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Don't fall victim to vampires! Don't get slashed by a psycho! Don't get stuck, ASK DR. ELDRITCH!

Dear Dr. Eldritch,
I hope this reaches you, as I'm shipwrecked on a uncharted island! Help!

I was one of a group of winners of a tropical vacation on an experimental hovercraft cruiseship crossing the Pacific. On our second day out, we were blanketed by dense fog. We all went below deck, thinking that the worst thing about it was merely missing some prime shuffleboard time. We didn't know that most of the navigational electronics had gone wonky, and the crew was running the ship at full speed in the wrong direction. The fog didn't lift, and several nights later we were all awakened by a huge crash! The ship tilted and all the lights went out. We could feel the ship sinking, so everyone panicked, and went overboard.

Fortunately, we only had to wait an hour or so until dawn, and we saw an island not far away. People were hanging onto overloaded life rafts, but we managed to paddle and swim to shore. There must have been hundreds of crew and passengers on the ship, but about fifty of us made it to land. It only took a few minutes before people started arguing. Some said that we'd be rescued right away, so we didn't need to do anything but wait. Others said we'd best find fresh water and food, in case it took a few days for us to be found. Still others wanted to take the rafts back out to the spire of rock that the ship hit, and see if anything could be salvaged. Someone suggested that the captain should decide, but we quickly realized that only one crew member was with us, Dwight, the Activities Director's assistant. He's nineteen, and scared out of his wits. So someone said we should elect a leader. That led to another argument.

Eventually, we split into two groups. Some of us found a clearing inland, by a stream. We've built shelters and we gather fruit and coconuts. The other half are living on the beach. They build huge bonfires and eat fish and wild boar, which they hunt with sharpened sticks. At night, they fight each other for entertainment. We hear them yelling and singing dirty songs for hours. Some of them have taken to going shirtless and smearing blood on their faces like warpaint. We tried to trade some fruit for roast boar, but they just threw rocks at us and laughed when we ran away.

But that's not the worst of it. Strange things have been happening. We've been seeing other people in the jungle. Some say it's the crew. The theory is that they all abandoned ship before the accident, and are hiding across the island. Others say that there were people living on the island before we came. A few don't believe that there's anyone else, but they can't explain why we've had fruit and clothing stolen in the middle of the night. And six people have gone alone out into the jungle, and they never came back.

While we were searching for them, we found strange structures made of vines and bamboo, but we have no idea what they're for. We've heard music at night, but we can't tell where it's coming from. Not just drums, either; it sounds like a symphony. They play "Bolero" a lot. There's a phone booth in the middle of the jungle, but none of our coins work in it. Several people have seen a moose wandering by. And we've gotten glimpses of something flying around the island. It looks like a bird, but it's big. Huge. Like a city bus with wings.

It's been almost three weeks, and there's no sign of rescue. I don't know what's going to kill us first; the Beach Hunters, the mysterious locals or the giant bird, but I'm scared of them all! Please, what can we do to make sure we get back home alive?

-- Jeffrey, Somewhere Uncharted in the Pacific

Dear Jeffrey,

Don't worry; starvation, accidents, illness, or poisonous snakes will probably get you first!

Sorry, I shouldn't jest. The bad news, Jeffrey, is that your situation is so much messed up, I hardly know where to begin. Mistakes have been made. Big ones. But where there's Life, there's Hope, right? I hope so, for your sake.

Someone in your group probably has wilderness survival knowledge; they can cover the basics of first aid and securing shelter, water and food. What most survival books and training courses rarely address, however, are the crucial human-factor issues that are making your Tropical Paradise a Living Hell. Some experts recommend that the first thing you do when shipwrecked is to kill everybody else. That seems extreme to me, but it would reduce the number of difficult personalities running about.

The biggest problem you face is that most people adhere to the rules of civilization only because of the unpleasant repercussions of unlawful behavior. They don't normally steal food or poke people with pointed sticks because the police would be summoned and they'd be carted off to jail. Your fellow castaways have realized that you are all now beyond the reach of the constabulary, and they have "cart blanche" (Fr. for "white cheese"). You may argue that the FBI investigates crimes in International Waters, but that won't dissuade your hunters as they chase you through the jungle with spears and torches. Unfortunately (to paraphrase the slogan), "What happens on a remote, uncharted desert island, stays on a remote, uncharted desert island."

Instead of wasting time arguing, you castaways should have done some Rapid Tribe-Building. Once immediate issues of personal safety are dealt with, everyone gathers and chooses a council of leaders. The council has an odd number of members; three is okay, five is better. Select the wisest and calmest of the survivors. It's a good sign if they don't want the job; they're less likely to be Power-Hungry Fruitcakes. Once the elections are complete, ALL decisions are made by majority vote within the council, and everyone else must abide by those decisions.

When someone challenges their leadership (and believe me, someone will), the upstart is given the option of toeing the line or leaving the group. He or she will probably say something like "Fine! I'll just go!" At which point they're told that if they do so, they can't take any of the group's equipment or supplies with them. Nor interact with anyone still in the group, until they're willing to live by the council's decisions again. Since you can't really punish them with jail, exile is your best threat. Most troublemakers will realize the foolishness of striking out on their own, and acquiesce. Yes, this is harsh, but wouldn't it be better than what you've got now? I thought so.

So how do you regain control once barbarism has reared its ugly, unwashed head? Through hard work and superior technology. First, salvage everything you can. Every scrap of metal, fabric and plastic can be useful. Combine them with local materials to make armor and weaponry. Improvising firearms is difficult, but crossbows should be manageable.

Also use your available materials and ingenuity to improve your standard of living, particularly in areas of hygiene. Develop a soft replacement for Bathroom Tissue. You may scoff, but when humans are clean and comfortable, they're much less likely to pick fights. Think about how terrible the Middle Ages were in Europe. Did they have toilet paper? You see my point.

You'd think this would be obvious, but never go anywhere alone. Pairs are better, but I'd suggest traveling in groups of three or more. At least one person in the group should be armed. If possible, everyone is.

Post guards at your camp 24/7. It's no fun to stand watch at night, but how stupid it would be for everyone to go to sleep and let anyone, or any thing, wander into your camp unopposed? Yeah, exactly.

When your island neighbors notice your improved living conditions, you'll need a show of force to demonstrate that they can't just take what they will. They may have gleefully thrown of the shackles of civilization, but they probably also realize that they're well beyond the reach of modern medicine. The risk of a crossbow bolt in the torso should be a pretty good deterrent to daring raids. Once you've established that you're not just sheep for the plucking, they'll be far more willing to barter.

That should set you up rather well until you're rescued, or have given up all hope of returning to civilization. Of course, stay watchful in open areas for giant birds! And avoid that moose, too.

Good luck, and let me know how it comes out!

-- Dr. Eldritch

(DISCLAIMER: Anyone intelligent enough to be reading this should understand 1) Satire, and 2) That following the advice given may result in physical, mental, or spiritual harm to beings living, dead, or undead. The author does not suggest that anyone other that the originator of any given letter follow his advice, and cannot be held liable if anyone else does.
If you need more, read this Advanced Disclaimer!) All content © 2006 Evan M. Nichols