This story is by Elizabeth Nettleton and won an honorable mention in our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Elizabeth Nettleton grew up on the Sunshine Coast, Australia, and once walked into a lamppost because she was so engrossed in a book. Her short stories have been included in several anthologies, and her two novels are available on Amazon. Find news and more of her work at elizabethnettleton.com.
Tendrils of smoke twisted into the air before disappearing into the night sky.
“This might not be how we thought things would go, but you can’t deny it’s beautiful here,” Dominic said, flashing Ally a dimpled smile.
She forced a smile in return, then swept her eyes across the beach until she found the wreckage of their small plane. Waves lapped against its crumpled nose, now blackened from their emergency landing. Even though they’d emptied it of its fuel, Dominic had warned her to stay away from it, just in case it still exploded.
Let it, Ally thought, turning back to the crackling fire.
She knew taking the plane out was a bad idea. Call it intuition, or foreboding, or just not wanting to spend another moment alone with Dominic. She’d asked him to think of something else, but he’d insisted. “Come on,” he’d wheedled, sliding an arm around her waist. “It’ll be romantic.”
Ally, as usual, had relented. Just one last time, she’d promised herself.
But fate had other plans, as it always seemed to do. Halfway through the trip, their navigation shorted, followed quickly by their engine. Somehow, Dominic had managed to land on this island. They were safe, even if they had no idea where they were.
Dominic squeezed Ally’s hand, and she suppressed a wince.
“Careful,” she said, her tone deliberately light. “There’s no doctor nearby if you break my finger.”
He didn’t respond. Their fire was dying now, settling inside the kindling and turning it red from within. “I’m ready for bed,” he said at last.
“Yeah,” Ally said, blinking back tears. “I guess I am too.”
The first rays of morning light stretched across the water, painting the waves a brilliant gold. Ally glanced at Dominic. At some point in the night he’d shifted away from her, curling himself upon the sand and resting his head on his arm. She crawled forward, careful not to disturb any of the large, green leaves they’d arranged into a temporary shelter, and walked to the water.
The waves kissed her feet, leaving beads of foam upon her toes. She allowed herself a brief smile, then felt her gaze travel back to the plane. Her fingernails dug into her palms.
Why? she thought as she moved toward it, first at a walk, and then at a run. I was about to be done with him forever. Why? She reached the wreckage and threw herself against the door. A sob rose in her throat as she clambered into the cockpit and hit everything she could find: the controls, the black screens, and the passenger seat. She kicked the window and it shattered, sprinkling glass onto the beach below.
Panting, Ally leaned between the seats. She raised her fist, her sight set on the back window, then froze.
Spread across the rear of the plane was a thick, gray blanket.
Why didn’t Dominic take that when he searched the plane? she wondered, her brow furrowed. She grabbed the blanket, and her eyes fell on a white box poking out from beneath the passenger seat.
“What?” Ally breathed.
She wriggled into the back of the plane and tugged the box out. Across the lid, written in big, bold letters, were three words: “EMERGENCY LIFE RAFT.”
How did we miss this?
Except they hadn’t missed it. Dominic had volunteered to search the plane, and told her he hadn’t found anything. He’d said their supplies must have fallen out when they’d crashed, floated into the ocean, never to be seen again. Ally hadn’t questioned him; she’d learned not to.
She opened the box and laid the folded raft in front of her.
Her head jerked up. Through the window, she could see Dominic standing beside their shelter, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Ally, where are you?”
Ally threw the blanket over the raft, her hands trembling. She squeezed out through the passenger side door and sprinted away from the plane.
Don’t see me, she begged.
“There you are!”
Ally pulled her mouth into a grin as she spun around. “Hey! I thought I’d go for a run while you slept in.”
“You?” Dominic asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you go for a run.”
Ally shrugged. “Well, there’s not much else to do around here, is there?”
Dominic’s blue eyes hardened above his smile. “We’re lucky to be alive, Ally. You’re really complaining about being bored?”
“No, no,” she said, warmth flooding her voice. She gestured at the trees behind them. “I meant I’m exploring, that’s all. I wanted to get to grips with my new home.”
Home. Dominic’s face relaxed at the word. “Yeah,” he agreed, reaching over to squeeze her hand. “Let’s head back then. I’m getting hungry.”
Maybe the raft is broken, she tried to tell herself as he guided her toward their shelter. Dominic might have hurt her in the past, even tried to stop her leaving him before, but he’d never . . .
Ally couldn’t finish the sentence. Everything he’d done to her had seemed unbelievable at the time. She’d forgiven every escalation, believed all his promises to change, until he controlled every aspect of her life. If he’d discovered that she’d accepted a job in her hometown, or found the suitcase she’d hidden away, she wasn’t sure what he was capable of doing.
They passed the plane, its newly broken window glistening in the sunlight, and Dominic clamped his hand down upon Ally’s shoulder.
“It’s just the two of us now,” he said, digging his fingers into the flesh above her collarbone. “You and me. Forever. The way it was always meant to be.”
“That’s right,” Ally whispered.
Why hasn’t anyone found us yet? Dominic said their navigation shorted, but that hadn’t happened far from here. Where were the search parties?
It’s just the two of us now.
Ally stopped. Dominic raised an eyebrow at her, and she licked her lips. “I have a bit of a surprise for you. Y’know, to celebrate our new life here.”
Dominic tilted his head to the side, and Ally punched him in his smiling face. He cried out in surprise, but she was already gone. She ran toward the plane, and a moment later heard Dominic’s heavy footsteps start to close the gap between them.
Her foot struck a piece of broken metal. Thinking quickly, she lifted it with both hands and swung. There was a sickening crack as it landed against Dominic’s skull, and he fell backwards, blood splattering onto the damp sand.
Ally stared at him. Resting in Dominic’s upturned hand was a small knife; a knife he’d never told her about. With a small cry, she climbed into the plane and grabbed the raft. She tossed it out the passenger side door and jumped down beside it.
Here goes nothing, she thought, before jerking the cord. The raft squealed as it started to swell with air.
“Ally!” Dominic cried, his voice weak. “I told you not to go on the plane! You weren’t meant to do that!”
Something smacked against the other side of the plane, and Ally jumped. The raft went silent, and she pushed it to the water, her feet slipping beneath her.
“Ally, get back here!”
Ally turned and gasped. Dominic had staggered to the water, his face slick with blood. He held the knife in front of him. “You’re staying here with me!” he shrieked.
A wave crashed into her, knocking her off balance. Ally’s head slipped beneath the water, and she surfaced a moment later, spluttering. She dug her feet into the sand floor and propelled herself forward, gripping the raft with white-knuckled hands.
Gritting her teeth, Ally hooked her arms over the raft and jumped. Water pooled beneath her as she hung over the side, but she held firm, wriggling forward until she was safely inside.
A small red bag was attached to one side of the raft, so she ripped it open and dumped the contents out. When she didn’t spot a paddle, she grabbed a plastic-wrapped bag and drove it into the sea.
Behind her, Dominic fought the waves, blood spilling from his snarling mouth. He lurched forward and swiped. The knife sliced through the air before landing back into the water.
A small wave lifted the raft, then plowed into Dominic, pulling him off his feet. Ally leaned forward, sweat dotting her brow, and paddled as fast as she could. The wind snatched away Dominic’s curse-filled screeches as the distance between them grew, and soon all Ally could hear was her makeshift paddle slapping against the water. After what felt like hours, she risked a glance over her shoulder.
All she saw was the ocean.
Ally took a shuddered breath, then picked up one of the flares from the red bag and aimed it at the cloudless sky.
She didn’t have any food. She didn’t have any water. But as long as she didn’t have Dominic, she might have a chance.
Hi Elizabeth. Wow, you have great skill in moving the drama and motivation. When I read the story, I felt like I was in the characters shoes. When she wanted to hide the lifeboat I did too. When she wanted to escape, I did too. It was a bit of genius to create the dynamic between his knife and the easily deflated raft. Wow – how you set these pieces in motion I don’t know. Everything moved from beginning to ending within the word limit so nicely. Very well done. My story is Life support if you have a chance to read it.
Elizabeth Nettleton says
Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my story, Daniel! I’m so glad you liked it. I’m looking forward to reading your story too!
Stu Ducklow says
Good story in the sense that you kept me reading right til the end, but it lacks authenticity. \i find it hard to believe a navigation system can simply short out. And aircraft are very sturdy– you can’t simply kick the window out and shatter the glass. There isn’t any glass— the windshield is built of fibrglass. The fighting scene doesn’t really work for me. She punches him in the face without warning– I know she’s angry and afraid but there was no build-up to the punch. And after she disables him with a lucky throw of a rock, he’s suddenly chasing after her in the waater stabbing his knife up and down like a character from an old thriller movie. Sorry for being so critical– you did keep me reading and I like the unresolved ending, but I nearly stopped reading whenever I ran into one of these obvious distractions.
Elizabeth Nettleton says
Thanks so much for reading. I’ll admit, I did hope the reader would question Dom’s story about the navigation system/engine and whether the plane crash was accidental, just as Ally ends up questioning it.
I appreciate all of your constructive criticism. These contests are such great learning opportunities, especially with the tight word count, and I’m looking forward to taking what I’ve learned from this one and applying it to the next.
Thanks again for reading, and for taking the time to comment.
David Newcombe says
The drama is developed skillfully. I particularly liked the fact there is no certain resolution but the reader is left with the feeling that somehow she will survive.
Elizabeth Nettleton says
Thank you, David! I’m so glad you liked that. Thanks for reading!
Very engaging! I was with ally and Dominic in the beach. Dominic seemed to be comfortable with the situation , almost gleeful., which gives cause to wonder whether or not the event leading up to the crash were, in fact, accidental. Ally’s escape was tense and reinforcing when she got free of him. No food, no water and a bleak outlook for the future we’re daunting but Ally knew what she wanted and she had the flare gun and her whits. I’d put my money on her survival.
Elizabeth Nettleton says
Thank you so much, Rick!