Isle of Fear
Her cheek burns raw with grit as her eyes slowly open and squint against the blinding sun. Disoriented, it takes a few moments to realize she’s on a bed of hot sand.
Slowly, she brings her hands under her. Small cuts sting her palms as she presses them down and shakily lifts her upper half. Every movement hurts. Her lungs scratch beneath her ribs and her muscles scream their protests.
She maneuvers to a sitting position, gasping in pain from the effort. She looks down and sees a short black dress hanging about her, soaked and covered in sand. She pulls up the neckline self-consciously, though she sees no one else around. A life preserver lays beached some yards away.
Stiffly turning her neck while supporting herself on an arm, she sees palm trees behind her. Seeking respite from the pounding sun, she gathers herself up and forces her legs to support her. Though crooked and crumpled, she’s standing. Nearby is a wide piece of driftwood. She limps to it, and arduously lifts one end to use as support, like a crutch. Her arms ache from the exertion, but slowly she makes her way to the trees.
Once in the shade, she collapses against a tree trunk. She adjusts the driftwood next to her so that it’s flat on the ground. She hasn’t been awake long, but her body is at its limit. She lies on her makeshift mattress, hoping to be somewhere else when she awakes.
Minutes, hours, or days pass. As she stirs awake, her body still feels weighted by tar, but at least now her head is clearer. She had been on a ship. It was the last day of a week-long cruise, and she’d spent the night dancing with a man.
REBECCA BENISON is a New York based writer. A professional storyteller, her weekdays are spent connecting with audiences on behalf of brands, while her nights and weekends are devoted to fiction. Her work has been published in the Workers Write! literary journal, Newsday, the Long Island Herald, Curbed, and other publications.
Billy. They’d met at dinner. The last she could remember they’d been dancing in the ballroom. She’d only had one drink, she was sure. A pina colada Billy had brought back from the bar for her. She hated coconut, and wasn’t much of a drinker in general, but she couldn’t rebuff the kind gesture. Halfway through the drink she’d felt tired and dizzy. Billy offered to bring her back to her room.
She hazily remembers walking through the hall. Her wrist felt tight and restricted. She remembers hitting the bed and looking out at the open balcony. The moon seemed too bright for her to fall asleep.
And then she woke up here, on the beach.
She realizes she hasn’t eaten in at least a day. She isn’t hungry, but her pounding head tells her she’s dehydrated. Coconuts lay scattered on the ground. Ugh, of course it would be coconuts. A broken fruit sits nearby, so she slowly makes her way toward it, half walking and half crawling. She scrapes her fingers along the meat inside and puts it to her mouth. Then she does it again, and again. She pours the remaining liquid into her mouth, getting as much hydration as she can.
On her last gulp she sputters and hacks — a large worm hurls from her throat. Gasping and shaking, she throws the coconut shell with a guttural grunt. She heaves but doesn’t vomit; her body too desperate to hold on to what nutrition it can.
Shaking and spitting with disgust, she looks out at the horizon. The sun is beginning to set, painting the sky ember and reminding her that night is approaching. She gathers fallen fronds from nearby palms and arranges them on her driftwood bed, inspecting each one for any sign of movement.
With nothing but her thoughts to occupy the time, she wonders how she got here, and how she’d leave. Did Billy push her overboard? Was anyone searching for her now? Eventually she’d need to send some kind of signal. Looking up at the darkening sky and brightening moon, she realizes she hasn’t heard any planes overhead.
She also realizes that the trees are twinkling as much as the stars. Tiny beads of reflected light are descending toward her. Her eyes widen in confusion and disbelief.
The tiny glows grow closer. And then she sees the legs — spiders!
The prickling hairs against her skin snap her into a flurry of panic as she sprints toward the water. A sharp pain at her heel tells her she’s been bitten or stung, but the pain is nothing compared to the terror.
Blindly she dives into the water and thrashes through the surf without thought of where or when to stop. She can’t hear her teeth chattering or see the blue of her skin. All she feels is the sensation of a million tiny pin-pricks dotting her flesh.
As she struggles to swim while swatting at her own body in paranoia, her head dips beneath the surface. She drops down, unaware, still clawing at arachnoid ghosts.
In the darkness, she can no longer tell up from down. But as she cranes her neck, she sees the moon. Much too bright to close her eyes now… And for the first time since she awoke on the island, she’s calm.
She sinks gracefully to the bottom, eyes still looking up. As she glides along the seabed, her head comes to rest on the shoulder of another, also looking up eternally through sightless eyes.
One week later, Billy arrives on the beach with a search crew. As they pull their raft toward the tree line, Billy freezes. His body rigid, he strains to listen, and then he hears it again. His face turns ashen.
The hearty giggle and honk of a clown pierces the silence. He looks to the others, who don’t appear to hear anything out of the ordinary. He takes his phone from his pocket to record what he’s hearing, and finds that he has no battery. He looks back up — and there, he sees it. The red nose. The white face. The pasted smile. And then, that laugh.
Billy takes a step back. Then another. The tide laps at his soles as he continues walking backward, oblivious to all but terror.