“Swallowed by the Whale” by PD Penley
He was cast away. He knew that now. Like Tom Hanks and Pierce Brosnan before him, he had been lost, swallowed by the sea, gulped down into the gut of the giant whale. Here he sat in her belly, on her sandy oasis digestive tract, invader to this tropical ecosystem which sensed his foreign presence. He had no time to dwell on his misfortune. How long would he be here on this island, scavenging alone for food and for shelter? He could not wait. He needed an assessment of the situation while his wits were still his own, before hunger and fatigue weighed heavily on his chances of survival.
He searched his pockets to take inventory: A whistle and a compass, both orange plastic, his trusty red swiss army knife, that would be key to his survival, and one refillable aluminum canteen with a green canvas cover. What luck to be stranded with a canteen and a knife, he noted to himself. When he left his home this morning to board his ship, a voice not his own murmured that he might be lost at sea, an inexplicable intuition. He had been tempted to dismiss the thought as temporal psychosis, but decided to prepare for the worst despite the notion. He was thankful now.
He formed his plan of attack: water, shelter, food, in that order. He resented his mother, even more now, for not allowing him to join the Boy Scouts of America where he could have learned and filed away in the recesses of his memory an affinity for preparation and survival. She had not agreed with the organization politically, and alas it is the only one of its kind. Instead he would have to piece together his island getaway experience with his survival TV show memories and his limited instinct. This both worried and excited him. He wondered what his mom was up to at this very moment.
First, he knew he must get off the beach. He scanned the horizon for the tree-line and made a beeline for the scrub pine. He used his arm-machetes, in lieu of real machetes, to chop through the thick foliage until he came to a clearing. Here he saw a strong, wooden structure intricately woven into a canopy of tall palms. This must be the tree-house, the place where the fabled castaways previously marooned by the great tempestuous mother-water lived out their days. Clearly vacant for some time now, he wondered how many sleepless nights were spent here by sailors who jumped at every sound in the jungle’s depths. He knew eventually the nights would become easier, even pleasant. They would ultimately become the only nights to which he would belong.
The sun began to set. While his eyes still analyzed the timber edifice before him, he heard a rustling in the trees, a whisper caressing his back. This was not the wind. He turned and braced. The sound grew louder, closer every second. His mind raced: perhaps he would not be a castaway on this island for long, castaways after all, were noted for their survival. Fear overtook him. He felt the pressure in his chest welling up as he prepared to let out a scream. He waited, suppressing the sound until the moment his predator was revealed. It neared.
A panicked shriek ruptured from his lungs as a dark shadow materialized in the thick chaparral.
“Son, what are you doing? We’ve got to get back to the boat. Sun’s going down and we’ve still got a good 15-minute ride back to the dock. Your mom and brother are waiting. I was thinking pizza for dinner, how’s that sound?”
“Five more minutes? I just got to the part where I find the tree-house.”
“Alright, kiddo. But just five. The tree-house will be here again next Saturday.”
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