He reached over and dug around in his pack. And brought out all that remained of his ration supply. As he sat there, he realized that perhaps coming up here yesterday was a mistake he couldn’t afford. He had at last come to that dreaded moment; as of today he would have to find his own source of food in this place.
He could put it off no longer.
His stomach growled fiercely, protesting three going on four days without a decent meal, and Bandit cocked his head at him.
“I bet you’re hungry too, kitty,” Max remarked, patting the cub on the head as he tore into the wrapper with his teeth. He longed to sink his teeth into something more tasty than these ration bars, and hoped to find some today. For better or worse, he split the rest of it with Bandit.
Once he was ready, it only took him a couple minutes to spot an easier way down the other side of the mountain. This path wasn’t nearly as steep, and it also wasn’t as treacherous and rocky. It didn’t take him half as much time to get down as he thought it would.
Nor as much energy, much to Max’s relief. Though he was rested, and nowhere near as stiff as he had been when he first washed up, his legs had grown weak and shaky with hunger. He was beginning to stagger under this near-starvation diet; had he grown up around survival rations, he would have known that they were never meant as a long-term substitute for real food.
He felt a sharp sense of loneliness that was a psychic match for his hunger pangs. The thought that he might never again taste Mom’s roasted fish or Dad’s stew (a secret family recipe that may never be passed on to another living soul) only served to underscore his feeling of being the only person in the whole world. A feeling that had haunted him with increasing certainty since he first started exploring this island.
He had seen various kinds of plants and berries in his wanderings, but he wanted to find something he recognized. Something he knew was safe, if at all possible. He and his friends used to eat berries as snacks when they were out playing. So, unlike many other castaways, Max had the advantage of knowing a little practical herb lore.
After a while, he found some berries that looked just like the ones he used to eat back in the Islands.
As Max agonized over whether or not to eat them (after all, this was a different island…), he listened to the sound of the nearby waterfall (but they looked the same…), and remembered his vow from last night. And decided to add on an important detail (might be poisonous…) he had overlooked before (just try one…) and felt was very important, though he couldn’t quite explain why.
One day, I will find a way off this island, Dad…
“I will train and become as strong as you…
“But first… I’m starving!”
At last, his hunger won the debate. He picked several berries and ate them cautiously, chewing them slowly at first. They tasted almost exactly like the one he remembered back home, and this made him more confident in their safety.
At which point he grabbed a whole handful of berries and just pigged out. After a couple handfuls, though, he slowed down, remembering what his mother had told him about how eating too fast you could make yourself sick. The bushes weren’t going anywhere, and for now, neither was he; he sat and started munching them down as he pondered his continued survival plans.
After he ate his fill— his first full meal in days— he sprawled out to take a nap at the foot of a tree, Bandit, to whom Max had also given some berries, passed out at his side. For the first time since his arrival, he smiled, sighing contentedly as he crossed his legs and threw his arm around Bandit, staring up at the canopy of branches. He felt better than he had in what felt like a very long time. Maybe it was the full belly talking, but he had grown quite certain of the island’s emptiness.
That, and he was so tired…