874: A New Vignette by Torn MacAlester

I head­ed along the beach. It had been at least ten hours since we had run aground. We had agreed that going into the inte­ri­or of the island was unlike­ly to be use­ful. The jun­gle would hide things too well for us to find. The beach, how­ev­er, would even­tu­al­ly reveal signs of civ­i­liza­tion some­where on the island. We could eas­i­ly see a dock, a boat, or even a set­tle­ment on the beach. Or if the island was unin­hab­it­ed, we’d meet each oth­er on the side of the island.

Mac and I flipped a coin. He’d go north, and I would go south. I start­ed off, after wav­ing to the eight oth­er cast­aways. A storm had ham­mered us dur­ing our Caribbean vaca­tion. The ship had stopped at a small island near Bermu­da. We were on a day trek to anoth­er island not too far dis­tant when the hur­ri­cane hit us. The lit­tle ship seemed very sea­wor­thy, but it lacked the pow­er to out­run the storm. Even­tu­al­ly, we crashed into the side of this island. We lost the radio because of the storm. Some­thing had hap­pened to the anten­na. Accord­ing to our few work­ing phones, the GPS showed that we were about fifty-three miles from Bermuda.

We were obvi­ous­ly out of cell cov­er­age, so our maps were crude from the cab­in of the boat. But the num­bers said it should be Bermu­da near­by. The cap­tain of the boat got hit on the head, and oth­er peo­ple were help­ing him. They sent Mac and me for help. I kept walk­ing along the tidal line, try­ing to keep wet sand under my feet. I had a bet­ter time walk­ing on it.
After about four hours, I checked my cell. Accord­ing to the GPS dis­tance, I’d trav­eled less than one tenth of a mile.

That’s odd, I thought. I should have made at least ten miles in that kind of time.

I turned back, look­ing north. I could see that the boat and the sur­vivors were extreme­ly dis­tant. In fact, I could only make out the wreck­age of the boat from this dis­tance. I was very far away, eas­i­ly far more than a few miles. I flipped over to the pedome­ter app. It had said I had walked about eight miles. I looked back at the GPS app and reread the posi­tion. Care­ful­ly, I altered the mode to read my loca­tion regard­ing the Earth­’s cen­ter and the North Pole. I knew I was near the equa­tor, so if I took about 50 steps south, I would have moved enough for the receiv­er to detect that I had moved by chang­ing the last dig­it on the Z axis.

I turned and took the steps, count­ing them out as I walked. I then looked at the num­ber. It still read the same. The last 3 dig­its were 874. No change. I did it again. It read 874 again. How in the world is that pos­si­ble? I watched it now as I walked. It did not change from 874. I checked to see what the oth­er num­bers read. It sim­i­lar­ly showed them being locked in their pre­vi­ous values.

What the Hell? This makes no sense.

There was one more test I could take. I turned to the direc­tions func­tion. I checked the dis­tance to Bermu­da. It said fifty-three. My phone showed that I either walked in a per­fect cir­cle for 8 miles or stayed in the same place. Nei­ther made any sense. Also, this had to be a vast island. I’d walked for hours, and I was still on the west­ern shore. Again, it would make the island at least eight miles long in one direc­tion, but I could see that the shore ahead of me stretch­ing out as far as I could see.

Our sim­ple plan had failed. I looked again at the num­bers. 874 showed clear­ly. Pan­icked, I turned north, hop­ing that I could get back to the boat and the oth­ers. The 874 con­tin­ued to taunt me.

Short science fiction by Torn MacAlester

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