No. 12.—The Desert Isle, Part 1.
WE WERE ROUNDING Cape Derision in the Antipodean territory of New South Blawnox when a sudden Antarctic squall blew up from the south—so sudden, in fact, that we had no time to find a sheltering harbor, or even to drop an anchor. My ship was blown hundreds of miles before the storm, tossed among the raging waves; and my crew, a loyal but clumsy lot, all slipped off the heaving deck into the churning water within the first few minutes. Only I, who had the presence of mind to hold on to the rail, remained on board; though I cannot say that my lot was better than theirs, as I later learned that the entire crew had washed up on the sandy shores of New South Blawnox and been welcomed as gods by the peaceful but gullible natives of that place. I, on the other hand, was driven northward far into the tropics, as the storm pummeled my sturdy but helpless ship day after day and night after night, until at last, just as the storm had begun to abate, the ship was splintered against a coral reef.
Organizing a few of the splinters into a hastily improvised raft, I paddled myself toward an island I had spotted in the near distance, taking with me what little equipment I had managed to salvage—viz., a small rotary press with which we had printed the ship’s newsletter, a copy of Brandt & Screever’s Comprehensive Guide to Tuscany, an empty cookie jar in the shape of a humorous cartoon turtle (which had been a Boxing-Day gift from Admiral Blanderson), a small electric waffle iron, and three mismatched xylophone mallets.
Having paddled my way to the shore, I immediately set about making myself as comfortable as possible. It goes without saying that an officer in Her Majesty’s fleet has seen many a shipwreck, and past experience had taught me to make good use of the materials presented by your typical regulation desert isle. Within a few hours I had provided myself with shelter, using palm stalks and the leaves of arboreal herbs of the family Musaceae to construct a modest ten-room cabin with a pleasant verandah overlooking the sea.
With that basic need attended to, I turned my attention to supplying myself with food. The island’s ample supply of starchy roots presented itself as a ready staple. Using Brandt & Screever to pound the roots into a kind of flour, I was able to make some very passable waffles, the scorching heat of the tropical midday sun taking the place of the electric power normally required to heat my waffle iron.
Man does not live, however, by waffles alone. The spirit as well as the body must be nourished. I had just set out in search of some reasonable hardwood with which I might construct a simple xylophone when I came across incontrovertible evidence that I was not alone. Unmistakably human footprints in the sand led toward the interior of the island. The track was not difficult to follow; it led to a small clearing in which I could see a human habitation, though of a remarkably strange sort. The hut or cabin was oblong and rectangular, apparently built of some kind of metal; and beneath one end of it were two sets of wheels, suggesting that the whole assembly could be moved intact, as though some nomadic South Seas islander had contrived to take his whole house with him in his wanderings.
But what was my horror you may easily imagine, when the door to this mobile domicile swung open to reveal the most hideous and terrifying creature I had ever laid eyes on.