Day 1, 4:45 p.m.
They had survived
forty-foot waves, an explosion and fire at sea, and a week adrift on a
tiny raft. But now Luke Haggerty, Charla Swann, and Ian Sikorsky faced
their greatest challenge so far:
It had fallen off
a tall palm, missing Luke's ear by inches. To three people who had put
nothing but rainwater in their stomachs for seven long days, it represented
what they needed most: food.
Charla, the city
kid, turned it over in her hands. "Where's the opener on this thing?"
"What do you
expect?" Luke shot back. "A pull tab?"
It was a joke, but
it underscored the tension and fear in the group. Will Greenfield, the
fourth survivor, lay unconscious and unmoving on a beach not far away.
He needed medical attention. Probably they all did. But they were far
from any doctor or hospital, stranded on a on a what? It had to
be an island. But how big an island? And where? It was anybody's guess.
Be grateful, Luke
reminded himself. You're alive.
But he was not grateful.
Captain Cascadden wasn't alive. Lyssa Greenfield and J.J. Lane weren't
alive. Luke felt their absence in his every breath, an overwhelming sadness
that weighed on him as heavily as exhaustion and dehydration.
What was so special
about Luke that he deserved to live when others had perished? Why was
he still here?
Or maybe the luck
wasn't so good after all. The hunger felt more powerful than death. Forget
hunger pangs. Luke hadn't felt those in days. Instead, there was a grinding
hollow emptiness where his stomach should have been. The sensation was
so intense that it seemed to go outside the limits of his skin. With it
came a nervous trembling weakness that was only going to get worse.
And here was this
coconut . . .
"You have to
break it," explained Luke, banging it on the damp ground. "You
have to get through that tough skin." He snatched up a rock and began
bashing it against the greenish shell. "It takes patience!"
He picked it up and hurled it at a tree. "Open, you miserable, rotten
It bounced off with
a thwack and hit the ground, unbroken.
Ian spoke up. "I
once saw a documentary about native tribes who could crack coconuts with
their bare hands."
"Did you bother
to find out how they did it?" Luke asked irritably.
Ian shook his head.
"That was in Part Two. They showed it the night I left for this trip."
The three exchanged
a stricken look. It was hard to believe that, barely two weeks ago, they
had been safe at home, packing for Charting a New Course, a monthlong
boat excursion meant to help troubled youth.
Charla sounded slightly
hysterical. "It's like starving to death at Thanksgiving dinner!"
she cried. She picked up the fallen coconut, spun around, and hurled it
like a discus into the jungle.
exclaimed Ian. "I heard it!"
They rushed into
the dense trees, but their coconut was nowhere to be seen. Vines and underbrush
snatched at their legs.
Luke grabbed a branch
and began hacking away at the tangle. The coconut! The food! It had to
be down here somewhere! He began to flail wildly, like a crazed golfer
in knee-deep rough. He roared in anger; it was stupid, he knew
a waste of valuable energy when there was so little left. But his frustration
mixed with his hunger, and he didn't care, couldn't help himself. . .
Charla grabbed him from behind. "Stop it! It's only a coconut."
"Guys!" came Ian's excited voice. "Over here!"
They followed his
call to a small grove of leafy tropical trees and shrubs. There the younger
boy was gathering an armload of strange green fruits that had fallen to
Charla wrinkled her
nose. "What stinks?"
"These are durians,"
Ian explained breathlessly. "They have a strong odor, but they're
food." He broke one open against a tree trunk and handed half to
Luke. The powerful smell tripled.
Luke stared at it.
"You're kidding, right?" The thick skin was covered in spikes.
It looked more like a deadly weapon than a fruit.
Charla accepted a
piece, handling it as if it might explode. "But how do we
know it isn't poison?"
Ian plucked out a
gigantic seed and began to eat the grayish mush around it. "There
was this documentary on TV," he began, mouth full.
Luke and Charla locked
eyes. They had learned from experience that Ian was never wrong about
something he'd seen on television. His stockpile of knowledge had saved
their lives more than once on the raft.
They fell on the
offering like starving sharks. It wasn't good, Luke reflected. It wasn't
even acceptable. But in his voracious hunger, he barely noticed, gorging
himself on fruit the consistency of gritty pudding, but with an odd garlicky
flavor. Back home, he wouldn't have given this stuff table room. But here
he ate greedily, even crunching the rock-hard seeds because Ian said they
needed the protein.
The feast soon turned
into a frenzy. After no food for so long, once they started eating, they
couldn't stop themselves. The three stumbled around the grove in a fever
of appetite, tripping and falling over the dozens of discarded rinds even
as they rushed to break open new fruit. The rough spikes scratched their
knees and shins, yet none of them felt the sting. Nothing mattered, nothing
but the breathless race to get on the outside of as much nourishment as
As he stuffed himself,
at long last Luke could feel his stomach again, back where it belonged
and comfortably full. The sensation came along with something unexpected
sudden, overpowering sleepiness. All at once, his eyelids were
so heavy that he couldn't keep them from closing.
Drowsy panic. Had
they poisoned themselves?
The others must have
experienced it too. Just before he lost consciousness, he heard Charla
say, "God, what did we eat? I can't stay awake!"
Seconds later, the
three of them lay motionless, the remnants of their feast still scattered