Tongamundo Ch. 03byjthserra©
Tongamundo 3 Survival
It seemed odd when I first considered it, but the turbulent seas that threatened to cover the island in its deep, black, wet blanket actually saved me. The lower level of the cave filled with water as the waves rolled up the sloped beaches and crashed over the lower cave wall. The rising water let me swim up and out of the trap I had fallen into. I lay on the upper cave floor (safely above the water) and slowly worked the circulation back into my leg.
Since my watch disappeared mysteriously only a few days after I arrived on the island and between the pain and drugs I experienced while trapped, I completely lost track of time. I could hear a deafening howling outside and the cave mouth was so dark, I could barely tell if it was day. I crawled to the mouth but all I could see was a wall of gray. The ocean and air seemed to merge in a violent fog that hid everything from sight.
It was what we feared most: a typhoon. A typhoon in most islands was terrifying, but the geography here seemed to create a tunnel, where all the water and wind would press between the mountains increasing in force to two, maybe three times the strength of the storm in open seas. We had not witnessed any storms here, but observed the devastation in our investigation of the island. And now I had a front row seat to this great, gray beast.
The ship had obviously left, undoubtedly with Lilya and Dr. Stansfield on board. Too bad, I would like to have seen the look on Stansfield's face as I suddenly appeared on the beach. While hazy from the effects of some of the local plants, I clearly remember him refusing to help me, telling me how he would claim the credit for my work, and telling me that he knew about Lilya and me.
"Ah, Lilya," I said to myself. I tried to stand, but pain shot through my leg. I grabbed the remaining leaves in my vest pocket and began chewing them. In a short time I drifted into a dreamless sleep, not waking until well after sunrise. The storm had passed and I could see the sunlight outside of the cave mouth.
I crawled out into the bright sun and tried to get my bearings. What used to be our camp was now a river, with water flowing from within the island, back into the ocean. Feeling suddenly thirsty, I realized this expedition was no longer about research, it was about survival. Depending upon how far the waves had washed into the island, most of the fresh water holes would now be brackish. Any provisions we had stored before the storm were surely washed away, and the supply ship would not return for several days, if at all. I needed to do something now.
Searching the beach, I found a nearby branch that would work as a crutch, and then limped to the newly created opening in the forest. Water was an immediate priority and to be completely safe I would have to boil it, although I did have a couple of iodine tabs in my vest pocket I could use today. If only I could find some fresh water.
Rainwater would pool in some of the plant leaves, but most of the plants here have some medicinal or hallucinogenic properties. Rainwater collected from the leaves could have the chemical residues. The chemicals had some powerful possibilities and made for some interesting experimentation, but if I wanted to stay alive now, I needed a clear head.
I headed up the slope to the rocks above the cave and found some water pooled there. The rocks were too high for the waves to dump saltwater here, so obviously, this was rainwater. I found a pool about 4 feet around and several inches deep. I broke up two iodine tablets into the water and swished it around. After a few moments, hoping any organisms were now gone, I put my face in the water and drank. The iodine gave the water a slightly metallic taste, but I was too thirsty to care.
Sated for now, I sat back and looked over the island from the rocks. Fire became my next priority, but I did find a dozen or so matches in a waterproof case in my vest, so I wasn't too worried. I needed to find some food, and something to cook it in. Something large, like the Nohav could be cooked on a spit over the fire, but they were almost impossible to catch without a snare and it would take some time to scrounge together everything I needed for that.
The plants didn't offer much hope either. Again, some were fun to play with when there was time to play, but I needed something that would provide energy, not some eerie effect. There were several bird species on the island, but again, without a trap or bow I had no real means of catching them. I also realized that the storm most likely disturbed the snake population, so I would need to watch for them in some unlikely places. Before, if you just stayed away from the Broken Heart Orchid, you were pretty safe from the snakes, now they were surely scattered.
I looked again toward the clearing and noticed several large, new tidal pools that formed beyond the high point of the beach. The water, which should have been still, swirled about in several places. I quickly climbed down from the rock, but before I reached the pools, I knew my food problem was solved. The storm washed hundreds of fish up into the interior of the island; effectively marooning them in the pools as the water subsided. With evaporation, the pools would decrease in size increasing the density of the fish. From the edge of one pool, I could see that even now, spearing one would be an easy task.
Balancing on one leg, I used my crutch and after several attempts, I knocked one fish out onto the sand. So easy! It looked like I would have fish for dinner. I gathered some firewood, eventually got a fire burning and cooked up my catch. My first catch was not real tasty, but I believed I had a considerable choice of fish in the pools.
As the sun began to set, I sat near the fire and tried to remember before the storm. I remembered the work I was doing with the plants, work that seemed important for a while at least. And Lilya, I missed Lilya. The time we stole together while her husband worked on the ship was some of the happiest times of my life, our lives. It was all so beautiful, and yet now it seems all so faded.
I sat by the fire, trying to remember what happened. Everything seemed so clear until just before the storm, when everything got.... I just can't remember. Did she make it to the ship? Even now, as I feel the chemicals from the plants work out of my system, I realize somewhere I lost it. Something happened.
I fell asleep trying to recall, trying to remember something. By morning I felt stiff and confused. Rather than work on the fire to get the embers burning again, I got up and limped beyond the clearing and into the forest. Trees and branches were twisted in a tangle mass of green chaos. I felt my hands shaking and my mouth watered as I looked at some of the different plants. My head throbbed and I knew if I chewed a combination of several of the leaves, it would go away. But something drove me onward.
I remember now, a small boat heading out into the surf. The waves tossed it as it roared out to the supply ship. Only one person was on the boat. I could see the storm closing in over the ship.
I followed what was left of a narrow path. It was slow going with the debris all around, but I eventually made it to the base of the mountain. From there, I could see the mass of color. While nothing like before the storm, the foothills were ablaze in a bright red. A sticky, sweet fragrance seemed to drip from me.
Dr. Stansfield was on the boat, without Lilya. The ship was preparing to run from the storm leaving Lilya and me behind.
I walked out into the orchids. The red petals were shaped like a heart, a heart with a deep tear down the middle: a broken heart. I found her body where he told me it would be, amid the Broken Heart Orchids. I remembered now. As the storm approached, Stansfield came back to where I was trapped:
"She found out about you," he said.
"Didn't you think..."
"It doesn't matter now. She can't help you."
"What did you do?"
"Me? Nothing, I did nothing to her."
"Then what happened?"
"Well, in the wind, one of the cages came open," he whispered, "the red viper cage. It was over in just a moment. They really are terribly deadly."
"She didn't suffer mind you. Nothing like you will."
"What will you tell..."
"The crew? Ah yes, such an unfortunate accident. You see, she wandered into the orchids, and we know what lives in the orchids. We'll come back after the storm and if she's not washed away, we'll find her there. A sad, sad accident."
"Hell, you're an accident that already happened. I have to leave you now, they are getting impatient," he said, nodding toward the cave mouth. I could see the water and the ship in the distance. The waters raged around it and storm clouds were rolling in.
He walked out of the cave and turned down the beach toward the boat. I had felt the water splashing me from below, but I was still stuck as I looked out to the water and saw his boat heading into the waves.
I bent to pick up her body, but as I reached for her I felt the sting in my arm. The red viper was coiled at the base of the orchid. It looked almost black in the shadow. I looked at Lilya, her beautiful hair, I touched her shoulder and fell to my knees. I bent to kiss her as Tongamundo went black.