It was the third morning after Jonathan Kinkaid had left the island...the first morning Gilligan had felt safe enough to wash his face. He had barely slept all night, his hammock hanging empty while he crouched beneath his blanket in the corner, but when the shadows melted away with the dawn the familiar sight of the Skipper still asleep in the lower sack was like an anchor to his storm-tossed nerves. Gilligan lay watching him as the tropical sun burst over the island, while the sounds of murmured conversation and the smell of woodsmoke and brewing coffee wafted on the morning breeze.
At last, keeping his eyes on the snoring Skipper, the first mate slowly uncurled himself and crept to the wash stand. But the water jug was empty, and so was the cask. Gilligan shivered. Getting water would mean going out, away from the Skipper. Nervously he looked out of the hut window, but the sight of Mary Ann and Ginger setting the table for breakfast and the Professor tending the fire under the coffee pot was normal and reassuring. Gilligan took the water jug and crept out, flight instincts at the ready.
Mary Ann was arranging a garland of frangipani around the plates. She spoke in hushed tones. "That's strange. How much wood has he chopped, Professor?"
"About enough cords to last through a backwoods Ohio winter." Squatting by the campfire, Roy Hinkley frowned as he examined the golden-red chunk of wood in his hand. "And all koa wood...such a waste of such a beautiful, strong material when driftwood would do just as well."
"Couldn't you tell him that, Professor?" asked Ginger.
"I did. And he told me that collecting firewood was his detail, and he didn't want to hear any more about it. In no uncertain terms, I might add." The Professor tossed the wood onto the fire and shook his head. "I'm concerned for him, girls. He's just not himself."
"I doubt any of us are, after what happened," said Ginger, with a shudder. "But him most of all...well, of course, I mean, except for—"
"Gilligan!" cried Mary Ann, as she suddenly saw him.
Gilligan jumped two feet at her cry and took two swift steps towards the jungle. At once Mary Ann stepped forwards and caught his arm. "It's all right, Gilligan," she whispered, in her gentlest voice. "It's just me."
"It's just us, Gilligan," murmured Ginger, her long fingers also brushing his arm. "Only us. It's all right."
Gilligan breathed deeply, fighting hard for control. The gentle voices of the women echoed indistinctly as though underwater, and the Professor's soothing tones were just as warped and muffled. Gilligan felt the terrible smothering silence of the jungle engulfing him...the silence that meant that he was near....and just as he tensed to bolt, one last voice broke through that fog of darkness. Gilligan, little buddy. I'm right here.
The first mate shook himself and gulped in a great breath, like a drowning man finally breaking the surface. He blinked and focussed. "Skipper?" he whispered.
"Right here, Gilligan." It was the Skipper's strong hand on his arm now, and the Skipper's blue eyes, bright with worry, that searched his own. "What happened, little buddy? What are you doing out here?"
Gilligan blinked again, breathing deeply, and lifted the jug. "I just wanted to get some water to wash," he said quietly.
His simple response relaxed them all; they smiled and sighed in relief. "Here, Gilligan," said Mary Ann, gently pulling on the jug. "I'll get some for you."
"No...I can do it," he said, hanging onto the jug. "The trough's just over here..." He turned and pointed to a great empty space in the middle of the camp, then stared. Perplexed, Gilligan walked slowly to the place where the trough had lain while the others followed him. When he reached the bare spot he stooped and waved in the air, as though the long box of bamboo had simply turned invisible. The impression of its base was still in the sand. Gilligan turned to his friends. "The fresh water trough...where is it?"
For some reason the Skipper would not meet Gilligan's eyes. Mary Ann stepped forwards. "The Skipper got rid of it, Gilligan. He said it was leaking."
"But...it wasn't leaking three days ago," said Gilligan.
"Yes it was," said the Skipper, turning abruptly for the table. "So I took it away and got rid of it. What's for breakfast, Mary Ann?"
"You didn't try to fix it?" Gilligan blinked in confusion as he walked slowly to the table. "But...I've still got that sticky stuff I used to line the bathtub."
The Skipper waved his hand in dismissal. "Forget about it, little buddy. Darn thing was an eyesore. Good for nothing but collecting leaves and bugs! A trough is for a horse, not for people!" He pulled back a bench, sat down, and pointed to the place beside him. "Come on. Let's eat."
But Gilligan wouldn't give up. It was one more piece of normality suddenly ripped from his world. "Well, maybe we could use it as a box for firewood," he urged. "Where'd you put it, Skipper?"
The Professor, who had been watching both men intently, spoke up before the Skipper could reply. "Gilligan, it is firewood now. The Skipper chopped it up for kindling."
"What?" Now Gilligan moved slowly around to the other side of the table, trying to catch the Skipper's eyes. "All that work to build it...and you chopped it up? Bamboo doesn't even burn so good!"
"Gilligan, what's the difference? We've got enough bamboo to build us a bridge from here to Hawaii. We don't need it."
"Look, it's gone, and that's that!" The Skipper's tone brooked no argument. "We'll build something else to hold the water. Now not another word about it, all right?"
Mary Ann gently took the jug from Gilligan's hand. "I'll get your water, Gilligan. Breakfast is nearly ready."
Meanwhile Ginger slid smoothly in beside the Skipper and placed her hand on his arm. "Come on, Skipper. Try my new jelly sand-dabs. I just know you'll love them." She glanced nervously over her shoulder at the Professor, who fingered his chin as his brows lowered in worry.
"Good morning, everyone," came the cheerful voice of Thurston Howell the Third. He and his wife strolled up beside the campfire in matching safari outfits. "My, that coffee does smell good." Suddenly Mr. Howell noticed Gilligan, and his voice immediately softened. "Why Gilligan, my boy, how good to see you up!"
"Did you get a good rest, dear?" asked Mrs. Howell anxiously.
"Yes, my boy, how are you feeling? How about a relaxing game of golf today? I tell you what: why don't I be caddy and you simply--" Mr. Howell slowed to a stop. "Good heavens, son, whatever is the matter?"
Gilligan barely heard the millionaire. He was staring at Mr. Howell's grey Australian bush hat with the brim pinned up on one side, and backing towards the hut. "Gilligan, dear, what is it?" he heard Mrs. Howell's voice dimly, as in a dream. "Why do you keep staring at Mr. Howell like that?"
The Skipper was on his feet in a moment, whispering fiercely. "Are you out of your mind, Howell? The hat! For Heaven's sake, lose the hat!"
Mr. Howell snatched off the hat – the hat that looked exactly like Jonathan Kinkaid's – and gasped in horrified recognition. "Oh, dear Lord! Gilligan, forgive me! I never meant to--"
"Gilligan! Wait, little buddy!"
But Gilligan heard no more. He tore into the jungle as the voices behind him and the hat of the man who had nearly murdered him merged in the blind fog of his fear.
In the depths of the jungle two days later, he only crawled out of hiding when he heard the Skipper calling him. Once home, Gilligan curled up by the campfire, hungry and blear-eyed from lack of sleep, as the Skipper cooked some warm fish broth. It was then, for the first time, that Gilligan noticed the red-gold burning wood. He knew they didn't normally use it for firewood, and it struck him as odd – but he was too tired to ask.
That same wood burned just as brightly over a week later when Gilligan, caught in the throes of a night-terror, tried to flee the camp again. But this time the Skipper physically stopped him, and only the sound of the Skipper's voice snapped the young sailor out of his waking nightmare. The Skipper sat beside him all the rest of that night as the castaways kept vigil, singing songs and telling stories. As Mary Ann read aloud, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light," Gilligan's eyes strayed to the magnificent bonfire that blazed in their midst, and the red-gold wood at its base that burned with such fierce intensity. He wondered where they had gotten enough wood to keep such a mighty beacon burning until dawn.