Sandrine treaded water with the fatigue of a dying fish. The seat cushion floating device bobbed like a seesaw as waves flowed up and down, up and down. Her head was concussed and pounding and she felt nauseas and vertiginous. The ocean waves rumbled and grew tall, wails and cries tumbled down them and then the sound was cut off by every new wall of waves. Others were breaching surface like miserable newborns gulping air and water, screaming as soon as oxygen hit their lungs. Confusion spun their eyeballs in their skulls, like a compass globe during a sea storm.
She prayed for daylight. The dark water seemed like a black hole, endless, formless, housing unknowable danger. Air pockets were still ballooning to the surface. The plane wreck below was visible only by the electric explosions and lights bursting. Strobing flashes lit up the bodies and floating plane debris, giving them a stop-motion progression over the waves.
The bodies metastasized from the crash site, the current quickly pulling them and the wreckage into the ebb and flow of tidal propulsion. Sandrine realized she was quite out of reach of many of the other survivors, except for two people just yards away. They were struggling to stay buoyant and getting volatile with their splashes.
In the moonlight, the silhouettes outlined a short-haired main and what appeared to be a woman with big hair even when soaked. Her shrieks skipped across the waves and struck Sandrine’s ears as needles. The man had shoved her off the lifesaver. The woman dipped under and came clawing back up, gasping and screaming.
“Give it back to me! You have no right — I had it first!” She grabbed for it and growled, trying to take over the man’s balance.
“Get off. It’s mine now.” He said with finality. The woman’s rage heightened.
“How could you — No it’s mine! Stop! Stop it—” Her last words were garbled as she was yanked backward underwater by her hair. Splashing ensued and her limbs shot up towards his arm. She scratched and pounded at him, but the water weakened her blows and his steadfast grip kept a tightly locked elbow. The splashing stopped. He swiped his arm downward, like he was brushing a dog off his jeans. Now the lifesaver was cleared of extra hands and he climbed on top of it and held it up to his chest with gloved hands, letting the buoyancy tip him forward so he could float and rest.
Sandrine’s jaw hung slackly and her heart seemed to sink with that woman floating down to the abyss. She looked at the man. His face was dark. She couldn’t make him out, but his eyes were certainly locked onto her. Floating idly, only several strokes apart, they stayed facing each other, Sandrine horror-struck and immovable. All she could do was still her kicks and will the waves to stop moving them closer. She wanted to shrink small, thinly disappear into the air, and be invisible to this man. The air was heavy with weighing contemplation on his next target. She was a witness, but with the chaos of the crash and with the added darkness of the night, there was no way any court could prove him guilty. She was a weak link, but a weaker adversary.
To her surprise, he didn’t take strong strokes towards her to swat her away, to steal another floatie. He was the first to turn away, pivoting around towards the wreckage. He kept a straight neck, head held up on alert, surveying the approaching silhouettes on the water.
She leaned away from him and slouched low with bated breath, kicking deep without splashing. She didn’t want to be near that man, someone with no face.
“Help! Anybody please! Help me!”
Sandrine whirled, scouring the water for the drowned woman, fearing the man’s heavy glove covering her face, only now he was so far away that he was barely visible, drifting off into the darkness.
She heard another cry. Nearby, a woman floundered. Sandrine called over to her and extended her hand. The two reached each other, Sandrine offering half of her floating seat. The woman grabbed it and dropped her elbow on it, which promptly sunk the floatie a foot below surface. The two dipped with it and drank a mouthful of water. They gurgled and spat it out, meeting gazes with uncertainty.
In the moonlight glow, the woman’s eyes cinched, grew dark and stone still. The hissing of the waves faded and a high-pitched ring replaced them. The ocean spray ceased to whip about and the scent of orange blossoms wafted up, weak at first and then stronger. The other woman’s head swam out of focus. Sandrine shifted her grip on the seat. A tug at her feet, the sky wheeled overhead, then the abyss.
A crab turned over a sizeable white conch. Sand particles dusted off of its pink exoskeleton as it climbed inside. The rest of the beach crawled. Amongst the crowd of oblong shells, of recycled housing for new tenants, the white conch stood tall. It bumbled along on red claws and peg legs, bumping into Sandrin’s head.
The rustling of sand came first, then a pink glow, bright and turning yellow white. Her eyelashes fluttered and a she opened them to see the sandy beach and a crab scrambling away. She sat up, cradling her head and looked around through squinted eyes. She was on an island, alone, her floating seat still tied around her arm.
The last thing she remembered was trying to share the floatie with that other woman, but she was nowhere to be found.
“Listen up, I want two people looking for fresh running water. And you over there, get any edible stuff you can find. I thought I smelled oranges some time ago. Then someone has to stay here and build a shelter. Get moving,” Bruce commanded, sticking words like darts at each person. Several people were scattered about under the shade, some of them got up as Bruce spoke.
“Who made you leader? Who does this guy think he is,” protested a younger man who went by Scott.
“We do this and we’ll survive,” Bruce replied coolly, not looking at Scott when he talked. He made his way over to a couple of woman who weren’t getting up.
“No one’s going to find us without a smoke signal, genius,” Scott murmured as he rolled a stick between his palms and drilled a shallow hole into a log, trying to light a fire. Such arrogance, the white-collared prick, he thought. He looked after Bruce and noticed the guy even had his black business shoes on, kicking up plumes of sand as he stalked on. A pang of regret hit Scott. He had lost his sandals immediately in the crash. Bruce sported double-knotted laces, something he remembered seeing in his peripheral as he read his book on the plane. What a tight ass, he had thought. He’d seen him in Business Class sipping on Scotch and dropping lines like, “They like to have direction. Don’t give them choices,” and jadedly, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world for us…” This guy was going to be a pain in the ass, Scott thought.
“Get up and move, I ain’t babysitting your asses, got it?” Bruce barked at two women cradling one another.
One of them turned but kept eye-level to his shoulder.
“Did you not fucking hear me? I said get up!”
“She’s just lost her eyesight, sir. Back off,” the women spat. “She hasn’t been able to see since the crash…”