The crabs gathered around the body that lay in the sand, snapping at it and scuttling around it as they investigated. They were not used to bodies laying on their beaches. This had happened once before, long ago — so legend had it — when Crablord came to the island. None of the crabs alive today had been there when Crablord arrived, of course, though the stories had passed through the generations. None had believed that such an event could happen again. But here, in front of them, it was evidently clear that it had.
The body shifted, and the crabs scattered. Its arms moved, the hands forcing themselves into the sand, pushing the torso away from the ground and into the air. The head lifted, the face covered in the white grains of the beach, the eyes squinting and looking around. The mouth was dry from sand inhalation, though the underside of the body was damp still from the sea. The back had been dried by the baking sun, however, and so the body was awash with sensation as feeling returned to the body’s occupant. He lifted himself wearily onto his knees, and then stood, shaking as his feet struggled to maintain balance.
“Hello?” He called, his voice hoarse. “Hello? Is anyone here?”
Crablord’s eyes opened. He sat up in his bed — a collection of dried grass and leaves all bound up together. The strange voice was coming from outside his hut. Was he imagining it? It wasn’t possible. He hadn’t heard a voice like that for many years.
“Jasper,” he said, “what is that?”
“Rawk!” Said Jasper.
“You cannot be serious?”
Crablord shot up and ran out of his hut, standing, blinking in the sunlight, staring down the beach at the figure standing there. The figure, shielding his own eyes from the glare, hobbling forward in the sand, stopped.
“Oh, thank God!” The figure said. “Thank God there’s someone here! Do you have any water? I’m so parched!”
“Who are you?” Crablord asked, looking suspiciously at the figure on the beach.
“I— my name is Wilfred, I’m— do you have any water?”
“How did you get here? How did you get past the border security?”
“Border security?” Wilfred said with bewilderment, looking around him.
“Yes. Do you have a passport and visa?”
“How did you get here?”
“I— I was on a ship, and we ran into a storm. We sank, but I managed to grab on to a piece of driftwood. I must have been washed up here.”
“So you’re a refugee?”
“What? I suppose…”
“You’ll need to apply for asylum then.”
“What? Look, I just need some water…”
“You’ll need to apply for asylum. See Douglas, the immigration officer.” And with that, Crablord turned and walked back to his hut, still feeling the stress of being accosted by this unwelcome newcomer.
The newcomer looked around him in complete and utter confusion for anyone who might be Douglas the immigration officer. There was no one around him on this beach. Was he dreaming? Where the hell had he found himself?
A small crab came up to his feet and began nipping at his toes. Wilfred stepped back warily, trying to avoid the pincers. He wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his sweaty wrist, doing nothing about the moisture that was leaving his body. If only he could stop sweating, for he needed all the water he had to remain in his body. There must be freshwater somewhere, for this man — the unusual figure by the hut — had made a life for himself here. Wilfred began stumbling up the beach to the hut, the crab following behind him.
“Please,” he said as he reached the hut, “I just need some water. Is there anything drinkable here?”
Crablord pushed past the leaves that covered the entrance to the small wooden frame he called home. “Is he eligible?” He said, looking downwards. Wilfred followed his gaze to the crab on the floor. The crab snapped its claws. “Hmm. Very well, then. Come with me,” he said, turning again to Wilfred. He walked through the grass land, moving past the tall trees. “Some of these bear coconuts, some mangoes, some bananas. Eat your fill, but no more. You may use the leaves of the palm trees and driftwood to construct yourself a shelter, but be mindful not to erect anything bigger than the hut here.” Crablord gestured to his own hut that they were leaving behind. “That is as big as building regulations allow. Here,” he said as they reached a small pond that sat almost dead centre of the island. “Take some water from here, but only as much as you need, never more. Don’t urinate or defecate near it.”
Wilfred dropped down to his knees by the pond and began slurping away at the water, thrusting his cupped palm into the water and bringing it swiftly to his mouth, driven by the needs of thirst.
“I said have no more than your fill,” Crablord said, irked by the newcomer’s greed. “And use a hollowed out coconut or something, not your hands. You’ll make the water dirty.”
The newcomer stopped, feeling his stomach ache and swell as the water rushed into it, and he winced at the pain.
“Make your shelter some way away from the pond,” Crablord continued. “The building regulations stipulate that structures cannot be within thirty feet of fresh water supplies.”
Wilfred nodded, feeling the pain in his stomach subside as his body readjusted to the ingestion of fluids. “What is this place?” He asked, as Crablord turned. “Who are you?”
“I am the Lord Protector of this island; the united republics of the Beach and Rock Lands, ruled here by my council at the Grass Lands. I am the executive branch of government, and my council is made up of the crabs and iguanas of the island.”
Wilfred looked back, stunned. “So what should I call you?”
Crablord thought for a moment. “Lord Protector is fine,” he decided. With that he turned and walked away, leaving Wilfred to construct his shelter.
Back in his own hut, he peered out of his window, hiding himself covertly behind the frame as he watched the new arrival try and pull down some palm leaves and pull together driftwood.
“What do you think, Jasper? A genuine refugee? Or an agent from another power bent on subterfuge and sabotage? A spy, perhaps…”
“Yes, very possibly. What do you suggest then?”
“You’re right, we can’t second guess his intentions just yet. Douglas seemed to think him genuine enough — or at least he had no reason to doubt his story as of yet. But we’ll keep a weather eye on him, see if he slips up.”
He watched as Wilfred pulled together the wood, trying desperately to prop them against each other to create the frame of a tent. Wilfred looked back, aware that the strange, wild-looking man, with his sunburnt, skinny frame, was watching him. Why didn’t he help? How the hell was Wilfred supposed to create a shelter from scratch? He was a far cry from his home now, completely out of his element. A castaway on a desert island. If he were alone, he would have preferred some company. But here, he thought, perhaps being alone wouldn’t have been so bad.
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