“Stranded” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Piya Sarkar, Canadian Academy, Japan.
Olivia breathed in the wonderful, salty air. The waves rippled while the sun overlooking the ocean cast a reflection as bright as stars in the winter. The large cruise ship was flowing on the sea, as gentle as a feather. Her attention was rapidly broken from the nature as she turned around and saw that all the chairs were occupied. The boat was bustling with people everywhere; either on the rooftop or lounging on the beach chairs behind her, looking at the cloudless sky. She was shocked to see that she, the daughter of this cruise’s owner, did not have her own private space!
Everyone she knew, even her best friends, perceived her as a spoilt brat who got whatever she wanted because of her dad, and getting a chair in her own ship? That was not even a difficult task. She always needed top-notch conditions everywhere she went.
Flicking her hair, she sashayed over to a stranger lazily lying in a chair. She got up confusedly as she saw Olivia’s angry face looming over her. The stranger took off her sunglasses and squinted at Olivia with a what do you want expression on her face.
“Well, excuse me! Can you move out of your chair so I can sit there? I’m exhausted standing up!” Olivia muttered haughtily.
“I was here first, so I will not move! Find another seat, will you?” The lady replied with a disgusted face.
Olivia gave a sickly sweet smile. “Honey, my dad owns this ship. If you don’t move yourself, I’ll have my staff move you from this boat... and straight into this ocean!”
“Such a bad attitude!” The lady was trying to stay confident against her, but Olivia’s glare made the lady give up. She gave Olivia one last dirty look, gathered her things and walked away.
With a satisfied expression on her face, Olivia laid down on the beach chair and wore her sunglasses.
As she was about to relax, she heard a thud. She stood up in fear. People were running away, and the boat was chaotic. Screams were echoing everywhere. It looked like something had failed and the ship was beginning to sink. In horror, she saw the boat slowly tipping over, and people were falling to their deaths.
Olivia panicked and grabbed her Gucci handbag. She wasn’t skilled in swimming, but she had to flee from this wrecked ship. With a deep breath, she went to the rails and climbed over them. She jumped in the freezing ocean and began paddling away for her life. She spluttered as she gulped the seawater countless times. A piece of driftwood was floating near the cruise ship. She paddled some more and while trying to balance, she climbed on it hastily.
“Help! Someone save me!” She shrieked multiple times. It was no use. She opened her handbag and grabbed her phone. She tried to call for help. No signal. Trying to put her phone back in her bag, it slipped and the phone, along with the bag, plopped in the water.
“No, no, NO! My–my phone!” Olivia shrieked desperately. Olivia wildly tried to search for her belongings by rummaging her hands through the icy water, but it had gone too deep to be able to retrieve it. Giving up hesitantly, she looked up and saw that the ship wasn’t in sight; she must have gone too far.
“What am I going to do, what am I going to do!” Olivia whined. She turned around carefully, gripping the driftwood, and saw the shore. It looked as if it was miles away. Olivia squinted and could see that it wasn’t a beach–it was a jungle. I’d rather die here than get eaten by lions in that jungle, she thought. Tears fell from her eyes. She couldn’t stop them. At times like this, she wished that she knew just what to do. After what seemed like an hour, Olivia looked up at the glorious twinkling stars in the sky. She had actually stayed here for almost a full day. With nothing else left to do, she slowly fell asleep to the gentle gleam of the moon floating in the sky.
Olivia woke up with a jolt. Rubbing her blood-red eyes, she looked around. The sun was beating down on her face as she shaded her eyes with her hands. It was morning. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the jungle. For some strange reason, she ended up at the shore during the night! Olivia grinned and started using her hands to push herself towards the land. The water was like icicles, and her hands were numb with the pain. She kept telling herself again and again not to stop, and she eventually reached the jungle.
Olivia scrambled on the grass and bent her fingers to return them to their normal temperature. Her face was contorted with pain. She glanced around and her mouth dropped in awe. The trees surrounding her were noble giants; protecting their land and shading all the living creatures in the jungle from the glorious sun. Birds squawked and sang on the branches and the incessant buzzing from insects was to be heard from every direction. The moss and grass crunched under her aching feet. The humidity was visible on her face as trickles of sweat dropped onto the moss from her forehead, and a light breeze was making the tree branches sway back and forth, dancing to the soothing sounds of the wildlife.
Olivia breathed in and out shakily. You can do it, you will survive here, she thought to herself. The first thing she needed to do to begin her new life here was to find a safe shelter. Olivia didn’t really know the slightest thing about how to live in the wild, but she knew she needed a place to stay. She frantically looked around, trying to find a good material to create a sturdy home. Some tree bark was lying on the ground, so she picked up a copious amount and tried to figure out where to locate her home. It was obvious that she had to stay near a water source like a river. Olivia took off her flats and trudged forward without a clue of where she was going.
After what seemed like a few hours, she still couldn’t see any sign of water. Olivia’s legs were hurting and she felt as if she was going to faint any moment now. Her head spun as if she was on a carousel. Disgustedly, she looked at her legs. There was mud everywhere.
“Ew, gross!” She attempted to flick the mud off by shaking her leg, but it didn’t work. She would love to take a nice shower at her home right now, but instead she was stuck here in this forest on the verge of death.
She walked on. As she looked to her right, a small rabbit was hopping around a tree. It seemed perfectly normal, but its nose noticeably had water on it. That grabbed Olivia’s attention. With her remaining energy, she ran towards the rabbit. The animal scurried away, but Olivia followed it. In a matter of seconds, she had reached her destination.
A streaming river was winding its way through the dense forest. Olivia smiled to herself as she gazed in awe at it. The water was as blue as cobalt, hurdling through the tall trees and passing everything in its way smoothly like velvet. Olivia ran her hands through the water, enjoying the airiness of the glasslike substance. Fish were swimming underneath the bubbling stream while pebbles of every shape and size lay on the riverbed as if they were sleeping in the bubbles. Olivia scooped up the water in her hands and drank it savouringly. Never had she loved water more in her life.
Her eyes shifted to the lush banks of the stream. It was peaceful and spacious, a perfect place for her to stay. The petals of numerous flowers glinted in the sunlight as a light wind made the leaves on the trees nearby shiver. Olivia began constructing a simple home just made out of wood. It was a long process, and everywhere was silent, except for the rushing water and the various creatures across the jungle. Olivia worked hard, and she felt as if something in her had changed. She was shocked at herself for making it this far without having any problems, since she spent her whole life lavishly, getting everything she wanted. She never had expected for herself to ever be stranded alone in an unknown jungle in her life, so it was difficult for her to get used to this environment.
As she took a break and stretched her hands, Olivia looked at the beautiful river and realized how much beauty nature holds. To her, at that moment, she didn’t want to do anything else except admire the stream. To her, that was perfect. However, she knew in the back of her head, she would have definitely loved being at her warm house at that moment, but there was nothing she could do in the forest right now except to be able to survive using her surroundings. She started to accept the fact that she had to make do with what she has.
With a huff, she continued working on the shelter and after a while, stood back and admired her finished masterpiece. The wood was like a pyramid, all the twigs branched up together at the top. An opening was at the bottom for Olivia to enter through. It was very cramped and compact and the complete opposite of her home, but it was the only place Olivia could stay here. To everyone else, making this wooden hut would have been the simplest thing in the world, but to her it was like she was accepted to Harvard!
Yes! Finally, I can sleep! Olivia thought to herself as she crawled into the miniature shelter. Exhausted, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.
As the bright sunlight shafted through the wood and birds chirped their morning harmonies, Olivia stirred and slowly woke up. She cautiously crawled out of the wooden hut. Today, her plan was to find a bountiful supply of food and add improvements to her hut. However, she was vegetarian, and it was going to be difficult going without meat in a jungle, but she was going to try her best. In her head, Olivia created a mental checklist. She needed to gather fruits and nuts and plenty of water.
Olivia shivered. It was beginning to get cold outside, and she needed a way to keep warm. She was also going to start a fire, but she had no idea how. She would hopefully figure that out.
First, Olivia tramped her way towards the bunch of trees nearby. She scavenged for trees bearing any type of edible food. It was so crowded and Olivia had to be so careful in order to not trip, so she made her way through by holding the thick trunks of the trees. As Olivia stopped to rest, she noticed a large scurry of squirrels was surrounding a tree. Olivia tried to tiptoe and saw why, but she wasn’t tall enough. Then, she remembered something. Squirrels love eating fruits from trees, so that must mean that the tree must hold fruit! Excitedly, Olivia dodged the squirrels and started to climb the tree just like how she used to when she was a little child. That scared off the squirrels. As they scampered away, the noise caused the fruit to shake and drop straight onto the mossy ground. My dream came true! Olivia thought. She hastily climbed back down and quickly gathered all the fruit she could hold. There was so much fruit; it was like a feast for Olivia! Her arms were overloaded. Olivia made her way back to her hut, feeling a sense of pride. By the time she reached, her arms were weary after all that hard work. But she had to continue fending for supplies. She had a galore of food, and now she needed to bring clean water. Olivia crafted a bowl out of twigs to carry the water in, and she made her way to the river next to her hut. She collected a ton of water, and now it was time to warm up the hut and herself.
Olivia had no idea how to create a fire, as she had never learned. However, she had seen in movies that two pieces of wood will create friction and that will create a fire. There was plenty of wood, so she started the process. It was doubtful that it would work, so Olivia’s hopes weren’t up. But it was worth a try, so she took two pieces of wood and started creating friction between them. After a minute, it created a weak fire, a flame barely flickering. To make the fire stronger, she added moss to the wood, and the flame was much bigger than before. This kept her warm and cosy like a bird’s nest. She sat alongside the burning embers which leapt upwards into a fiery dance, and then slowly cascaded into the ground. While gazing at the flame, she ate some fruits that she had collected and drank the water sparingly.
It was dusk, and the shadows of birds were seen flying away in the sky that adorned the colors of a fire. The silvery clouds blushed at the sight of the descending sun, and the sky was embellished with streaks of soft pink, with hues of bright orange and red.
Olivia yawned silently and prayed that she would be rescued soon. She scrambled into the wooden pyramid she now called home, but she stuck her head out to watch the heavenly sunset and tried to stay awake, but her eyes were wavering sleepily. As she was about to drift off to the land of dreams, she heard loud footsteps trudging on the forest floor. Startled, Olivia sat up and grabbed some wood in case it was a ferocious animal, ready to attack her.
The footsteps were growing closer and closer, Olivia’s fear increased every second too. This is it, Olivia thought. This is how I’m going to die. Her heart was an elephant thumping its way across the woods.
All of a sudden, the footsteps stopped.
“Hey, there’s a fire over here! She might be there!” A man’s voice echoed through the canopy.
Olivia’s eyes widened. She began panicking. Who are they? What if they were bad? What if they had come to kill mr? Or… what if they came to save me?
“Olivia Roth, if you are here somewhere, please come out! We’re here to save you!” The voice rumbled again.
Olivia was breathing shakily. She was so glad that she was being rescued, but also super nervous. Even though she only stayed in this isolated jungle for two days, it felt like a lifetime. And now, it was time to go back to her normal lifestyle, but she didn’t know if she was ready for it. She learned so much about herself here, and she didn’t want to lose it. But then again, she can’t live here forever.
“Olivia! Where are you?” The voices were beginning to be louder.
With a deep breath, she stepped outside of her wooden home and shouted: “I’m here! Near the fire!” She waved her hands wildly and continued shouting for help.
The footsteps came closer. The twigs and leaves crunched under their boots while they ran. For a split second, Olivia had the rising urge to run away; to be able to live freely in the beautiful, mysterious jungle. Carried away by her impossible thoughts, Olivia didn’t notice the people who had appeared before her. They were dumbfounded to see Olivia Roth, the spoilt daughter of a rich man who owned cruise ships, in perfect health, and even more shocked to see her wooden hut and the amount of food she had found.
“Olivia, your father has sent us to look for you. We detected where the ship sank and we went to the nearest land, which was here. He will be very glad that you are alive and healthy.” The man blabbered this just like if it was a script. He was gazing at her wooden hut like it was no way that she had made it.
Olivia noticed his unfaltering stare at her house. She waved her muddy hand at his face, and raised her eyebrows, trying to maintain her bratty attitude which she would have to return to soon. “Take me back!”
The other man replied. “Of course. Please follow us to the helicopter. We will fly you back to your home.”
Nobody else knows this, but this is my home, Olivia thought to herself. Shaking away that notion, she smiled at him and nodded.
Next time, I won’t wait for perfect conditions… I’ll never forget this place! She followed them into the helicopter, happy to go back to her normal life and have a better understanding of herself.