When a killer whale smashes into their ship, Alan and his pet cormorant have to fend for themselves
The mission was supposed to be simple: sail out into the Atlantic Ocean, take on board a few specimens. Then his work for the month would be done. Alan Stevenson readjusted his grip on the wheel of his ship, the S.S. Stormbreaker, a sleek vision of beauty and a gift from one of his colleagues. It was a windy August morning, and Alan was taking the morning shift at the wheel. To his left, he could see his pet cormorant, Carlo, making short work of a can of seafood. His stomach must have been close to exploding as he was on his fourth can. He cawed at Alan like: “’Sup?” In short, everything was going just peachy, or at least until the sonar of the S.S. Stormbreaker picked up a vast shape hurtling toward them at the speed of 30 knots.
When he first registered this, Alan thought that he must be very tired and his mind was playing tricks on him. However, the shadow under the waves, which was heading straight for them, seemed very real. Fumbling with the controls, he finally pressed the button on the intercom and as it crackled to life, he yelled: “Large object heading straight to port! I repeat: large object heading straight to port!” Alan wrestled with the wheel, desperately trying to veer off course, but he was going way too slow. The last dregs of hope he clung to evaporated as the threatening shape’s head breached the surface. Slicing through the water right toward them was a fully grown killer whale.
Alan didn’t feel the whale hit the ship, but suddenly he was tossed out of the pilot’s cabin like a champagne cork. He was weightless for a moment or two, then jolted back to reality when he hit the freezing water with a sound like someone slapping aluminium foil. He sank into blissful unconsciousness.
When he regained consciousness, the first thing that struck him was the sound of waves crashing against rocks. Groaning, he rolled onto his side and spat out a lungful of seawater. Alan felt like a sock that had been tossed around inside a washing machine along with a couple of bricks. Opening his eyes, he saw Carlo looking at him expectantly. Satisfied that his master hadn’t drowned, Carlo resumed his meticulous grooming as he perched upon a small rock. “I’m alive,” Alan croaked.
As his senses expanded, he realized that he was on a beach of pristine white sand. On a nearby outcrop of grey limestone, a dozen or so seagulls nested comfortably, feeding their petulant young. To his right, the beach turned into sandy dunes and then into a dense assortment of palm trees, pines, and bushes. The forest slanted uphill until it evened out into what appeared to be the crater of a volcano, which he presumed to be dormant due to the lack of smoke. I’ll check it out later, he thought. For now, I should search for food and water.
Food, it appeared, was not a problem. Sitting up, he noticed a whole stack of assorted fish and crabs behind his now well-groomed pet. “Wait . . . you fished all of that by yourself?” Alan asked, incredulous. A seabird’s expression had never looked so smug.
* * *
Soon the pair were sitting by a nice warm fire with a few fish hanging over it. The dry palm branches on the beach made excellent tinder. Alan busied himself with culinary preparations: wrapping the fish in palm leaves, he then proceeded to place them upon the flames. While the smoked fish tacos (minus the tacos, of course) were cooking, the sailor made inventory of all his materials. In short, they had: five smoked salmon, seven smoked crabs, palm leaves, palm wood, rocks, and his trusty penknife. Not bad, considering Alan hadn’t even started exploring his island yet.
But one problem remained: he had yet to find a source of fresh water. So, after a hasty meal, Alan set off into the forest. As he hiked into the undergrowth, he noticed that it was already late afternoon. He started to jog. Alan searched everywhere, but nothing even remotely resembling a stream came into view. Finally, exhausted and thirstier than ever, he sat down on a log. And then he spotted a small deer trotting in the direction of the volcanic crater. As a last attempt at getting hydrated, he followed it deeper into the jungle.
The terrain became steep. His head drooped from exhaustion. He would have continued ambling upward forever, except that suddenly our great sailor had nothing to put his feet on, and he tumbled downward, straight into a large body of water. As his head broke the surface, he realized that the volcanic crater had hollowed out into a pool of fresh water! The deer knew the area and lay down to drink. Alan also gulped down great amounts, then called out with a sharp whistle. Soon Carlo appeared in the sky and swooped directly into the water with a mighty FLOOM!
There. No more problems with water now!
* * *
It was the evening of the pair’s third day on the island. Alan lay contentedly on a bed of palm leaves while Carlo roosted on a nest of woven palm twigs, preening his feathers. However, Alan was trying to figure out ways to escape the island, no matter how pretty it was. During the night, he heard hooting and screeches in the undergrowth. Finally he sank into fitful sleep.
In the morning, he waded into the caldera of the volcano and admired the view of the island. As he was drying off, his gaze came upon an area of the forest that had been torn to pieces. The trees seemed to have been crushed by a large object . . . Could that be a small plane? He hurried down excitedly, and his assumption proved to be correct! It was a biplane—its hull badly dented and wings beyond repair—but he was rewarded with the discovery of a nearly intact engine.
Alan was past ecstasy by this point. Giggling with barely contained glee, he set to work. Two hours and a restroom break later, the engine lay before him, fully repaired and adjusted to aquatic form. With difficulty, he lugged his prize down to the beach, where he started collecting twigs, rocks, and palm leaves. And with a little assistance from Carlo the pro fisher, he used fish grease to prime the engine and then tie it to his improvised raft.
Soon after, the sailor and his bird pushed the raft out into the water. He knew that land was not far from here as in the plane he had also found a map indicating that the island was actually pretty close to the east coast of Africa. As the engine hummed to life, he smiled. He had escaped.
* * *
Nearly a month later, Alan Stevenson lay in his favorite armchair in his house in Washington. Picking up the TV remote, he switched to the News Channel. “And now let us recount the terrible adventure of a man, Alan Stevenson, who is very lucky to be alive today. Sir?”
“Yes, Mr. Adams, I am. After escaping the island on a raft, another storm broke out and destroyed my raft. My pet and I had to swim ashore. The land was five kilometres away. I’m just grateful that I survived. My boat has sunk, but I think that’s for the best, as I’m going to change careers soon. And even though—” Click.
“Ugh. I can’t believe the news stations are still talking about me,” groaned Alan. I’ve got other things to do. Isn’t that right Carlo?”
“Caw!” agreed the bird.