Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!
Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.
Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is washing up on a deserted island.
Problem: A speck of land in the endless ocean
Goal: To not be here
Description: Sand. Sun. No volleyballs!
Difficulty: Less hard than harder stuff
The beautiful glittering of the blue ocean, the gentle lapping of waves on the soft white sand, the hearty sobs of the damned. In all likelihood, you have found yourself on this beach, on this island, in the middle of nowhere, having survived your cruise ship being sunk by a sea monster. Or your plane crashed again. You have twenty survivors with you, blistering sun already beginning to burn your skin, and water everywhere but not a drop to drink. This island might be nice for a visit, but you never chose this: it’s time to escape.
Note 1: You are the Hero, the Kraken killer, and your fellow survivors will look to you for leadership. Gather them together and make a compelling and heartfelt speech about how you’re no hero: you’re just a man/woman. They won’t listen and you’ll continue to be heroic, but you are now humble.
The first thing to do in the event of becoming stranded on an island is to build a sand castle. How better to show the island that you are in control than by transmuting its very form to into something of your will. Also it will calm everyone to go in for a bit of arts and craft before getting to work. Besides, some idiot let the only volleyball float away.
The second thing to do is quickly get to know your fellow survivors. What skills do they have? There will definitely be a doctor, a Military Type, a drug addict, and a stereotypical native of somewhere very similar to the island. Other miscellaneous skills and professions could come in handy. Use this new knowledge to set people to work building shelters, gathering materials to make a fire for later, and making spears for fishing and perhaps hunting. The doctor and military type might be best left here on the beach to organise this stuff and check any injuries.
Water shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as there is vegetation in the centre of the island, meaning water. It won’t be difficult to find, and the Military Type will probably know how to go about it. Dig pools near the water’s edge, which may trap fish when the tide goes back out. Any food you aren’t 100% about (like coconuts), rub on the back of your hand first, then a few minutes later on your lips, then your tongue, then finally hold in your mouth. If at no stage do you see or feel any kind of reaction, you probably won’t die from eating it (but it should be cooked anyway).
Note 2: Take the good natured native with mystical knowledge and wisdom beyond his years, your love interest from the cruise ship, and someone expendable, and embark on an exploration of the island. You’ll want to know what size it is, what kind of fauna lives here, if there is edible flora, and if it is indeed uninhabited.
A crashed WWII German fighter will soon make things eerie and ominous. In a stroke of originality and cultural sensitivity, the native will probably tell you it’s a bad omen. The air will turn cold, the leafy canopy above will suddenly cast the area in shadow, and only you will have the bravery to ascend the tree in which the cockpit is lodged. Be ready for the shocking reveal of the German skull staring at you as reach the top.
What luck! The radio is conveniently still working! But bad news: no one answers, no matter how much you twiddle the dials. Repeat your ‘come and rescue us’ message a few times, find a frequency with faint voices that don’t seem to respond to you, then give up.
Note 3: An hour or two later, you will have discovered that the island is definitely uninhabited and be about to return to the beach when someone will say, ‘Wait, what is that?’ This is where your Hero senses will tingle. There, barely visible through the trees, you will see the edge of a wooden construction.
A simple shack, broken down and throttled by vines will receive you coldly. The makeshift bed will be covered in dead leaves, telling you this place hasn’t been used for years. You may even find mysterious empty vials, test tubes, some unidentifiable bones. What kind of mad scientist lived here? And where are they now? And where does that trapdoor lead…?
You will now have a brief discussion about whether you should go through said trapdoor, during which the expendable survivor will belligerently defy the general consensus and pull it open. Before you can stop him, he will start to descend the wooden ladder. Obviously, it will break. He will plummet into the gloom. Upon being asked if he’s okay, he will inevitably call back something like “Aaarrrgghh! My leg! I think it’s broken!” As you peer down at his barely visible form, he’ll follow up with another cliché: “Oh God! There’s something down h–” At which point, a few fast-moving shapes will flit past the puddle of less gloomy gloom and, with a blood curdling scream, your expendable companion will be gone.
There’s only one thing a true Hero can do now: slam the trapdoor, pull the bed over the top, and run like hell. To save the other two…naturally.
Note 4: When you return, you will find freshly caught fish drying in the sun, and the doctor and drug addict in a heated argument. Naturally, one of the survivors will be in great pain and the addict’s drugs will be the only thing that can ease said pain. You can try to talk the addict around…blah blah blah…MilitaryTypeChokeHold! The drugs are now at the doctor’s disposal, the survivor is relieved of their pain, but you’ll have to keep an eye on the addict and the Military Type. One could be an unpredictable new enemy, and the other will almost certainly be too prone to violence.
Note 5: At this point, you’ll want to prepare your rescue signals. You have lifeboats and a jet ski with a nearly empty tank, but nowhere to go with them. You will need to call in the cavalry! But not literally. Use palm fronds, rocks, tree branches, the boats themselves, whatever you have, to create a message on the beach. Write out ‘HELP’, ‘SOS’, or ‘WOULD YOU BE SO KIND AS TO SEND HELP, AS WE SEEM TO HAVE FOUND OURSELVES IN RATHER A PREDICAMENT’ in large letters (make the horizontal stroke of the H about 12ft long). This may very well still not be seen from a plane with a cruising altitude of 40,000 feet, so don’t stop there.
As stupid as it sounds, messages in bottles have been known to actually get people rescued, but perhaps don’t rest all your hopes on that. Build three fires in a triangle – this will be recognised as a distress signal. Make them big, keep them burning during the morning, and light them again before the sun goes down, so the smoke has a chance of being seen.
Use a mirror or something reflective during the day to signal any aircraft or ships you see. Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot = SOS.
Note 6: Gather the native and love interest at the third fire that happens to have no one around it, and discuss in whispered tones what you all saw under the trapdoor. Should you tell anyone? Should you ignore the problem? At this point, you will realise you have been sneaked up on. It will either be the drug addict, who will cause a scene, or the Military Type who…will cause a scene, because you should have included him.
In the midst of the arguing, disbelief, and arguing, screams will erupt from the fire closest to the trees. Survivors have disappeared! Frantic, hysterical babbling imparts news of fast moving shadows darting out of the trees and taking them. It’s time to ramp up the action.
Note 7: Gather your forces. The native, the love interest, the Military Type, and the doctor will certainly join you. The doctor will probably turn out to have been an Army medic anyway. The addict will probably surprise everyone by volunteering, but he just needs something to get his mind off the withdrawal. You still have a flare gun and your handgun from the cruise ship, but the makeshift spears are going to be the only reliable weapons you all have.
Against all semblance of common sense, make and light some torches, and head back to the shack. Note the bed still over the trapdoor – they are emerging elsewhere. Being the Hero, you should descend into the darkness first.
Note 8: Now will ensue about 10-15 minutes of terror. The rough passages down there will be extremely dark, with all sorts of narrow tunnels dug into the sides, and you will be acutely aware that your torch does more to pinpoint your location that to reveal your enemies. One by one, your group of 8-10 will be picked off, dragged screaming into the narrow openings that speak of horrifying crawly things. More than likely, the bravado of the Military Type will mean he’s the first to go. At some point the addict will freak out and run into the darkness never to be seen again. Soon, it will be just you, the native, and the love interest again.
And then you’ll reach the centre, where all the passages converge. The nest. The home of what you now see are…cannibals! Deathly pale, malformed cannibals, deformed and turned feral by…uh…lack of sun. Yes, lack of sun, don’t argue with the science.
Fight for your life. Use your Hero skills to avoid getting bitten and thin the cannibals’ numbers. Some of the stolen survivors will already have been eaten, some will be killed now as you try to get them to run back to the trapdoor. That way is impassable now – the weird cannibal hissing and groaning from down that passage tells you so.
Note 9: In a convenient lull in fighting – perhaps brought on by a well-placed flare – gather all surviving survivors and head down one of the other passages. Don’t worry which – your Hero’s luck will ensure that it’s the one that leads outside. The sun will be coming up soon, even though it only went down a short while ago: if you can just get outside, the cannibals won’t give chase!
Now will ensue a terrifying and tense retreat through the dark tunnels, the sounds of the pursuing cannibals close behind and getting closer. Perhaps more survivors will suddenly cry out and get sucked backwards into the darkness. Ignore them, they’re dead now.
The native will now tell you to get everyone to safety. Share a meaningful look with him before he stops running and turns to face the cannibals and buy you time to flee. As you run on and he fades into the darkness, make a sad face that also conveys how you’re determined his sacrifice won’t be in vain. Take your love interest’s hand for emotional support and run like you’ve never run before! And don’t fall on your face.
Note 10: Now that the sacrifice has been made, you will soon find the exit. The faint glow of dawn will make itself known towards the end of the tunnel and you’ll burst out into the new day just as gangly, pale limbs reach out of the tunnel after you. Angry howls will probably follow you, but the cannibals will not.
After the customary annoying laughter that has no place right after so much death, head back to the beach. As you do, you will start to hear roaring. Engines! Your radio pleas were heard after all, and a helicopter and ship have arrived to save you. Look relieved and heroic at the same time, while the helicopter lands in slow motion and the survivors all hug each other and probably laugh some more.
Climb aboard the helicopter, but don’t shut the door yet. Keep your eyes on the trees and rejoice as out of the shadows limps your new friend, the native! You should probably learn his name. You have witnessed the birth of another Hero. Greet him with a Hero’s forearm ‘handshake’ and share another meaningful look before pulling him into the helicopter and flying away into the sunrise.
Congratulations: You have escaped the cannibal-infested not-so-deserted island intact. It’s a secret that you will all keep to yourself, because who’d believe you? The cannibals are going to have to learn to be vegetarians if they want to survive. Next time you take a break, it’ll be a city one. Also you now have a love interest who will never be seen or spoken of again for no apparent reason.
Next time on A Writer’s Guide…less sun and sand.
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