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Thunder and lightning strike the black sky and the smell of gasoline fills the atmosphere. Danger! Danger! Code red! But no one is answering and no one can save us. The radio suddenly dies and we plummet to the ground with no sense of direction. We say a quick prayer hoping our deaths are quick and painless and think of our families. Suddenly, there is a crash, a scraping of metal, and then the world fades to black.
I am Melanie and I attend Kitsilano Secondary School home of the Blue Demons. I have always been more shy and a good girl or as my best friend Sara calls it a “goody two shoes”. So what if I am not always the first one to jump at the opportunity to do something insane that could get me grounded or arrested, I don’t want to be Vancouver’s most wanted! My friend Sara and I always talk and laugh how we should travel the world together, but we both know that will never happen. Sara is spontaneous and can light up a room with her energy, so why would she choose to travel with me? Well just you wait and see….
It was early March in Vancouver, British Columbia and everything was damp with rain and the sky above was dark and dreary as I stepped outside to meet Sara. Everyone that lives in Vancouver knows that from October to April there is mostly rain and sometimes snow or hail. The sun’s rays don’t touch our pasty skin until spring and summer when we lounge outside for hours, soaking up as much as we can get. Don’t get me wrong Vancouver’s great, but there is only so much rain I can take.
“Hey Mel, what’s up?” Sara asked excitedly.
“Not much, I just can’t wait for this miserable weather to stop.” I said annoyed.
“I know….” she said mischievously.
Sara had a strange gleam in her eye, a look that only I, her best friend could identify as bad news.
“Sara…. What are you up to?” I said warily.
“I thought you would never ask. Ok, when I was in Socials Studies with Mrs. Wilson, she was explaining about our schools exchange program. She was saying there is one going to Guatemala from YVR and I was wondering if you wanted to go with me?” she said smiling innocently.
“What!?” I said astonished
“Mel, don’t freak out I just really want to go on this trip with you. It won’t be just us either it will be about twelve students with a few teachers as chaperones. They want to take us to Guatemala to do charity work like building schools for children less fortunate.” she finished.
“I don’t know…. I mean, I want to do charity work for volunteer hours, but I am not sure. How long is the trip? How much is it? What do I pack? What if….”
“Calm down, my mom said I could and it costs about $800 total, It’s about $155 for the flight from Vancouver to Mexico then $350 from Mexico to Guatemala then a $300 for the boarding fee. So… do you want to go with me?” she said.
“I don’t know I will ask my mom.” she said quietly.
I walked to school with Sara thinking about this amazing opportunity. I wanted to go really badly, but a voice inside my mind kept telling me it was a bad idea. I knew what I would do. I would ask my mom later. I need to get out of my comfort zone and be more spontaneous. I was ready for an adventure.
When school finally ended I went home quickly, because go figure it had started to rain. When I arrived home my mom was sitting on her laptop typing fiercely. She looked up when she saw me come in and gave me a warm, motherly smile. I sat down seriously and she sensed something was going on.
“Mel, what’s wrong?” she asked not looking up from her laptop.
“Nothing…. I have something I need to ask you?” I started.
“Is it about a boy?” her mother asked curiously.
“No. Mom how come whenever a girl wants to ask their mother something it is always about a guy? I wanted to ask you if I could go to Guatemala with Sara for an exchange program at school. We get to build schools for the children there and they would come here and live a normal life like us.” I finished breathless.
“Wow! I am shocked that you’re interested in something like this. You never have been the type to travel. I don’t see why we couldn’t do it. How much are we looking at?”
“About $800….” I said nervously.
“Ok that sounds ok I will write a cheque and fill the forms out later. Why the sudden change about travelling?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I want to be different from who I am, more adventurous and outside the box, not a stick in the mud and boring.” I said sadly.
“You’re not boring. Everyone is different in their own way. Don’t ever forget that no matter where you are.” she said with a smile on her face.
I left the kitchen feeling good, like I have accomplished something amazing. I went up to my room and looked out my window and the starry sky. It was a full moon tonight, a sign of luck. I texted Sara saying I would be there and dozed off dreaming of the adventure I was about to embark on.
Three weeks had passed since my mother and I discussed Guatemala and I have been insanely busy since. I have been shopping with Sara and my mom to prepare for my trip, packing and unpacking. I am only aloud to bring one suitcase, but that just won’t cut it. I need back up outfits just in case. My mother doesn’t understand this logic; she only understands that it will cost her more. I looked at my calendar that hung on the wall and April 1st was circled in bright purple felt. Only one more week left and I would be setting off to another country. My stomach started to tighten and a tear ran down my cheek, it was a two week trip without my mom. A big lump formed in my throat and my brown hair was sticking to my face. I suddenly heard a creak from behind me, I turned around and my mother was standing in the doorway also with tears in her eyes. She hugged me and I choked back a sob, I was leaving the nest and getting ready to fly. When I pulled away she looked at me with a smile and I knew she was proud of me.
April 1st came so fast that I almost felt overwhelmed. When we got to the airport I hugged my mom and proceeded through security. I had my suitcase in one hand and my pride in the other. The last thing I wanted was for everyone to see me cry, so I had my game face on ready to board. Luckily Sara and I had a seat together so at least I had someone to talk to and someone to help calm me down. We took our seats and I looked out the window, gray clouds were looming above us and a shiver went up my spine.
“It looks like a storm is coming.” I said my teeth chattering.
“It will be fine. These pilots know what they are doing. It will blow over by the time we land in Mexico.” she waved with a sigh.
“I hope you’re right.” I sighed softly and dozed off.
When we landed in Mexico at 1:25 PM I was wide awake and ready to go. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins and the sun was beating on my back. Sara and I got off of the plane and she started to walk over to a small prop plane. I stopped in my tracks, suddenly out of breath and my heart was thudding in my chest. My feet felt like cement and my legs wouldn’t move at all. Sara turned around and waved me over, but I still couldn’t move.
“Mel, you need to come on or we will miss the flight!” she yelled urgently.
“I don’t know if I can do it. That plane is so small and it looks unstable. What if something happens?” I said terrified.
“You will be fine. People take planes all of the time. It is completely safe, now let’s go or we will miss our chance at the adventure of a lifetime.” she said smiling.
“Ok. Let’s go!” I said enthusiastically.
We stepped onto the plane and found our seats which was no lazy boy, it was more like sitting on a lawn chair; uncomfortable and small. Thank goodness I had my best friend beside me and not some strange old lady who told stories like “back in my day” and “in the good old days” while knitting a pair of socks. As we started to take off I looked out the window at the scenery below. The people looked like tiny specks and the cars looked like ants crawling down the freeway. I smiled to myself despite the discomfort and stared out the window, my heart beating with excitement. My smile soon faded as I saw a bolt of lightning strike the gray sky. My stomach started to sink and my palms started to sweat, it was not because of the temperature. Suddenly the plane jerked sideways and I saw smoke coming off of the propeller. My eyes bulged and Sara looked at me terror. She grabbed my hand and all of a sudden the plane lurched sideways and plunged to the ground. My stomach was in my throat and I tried to scream, but no sound came out. Danger! Danger! Code red! Then the plane slammed against the hard ground and there was a creak of metal and the smell of gas, I looked at Sara and she was slumped in her seat unconscious. I felt dizzy and blackness swallowed me up.
The world was a blur and my head felt like it was made of cement. Everything hurt and I tasted blood. My stomach churned and I tried to open my eyes. I saw a shadow looming above me and I quickly sat up, but soon regretted it because I almost passed out again. I looked up and was face to face with Sara and I thought I was going to cry with happiness, I hugged her and she helped me too my feet. My whole body felt like a giant bruise as I slowly limped to the crash scene. The plane was still smoking and the roof was completely torn off. I sucked in a deep breath and prayed everyone made it out alive. Sara read my mind.
“Don’t worry everyone from school survived, except the pilot. We weren’t able to find his body so it probably washed away in the water.” she said sadly.
“Oh my god! Are you ok?! I don’t even remember what happened, I remember we were in the air, crashed and everything went black.” I said breathlessly.
“I am fine, just bruised and I might have a sprained ankle. The crash was horrifying and I too passed out so I don’t remember anything either.” she said.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
“A bunch of us were looking in the forest for supplies to build a shelter or looking for people that are injured like when I found you. Fortunately there was a bag of basic supplies in the plane, like power bars, water, rope, axe and first aid kit and we have the supplies we brought from our backpacks.” she said seriously.
We walked in silence down the beach as the waves crashed on the shore line and the sun beat down on the backs of our heads. Thank goodness the storm had passed because the worst possibility would have been sleeping outside with no shelter, in the pouring rain, with thunder and lightning. I surveyed the beach and saw no civilization what so ever, not even a pay phone lying around. I wonder what my parents were thinking right now or even if they knew about the crash. I pulled out my cellphone to check for messages, but there was no signal. I couldn’t even make a call. I felt sick to my stomach and I had a thought: “What if we never get home?” Sara led me through the forest until we ended up at our campsite. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at us like we were foreign creatures. I sat down on one of the damp logs and hoped that I could magically turn invisible. Everyone looked solemn, battered and bruised and I felt like an outsider. I saw Sara stand up and limp into the forest, so I decided to follow her. She heard me coming and turned around with tears in her eyes. I hugged her and we stayed like that for about five minutes taking everything in. No one said a word, but we didn’t have to. We just knew.
That night when we all huddled under the “shelter”, I felt the sickness of hunger deep in my stomach and wondering if I will die. The teachers wanted to ration the food in case we ended up staying for longer than a few days, but is that really it? Or are they trying to hide the fact that no one knows where we are? I tossed and turned all night until I cried myself to sleep.
Days came and went and everyone worked robotically. If I wasn’t carrying or boiling water, I was collecting food or searching for civilization. We had been on this island for over one week and our food supply was diminishing. I was starting to lose hope. But I still had to keep fighting for my family and more importantly myself. Sometimes when I was done my chores, I would slip away from camp and explore the forest looking for a clue for how to get home. Most of the time I would just sit and listen to the sounds of the warm wind and birds sing their lovely songs and I knew that things would be ok.
We were going on our second week being stuck on the island and the exhaustion and hunger was starting to set in. Everyone was irritable and very fatigued. The muscles in my legs felt like cement and my arms felt like they weighed 100 pounds, but I had to keep going. Sara was on the verge of a mental breakdown. She would sporadically start weeping about nothing and I needed to get home and see my family. A plan was forming in my head and I knew exactly what we should do.
That night I packed up a backpack of the basics; food, water, flashlight and a tarp. I was going to go explore the island a lot more than what I have been. I woke up at dawn and headed into the forest. No one noticed I was gone because I was the first one awake. The island was lush and green with plants and trees everywhere. I had to pick my way through the greenery and tie ribbon to the trees so I wouldn’t get lost. The sun was starting to rise and beads of sweat were forming on the back of my neck. Mosquitos and other bugs were attacking my bare legs and arms and I was getting angrier by the second. I looked to my right and I saw two yellow eyes staring back at me. I shrieked and ran as fast as my tired legs would carry me. As I was running for dear life I tripped over a hidden tree root and went tumbling to the ground. Pain shot through my ankle and wrist, making it almost impossible to stand up. I gritted my teeth and leaned up against a tree for support. Footsteps were behind me and panic started to rise in my stomach, I quickly hid behind the tree hoping no one would see me. I saw a girl come running through the bush and soon realized it was Sara!
“Sara!” I yelled.
“Mel? What happened?” she said hugging me quickly.
“I tripped over a tree root and I think I sprained my ankle and wrist.” I said gritting my teeth.
“Why are you all the way over here? We thought you had died or something. You really scared me.” she said quietly.
“I was trying to find something that would help us get home. I would have told you, but you seemed so depressed lately and I didn’t want you to tell everyone.” I said seriously.
“Well we need to get your ankle and wrist looked at. Let’s go back to camp.” she said.
“No! Let’s go deeper into the forest. I will wrap my arm with some branches and I have some ribbon.” I said defiantly.
“Are you insane!? We can’t leave camp. You need to get this looked at.” she said angrily.
“Come on Sara. Aren’t you always the one that says you need to live a little and be adventurous; well I have a good feeling about this.” I said.
“Ok…” she said with a sigh.
We headed into the forest, not saying a word to each other. I think that was the longest we have never spoken to each other since we became friends. Sara and I stopped for a quick snack and were right back on our trek. It felt like we had been walking for hours and the sun was starting to set. I stifled a yawn, but kept moving and so did Sara. I suddenly spotted a light up ahead and started to walk a little faster with excitement. As the trees cleared away I saw a little, rickety cottage. I almost screamed with excitement. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Sara and I wandered over to the front door and knocked lightly. No sound came from inside the house, so I turned the knob slowly and sure enough it was unlocked. I peered inside and the cottage looked dusty with cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling. There was a small kitchen with a sink, oven, stove and a tiny fridge. The small cottage had one main living room, a bathroom and a bedroom. The cottage was vacant and it looked like the house was well kept. The floor was clean and the dishes had been done and stacked in the cupboards. I wandered around the some more and found nothing unusual. Suddenly, there was a crack and a snap of twigs. The sound of a knob turning on the front door and I came face to face with an old man who’s beard hung to his waist, wearing torn and tattered clothing that reeked of sweat and fish. I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out, I felt frozen in place like my feet were made of cement. The man locked eyes with me for what seemed like forever and then he laughed. He hollered and hooted for so long I thought he was going to run out of oxygen. Sara came in the room and we stood there dumbfounded watching the old man laughing hysterically. When he was able to catch his breath, he started firing questions at me.
“Where are you guys from? Are there more y’all? How did you find me?” he babbled.
“Hold on! One question at a time. Can you at least tell us your name?” I said questioningly.
“Sorry, my name is Bill.” he said.
“I am Mel and this is Sara. So Bill, how did you end up here?” I asked curiously.
“Well, it started ten years ago when I was trying to fly to Panama for a vacation with my wife. We were supposed to board the plane in Vancouver at 12 noon. Right before it boarded, I quickly had to go to the washroom. When I came back, my flight was loading or so I thought. Turns out it was the wrong flight. When we landed a man told me he knew where Panama was and that he would take me on his boat. When we set off for Panama there was a major storm and a wave crashed over the boat. The boat tipped and we crashed into the water. I tried to save him, but I was too late. I swam and swam until my arms burned and screamed with pain. Over time I found this dumpy old shack and cleaned it up with some tools that were left. Up until now I haven’t seen any humans in ten years.”
“Oh my god! That is the most tragic story I have ever heard.” Sara said with tears in her eyes.
“Yeah it isn’t exactly a happy ending.” he said sadly “How did you guys get here?”
“We were taking a school trip to Guatemala for charity work and our plane crashed here.” I said.
“Wow that is horrible. Did anyone get hurt?” he said with concern.
“The pilot died, but everyone else is fine other than minor injuries.”
Bill, Sara and I talked for what seemed like hour. The pain in my ankle and wrist ceased and I figured it was just bruised. The sun was starting to set and we said our goodbyes. I was feeling a glimmer of hope because we found another human being, but he has been here for a long time with no plan for escape. I have to find a way out, I need to. We arrived back at camp no one said a word and some people were asleep. Sara and I made plans to visit Bill tomorrow and it was the first night that I slept soundly throughout the whole night.
I awoke to the sounds of leaves rustling and howler monkeys in the distance. Sara was already up and was snacking on a banana. I grabbed my backpack and we headed into the forest to Bills house. He answered the door with a gleam in his eye almost feeling that there was hope after all. We sat down at his little table trying to brainstorm some ideas for escape. We had come up with building a raft, lighting an SOS sign on fire on the beach and just building a fire. I was looking around his home and came across a flashlight and had an idea.
“Hey guys what if we make a bigger light bulb or spotlight to beam into the sky? Maybe the light could attract a plane or helicopter?” I said.
"That’s a great idea, but how do we build that?'' Sara said.
Bill leaves the room and is gone for what seems like hours and returns with a single lightbulb in his hand. He smiles and it reaches his eyes and I finally have a warm feeling in my stomach that everything will be okay.
"I think maybe we should combine as many flashlights as we can to try and make a huge spotlight instead of using lightbulbs." I said enthusiastically.
"Yeah! That could work. It's too bad we don't have a real spotlight. What if the batteries run out or worse what if this doesn't work!?" Sara said with terror in her eyes.
"We need to stay positive and pray that this will work and we will be home safe and sound soon." Bill said seriously, his eyes hard and his lips in a thin line across his mouth.
I worked with Bill and Sara until my hands were trembling and my brow was creased with sweat. My stomach grumbled and I realized I missed lunch. "Not like I haven't gone hungry before" I thought as I went outside for some fresh air. The air smelled fresh with a slight chill that made the hairs on my neck stand up. The leaves rustled and a twig snapped behind me. My mind told me it was just an animal, but my gut told me to run. I ran back inside the little cottage, breathing hard. Once I caught my breath, Bill and Sara looked at me like I was crazy and continued working. I casually joined them and we were almost done our "spotlight". My stomach twisted with anticipation and anxiety. To think that a big light could be the answer to our escape or being trapped forever on this mysterious island.
"Mel do you think we should head back to camp now? They must been wondering where we are?" she asked.
"I don't know, maybe we should stay a little longer until we finish this." I said.
"No, you girls go ahead. If you stay too long everyone will get suspicious and uncover my house. I don't want any nosy parkers lurking around my house." Bill said seriously.
I motioned to Sara to leave and we headed out. Flashlights in hand, we headed back to camp. When we got back to camp, no one said a word to us. Either they didn't care or they were too busy feeling sorry for themselves. Probably both. I laid my bag down to use as a pillow and I immediately fell into a deep sleep.
I woke with a start to Bill and Sara shoving me. I slowly sat up and tried to get my eyes to adjust to the sudden brightness of the flashlights. They bolted ahead of me once I was standing and I hurried to catch up. My feet felt out of sync as they clumsily ran through the darkness of the night. They never said a word until we arrived at Bill's cottage.
"I figured it out!" Bill said excitedly.
"You did!? That's amazing! We might actually get home." I said a smiling creeping across my face.
He raced in side and came back with the giant spotlight.
"Do you think we should tell the rest of the camp because it doesn't feel right keeping something this amazing away from them?" I asked seriously.
"Yeah, Bill we should. We all need to get home." Sara said in agreeance.
"Alright. But we should tell them when this actually works. We don't want to get anyones hopes up." he said with a nod of his head.
"Ok, then what are we waiting for?" I said with a shrug.
Bill, Sara and I ran to the beach and sat on the moist sand. I smelt the sweetness of the salty sea air and the thought about home. I haven't been counting the days, but it feels like forever since I lay on my cozy bed with the luxury of showering and having my own bathroom. Bill beckoned for my help and I followed them. He was pointing the bundle of flashlights at the sky and flipped the switch. A bright ray of light burst across the black night, and I looked up in awe. He held it there for a while and we all just stared in hope. We sat on the beach until morning, Sara and I eventually dozed, but Bill held the flashlights till the sun came up. If anything, he was the most anxious to get off this island.
A couple days went by and we were starting to lose hope. No sign of any rescue, not even a sound. My heart felt like it was tearing at the seams, my body felt like dead weight. My eyes felt heavy and a lump formed in my throat. I stood up and walked towards the shoreline, letting the waves splash my toes. The water felt reassuring so I walked out a bit farther up to my knees. It wasn't cold, but it wasn't warm, it was just right. Suddenly, I heard a whirring sound from above and a helicopter came into sight. I jumped up and down and waved my arms, probably looking like an idiot but I did not care. A man sent a ladder down and climbed down until he landed in the water. He walked over to me, firing questions like a cannon.
"Are you alright?" he said urgently.
"Yes, everyone is fine. The camp is this way." I said beckoning for him to follow me.
He called to the helicopter and three more people jumped out. They ran to the camp and started treating people immediately. I ran into the forest towards Bill's cottage. When I went inside, I found him sitting in his chair looking dazed.
"Bill! The rescue people are here. You saved us! Let's go!" I said excitedly.
"I can't go!" he said.
"WHY!?" I yelled.
"Because what if my wife doesn't remember me, or married?" he said sadly.
"Why would you even think that!? If she truly loved you, you will always be in her heart forever." I said.
"I just couldn't live with myself if I saw her in the arms of another man." he said tears in his eyes.
"You need to come. You can't stay here forever. I can't tell you whether she is with someone, but I guarantee she didn't forget you. Just trust me." I said giving him my hand.
He took it reluctantly and we sprinted to the beach. They were almost done loading the plane and we were the last ones in. When I sat down in my seat, my stomach fluttered and a smile spread across my face. I was really going home. I never thought I would make it out alive. I was so excited my hands and legs were trembling. We were scheduled to land in five hours, so I laid my head back and drifted off to sleep.
Sara shook me awake and I opened my eyes. We had landed and I bolted out of the helicopter. Outside on the landing strip, there was the CTV news crew, Global news crew and cameras flashing everywhere. "Great the one time I am on TV and I look like this" I thought rolling my eyes. My mom was standing in the crowd and ran like I have never run before and leaped into her arms. We were both sobbing as she rubbed my back and said she loved me. I wanted to speak, but no words came out, just sobs. I looked behind me and saw Bill looking at an older lady. They ran at each other and embraced lovingly. They held each for a good five minutes and I knew she never would have forgotten. My mother and I shielded ourselves from the media and drove home. My mom and I talked the whole way home.
When we arrived home I ran upstairs to my room. I walked by the mirror and was horrified by my reflection. My hair was greasy and matted, my face was covered in dirt and sweat and don't even get me started on the smell. I showered and put on my coziest pajamas. Downstairs my mom was cooking what looked like everything in the kitchen. Stacks of pancakes, bacon, eggs, toast, muffins. My mouth watered and my mom started to laugh. We sat down to eat and I made sure to eat slowly and we talked about my unexpected trip.
"So how was your trip sweetheart?" she asked smiling.
"It was pretty good considering the fact that I was stranded on a deserted island with no food and barely any water."
"Well at least you had a good time." she said winking.
"I missed you mom." I said quietly.
"You have no idea how much I missed you. If anything happended to you, I don't know what I would do." she said.
"I know. But I did learn one thing. If you are in a horrible situation, make the best of it and absolutely do not panic!"
"That's two reasons Mel."
"Whatever mom." I said laughing.
We talked for hours until the clock read ten and I headed to bed. My mom woke me up at ten o' clock and I sat up in bed. I looked at the calendar and it read Saturday, May 5. My eyes bulged and I could not believe that I survived on nothing for a month. I looked at my phone and I had 20 messages from none other than my mom. I smiled to myself and looked in the mirror. I was stronger than I was a month ago and could take on any challenge with my head held high. I believed and had hoped that I would be okay and I was.
Two weeks later when I was back in school, my teacher Mrs.Wilson was handing out a form. I looked at it and it read class trip to Italy. I smiled to myself and rolled my eyes. I wondered....
Later on when I got home, my mom was sitting on the couch watching TV. I sat down next to her and she smiled at me.
"Mom, I have something to ask you?" I said slyly.
"What is it?"
"I was wondering if I could go on a class trip to Italy?" I said sheepishly.
My mother paused, looked at me and we both burst out laughing and I knew that she was never letting me out of her sight for a long time.