The Island – 1st draft******
My name is Anna Elliott. I teach ninth grade and I was thirty years old when T.J. Callahan’s parents hired me to tutor him for the summer. T.J. was fifteen and one month into remission with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
T.J.’s dad Tom was the lead architect for a luxury hotel nearing completion at a resort west of Sri Lanka, in the Indian Ocean. T.J., his parents, two younger sisters, and I were staying at the resort for the summer while Tom supervised the final details on the project.
My sister Sarah drove me to the airport.
“I still don’t understand why you agreed to go so far away,” she said. “I think you should be near your family right now.”
“I want to get out of the city for a while.”
Sarah pulled up to the curb when we reached the airport. She helped me take my suitcases out of the trunk. “Do you want me to park and go in with you?”
“No. I’ll be fine. You and David can bring the girls and meet me at the gate when I get back. Tell them I’ll have souvenirs. Have them make a welcome home sign or something.”
“They’ll love that.”
“Call me when you get there.” Sarah gave me a big hug. I hugged her back and smiled.
“I will. Thanks for taking me to the airport.”
“You’re welcome.” I watched Sarah get into her car and drive away and then I grabbed my suitcases and walked into the airport.
We were supposed to fly out as soon as the school year ended but T.J.’s mom Sharon called me and said that T.J. wanted to stay behind a few days to attend a party at his friend Ben’s house. “I hate to delay our arrival,” she said. I’m supposed to meet the property manager and get the keys to the rental house but I may have to push back our departure date. T.J. isn’t happy that we’re leaving Chicago for the summer so letting him go to this party is something Tom and I want to do for him. We’re thankful he’s healthy enough to go.”
“I can fly down with him if you want to go on ahead,” I said. “We’d only be a couple of days behind you.”
“It’s not an easy trip,” she said. “It takes over twenty-four hours to get there.”
“That’s okay,” I said. I was used to traveling and managed to get at least one new stamp in my passport every year. “T.J. and I will have a chance to get to know each other better.” T.J. didn’t attend the high school where I taught and I’d only met him once, when I’d interviewed with the Callahan’s.
“Are you sure this would be okay with you?”
“Really, I wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t.”
“T.J. could probably stay with Ben after we leave. I’ll see if Ben’s mom can take him to the airport. I suppose you could meet him there.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Thank you Anna. I really appreciate it.”
T.J. and Ben were waiting for me at the gate. T.J.’s bald head made him look younger than fifteen. He was short, maybe five feet four, with a slim build.
“Hi T.J.,” I said. It’s good to see you again. Are you ready to go?”
“Oh hey, sure”.
“You must be Ben,” I said to the boy sitting next to T.J. “I’m Anna Elliott.” I offered my hand and he shook it awkwardly.
“How was the party?” I asked
“Uh, it was okay,” he said.
I turned back to T.J. “I’m going to check on our flight. I’ll be right back.”
As I walked away Ben said, “Dude. Your babysitter is hot.”
“She’s my tutor, asshole.”
When I returned T.J. was sitting alone. “Did Ben leave?” I asked.
“Yeah. His mom got tired of circling the airport. He wouldn’t let her come in with us.”
“Did you have a good time at the party?”
Do you want to get something to eat?” I asked.
“I’m not hungry,” he said.
When we boarded the plane, T.J. put his headphones on and ignored me. He always answered me when I asked him a question – he was too polite not to – but he wasn’t interested in having a conversation. I assumed being able to go to the party hadn’t changed the fact that he wasn’t happy about leaving his friends for the summer and it was understandable that I wouldn’t be his favorite person. I didn’t take it personally.
We stayed on schedule until Frankfurt and then we were delayed for twelve hours while the airline attempted to untangle the mechanical problems and weather delays that rendered our original itinerary obsolete; T.J. slept on a row of hard plastic chairs while we waited to be re-routed. There were more delays in Sri Lanka – this time a shortage of flight crew – and by the time we arrived at Mal’e International Airport at nine thirty P.M., our final destination less than two hours away by air taxi, I had been awake for thirty-three hours. When I was told they had no reservation for us, I felt the tears build and blinked them back.
“But I have the confirmation number,” I said to the ticket agent as I slid the scrap of paper across the counter. “I updated our reservation before we left Sri Lanka. Two seats. T.J. Callahan and Anna Elliott. Please look again.” I tapped the counter for emphasis.
“The ticket agent checked the computer. “I am sorry; your names are not on the list. The air taxi is full. I have no more seats,” he said.
“What about the next flight. I was told there was another one. “
“There is no other flight tonight. “
“Is there a boat?” I asked. “A ferry?”
“No boats at night. Too dangerous with the reef. Planes only,” he said.
“What about the other charter carriers?” I asked.
“It’s Saturday night. Lots of pilots make plans for after they’ve landed at the resorts. They don’t fly back until the morning.” I saw him glance at my eyes. The tears I had been trying to hold back were close to running down my face. “I’ll send a message out and see what I can do,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I really appreciate it. We’ll take anything.”
I bought two large bottles of water. “Do you want one?” I asked T.J.
“No thanks Anna.”
“Put it in your backpack, you might want it later.” We sat down on a bench and I called Sharon Callahan and told her not to expect us until morning. “There’s a chance they’ll find us a flight but I don’t think we’ll get out tonight.”
“I feel terrible Anna. You must be exhausted,” Sharon said. I should have stayed behind with you and T.J. and let Tom fly ahead with the girls.”
“It’s okay. We’ll be there tomorrow for sure.”
I noticed the ticket agent waving at me. He was smiling. “Sharon, listen I think we might –,” and then my cell phone dropped the call.
The ticket agent told us a pilot had agreed to fly us to the resort. “It’s a small plane, not an air taxi, but it will get you there safely.”
“Thank you so much,” I told him. “We really appreciate it.” Shortly before we boarded the plane I tried to call T.J.’s parents again but I couldn’t get a signal and my cell phone roamed without connecting.
“T.J., can I borrow your phone?” I asked.
“Sorry Anna, it’s dead,” he said.
Great. We’re going to show up at two in the morning and wake everyone in the house. “That’s okay, it probably wouldn’t get a signal either. Are you ready?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he said, and grabbed his backpack. “Let’s go.”
T.J. and I walked onto the tarmac. We were close to the equator and the air was hot and humid. I was wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans and I wished I’d changed into something cooler. My hair was sticking to the back of my neck.
The pilot was sitting in the cockpit when we walked through the door. He was older than me, maybe forty-five, and he was drinking something out of a large plastic cup. He was wearing sunglasses, even though it was almost midnight. He did not greet us but he stared at me and though I couldn’t be sure – because of the sunglasses – I got the uncomfortable feeling his eyes lingered where they shouldn’t have. I was too tired to care. My eyes felt grainy and I rubbed them with my fists.
The plane was a six seater and the cockpit didn’t have a barrier to separate the pilot from us. He started the engines and it was loud inside the cabin. When he turned his head to the side I saw his lips moving as he communicated with someone on the radio.
T.J. buckled himself into a seat and fell asleep immediately. I buckled in next to him and tried to hold my eyes open. I wanted to ask the pilot how long it would take us to reach the resort but I closed my eyes instead.
Loud rock music woke me up. I pulled my cell phone out of my purse and checked the time. 1:14 AM. What the hell was going on? I looked over at T.J. but he was still asleep.
The pilot had turned around in his seat and was staring at me. I looked back at him. He smiled and motioned for me to come forward and when I reached the cockpit I smelled the rum. He was no longer wearing his sunglasses and his eyes were bloodshot and watery.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Nothin’ baby,” he said. “Just wanted to say hi.”
“Where are we?” I asked.
“We’re cruisin’ baby. Just takin’ the bird out for a moonlight flight. You want a drink?” he asked.
My heart beat faster as the adrenaline started flowing through my body. How long had he been drinking?
“Listen to me,” I said. “I need you to answer my question: Where are we?”
“Now don’t be like that baby. I noticed you earlier, at the airport with the kid. I interrupted my Saturday night to come back and help you out. I did you a favor and now you can do me a favor. You know what kind of favor I mean baby?”
“Listen,” I said again. “I want you to call the airport on your radio. Tell them we are going to need some assistance when we land at the resort. Tell them you’re not feeling well and may not be able to land the plane safely. Get on the radio right now.”
“The radio is already on, can’t you hear the music? Maybe you want to do some slow dancing?” He grabbed my wrist to pull me closer and tried to kiss me.
I pushed him away. “I don’t want to dance. I want you to call the airport and give them our location and then tell them you’re not feeling well,” I said, this time a bit more urgently. Instead of doing what I asked, he grabbed me by my hair and pushed my face into his lap.
“T.J.!” I screamed. I looked toward the back of the plane and saw that T.J. was still asleep. “T.J.!” I screamed again, louder, and this time, T.J. woke up. He looked half asleep and confused. The pilot was probably eight inches taller and eighty pounds heavier than T.J but the two of us together could put up a decent fight.
“Why did you wake the kid?” the pilot yelled. “Why did you wake up the goddamn kid!”
“Look, I can call the airport myself.”
“You’re not calling anybody.”
He grabbed the bottle of rum from under his seat and tried to take a drink but it was empty.
“How far away is the resort?” Maybe if we flew for a while he would sober up enough to land the plane.
“I dunno. It’s down there somewhere,” he said and laughed. He reached under the seat again and found a new bottle of rum. He cracked the seal and started to take a drink.
“Let me have some,” I said. “Hand me the bottle.” He smiled and stared at my breasts.
“Now you’re talkin’ baby.”
He handed me the rum. I pretended to take a drink and set the bottle down on the floor.
“Once you land the plane, and we’re safely on the ground, we can go get another drink.”
“The kid can’t come.”
“No, it will just be the two of us. But you can’t drink anymore because you need to land the plane.”
An alarm sounded in the cockpit but he ignored it. “You think I can’t fly this plane? You think I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll put this plane down so soft you won’t feel the wheels touch baby.” He reminded me of the way a drunk driver insists he’s able to drive home and then crashes his car into a concrete embankment or goes the wrong direction on the freeway. I wasn’t scared he would try to sexually assault me – he was far too drunk to be successful – but I was terrified that he didn’t seem to realize how drunk he was.
“Where is the alarm going off?” I wasn’t sure if we were flying too low or running out of fuel. The pilot looked at me with a strange expression and then projectile vomited all over the windshield, the instrument panel, and me. I recoiled and wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt. I turned around and said to T.J., “Look for life jackets, seat cushions, anything that will float.” T.J.rifled through the overhead compartments and looked under the seats.
I turned back toward the pilot and watched his head fall forward and jerk back. “Wake up! I yelled.
“Anna, I found the life jackets,” T.J. said. He handed one to me, then put on his own.
“Good job T.J. Is there a raft?” I asked as I put my life jacket on.
“I don’t know. I’ll keep looking.”
I looked out the windshield to see how low we were but I couldn’t see anything because of the vomit. I looked out the side window but the sky was as black as the ocean and I couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other began. I wiped the instrument panel off with the hem of my t-shirt but I couldn’t tell why the alarm was going off. I grabbed the radio and pushed the buttons. “Can anyone hear me? We are in trouble, can anyone hear me?” There was nothing but static in return.
“Don’t worry about the raft T.J. Get in your seat and buckle up!” I said. I shook the pilot by the shoulders. “Wake up!” If he could call the airport they could talk me through it so I could try and land the plane myself. Or ditch it in the ocean, an option that scared me more than trying to land. I wondered which choice was more likely to kill us when I heard the engines sputter twice and go silent. We glided for a while and then the plane hit the water, skipping once like a rock across a pond. When the plane hit the water a second time the tip of one of the wings caught the surface and the plane cartwheeled out of control. I was ejected from the plane, through the shattered windshield, in a deafening explosion of glass and metal.
Seawater slammed down my throat and up my nose. I was disoriented and incapacitated by pain; it was only the buoyancy of my life jacket that lifted me toward the surface. When my head was finally above water I took huge, gasping breaths but couldn’t get my breathing regulated.
“T.J.! I screamed. “T.J.! Oh God, where was T.J.? I pictured him trapped in his seat, unable to get his seatbelt unbuckled. I felt the hysteria build.
The plane was in pieces around me and the water was filled with debris. I looked frantically for T.J., and screamed his name over and over and just when the hysteria threatened to overtake me, he surfaced nearby, coughing and choking.
I swam toward him even though every movement caused severe pain. I tasted blood in my mouth and my head was throbbing so hard it felt like it might literally explode, as if there was pressure building inside that needed to be released. When I reached T.J., I grabbed his hand and tried to tell him how happy I was that he was alive. But my words wouldn’t come out right and my voice sounded garbled. Everything was hazy as I drifted in and out. I was aware of T.J. looping his arm through the straps of my life jacket and yelling at me to wake up and then I remembered nothing at all until we washed up on the island.
CHAPTER TWO (work in rainy season)
“Anna can you hear me?” I turned toward his voice and saw T.J. lying on the white sand shore next to me. His face was blistered and his lips were swollen. His head was sunburned and cut in several places and he had a black eye.
“I’ve been waiting for you to wake up.”
“How long?” I asked.
“We were in the water for over a day and we’ve been on shore for a few hours. You were out the whole time.”
“I probably have a concussion. Did I throw up?”
“Yes, several times,” he said. “Do you think they’re looking for us?”
“I’m sure they are.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t find the life raft,” T.J. said.
I smiled even though my face hurt. “It’s okay T.J. You found the life jackets. You did fine.”
“We need to see if there’s any water here,” I said. I stood up but I was so dizzy I fell. I got up again, slower this time, and we walked away from the water’s edge. My head throbbed and my vision was blurry. My shoes were missing.
The white sand beach gave way to shrubs and tropical vegetation the further we walked from the shore. Trees grew close together and their leaves formed a green canopy over our head. I was unsteady when I walked and T. J.’s left eye was swollen shut.
We found the pond when we came to a small clearing. It was small and filled with brackish still water. “Can we drink it?” T.J. asked.
“I don’t know. “ I knelt at the water’s edge and scooped some into my hand. It was as warm as bathwater. I raised my hand to my mouth and took a small drink. Even though the water tasted terrible I wanted more. T.J. knelt down beside me and scooped his own handful out of the pond. We drank as much as we could hold and then we lay on the ground by the pond to rest. The mosquitoes buzzed around my face. We both dozed for a while.
When we woke up we drank more. My head still hurt but my vision was clearer. I wanted to get back to the beach where a plane or a ship could see us. It would be dark soon and we needed a fire although I had no idea how to go about building one.
When we returned to the beach I noticed that debris from the crash had started washing up on shore. If they knew where we went down, could they follow the path of debris to us? Had they been tracking us on radar? I had no idea what the protocol was for small planes and if the pilot had filed a flight plan.
The mosquitoes were everywhere and I slapped them away from my face. I was tired and I wanted to lie down. “I don’t know if we have time to make a shelter before it gets dark. And we need to light a signal fire somehow,” I said to T.J. Then my stomach cramped. I ignored it, hoping it was because I was hungry. “I think we should stay on the beach so it’s easier to see us.” Another cramp hit me, this one more intense. My legs felt wobbly and I felt a line of sweat break out on my forehead. A final cramp hit me, this one painful enough to bring me to my knees.
“Anna what’s wrong?” T.J. bent down beside me as waves of pain slammed into me.
“Don’t follow me,” I said. As severe as the pain was I was still horrified by what was about to happen and I didn’t want him anywhere near me. I stumbled into the trees and barely got my jeans off before my body purged everything in it.
It was dark when I crawled back to the beach. My face, hands, and feet were mosquito bitten but my stomach was empty and no longer cramping. I had no idea where T.J. was. I drifted in and out of sleep and when I woke up, T.J. was lying beside me. I assumed he had suffered the same fate as me. We lay next to each other for the rest of the night, dehydrated and weak. I realized that although we had survived the crash, if we weren’t rescued soon, or couldn’t find fresh water, we would die on the beach.
When the sun came up I struggled to lift my head off the sand. We were close to the shore and I could see more debris littering the white sand. I saw something that didn’t look like the rest. “T.J.,” I said. “What is that?” I pointed to the object.
“Over there. That tan thing.”
“That’s my backpack. He smiled at me. Anna that’s my backpack!” T.J. walked to the water’s edge and grabbed it. He brought it back and I sat up. And just when I remembered why he was so excited, T.J. reached in and pulled out the bottle of water I’d bought him at the Male airport.
He twisted off the cap and we took turns drinking. It was a thirty-two ounce bottle and we drank the whole thing, being careful not to drink it too fast. It wasn’t a lot but it would keep us going until we could figure out how to find more. T.J.’s backpack also had a baseball cap and a sweatshirt which he put on immediately, to protect his head and arms from the sun and the mosquitoes, despite the sweltering heat. When we crashed he had been wearing shorts and a t-shirt and his arm and legs were covered in bites. There was another t-shirt and pair of shorts, underwear and socks, and his MP3 player and headphones. T.J.’s cell phone was at the bottom of the backpack. He pulled it out and flipped it open. I knew it was dead because I’d asked to borrow it at the airport and I knew it had been in the ocean which would have ruined it anyway but I still held my breath, hoping to see the lights come on. They didn’t.
“We need to find water we can drink,” I said. “And shelter. And fire.” I had no idea how we were going to accomplish this.
An hour later, after we’d come back from searching for water, we found two seat cushions on the shore. Next to them was an empty bottle of rum. I saved it because I knew we could use it for something.