Although the Skipper would rarely admit it, there was something very beautiful about the tiny island where he'd spent the last three years. On a clear day, with the sun shining through the trees and the plants and flowers in bloom, it was something like paradise, the perfect vacation destination.
Unfortunately, Skipper wasn't on vacation. He'd been on the clock for the past three years, looking after his last passengers. It was more than a full-time job, especially with Gilligan as his right-hand man, and sometimes it seemed like he spent half of his time just keeping his Little Buddy in line. In fact, that's what he was doing right now. While he'd walked into the jungle looking for coconuts, it had quickly dawned on him that he hadn't seen Gilligan in several hours, after sending him down to the lagoon to fish. Now Skipper found himself going down to the water, expecting to find his first mate goofing off, if he was awake at all.
He got a surprise when he emerged from the jungle and found Gilligan exactly where he was supposed to be, standing at the shore with his fishing rod in his hands. As Skipper approached, however, he looked at the basket next to Gilligan's feet and saw that it was empty.
The frustrated yell caught the first mate by surprise. He looked over his shoulder with wide eyes. "Oh, hi, Skipper," he said in the thin voice he used when he knew he was in trouble but wasn't sure why.
"Gilligan, what have you been doing? I sent you down here to fish for dinner, and the basket is empty."
"I don't know what's wrong, Skipper. The fish just aren't biting today."
"'Just aren't biting today,'" Skipped grumbled. "Have you considered moving to another part of the shore?"
Gilligan was quiet long enough that Skipper could guess the answer: "No?"
"No," Gilligan admitted. "But the fish always bite here, Skipper. That's why I fish here."
"Well..." The Skipper was stumped too, but was too proud to admit it. He would just have to wait and talk to the Professor about it later. "They're not biting here today, so you'll just have to fish somewhere else."
"All right, Skipper." Gilligan pointed across the lagoon. "How about over there, by that boat?"
"That'll be fine."
They turned away from each other, Gilligan taking up his rod and his basket while Skipper walked back towards the jungle. After just a few steps, however, they both stopped in their separate tracks, and exclaimed to themselves: "By the boat?!"
Gilligan dropped his rod and his basket, Skipper raced back to the shore, and they looked out to the water together.
"It is a boat!" Gilligan exclaimed. "You see it, too, right Skipper?"
"Of course I do, Gilligan." Skipper couldn't even be annoyed with his first mate. He was just so happy to see the boat floating into their lagoon. He waved his arms in the air and shouted towards it: "Ahoy!"
Gilligan did the same, attempting to get the attention of the mysterious vessel's captain as it approached, but after a moment, they lowered both their arms and their voices, staring at the boat as it...did nothing. It wasn't approaching them, but just drifting, slowly, and there was no captain to be seen.
"Oh, no," Skipper said, his voice low and his smile gone.
"I think it's been abandoned."
"It looks fine to me," Gilligan said.
"Well, we'll have to see," Skipper said. "We'll have to go out and board it."
Gilligan wished that Skipper would say "we" a little less often. As excited as he was to see a boat come their way, the way it was floating in the water all by itself was creepy, like a ghost ship from the stories the sailors used to tell. Gilligan was always the one listening to these stories, never the one telling them, and he definitely never thought he'd be a character in one.
But he followed the Skipper, because that was his job.
They walked along the shore, keeping their eyes on the small, mysterious boat, and stopped when Skipper felt like they were as close as they were going to get. Then he removed his hat, his shoes, and his trademark blue polo. Gilligan, recognizing what it meant, followed his lead, then braced himself before they went into the water.
"Cold!" he exclaimed without thinking. "Skipper, it's freezing!"
"Well then, swim fast!"
Gilligan swam as fast as he could, quickly overtaking the Skipper and reaching the boat first. It took a couple of tries for his slippery hands to grip the end of the ladder, but soon he was pulling himself up. Skipper waited patiently in the water, watching as his little buddy climbed the ladder to the deck, staying to the side in case Gilligan fell back. He had seen his first mate climb enough coconut trees to know when to be cautious.
To the surprise of both of them, he made it over the top of the ladder and onto the deck without incident. He took a breath, then smiled proudly, standing straight.
"Skipper, I made it!"
"Very good, Gilligan," Skipper said patiently, as he began his own climb.
Gilligan took in his surroundings. He took a step towards the cabin and promptly slipped on the deck, falling flat on his face.
Skipper sighed as he stepped onto the deck. "Are you all right, Gilligan?"
"I'm okay, Skipper," Gilligan said, already picking himself up. "I guess my sea legs are a little rusty."
Skipper held his tongue. Now was not the time for berating his first mate. That could wait until later. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted towards the cabin: "Ahoy! Is anyone aboard?!"
Silence answered him. All they heard was the lapping of the water on the side of the boat and the calls of the birds overhead.
"Maybe they're sleeping," Gilligan said. "Let's come back later."
"Maybe you should let me do the thinking," Skipper said. "This boat has obviously been abandoned."
Gilligan looked around. "Why? It seems seaworthy."
"Just because it seems seaworthy doesn't mean that it is," Skipper said. "Let's find the control room and the engine and assess the damage."
Gilligan followed his captain below-deck, and the first room they entered was the control room. It looked a lot like the controls of the Minnow, with the same wheel, surrounded by the same levers and buttons, with one glaring difference:
"Nothing's in English!" Skipper exclaimed.
"Thank you, Gilligan," Skipper said impatiently. "I never could have guessed it."
"I recognize it from that shuttle that landed, with the two cosmonauts. You remember that?"
"Of course I remember, Gilligan. Will you focus?"
The Skipper ran his eyes over the panel, and they landed on the empty ignition next to the wheel. "No keys, but everything seems to be in working order." He took a moment to think, his eyes still on the control panel. "We'll worry about the labels later. Let's check out the engine."
They went into the tiny hallway and opened the first door to find a narrow galley.
"Well, if the boat isn't seaworthy, there might at least be some salvageable provisions," Skipper said.
"Maybe we can have something besides coconuts and bananas and fish."
"Wouldn't that be a treat?" Skipper said with a grin. He stopped outside the next door and pushed it open, and the smile instantly dropped from his face. "Gilligan!"
"I'm right here, Skipper," Gilligan said as Skipper hurried into the small room. Gilligan followed him. It was a small cabin with bunk beds, but the man they found was lying on the floor. "I told you we should come back, Skipper," he said quietly.
"He's not sleeping, Gilligan," Skipper said, examining the man, his eyes on the large red stain on the man's white shirt.
Gilligan's eyes were wide. "Is that blood?"
"I think so," Skipper said calmly. He leaned in closer to the man and announced with equal parts surprise and relief: "He's breathing." He looked up at his first mate. "Go get the Professor. And hurry."
Ginger set Mr. Howell's white silk shirt on top of the pile of his other clothes- he, of all people, had the most of all of them- and took another glance towards the Professor, who sat hunched over the pile of notes and calculations that he'd been working on for well over an hour now. His brow was furrowed, which told Ginger that his mind was hard at work, and he had been quiet for a while, which told her that he wasn't finding what he was looking for.
Finally, he sighed and put his pencil down. "It's no use, Ginger," he said. "I can't think of any way to make Mary Ann's vegetable garden more productive."
"Don't be too hard on yourself, Professor," Ginger said with a shrug. "Why, we're lucky we have vegetables at all." Secretly, she'd been hoping that he would have some breakthrough. She knew that they were all tired of their fish-and-coconut diet and wanting more of the little variety that they had. "And we're lucky to have you."
He didn't look up from his paper, but she could see him smile.
"If only I had my lab," he said wistfully. He knew the "if only"s were useless, but sometimes he couldn't help himself. The island was such a rich and fascinating place that the limits of his resources were a source of endless frustration. He longed to return in the future with a team and all the equipment they might need to unlock all of the place's secrets.
But for the moment, he just wanted to help their crop output.
"You know," he said, looking up at Ginger. "A few years back, I took part in a fascinating experiment-"
"Professor!" came the cry from the jungle.
The two of them turned and watched as Gilligan came running into the clearing, passed them, and ran straight into the Professor's hut. The Professor stood up from his seat and waited patiently for a moment until Gilligan emerged from the hut and ran over to him.
"There you are," Gilligan said, panting for breath.
"What is it, Gilligan?" Professor asked, looking Gilligan over. He was soaked.
"It's a boat!" Gilligan said.
"A boat?!" Ginger hurried to the Professor's side. "There's a boat?!"
Gilligan nodded. "In the lagoon, and there's a man on-board, and he's hurt, and that's why Skipper sent me to get the Professor."
"All right, slow down, Gilligan," Professor said, holding a hand up. "How badly is this man hurt?"
"I don't know," Gilligan said. "He's unconscious."
"All right. Go to your hut and get one of the hammocks. We can use that to carry him back to camp. I'll get the medical equipment."
Ginger stayed by the table and watched as the two men went into their separate huts. She looked at the small piles of folded laundry that suddenly seemed very unimportant, and after a brief moment of consideration, she left them behind and rushed off towards the Howells' hut to share the news.
Gilligan was so excited that his hands had two left feet. In his rush to untie his hammock, he fumbled with the ropes and ended up tightening it up, twice, creating a tangled mess of rope.
He knelt to the ground and began untying the Skipper's hammock instead. He was so focused on doing it right this time that he didn't even look up when he heard the door open, or when he saw Mary Ann's shoes walk up next to him.
"Gilligan," she said, in that concerned tone that he heard a lot. "What are you doing on the ground?"
"Professor needs the hammock," Gilligan said, holding on to one end of it as he crawled to the other.
"Why does the Professor need the Skipper's hammock?"
"Because I couldn't untie mine."
"Gilligan, you're not making any sense," she said, although Gilligan being unable to untie a hammock was not the strangest thing she'd ever heard.
Gilligan stood up with the lower hammock in his hand and immediately became entangled in the upper one. Mary Ann helped him escape, then put her hands on her hips and looked at him with a curious gaze.
"Now what does the Professor need a hammock for?" she asked.
"For the man on the boat."
Mary Ann's eyes widened. "A boat?"
"And a man!"
"Well, who is he?"
"We don't know yet," Gilligan said with a shrug. "Just some guy with a boat. We'll ask him when he wakes up."
"When he wakes...?" Before she could ask Gilligan what that meant, he was out the door, rushing back to the lagoon with the hammock in hand, leaving Mary Ann alone with the little bit of information that she had. But what news it was! They had a boat! They would be going home soon!
Well...they might. They had a chance, anyway. But maybe she shouldn't get her hopes up just yet. They had had so many close calls, so many opportunities that had ended up going nowhere.
But it was hard not to be excited, impossible not to let herself imagine saying good-bye to the island once and for all and making her way home again.
Mary Ann grinned, imagining the looks on her friends' faces when they heard the good news, and she hurried out of the hut to go find them.
The boat, guided by two strong, thick ropes, slowly approached the lagoon, gliding over the water before finally coming to a stop on the sand.
The Professor and the Skipper dropped the ropes onto the ground and took a long moment to catch their breath.
"Are you all right, Skipper?"
The Skipper waved off the concern. "I'm fine, Professor. Let's go aboard so you can take a look at him."
The Professor nodded and followed his friend up the ladder to the deck. With every step he was taking in his surroundings, examining every inch of the vessel in hopes of cataloging any useful information that presented itself.
"I hope that tow didn't jostle him around too much," Skipper said. "He sure seemed to be in bad shape, Professor."
"Well, it couldn't be helped," Professor said. "That was the only way to get it in since we don't have the keys."
Skipper looked over his shoulder at him as they walked down the short hallway. "That's another thing: how are we supposed to sail this anywhere without the keys?"
"With any luck, our mystery visitor knows where they are," Professor said. "If not, perhaps we can rewire the ignition somehow."
The Skipper stopped outside the door to the small cabin. "He's in here," he said, his voice quiet and serious. The Professor gave a nod and the Skipper slowly pushed the door open, making it squeak. The two men took a step inside and found the stranger unconscious on the bottom bunk, exactly where the Skipper had left him.
The Skipper stepped forward slowly and cautiously, but the Professor wasted no time. He walked quickly to the man's side and moved him onto his back. His skin was pale, but a quick search with his bamboo stethoscope assured the Professor that he was still alive. Further examination revealed the numerous causes of the man's state: bruises all over his abdomen and chest, and some sort of wound on the back of his head that left blood dried in his hair.
"Something hurt this gentleman very badly," he said. "I don't know precisely what, but I fear there may be internal injuries."
"Was he shot?" the Skipper asked from the other side of the room.
The Professor raised an eyebrow. "Shot? No. Why do you ask?"
"Because of this."
The Professor turned and saw the Skipper holding a long black revolver. "Where did you find that?" he asked.
"On the floor over here," the Skipper said, pointing.
"Is it loaded?"
The Skipper opened the cylinder and took a look inside. Then he poured the bullets into his hand. "Not anymore," he said, stuffing them into his pocket. "I found this, too." He turned and picked up a black briefcase with silver handle and locks. "It's locked. You know what this is reminding me of, Professor?"
"Yes," the Professor said. His mind was also going back to the last briefcase they had found, which had been marked Classified and cause them quite a lot of unnecessary anxiety. "But we can't worry about that now."
"Well, where do you suppose he came from? He couldn't have possibly come all the way from Russia."
"More likely somewhere near Hawaii," the Professor said. "Any further and I don't think he would've have made it. That's why we need to get him to my hut straight away so I can examine him more thoroughly."
The sound of footsteps came from the deck, then the sound of a thump. The Skipper gave a knowing nod. "And that will be Gilligan."
The other castaways were gathered outside the Professor's hut when the men returned. The Professor emerged from the trees first, carrying one end of the hammock where their mysterious guest lay, as the Skipper held up the other end and Gilligan trailed behind, the briefcase in one hand and the empty revolver in the other. As soon as the men appeared, the others burst into a cloud of questions and moved like a small, noisy herd to surround them. Gilligan found himself too overwhelmed to give any answers, while the Skipper and the Professor simply ignored the noise. They carried the stranger into the Professor's hut and and laid him, hammock and all, onto the bed.
Then they turned their attention to the chattering crowd. The Professor held his hands up and used the same tone he used to calm a rowdy classroom: "Please, everybody, calm down." The flurry of questions dissolved into silence. "Now, we do not have time to answer questions right now. This man is in need of serious help."
The others looked at the stranger and the questions quickly started up again. Who is he? Where's he from? How is the boat? When can we leave? The Professor gave the Skipper a weary look, and the captain took matters into his own hands. Or rather, into his own voice.
"EVERYBODY OUT!" he bellowed, sending the other five castaways running for the exit.
"Not you, Gilligan," Skipper said, his tone calmer but still annoyed.
"Uh, Skipper..." Professor gave him a concerned look, silently suggesting that perhaps they didn't need Gilligan's "help" with this matter.
"Yes, you, Gilligan!" Skipper said to his startled first mate who had just returned to his side.
"Make up your mind!" Gilligan said.
The Skipper grabbed the gun and briefcase from him. "Leave these here, and go keep them calm," he said, pointing towards the door.
Gilligan gave the door a wary look, but the Skipper and Professor had already turned their attention to their patient and he didn't want to get yelled at again. So he made his way slowly to the door.
And as soon as he stepped out of the hut, the noisy cloud of questions rose up again.
Once the other castaways realized that Gilligan couldn't answer their most important questions, they gave up asking, and the five of them gathered around the table to wait. It felt like hours that they sat there in silence, every once in a while checking Gilligan's watch before remembering again that it was broken.
Finally, the Skipper and Professor emerged from the hut. The waiting and worried group jumped up from their seats, but didn't launch into their inquiry right away. Except for Gilligan.
"Is he okay, Professor?"
The Professor wiped sweat from his neck and gave a tired sigh. "I don't know, Gilligan. He's badly hurt and he likely has a long recovery ahead."
"Well, who is he?" Ginger asked impatiently.
"Where did he come from?" Mary Anne asked.
"When can we leave?" Mrs. Howell asked.
"We don't know anything," Professor said with strained patience.
"That's what I've been trying to tell them," Gilligan said.
"He hasn't been able to tell us anything. We don't even have the keys to the boat, and therefore, it may be weeks before we're able to leave."
"Weeks!" Mr. Howell exclaimed.
"Yes, weeks. It depends upon our guest's recovery."
"Well, what can we do, Professor?" Mary Ann asked anxiously.
"I'm afraid there's nothing we can do now, Mary Ann," he said. "Except wait."