Leader of the Mud

This is a short dystopian story that reviews what modern human beings would do if they were stuck together on a desert island.  

Oliver had never realized what Simon and Garfunkel meant by the sound of silence until he climbed out of the metal carcass. He walked to the sound of his heartbeat, leaving his dream holiday crushed in the plane’s debris. He had never noticed how loud life had been before today. Death was overwhelmingly quiet. Thankfully he was born a practical mind so he didn’t linger much on it. Instead, he walked straight to the sound of water that he could hear in the distance. He needed to clean the dirt off his face and hands. Behind him, a croak echoed against the metal skeleton but he didn’t register it.

Stephanie did. She heard the sound of a long, husky complaint that reminded her a little of the cry of the wolves she had heard once in a zoo. It seemed the sound would never die out. Then she felt the pain in her dried throat. She closed her lips. The croaking scream disappeared. She crouched out of the carcass with her eyes half shut, hoping she could one day forget the horror of the crash. Without warning the scream came back, a dark lament of sorrows. It was as if nothing else could express the tragedy she was going through. Under her hands, she felt the wooden embrace of a tree. She laid her head against its bark and cried until there was no tear left in her body. She didn’t even care about her dress for the first time in her life. It was already ruined anyway.

Adam was different. He found it odd that he had survived but he reasoned that, things being fair, his existence was worthier than others. After all, he was a hugely talented IT expert. He had more certificates than people who were at least twice his age and he knew that he had more brains too. So all things considered it was just normal that he had survived. It was even expected. He just wished he had more cigarettes left. He had half a pack in his pocket and he knew already that it would last him no more than a day, two at a push. What worried him just as much was the huge hole in his grey suit. He sighed and puffed on his cigarette.

Caroline coughed. She could smell the odour of tobacco and, while she knew for a fact that corpses didn’t smoke, she wasn’t too excited about the perspective that someone else had survived the crash and that that someone was a smoker. That wouldn’t do her allergies any good at all. On the other hand, she needed someone to help her pull her hips back into alignment. She could feel that they had turned a little in the crash. She ran a small hand on her bloodied face. It was cold and almost dried. It also wasn’t her blood. She had survived without a cut. Others had not been that lucky. She would need to clean it up before she could ask for help. No point in scaring off a fellow crash survivor. She shrugged and walked to the river.

 

Oliver stood up when he heard the sound of footsteps approaching behind him. He turned around just in time to see a young woman with fierce red and orange hair appear between the low branches of the trees. So others had made it too. That was nice to know. He first noticed the blood on her face and her clothes, as if she had fallen into a large pool of strawberry juice, except he suspected that it wasn’t strawberry juice. He then noticed her rather large pair of hooters that bounced with each step she took. He had always loved big boobs. He ran to her. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘That’s not mine,’ she replied, and ignored him as she continued her walk to the water.

‘What?’ he said rather stunned. He wasn’t quite sure what she meant.

She passed him and kneeled in front of the river, plunging her hands into the cold water like he had before. ‘The blood,’ she replied. ‘That’s not mine.’ She formed a cup with her hands and brought the water to her face. As she rubbed and washed, her face appeared smooth and almost unhurt except for a few bruises under the dirt.

‘Hi, I’m Oliver,’ Oliver said, not knowing what else to say. He had not been in that type of social situation before but he assumed that it would be good to build a friendly relationship with the busty young woman. ‘Nice t-shirt,’ he continued, reverting to his vast experience of women. It’s always safe to compliment them on their clothes. ‘It really shows off your boobs. That’s great.’

She paused from cleaning her face to look at the fifty-something pervert who was talking to her. What the hell was wrong with that man? They almost died in a plane crash and he had nothing better to do than drool over her breasts. She checked her surroundings and spotted a few stones that she could easily use to crack his skull open, should he come a little too close. As he didn’t move, she decided to introduce herself in return. ‘I’m Caroline.’ Then she paused. ‘Do you smoke?’ Oliver shook his head, quite disappointed that he couldn’t offer the boobs babe a cigarette. ‘Then there’s someone else. I smelled smoke.’

Oliver looked at her. ‘Are you sure?’ He didn’t give her the time to reply. He simply started to shout. ‘HELLO? WE ARE HERE!’ They heard the rustling of the leaves in the trees. Then a tall and very large, blonde woman appeared. The side of her face was marked as if a pattern of lines and bumps had been pressed against it. She wore a dress that would have been really expensive and good-looking when she had bought it. Unfortunately, at the moment it looked quite a mess. Caroline mentally labelled her as a fat, sobbing cow. Oliver found her rather appetizing. He wasn’t afraid of big sizes. He was ready for any challenge. Someone else pushed a branch a few meters on the left and a grey sleeve came in sight. It was rather tattered and some of the material was missing around the elbow. The trousers were in a terrible shape too but the young man in them looked healthy despite his bulgy stomach. Caroline thought he looked quite professional for someone who had fallen thousands of feet in the air. Oliver thought he looked like an arrogant idiot.

 

It didn’t take long for them to come to a tacit agreement despite the fact that the awful red-haired girl seemed keen to boss Stephanie around. She didn’t even stop when the tears came to Stephanie’s eyes. Adam had to intervene to calm things down while Oliver offered to gather dried wood for a fire. Before long they sat around the flames, Stephanie resting her blonde locks against the dirty shoulder of Adam’s suit. Her chin was trembling a little but she was keeping it together. She shut her eyes and wished she could seek support from her friends online. Then it hit her. They all needed support to deal with the situation. ‘I think we should start a social community,’ she said.

Oliver seized his chance. ‘You are totally right. I could be the clan’s chief and you could be my faithful mistress.’

Stephanie shook her head. ‘I mean building engagement and exchange.’

Caroline sniffed disdainfully. ‘How does that work?’

Adam got up and picked up a stick. He drew a square in the mud. He had already figured out that he needed to agree with the curvy, blonde Stephanie if he wanted to get a closer look at her underwear. ‘So, this is how I see it. Here’s our platform. We need to start with our profiles. I can’t draw so I’ll be an A, for Adam. My achievements are: I’m probably the youngest IT expert you’ll ever meet, and one of the best too.’ He scribbled a few lines in the mud that nobody could read. He knew that his companions of misfortune could not help but be impressed by his accomplishments. ‘I need to add something about how others should see me. I’m choosing a quote by Einstein. Now it’s your turn.’ He turned to Stephanie and gave her the stick.

Stephanie held the stick like a teacher holding a bit of chalk. She drew her profile in the mud. ‘All right, I’m an S for Stephanie. I work in marketing, I love baking and shopping. My absolute favourite colour is pink. I have a dog called Pixie and I love my family.’ That was easier than expected. She knew instinctively that she needed to share in all honesty for the community to blossom to its full potential. ‘I used to have a boyfriend but we broke up and it’s been a really hard time for me.’ She paused for dramatic effect before concluding ‘I’m choosing a quote by Beyoncé, my favourite person in the world: I’m a single lady. That really translates who I am and how I want to live my life.’ Stephanie smiled. Promoting feminism had always been on her agenda. Then she placed a grey pebble underneath Adam’s profile. ‘And I really like your profile. I think it’s great. So I’m giving you a pebble.’

Caroline took the stick from Stephanie. She hated the turn the situation had taken. She should have been the one giving a direction instead of letting that silly Steph’ cow lead. She drew a square in the mud, put her initial on the top left-hand corner. ‘So it’s obviously a C. I am a team manager. I’m buying my own house,’ Caroline stared intently at Stephanie before she added: ‘I have a pair of red Louboutin.’ She thought of a quote but decided to come up with her natural mix of wisdom and poetry instead. ‘My favourite quote says that nothing is stronger than love unless you are too weak for it.’ She looked meaningfully into the flames, then remembered something and added another pebble to Adam’s profile. She handed the stick to the pervert.

Oliver thought as hard as he could as he drew the square in the mud, taking a little longer than he needed. ‘Right, so I’m an O, for Oliver. But you can call me BD for Big Daddy,’ he added, demonstrating a perfect sense of humour in a tough situation. ‘I have many interests so you can say that I am multi-talented. I was into wrestling, now I’m into realistic soundtracking. Actually, I’m working on a really big project with a large press company at the moment,’ Oliver explained. He thought that he could feel the appreciation in the girls’ eyes. ‘I think this experience reminds me of training for a match. My coach used to say: If it doesn’t hurt, it ain’t hard enough. That’s true in the bedroom too, ladies!’ He laughed heartily. Bending over, he picked four pebbles and placed one under each mud profile. ‘Our Mud-face totally rocks,’ he concluded.

 

And it did. Through the next days, the Mud-face evolved. It started with Stephanie’s initiative to start a Mud-hangout where she challenged everyone to ask one intimate question to the others. She seized the opportunity to send Adam the following question in the mud: Do you have a girlfriend? Adam replied that he was single as long as his girlfriend wasn’t around. He concluded by tracing a colon and a right bracket in the mud. Stephanie gave him a pebble. Caroline gave him two. Oliver scribbled a dirty comment in the mud and asked Stephanie if she enjoyed doggy style. She never answered. Caroline wrote underneath something about dogs being to men what heels are to women. Nobody commented on it because nobody understood. To be completely honest, Caroline wasn’t too sure she understood it herself but she did like the sound of it and that was all that mattered. Oliver gave her a pebble out of sympathy, which didn’t make Caroline feel any better.

Adam, who had run out of cigarettes in less than two days, was beginning to run out of patience too. He used the Mud-face to invite everyone to a meeting. The time wasn’t too accurate as their phone’s batteries were long empty. They used the sun to divide each day into three specific time units: morning when the sun was low above the rocks of the river, midday when the sun was high in the sky, and evening when the sun was falling behind the cliff. As for the date, they didn’t have a clue and had already reverted to calling every day today. ‘We need to organize our survival,’ he said. He then argued that they needed to agree on a leadership direction. This was met with silence, which he assumed was a sign of their agreement. He pursued in naming himself their leader, as, he explained, he was the smartest of all. This was met with vehement disagreement.

At first, Caroline insisted that they should submit it to a vote. Democracy, she explained, was the birthplace of facing our demons together with respect for each other. It was about being the answer to others’ needs and walking together in the same direction. She smiled confidently but received no answer. Her powerful words had somehow failed to convince.

Stephanie thought the leader ought to be a woman because of their natural motherly nature. She thought that she had proven to her companions that she was the most caring of all. But Caroline argued that she couldn’t accept a whining imbecile for a leader, to which Stephanie let out a loud sob. She ran to hide behind a tree, where she continued to cry loudly.

Oliver nearly ran to comfort his large size challenge but he decided against it when he remembered that they were trying to pick a leader for the group. He uttered that he was by far the most life-experienced of them. His thought was simple: He was the best skilled to survive because he had been doing it for the longest. Adam snorted back that his brain was certainly younger and therefore more apt for the exercise.

 

The clash of egos continued until long after the sun had disappeared. By the end of the night, each one of them retired to an isolated area far from the others. Adam’s Mud-face invitation had received no pebble.

Stephanie went back to the first tree she had rested against after the crash. She felt safe with the cold feeling of the bark against her back. She still couldn’t believe that that horrid woman could call her such nasty things. Clearly, she had no sense of female compassion. That was a pity but Stephanie knew too well that only her own motherly nature could save their little group. She didn’t have any child but she felt inside her heart that she would be a wonderful mother and an even more fantastic one to her estranged fellows. She would show them!

Adam chose a small circle of bushes in the middle of which he lay down to feel the hard ground under him. He knew that before long the others would be begging for forgiveness. They needed a smart-ass like him to survive. He felt a little annoyed though when he recalled the cold look that the girls had cast at him. It was as if they didn’t care about him, which was truly shocking because only a few hours ago their eyes were shining with admiration when they looked at him. He didn’t understand what had changed their minds so radically.

Caroline was fuming with rage. She kicked a large trunk until her feet hurt. It didn’t calm her down but at least she had managed to forget about her misaligned hips. She had always known that Stephanie was one of those useless human displays but she was disappointed in Adam. He had seemed so clever at the beginning and now… Now he was just an idiot at the same level than everybody else. She had never taken Oliver into consideration. He was, after all, a sad pervert. She hated the three of them with such strength that she felt it burning like a fire inside. They were just too disgusting for her to spend any more time with them.

Oliver sighed and walked back to the carcass. He was hoping he could find anything helpful inside the sad skeleton of the metal bird. He found more corpses than he remembered passengers. But he forgot about his revulsion when he discovered that the food trolley was still full of biscuits, crisps and sandwiches. He could bring it back to the others and show them that he was the best person to take care of the survival of the group. He looked at an empty broken screen that hung loosely from the back of a seat. He didn’t need the others after all. They didn’t appreciate him for who he was. He could keep the food for himself and wait for a rescue team to find him.

 

On the next morning, nothing happened. The night had not managed to ease the tensions. Actually, it had only given each one of our survivors more time to think about their personal qualities. Each one of them had a million reasons why only they could be the leader of the group. But no one wanted to discuss it with the three others.

Oliver was eating a pack of crisps with his new friend, George. He had used a pointy rock to carve two eyes and a smile onto the screen he had taken from the plane. George wasn’t a very chatty person but he respected Oliver’s judgements and that was all Oliver needed. He wasn’t ready to go back and share his food stash with anyone else.

Stephanie had fallen asleep against the tree and when she woke up she was ready for a social fight. She drew a square in the dried mud and wrote the meanest thing she could think of about that awful red and orange-haired woman. She decided that she should be subtle so her comment read that breast size was not a substitute for maternal instincts. Feeling rather pleased with herself she ran across the site with a stick to make sure that wherever that damned Caroline was, she would get the message.

And Caroline did. She replied rather crudely in fact with a stick of her own and the advice that Stephanie should maybe consider a supper of frogs and slugs for her next dinner. Stephanie screamed with horror when she discovered the response, which drew a thin grin on Caroline’s face when she heard its echo between the trees.

Adam too heard it but he assumed it was the sound of a roaring laughter. He pulled from the grey material of his suit the long blonde hair that had made its way on his shoulder many days ago. It almost felt like it had never happened. The needy girl didn’t need him anymore now. He almost cried when he remembered how cold her eyes had been last night. She had no desire left for him. He bit his lips and sat on top of the cliff, his legs hanging into the apparent void and the morning breeze caressing his face. He needed to think of his next step.

Oliver was too hungry to think. He tore open the plastic bag that held a not-so-fresh egg and mayonnaise sandwich. George didn’t seem to mind the smell so Oliver assumed that it was safe to eat it. He gave George a thumb up and took the first bite. He immediately spat it out again. Maybe egg and mayonnaise sandwiches didn’t keep that well after all. He looked at the date. 23/07/2016. He shrugged. All he knew was that today was today and that tomorrow would soon be today too. George smiled confidently into the empty space as Oliver threw the sandwich out of the cave. ‘You know,’ Oliver said, ‘I think we could cook something nice with the stones here.’ George agreed silently.

Stephanie had used a mixture of leaves, mud and sticks to build a small doll that, she hoped, would look like Caroline. She was very happy with how the hair had come up with the combination of crushed berries and leaves. She thought it looked very convincing. She never thought that she would feel that proud when she confronted Caroline with her hand-made alter ego. ‘This is you. It’s empty. Only dirt,’ she said with a cruel satisfaction. ‘And look how weak you are,’ she added as she trampled the doll under her shoes. ‘This is worth my pebble,’ she commented sweetly. Then she looked up and screamed for the last time.

Adam heard her voice again. The blonde babe had found a new playmate. He wasn’t ready to let go of her now. He figured out that all he needed was to appeal to her maternal side. She might even give a pebble to the story of his accident if it sounded exciting. He looked down. Compared to falling from the sky, the cliff seemed surprisingly safe. He gave a small push and let himself fall. He praised himself on his stroke of genius as gravity pulled his body down. All he had to do then was to crouch back to the site and let Stephanie take care of him. He noticed for the first time how sharp and deceivingly large the pebbles at the bottom of the cliff were now that they were getting closer. He had just enough time to swear before he was kissed to death by the rocks.

Caroline found herself retracing the steps she had first taken after the crash. She kneeled by the river and washed blood that wasn’t hers for the second time in a few days. She almost lost herself in the memory of her first day when she heard the buzzing of a propeller. Above her head, a helicopter was looking for a place to land. There was a rescue team for them! Caroline plunged her hand into the water and closed her fingers around a pointy stone. She didn’t want to be saved anymore and even less to be brought back to civilization. She didn’t want to be around anybody. Humanity had become too disgusting to mingle with.

Oliver didn’t notice the helicopter. He was talking to George about his latest discovery: The mud salad with root seasoning and leaf highlights. He felt rather pleased with his creation. George seemed impressed too, judging by his smile. Oliver froze midway through enjoying his meal when he heard an unknown voice calling. He lay deep in the dirt, clasping the broken screen in his hands. ‘They can’t find us,’ he whispered. ‘They’ll take you away from me.’ George did not utter a sound. The piercing scream that followed informed Oliver that the rescue mission was over. Everything became silent again. He hugged George against his heart.

Caroline considered the fresh blood stains on her trousers and cursed. In the distance, she heard the faint whistle of a song by Simon and Garfunkel. Her fingers relaxed around the wet and sticky stone as she decided that Oliver wasn’t challenging her authority. She drew a square in the dirt. With a finger, she wrote the word ‘leader’ against her initial. She placed the bloody stone underneath it. ‘This,’ she thought to herself, ‘is worth my pebble.’ Then, picking up the pointiest rock she could find, she walked towards the sound of the helicopter.