"Slow Burn"

Beneath the starlit sky, the echo of a monstrous roar awakens the young man on the beach. His green eyes open wide, a nervous look about him. Plenty of sensations rush to him in this instant. The rough, warm texture of sand at his feet. A sharp, cutting pain on the back of his head, the pressure of a strip of cloth wrapped tight around it. Blurred vision delaying his understanding of the immediate surroundings. The sound which had awoken him had also frightened him. Shaky hands feeling around his body, and the sand next to him. They were his own, an uninitiated plight to bring himself to his feet. An object falls off of his body as he raised himself to a kneeling position. He could see well enough to know that his glasses were right in front of him as he rose. His vision is better after he puts them back on.

Again he hears the sound that woke him, and fright creeps ever further within him. He rushes to his feet, and he stumbled for a bit as he tries to gain his balance. Raven black lengths were brushed out of his eyes as he takes several steps to get his wits about him. He is only looking down in front of him, to see where he is going, not raising his head to catch the bigger picture. The ominous sound of the surf just yards from his location, or the bustling of wind within the jungle trees behind him. He traverses past a small bush line and stops, and then looks up. Wreckage is all about him. The remains of Oceanic Flight 815.

He had missed a plane once before, and an urgent flight at that. To get to his destination on the same day, on a different flight, cost him an empty wallet. After his failure, he vowed never to miss a plane again. So there he sat in the near-empty terminal, noon Sydney time on the watch on his right wrist, two o'clock a.m. Eastern time on his cell phone. Tapping the end of a pen in his hand against his chin in thought, his eyes were locked on the crossword puzzle in his lap. A quick jut of his brows followed an answer coming to his mind. Thin, pale lips mouthing words barely audible beyond himself, "Fifteen down, scotch". Adjusting the thick frames on his face, he left his attention at the puzzle to notice the slow drip of people arriving at the Oceanic terminal. A frequent flyer, this was something he liked to do, read the faces of the strangers about to fly with him, and in his mind create histories to their lives.

He sees a man in a wheelchair roll over to the opposite side of his row of benches, and come to a stop next to the last seat down. Facing the window, and looking out over the tarmac, he humored that this assumingly feeble man was into all things aviation, and he figured perhaps a car wreck or even a small-engine plane crash may have placed him in that chair. As he stared at the man his mind began to wander, when his phone rang, a blatantly obnoxious ringtone of the song "Minority" by his favorite band, Green Day. In that instant the crippled man glanced over and caught him staring. Quickly he set aside the puzzle book on his lap and looked away, answering the call.

"Hi mum!" "Yes it departs in a couple hours, of course I won't miss it" "I know, I'm glad too. I've been gone too long." "Well listen, I've got to go now, but I'll call you when I land." "Alright then mum, love you."

He hung up the phone, the forced smile on his face quickly disappearing. Was it that apparent to others, as it was to himself, that he dreaded that conversation? Another quick glance to his left and he caught the man in the wheelchair look away from him. His lower lip wrinkled up into a solemn expression as went back to his crossword. His brows furrowed in distinct concentration yet again as he continued tapping the pen against his chin. A sigh escapes his lips as his eyes wander about the half-completed puzzle.

There were too many things going on at once, inside his head. An instant realization that his plane was strewn in shattered pieces about the beach. Sudden and complete fear of a sound that shook him to the bone, source unseen. His breathing became more rapid, in harmony with his heartbeat. He could not bring himself to believe he was in the worst nightmare, though he had very much wished this were so. He saw a group of people standing about twenty yards from where he was, looking into the jungle in awe. He went to them, taking quick looks at their faces, all with matching expressions. There was a woman nearest him, sitting on a small blanket near a piece of the wreckage. She seemed almost twice his age, with brown hair reaching the middle of her back. He went to her and kneeled at her side.

"Did you hear that also?" he asked her, looking into her widened eyes, noticing the fear in them. She only nodded, looking over his shoulder and into the tree line. Matching her actions, he looked past her, at the sight of the crash. There were fires made, and survivors scattered across the beach, the ones who were too scared to get up and investigate the monstrous howl. He tried to put the pieces together in his mind, how they got to where they were.

"So, we crashed then. I don't remember a thing." he questioned, looking back to her. It disturbed her gaze into the night and she stared into his eyes. "I do. It was...horrible. I should be in my bed right now. Yet I'm here, lost...in this place." Her eyes began to well up with tears. He shuffled closer to her and sat, putting an arm around her shoulders. "We'll be alright, they will find us. It's only a matter of time." Slowly, she nodded, leaning into him, her head resting on his shoulder. He rubbed her arm in comfort as his eyes scanned the black horizon. No light upon it save for the reflection of the Moon.

The next morning he woke, on the woman's blanket, yet she was gone. Sitting up, he took in his surroundings. People were scuffling to and fro, some with supplies in their hands, some seemingly wandering without a thought in their mind. He took a deep breath, and smelled rain in the air. He was keen to it, having grown up in a rainy, humid corner of the Earth. He rubbed his temples, trying to ease away a throbbing headache. His glasses were pushed up the bridge of his nose, and he slightly adjusted the cloth wrapped around his head. The first thing he noticed were the dark clouds far on the horizon, slowly approaching, confirming his earlier premonition of expecting rain. The waves were choppy, whitecaps crashing upon the sodden shore. He was slow to stand, a hand placed upon his knee for support during his ascension. Though the sky was beginning to gloom, it was still bright from onslaught of a tropic sun. He brought his hand above his brows, studying everyone's actions. He was not sure at all what to do. Sit in the sand and wait for rescue, as he was guessing others were doing, or perhaps make himself useful and help those in need.

He began to walk toward the beach when he spotted the right half of a familiar face, the same face he was watching in the terminal. It seemed like years ago when he was sitting on that bench, doing his puzzle, when he saw the man in his wheelchair. There he was again, his arms wrapped around bent legs as he sat with a contemplative stare upon his face, the ocean his theatre for thoughts of where he might be had this tragedy not occured at all. He sat next to him, keeping a foot of space between them, not wanting to impose. The man looked to him through furrowed eyes.

"Hello there." he said in a monotone, the corners of his mouth lightly curling into a smile. "Hi" was all the reply he could muster as he stared into his eyes, and looking at the scar above his left. Again he spoke. "I remember you. You sat next to me on the plane."

"I did?"

"Yep. You had finished removing your contact lenses when we hit turbulence."

"I don't remember the flight at all. My last memory is walking through the jet bridge."

"Lucky you."

The boy smirked, and nodded. He truly was lucky, because he couldn't wrap his mind around such a thought, being on a plane as it crashes. It was something that never crossed his mind in all the years he had been flying. After swiping away a length of hair from under his glasses, he looked up at the approaching storm, now much closer than mere moments ago. One thing he did not like was being caught a fool in the rain.

"Well, I ought to find some shelter before this storm comes down on us. It was nice meeting you..." he paused, hoping the man would complete his sentence. So he did.

"John. John Locke." he replied, his left arm moving from it's grip around his legs, outstretched to him in friendly jest. It didn't cross the boy's mind that his leg didn't fall limp to the ground, he was distracted in the pleasant surprise of the gesture.

"Jay is the name." he said, shaking his hand.

Afterwards the boy stood and jogged away, just as a low rumble echoed across the sky, and in an instant the rain came pouring down upon the beach. He found a small piece of wreckage and crouched under it, hoping to be more prepared for the next rainfall, as he did not enjoy much the uncomfortable position he was in. He looked back towards the shore and saw John still sitting there, his arms spread out, his head tilted back. He saw the smile on his face as he looked into the sky. 'What could he possibly be so happy about?' Jay thought. Then he thought about himself, and the life he had waiting for him back home.

Sunlight is broken into distinct rays through amber-colored glass, a windowfront to a crowded coffeehouse near the Harbor. Sitting at a corner table is Jay, sipping from a cup of coffee as he looks down through black, ruffled locks onto the crossword in front of him. After setting the cup down he slowly picks up the pen laying vertical across the page, and he fills in a few blanks within the puzzle as he mouths the answer to himself in a slightest of whispers.

"Seven across, stagnation."

A smirk. Another sip of the caramel and irish creme coffee, his favorite mixture. He sits up straight, against the back of his chair, rubbing his neck with his free hand, sore from the previous night's events. Looking up from the table he studies the faces around him. A few couples here and there, all smiling and appearing daftly in love. There was younger fellow in the far corner, his face buried in the local newspaper, this person standing out to him because of the shortened yellow mohawk he kept spiked up. Another man sat closer to him, furious fingertips dancing about the keyboard of his laptop. The foreign faces matched the spirit he felt was so very alive in this beautifully strange city, so unfamiliar to him.

He takes a deep breath, and slowly exhales. Reaching around to the back of his chair he grabs onto the strap of his backpack hanging low to the floor, bringing it around to the tabletop. After placing the puzzlebook into it, he zips up the pack and slings it around his shoulders as he stands from his seat. Taking the coffee in hand he makes his way to the exit, and through the wood panel doors, a bell ringing above signaling his leave. After walking a few yards down the street he stops at a newspaper box and places the coffee cup on top of it. Leaning over just a bit he lets the weight of the pack bring itself down his arm. From the front pocket he removes a tiny golden flask, a gift from his father and the only thing he has to remind him of the man. The lid of the coffee cup is popped off and then he pours a crimson liquid out of the flask and into the coffee. The top is replaced onto the cup, and the cap of the flask screwed back on, the flask itself put into the pack.

He continues his way down the street, sipping from the mixed drink. The warm elixir feels to him like medicine for his soul. Yet that soothing feeling is quickly diminished as he feels a sudden force against him, someone pushing him forward. He drops his coffee, it spilling out over the pavement. Not a chance was given for Jay to turn and see his assailant when he is pushed again into the alley to his left. Falling to the ground he feels a burning sensation on the back of his neck, and a great weight being put upon him. The man with the yellow mohawk has his foot in between Jay's shoulders, and is putting a cigarette out on his neck. He lets out a scream of agony and with desperation lifts himself up, pushing the man off of him. Getting to his feet he turns to face his attacker, and just as soon he realizes that it is the man from the coffeeshop.

"Listen pal, stay away from me alright!" he yells, but this only causes the punk to smile. He looks back and motions his friends to come out of hiding from behind a nearby dumpster. Jay turns around and sees three more men walking towards him, two with brass knuckles wrapped around their fingers, clutched in a fist. The first punk pushes him into the others and the beating ensues. Punches are thrown and landed, followed by Jay falling to his hands and knees. A kick to the stomach knocks the breath out of his lungs. He feels his backpack being ripped from his possession. From it one of the punks takes the flask. Rifling through the rest of its content brings no other valuables, just a hardcover novel and his puzzlebook.

"Stupid American tourist! Always the naive one!" yells the punk with the mohawk, Jay's flask in his hand.

Looking up from his position on the ground he reaches out, a weary shout escaping him. "No! Bring that back to me!", but any effort to retrieve it would be in vain, for by the time he caught his breath again and got to his feet, the punks were long gone. He angrily kicks the dumpster next to him, then reaching down to pick up his belongings and put them into his pack.

The sound of the rain beating down on the metal of his cover was emanating through the immediate vicinity. He didn't realize how much he wanted it to rain until he had a parched mouth, longing for hydration. He didn't act quick enough to find a catch for the rain to fall into. Then in an instant he heard the sound that had awakened him the night before. That, and trees falling in groups, strangely enough. He turned and looked into the jungle, that fear he wanted to forget came flooding back within him. What kind of thing would make such a sound? Before he could begin to think about it the sound was gone, and it was then that he realized that the woman he met last night was in the makeshift shelter with him. In a hurry she saw the one person she knew on the beach and went to him.

Moments later the rain stopped, as suddenly as it had begun. The two stepped out from the wreckage and looked around at the others. Jay then turned and looked down at the woman, again in a state of shock. "I'm sure whatever that thing is, it'll stay in the jungle."

"You're sure?" she asked in doubt, her accent revealing itself for the first time, obviously English. Jay smiles, realizing he's been caught in his proclamation of false hope, not knowing at all whether that thing would come to the beach or not. "Well, let's hope so." he replied, turning to walk towards the fuselage, the woman following him at his side. She was a bit shorter than him, so to study his features she looked up at him, such as rough sideburns reaching past his ears, meeting the lightest bit of stubble adorning his jawline and upper lip. "You're a young guy, were you alone on the plane?", he sighed, looking down to her as they walked. "I was alone, yes. I came down under to see the sights, the big cities, the attractions. Melbourne, then Sydney, the usual tourist stuff. I thought it would be Texas without all the assholes" Jay said, a lowly chuckle following the reply. She laughed with him, "And was it all you hoped it would be?".

"Nope, just Texas with better accents".

Again the two laughed, and he figured then that she was the first person he found a connection with, seeing as how everyone else was off doing their own thing. "You from Texas?" she asked. Jay was amused at the thought. "No, North Carolina. How about yourself?". "Sydney, born and raised" was her reply. "Ahh, a true Aussie. I was wondering where that accent of yours was from. So what were you doing headed for the States?" he asked. She slowed down in her pace, then coming to a standstill. She pondered the question, looking around at the people going about their business. Then she replied with a smile, "Getting away from it all".

Jay pivoted on his heels to face her, and stand with her in the dampened sand, his hands resting on his hips. "I can understand that, I really can." he said, nodding assuringly. "My name is Jay, by the way. I don't believe I caught your name?" he said, eyes squinting to look past the rays of sun that were broken by the dissipating storm clouds. Her pursed lips keeping a pleasant smile, "I don't believe I threw it." she said, her shoulders moving in unison with the following laughter. "My name is Catalina, but you can call me Cat, for short."

"Well then Cat, it's nice to formally meet you. I'm going to go look for my bag in the fuselage, care to join me?"

"Absolutely, Jay. Absolutely."

The survivors were scattered about the fuselage, searching for their luggage, like meddling flies prying themselves about an ill-fated carcass. Their actions mirroring the actual flies buzzing among the putrifying bodies within the fuselage, a vessel of the sad remains. Suitcases were strewn around the perimeter, some still closed, some open with their contents around them. Jay and Cat were knelt in the sand, rifling through the items. Keeping his eyes focused on the materials before him, he spoke to Cat. "Yesterday night you were on a blanket in the sand. So you found your things then?". "Well, no. The sheet was by itself, I claimed it because no one else had. What did you bring on the plane?" she asked, watching Jay look through the baggage, less concentrated on looking for her own things. "I let baggage claim take my one suitcase I had, and I took my backpack on the plane with me. It was on my back as I went to board the plane, and after that, well I draw a blank." he replied, adjusting the fresh cloth wrapped around his head, a makeshift bandage for the wound he suffered during the crash.

"What does it look like, your pack? I'll help you look for it." Cat said, briefly scanning the many belongings of the alive and deceased. "Bright yellow, shouldn't be hard to notice." Jay said, looking among the luggage, similiar in appearance, many browns and blacks, generally dark colors contrasting against the light sand. No sooner had Jay said this that Cat stood and walked a few feet towards the fuselage. She bent over and tossed aside a large shard of the plane's wing, thrown from the previous day's explosion, and picked up a canary-yellow pack. She held it up and smiled. Jay saw her hold the pack, becoming ever the excited one. He stood and ran to her. "Excellent! Now that wasn't so hard was it?" he exclaimed, a wide grin on his face. He took the pack from her and unzipped its main compartment. He reached in and pulled out the first thing that piqued his excitement, his beloved puzzle book. With a tight grip he shouted "Yes!".

He set it down at his feet and took out the one book he had brought with him to Australia, a thick, hardcover tome with a pale cover, and a drawing of an Asian fortress atop a steep mountain cliff above the title, that being 'Nowhere Else In The World'. After setting that down he pulls out his cell phone. "I must have turned it off and put it in here once I got on the plane." he said, anxiously flipping it open. He turned it on, but it was immediately obvious there was no signal to use, though it had a full battery life remaining. He shook his head once in disappointment, and slid the phone into the side pocket of his khaki shorts. The excitement on his face quickly vanished as he slowly pulled out of the pack a slim photo album. Dropping the pack at his side, he held the album as it was most precious to him.

Flipping open the cover, he saw the first picture. Sadness overcame him, his brows arching in upset. He looked down at a young man and woman, hugging eachother as they pose for the camera. Cat notices the change in Jay's demeanor, and becomes a bit distressed herself at her new friend's woe. She sidesteps closer to him and leans in to see the picture. "Who is that?" she asks.

"My parents. This was taken just before my father died."

A ten-royal note is lightly tossed onto an oak countertop. "Drambuie, two shots." is uttered by the one who passed the bill toward the tender. The barkeep pours two shots and slides them gently in front of Jay, taking his ten dollars and turning around to make change. The look on his face is that of pure inebriation. A trickle of sweat rolls off of his sideburns, and with a twitch of his head he swings back intrusive locks of hair out from his line of vision. Two elbows on the bartop, and one hand on his forehead as he leans into it, the other picking up the first shot and downs it in no time. A gruff sigh escapes him as he puts the empty shot glass down. The tender slides him a couple dollars in change, but Jay leaves it in front of him. An older man, with peppered, shoulder-length hair, stumbles against the bar to Jay's right. He pushes himself away and walks out the door. Jay watches him over his shoulder, only catching a glimpse of his face, before turning around and finishing the last of the two shots of scotch.

This last empty shot glass is slammed down, followed by a clenched fist pounding against the bartop. Jay is slowly shaking his head, running through the day's incident in his head. He is speaking, but only to himself. "Why.. why me? Of all people in this town it was me. I wish I could have it back. I wish I could get it back." A tear falls from his cheek, and it's entrail is quickly wiped away to not show his weakness to the other people around him. Again he pounds the bartop. The other patrons along the bar look down to him, mixed looks of anger, pity, confusion. The tender turns and walks to the phone on the wall next to the liquor shelf, and picks it up, placing the receiver to his ear as he begins to dial a number. Jay swipes away his change impulsively, the two shot glasses thrown aside, crashing onto the floor beneath him. Afterwards he lowers his head onto the counter and puts his hands over the back of his head, as to hide from the world. He is heard mumbling "I don't want to be here, I don't want to go home." and it is clear he has had one too many drinks by then. The tender hangs up the phone and walks over to Jay. "Oh, you're going somewhere, pal."

The clanking sound of iron against iron causes the lone man in the jail cell to look up. Two officers are restraining Jay as he tries to break free from their solid hold on him. He is tossed through the opened cell door and onto the floor. The larger officer closes the door behind him, and looks down on him in disgust. "You rowdy bastard, no bloody respect!" he yells, afterwards walking away to leave Jay to sober up.

He crawls to the metal bench hanging low off the brick wall, shuffling down towards the corner with his hands tucked into overlong sweater sleeves. He leans his head back against the wall, dreary eyes staring up into the bright fluorescent lights above. His jaw falls open, a blank stare ended by eyes shut in tiresome despair. He hears a deep voice echo through the nine-by-nine cell in which he occupied, a native dialect to the region.

"They got to you too, eh?"

Opening his eyes, swiftly blinking as if blinded by the light shining down, he turns his head to see where the voice came from. It was the other man in the cell, sitting in the far corner, his face overshadowed by long, shoulder-length hair, the color of an aging man, both black and grey. He was leaning forward, arms resting on his thighs, supporting his sobering weight. Jay rubbed his forehead, failing to wish away a growing migraine. "Of course they got to me, they always get to me." he said, his eyes closing again after acknowledging his cellmate's presence.

"You're a young mate. Your folks will bail ya out in no time" the man said to him, leaning in a bit so to let the shadow posed by his hanging threads raise above his stubbled chin and half-grinning mouth. Jay chuckles, his brows raised in thought. If his father were here to see him now. "Nobody is coming to rescue me. I'm on my own." he replied, looking back over to the mysterious figure. That answer made the man curious, and he was quick to assume in his mind why a young foreigner, most likely American, is alone, wasting away the night in the drunk tank. "You from 'round here, mate?" he asked in a suspecting tone. Jay brushes away the hair from in front of his eyes, trying to focus more on the man sitting in the shadow.

"No. No I'm not from here." Jay replied, his eyes now wandering into a blank stare. His thoughts drift, himself bemused, his very words now entertaining the feelings within him, made easier by his intoxicated state. "Not from here, not from there." he said, waving his arm towards the wall, towards his home. He takes in a deep breath and exhales, looking back to the shadowed man. "I'm from here." he said, a wavering hand pointing to his chest, above his heart.

"And wherever I am here, I belong."

He blinks a few times, a slow realization coming over him as if he had temporarily lost his inebriation. He thought about what he had just said, words that ran as thoughts within his mind many times over throughout his life but never spoken until this moment, prophetic in its actuality. The clock above the officer's desk outside of the jail wall read 10:23. Jay took note of this, remembering the flight he had to catch in fourteen hours. The flight which would take him on part of his journey home.

The setting sun cast an orange and golden glow upon the calm, rippling waves running their course across bare toes partially lodged within the sand. A sigh of relief comes from Jay as the refreshing feeling of the lukewarm seawater encompasses his feet. Legs bent as he sits at the shore, his knees brought halfway to his chest, the treasured puzzle book displayed across his lap, his only means of distraction from the dire situation he was in.

Lost at sea. No rescue in sight by the second evening. Yet he had not a care in the world except for the final empty spaces among the crossword he'd begun just days before. The clue he had to find the answer to was perfectly ironic.

Twenty-one down, being a part of the innermost nature of a person or thing.

He smiled, taking a moment to think as he looked towards the sunset, itself bringing a calming effect upon his soul. He thought, if this wasn't paradise then the place does not exist. At that moment the answer came to him, and he nodded with a wide grin on his face. Looking down, he filled in the blanks, saying the word to himself as he wrote it. "Inherent."

Jay placed the pen along the inner spine of the book, and closed it. Glancing over his shoulder he saw Cat walking up to him, and bringing herself to a seat next to him. Her long brown hair tied pack in a ponytail, she looked at him with green eyes through a length of her bangs adorned across her face. With a slender hand she brushes it behind her ear and smiles.

"What are you so happy about, mister?"

Pondering the question posed to him, he replied. "If we don't get rescued for a few more days, it wouldn't bother me the least."