sjhstrangetales

RANDOM

 “Hello?  Hello?  Are you receiving me?  Is there anybody there?”

 Toby typed the message for the umpteenth time on his keyboard.  He had checked the connection.  His computer was powered by a small portable wind generator.  He had briefly popped outside to ensure that it wasn’t broken, and had found everything as it should be.  

 In all the 4 weeks that he had been on the island, he had been astonished at how little trouble he had had with his equipment, especially considering that he was in one of the most Godforsaken places on Earth.  He had found it ironic that he seemed to have a better connection here, out on a windswept rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, than he had sometimes had back home in London!  But for the past 12 hours there had been nothing.  Nothing whatsoever.  The total radio silence was starting to freak him out.

 He wasn’t the sort to panic easily.  If he had been he would never have even considered this challenge, to spend 60 days completely alone on the uninhabited island of Bald Rock.  Never was a place more aptly named, Toby had thought, the first time he had seen it.  It stuck out of the forbidding grey waters like a giant bald head.  He had wanted to do something challenging, to raise awareness for disabled military veterans, something that would grab people’s imaginations.  And it was personal too.  After all, his Dad had been in the Falklands.  

 His friend Clyde had suggested it as a joke.  “You could always go and camp on Bald Rock, mate”.  Clyde was temporarily shocked into silence when Toby took him seriously.

 “Are you raving mad?” said Clyde, when he’d recovered his voice “No one’s ever stayed on there!  I read somewhere once that more people have been to the Moon than have been to Bald Rock”.

 “That’s what makes it perfect”, said Toby.

 “B-but what are you going to do with yourself?” said Clyde “There’s nothing there!  Not even a blade of grass.  You can’t even go for a walk”.

 “All part of the challenge”, said Toby, unrepentant “I could learn a new language, or take up the harmonica, or something”.

 “One thing’s for sure”, said Clyde “That’s a helluva lot of wanking you’re gonna get done in 60 days!”

 “Oh very funny”, said Toby.

 There were plenty of times when he’d had doubts, usually when he was enjoying a glass of wine with Tamsyn, his girlfriend, in the evenings.  Was he really going to chuck up all this, to go and sit out on a wave-swept rock in the middle of nowhere?  But Toby was the sort of guy who, once he’d made his mind up to something, was usually dogged about seeing it through.  And the charity he’d offered to help had been so excited about his proposal that he knew he could never let them down.  

 

 Clyde had been right about the extremely limited options available on Bald Rock.  Toby was camped in a plastic pod on a flat shelf near the top of the island.  It was the only part that had a level surface.  There was just about enough room for the pod, and for Toby to step outside and check his equipment.  Emerging from the pod gave him the opportunity to stand fully upright and stretch, and that was about it.  The limit of his exercise opportunities.  The only way to get on or off the island was to be winched about by a helicopter.  

 The pod itself reminded him of those relaxation tanks which Tamsyn had sometimes used at their local sports centre.  The ones where you shut yourself inside and listened to whale music (or at least that’s what Toby assumed they did).  He could barely sit up in it.  Sometimes he wondered if he’d be able to make full use of his legs when he got back to civilisation.  He’d occupied his time sleeping, doing Sudoku in small booklets, and communicating with his support team via the computer.  He existed on Army emergency ration packs, which were air-dropped to him every few days.  The brief wave he got from the guys on the helicopter was the only sign he’d had of other life, apart from the masses of birds which treated the island as a convenient perching-place.

 

 Eighteen hours.  Still nothing.  Now don’t panic, he told himself, it could be anything.  Could be technical problems at their end.  Computers are always throwing random spanners in the works.  It might even be the weather.  There might be storms on the mainland.  But the truth was, he was starting to feel like a little boy who had lost his Mummy.  If this situation went on for much longer, he had a fear he’d start blubbing.  He realised how much he had come to rely on those brisk, sometimes chirpy messages he received from miles across the water.  

 “Why the hell did I do this?” he asked himself “Why didn’t I just do the Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle ride, like Tamsyn suggested, or swim the English Channel, ANYTHING but this!  At least with those I’d have other people nearby.  I’d know what was going on.  I don’t think it’s possible to be more alone than this”.

 He checked his ration bag.  It was pretty meagre at the best of times.  Some vacuum-packed dust that turned into something vaguely resembling food when you poured water on it.  A packet of butterscotch to keep his energy levels up.  Bottled water, which had to do service for personal hygiene matters, as well as drinking.  Even with strict rationing, this wasn’t going to last him very long at all.  

 “Then what do I do?” he said.  There was no means of supporting himself on the island at all.  He was at the top of the island so he couldn’t go fishing.  The best he could hope for was that a bird would fall down dead outside his pod, and then he’d have to eat it raw …. “No, stop that.  I’m not turning into something out of Lord Of The Flies, for God’s sake.  I don’t know if even Bear Grylls could survive on this place!”

 

 The next day the waves were terrifying, sweeping over the island, even managing to drench him in his man-made bird’s nest.  He’d been warned beforehand that the waves were probably the biggest problem he was going to have to face.  “Don’t think because you’ll be at the top of the island that you’ll be safe”, he had been warned “Those buggers can rise up that high.  When you get a day like that, stay in the pod, don’t venture outside, or there’s a real risk you could get swept off the rock”.

 

 His dreams tormented him.  They were so real.  They weren’t nightmares, quite the opposite in fact.  They tormented him with the life he’d left behind.  His parents.  Tamsyn coming into a room and smiling at him.  Clyde grinning over a  pint.  It was as if some devil was flipping open a photograph album and jeering “look what you left behind Toby, all gone to you now.  You’ll never get it back.  You should have stayed with them.  It’s all gone from you now you know.  The End has happened, and there’s nothing you can do about it”.  

 When he woke up he knew instinctively then that something had gone wrong on the mainland.  Something was stopping them from communicating with him.  Toby had enough faith in the support team, and his loved ones, to know that they wouldn’t abandon him for nothing.  Something had happened that was way beyond their control.  Nuclear war?  Civil unrest?  Mass power-cut?  Zombie apocalypse?  What FFS?  What??

 He sat hunched over in his sleeping-bag, with his head in his hands, trying to think of anything that had happened in recent days that would give him a clue as to what might had happened.  Had he seen signs of any freakish weather on the horizon?  Had there been a change in tone from the messages he’d received, any clue at all.  But there was nothing.

 And I have nothing, he thought.  At least in zombie apocalypse books and films, they tend to have a fighting chance.  They get to ransack supermarkets for instance, help themselves to other people’s stuff in abandoned houses.  They’re not stuck out on a rock with NOTHING, Nothing At ALL!  I can’t even build a raft, like Tom Hanks in Cast Away.  Jeezus, he had a whole load of FedEx packages to open!

 

 The sea was relatively calm today.  It spread out to the horizon on all sides, the sun glinting on the grey waves.  Toby stood rooted to the spot, looking all around him.  In all the time he’d been here he’d never seen a ship, not even in the distance.  Bald Rock didn’t seem to be on any major shipping-lanes.  

 “OK”, he said to himself “Just supposing the Apocalypse has kicked off.  Let’s face it, the World wasn’t exactly in a great shape when I left.  Everybody was talking about War being on the horizon, but there’s always doom-mongers coming out with stuff like that.  But suppose this time, they were right, and civilisation has gone tits-up …”

 The magnitude of this was so strong he felt physically winded.  Never in his life had he felt so helpless.  He couldn’t even move from this narrow ledge he was on.  In any other situation he would be making strong efforts to get home, even if it meant walking there.   Even at his most desperate, he knew that swimming wasn’t an option.  Bald Rock was nearly 300 miles from the mainland, and in one of the most inhospitable parts of the world.  He’d never make it.  He wouldn’t stand a chance.

 A whimper escaped from Toby’s lips.  The truth was, there was simply nothing he could do.  He could eke out survival for a short while longer, that was all.

 

 Toby checked his supply-bag again.  He found a small bar of chocolate.  He had to strongly resist the urge to scoff it down in one go.  

 “That’s another thing”, he thought “I haven’t even got the means to do myself in, take a dignified way out.  No convenient cyanide pill sewn into the lining, like they have in old war films.  I’d have to throw myself from the island”.

 The thought of hurling himself all the way down into that choppy sea was terrifying.  The alternative though was starving to death, and he’d heard that starvation was one of the worst ways to go.  

 He opened up the case containing his computer.

 “Please”, he prayed “Please let there be SOMETHING.  Some sign of life from over there.  Some way I can find out what’s going on.  PLEASE!”

 

EPILOGUE

 

 “Will he be alright?” said Tamsyn, her cheeks streaked with tears.

 “He needs time”, said the doctor “It’s impossible to say this early on how damaged he is by it all”.

 “I always knew it was a bloody stupid idea!” Toby’s Dad did what he always did when emotion got the better of him, he manifested it in anger “But there was no telling him was there!  He knew better.  Always was too bloody head-strong for his own good”.

 “And whose fault is that?” Toby’s Mum retaliated “If he hadn’t been constantly trying to make you proud of him we wouldn’t be in this mess!  But no, he had to constantly prove himself to YOU!  Prove that he could live up to the great war veteran …”

 “Please stop”, Tamsyn begged “This isn’t helping at all!”

 “I’m sorry my love”, said Toby Snr, squeezing her arm “We know this is hard on you.  He shouldn’t have put you through all this.  He doesn’t deserve you”.

 “Stop it!” Toby’s Mum yelled “There you go again, blaming Toby for everything!”

 “Tamsyn’s right, Mrs Wilcox”, said the Doctor “None of this will help Toby.  Probably best if everybody tries to stay calm”.

 “Can’t we just be happy that we’ve got him home?” said Tamsyn “His support crew were really worried when they lost the computer connection to him, and then the storms stopped them going out there.  Thank God they could get out there on the third day, or God knows what would have happened.  Can I go and sit with him for a bit, Doctor?”

 “Yes, but please try and stay calm”, the Doctor replied “His nerves are in a shocking state, and he needs total peace and quiet”.

 

 “I keep wanting to pinch myself”, Toby sounded exhausted but strangely happy “I keep dreading that I’ll wake up and find it’s just another of those dreams that tormented me on the island.  I can’t believe I went to pieces so quickly.  It was only 3 days without contact with the mainland.  Three days, that’s all.  I guess I’m a pretty pathetic Robinson Crusoe”.

 “Robinson Crusoe wasn’t on a bare rock in the Atlantic”, said Tamsyn, gently touching his hand, which rested on the hospital bed-sheet “Go easy on yourself, it was a dreadful place.  I was reading up on it whilst you were away.  Apparently there’s loads of old folklore stories about it.  How in olden times no one would ever spend the night there, that sort of thing.  Although God knows how anyone could!”

 “The Doc says it was the extreme isolation”, said Toby “I can’t think of anywhere else like it.  There was just NOTHING, just that rock, the sea, and the swarms of birds.  Of course everyone told me that before I went, but I thought the computer link would help me.  It never occurred to me that it would collapse.  I never want to see that fucking place again, not ever, not for as long as I live”.

 “You won’t have to”, said Tamsyn, soothingly.

 “Did you find out anything else about it?” asked Toby “In the stuff you read?”

 “That guy who stayed a couple of weeks on there, back in the 70s”, said Tamsyn “The one you told me about before you left”.

 “Yes, the waves defeated him”, said Toby “Said he was terrified for his life when they swept over, and begged to come back to the mainland”.

 “It wasn’t just the waves”, said Tamsyn “He said he was tormented at night.  He wouldn’t go into detail, just said Devils tormented him at night.  He wouldn’t talk about it any more than that.  In fact after a while, he refused to be interviewed about it.  Said he wanted to put it all behind him.  He called it the most cursed place on Earth, and said the gulls were welcome to it”.

 “I know how he feels”, said Toby “I was utterly convinced the world had come to an end, and I was the only one left.  Stuck there, on a rock, in the middle of the ocean”.

 “Well the state of the world probably doesn’t help”, said Tamsyn “I tried to avoid the News while you were gone.  I was terrified the War would kick off, and you would be stuck there, miles from home”.

 “I’m staying here”, Toby squeezed her hand “If Armageddon does kick off, I want to be with you, not separated by miles of ocean.  And no one should ever go near Bald Rock, ever again”.

 

THE END

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