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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Travel · #1983286
Ralph had won a trip of a lifetime; would it be more than he bargained for?
The Trip of a Lifetime

Headlights illuminated the grey concrete driveway leading to the grey garage attached to the grey house.

That's the story of my life! There's no excitement, no color. Ralph hit the opener button and pulled into the cramped space. With a sigh, he managed to get the car door open enough to sidle his way out. "There's no room, either," he muttered to himself.

He moved, crab-like, down the side of the car. "Where does all this stuff come from?" he asked as he pushed past boxes piled haphazardly against the walls. He closed the garage door and wearily walked the cracked pathway to his door, pausing to pick up the mail before he went inside.

"Meow, meow," a large ball of fur scolded him the moment he entered.

"Hello Bunny. I know, I'm late and you're hungry." He was pretty sure it was a cat but with so much fur, you just never knew. He had named her "Dust Bunny" when he inherited her from one of his old girlfriends. She not only looked like one, she spent most of her time under furniture.

He went to the kitchen, poured some Meow Mix into her bowl, and three fingers of Scotch for himself. Meow, meow, meow, meow ... He found himself absent mindedly singing the stupid commercial. I need a life he thought scornfully.

Bunny magically appeared next to him on the counter, sniffed disdainfully at the Scotch and then dove into the food. The sound of scattering kibbles faded as he went to the non-descript living room and settled in his recliner.

He looked over the stack of mail. "Bills, bills, and more ..." he began to say when he noticed the green tag attached to one of the envelopes. It was a registered letter. "What now?"

A faint "meow" came from under his chair.

"That was rhetorical," he said to Bunny.

He carefully tore the top and pulled out the folded pages. The opening sentence made him choke on his drink. CONGRATULATIONS! YOU ARE THE TRAVEL CHANNEL'S 2014 "TRIP OF A LIFETIME" WINNER. He quickly scanned the letter. "It seems legit." There was a name and contact number for him to call. Bunny howled her dismay as he shot out of his chair toward the phone.

With shaking fingers, he punched in the numbers. "Hi, this is Ralph Lawson and I just got a letter from you. What's the catch?"

"Congratulations, Mr. Lawson. There is no catch! You've been chosen to receive the Travel Channel's all-expenses paid trip of a lifetime to ... Bimini!"

"Oh, my God!" Ralph felt light headed. Finally, his took a deep breath and asked, "Where exactly is Bimini?"

"It's located just 50 miles off Florida's coast. Bimini is the closest Bahamian island to the United States, boasting miles of pristine beaches. Known as Ernest Hemingway's favorite escape, Bimini is historically significant. Visitors from around the world enjoy its historical complexity and renowned past, including Bimini Road, which some believe is a remnant of the legendary Lost City of Atlantis."

Ralph could hear adventure calling. "When can I go?"

Three weeks later, Ralph walked down the stair ramp into a world of color. As he entered the terminal, he saw a chauffeur holding a sign with "Ralph Lawson" written on it. A pretty woman holding a bouquet of balloons was next to him.

"Mr. Lawson?" she asked as he approached.

"Please, call me Ralph," he said grinning.

"My name is Aaliyah. On behalf to the Travel Channel, welcome to the Bahamas," she gushed, flashing a gleaming smile, "and, congratulations! Maurice," she said nodding toward the driver, "will take you to the Compleat Angler Hotel where your adventure will begin. This is the same hotel where Ernest Hemingway stayed while writing To Have and Have Not.

Ralph was familiar with the story of Harry Morgan, a fishing boat captain who runs contraband between Cuba and Florida. "Kind of a modern day pirate's tale," he acknowledged. "It sounds perfect."

"Today we'll get you settled in. Tomorrow, the adventure begins. I'd like to invite you to a special dinner tonight where we can firm up the details. If you're agreeable, why don't I pick you up at, say, 6:00?"

"That would be perfect," he said as he followed Maurice to the waiting limousine.

Dinner was indeed special. Warm, tropical breezes wafted across the patio carrying the scents of hibiscus and bougainvillea. The sunset was nothing short of spectacular, painting the sky in subtle shades of orange, pink, and purple.

"The setting is perfect, the company divine," he quipped as he finished off his second Mango Habanero Margarita. The sweet taste of mango tangoed with the fiery flavors of tequila and orange liqueur, setting the stage for the spicy kick of habanero.

"Why thank you ..." she hesitated, then finished with "Ralph. So, this is your trip. What would you like to do? Bimini isn't a large island but there's a lot to do. While most of your activities will be water-based, it is worth checking out the Dolphin House—the abode of a well-known island resident that's made almost entirely of crushed coral concrete, shells, and reclaimed tiles—as well as the pink-hued Bimini Museum, both in Alice Town. Certainly, a trip into Bimini's 50 shades of blue—the waters surrounding the island are some of the most beautiful in the world, and there are many ways to enjoy them."

"I've been thinking. I'm looking for adventure and when I heard about the Bimini Road, I knew this was something I had to see for myself."

Her laughter brought back the sun. "What a wonderful idea. I will make the arrangements for a day trip for tomorrow."

"Actually, I'd like to do something different. I'm inspired by Hemmingway's story. I'd love to just have a boat, a map, and snorkel gear. Perhaps follow it and stop at a few of the cays. I did some reading before I came down and I know that a lot of the rum-runners used them." He could see this wasn't exactly what she expected to hear.

"Well," she began, a note of doubt in her voice, "if that's really what you'd like to do ..."

"Just for a couple of days. When I get back, I'll be ready for whatever else you'd recommend."

"It's your dream trip," she acknowledged. "I'll make the arrangements and pick you up at 9:00 tomorrow."

True to her word, Aaliyah pulled up in a Range Rover at precisely 9:00. "Are you ready?"

"I've been ready all my life," he laughed, tossing a small bag into the backseat.

"Then, let the adventure begin. We're going to the south end of the island. Jemarr is a friend and he knows these waters better than anyone. I told him what you wanted to do and he said he'd make sure you had your adventure!"

"Do I need to bring anything?"

"Sunscreen!" she laughed.

The drive went quickly. Soon, they pulled off the main road, winding their way down a dirt road through palms, wild mango, and lignum vitae – called ironwood – the national tree of the Bahamas.

The building appeared as they crested a large sand dune. It was shaped like a round tent, tall, made of poles and thatch, with an opening at the top to let smoke out. Against the backdrop of the ocean, it was the picture of paradise.

Jemarr was waiting, grinning from ear to ear. "'Ello, mon. It's a beautiful day," he shouted in joyful greeting. "Come. Have a drink."

Jemarr had taken a machete and loped off the tops of several coconuts. Aaliyah made the introductions. They sat on the thatched porch, sipping the sweet liquid, as Jemarr explained what he had prepared.

"You have maps, a compass, water, food, and a radio. I've laid out a route for you that will follow the Road and marked which cays were used as hideaways. You'll be in a Zodiac inflatable, which is unsinkable, equipped with an electric motor. The batteries are fully charged and should last for twice as long as you need. If you follow this route, you should be back before sundown tomorrow night."

Ralph looked over the map. "This is perfect."

"Then, let's get going, mon," Jemarr laughed, standing and leading Ralph down to the beach. He went over the equipment, pointing out where each item was stored and double checked everything.

"Maybe I'll find the fabled Atlantis," Ralph said with a tone of wistfulness.

"If you do, let me know. Until then, mon, no worries," Jemarr grinned, pushing the nose of the Zodiac toward the great unknown.

Ready or not, here I come, Ralph thought as he dug his paddle into the water. When he passed the break point, he switched on the small motor.

Ralph was amazed at how clear the water was. Peering over the side, he was fascinated with all the fish and sea life that unfolded around him. Ralph was so focused that he failed to notice the darkening horizon. Soon, the waves began to build as he struggled to maintain his course. On one crest, he saw a cay off to the right and tried to steer toward it.

Rain began to lash him. The Zodiac bounced about and Ralph found himself climbing the face of an impossibly huge wave. "Go, go!" he exhorted the small motor but, as he was about to the crest the wave, he felt the boat teeter backwards and felt himself falling ... into darkness.

Ralph woke with a start, his face in seaweed as the warm Caribbean lapped at his feet. He pushed himself up on the sand. Next to him was his boat. Scrambling over to it, he saw all of his supplies neatly lashed in place. Thank you, Jemarr!

He checked himself out and everything seemed in working order. He had his boat and supplies. The only problem he had was that he had no real idea where he was. He licked his lips, noticing how parched they were. Water. Calm down, have a drink, and then call Jemarr. It's all going to be fine, he reassured himself.

He pulled the Zodiac up onto the shore, pulled out a bottle of water and took a long draught. Through the plastic, it looked like something moved in the brush. Putting the bottle down, he stared at the spot. He remembered what Jemarr had told him – "there are no poisonous snakes in the Bahamas. You may encounter a few wild pigs but they only beg for food so share with them, mon, share!"

More movement caught the corner of his eye and he turned. Within a small copse of wild papaya, he noticed a few leaves slowly changing from green to a dark, muddy red color. "What the hell?" The color began spreading to other leaves, then other trees, then to the grasses, seeming to move in his direction.

A cold chill ran down his back and he could feel the hairs on the nape of his neck stand. Grabbing the radio, he fumbled to turn it on, finally being rewarded with a static sound.

"Hello, Jemarr? Can you hear me?"

After a moments silence, the radio crackled. "Ralph? Are you OK? I've been trying to raise you and was just getting ready to come search for you."

"I'm fine. I don't know where I am and something strange is happening here. I think maybe I've stumbled onto something; maybe an artifact from Atlantis. All the vegetation around me is turning to a dark reddish chestnut color."

Ralph could hear laughter coming tinnily through the speaker. "Did you hear me, Jemarr?"

"Mon," came the reply, "there's nothing to worry about ... you're just being marooned!"

** Image ID #1983947 Unavailable **

An entry for the March round of "Journey Through Genres: Official Contest
Word Limit: 2000
Word Count: 1959

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