Waves lapped lazily against the 'island', three hundred square feet of barren sand and rock in the middle of the Pacific. A herring gull hopped cautiously onto the outstretched leg of one of the sandbank's new inhabitants, snapping at insects before flying off with indifference.
The three men lay prostrate in the sand, battered and bruised, their clothes ragged, a circle of stones filled with ash in the centre of the group. They had been stranded for days, the only survivors of the SS Valiant, a frigate bound for the latest jewel in the Empirical crown; Australia. They slowly began to move as the sun rose above the horizon.
The first to stir was Mitchell, a mountain of a man, clothed in a dark jacket with two white stripes hanging by threads from the tattered sleeve; his barrel of a chest was bare underneath, his missing shirt wrapped round his balding head. He had been one of the ship's guards, and a vicious one at that, overseeing the prisoners sentenced to start a new life at the request of the Crown. He sported a handlebar moustache on a face which had seen a lot in its time; little of it pleasant. His great bulk inhibited him as he struggled to stand, his feet slipping as he tried to find purchase in the yielding sands. He stretched and looked at the others. Beside him lay a rake of a man, scrawny and barely old enough to shave; of the three, he had fared the worst. Blake was his name and he had been amongst Mitchell's charges; arrested for stealing bread. What clothes he had, rags to begin with, were now ripped to shreds and he had suffered a big gash down his leg which had been bandaged as best as possible. Even so, flies buzzed around the wound, burrowing in its warmth and laying eggs waiting to be hatched. The third castaway lay slightly away from the others. A portly fellow in a shredded suit which had come from one of the finest shops on Saville Row, ruined forever, not that it mattered on this Godforsaken rock. The back of his head was bald and peeling, burnt red raw by the unforgiving sun over the days spent without any shelter or shade. Bored of his life in Harley Street, Roberts had decided to seek adventure and to take his skills to the new lands. Now both aspirations were dead and buried as all their lives looked set to end out here with no human civilisation for thousands of miles.
Mitchell turned and scanned the horizon, looking for ships, hoping for a miracle.
"Good morning," piped up Roberts, rousing himself from his sleep.
"If you say so," grouched Mitchell.
"Still with the attitude I take it. I'd hoped a night's rest would make you more reasonable."
"Well what the hell do you expect? We've been stuck here for days in the middle of nowhere with no food, no water, and no way off this hell hole! You said that we would be rescued by now, you said that God would provide for us, so yes, I'd say I still have some attitude!"
"I am not one of your charges Mitchell. You mind your tongue when you speak to me!"
"I think I'll talk to you however I see fit doctor."
Mitchell menaced towards the physician, his hand reaching into his jacket pocket, grasping for…..
"The cripple's awake then," snorted Mitchell, taking his empty hand from his pocket.
Roberts turned to Blake, relieved at the distraction. Mitchell was more erratic with each passing day and all three were quite aware of what he carried in his pocket.
"Damn, you man, he has a fever. Just do your own thing and leave me to tend him."
"Glad to. Maybe I'll see if the fish will oblige today. Perhaps God will make some jump into my hands as they ain't been co-operating so far."
Mitchell stormed off to the far side of the island, eager to be away from the both of them. With Blake's constant groaning and Roberts' unrelenting optimism he didn't know who he despised the most.
Roberts gazed after him. He hoped God would show them the way soon. Mitchell was right, things were looking futile. They'd not eaten for days, most of the wreckage that washed up with them had been burnt to stave off the cold nights and the only water came from the sky. He didn't think it would take much more to push Mitchell over the edge.
"It's ok, Blake, I'm here."
Roberts wasn't sure what more he could do for the man. He'd changed his bandages, strips made from their limited clothing, although Mitchell had refused to share his, yet without proper medical supplies he'd been unable to stop the infection. Now the fever had taken hold and he needed a preacher more than a physician.
Roberts tore more cloth from his ragged trousers and headed to the shoreline. He dipped the fabric in the salt water, tempted to put it to his parched lips but knowing it would do more harm than good. How did it go, 'Water, water everywhere yet not a drop to drink'. He'd always found that such a pleasant piece. He laughed at the tragedy of it all.
He could see Mitchell splashing about in the waters in the distance as he made his way back to Blake. Kneeling, he placed the damp cloth on his patient's forehead. Blake grasped his arm as a spasm seized his body, gritting his teeth as he arched his body, and then lay back down limply, his breathing shallow.
A screech sounded out from across the sands mingled with splashing water. Roberts looked up to see the leering face of Mitchell as he lumbered across the ground, his arm outstretched before him with something shining in his hand.
"I did it. I bloody well went and did it," shouted Mitchell, jumping around like an excitable child eager for their parent's attention, "but don't think I'm sharing any with you. You can go sort your own."
Roberts stared at Mitchell, anger seething in him, knowing there was nothing he could do against this brute of a man, staring at the fish wriggling in his hand, the fish with Mitchell's knife shoved through its gut.
Mitchell ate alone that day and, true to his word, shared none of the fish with the others. He dragged himself off to the other side of the island, for what little difference that made, and spent the time shouting obscenities at the birds circling overhead.
Whilst Mitchell bellowed, Roberts plotted, devising plans to escape the island. It was clear now that Mitchell was out for himself and nothing would change that. Blake would be of no help, maggots were spilling from his wound now and he was getting weaker by the hour. The final plan that came to Roberts surprised him and he discounted it at first as the lunacy of a fear stoked mind. It was only when Blake died later that day that he realised he had no other choice.
When night fell Roberts bedded down, lying next to Blake's partially covered corpse, keeping a watch across the island to Mitchell. He waited until he heard the droning sounds of snoring echoing across the sand before he made his move. The moonlight shone down, giving an eerie feel to the place, the sands silver whilst the water surrounding them looked like a black mirror reflecting the celestial light above them. Roberts moved as stealthily as he could manage, his body more used to the rigours of medical practice and fine restaurants than furtive ventures, as he made his way to Mitchell's slumbering form.
Even asleep the man looked menacing; his face still grimaced whilst dreaming. It was a mystery how he had been assigned warder and not inmate with an attitude like his. Roberts gathered himself and knelt beside the brute. Steeling himself he felt along Mitchell's body until he found the jacket pocket. Hands shaking, he searched inside for the knife, feeling for the smoothness of its ivory handle. A sigh escaped his peeling lips as he grasped the handle, pulling the knife tentatively from the jacket.
The blade gleamed in the moonlight, cold and clinical, waiting to be used. Roberts looked down at the man in front of him. He'd taken it this far, one more step and then…..he tried not to think of what next, this was hard enough but it was clear this was the path he had to take if he were to survive. He raised the knife high over his head. He held it there for what seemed an eternity, the waves lapping behind him as he paused, convincing himself of his course of action as he looked down at Mitchell's face. Mitchell's eyes opened, bleary at first then widening in terror as he saw the silhouette above him. The knife drove down into Mitchell's chest, over and over again as Roberts panicked, a stabbing frenzy, carrying on long after he was dead. It might cause complications later but at least the first stage was complete.
Roberts slept fitfully that night; sharing the island with the corpses which were to be his salvation. He tried not to think about his next task but couldn't help himself. In principal it seemed quite logical. He needed a boat off the island and needed away from Mitchell one way or another and his solution resolved both problems quite neatly. To escape he would construct a boat and the only materials he had were his clothing, a modicum of wood from the wreckage, Mitchell and Blake.
Roberts set to his task in the morning. His mind drifted back to his student days; the lessons when they were taught to dissect a human body. He hoped his surgeon's skills had not left him. The human body contains 206 bones, as any medical student could tell you, and these would be his materials for the boat's frame, mixed with what little wreckage was not already ash. Sinew and tendons would be used to lash everything together. To make the hull he would have to skin his comrades, stitching their hides with fibres from their clothing. There was sufficient 'canvas' for his needs from the two bodies and their garments; especially given Mitchell's size. He regretted having stabbed Mitchell so many times but that couldn't be helped now.
It took days to accomplish his gruesome task and he paused often to compose himself. At least food was no longer a problem and he was graced with rains on the second day. Truly God was looking over him.
On the eighth day since he had killed Mitchell the vessel was complete. A rather makeshift raft but it would be sufficient for his needs. He piled it with dried meat, enough to sustain him for a week if he was careful, and launched it into the sea. For one dreadful moment he thought it would just sink into the seabed but even now his luck held. With relief he clambered onto the macabre boat and picked up his oar, a construction of Mitchell's shin bones and Blake's cranium. He set sail towards his salvation.
Three days out at sea he cursed his rashness. In the distance, barely two miles away he could see land, a small island with palm trees lining the shore, surely somewhere he could live for months if necessary until rescue came. In spite of this it was the visitors circling his vessel which held his attention. Their numbers had been building for the past hour, there were at least seven of them now; drawn by the scent of his ghastly craft. They had been inquisitive initially; just content to lazily swim beneath him, but now the sharks were getting restless, nudging the base of the raft. Roberts held Mitchell's knife in his hands and prayed.
Bio: Phil Ambler is a writer from the South East of England who prefers to write on the darker side of life. Phil has been published by Pill Hill Press and twice previously on Thrillers, Killers n Chillers. He currently has several finished shorts he is trying to find a home for and can often be found carrying out acts of darkness on flash fiction sites. Follow Phil on Twitter @phlambler.