He was sure it would start raining before he could climb down. Once wet, the rocks would be slippery, and dangerous to climb. It would slow him down until nightfall, when it would be even more risky to climb in the dark.
“Looks like we’re stuck up here, little guy…”
Bandit glanced up at him knowingly.
So as the clouds gathered in the thundering sky, Max and Bandit sat under one of the two trees that grew near the top. Soon it began to rain, and the wind started picking up. But the two of them curled up in the junction of two great roots, and its broad spread of branches sheltered them from all but a few drops of rain. A minor nuisance Max easily remedied with the extra clothes in his shoulder bag.
As he sat there with his arm around Bandit, he couldn’t help thinking how amazed his friends would be to meet such a big cat. How much fun they would all have together, playing out in the forest and on the beach… It cut him deeply to even contemplate the dawning notion that he might very well never see any of them again.
And that, ironically enough, that same cute little cub was his only comfort here.
The whole course of events seemed a mockery of his childhood dreams. All the excitement he always felt listening to either of his parents telling stories about all the places they traveled to over the years. Even the ones about being stranded at sea, or out in the wilderness.
Only now, as he was marooned in the same basic situation, did the implications begin to sink in. The genuine risks, the lack of supplies and equipment. What it truly meant to have no one but yourself to fall back on. The thought that he couldn’t count on anyone to bail him out of this ordeal chilled him in a way the falling rain never could.
The shower lasted several hours, but Max and his new friend weathered the storm in comfort under the tree. By the time the rain stopped, the sun had all but set. It would be long past dark by the time the rocks were anywhere near dry enough to climb safely.
Max stood up once more and gazed out to sea in indecision, watching the sky grow still darker. Wondering where in that endless purple expanse his father might be. The curtain of clouds parted to show an impressive view of the stars.
Wondered for a long moment what he would do if he did see a ship approaching. Could he trust them? Would he be throwing away his only chance of escaping this island if he avoided them? They were questions he desperately needed to answer for himself, preferably before circumstances could ever force such a choice on him.
After a time, he went back and lay in the wet grass with the overgrown kitten balled up at his side. When he got cold, Max pulled the oversize coat out of his bag and wrapped himself up in it, retreating to the dry spot under the tree. Bandit grumbled at first, but followed him anyway. Max let him split half a ration bar with him before curling back up, and all was forgiven.
He felt the confusion of sleeping the last four nights in four different places he had never been before. Even the stars here were unfamiliar. In the same way as the almost-familiar forest.
Eventually, though, on his little perch at the top of his new world, he sank slowly into sleep.