The King of the World.
The glassy surface of the Atlantic captures isolated clouds floating overhead. Snake-sized waves slither upon the sandy shore and increase the temptation to plunge in for a swim. The waters off the west coast of Scotland are chilling even in this sweltering summer sun. Forget that idea.
Someone must remember there's a farm on this island. Will rescue come today?
Mary wanted a caretaker for the croft for two weeks. How could anyone refuse their little sister's offer of a whole island to their self? I was never able to say no to her. After years of protecting her at school and as a young woman. The habit dies hard.
The seagulls are in a lethargic mood or it’s not healthy to fly in this heat. There are no tourists to throw titbits. Mary always threw waste out to feed the gulls and other birds. Seagull crap splattered the cottage.
I pick up a sharp-edged stone to chalk the rock face. The matchstick line crosses the last four to make five. That symbolises four hundred and sixty-five days alone on this isle without encountering another living person. Add to that two hundred days of talking to my little sister who’s not here. Am I insane?
Fifteen months have passed since waving farewell as Mary and Jonathan sailed away in the yacht. A fortnight’s break with Jona's parents in Wales.
“That didn't work out, Mary. Eh?”
Pizza type food lasted for three weeks. I forced myself to eat vegetables for the first time. I'm alive because of the crops and Mary's gardening books.
Humans can accomplish amazing feats when half-starved. Mashed potatoes mixed with an assortment of vegetables worked and helped me to acquire the taste. I can’t imagine not eating cabbage and cauliflower now. I still long for Bacon and egg sandwiches with a beer.
The sun blazes high above as noon arrives and not a blade of grass stirs.
“Don't see that often, sis.”
There’s always the slightest of breezes. Out in the ocean, splashes of water are common.
“Porpoises love to hang out here.”
I wish those incredible mammals had the ability to talk and reveal the secrets of the world today.
My footsteps on the numerous small stones disturb the tranquillity to the annoyance of the various nesting birds. I’ve no idea what type.
“The birds have wings if that helps.”
Bird watching has never been on the bucket list. Well, at least not that type. Every bird hated this rookie farmer at first. A few keep a watchful eye. While one white devil loves to shit in my direction masquerading as a dive-bomber.
“I'm sure it's the ex-mother-in-law reincarnated.”
The grass-covered clifftop overlooks this gorgeous bay. A hundred yards below shoals of silver fish dart and swim between the rocks.
“Afraid of the porpoise, eh?”
Jonathan's collection of traditional fishing nets lay in the barn and became part of the survival strategy. Tie four boulders to the bottom of a large net. Attach two lengths of rope and lower into the narrow gap where fish glide through to the inner pool. Follow that with an easy swim from the beach to scoop fish into a net bag hanging from the cliff top.
Jonathan swam often with snorkel and fins there. That was a wonderful idea until the demons arrived. Eighty yards from shore on a sunny day. Killer Whales. Reports state Orca's never attack humans. I don't trust reports.
Documentaries show these fearsome killers surge up onto beaches to capture seals and sea lions. I haven't waded further than three yards from the water’s edge since then. I wish I'd never watched shark movies.
The first bonfire stands six yards tall. A cluster of tree cuttings joined in a group hug. The second signal fire is okay too. The third and last one is a problem. Chicks chirp from a hidden nest someplace inside the pyramid of branches.
“Three fires are a distress signal to any ships. Can I set fire to the beacon and let the chicks burn alive? There might not be enough time to demolish it, liberate the young, reconstruct the branches and re-light before any ship sails away? I’ll find out if it happens. Don’t worry Mary. I won’t kill them.”
The memory of the sole sea-going vessel that passed the island haunts me. The massive container ship sailed towards the northern tip of the bay and crushed the warning buoy. High pitched screams of metal tearing apart scattered birds for miles around. The juggernaut powered over the rocks and careered on into the Atlantic. No crew appeared on board before or after the doomed ship struck the rocks. A perfect example of a ghost ship.
The containers slid off the decks as the ship lurched to starboard. No lifeboats launched. No distress signals fired. The moment that huge hunk of metal plunged below the waves I feared for everyone on Earth.
I hate to wander along this part of the cliff. The steep shingle path taunts my fear of heights. Winter on this coast during extreme weather is daunting. Gale force winds can blast a man off the path into the raging torrents below. Rogue waves can charge up the golden sands and threaten to drag unwary souls into the stormy seas.
Today, that's not a problem. On the beach, the threadbare boot laces loosen with ease. Tucked within are the last pair of socks fit to wear. The pleasant waters flow between dancing toes and clamber over sand covered feet. I glance at the ocean every few seconds in fear of the Orca's. No trace of Killer whales today. That’s terrific.
On sunny days with moderate winds, the sanctuary of the sand dunes offers respite. Sunburn is a danger in those havens. My skin’s back on course to be ordinary white once more.
The message of stones survived the storms of winter. There were few repairs required this spring to the S.O.S. for planes to detect. The letters are a fraction of the length of the one constructed last month. Too much heather ale put an end to that project.
I’ve seen no planes fly over in the time I’ve been here. Mary would have returned if possible. I’m used to the concept I'm the last man alive and trapped on this island. If Mary’s dead then I’m sure she’s around somewhere and can see and hear me. I hope.
“The first disastrous crop and Mr rookie farmer will be with you little sister. That’s a fact.”
A stomach rumble and a parched mouth mean a vegetarian lunch and wildflower tea beckon. With socks and boots on, a brisk walk and home is within reach. The cottage's grey slate roof gleams under the sun. The devastation wreaked in a crazy moment scars the hill beyond the cottage.
Months of arduous labour to build a colossal S.O.S. on the bracken-carpeted hillside wasted. Trust the last man alive to get drunk on heather ale and set fire to the hill at midnight. The flames illuminated the cloudless night sky with nobody to witness the foolish event.
The stone cottage kitchen provides respite from the relentless sun. Ice cool water from the fridge tastes wonderful and the bench on the porch outside welcomes me.
Mary loved to relax and enjoy the vista. The croft, the beach, the ocean, and the birds. Hours passed by on winter days wrapped in a blanket. We curled up together to listen to the music of the wind. Me, my little sister and Jonathan too sometimes.
Out in the distance high in the sky, an enormous bird flies towards the island. Here comes the eagle that hunted wild birds in the spring. Another swig of water drenches the sides of my mouth. Not long now until the harvest.
A whirring sound drifts across the crops. The bird no longer resembles an eagle. A helicopter powers in my direction. I jump up and breathe hard. I don’t know what to do. Is this a rescue? Who will look after the croft?
How stupid. Mary’s not coming back. She’s dead. Jonathan's dead. I raise both arms in the air. The leftover water in the glass splashes over my face and chest.
The chopper hasn’t changed direction, and the crew is visible through the front window screen. My heart thumps with excitement as the rescuers land a hundred yards away. The flag on the side is Australian.
"Please don't harm the crops. They mean so much to Mary."
Two crewmen jump out clad in their flight suits and approach.
“G'day.” The tall blonde haired one says.
Yep, Australian. I can't avoid grinning.
“Hi there. I wasn’t expecting Australians to show up. To be honest, rescue of any kind is a tremendous surprise.”
Tall guy asks. “How long have you been here?”
“Four hundred and sixty-five days.”
“That's fortunate. A week later and you'd be dust.”
“How did you work that out so fast?”
“Easy. A wall counter on the ship tells us how many days since the event.”
“A virus or something was it? How many died?”
The smaller black-haired Aussie who’s taller than me grimaces.
He says. “Billions. Australia got lucky. Airlines had to cancel their flights due to violent storms. That’s when terrorists released the doomsday virus in the Middle East. The only survivors were the nations in the Southern Ocean storm zone.”
“My sister and family were on holiday in Wales and Scotland.”
Both lower their eyes and stare at the ground as tears well up inside me.
“How did you know I was here?”
The big guy steps nearer.
“My names Stu and that's Jeff. A satellite picked up a fire a few nights ago at this location.”
“This summer’s been dry. Hill fires are common. Did the Australian navy sail to Scotland for that?”
“No. The aircraft carrier, the Canberra, is on exercise checking ports in mainland Europe. There are few fires that spell S.O.S.”
“What? you guys made out the letters okay?”
“With satellite, yes.”
“How many other survivors have you discovered?”
Stu shakes his head and points at me.
“What if I have this virus?”
Stu explains, “If you did. You’d be dead. Don't worry. There's a cure now.”
I gaze around our island paradise.
Stu says. “On board ship, there's a fridge full of beers forty minutes travel from here, or do you prefer to stick around here your majesty?”
Jeff points above the door and grins.
“I scraped those words on the wall in the belief I was the only human alive. If so, I was the King of the World.”
I march through the cottage door to snatch up the family photo, a screwdriver and Mary’s tartan scarf from the pine dresser. There’s nothing else worth taking. Clothes are well-worn and patched.
I scrape more letters on the wall.
Sandy squints both sun-strained eyes at my new words.
He speaks it aloud. “The King of the World lived here.”
“Stu. Any chance of bacon and eggs with that beer?”
“That’s a guarantee,”
“It's official then. I abdicate my role as King of the World. Let's go Mary. We'll be okay now.”
Copyright Ferguson Publishing. copy of text granted for personal reading only and not for resale.