Shannon O’Connor


My ship sank, and I ended up here, alone. I don’t know where I am. Somewhere in the South Pacific. All the books and movies about people stranded on desert islands come back to me. I don’t know what will happen, but I must survive.

I didn’t want to go on the cruise. The idea of being trapped on a ship with hundreds of people that I didn’t know, sailing around looking at islands didn’t appeal to me. My sister wanted to go. Our mother had just died, and she was depressed, and she wanted to spend some of our inheritance. I told her we should save the money, but she didn’t listen. Two hundred thousand dollars each won’t last forever. She had always wanted to see Fiji. Now she was most likely dead.

I wander around my island looking for things that are useful. I scour the beach, some of the debris from the ship washed ashore. Pieces of hull, and scraps of metal. I drag those to the palm trees behind the beach.  I don’t want to sleep too far from the water. I sit down and look at the ocean. I wanted to enjoy my solitude before I looked for food.

I didn’t like my life at home. I had a low-paying, tedious job at a hospital, and I had a Master’s Degree in Art. I tried to paint and do artwork, but I wasn’t as good as other artists. I got angry because I thought my education was a waste. I knew I should do something with my degree, like teach, but I didn’t want that. I wanted to be successful. My life was pointless. It’s almost a relief to be stranded on an island, with nothing to do, no punching the time clock, and dealing with Psychiatric patients. I thought it was my destiny to have those people torture me because years ago, I had been one of them.

I spent time in a psychiatric hospital when I was young. I have bipolar disorder, but not depression. I have the wild kind, when people think they’re God, and nobody can tell them otherwise. I hadn’t thought I was the Savior of the Universe in over twenty-five years, but I remember what it was like. I don’t have nightmares anymore, but I take medication to keep myself stitched together, so as not to fall apart like a rag doll with button eyes, filled with stuffing, ready to dissemble if not held together by pills.

I don’t know what I will do without medication on this island.

That should be my main concern, not finding food, or getting rescued. I don’t know how I’ll stay sane. Coconuts fall from the trees. If I wander back on the island, I would find a river or a pond. It’s like I had been here before, in dreams.

I’m wearing loose white pants, a big blue T-shirt, and sandals. These are the only clothes I have. I don’t have any supplies. I pick up a coconut. These aren’t like the ones in the store that are already cut open. I need to smash it to eat it. I find a sharp rock, and smash it in the middle. It doesn’t work. My hands are too weak. I decide to cut it on a scrap of metal from the ship. It slices it, and I drink the milk, then peel the meat from the inside and eat it. I’ve never tasted anything so delicious. Everything we eat in America has so many preservatives; even organic food is processed and expensive. These are free from a tree; I want to find more free food. Maybe I should be happy I’m here, away from my life. I pull my hair back with an elastic I find on my wrist, and walk back into the island.

There is no path, and I push away the bushes to make my way. I see birds and bugs I have never seen. I’m thirsty, and I need to find water.

“Why am I here?” I say out loud.

Nobody answers, of course. I continue.

“Was I sent here to die because my life is useless? Why didn’t I die when the ship went down?”

I listen to the birds. They don’t know what to say back to me. I don’t expect them to answer.

I hear waves from the ocean. I also hear trickling. I follow the sound and see a beautiful waterfall.

“Isn’t this romantic?” I say to the birds. “Let’s see if the water is fresh.”

I scoop out the water, and drink. It’s clean and I gulp it. I wish I had a container so I could take it back to the beach. I look around the pond. Trees with fruit hanging off them surround me. I inspect them closer, and they’re avocado trees. I pick some, and try to open them, but they’re not ripe yet. I pick a bunch and put them on the ground in the sun. I’ll eat them later.

The avocadoes make me happier than I’ve been in a while. Who knew such things grew here? I love avocadoes, and I wish I had some spices to make guacamole, but a person can’t have everything.

I drink more water. I sit in the shade. I listen to the waterfall. I have no fire or shelter. I don’t want to be rescued. I imagine if I went back, my life would be the same. I wish I had a cell phone or even a book. I decide to study the nature instead. I find flowers and insects I have no names for. I pick up a red and black bug. I have never liked bugs, but I wonder if these are edible. I decide if I’m starving, I would eat some. I’m not starving yet.

I drink more water, and look at the waterfall. I could go swimming, but I don’t feel like it yet. I don’t feel like doing anything. I wait for darkness.

I have a difficult time sleeping without my medication. I don’t know if I can sleep here. I can only sleep in a place where I feel completely comfortable. If I’m not, I sleep fitfully. I’m nervous about falling asleep. I have a feeling I should go to the beach, in case people are looking for me. I pick up my avocadoes and take them to the beach. I will come back tomorrow.

I still feel like I’m in a movie. I’ve seen this movie several times. A person is stranded on a desert island, and they want to be rescued. I am not anticipating that. I want to be away from my life for as long as I can. But I don’t know how I can handle the solitude.

On the beach, the sun is setting. I never watch the sunset at home. I usually stay in my house and watch TV. I don’t enjoy nature as much as I should. Now nature is mine. Overdosing on Mother Nature, right before I die. That’s what we should all do. Go back to Earth, and assimilate.

I lean one of the metal scraps up against a palm tree to make a shelter. I don’t have anything to tie it with, but it stays. I get underneath. I don’t feel comfortable, so I go outside, and put some palm fronds under the shelter for a pillow. I lie down and try to sleep. I know I won’t sleep, but I try.

I remember hearing stories about Amelia Earhart being stranded on a desert island after her plane crashed. I wonder if her ghost is haunting this island. I convince myself that this is the island, and her remnants are here. I decide tomorrow I will look for her things.

I don’t know where that idea comes from. I have a memory like an elephant; I never forget anything. I lie under the palm tree, and entertain myself with remembering, and I do not fall asleep.

The next morning, my eyes are still open. I relieve myself in the open air, with all the birds and sky to see. Afterwards, I take a coconut and smash it on the side of the metal. I drink the milk and eat all the meat. I am going to find Amelia.

Amelia Earhart has become an American legend, a mythical figure. She was a romantic heroine, when women were not supposed to be. I want to find her, so I could touch her soul. My eyes are open and my head is awake. I am on an adventure. My avocadoes are not ready to eat. I needed to go back to the water, and then find Amelia.

I trudge back to the waterfall. Everything is the same. I drink water with my hands, then I scoop it in a leaf and gulp it down. I look to the left and the right. I don’t know where to find Amelia. My sense is that she is further into the island. I take a stick and walk through the forest. I walk through the trees for what seems like hours. I cannot find her plane anywhere.

I reach the other side of the island. I find wood in a pile and some bones. Someone was here. Was it Amelia? Did she die here?

I find a canteen, and a knife. These will come in handy. I can’t tell how old the knife is, but it’s covered, and not rusty. Rags scatter around the bones. I know this is Amelia. I kneel and say a prayer. I have faith that she will save me.

I walk back and find my way to the waterfall, and drink more water. I fill the canteen. I pick more avocadoes. I also pick some flowers, and I put them in my hair. Amelia will save me from dying. I know she is the one who brought me here to hear her tell the messages from God to let the world know that everything will be cured for one last time.

I go back to the beach with my new treasures and flowers in my hair. I make sure the cap is tight on the canteen full of water. I slice yesterday’s avocadoes with Amelia’s knife and have a feast, with no tortilla chips. I eat with my hands. If I were brave, I could fish, but I don’t have the capacity to kill anything. I want everyone to live. Except maybe the bugs. I might eat them, if Amelia tells me to.

Night comes, and I lie on my palm frond pillow, and do not sleep again. My head is light and full of Amelia. I wish I had the Internet, so I could learn more about her life. But I have her things, and that is almost as useful. I can touch her knife and her canteen, and tell things about her. I touch them while I am trying to sleep to make sure they’re still there, and her voice echoes in my head.

“Be still,” she says. “Everything will be okay. You are special. You are someone important. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.”

Amelia is my guardian angel. I close my eyes and see my house with nobody in it. It will disappear if I’m not there to take care of it. I have to get back. My sister is probably dead. I have nobody but Amelia.

The next morning, I am awake. I start the day the same way I did the day before, but afterwards I kneel on the beach and pray.

“Dearest Amelia, I know you can save me. I want to be rescued and find out my life is not the same. I want my life to be different. I want to be able to rise above the crowd and do something amazing. I want a fantastic life! Will you help me find one?”

I know in my soul Amelia could hear me. She could probably always hear me. She was always there, watching, waiting, getting ready for the day I would arrive. I walk back to my camp. I take the canteen and the knife and go to the waterfall to get water and avocadoes. Amelia’s spirit comes with me.

At the waterfall, my head buzzes. I decide to swim. I take off my clothes and put them in a pile. I am not a great swimmer, but I can float. Nobody can see me naked, except Amelia because she is always there. I swim in the delicious water. I wish I had soap, but I scrub without it. Under the waterfall, I wet my hair. I have no towel, but I dry in the sun.

I drink water, filling the canteen. I don’t think I could get bored here with Amelia’s spirit. I go back to the beach.

I eat coconuts and avocadoes. I find washed up crabs. I smash them and eat them raw, like sushi. Who needs a restaurant, when everything here is free? I don’t want to go home. I dance on the beach with nobody looking. I am joyful.

The next morning, my eyes are wide open. My head pounds. I repeat what I did the day before. I eat, I pray, I swim, I eat more, I dance. Several days pass in this way. Some days I find crabs, and some I don’t. I talk to Amelia.

“What should I do?” I say.

“Do what you heart tells you to do,” she says.

“My heart tells me to believe in the Universe. And I do!  But I don’t think that’s enough.”

“That’s all you need,” she says.

Just to believe. That’s all I need. My head is spastic, I don’t know if I have the strength to believe. But I have to try.

I pray at night before I pretend to sleep.

“Please bring me back to my life. I don’t think this is enough for me. I think Amelia isn’t telling the truth, and I have to know what’s real.”

That night, a storm comes. I hide underneath the metal from the ship, but I still get wet. I don’t know if God or Amelia has heard me.

That night, I sleep with my eyes open. My mind stops and is awake at the same time. I have a dream I’m home, doing nothing. I’m happy. It’s Saturday, and I am watching a scary movie. Nothing matters except I’m home.

In the morning, I hear helicopters. Someone is looking for me. I run to the beach. “Amelia!” I scream.

The helicopter lands on the beach. I get on my knees and pray.

“Please, Amelia, let everything be okay.”

A man steps out of the helicopter.

“We’ve been looking for you,” he says.

“You found me!” I say, and I cry, falling on the ground.

They take me to Australia, where my sister is waiting. People have been scouring the islands, looking for survivors. I try to explain to people I found Amelia, and how she is a spirit that saved me, but my sister knows I need medication, so she makes sure I get some. I am crazed; I was alone for two weeks; I swam naked under a waterfall and I talked to Amelia Earhart.

We go home, and the psychosis dissipates. I am glad to be back on medication and living normally. But I can still taste the dream, Amelia Earhart’s knife and canteen, and dancing on the beach, with nobody to see but God. God and Amelia know what’s real, though nobody else does. I dream of coconuts and avocadoes and the salt air, and now I’m back, and I deal with things because that’s all I can do, live day to day, and try to not go insane again, and thank Amelia that I’m home, and I have access to medication that keeps me as real as the rain that falls from the clouds, as real as the sun which guides us to where we need to be, and the wind which heaves its strength and keeps us honest.

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About the Author

Shannon O’Connor holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. She has been published in The Wilderness House Literary Review, 365 Tomorrows, previously in Wordgathering and other places. Lately, she has been trying her hand at being an Amelia Earhart impersonator. She lives in the Boston area, and can be found sharing her opinions on her blog