Here’s my entry to the Indies Unlimited contest ‘An Inhospitable Shore’. The prompt was this photo of a cactus-strewn beach or the written prompt below:
Maybe the ones who went down with the ship were the lucky ones. I drifted on flotsam for days, only to wash up here, on a small cactus-strewn island.
Even in my weakened condition, it didn’t take long to walk its breadth. There was no water. This is how I would die.
I collapsed onto the coarse warm sand and closed my eyes against the midday sun. I awoke to a sound coming from the scrubby growth…
The Cactus Gardener
Someone has been here before me. It’s taken me days to realize it. Why has it taken so long? The damn cacti! As I picked another needle from my shredded lips I saw it. But I must find higher ground to make sense of it. I must climb the ridge. Just a little drink of sea water first. I know I shouldn’t, but a little sip is all I need. My tongue and mouth have melded and I must separate them.
The sun is at its spiteful zenith but I can’t wait till dark. I can’t risk a wrong step on the ridge. The ridge is like the jaws of a terrible night-beast and the rocks are its canines. I don’t want to be eaten. I must climb now.
First my feet, then my hands and knees, then my buttocks: the rocks have reduced them to pulp. Perhaps when I’ve left this island the next poor soul to land here can follow my fleshy breadcrumbs across the jaws of the beast.
At last I reach the summit. I look down on the beach below. It shimmers in the heat. My head swims and my stomach lurches bringing salt water to my mouth. I fall to the ground. But I was right! The cacti. They are not random. They form patterns, directions, and words. Praise the cactus gardener for I am saved! They will guide me from the island. But not yet. First I must rest.