to last us a few days. We should be all right."
I returned his smile and we both went to help set up shelter.
The sun was sinking further into the ocean and we still didn't have a fire going. "No, no," Shawn complained, taking the two sticks from Jack. "You have to rub them this way." He began twirling the one stick on the other between his hands.
"That's what I was doing," Jack complained, getting up and wiping sand off his knees. Most of the kids had thrown off their shirts and shoes and were just standing around watching Shawn, Mark, and Jack try and start a fire. Some of them were pretty amused by the whole thing.
"We should have started one with the sun," Mark said. He had given up and was just standing there now with the younger kids watching. Shawn rubbed the two sticks together faster and faster, but finally cursed and threw them away.
"I give up," he said looking at me. I looked around and saw that they were all looking at me. They were expecting me to do something that would make it okay. This is what leaders must feel like, I thought.
"Let's leave it until tomorrow then," I said. "We should get some sleep now and hopefully the adults will be back in the morning. I looked into the woods that were growing darker and more foreboding as the sun sank lower and lower into the water. The adults were out there somewhere. I prayed they would return.
With that, we all went to the food supply we had and, after eating, went to our tents for the night. Jack laid down next to me in the darkness and there was silence for awhile. I figured me had gone to sleep when he suddenly said, "I don't think the adults are coming back."
"Of course they'll come back. Where else would they go?"
There was another long moment of silence and I heard him roll over, the grass and leaves breaking under his weight. "I don't know," he finally said. "I don't know."
At the time, I still thought that Mr. Johnson and the captain would come knocking on our tarp and wake us up and show us the correct way to start a fire. Slowly though, during the night, my mind became more and more unsure and uncertainty began to creep into my subconscious. I laid there, staring up at the tarp almost all night, waiting and waiting for the adults to return.
I'm not sure when I finally fell asleep, but it was probably early in the morning hours. As I closed my eyes to go to sleep, I decided for myself that the adults were not coming back. I was almost certain of it.
We were all alone on this island, and no one knew where we were.