Hello. My name is Damian Alders. I was born in the town of Stonington, Connecticut in 1981. My parents are Joseph and Amelia Alders and I have one brother, Alexander. I was aboard the Oasis of the Seas with Tara Sanders when the storm hit. I don’t know how many survivors there are or where I am, but I am hoping that if something happens to me you will find this. If something happens to me, please tell my parents and Alexander that I love them. I will see them again.
Damian’s back was aching. He had been sitting in the same position for well over an hour. The sun had passed from directly overhead to an odd angle that made it difficult to see. As he adjusted his legs, the freshly scorched sand burned the bottoms of both feet. But he didn’t care. He hadn’t truly felt anything in days.
He took the small slip of paper and laid it neatly beside him in a small patch of shade generated by a massive palm tree a few yards away. He laid fully out on the sand, paying no mind to the stinging of the tiny grains superheated by the sun. He took an oversized palm leaf and placed it over his face and shoulders. He tried to dream, but there was nothing.
The cool droplets against his burnt body startled him. He opened his eyes just as the tiny drops turned into an ocean falling from the sky. Instinctively, he rolled over and used his body as a barrier to protect the tiny masterpiece. The rain washed over his back, but the tiny paper was safe.
For several minutes the rain fell. Damian retained his position as a protector of his sacred text, afraid to move for fear that the moisture would ruin the only material he had found suitable for writing. He read the words over and over as his body began to shiver from the elements. Between strong gusts of wind and stinging rain, he could see the sun peeking through the clouds. He had been asleep for some time now, it was close to evening.
As the clouds and rain moved on and nested out over the ocean, Damian returned to his feet. His joints ached down to the core. He hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since the accident, using rocks, leaves and small branches as pillows and covers and the softest sand on the island as his bed. But the nights were cold and his clothing was wet and tattered. Plus, the sounds. The strange, eerie echoes that played off in the distance like a record throughout the night. The sounds were truly what kept him awake.
And it was almost that time again. Damian picked up the letter – written on the back of a half-torn envelope – and carefully placed it into the breast pocket on his shirt. He was still wearing what he had on that day: cargo shorts and a blue, red and pink button-up shirt. It was a favorite of his, even if Tara was not particularly fond of it. He returned to his usual camping spot on the edge of the thickest group of palm trees and the massive white sand beach. The wood was still smoking from the night before and the embers glowed a dark red, muted by the rain that had washed over it.
He gathered a few twigs and dried grass and placed it on the spot of the once-roaring fire, but knew another night of warmth was most likely out of the question. The fact that he got a fire started in the first place was a miracle. Getting it started again with damp wood would be impossible. Damian searched the edge of the forest, looking for any fruits or edible material, but for the second night in a row returned mostly empty handed. He found half a dozen nearly-rotted black berries hanging from a vine about a mile out from camp – the furthest he had ventured yet – and ate them in one giant gulp. The sour taste gave way to instant relief, but quickly returned to sharp pains in his gut as he had only further roused his appetite.
This was going to be another long night.
Nine days had passed since the storm. Asleep in a massive queen bed aboard one of the grandest ships on the water beside his girlfriend of two years, Damian was awoken from a particular erotic dream by the thud of his head hitting the corner of the nightstand. He had been forcefully rolled out of bed as the massive vessel rocked back and forth on the sea. Tara, as per the norm, was unaffected by the swaying. She was safely secured to the bed through an unnatural sleeping position, both arms hugging the mattress and her left leg claiming the spot where Damian had previously been.
Without waking her, Damian made his way out the door to the deck of the massive ship. Screams and loud banging echoed through the halls. With every other step he had to brace himself against the walls, clinging to door handles and large picture frames to stay upright. When he reached the main deck, a bolt of lightning instantly alerted him to the danger. The ship was rising and falling with each wave, sometimes disappearing behind massive swells. He turned to alert Tara to the situation, but only made it a few steps before slamming to the floor. Water rushed over him as a massive wave breached the side of the ship. As he returned to his feet, he could feel the ship lean heavily to the side, but this time it did not return to its usual upright position. Crashes. Banging. Screaming. Damian crawled up the side of the wall, grabbing a life vest that had been washed down the tiny hallway. For hours he fought. For hours he and other vacationers on the massive vessel tried to help others out of their rooms and to safety.
But the storm was relentless. The wind. The rain. The massive, earth-swallowing waves. More than once Damian gave up, prepared to let the sea devour him. But each time, a new hope. A new salvation. Eventually he would end up on a broken piece of the ship. Eventually the storm and the screams would subside. Eventually he would be alone at sea. Eventually, he would end up on this godforsaken island.
The night was as cold as any before it, a direct result of the evening storm. No amount of leaves or lush pampas grass could shield him from the night. Trying to put the pain out of his mind, Damian stared out over the vastness of the sea, listening to the soft rhythm of waves hitting the shoreline. Only the occasional bout of seizure-like shivering broke his trance.
And then he heard it. Again. A howling. Not like a dog, or a wolf, but a deep bass of a howl that would be more fitting coming out of a large, hefty animal like a hippopotamus or rhinoceros. But he had seen no animals. Not a one. Despite several trips into the jungle during his weeks stay, nothing. He had seen broken branches and notches high up on trees that looked like they could have been made by something living, but no actual evidence of an animal or creature had presented itself during his adventures. He did find the occasional lizard or snake, but nothing that could make a sound like this.
He sat up and peered into the darkness emanating from the thick forest. It was a particularly gloomy night with clouds providing a thick haze over the moon.
The sound continued for what seemed like hours. Every attempt at shutting his eyes failed him by another scream. Yeah, that’s it! It sounds like a scream. Damian thought maybe this wasn’t coming from an animal, but instead his imagination. Was it the scream of the passengers? The old man he helped from his room only to get washed away by the rush of the ocean? Was it the screams of Tara, amplified by the horror of awakening to such a scene and no sign of her lover. He put both hands over his ears to try and stop the madness.
The warmth was the first thing to wake Damian. An embracing warmth like that of an early-morning shower. Then the rays beaming through the trees, creating a mixture of light and dark dancing on his eyelids. And then a crash.
Damian leapt to his feet, paying no mind to the tiny lizard that had taken up residence on his chest. The crash was accompanied by massive gusts of wind and then the same haunting sounds that filled the forest the night before. A mist had settled over the island once again making it impossible to see very far beyond the closest palms. Damian peered into the clouded beyond and was startled by another deep, bass-filled scream. And then another. And another.
On day one, he would have never considered following the sound. On day four, he would have sat back down and prayed that the noises went away. Even on day seven he would have returned to the water and taken in a morning swim and ignored the horrors of the forest. But on this day, more than a week stuck on the island, safety was the last thing on his mind. Escape. Survival. Answers to questions. That was what dominated his thoughts these days.
Damian armed himself with the only weapon he could find on such short notice, a large piece of driftwood that sat on the edge of the water, and walked into the mist. Instantly his skin was cold to the touch. The tiny hairs on his arms alerted to attention. The tiny droplets in the air refracted the sunlight in unnatural ways, creating all manner of shapes and shadows on the trees and the forest floor. With the exception of an occasional gust of wind and a faint sound resembling a moan, the loudest of the noises had ceased.
Damian looked at his watch, which still showed a blank digital screen. It had been dead since his first day on the island, but old habits die hard. He could tell by the position of the sun, which had begun to dominate the lifting fog, that he had been walking for several hours. This was the furthest he had been on the island. Afraid that he wouldn’t be able to find his way back to camp – a loose term to describe his indent in the sand – Damian never ventured more than an hour’s walk from camp. Something about the faint possibility of being rescued exactly where he washed ashore kept him from venturing too far from his makeshift home.
And his fears were proven true. After walking for much of the morning, the fog and strange shadows left him disoriented and lost. Where he had come from and where he was going blurred into one. All he knew was that the sun was nearly overhead, which mean that it was almost noon, and he wouldn’t be able to walk much longer as exhaustion began to overtake his body. He rested on the trunk of an overturned tree and gave a full 360 degree examination of his surroundings. As far as he could see existed a thick layer of tall trees and tropical plants. The morning coolness had given way to a stifling afternoon heat. The humidity placed thick layers of sweat on every part of his body. By this point if an animal didn’t kill him, the lack of food and water would.
As his vision began to blur from a mixture of hunger, thirst and complete, overwhelming exhaustion, the sound that had haunted his dreams every night since his arrival returned, only this time it was deafening. A loud roar pierced his ears, followed by an avalanche of trees falling around him. The ground shook in a pulsating rhythm. Then the world went dark. Where there once was sunlight was now a shadow and in the center of the ring of trees now uprooted and sticking out of the earth in odd shapes was a creature. Not a lizard or a snake, something much bigger.
The monster stood on two powerful legs with talons digging up layers of dark red dirt. Its body stretched high above the tallest of the palms, with two long arms that grasped the tops of the trees. Its head was round and jagged, with horns jutting out of the oddest of places. Its mouth was pointed with teeth hanging down well below the jawline. Down its back was a row of rocky spikes several feet in length. And out from the stone-like structures on its back, piercing its shoulder blades, were two wings that seemed to eclipse the sun. With every exhale the trees danced and bent. Its breath was warm and smelled of sulfur.
Damian leapt behind the fallen tree. The thought of this piece of wood in the middle of the forest acting as some sort of barrier against what stood in front of him almost made him laugh. He watched as the creature stood, its head darting side-to-side like a bird seeking its prey. After several moments, it lowered down onto its arms and began sniffing the dirt and fallen trees below. Damian made himself as flat as possible against the palm. His skin began to bleed from the force of his body against the rough bark.
The beast shook its mighty head as it surveyed its surroundings. It flapped its wings, causing more trees to be uprooted and scatter across the forest. Its head was so big that it dominated the skyline. Its eyes were red, with two gold and black dots in the center. He could see heat emanating from its mouth as the objects just beyond it were obscured by warm vapors. It shifted its head side-to-side looking for something. Was it him? Was there something else nearby? Damian didn’t wait to find out. With every sweep of the head, it got closer to his tiny fortress. As it turned away from him, Damian leapt to his feet and gingerly hobbled half-hunched away from the massive beast. Every few feet he caught a glance over his shoulder. Even though he was running away from it, it never truly shrank in the distance.
As he reached a thick cluster of trees, Damian dove behind the largest of the tan and brown plants and rested his back against its bark. He tried to catch his breath, but his lungs could not keep up with the fear and exhaustion driving them. He lowered into a half squat, putting his head between his arms to try and help his body catch up. He could hear the giant lizard off in the distance, its breath still gusting over the flora.
Damian fell fully to his rear, feeling the weight of the moment catching up to him. The forest began to spin as he tried to put aside the hunger and the thirst, and his newfound fear. He leaned his head back against the tree for a moment. And then it was gone. Damian was thrown aside as the massive trunk of the palm tree was uprooted and thrown across the thicket like a twig. His head hit the ground in an unnatural way, causing his ears to ring and his already blurry vision to darken. All he could see were shapes. The outlines of trees. A round glowing orb in the sky. And then teeth.
The monster was standing over Damian’s broken body. Its head lowered and turned to the side. One massive eye was locked onto him, its pupils adjusting as its head lowered from the treetops to the shaded forest below. He could see reddish and orange foam frothing from its mouth, with each drop sizzling and instantly scorching the plant life below. Damian’s arm began to burn when a residual splash on a nearby tree reached his skin. The mighty creature turned its head and let out a roar. The sound instantly sent Damian’s hearing to join his other senses, wherever they had gone. But before he went deaf, he heard that distinctive bass sound that had haunted his nights for so long now.
“His pulse is weak, but he is alive.”
A paramedic in a dark blue jumpsuit rolled Damian’s body onto his back. She pulled his eyelids apart and shined a light, checking for any sort of response. She touched his cheek and forehead, they were cold and covered in sweat and dirt. She put an ear to his mouth and could hear faint breathing.
“Can someone get me some towels and water?”
Damian let in a deep breath, and then vomited. A pale white foam began to form in his mouth. His body began to seize.
“I need some help over here!”
The lady in the dark blue jumpsuit rolled Damian onto his side and began to forcefully pat his back. As she turned him, his arm rolled to the side and released his grip as a small handful of blackberries rolled onto the ground alongside a crumpled piece of paper.
Though he couldn’t express it, Damian could sense everything. The pressure on his back from the lady in the dark blue jumpsuit. The smell of vomit and the sea. Footsteps in the sand around him. The piece of paper that contained his last words on this earth. And then a horn. Off in the distance a horn from a massive ship echoed across the ocean. It cut straight through Damian.
The horn sounded like a howl. Not a normal howl, but a deep bass of a howl that would be more fitting coming out of a large, hefty animal like a hippopotamus or rhinoceros.