A Deserted Island

By Cecilia Xu

Auricle Writing Competition 2018: Clinical Runner-Up

It is a scathingly hot February morning, and three separate O-Week cruises have capsized in the Pacific Ocean. The sole survivors of each ship – a law student, an arts student and a medical student – find themselves marooned on a desert island with no hope of rescue. As three profoundly different beings, will they be able to overcome their instinctive discordance and find a way to escape? Or will they succumb to the elements?

Our first subject is bespectacled, serious and thoroughly unamused by the circumstances. The sea spray and open sky are a stark change from the law student’s usual habitat, which is typically abundant with books and devoid of all sunlight. In an attempt to recreate its natural surroundings, the law student has stacked twenty extremely boring textbooks (which it had been inexplicably carrying on a recreational cruise) to form a wall. Atop this wall, it has placed what appears to be an undergraduate commerce degree to form a protective roof. It has taken note of its two companions, one sitting serenely on the beach and one lying face down on the sand. It wonders vaguely if it can use its powers of persuasion to convince them to eat each other.

On a sandy dune nearby, a figure is seen staring contemplatively out to sea. It does not appear perturbed by the dire situation. As a matter of fact, it appears to be rather enjoying the ocean breeze through its unnaturally blue hair (dyeing of the plumage is common amongst students of the arts as a strategy for identifying each other and attracting mates). It does not seem aware that it is not alone on the island, nor does it seem to care if it is alone or not. It just is.

The final specimen is lying face down in the sand, hopelessly inebriated from their seventeenth apple cider on the now shipwrecked cruise. Upon waking, they blink perplexedly for a moment before registering their surroundings and immediately launching into a fully fledged panic attack (years of basing their worth on academic results have resulted in extreme emotional lability and a fragile self-esteem). Approximately twenty-six minutes later, the medical student slowly rises to a sitting position and looks around – a general inspection, if you will. It identifies two lesions, one blue and benign looking and one possibly malignant but well circumscribed by what appears to be several obscenely thick textbooks.

Time passes. The law student schemes, the arts student dreams, the medical student internally screams. Just as there seems to be no hope that there would be any interfaculty interaction, the arts student stands up from the dune and waves, first at the law student, then the medical student, as if seeing them for the first time. “Hey!” it shouts. “Did you guys get stranded here too?”

At long last, the three parties make their way to the centre point between them and meet. They exchange names and the last memories they had before their boats sank and they washed up on these unforgiving shores. They express their feelings about being stranded and argue about what should happen next.

“We should sue the university for negligence!” the law student proposes.

“Negligence is but a social construct,” says the arts student.

“The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell!” the medical student blurts out, trying to be useful. Alas, it is of almost no use, as the medical student has not yet undergone metamorphosis into the clinical stage of its life cycle.

They converse for several hours before hunger becomes the predominant emotion, and they decide to split up in search of food. The medical student manages to catch a fish using a suturing needle and thread that it found in its pocket. The law student starts a fire using its spectacles and one of the more boring law textbooks (to clarify: the textbook is of a flammable use as opposed to an instructional one). The arts student is usually herbivorous, but makes an exception due to being stranded on a desert island (a scenario it has frequently been asked about before) and cooks the fish for the group to share. They sit down to their first meal as castaways, and by the time they finish, the sky has begun to grow dark.

“We need to build a shelter to defend ourselves from the elements,” the law student states sensibly.

“You keep the fire burning for the rescuers, and I’ll weave a tent out of flax,” says the arts student.

The medical student begins to recite the steps of the Krebs cycle but soon realises that the others have already walked away and begun their practical tasks. The medical student instead amuses itself by subtly inspecting a mole on the law student’s chin to determine whether or not it could be cancerous.

By nightfall, the three youths are sitting in unprecedentedly close proximity under a cube-shaped flax tent (it’s rustic-avant-garde, the arts student had said). More importantly, they seem to be defying the laws of nature by talking about things they have in common.

“We hate Turnitin,” the law student says.

“We love coffee,” the arts student adds.

“We all have bones,” the medical student offers. The other two nod sympathetically.

They lie in silence as the world around them grows darker and more uncertain. They know not whether they will survive the night but they do know one thing: they are not alone.

***

Professor Mitchell leans back in her chair and clasps her hands across her lap. It has been another long day for the Dean of the Medical Faculty. Blue light flickers across her face, reflections of the hundreds of video screens displayed before her. Each screen reveals a fresh scene of carnage: law students smothering arts students with white powdered wigs; medical students trying to perform chest compressions on themselves.  

But there, in the bottom left-hand corner, marked Simulation 59314, is the breakthrough that has eluded the faculty for decades. A bespectacled law student, a blue-haired arts student and an emotionally vulnerable medical student are sleeping peacefully, side by side on a desert island. Professor Mitchell picks up her cellphone and excitedly hits speed dial.

“Michelle,” she says, “I’ve got an idea for improving interfaculty relations.”

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