(or how to make a million bucks by getting lost)
I am extraordinarily wealthy. That's right, I am rich beyond my wildest dreams. No, I'm no Bill Gates; but I have enough cold hard cash to keep me extremely comfortable for the rest of my days.
How did I get so loaded, you ask? In a nutshell: I got lost. Yep, you heard right I got lost. Would you like to hear the story?
The year was 1997 and I was living in Honolulu (as I still do to this day). No, I wasn't one of those fortunate few who recognized the potential of the internet and made millions in cyberspace. In fact, I never even OWNED a computer until after I'd seen my name added to the Forbes 500 list. No, in 1997 I was poor, down on my luck, and ready to call it quits. Yes, quits. The end. The permanent end. Things were so bad I was contemplating suicide.
Everything began to go downhill when I lost my job. Who knew that stocking shelves in a department store was such an art? Apparently I wasn't doing it well enough and/or fast enough. Well, that's what the pimply-faced teenage manager told me. I'd had just about enough of his shit. He didn't like me and I didn't like him back. I was the "old guy" on the block, and I just didn't fit in with his gang of teenage employees. He wanted me gone he just needed a reason. Well, I wasn't about to give that snot-nosed brat the privilege of firing me, so I quit. I removed the name tag pin from my shirt, stuck it into his greasy palm literally and walked out, smiling at the sound of his girlish screams as he plucked the pin from his outstretched hand.
Hey, what the hell those kinds of jobs are a dime a dozen, right? I was sure I would be working again in no time. Besides, I knew that my loving wife would stand beside me and endorse my decision. She was already aware of the friction between the "boss" and me. She always stood with me when I made a decision. This one would be no different. I couldn't wait to tell her. Maybe I'd surprise her with a big dinner when she got home from work. Then she could "console" me later on.
So, what a surprise it was when I got home and saw her car parked in the driveway, right in front of a flashy, red Corvette. What an even bigger surprise when I found her in bed, riding a guy I'd never seen before like the mechanical bull at Gilley's. Unbelievable. It never rains but it pours, isn't that what they say?
I won't go into the sordid details of what followed, suffice it to say that I not only lost my job that day, but I also lost my wife. She moved out of the house the following morning. I guess sending them off naked in that flashy Corvette the previous day was just too much for her to forgive. C'est la vie.
Finding a new job didn't exactly turn out to be the piece of cake I'd envisioned. Things got really tight really fast. And, since I'd quit my job rather than being laid off, I was ineligible for unemployment insurance. In short, I was virtually broke. Of course, I still had enough petty cash in my savings account to pay for vital needs, like beer. Oh, and food. But the money was going fast, and I didn't have any idea from where or when new funds might come anytime soon.
So, in that kind of predicament, it shouldn't be hard for one to see why my car was repossessed. Yes, a portly fellow with a ZZ-Top-style beard came and towed my vehicle away. He thought he was being sneaky, coming at 2:30 in the morning and all, but I saw the whole thing. I was flat-on-my-ass drunk again and I watched him through the front window from the darkness of the living room where I sat. He didn't even have to fiddle with the door because I'd left it unlocked. I knew the Repo Man would be paying a visit sooner or later. He attached the hook of his tow truck to the front end of my Toyota Celica all the while nervously peering over his shoulder, glancing this way and that then put the gearshift in neutral, flicked his cigarette at my house (in some kind of macho "fuck you, buddy" move, I guess), and drove off with my car. I didn't care, though. I was too shit-faced. In fact, I laughed my ass off about it as I downed another cold Budweiser.
I wasn't laughing the next morning, though. That's when it occurred to me that it was going to be all the more difficult to look for (and, hopefully, travel to) a new job. I did own a bicycle, but there was no way in hell I was going to ride it around town looking for work. I'd be a sweaty, smelly mess in no time after bicycling in this Hawaiian heat and humidity. No, that wouldn't work at all. There was the option of public transportation, of course. But that would require money a resource that was dwindling to dangerous levels by that time. Besides, if I spent all my money on transportation looking for a job, what would I use to buy beer?
The last straw came when I received a Notice of Foreclosure from my mortgage company on the same day I was served with divorce papers from my wife. When I called her to inform her of my situation, she laughed at me literally laughed and said that perhaps she and Marco (yeah, I know "Marco"; it'd be hilarious if it was some other poor bastard's wife getting porked by a guy named "Marco") might be interested in taking over the payments of the house once our divorce was final. Damn who knew what a cutthroat bitch she could be?
That night, after many beers and few self-deliberations, I decided to leave. The one thing that I owned TRULY owned, free and clear of any bank or lender was my boat. I kept it docked in one of the thousands of slips down by the beach. It was a twenty-eight-footer and in pretty good shape for a 1976 model. I bought it used and spent three summers getting it back into shape. It was my pride and joy. Oh, how many nights we made love on the deck of that boat under a Hawaiian moon, with no one else around but the gulls.
Yes, I guess I could have tried to sell the boat for money to sustain myself. But really, how many people in Hawaii would want to purchase a twenty-one-year-old boat? And even if it did sell, how far would the money take me? It wouldn't have paid off my home. It probably wouldn't even have paid for the lawyer and everything else that goes into a good divorce.
No, I decided in my Budweiser-state-of-mind that I was going to keep that boat. Or, at the very least, keep it FROM anyone else. So it was that I ended up shoving off to sea in the middle of the night, with nothing in my possession but a change of clothes stuffed into a bookbag, a revolver with four bullets, and two-and-a-half cases of beer. Where I was going, I didn't know. Where I would end up, I had a pretty good idea, which is why I didn't bother to bring more than the four bullets that were already in my gun.
The night I left Honolulu in my houseboat was picture-perfect. Although it was 3:45am, the temperature was 81 degrees. There was not a cloud in the sky; a half moon and a million or more stars shone down upon the black sea. The water was calm, which was good, because I was really in no condition to be sailing a rough ocean. Hell, I was in no condition to be sailing a calm ocean.
Once I had cleared the marina and was well on my way towell, whereverI popped open another beer and began to clear the vessel of all remnants of my soon-to-be-former-wife/future-widow. Pictures, bathing suits, decorations, everything. If it was bought by her, if it was hung by her, if it was worn by her, or if it just reminded me of her it went overboard. No, I was no friend of ocean environmentalists that night!
I must've spent an hour or two clearing the boat. Well, clearing and drinking, that is. By the time I was finished, I realized that I was even more drunk than when I began. I wouldn't have thought that possible, but it was true. Besides, I knew more than just a few minutes had elapsed, because the weather was turning. I hadn't really noticed it when I was out chucking things overboard, but the winds were picking up. When I stuck my head out of the cabin door to check the skies, I saw that clouds were moving in lots of them, and quickly, too. Even in my drunken state, I realized that a storm was on the way. Instantly my adrenaline began to flow. I guess that anyone who's spent any time on the sea gets a bit anxious when a storm begins to blow in. Mother Nature has a way of demonstrating just who's in charge and that goes for anywhere in the world. Tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes all just little reminders from Mom Nature that SHE'S still in charge, dammit, and puny earthlings have absolutely no choice but to ride her out until she's calmed down again.
But the oceanyes, a storm on the sea is uniquely frightening. There's nothing quite like riding a boat through torrential rains and waves that feel like they might rip the vessel apart (and easily could, actually). That's what went through my mind at that moment. Only for that moment, though. Then I thought to myself: Hey, dumbass you came out here with the idea of killing yourself. What's with the sudden pangs of self-preservation? If you die by your own hand or by a nasty sea-storm, what's the diff? Dead is dead, right? Still, a human being's survival instinct is remarkably strong. It took several more beers to overcome it.
A half-hour or so later, the storm was really beginning to come on strong. Though it was well past sunrise, the storm clouds maintained darkness in the skies. The winds were blowing forcefully and the boat was getting rocked pretty hard. I've never been prone to sea-sickness, but after fifteen or sixteen beers, with no food but some summer sausage and few Ritz crackers, I was beginning to feel a tad nauseous. I stumbled over to one of the cabin couches and lay down. I put my forearm over my eyes, both to block out the lights that were shining directly in my eyes and to help stop the room from spinning. Either I was really, really drunk, or my boat was caught in a whirlpool and going down. I closed my eyes as I covered them with my arm. The last thing I saw was a flash of lightning outside. Then came the clap of thunder, and I was gone.
When I awoke later that day, the first thing I noticed was the bright sunshine beaming through one of the cabin windows. I don't know how long I'd slept; it was, according to my watch, 2:27 in the afternoon. I sat up on the couch. My head was already pounding from the hangover, but sitting up really got the beat going. I could hear the lapping of waves on the hull of the boat, which seemed to keep tempo with my thumping skull. I put the palm of my hand to my temple to try to calm the angry drummer in my head. That was when I noticed them. Palm trees. Sitting up offered me a better view out my cabin window, and now I could see lots of palm trees. Somehow, sometime during my "nap", I had hit landfall. I didn't know exactly where I was, or what had happened, but the trees let me know that I was no longer at sea.
I stood up abruptly to get a better view of my surroundings. Any possibility that I'd been blown into a U-turn by the storm and landed back at Honolulu (or any other part of Hawaii, for that matter) was dispelled when I got a look around. There were no other boats. There were no other people. In fact, there were no other visible signs of civilization at all.
I walked out further onto the deck of my boat. It appeared that the storm blew my boat onto the shore of a small island. The location of this island was a complete mystery to me. I had slept through the entire "journey". The thought occurred to me that the quest to end my life may have came perilously close; if my boat had sunk, or crash-landed on jagged rocks, I'm not sure I would have awaken to save myself. Even though my plans were to commit suicide, a shudder ran down my spine at the thought.
I must admit that the place I had landed was a virtual tropical paradise. There was a white sandy beach at the shore of a small lagoon, surrounded by beautiful palm trees as far as the eye could see. From my vantage point, I could not tell how large this island was, but it did not appear to be exceptionally small.
The stern of my boat was grounded on the beach, but the aft was still in the water. Since it was still afloat, I had hopes that no serious damage was done during its unpiloted voyage.
I hopped off the boat and landed with a splash. The water was warm and felt good on my legs. I walked towards the back end of my vessel to inspect her. No immediate damage was visible, at least not on that side. I turned towards the beach and walked to the front of the boat, so that I could circle around and check out the other side. Again, no visible damage. Someone was certainly looking out for me last night (or looking to prolong my agony, depending on which way one looked at it).
Once again, I turned and began walking towards the beach. When I'd hopped off the boat earlier, I thought that I'd seen a trail leading into the palm trees. As I looked closer, sure enough there it was.
Instantly my mind began racing. How did a trail get here? Who, or what, made it? Some wild, potentially dangerous, animal? Or a person? Perhaps dangerouss person. Stories of natives on these small tropic islands have run rampant for years. Of course, much like Bigfoot, none have ever been photographed or brought to civilization. Still, it did get my adrenaline pumping once again.
I got back aboard the boat. If I was going to investigate that trail, I wanted take a few things with me. In the cabin, on a table littered with empty Budweiser cans, lay the gun. Only four bullets, but it had to do. It was sure better than nothing.
I jumped off the front end of the boat and walked over to the trail. The mouth cleared the shade of the overhead palms, so it was brightly lit by the afternoon sunshine. I pushed a palm-frond out of my way and proceeded onto the trail. The palm-frond swished back into place behind me. Was that a footprint in the sand? I did a quick double-take. No. Just a shadow on the ground playing tricks on me.
I pushed forward into the jungle. The foliage was not thick at all. There were many trees and bushes, but not so crowded as to impose on my personal space. There was plenty of open room to move about. But, there was also plenty of ivy and vines all over the island floor; the trail was not mistakable and easy to make out. Rays of sunshine pierced the palms overhead and stabbed the ground below me as I made my way along.
I must've walked a quarter of a mile or so when I saw them. At first I wasn't sure what I was seeing, and kept walking as I approached them, squinting my eyes for a better look. But as I got closer, I slowed down, eventually coming to a complete stop. At first I couldn't believe what my eyes were showing me, but there they were. Right in front of where I'd stopped were six individual graves. I had stumbled across a small "cemetery", enclosed within a foot-high bamboo fence. There were apparently six people buried here, because I saw six distinct grave markers with the following hand-written names on them: "Jonas Grumby", and then, under the name, "Skipper"; "Roy Hinkley", with "Professer" misspelled beneath it. Next was "Mary Ann Summers", then "Ginger Grant", and below that name, one word: "Hollywood". The final two graves must've contained either some combination of family members or, more likely, a husband and his wife, because the last names were the same. One the first of the final two markers was the name "Thurston Howell III", and then on the last, "Eunice 'Lovey' Howell". Interestingly, below both of their names was inscribed a symbol: the dollar sign.
I had no idea who these people were, where they came from, or why their graves were on this isolated island. I stood there for a few moments more, my mind searching for anything that could explain this odd discovery. Also, even though I'd never met these people, I silently paid my own respects to their graves. It was a sobering sight. Remember, just hours before I was ready to put myself in exactly the same condition. But to see an actual grave, and to contemplate that an actual human being was lying therewell, let's just say that it's a tool that should be used by mental health experts to help deter suicides.
At the end of those few moments I suddenly wished that I had my digital camera. It wasn't even on the boat. Hell, for all I knew, it wasn't even at home, either. It had probably already been spirited away to Marco's house by my wife, to record their bedroom antics for posterity.
But, I did have paper and a pen back at the boat! I quickly turned and dashed back down the trail towards the boat. Moving with the agility of a teenage athlete, rather than a hungover thirty-something man, I splashed into the water, grabbed the rail of the boat and hauled myself up onto the deck. Then I ran through the door into the cabin and began rummaging through one of the many junk drawers in the cabinets. It didn't take me long to locate a small spiral notebook and an ink pen to go along with it. I scribbled a few lines onto the first sheet of paper to test the ink pen and then I was off again. I lurched off the side of the boat like a hurdler, and within seconds I was running back down the path. Once I arrived back at the graves, I flipped open the notebook and wrote down the names from all of the markers. One by one I jotted down a name, and where applicable, the accompanying nickname or symbol that was written on the marker with it. When I had written them all down, I stuffed the notebook and pen into my back pocket, bowed my head towards the graves, and then proceeded onward down the trail.
My walk was most pleasant. The jungle looked exactly the same as it did when I first entered the trail. Although there were many signs and sounds of animal life birds squawking, insects buzzing, and more than a few monkey turds scattered about the place there were absolutely no signs of human life.
Well, I should say that there were no signs of human life on the trail. But at the next clearing that I reached, which was approximately a half-mile or so from the gravesite, that was another thing altogether. I didn't realize that I was coming upon a clearing because palm-fronds overlapped the trail here and there, and actually blocked my view of the clearing. As I pushed the fronds away, though, I was amazed at what I saw. There before me stood four makeshift huts. Distinctly man-made, but apparently unused for some time, as well. They were quite dilapidated, and one was almost completely falling in on itself. I didn't know for sure, but I had to assume that these were used by the people now occupying the graves I had just passed. The huts obviously hadn't been used in quite some time.
Out in front of the huts sat a long table, with seven chairs fashioned from bamboo and palm-fronds. On top of the table sat several coconut husks, which had been carved out, apparently so they could be used as drinking utensils.
I surveyed the clearing and saw no signs of recent activity. No footprints. No fire. No food or water. No people. Nothing. The table, chairs, and coconut husks-glasses were all dusted with sand. Many loose, brown palm-fronds lay on the ground all over the clearing a sign that they'd been there for a while, and had lain undisturbed for an equally long time.
I ventured in for a closer look. As I approached the first hut on the outer left of the perimeter, I was able to see things inside for the first time. This was the hut in the worst condition, with a roof that was literally collapsing inward. I could see two cots inside, with pillows at one end of both of them. So, they were used by "modern" people! No natives that I'm aware of manufacture and use pillows when they sleep. I couldn't go inside this hut because of its condition, but I could have sworn that I saw a dress hanging up amidst the wreckage by the far wall.
I continued walking, proceeding on towards the next hut. This one wasn't in nearly as poor condition as the first hut. In fact, although it looked run-down, the roof and walls were still up, so I could actually walk inside.
I deduced that this hut must have housed just one occupant, because there was only one sleeping cot. And if the crudely-fabricated beakers and instruments that lay on a table were any indication, I would assume that this hut belonged to the person in the grave marked "Professer", who was evidently some type of science professor or scientist. I mused over the instruments and gadgets on the tabletop. Everything was fashioned from bamboo, fronds, and other pieces of sticks, wood, and vines. Here was something that looked like a primitive thermometer. It registered over the 90-degree mark. I noticed that, from the feel of things, it was fairly accurate. There was also a gadget that appeared to be a barometer. There was a pair of safety goggles that had been apparently, curiously, coated with lead. Beakers, test tubes, flasks connected to other flasks with a coiled tubing system. No question, it was a lab all right.
I exited the "Professer's" hut and moved over to the next in line. This structure, like the others, was definitely showing some wear-and-tear from the elements. Although it was still standing, part of the roof had fallen in. The opening to this hut was comprised of double-doors, each made up of smaller bamboo-framed squares. The doors were draped with a red silk-like cloth, which was very effective in keeping the inside of the hut blocked from outside view.
I grabbed the left-side door panel and very delicately pulled it open to peer inside the hut. The first thing that I noticed were two cots: this hut was evidently occupied by two people, also. From the looks of things, the roof had been partially caved in for quite some time. All of the furniture and objects in the hut were covered with sand and badly water-damaged.
Across from me, against the opposite wall, sat what looked like a woman's makeup stand. It was a table and chair, with a large mirror attached to the table's top. On it sat many dusty bottles of perfume and other items. Next to it stood a large clothes closet fashioned from bamboo. The closet contained a mixture of men's attire as well as several dresses. I was amused to see a black tuxedo with tails hanging on the end!
I pulled the notebook from my back pocket and glanced at the names I had written. Two people, a man and a woman, had the same last name: Howell. This had to be their hut. I didn't know for sure, but I would guess that they were a married couple, and this was their new home away from home.
It was when I turned to leave so that I could examine the last remaining hut that I noticed something odd. Even though this hut had stood vacant for quite some time (how long exactly, only God knows), and although the contents had been exposed to the elements, there was a peculiar marking on the floor. Now, understand that the floors of all the huts were simply the sandy soil that made up the island. Whoever erected the huts did not bother to build an actual floor. The huts were simply four walls and a roof. The strange markings that I saw extended from the far wall over by the clothes closet, and ran right up to the doorway where I now stood. It was partially deteriorated due to the exposure from the failed roof, but it was still plainly visible. It looked as though something had been dragged from that far wall right to the doorway, and likely beyond, one would logically assume. What that was, and who moved it, was a mystery.
I backed out of the hut slowly, my eyes locked on those strange marks in the sand, wondering what the hell that was all about. I was lost deep in thought, and only brought back to reality when the bright light of the overhead sun shone into my eyes.
I looked away sharply, cursing the sun, momentarily forgetting the mystery of the hut. I chuckled at that thought. It sounded like a Hardy Boys novel: "The Mystery of the Hut". Oh, if only Frank and Joe were here now. They could figure out this puzzle I'd discovered.
I snapped back to the present and stuffed the notebook that I still held in my hand back into my rear pocket. I glanced at the remaining, unexamined hut. Only one left. Maybe it would hold some clues, some answers as to who these people were. Perhaps I could also learn exactly where I was.
The first thing I perceived as I approached the hut was its condition. It was in much better shape than the other three. Better construction? Just plain luck? Who knew? Regardless, one thing was sure, this hut looked much sturdier than the others, and I would be able to fully investigate the inside.
I walked over, opened the door, and gasped literally, audibly, gasped when I saw the person sitting at the table inside the hut. It was, as one might suppose, the last thing I expected to find at that point. I had seen nor heard any sign at all of current human activity. But then, upon closer scrutiny, I could see that this person had not seen any current human activity, either. Although the person was facing away from me sitting at the table, and slumped over as though sleeping, it was obvious that the body had been there quite some time. Much like everything else that I'd seen, it was covered with a thin layer of fine white sand. It had obviously not moved for some time.
I slowly walked over and around to the front of the table. Though it was skeletized, I could see that the body was apparently that of a male. It was dressed in blue jeans, once-upon-a-time-white deck shoes, and a faded, red pull-over shirt. Strands of stringy white hair stuck out from a white sailor's cap that sat atop the body's skull.
It was impossible to say how this person died. From the condition of the body, it was evident that he had been dead for quite some time. However, there were no weapons nearby, nor any bloodstains on the table or in the sand. I supposed that perhaps he could have induced his own death with some form of medication if he had access to any, but I figured that more than likely he died from natural causes: a heart attack, stroke, or an aneurism. The white hair indicated that he was certainly old enough for these types of ailments. Or perhaps he just died of plain loneliness. Almost certainly this person had buried the people in the graves I had seen earlier. So he had endured the deaths and burials of each of his fellow castaways, one by one, until finally it was just he himself left to the utter isolation and solitude of this place. I shook my head as I looked at him and considered what he must have endured.
As I continued to gaze at the dead body before me, my attention turned to the table top. I hadn't noticed before, but I saw now that there were numerous carvings etched into the wood top. Some were partially obscured by a small, rectangular white transistor radio, but most were plainly visible. I had no idea whether any or all of them were put there by the man in front of me, but I supposed that at least some of them were.
The carved words were much like what you might find on an old school desk. Various ramblings and words that made no sense at all to a stranger like me. In one corner of the table was carved "Skipper". Below it, "Gilligan". Then, "Gilligan was Here". After spying several more instances of "Gilligan", I began to wonder if that was this person's name. There were other things carved into the table top, but nothing that meant anything to me: "Kupacai headhunters", "Beware the Curse of Kona!", and "3 hour tour". From the rambling nature of these writings, I began to consider the possibility that the man simply went insane. Perhaps he died of "island madness".
How long I stood there at the table, I don't know. I was absorbed by the carvings on the table, and the possibilities of this man's final days. When I finally forced myself to move on, the first thing that caught my eye was an object hanging on the hut's wall. It was a white, circular object: a life preserver. Stenciled on it in bold, black letters was "SS Minnow". It was, I guessed, the name of the vessel that brought them to this island. There was something strangely familiar about that name, but I couldn't put my finger on it at the time. I chalked it up to fatigue and decided to move on.
I turned towards the door to leave and paused. There, in the sand in front of the door, were markings exactly like I'd seen in the previous hut. Faint, but definitely there. They stretched from the opening of the doorway over to the far wall of the hut. My eyes followed the markings over to where they ended. At that spot sat a trunk. Not a trunk that had been manufactured from bamboo, like practically everything else in this small "village", but an actual, modern trunk. It was the kind of trunk in which someone might store trinkets or heirlooms; the kind of trunk that might be stashed in an attic and forgotten.
It didn't take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out that this trunk had started out in the other hut, and then had been moved to this hut, probably by the guy now sitting dead at the table in front of me. I wondered why he had moved the trunk to his hut. What compelled him to drag an apparently fairly-hefty trunk from one hut to another. Especially if there was no one else left on the island. Things were getting more curious by the minute.
I walked over to where the trunk now sat. On the front of the trunk was a monogrammed "H". Closer inspection revealed a tag bearing the name of "Thurston Howell III". Once again I pulled the notebook from my back pocket. Just as I thought: it was one of the names I'd seen earlier on a marker at the "graveyard".
I bent over to unlatch it, certain I would find that it was locked. There were actually three separate latches, all with keyholes on them so that they could be locked. Two smaller latches on either side surrounded the large, primary latch in the center. I just knew that all three would be locked, and that I'd probably have to search through the pockets of the corpse behind me for a key if I really wanted to know what was in the trunk.
I reached out with both hands and simultaneously lifted the two smaller latches. Surprisingly, they popped open. I then used my right thumb to push open the center latch. Without even realizing it, I had taken a deep breath and was holding it as I moved to open the center latch. As my thumb pushed the button sideways I heard the familiar "ka-chunk" sound as the latch popped free. What luck! It, too, was unlocked. I finally released the breath that I'd been holding.
I slowly lifted the lid, fully expecting to find a pile of dusty, moth-eaten clothes. So imagine my surprise when I opened the lid and saw nothing but crisp, green one hundred dollar bills!
I don't know how long I squatted there by that trunk, gazing in disbelief at what I saw. I lost all track of time as I tried to wrap my brain around what my eyes were showing me. I didn't know what to think. Was this real money I was looking at? Then it hit me. Finally I remembered why the name of the ship I saw on the life preserver sounded so familiar to me.
One of the first jobs I had as a teenager was working on chartered boat tours. In Hawaii, it was a common job and easy money for teenagers. I remembered hearing stories during that period of a lost tour boat that carried seven passengers. The name of the boat? The SS Minnow. Supposedly, it departed Honolulu one afternoon for a three-hour tour, but was never seen again. Among its passengers, so the story went, was a movie star and are you ready? a millionaire and his wife. The tale was always told in a kind of tongue-in-cheek sort of way. I always understood it to be mythical, a fable passed on from one generation of tour guides to the next. I didn't ever think the story to actually be true.
And yet, here I was, standing on an island out in the middle of God-knows-where, which just happened to hold the corpses of seven people, who apparently sailed on a boat called the SS Minnow. Who'da thunk it?
My mind was reeling. I reached into the trunk and moved some of the piles of bills aside. A couple of the stacks spilled onto the sandy floor because the trunk was so full. It appeared that the entire trunk was filled from top to bottom with stacks of money. This was, in effect, a gigantic wallet.
I picked up the two fallen stacks from the ground where they lay. I returned one to the trunk. The other I held in my hands. I tossed it up and down gently. I ruffled the ends of the bills and smelled the aroma (which was rather musty, I must confess). The band around the bills said "$10,000.00". If my math was correct, then each stack must have contained one hundred bills. I didn't know how many stacks were in that trunk, but I knew it was a lot. I thought to myself that the trunk must have contained at least a million dollars, perhaps more. No wonder this guy dragged the thing into his hut. He probably considered it an inheritance from Mr. Howell. After all, it was probably he who did bury Howell and his wife. In the end, he deserved it. A perverse variation of the Survivor TV show, you might say. This poor bastard managed to outlast everyone else. Hey, why not keep the money?
I don't know how long I sat there staring at that trunk full of moneymarveling at it. I'm not ashamed to say that I was mesmerized by it. I had never before seen such a pile of greenbacks. A thought then occurred to me: what if they're fakes? Counterfeits? But that thought quickly dissipated. They looked real enough. They looked kind of "old" (most, if not all, were stamped "1963 Series"), but they certainly looked genuine. The guy who dragged the trunk into this hut certainly believed they were real. Besides, the old legend about the millionaire and his wife who disappeared on a boat cruise, the rich-guy-sounding name "Thurston Howell III" that was on the grave marker AND the trunk's tag it was all too much to be coincidence. It really was a trunk brimming full of money. Cold, hard cash. Enough to change someone's life.
Someone like me.
I nervously glanced over my shoulder, half expecting someone to be standing there ready to pummel me for touching their money. Nobody there except old Redshirt, and he didn't seem to mind. He hadn't moved, anyway.
I slammed the lid of the trunk down and closed all the latches. My mind was made up. My suicidal urges from the previous day were now gone. I intended to take the money. I would take it and start a new lease on life. Hey, no sense in letting it sit there and rot, right?
There were handles on either end of the trunk. I grabbed them both to lift the trunk. Bad idea. I might as well have been trying to lift a Volkswagen the trunk felt just as heavy. No wonder there were tracks in the sand where Redshirt had dragged it in. I grabbed the left-side handle with both hands and hoisted one end of the trunk off the ground. I started backing up towards the door, pulling the trunk along with me as I went. It moved, but slowly, begrudgingly. The sandy floor beneath didn't help. I could see that it would be a long trip back to my boat, but that was alright. I just reminded myself that I was working for an exceptionally reasonable salary.
The trek back to my boat was extremely arduous. I had to stop and rest several times. On most of my stops I just sat on the trunk and rested. Other times, though, I reopened the lid, just to get another glimpse of the cash. Just to make sure that I wasn't imagining the whole thing.
The combination of the tropic heat and the effect of the alcohol that I'd consumed the night before was working extremely well to dehydrate me. By the time I'd reached the grave site, I could go no further without water. I left the trunk there and ran ahead to my boat. I chugged two whole bottles of water, then grabbed a soda for my trip back.
As I approached the makeshift cemetery, the site of the trunk sitting there near the grave of Mr. Howell fired up a few pangs of guilt. It didn't take long for my mind to wipe away that guilt, though. If the "1963 Series" stamp on the bills was any indication, this money had been here for a long, long time. Mr. Howell sure wasn't going to be spending it anytime soon.
So, I once again grasped a handle with both hands and began tugging the trunk along. Eventually, finally, I reached the beach where my boat was located.
I couldn't lift the trunk up onto the deck of my boat, so I actually had to empty it by hand in order to get it onto the boat. That's right, there I stood on the beach of some uncharted island, tossing stacks of one-hundred dollar bills onto the deck of my boat, and laughing like a mad hatter as I did so. Once the trunk was light enough to lift, I hoisted it onto the deck and replaced all the bills I had removed.
I had a couple more bottles of water while the events of the day rolled around in my head.
That's when I decided: just one more task to complete.
I grabbed a tarp from the storage area of my boat, along with a spade. One might wonder why a man would keep a spade on a boat, but if you ever run your boat into a sandbar, then you'll see why a spade might come in handy. I also found a can of black spray paint that I'd used for touch-up jobs. I jammed the can into my back pocket.
With these items in hand, I jumped off my boat and headed back down the trail. Within minutes I was back at the clearing with the huts.
I re-entered the hut where I'd found the money. The hut that contained Redshirt. Before I left, I intended to see that he would rejoin his friends.
After spreading the tarp out on the ground, I walked over to the table where he had sat now for so long and positioned myself behind him. I staved off my squeamish feelings, grabbed him under the armpits and pulled him up. I began taking steps backwards, pulling him along until he was clear of the table. Though he was almost completely decomposed, his body was fairly flexible. Sure, there were a few "snap, crackle, and pops", but all in all the body moved the way I wanted it to.
I laid the corpse out on the tarp that I'd spread on the ground. That's when his hat fell off. As I went to replace it, I noticed a tag on the inside flap. The tag bore a pre-printed line: "Name__________________". On that line was one word, written in black-marker ink: Gilligan. I don't know if that was this person's first name or if it was his last name. Truthfully, I didn't know if it was a name, or if it was even his name. My instinct was that it was the guy's name, though. It was an improvement over "Redshirt", anway. Not much, but a little better.
I gently placed the hat on the body's chest, just under his heart. Then I folded both hands over the hat. I made the motion of the cross and began to roll him up in the tarp.
Once I had him completely wrapped in the tarp, I lifted the end with his feet and turned towards the door. I know it might seem callous to some that I intended to drag him along the ground. I'm sure I probably could have lifted him, but the truth is, I didn't want to. I meant no disrespect; frankly, I was just kind of creeped out by the thought of walking through the jungle with a mummy slung over my shoulder.
I began to pull him over towards the door. Here's a tip, kids: pulling a tarp-wrapped, decomposed body along sandy ground is much easier than pulling a money-laden trunk along sandy ground.
When I got to the door, I held his feet up with one arm as I pushed the door open. When I turned back around to grasp his feet with both hands I stopped. My eyes locked on the life preserver hanging on the wall. The SS Minnow, it read. I gently laid the body's feet back on the ground, walked over to the wall and removed the life preserver. I would keep it as a memento, a kind of souvenir that would serve to always remind that this event really did occur. Well, that and the money, that is.
I stuck the preserver under my arm and returned to the body. It was awkward trying to keep the life preserver tucked under my arm and hold the feet up as I dragged the body along, but I managed. An idea to lay the preserver on the body briefly flashed into my mind, but I chased it away quickly. That would be disrespectful, and I wouldn't have it.
On the journey to the "cemetery", I pondered all of the unknowns about the man I was now delivering to his grave. I wondered what kind of man he was in life. I wondered how they all made out on this deserted island, all of them forced into becoming modern-day Robinson Crusoes. I wondered what kind of problems they encountered, what kind of adventures the experienced, the fun they must have made for themselves. I could never know any of this, but I was sure of one thing. These people were exceptional human beings. It was obvious that they'd lived out a fair portion of their lives on this island. Life dealt them a pretty shitty hand of cards, but they made the best of it. They made it work. It made me ashamed of myself to think that I was contemplating suicide just twenty-four hours earlier.
When I finally arrived at the grave site, I left "Mr. Gilligan" at the perimeter, so he would not be in the way of my work. I walked over to where I'd left my spade on the original pass-through. It was only after I'd picked up the spade and was considering where to actually break ground for the grave that it occurred to me there was actually only one place for it. The site they had chosen for their cemetery was quite small. The jungle around it was a maze of trails with few clearings between the beach and the encampment with the huts. This may have been the only suitable place for such a purpose. In any event, there was only room for one more grave, and that was on the end, next to the grave marked "Skipper". Something in my gut told me that was the place I would have buried him anyway, even if there had been room to bury him elsewhere.
It took me exactly three hours to dig the grave. And yes, it was six feet deep. I didn't know what kind of animals were on the island, but I wanted to make sure that the grave went undisturbed. Even in the tropic heat, and nursing a healthy hangover to boot, I managed to dig a six-foot-deep grave in three hours. Not too shabby. Of course, a certain trunk full of money was on my mind. The truth is, I really wanted nothing more than to get back and count it to see just exactly how much was in it. But, I continued. I wanted to do the job I'd begun thoroughly.
After the hole was dug, I dragged the body over to it. I stood over it silently, contemplating the finality of it all. Then I picked it up under the shoulders, and slid it down into the hole, feet first. When I had the body completely into the hole, I began replacing the soil that I had removed. The first piles of dirt shoveled in hit the tarp with a loud thwack!, which elicited a grimace from me. But once the tarp was covered, the soil fell virtually noise-free. Filling up the hole was much, much easier than digging it, and I finished doing so in just under an hour.
Once I had the grave filled and the soil patted down, I set out to look for a suitable grave marker. The other graves were marked with pieces of wood, but I settled on a rock that I found. It was heavy, and both large enough and flat enough to write on. When I got back to the gravesite, I pulled the can of spray paint from my pocket. After shaking up the can to stir the paint, I sprayed onto the rock the only thing I could think to write: "Gilligan". Unfortunately, I had no idea when the man was born, or even when he died, so I put only the one word. I placed the rock at the head of the fresh grave, pressed it down into the sandy soil until I felt confident that it wouldn't move, and stepped back to admire my work.
It looked good, if I do say so myself. I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and made the sign of the cross one last time. And then that was that. I gathered up the spade and the life preserver and headed back to my boat. Fortunately the rear two-thirds of my boat was still in water, so it was not difficult to get it pushed off the beach and back afloat. Once I was underway, it took me no time to figure out where I was and to plot a course back to Honolulu. Ah, the magic of GPS!
Well, that is my story. That's the way I became the wealthy, independent playboy that I am today. I wish I could chalk my success up to my own hard work, but that wouldn't be truthful.
As for the money, I eventually found that the trunk contained exactly $1,560,900. Definitely more than chump change. When I returned home, I began turning it into banks in small amounts, chalking it up to inheritances, money found in loved ones' homes after they passed away, etc. Anything that would keep people from asking too many questions, wondering how I came into so much cash, and why all of it was in so many "old" bills. They wouldn't have found anything anyway. If they'd looked, they would have seen that there were no recent robberies involving that kind of money, no fraudulent activitiesit was all free and clear.
Once I had the money "cleared", so to speak, I hired an accountant and a good investor. I had some fun with part of the money, to be sure, but I also wanted to grow it. While I was seeing parts of the world I'd once thought I'd never see, my investor was putting part of my money in things like "Microsoft" and "Yahoo!" (among other things). It paid off. Today I'm worth over one hundred million dollars.
My ex-hubby isn't fairing as well. She ended up marrying Marco, who promptly became unemployed and packed on an extra fifty pounds. From the bruises I've seen on the ex's face, it looks like Marco has a bit of a temper, too. But, he's still driving a Vette. A Chevette. I guess it's kind of tough to make car payments and insurance payments on a Corvette when you're unemployed. So, now he travels to the liquor store and back in his '81 Chevy Chevette. Damn. Sometimes karma's a real bitch.
Well, that's it. That's my story. Yeah, it's pretty fantastic, but it's the truth. Sure, like you I wonder why a millionaire set out for a three-hour-tour with a trunk containing a million-and-a-half dollars; why did some of them take multiple changes of clothes, and why didn't they ever come across other folks on that island? No matter, though. I write this not for anyone's approval, but for posterity. For me. I will keep this recollection of events in my vault, where it will be safe. The very same vault where I keep a banded stack of 1963 series one-hundred dollar bills and a life preserver which bears the name of the SS Minnow. That way, years from now when my memory begins to fade, I can read and remember how fate changed my life one day by dropping me off on Gilligan's island.