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Marooned by Stefan Lutter| flash fiction | #thesideshow

The tour guide pointed at him and said, ‘off’. Any more would be unnecessary, any less, rude. So Lewis stood with sand and water swirling around his ankles as the small boat sped away from the island. Sharon facing backward, one hand up, surrounded by the diamond water. Pale and weak next to the rippled guide.

How much did this little incident cost? It was nice that she had planned some sort of surprise for him, an extra experience, but he could have done without it. He ran through estimates, and then compared with his running laundry list of aspirational purchases. He thought how he might thank her for this while hinting that, in fact, he wasn’t thankful, and that he might have preferred something else entirely, and could she maybe take note and remember that in the future. An overpriced, theatrical experience might warrant a lecture about PWC – Purchases Without Consultation – were he the purveyor. But Sharon seemed immune to her own mandates. Anything over $250 was supposed to trigger an SED – Serious Expenditure Discussion. God, he hoped this didn’t cost more than $250.

But then adventure had been the theme of the cruise, complete with branding that featured catch phrases misspelled in new and interesting ways. A learning experience called edventure, lower case e, clean font, bright color. The trip was brimming with side offers aggressively advertised sans price.

Maybe this is a little too off base though, for a cruise-sanctioned event. Helpless tourist on island, unattended, liable to fall victim to natives, wildlife, hunger? Insurance might have issues, undue risk and so on.

It must have been a discrete job, under-the-table, not signed off by anyone but the man driving the boat, and maybe the requisition officer monitoring use of subsidiary cruise craft. Conjured up by Sharon. A major surprise for their first vacation together in how long. His mind raced- a marriage proposal? A baby announcement? What are other big, noteworthy occasions for people in normal relationships? Because that’s what they were part of.

Alright, he understood that to achieve the desired effect, she had to disappear over the horizon. She might have needed a prop, something that would have given away the surprise had she brought it with them to the island. He envisioned her hydroplaning back toward him, a steel band playing tunes on the small deck, a sign flying high over the wake – WILL YOU MARRY ME? But couldn’t she have left some extra sunblock? He sat under a small bunch of trees, but the water and sand reflected the sun so powerfully before long his skin was taut and red and his lips dry and cracked.

He couldn’t judge the time from the position of the sun, especially at this foreign latitude where all nature’s indicators were alien to him, but definitely some considerable time had passed. Was high, now was low. There must be a problem; something with the boat? Guide caught and reprimanded by management? But all he had was his swim trunks, the gallon of water he had been holding when he hopped off the boat, and a tank top held tight by his belly. No phone, no nothing.

Being honest, he was expecting something this vacation. Sharon had always been the assertive one in the relationship, and he sort of deferred significant steps to her. She had asked him out. She had asked him up to her apartment. She had asked him to move in. She had reserved the cruise (without preliminary SED). He had gotten used to it.

The sun began sinking into the sea and he was grateful for the concession. He gathered himself up and ventured inland, but not so far that he could not hear the shore. If Sharon did return during the night, the motor should wake him, steel band or not.

In the morning his stomach screamed and all he could do was run down a list of survival skills that he had once possessed but no longer did. How to start a fire, how best to filter drinking water in a pinch, how to set a trap. He could picture the teachers – his father, his scout troop leader, a friend – and even certain steps, but could not assemble them into a functioning system.

He walked to the water and surveyed the horizon but there was no sign of Sharon, the boat, the guide, the cruise. Humanity was in absentia. He sat in the sand with the gallon jug in his lap and nursed it carelessly.

First he estimated hours, by assembling rocks into a pile on the sand. Then he expanded into days and counted them on his ribs. He dragged his feet along the beach, spelling HELP in the sand, but the tide came in to erase his work and the second time around the process was excruciating.

The tour guide came to Lewis in the night and offered his condolences.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘no hard feelings.’

‘Is this what happened?’ asked Lewis.

Sharon hung in the background, eyes averted, no hand raised. Definitely no steel band or flying sign.

Lewis ignored her, and focused on the tour guide. ‘I want to know why you left the water.’ He waved the weightless plastic jug.

‘Oh,’ said the tour guide. ‘That was just an accident.’

Ok, thought Lewis. Now I just need to know the cost of this excursion.


About the Author:

Stefan Lutter is a New Yorker but not the kind you see on TV. He was born and raised in rural Upstate where he still resides. His work has been featured in Word Riot.