| A HALF HOUR later Mr. Koril was tying us to the pier at Pulau Tiga. At long last my revenge was at hand. I listened for the sound of generators or helicopters that would tell me where the set was. It was the 23rd day of filming, and I knew Mark Burnett was on this island, not very far away. Wait—was that the scent of exhaust from a generator? I filled my lungs with air. There it was again. I slung my pack over one shoulder, jumped from the boat, and strode down the pier.
First things first. "I claim this island," I announced as I stepped ashore, "for myself."
I made my way down the beach toward the source of this faint exhaust, mindful of monitors and kraits and pigs. Not to mention spycams. But by now I really didn't care. The thought of that empty seat on the minibus was a very bad thing running round my brain. I began tossing zipper bags with notes and gin onto the coarse coral sand and up into the jungle.
"Dear Survivor," my messages said. "If I were on the island instead of these pathetic losers like Joel, you'd be having at least 3.8 times as much fun as you're having right now, assuming you're having any fun at all. Anyway, while this little offering brightens your day I hope you'll wonder who I am." The notes were signed, of course, "Richard Kraneum."
I reached into my pack and found my bag of matches from the Magellan. I saw again my vision of the island on fire, lustrous amber flames in the palm trees rising against the charcoal sky, a shuddering, cleansing inferno just like the one that roared across Golding's island at the end of Lord of the Flies. You want reality, Mr. Burnett? You got it. Run, TV boy!
Then I flung the bag away as if it were burning my hand. Mama, what was I thinking? Mark Burnett wasn't the island's fault! There wasn't some twisted force haunting Pulau Tiga, compelling CBS to deny me my desires! And even if I were crazed enough to try and start a forest fire, the island wouldn't let me. The jungle was so wet a flame thrower wouldn't have a chance.
Besides, I realized, why should I risk serious Malaysian pokey time for something as cooked and contrived as Survivor? I had my own adventure show at hand, a remake of Lord of the Flies starring me as any of the characters I chose to be, and here and now was the good island on which to act it out.
I waded into the surf. The water was not warmer than my blood, as was the lagoon into which Ralph stepped at the beginning of the novel, but it was warm. I withdrew my conch, a gorgeous Triton's Trumpet, and blew into it from deep in my belly as hard as I could, just as Ralph had done to summon his fellow castaways. The shell issued a harsh, raucous note. Seabirds fled.
Far down the beach I saw the wavering images of people running in my direction. CBS goons, no doubt. I panicked—what a chicken, after all!—and scurried back to the boat, where I rewarded Speedo and Mr. Koril with bottles of gin. I was about to open one for myself when I was overcome by another compulsion. I ordered my crew to wait again, and I sprinted back down the pier, turned toward the figures now looming larger, dropped my trousers, and bent over.