Shelly had fallen in puppy love during high school. She married shortly after. He was a good husband and had been a great teenage boyfriend. They dated all the way from 9th grade to her twentieth year on earth and decided to get married. He didn’t get down on one knee or take her by surprise. They both just talked about it and having never dated anyone else, just thought it was the right thing to do.
Shelly had yellow-red hair that shone in sunlight and shimmered in candle light. She was a short girl but had sturdy legs and a narrow waist like an athlete. She was smart and funny and serious and sad. Shelly was quite an introspective person and a sympathetic soul.
She kissed her husband goodbye yesterday because he had to go to work and she caught a flight to Hawaii for a business conference. She never arrived.
After the plane went down, she found herself floundering in rough water, breaking waves on jagged rocks, and a sandy beach. She swam past an airplane seat that contained a body, slumped and still strapped in it. She swallowed salty sea water and coughed as she struggled in the surf. The white foam covered her face with each surge and she finally pushed herself forward, almost crashing hard into a rough lava pitted rock as she found the sandy bottom and fought her way to the beach.
Face down on the sand, she coughed up saltwater and put her head down, breathing heavily. She tried to get up and glanced back at the ocean. Nothing. The plane was gone. She saw flashes of orange and red, yellow, green, things floating in the waves. People, dead people floating. She saw life jackets, clothing, and a big piece of silver metal sticking up by some large rocks like a monument of abstract sculpture to mark the tragic impact. Shelly closed her eyes.
The cool ocean breezes always felt good early in the morning and Shelly tied back her hair with a piece of ragged cloth as she left her palm hut near the beach. Multi-colored small parrots cackled at her as if saying,” Good morning,” in their black tongued voices. She checked the bamboo traps in the surf and gathered the few crabs found inside, putting them into a flight attendant’s carry-all bag. Two weeks ago after the crash, she had scoured the beach for anything she could find useful. The several dead people were horrible finds and she left the bodies where she found them and avoided the location after that. She had traveled around the island each day exploring. The island wasn’t a big place and in a few days she had covered most of it. As far as she could tell there were no inhabitants.
She erected her crude shelter on the opposite side of the island of the crash to avoid the decaying dead people. At least she had found a safety kit floating that contained matches and Band-Aids and other useful things. There was plenty of fruit and the island also had fresh water cascading down from small mountains and running into clear flowing streams back into the sea. Shelly had no idea where on planet Earth this island was located, but knew it had to be somewhere on the way to Hawaii, unless of course somehow the plane had gotten off the regular track and flown way of course. She thought about rescue and she built a sign for HELP, out of coconuts, on the beach. Each day she felt more alive than before. She missed her husband and her family but somehow she felt guilty that she also felt happy here. She talked to the three parrots as they cackled at her. The worst night was two nights ago when a storm had passed over the island. Lightning flashed like massive crackles that lit up the world and the winds and driving rain smashed half of her shelter to the ground. She shivered and crawled under her torn palm frond roof and waited for the storm to move on. The next day she repaired her shelter and the parrots flew around her head as if encouraging her. The storm attack and the courage she found in surviving here gave her renewed strength and confidence.
Sometimes Shelly would sit near a shallow lagoon and stare at the water for hours. Her new home was a beautiful place. Giant palm trees shaded the edges of the lagoon and on some days six to ten dolphins would enter the lagoon and entertain her for hours, splashing and leaping. She would bathe in the lagoon or go inland to bathe and wash her pants and shirt in fresh water beneath a waterfall.
Shelly was bathing one overcast day, almost as if the clouds were grumbling out a warning of danger for her, when she came out of the water to find a huge snake resting on her clothing. The only weapon she had found in the plane crash debris was a kitchen knife and it was in her pants pocket beneath the snake. She had no idea if the snake was poisonous or harmless. She only knew a fear of snakes and felt it would either bite her with fangs containing poison or coil around her and choke her to death. Shelly took no chances and smashed the snake into submission with a large head sized rock. The incident made her stronger. She had found courage that she never knew existed. The island belonged to her.
Shelly hiked to the south end of the island where huge boulders protruded from the sea like Neptune’s throne room, massive chairs made for giant mermen and mermaids to sit and rule over the ocean. She liked to sit on the giant rocks and watch for the whales that sometimes came by the island. She first noticed them by the spray that shot up like smoke from the horizon. Sometimes she was lucky enough to see them breaching and smashing back down onto the surface like gigantic dirigibles falling from the sky impacting with the waves. She always thought she might see a ship out there on that far away horizon but if she did see one she was not sure what she would do.
Each night she would start her small fire, sometimes she practiced starting fire with a stick and a tree branch and she finally figured out how to get one going. She knew the matches wouldn’t last forever. Shelly made meals of fruit and crab or spiny lobster. Sometimes she speared a fish with her sharpened spear. One day she speared a small octopus and she thought cooking it in coconut juice in a piece of curved metal from the crash was the best calamari she had ever tasted. Shelly missed people and the civilized world less and less. She fell into an easy life filled with her hunting and gathering chores in the mornings and her relaxing walks of exploration in the afternoons.
The dolphins were swimming slowly into the lagoon and Shelly reclined in a bend on a low hanging branch, a place where she sat many days to survey her body of water. The dolphins had swam close to the shore as they noticed her watching them. Each day they grew bolder and got nearer to her as she waded out into the water to get closer. Today as the smooth silver mammals splashed and frolicked swimming into the lagoon, Shelly climbed down and removed her clothes, walking out into the clear turquoise water. As she swam out to them she felt an adrenalin rush and thought maybe she was crazy. She felt the fear just below her skin, wondering if the big dolphins might attack her. Before she could turn back she was surrounded by long smooth silver creatures swimming in circles around her. She tread water as each dolphin seemed to come close, almost touching her and then retreat as another would swim in near her. Slowly, it seemed like forever, but was only seconds, her fear departed and she smiled as each dolphin seemed to introduce themselves to this strange mermaid with legs. Gradually as each one approached she would touch the smooth wet rubbery skin of their fins or rub the top of their head. She began to swim around with them and dive beneath the water, playing a game of tag. She stopped abruptly when she heard thunder in the distance and looked out over the ocean. The sky had grown darker like a menacing black monster made from billowing smoke and ash. In the distance she saw flashes of white lightning break open the sky. The dolphins began leaping into the air chattering and then suddenly they disappeared beneath the water. Within seconds she was alone in the lagoon and saw the silver fins of her new friends swimming out and around the shoreline, away from the storm. Shelly swam for shore and ran to prepare for the monster to come to her front door.
The storm raged most of the night and she covered herself with palm fronds and endured the cold sheets of rain as best she could. When the rain stopped she started a fire and stripped, hanging her clothes up to dry and warmed herself. When she was dry she curled up beside the small fire and slept until daybreak. Her little house was wrecked again. Instead of getting to work repairing the damage she decided to explore inland. The parrots buzzed by her head squawking at her and they flew from tree to tree along the jungle path. She wondered how the jungle path had been created. She had never seen anything larger than a monkey on the island and the path was well worn and wide enough for large animals.
She thought about the small mammals she had seen, rabbits, rats, mice, small monkeys, bats, and even a cream colored badger like animal. She had also encountered a three foot long monitor lizard and sea turtles in the lagoon and on the beach. She had thought about searching for turtle nests if she got hungry for eggs. Her diet of fruit and sea creatures had satisfied her but she thought maybe she might trap a rabbit or a bird. Walking the path today she encountered a large track, bigger than anything she had seen before.
She traveled inland, following a clear rushing creek flowing smoothly over a bottom filled with coin sized pebbles. She came out of the jungle and into a hillside covered in tall yellow grass. She encountered colorful birds in the tall grass, almost like pheasants with long bright scarlet tail feathers. She walked alongside the flowing water until it led her to a wall of jagged rock, forty or fifty feet high. A waterfall dropped mist and gallons of water into a pool at the base of the wall. She thought it was beautiful, this little oasis of falling water and the rough wall of rock standing near tall cliffs with the fields of grass behind her. The large tracks, round like pancakes with deep toes, were in the sandy mud all around the pool. The rock wall seemed so out of place here on the center of the island, almost like if some giant colossus dropped it here to make a stone fence across the landscape, maybe to keep some big creature on one side of the island or just a barrier to slow down hurricane force winds from destroying the jungle trees. Admiring the scene, Shelly once again saw the large mysterious footprints. She looked around the fields but only the grass swayed with ocean breezes. Shelley noticed a worn path near the wall leading south towards the ocean. She didn’t see any of the large tracks but something had to have walked this path regularly to make it so smooth and worn. The winds picked up and her long hair blew about her face as she hiked the trail south. She felt vulnerable for the first time since she had discovered her new courage.
That’s when she heard the sound. Behind her…Snorting, repeated snorting, heavy footprints trampling the ground. She was afraid to turn and look. The waterfall rumbled down the rock wall with a solid roar but the snorting sounds were voluminous and carried weight over the cascading water. Slowly she twisted her neck and shifted her feet to look back. The pond was surrounded by the snorting massive things.
Shelly was astonished and could only stare at the site. The beasts were huge. There were at least ten of them, maybe more. Their dark skin was almost black and looked like leather armor. They snorted and stared back at her but only in a disinterested fashion, as if she were but a small rodent scurrying about the grass. Each animal must have weighed a ton and were taller than her at the shoulder. Their snouts sported dangerous looking horns resembling some sort of monster unicorn. She knew that they were a sort of rhinoceros but a big strange one almost from a dream land of impossible. The animals drank from the water and snorted and some of them jogged around, light on their big toes like an armored ballerina.
Her stomach felt cold and empty. She watched the immense animals as they seemed to lose interest in her. This island had captured her imagination in so many ways and now to find such a beautiful incredible creature it left her in a stunned amazement. Shelly sat down on a small rock about forty yards away from the dark skinned armored creatures and wiped the hair from her forehead. The rhinos milled around the edges of the water and some began to browse on the tall grasses. Shelly stood to leave and as she turned one of the smaller rhinos trotted slowly in her direction. She stopped and stood as still as possible, afraid to run or move. The animal stopped a few feet from her and sniffed the ground near her feet and smelled her scent, its snout touching her chest and hair. Shelly held her breath. She looked into the creature’s eye and felt something shift in her world. The rhino tossed its head and swished the air with that long horn on its snout. With its tail in the air the rhino trotted back to the herd.
Shelly walked into the jungle, following the trail she knew would lead her back to her shelter near the beach. She felt like a queen. She could feel the air from the island surging inside her lungs. That air was giving her magic and power to be the majestic ruler of this island. She was the caretaker of dolphins and rhinos. This was her calling. This island was her world. No ship would come. No plane would find her. She would build and plan and design her future and her life. The next day she found a parachute hanging from a tree.
She took it down and for the next three days she worked on her shelter, turning it into a more permanent home, with bamboo floors and a roof of palm fronds and parts of the parachute. The next few weeks she stayed near the ocean making fish and crab traps and visiting her lagoon and swimming with the dolphins that she loved so much. She kept thinking about the parachute. She wondered if somebody had survived and landed on her island. There was no evidence of anyone landing and she just thought maybe they had died or fallen into the sea. Shelly did not want company. She wanted to be left alone in her own new world. She found solitude and paradise here.
She knew it was only paradise because no one else were here. Inside her heart had grown bigger and her soul had filled up with magic. Paradise can only be in such an isolated place. She knew that others, humans, that virus to which she belonged were like a plague and destroyed paradise wherever they went. Shelly gathered beautiful shells and added them to her mounting collections in her shell garden around her little home.
She sometimes traveled to the wall and visited with the rhinos. They were becoming used to her and would approach and sometimes brush against her with their rough wrinkled hides. She would scratch them behind the ears but doubted they could feel anything through their armor coating. The macaws followed on her forays squawking at her to give them some bananas or other fruit. Shelly ate from the trees and from the sea. She could start in a fire in less than sixty seconds. She could climb any tree even faster. She was leaner and more physically fit than she had ever been in her life. She hardly even remembered her other civilized life. She marveled at the clear blue sky and the cloud formations at dusk and dawn. The rain quenched her thirst and filled her containers. The monkeys scolded her climbing into their trees and the macaws sat on her head and shoulders eating from her fingers. She had only infrequently hear or saw passing jets and she had removed any sign from the beaches that she had ever been there. She only killed one more snake in the jungle. This time with her crude sharpened spear. Two months has passed since the waves had brought her to the beach.
She still thought about the parachute. The island was big enough for someone else to be hiding out there somewhere. This was the only thing she ever worried about. The thought of another person moving about on her island scared her. She worried about the rhinos. She worried about the dolphins.
It had rained lightly that next day and when the clouds still covered the beach Shelly hiked towards the wall. That afternoon she sat upon a boulder worn smooth by the ocean winds for centuries. The rhinos grazed in the near distance in the tall grass. A macaw perched in a tree near the waterfall by the rock wall. Her spirit settled into her skin like a resting leaf that had floated down from the tallest tree to land with a faint ripple in the clearest pool of still water. The depths of her love for this place could not be reached. She gazed out over the land as if it were the most precious lover she had ever known. The island wind was her kiss, the jungle and the ocean were her mother and father. The dolphins and the rhinos her brothers and sisters. There was nothing else she could have yearned for. Shelly was complete and this bliss, she knew came from her creator.
All people find their complete happiness in many different things and Shelly reveled in the accident that had brought her to this revelation of pureness. She reclined on the rock beneath the rolling clouds, she let her mind drift. She dreamed of flying like the macaws. She opened her eyes and saw the small plane overhead and then heard the slight hum of the motor. Tears formed in her eyes. Shelly saw the rhinos snorting and stamping the ground before they stampeded into the jungle of sheltering trees. She jumped off the boulder like an antelope and ran for the cover of the jungle. The plane’s motor rumbled louder as it flew closer. Shelly ran under the cover of the trees and felt like the plane was following her and flying lower and lower.
The next day Shelly watched the men as they gathered around the plane, which had landed yesterday in the grassy field. She had climbed the rock wall and hid in the many clusters of boulders that formed small caves in its heights. She knew the men had found her little home on the beach. She would have to hide until they give up and leave. That parachute had brought them. She hoped the rhinos stayed hidden. The macaws had followed her as she had climbed the dangerous sheer rock wall.
The men had hiked all over the island and in three days they finally took their plane back into the sky and left her island. Shelly knew that someday they might be back. She would move her home up high and hide on the rock wall. That next morning she dismantled her beach home and wiped it from existence. She found a note written on paper left by the men from the plane. She did not read it and burned it in her fire. That morning she also went out and swam with her dolphins.
Shelly walked through the grassy field with the huge rhinos slowly moving around her. She patted their heads and their great horns. She put her hand on a rhino’s head and swinging herself up by climbing on the tough armor she stretched out on the beast’s wide back. With macaws chattering and flying above her, Shelly rode towards the waterfall and the magnificent pool on the back of a great dark animal that had become her brother in a place called paradise.