“Ahmed, are you coming to bed?”
“I’ll be there in a minute, Meena,” Ahmed replied, his face awash in luminescent blue.
“Put the computer down and come to bed,” she called back.
Ahmed stepped into the room wearing a silken robe and holding his laptop.
“There’s something I’m interested in,” he said sheepishly, “I suspect you’re not going to like it.”
Meena sat up and glared at him.
“What now?” she said.
“They’re casting for a new reality show, called Deserted. Dani Chan from Million Dollar Date is the host.”
“Ahmed, I’m sick of your stupid adventures.”
“The prize is two million dollars, Meena. Imagine what we could do with that money. I’m doing this for you!”
“Ahmed, you failed on Everest and you’ll fail here. Go on another adventure, I don’t care, I just can’t promise to be here when you return, IF you return.”
Meena got up and walked through the bedroom doorway. She grabbed a pillow and blanket from the closet and slept on the couch. Ahmed knew he had to win Deserted or Meena would leave him for good.
Ahmed awoke shivering cold. The rain had poured fiercely during the night and his tiny shelter barely covered his slender body. Flies buzzed around his head like electrons circling a nucleus, his skin a galaxy of pussy red welts. He poked at the black charcoal that used to be a fire.
“Dearest God,” he pleaded to a small camera mounted on a tree. “Help me get out of here so I can see my lovely Meena again.”
Ten days in and his drive had been sapped by the elements and loneliness, the tropical vistas crumbled by the cold reality of existing on a deserted island. He didn’t know where he was and the contestants weren’t allowed to meet before the game started. For all he knew, he was the last person on Earth. His meagre tools included a machete, flint, and fishing spear. He was given a two week supply of fresh water and was told that every motu possessed an escape hatch, but Ahmed hadn’t found anything.
He picked at the bones of the previous night’s fish, carved meat from a coconut, gathered the machete, then set out on his daily exploration, walking along bone-white sand until he could see the next closest motu. He waved his arms frantically.
“Hello!” he yelled. Nothing.
He followed the beach until arriving at a large boulder, where he turned inland, slashing the underbrush with his machete. He slipped on sodden soil and slid on his backside into a muddy ravine. He sat up, wiped dirt from his eyes, and noticed another small camera attached to a tree pointing to an area in front of him. He felt bamboo shafts buried under palm fronds.
“I found my escape hatch,” he said, giving a thumbs up to the camera.
He pushed to no avail so he took off his shirt, filled it with three coconuts and tossed it towards the middle. <Clack!> Two doors swung open and his shirt dropped between three sharpened spikes. Aghast, he stumbled backwards. “What is going on here?” he said towards the camera. “Are you trying to kill me?”
He crawled carefully into the trap to retrieve his shirt then noticed, stuffed in the corner, a tightly packed red bag—a life raft. He gathered it and walked carefully back to the beach. That night he made a fire, ate a sea cucumber, and danced like a dervish.
“I’m coming, Meena!” he called to the lonely night.
Ahmed arrived on the shore of the nearest motu after inflating his raft and fashioning a paddle from flotsam.
“Hello? Is anyone else here?” He walked halfway around the motu then came upon a smouldering fire.
“Another contestant!” he said gleefully.
The campsite was well manicured, with drying fish, and several local fruits that Ahmed didn’t know existed.
“What are you doing here?” A woman’s voice snapped from behind a bush. “Are you stealing my food?”
“No, no, I’m Ahmed. I came from that island. I’m a contestant, I… have a boat.”
A beautiful olive-skinned woman emerged from the jungle like a fantasma from a dream. She carried a long green stalk whittled into a spear.
“So you’re not here to steal my stuff,” she said.
“No, I’m lonely and I need help getting home so I can see my Meena again.”
She put down the spear, crossed her legs, and sat on the spot. “Hey, I’m Jasmine,” she said, “Sorry if I’m a little paranoid, but someone came here last night and stole my food AND machete. I don’t understand why anyone would steal my tools.”
“That’s terrible, who would do that?”
“Other contestants, I suppose. Remember, there are no rules. All they told me was that the first person back to Motu Mort wins two million dollars.”
“They told me that too, but I don’t care about the money anymore, I just want to go home. Meena told me this was a stupid idea and I agree with her now.”
“I’m sick of this game too. I want to leave. You said you have a boat?”
“More of a raft, but same-same!” Ahmed beamed.
That night they sat by the fire eating Jasmine’s dried fish and fresh fruit.
“You are an excellent provider,” Ahmed laughed. “Much better than me. I’m the worst adventurer on the planet. Meena knows that.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Ahmed. I came here to prove to my parents that I could survive on my own. They don’t understand my desire to be a lawyer.”
“What do you mean? How can they be disappointed in that?”
She sighed, “My parents are farmers from a small village in Indonesia. I live in Jakarta now and don’t get home often. I think they’re worried I’ll forget about them. I guess I’m doing this out of guilt, but with that money, I could change their lives too.”
“We all have demons,” Ahmed said morosely. “Meena and I have been trying for years to have children, but it’s not God’s plan. I need to be someone… anyone who can’t be a father. I tried to climb Mount Everest three years ago. I trained for a year and was ready, but when I got to second base camp I heard three climbers died near the summit.”
Ahmed fell silent.
“What happened, Ahmed?”
“I faked altitude sickness and waited at base camp while my entire team made it to the summit and back. I hugged them and we celebrated, but I felt empty. I told Meena I got sick but she didn’t believe me. She knows I am a coward.”
“I don’t believe it for a second, Ahmed. She must love you to allow you to do this. You didn’t make it up Everest, but so what. You made it home and that’s all she cared about. Besides, I think you’re brave!”
She smiled and placed her hand on his knee, “I have a surprise.” She reached into a thicket and pulled out two oars. “We’re in business!” she shrieked.
Ahmed pumped his fist. “This has been a great day!” he said. “Did you find anything else on the island?”
“No reason, c’mon let’s finish eating.”
“Is anybody here?” they said in unison as they pulled the raft onto the motu across the lagoon.
“Let’s see if there’s anything we can use,” Ahmed said.
They walked along the beach for twenty minutes before finding a campsite that looked ransacked.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Jasmine said.
They started back through the bush with Ahmed leading the way. Jasmin hummed happily while Ahmed nervously looked for traps. He stumbled onto a pile of large round rocks and noticed hollow eye sockets with roiling maggots feeding on the brain inside.
“Aaaaaa!” he screeched, crawling backwards.
Jasmin dropped to her knees, tears etching tiny rivers through her soiled face. “What happened?” She asked meekly.
Ahmed gathered himself, “It was a trap. This tripline released the rocks. It was meant to kill, just like mine.”
“You had a death trap on your island and didn’t tell me.” Jasmine responded angrily.
“I probably should have, yes, but I didn’t want to scare you.”
“Scare me? It could have killed me! I thought I could trust you.”
“You can. Look, I don’t know what’s happening in this game but I want to get out. Are you with me or not?”
She looked at Ahmed, then down to the fly-infested corpse.
“Let’s get out of here.” she whispered.
They paddled to another motu and found a raided campsite where they stayed the night, choosing to stay on the beach to avoid traps and possibly more dead contestants. They could see the glow of a fire on a nearby motu and made for it the next morning, arriving early to find a sunburned man sleeping in his shelter.
“Hello,” Ahmed said casually.
The man burst awake. “Holy shit!” he yelled, grasping blindly for his machete that was leaning against a tree, ten metres behind him.
“Relax,” Jasmine said. “We came by raft. I’m Jasmine and this is Ahmed. We’re contestants.”
“Right, I’m Jake. Sorry, I haven’t seen another soul in twelve days—you surprised me!” He leaned in, “I’m also a little paranoid; there’s strange shit going on here.”
“We know, people are dying and we could be next,” Ahmed said.
“Dying? Shit, it’s worse than I thought,” Jake said. “Follow me.”
He led them to a clearing then pointed to a camera affixed to a tree. “Shhhhh.” he said, placing a finger over his mouth then pointing it at the ground. “I think this tripwire releases that.”
His finger pointed upwards to a heavy stump hanging from a rope attached to bamboo scaffolding.
“Holy shit!” Jasmine whispered.
“I saw a compass and flashlight dangling from a tree over there. Had I not seen the tripwire I would have been killed by that thing. That’s scary shit.”
“We’ve seen what these traps can do, which is why we’re leaving the game.” Ahmed said. “Are you with us or not?”
“I am!” Jake said. “I didn’t sign up for this.”
Back at Jake’s camp they plotted their escape. They would find Motu Mort and hide in the bush until the next cargo flight then hop aboard when no one was watching. Later in the night, Ahmed ventured out to urinate and stumbled over three machetes wrapped in burlap. He vowed to tell Jasmin when he had the opportunity.
They paddled past several other motus finding them eerily quiet then, by nightfall, found an island with lights, voices, and diesel engines.
“We found Motu Mort!” Jake said. “The first person here collects the prize money.”
“Remember our pact,” Jasmine said. “Stay invisible and get out in one piece.”
“Right,” Jake said, “I’ll run to that hanger to see if I can find a place to hide. You two wait here.”
Jake got up and ran across the airfield then disappeared into the bush behind a small hangar while Ahmed and Jasmine waited.
“There is something I have to tell you,” Ahmed whispered.
“What now, Ahmed?”
“I found more machetes on Jake’s island. Do you think he stole yours?”
“Again, Ahmed, why didn’t you tell me this sooner? It must have been him. Remember, every island had a secret;I got oars and you got a raft, so how did he find a compass AND a flashlight?”
“Maybe he was setting the traps,” Ahmed said.
“Yes, of course, and now he’s collecting the prize money!”
They ran across the airfield and ducked into the bush where Jake had disappeared five minutes earlier. They peeked through tall grass and saw the Deserted set. A camera crew followed Jake as he ran to Dani, who was holding a long spear and silhouetted by a fiery ring. Two large men stood beside her.
“That bastard!” Ahmed cursed, starting to get up.
Jasmine held him back. “Wait here,” she urged. “Something’s not right. If he got to my island, why didn’t he just come here in the first place?”
“I don’t know. Do you think he’s working for them?”
“Maybe,” she said, staring at the ground. “Mort means death, right?”
“You know, ‘mort,’ is the latin root of death.”
“Motu Mort means Death Island.”
“I don’t follow…” Ahmed said, glancing back to see Jake thrusting his arms into the air then dropping to his knees.“Look, it’s Dani! She’s my favourite reality show host!”
Two men grabbed Jake’s arms then Dani sunk the spear into Jake’s chest. His body went rigid then limp. The crew cheered as his lifeless body was pitched into the lagoon.
“Shit!” Ahmed yelled.
Dani pointed towards Ahmed and Jasmine. “Someone is hiding there!” she yelled.
Jasmine and Ahmed scrambled back to the boat.
“Go back to my island,” Ahmed said, “I have an idea.”
They paddled madly, using Jake’s compass and flashlight to navigate the imposing darkness.
They arrived at Ahmed’s motu in the morning, just as the buzz of a speedboat approached.
Jasmine hurriedly hopped from the boat. “Wait,” Ahmed implored. “Run in a straight line; I will plant my footprints over yours so they’ll think there’s only one person on the island.”
As they arrived at Ahmed’s old campsite, a boat rounded into view heading straight for the island. “Go that way! There’s a boulder with a crack in it. Hide there,” Ahmed said.
Jasmine ran off but could hear Dani’s voice through the jungle. Jasmine stood trembling beside the boulder then she heard Ahmed scream.
“Ahmed!” she cried.
She ran into the bush, stopping at the edge of a ravine where she saw Ahmed lying on the ground holding his ankle. Dani and two men approached.
“This is such an honour for me, Dani,” Ahmed said. “I’m your biggest fan! Does this mean I win the prize?”
Dani smiled, “I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that there’s no prize, but you have entertained our clients with your love messages to Meena. It’s tragic that your beloved Meena thinks you’ll return home. We’ll tell her you drown; bodies are rarely recovered in this vast ocean.”
“She won’t believe you,” laughed Ahmed. “I always return; I’m the greatest adventurer on the planet!”
Dani smirked. “Any idea where Jasmine is?”
“Sorry,” he said smiling. “We never met; look, I’ve sprained my ankle so you’ll have to carry me.”
Dani took two more steps. <CLACK!> She shrieked as she fell through the trap doors, impaling herself on spikes. She squirmed, eyes bulging, her mouth gasping like a blowfish. She groaned, then gurgled, “Kill him.”
The men pulled out pistols, shot Ahmed in the chest then left the motu.
Jasmine ran down and held Ahmed’s head.
“Ahmed, don’t die!” she cried.
He turned, placed a hand on her cheek and with a final fading breath said, “I love you, Meena.”