Closer to God: Episode One

Wrecked

 

Clarke’s eyes opened and then shut almost immediately. After a few seconds, he slowly lifted his left eyelid open again. The light that came in was painfully bright. It was a few minutes before he could see anything but white. And when he could it wasn’t much of a help. Clarke had no idea where on earth he was. Literally, where on the earth.

He was aware, shortly after coming to, that he was on a beach. He felt the sand clinging to his body and the water to his clothes. A dull heat radiated off his bare skin and he could tell he was burnt. He had been cooking in the sun all morning.

With a wince of pain, Clarke dug his elbows into the sand and used the leverage to help lift his head. From his back, he looked out at the ocean. Frames of memory reeled across the front of his mind, skipping and jumping like a video trying to buffer. He saw rain, waves, and lightning. He remembered being on a ship with the rest of his expeditionary crew. The ship had been small, a fisherman’s boat they’d hired to take them from the mainland to the island.

The island.

He was on the island.

The waves in front of him were calm, softly rolling in from the deep. But he knew they had not been so last night. He remembered the storm. He remembered panic. He remembered plunging into waves that were choatic and hard.

He was on the island and their ship had been wrecked in the storm.

Clarke forced his body into a sitting position, becoming surer of where he was and how he arrived there. He began to scan the beach, looking for any signs of his crew or debris from their vessel. There were none. The only things on the beach were himself and his pack. The beat of his heart quickened in surprise when he saw that his satchel was next to him. Upon picking it up he discovered that, although it was as soaked in ocean water as he was, it was still sealed shut.

He proceeded to open the bag and found all of his gear remained intact. In the main pocket were matches, a compass, three bottles of water, water purification tablets, a first aid kit, and a few granola bars. Supplies he carried in case of emergencies like being lost but not like being stranded. The GPS in the side pocket was, predictably, destroyed. Of everything in the pack, the only item to remain dry was his journal. He took it out of a smaller, interior pocket and inspected it. The pen he’d clipped to the cover was gone but an envelope held its place in the middle of the notebook.

Clarke put the journal back into his satchel and remained sitting for couple more minutes, staring out at the ocean. His mind saw the reality of the situation but shock prevented him from attaining any sort of grasp on it. Shock also blocked from him the realization that his journal may contain some of the answers he needed. A realization that would not come to him until it was too late.

Eventually, he hoisted himself to his feet and gave his body a once over. No cuts or bruises. No wounds at all. He put his satchel on his shoulder and turned around. Where the beach ended, a jungle began. Although the sun was high in the sky, holding a position that indicated to Clarke it was still morning, the light disappeared a few yards into the thick vegetation. Peeking above the canopy formed by the trees was a mountain that constituted the center of the island. However, Clarke knew it was not a mountain, but a volcano. Knowledge he’d no doubt gained via the extensive research he performed before undertaking any expedition.

Looking back at the water, he noticed he was farther up the beach then would be expected. Waves met sand nearly fifty yards away and the jungle started twenty yards from where he stood. Clarke came to the conclusion that he’d dragged himself out of the surf though he did not remember it. Regardless, he was glad he had the presence of mind to crawl to safety. Based on his assumptions on the time of day, he calculated that the high tide had only receded an hour earlier. Apparently, his research had also saved him from being dragged back out to sea.

It took a while for Clarke to overcome the shock of his situation. By early afternoon, after finally managing to get his thoughts organized, he started laying out the steps he would take to survive. If he’d learned anything over the many expeditions he’d taken it was that, in an emergency situation, one should go step by step. Set a goal, complete it, and move on to the next one. His first mission would be to create a fire large enough to work as a smoke signal.

He cracked open one bottle of water and realized how thirsty he was as the liquid entered his mouth. He quickly had a second goal. Find a source of fresh water.

 

Base Camp

 

Clarke opened his eyes to a sunrise painted in various hues of orange and pink. It was his third day on the island. Despite the subdued nature of the sun’s presence the headache that appeared the night before had only grown worse. Each pounding throb creating a red flame in the periphery of his vision.It was dehyrdration. He needed to find water.

He’d tried to conserve what he had but the heat and humidity were constantly strangling all the fluids out of him. By the end of the first day, he’d drank two of his three bottles of water. He’d spent the second day doing his best to ration the remaining 16 ounces. It only lasted half the day. He did manage to get a fire going, however, and it was still creating large pillows of black smoke. Surely, the clouds would be impossible for the many fisherman of the mainland to miss if they were to travel in the direction of the island.

Clarke backed his way out of a small lean-to constructed from dead tee branches and large, leathery leaves. The lean-to itself sat several feet inside the interior of the jungle while the signal fire blazed on the beach directly in front of it. The brush around the shelter had been cleared out, forming a circle of space nearly thirty feet in diameter. Various flat and long stones sat on the ground throughout the area which Clarke had placed there in the anticipation of using them to prepare his food.

Unlike his water, the granola bars from his satchel lasted him until dinner the previous night. Due to this, he’d not searched extensively for any wildlife in the jungle or fish in the sea. Regardless, he found it strange that in all his time exploring for water, nearly a day and a half, he had not seen one animal. Swimming in the ocean turned up similar results as he’d not seen a single fish. As such, the only food on his stones was the few edible plants he stumbled across. He supposed he was lucky to have that.

Food was obviously low but Clarke was well aware that water would be more important for his survival. His first goal of the day was to continue looking for a stream or spring. On day one he’d briefly searched the area surrounding his base camp while collecting materials for the lean-to. On the second day, he’d branched out, following the beach a ways up the western side of the island and entering the jungle there. Again, he had no luck.

Although he was becoming desperate, Clarke dreaded returning to the cramped environment of the jungle. So far, he hadn’t run into anything particularly worrying. But whenever he ventured into the damp darkness he became confused and lost amongst the trees. Most of the time he felt as if he was going in circles and with no significant landmarks to guide his path that’s most likely what he was doing. It had taken him hours to return to the beach the last time. Yet, he had no choice if he planned on surviving so he prepped himself to embark on another, seemingly hopeless, search. After eating a quick, light breakfast and throwing more leaves on the fire, Clarke grabbed his satchel and headed back into the jungle.

The previous night, after he’d returned to the beach around dusk, he stopped to briefly admire the peak of the volcano in the center of the island. The sun’s rays were disappearing behind the horizon and the volcano was set against a deep, dark, blue sky. He saw mist, rising from the canopy of the jungle, and within that mist he thought he also saw smoke, rising from the mouth of the volcano. While he slept, he’d dreamed he had climbed the massive mountain. He struggled to reach the top and when he did his vision was engulfed in suffocating fumes. He could sense the ground beneath his feet expanding and contracting as if the volcano was breathing. He neared the lip of the summit and voices rose from the lava below, chanting unintelligible words. Suddenly, the contents of the volcano exploded outward, carrying him with them. The lava was orange and pink like sky he’d awoken too.

Through the few spaces in the canopy Clarke saw no smoke coming from the volcano. As usual, it looked more like a mountain.

Compared to the other days the jungle was uncharacteristically cool. The reprieve from the sun eased his headache and he found that there was abreeze, blowing in from the ocean, which he had not felt on the beach. It was as if the trees had grown higher and the shrubbery on the forest floor had shrunk creating a feeling of openness that had not been there before.

With a new sense of rejuvenation, Clarke set about deciding which direction he wanted to walk. Observing the scenery around him he began to recognize pieces of the jungle for the first time. He remembered the tree to his left from the first time he’d ventured from the beach. The way the trunk split into two different directions, one branch hanging low, the other erupting upwards to join the canopy above, was unmistakable. To his right, farther ahead, was a medium sized boulder he also recognized. A streak of black, speckled with golden flakes, charred a mark across the stone’s surface. Where did he recognize it from? He’d never gone that direction before. At the moment, it did not matter to Clarke and he headed passed the stone and further into the island.

Beyond the boulder he found that the branches in his way were far less restricting allowing him to quickly and smoothly brush through them. He tried to keep his path as straight as possible so as not to lose his way. Determined to find water he continued deeper and deeper into the jungle. Slowly, the ground began to rise in a slight incline, marking the beginning of the volcano. Clarke came across another tree he inexplicably recognized. This one was particularly snarled and its branches twisted grostequely around each other. He reached a hand out to touch the smooth bark. He ran his fingers along one of the branches, admiring the way it cooperated with the others. He felt the renewal of a cool, relaxing breeze and listened to the rustling of the leaves above him. He heard the ripples of water.

Following the gurgling noises, Clarke came upon a steep embankment just behind the tree. He traversed the steep decline into a ravine and, at the very bottom, discovered a small brook. It was certainly no stream but a solid flow of water leaked over the stones heading in the direction of the beach. He crouched to his knees and opened an empty water bottle. Reflections of light that managed to penetrate to the forest floor glittered off the water’s surface and rode the miniature waves it into the plastic container. The bottle filled surprisingly quickly and he chugged the contents even quicker. The water was cold on his tongue and chilled his entire body as it slipped down his throat. He dipped his hands into the brook and splashed refreshment over the dry skin of his face.

Clarke shifted his attention to his surroundings. He thought he might place a mark at the top of ravine and create a trail of some sort to ensure he would be able to locate the brook again. But he planned to do neither. He was, for the first time, confident he’d be able to remember the path he’d taken. Besides, the gnarly tree would work as a good enough marker should he really need one. He refilled the bottle in his hand as well as the other two and returned them to his satchel.

A cracking branch split the otherwise soft sounds of the jungle. To Clarke’s ears it had come from over the opposite side of the ravine.

He’d started to think that he was the only living creature on the island. He had not spotted one animal, not even a fish in the ocean. Excited at the propsect that he was mistaken, Clarke climbed the embankment as quietly as he could and peeked over the edge. No movement save the sway of leaves caught in the breeze. He looked left, his gaze following the ravine uphill. The stream flowed down from out of sight and he imagined the ravine must lead up to a spring or body of water. He wanted to follow it but instead crested the incline and continued in the direction of the sound. A dozen steps from the top of the ravine he reached the edge of the jungle and found himself standing in a small field. Grass grew throughout its expanse and the sun shined brightly down on him.

He froze. He watched the waist high grass for movement and scanned the field for wildlife. The breeze abruptly stopped and the jungle settled into still silence. Something caught his eye.

Across the field, within the trees, and floating just above the grass was a face. Its eyes were yellow, its skin covered in mud. It stared at Clarke, slowly gliding across the tips of the grass, moving from right to left. A second face appeared, right behind the first.Their motion ceased, and the face’s rose to match Clarke’s height. Their eyes met his.

The faces dropped out of sight. The grass at the far end of the field began to rustle and he saw the two black forms moving swiftly towards him.

Clarke turned and ran back to the ravine. His mind spun in a thoughtless panic but he continued to the edge and slid down the embankment. He popped back to his feet as he reached the stream and  followed the ravine in the direction of the beach. The walls on either side of him, built from dirt and rock, slowly shrank in size as he went. The stream below him grew weaker and weaker. The light in front of him grew stronger and stronger. The water disappeared into the ground a few feet before Clarke burst through a bundle of vines and onto the beach.

To his right, a mere twenty yards away, was his base camp.

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