Thanks so much for all the encouragement and fantastic reviews, guys! This was my first "epic" story and it was a little bit scary at times. I'm sad it's over, but now I need a new idea!
This chapter is for callensensei, who apparently yells at the camera to pan left every time the missile shoots into the lagoon so we can see Mary Ann's reaction. (It is irritating that she's the only one not in the frame for that shot, though. How hard would it have been to zoom out a little?). I hope I made her reaction here big enough for you. :)
Mary Ann stood on the beach staring out into the lagoon.
She didn't know how he did it, but he had done it again.
It happened almost exactly how he had dreamt it.
The missile landed, but didn't explode. The Professor announced that one of them – the "one of us small enough and thin enough" – had to crawl inside and disarm the explosive. Gilligan immediately blanched and gulped loudly and didn't give anyone else a chance to point out that she was actually smaller than him.
When the rocket suddenly ignited with Gilligan still inside, the Professor hung onto the side of the missile and tried to pull him out, but it was too fast for him and took off into the jungle. The castaways yelled after it, cries drowned out under the roar of the rockets. A second later the missile returned and shot past them into the lagoon.
The Skipper stared after it in horror. "He didn't even have a chance to get out!"
They were too stunned to move. As quickly as the missile had appeared and threatened to take them all, it had disappeared with Gilligan.
Mary Ann suddenly bolted after it, but the Professor caught her around the waist and held her back. She pulled at his hands in vain, legs still moving, reaching out in front of her. She fought with him until the plume of smoke disappeared around the bend of the lagoon and she collapsed in his arms, breathless with disbelief and horror.
The castaways watched the lagoon for a long time, stunned into silence. The Professor kept a firm grip on Mary Ann, afraid that she'd either take off after it again or have a complete breakdown. When she did neither, rendered immobile by heartbreak and astonishment, the Professor moved to comfort Ginger, who had begun to cry quietly.
The movie star was clinging to the Skipper's arm, but he was of no use to anyone as he stood in shocked silence, unaware that she was even there. Finally hearing Ginger whimper, the Skipper swallowed hard to push back his own tears.
"My little buddy," he whispered, rubbing his hand over his aching chest.
Mr. Howell laid a sympathetic hand on his back. "Come along, captain." He began leading the distraught man up the path behind the Professor and Ginger. They soon disappeared into the foliage, beginning the slow and torturous walk back to camp in dazed silence.
Mary Ann wandered a few steps closer to the edge of the lagoon and suddenly stepped on something hard. She glanced down at the sand and there, directly in front of her, was the big sulphide shooter that Skinny Mulligan gave Gilligan when they were kids. Clear with the little statue of a guy inside. Gilligan had put the marble in his pocket that morning so he'd have it with him to give back to Skinny.
Mary Ann bent and picked up the marble, gently brushing the sand away. She knew that it must have fallen out of the hole perpetually present in the bottom of Gilligan's pocket – she had mended it four times since the shipwreck and it kept growing back – but she liked to think of it as a sign.
Mary Ann finally noticed that Mrs. Howell was still standing on the beach about twenty feet away. She shielded her eyes with one diamond-encrusted hand, carefully scanning the sky for something.
"What are you looking for?" Mary Ann asked, voice low and crowded with the threat of tears.
Mrs. Howell gave her a quick smile before returning her gaze to the sky. "A rainbow." Mary Ann looked up. Clear and blue and perfect as always, not a cloud in sight. Mrs. Howell appeared at her side and peered at the marble. "Did you get your miracle, dear?" Mary Ann nodded. "Good. Come along, darling. Let's go home."
When the two women reached the clearing, the other grief-stricken castaways were gathered around the table. Mrs. Howell guided Mary Ann to a seat next to Ginger and then sat down beside her husband on the opposite side of the table. The Professor was shaking his head. "It's all my fault. I should have tried to disarm the missile myself. I knew what to do. I could have tried to fit in there."
"I'm smaller than he is," Mary Ann whispered, bringing the conversation to a screeching halt. The Professor lowered his head, but the others shifted uncomfortably and pretended they hadn't heard her, except Ginger, who let out a particularly plaintive sob and squeezed her roommate's hand.
"Thurston," Mrs. Howell began hesitantly after a moment, "I think we ought to rename the house in South Hampton 'Gilligan's Acres.'"
"I was going to have a Gilligan scholarship at Harvard."
"The next boat I get – I'm gonna call her The Gilligan."
Having composed herself, Ginger sniffed daintily into her handkerchief. "When I get back to Hollywood, I'm going to sell his story to the movies."
Mary Ann finally burst into tears and everyone else stared down at the table. Mrs. Howell leaned against her husband's shoulder. The Professor was still shaking his head. The Skipper rubbed his hands over his face.
"Gee, it all sounds so wonderful, I think I'll go back and drown myself!"
Six heads snapped up at the voice, hearts stopping briefly in shock, disbelief, hope. Gilligan was standing by the hut, soaked to the bone and grinning widely. He tipped his soggy sailor's cap at them. "Gilligan!" they shrieked and leapt from the table. His eyes widened and he braced himself for the stampede headed his direction.
The Professor reached him first and tackled him with a strength Gilligan didn't know the man possessed. The Skipper was on his other side, pulling him into his massive arms. Ginger had his face in her hands and was planting kisses all over his cheek. Gilligan couldn't breathe and he let out a strangled laugh as he was momentarily blinded by Mrs. Howell's diamonds as she bore down on him next.
"Oh! You're all wet!" Mrs. Howell exclaimed, seeming surprised, as she patted his cheek and her husband shook his hand so hard that Gilligan thought he would rip his arm off.
Mary Ann finally fought her way through the throng and launched herself into his arms, her hat flying off onto the sand behind him. Gilligan staggered back, but the Skipper and the Professor caught him and held him upright. Mary Ann hooked her arms over his shoulders and clutched at his back, her feet hanging at least a foot off the ground. He was soaking wet and she felt her shirt begin to stick to her as it absorbed the water from his rugby shirt.
Gilligan grinned at the others over her shoulder. "Hi, guys!"
They instantly began pummeling him with questions all at once and his mind spun trying to keep up. Oh, Gilligan! What happened? How did you get out? It didn't explode! What was going on? How far did you swim? What was it like?
Gilligan was still grinning, still holding Mary Ann up off the ground as she clung to him, her nails digging into his back. The others were gripping his arms tightly, faces pictures of relief, worry, and curiosity. "It was actually kinda fun," he admitted sheepishly. Gilligan turned to peer over at Mary Ann, but all he saw was a thick mass of brunette waves on his right shoulder. "It was kinda like flying."