This short story is a reimagining of the classic Lord of the Flies by William Golding in which the point of view is a character of James’s own creation.
I awoke suddenly, confused by my surroundings. I smelled burnt plastic and metal. I heard creaking and groaning from the settling fuselage. The seatbelt squeezed against my neck and I unsheathed my knife to cut through it. I slumped out of the twisted chair, trying to figure out how to escape the crashed plane. The destroyed fuselage was a heap of chairs, scattered luggage and broken windows. In a mess of crumpled chairs, I spotted a smaller boy. He was jammed in pretty tight. Without asking questions, I cut him free of his seat belt.
“Thank you,” said the boy.
“You’re welcome. Now come, let’s get out of here,” I instructed. “What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Harry. Let’s go.”
We stumbled out of the plane and into the hot sunshine. Mosquitoes buzzed and birds squawked in the palm trees around us. Shocked and a little disorientated, we wandered back along the scar the plane had carved into the thick jungle until we heard a noise like someone blowing a muffled trumpet.
Harry and I crashed out of the jungle onto a wide, white beach. I saw a gathering of boys on a big, grass-covered granite platform. We walked over to the group where a plump boy was taking names. A fair-haired boy blew on a big conch shell again. It was what we had heard from the jungle. Once the larger boy had asked our names, we found a log to sit on in the shade of some palm trees. Harry and I sat down to listen to what the other boys were saying.
They were discussing how there didn’t seem to be any grown-ups around. A boy named Ralph seemed to take charge of the meeting.
Before they got too far, I asked, “Can we, that is, Harry and me, be lookouts?”
They looked around and shrugged. I took that as a “yes” and got up, dusting the sand off my pants.
“Come on Harry, let’s go find somewhere to set up a lookout spot.”
Someone yelled, “Not here. We need someone to go to the other side of the island.”
I looked at Harry, uncertain. It would be away from the group. “All right. We’ll do it.”
Harry looked scared, but I smiled at him. “It’s fine. We can manage, I’m sure. I’m a Scout back in England. I have a pocket knife and a flint stone. It’s all we need to get started over there.”
“If you say so,” said Harry, sounding a little more confident.
We set off in a direction I guessed was directly over the island to the northern tip. My Scouting skills made me walk with confidence, keeping my shadow on my left.
“Where do you think we are?” asked Harry.
“Somewhere in the Pacific tropics. See? The shadows are quite short and feel how hot it is.”
“You’re smart, James.”
I smiled. I was also scared, but I tried to keep that a secret.
“How old are you, Harry?”
“Twelve and three quarters.”
“Wow. You’re almost a grown-up.”
“I know. That’s what makes me smart.”
“Where do you live in England?”
“London, most of the year. You?” I asked.
“Brighton. I live with my mum and dad.”
“That’s nice.” I focused on the path ahead. The rocks made it more difficult to walk along the beach and we had to jump over the bigger ones.
Soon, we made it to a small hill and the beach curved around it. I stopped, looking at the beach and the hill and back at where we’d come from.
“I think this is the far side of the island, Harry. We’ve walked for some time and this hill seems to be a good spot for our lookout. See? Up there, by those trees.”
“I see. I think this is a good spot, James.”
The wind blew, whipping my hair into my eyes. It would be a challenge to build a fire unless we could find somewhere on the hill to shelter. When we climbed to the top, I looked around for a place to set up our camp. It was pretty exposed up here, but we needed to be high up so we could see the horizon and spot any ships going by. A fire would be seen from a ship if we built it up here.
It got dark and the wind picked up. It howled through the trees, making them creak. I struggled to get the fire lit and burning. It went out twice before I managed to get the flames to catch on a bigger log Harry had collected.
“I’m scared. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to come here by ourselves.”
“We’ll be fine. We have a fire now. Let’s just make sure we have enough wood.”
Harry stayed close to me while I collected some driftwood from the beach down at the base of the hill.
When we dropped the logs and sticks next to the fire he complained. “I’m thirsty.”
It was something that had been worrying me for a while. We had not drunk anything since before the crash. I was so thirsty, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.
Okay. Harry, keep the fire going. Try not to burn yourself. I have to see if I can find some water or something.”
“What about coconuts? I saw some boys at the meeting drinking from a coconut.”
I went in search of coconuts on the ground under the trees. A loud squeal scared me and I yelled.
“What is it?” I heard Harry shout. He sounded panicked.
I ran back, a coconut in each hand. “Nothing,” I said, out of breath. “Just some wild pigs.” But they had scared me silly. It was so dark, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face out there. The fire helped keep the dark and my fear at bay.
We split the coconut on the rock and drank the bland liquid inside. It helped to refresh us both. I stared at the fire, mesmerized. I was tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I wondered what would happen to us. What if we got hurt? My thoughts got darker. What if we died on this island? I looked at Harry who was yawning and rubbing his dirty face. I felt responsible for the younger boy and that made me even more afraid.
The night dragged on. The trees groaned in the constant wind. I woke with a start as dawn crested the horizon. Dread and loneliness filled me.
The second day was no easier than the first. Fear, hunger and exhaustion weighed on us. Harry whined and I grew tired of it, but didn’t say anything. There was nothing I could do to help him.
The third day was the same, only with less whining from Harry. He didn’t have the energy.
The days repeated each other, one after the other, until I lost track of time.
We waited and watched the horizon for ships, bored, tired, lonely and hungry. I found berries and we made fishing rods. We caught crabs in the tide pools and climbed trees to knock down coconuts. We also found a source of water. A small stream flowed to the beach on the other side of the hill.
One night, chewing on a chunk of cooked crab meat, it came to me that I was no longer scared of the dark. What scared me most now was a growing sense of hopelessness.
Going back to the main camp was scary now. The boys over there were pretty wild and out of control. Some kids were bullying the others, and a kid had gone missing. I was almost glad that Harry and I were not there. I didn’t think I’d be able to protect him from the likes of Jack and his choir.
“We’re not going back to the other camp again, Harry.”
I didn’t want to tell him about Simon. It was too upsetting, even for me, to think about him being killed.
“It’s too far,” I lied.
“Okay.” He accepted my explanation without question.
“Besides, I think we have a good thing going over here.” He looked around. We’d built a small lean-to, and had plenty of food and water. With the flintstone, our fire was never a problem. “I’m taking pretty good care of us, don’t you think.”
“We’re a good team, James.” Harry leaned his head against my arm. He was like the younger brother I’d always wanted.
The days passed, no ships sailed by. My hope dwindled to nothing. I gave up watching the horizon, instead focusing on making our home more comfortable. We built tools and made a few sticks of furniture.
I didn’t give the other boys much thought but when I did, I felt a little guilty that there are children, like Harry, that needed someone to protect and care for them. I wondered if Jack and his gang had caused any more trouble. Strong boys would influence the weaker ones. That never ended well.
The night was cool and I added more wood to the fire. A spark flew off the flames and I suddenly remembered a birthday cake from years ago. The candles had flickered just like that spark. I knew then that I had missed my birthday. Enough time had passed since we’d fallen to the island that I would be thirteen now.
“I forgot about my birthday,” I mumbled sadly.
“Really? Happy Birthday, James.” Harry hugged me.
I lay down to sleep that night, sad and more lonely than I’d ever felt. Harry was already breathing deeply by the time the tears rolled down my face. I missed home. I missed my parents, and I missed my life in London. I hadn’t even really thought about any of it for so long, I felt like I was a stranger to my own life.
The next morning, we talked about our families and some of our favourite things. Harry was glum. I tried to cheer him up, but gave up because I was just as sad. There was no point in carrying on the conversation, and we went down to the beach to collect crabs.
During lunch, Harry choked on a chunk of meat and I ran over to slap him on the back.
“You all right, mate?”
He coughed a little more. “Fine. I need water.” As he held up the coconut shell we used for water, he froze. “Hey, what’s that?” He pointed out to sea.
I stared, my eyes blurring in the wind. I wiped at them with the back of my hand, blinked and focused again.
“Is that …?”
“YES! It’s a ship! We’re saved!”
We ran down to the beach, screaming until we were hoarse. We waved our arms and jumped up and down.
We saw a boat coming towards us through the gentle swell. I could hardly believe my eyes. This was a dream come true. I grabbed Harry and hugged him tight.
We waded in when the boat got close enough and we both yelled our story to the men in the boat. We were so excited, it was difficult not to be. An officer ordered a few sailors over the side to pull the boat onto the beach. We helped, happy to see grown-ups for the first time in months. I felt a weight lift off of me. I no longer had to keep Harry and I alive. I slumped to my knees in the sand, a knot in my throat making it hard to talk when the officer asked me my name.
“I am Lieutenant Commander Graves of the HRMS Dagwood. Are you boys all right?”
Harry nodded vigorously, jumbling his words. “We lived up there, and we had a big fire. We ate lots of crabs and coconuts. We found water over there, and there are other boys down that way.”
Everyone turned to look along the length of white beach. It was then that I saw the huge column of dark smoke rising from the treeline.
“What on Earth?” I asked, puzzled.
“Well, boys, that’s what we saw. It’s a happy coincidence you are here, right where we wanted to come ashore to investigate.” He stood with his hands on his hips, binoculars around his neck. “Wait here. I want to check on that fire. Wait here. Jones, put these boys in the cutter and give them some water and chocolate. I’ll be right back.”
He marched off down the beach, two sailors in tow, and disappeared into the treeline. Some moments later, we heard the officer’s voice again, and a babble of younger voices talking over him. A group moved up the beach towards the boat where Harry and I sat munching the most delicious chocolate I had ever tasted.
Everyone climbed into the boat. I recognized Ralph. Barely. Everyone else was filthy and their faces were painted bizarre colours. They looked wild.
The boat pushed off from the beach and the officer turned to face us. “Now, boys. I want to know exactly what happened here.”