Kol accepted an incoming call, and a holographic image of his friend Laran popped up in front of him.
“How are they doing?” Laran was smoking a pipe; his head was wreathed in smoke.
“They’ve found the hut.”
“How long did it take them?”
“Almost four hours.”
Laran smacked his lips together delicately. “Slow. Mine found the hut in the first hour.”
Kol restrained himself from making a nasty comment. He and Laran had been in competition with each other for years, and he’d learned, no matter what he said, Laran would somehow counter with a remark that somehow bested Kol. “I think it was smart of them to explore the perimeter before going inland.”
Laran blew out smoke that changed color from yellow to pink to chartreuse. “We’ve debated this before. Let’s not do it again. What are they doing now?”
“Constructing an SOS sign on the beach. And I’ll remind you your pair wouldn’t touch the food or water for nearly seven hours, they were so afraid of being poisoned. Mine already ate and drank.”
Laran sniffed. “Well… I could have poisoned it. They didn’t know. They showed good judgment to wait.”
“I don’t see how. By the time they gave in, they were dehydrated and weak. Stupid, if you ask me.” Kol drew himself straighter. “My pair didn’t allow themselves to lose strength.” He and Laran could lightly bicker like this for hours, if he let it go on, and he wasn’t in the mood. “I must go now. They are placing the last branch in their distress sign.” He ended the call before Laran could say anything else.
“You are an asshole, Laran. I don’t know why we’re still friends.” But of course he knew why. He was ever in search of a way to best Laran.
We used branches to make an SOS on the beach. It took a while. We didn’t have a machete or axe and had to gather deadfall.
Shading her eyes, Shell gazed out to sea. “I haven’t seen one frigging boat. Have you?”
“Nope, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one. What concerns me is not seeing a plane. The sky’s usually full of them.”
“Not if we’re in the middle of nowhere.” Dropping her hand, she turned. “I’m returning to the hut. I’m thirsty.”
Back in the clearing, we drank and considered what to have for dinner. Shell was partial to the frozen steaks, while I was hungry for pasta. It wasn’t only the fridge that was full; the cabinets overflowed with dried goods, spices, and—
“Wine!” I held up a bottle of red triumphantly. “What do you say?”
She grinned. “I say, ‘hit me!’”
We ended up making both spaghetti and steak, and drinking wine until we finished the bottle. Both of us were feeling no pain when we moved to the porch and sat in the swing, facing the path that led to the beach.
I knew I should feel scared, even terrified, but I was willing to set that aside for a while. It had been roughly eight hours since I’d disappeared from Cape Cod. Had Mitch noticed yet? Was he concerned? Would he go to the police?
How many thousands of people went missing every year? Was I now one of them?
Shelly was an attractive woman. “You have a boyfriend?”
“Yeah. We’ve been together a year.”
She shrugged. “I guess. I mean, we haven’t talked marriage or anything, but it’s comfortable, you know?”
I nodded and missed Mitch so bad, my chest hurt.
When the sun went down, we retired to the one bedroom.
“I don’t want to be alone,” Shell had explained. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“I don’t mind.” I waited until she chose the side she wanted, then got in. It was warm enough, we only needed the sheet.
Instantly, she slid over and laid her head on my shoulder and an arm across my torso. I tensed, and after a few minutes, relaxed.
I slept and had terrible dreams.
Nothing changed over the next few days. We saw no one, and there were no boats or planes. We settled into a kind of resigned numbness, moving through the long hours until night fell, when we’d gratefully get into bed after a meal made from the food in the kitchen.
Who had left it for us? Why were we here? What the hell was going on?
The questions drove us nuts, but when no answers were forthcoming, we stopped talking about it. Food had been provided to us, but the closets were empty. We had only the clothes we wore. Yesterday, we’d finally removed them, washed them in the sea, and hung them over the porch railing to dry. Neither of us were bothered much by nudity, and after the first awkward minutes, we were over it.
There were no books to read, no TV to watch, no music to listen to. So we talked. We talked a lot. I heard all about her nasty grandmother and the trauma of getting braces when she was twelve, and she heard my coming out story and the heartbreak I’d suffered with my first boyfriend at age fourteen. At a weekend retreat, our conversations would have been fun. She was bright and funny and had had a few adventures. But stuck on an island and being forced into each other’s company, she wasn’t as interesting as she might have been. I was pretty sure she felt the same way about me.
We wanted to go home. We wanted to go back to the people we loved.
Twelve days after we’d awakened on the beach, we were jolted out of bed by a massive thunderstorm. Racing to the porch, we watched lightning split the sky—and a couple of trees—as sheets of rain fell. The temperature seemed to drop twenty degrees, and I hugged myself, shivering.
“It’s almost as if someone were mad at us,” Shell said with a sarcastic twist of the lip.
It really did seem that way. Lightning continued to punish the trees, striking them hard and without pause, and the thunder was so loud and insistent, it hurt my ears.
After a few more minutes of nature’s racket, it stopped. The rain ceased between one breath and the next, and the thunder and lightning halted without warning. The sun popped out again, and steam rose from the soaking wet leaves and grass.
“Let’s go down to the beach, see what the wind blew in.” Shell led the way to the path.
On the sand were downed palm fronds and one word written large: FUCK.
We looked at each other in surprise. Who had carved those letters and where were they now?
“Told you the storm seemed like someone was angry.” Shell crossed her arms and shivered.
A horrible thought occurred to me. “What if it’s an order?”