SandBoxed: Paradise or Prison : by Yvonne DeBandi

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I woke up with my face in the sand, naked, stranded on a deserted island with no memories of my former life. At first, I felt lucky. No matter what had happened…I landed in paradise. Perhaps it was the neverending nightmares, or maybe the ‘JD291183’ tattoo on my wrist that kept me from accepting my new reality, kept me from forgetting that I had forgotten.

It wasn’t until a crate washed up on the beach, stenciled with my tattoo that I realized something was very wrong. For inside I found a mirror, and as I gazed upon my face for the very first time, my reflection blinked…when I didn’t.

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SANDBOXED: Paradise or Prison
A Novel by Yvonne M. DeBandi
Copyright © 2018 Yvonne M. DeBandi

Amazing colors painted the sky above my tiny corner of the universe. By description ‘breathtaking’ was inadequate, but the view did indeed take my breath away.  As I sat there, I was reminded again to be grateful. I was lucky. It didn’t matter I had no memory, or that I was stranded.   Regardless of where I came from or what I had done before…in this moment I could escape all the questions, all the wondering. I could forget that I had forgotten.I retreated to this cove every evening to sit with my feet curled under me, winding down after another lonely day while the fish jumped their almost synchronized routine. Out of all the beautiful spots on this deserted island, this is the one that called to me. Perhaps because life as I knew it began in this very spot.  It was here that I opened my eyes to find my face in the sand and the sound of water splashing in the distance; and here, that I returned with every sunset to nourish my body while everything around me nourished my soul.

“Bravo! Again! Again!”

As I applauded the aquatic shenanigans and shouted my praise with glee, I laughed at my own words. I’m not sure when I began talking to myself, but it was becoming increasingly more frequent.

The first many days of silence weren’t really silent at all. There was a constant running commentary in my head, like I was on the outside watching myself and journaling everything I happened to see or think. Perhaps it was my subconscious working on overtime, looking for a way to put all the pieces together. Then, one day, the thoughts just began spilling out of my mouth. Now I talked to myself, the trees, the fish…to everything and to nothing.

The longer I remained here, the more difficult it became to tell the voices apart.  Was I thinking it or did I say it out loud?  It was only when the sound of my audible voice startled me that I knew the difference for certain.

How long have I been here now?

I had no answer to that question. Except for small differences and the changes in the weather, every day was like the last.  Upon my arrival I had been so disoriented, it never occurred to me to keep track; and now, it seemed pointless to begin.

I later decided to mark my time with accomplishments, not sunsets. Although I had no personal memories, I made many discoveries of hidden knowledge. As I looked at an object, a plant, a random piece of wood, I saw visions of how to use them to my advantage. Since my arrival, I had built many small structures around the island.  Balancing fallen limbs in just the right order and covering them with large leaves and growing vines came easily.  I could see the design in my head, the specifics of how to make it sound and sturdy as if I had done the task many times before…and yet, I didn’t know my name.

I rarely used these builds as personal shelter, but the occasional unexpected rainstorm made me thankful for a nearby roof over my head.  Mostly I used them to house items I found.  Sometimes I didn’t even know why I collected them. I would see a rock of a particular size and shape, a piece of metal that washed up on one of the many beaches, or a rare group of seashells and I would say to myself, I might need that.

I also collected fruit about to fall off the vine or branch. If I couldn’t carry it all, I would store it there for the next jaunt in that direction. Perhaps all of this was unnecessary, since further up the beach from where I sat there were small caves that provided safety; and, while hoarding food was something I would admit to, food grew all around me in abundance. Things could be much worse.  Yes, I was very lucky.

The only thing that interrupted my full acceptance of this blissful island, besides the constant isolation, was the nightmares.  Maybe that is why I worked so hard during the day, preparing for a hardship that may never arrive.   It was an unadmitted quest for exhaustion. I longed for a single night of restful sleep.

Here in this tropical paradise, the nightmares were my only enemy. They were persistent, disturbing, and never-ending.



Drip. Drip. Drip.

Counting the water drops falling from the tiny cave entrance where I rested had become a habit; although, tonight I had far surpassed the numbers that usually led me to slumber.  I preferred to sleep on the beach where I remembered drawing my first breath, but tonight it smelled like rain. Truth is, I was restless.  Every noise seemed magnified and the conversations in my head were louder than normal.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

I closed my eyes and continued counting while trying to ignore the one voice that had grown louder over the last many days.  I was alone, utterly and completely alone.  Is this all there would ever be?  Me, trudging across the island looking for little treasures and an exhaustion that would allow me to sleep through the night?

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The storm had now begun and as the moisture grew within the cave walls, a tiny stream of droplets collected over my head.  As they spilled upon my face it was refreshing; but, the moment of cool sensation faded. It was replaced by panic when I realized that I couldn’t move away.  I felt nothing, nothing but the moisture falling across my forehead and the fear growing within me.

The light from the moon disappeared like the howling wind outside had picked it up and carried it away. Now engulfed by absolute darkness I felt the cave walls closing in, surrounding me like a tiny coffin. I pleaded with my limbs to push at the solid surfaces, to make an escape, but they wouldn’t respond.  A mind-numbing pain then seared through every cell of my lifeless body, resulting in my own blood-curdling scream as knives I couldn’t see stabbed me from the inside out.

Suddenly, a blinding white light appeared from nowhere. Dazed and confused I saw silhouetted movement, figures circling around me. I frantically searched for something familiar, something to focus upon as I began to spiral back into the blackness of nothing.  I fought to keep the light in sight, certain that when the light faded, my life would be extinguished.

It was only when exhaustion began to conquer my determination that an image appeared to calm my heartbeat and provide a momentary feeling of safety. A single figure stepped in front of the light. He towered over me and gazed with the kindest eyes I could ever imagine.  While the seconds that passed were literally the amount required to draw breath only once, he saved me. With one look he provided hope that I would find the strength to survive.

He reached out with comforting intent; but suddenly, and without warning, another being interrupted his actions. Pushed back into the blinding light beyond my vision, my would-be savior was gone. In his place, I found black eyes filled with hatred that glared at me for what felt like an eternity.

The frightening stare finally ended with a slap of fury, a brute force that pushed me off of the rock ledge that imprisoned me. Falling onto the cavern floor, I hit my head on a sharp rock that should have knocked me out; but instead, startled me awake. And so, with blood dripping down my face, the nightmare ended and another day began.



After tending to my wound as best I could I relaxed on my little beach.  My feet floated in the water while my head and shoulders remained rooted in the sand.  It was time to take a day off.

What does it matter? Not like I have anyone to answer to.

Despite my nonchalant, yet sarcastic thoughts, I couldn’t help but recognize the nightmares were getting worse. It was also becoming more difficult to ignore my growing boredom.

I am missing something.

Of course, that thought spun my mind into a merry-go-round of ideas. Not knowing how I had spent my time before arriving here, what was there to miss?

The throbbing inside my head was relentless.  As I reached up to press the swollen area to make sure the bleeding had stopped, my eyes rested on the inner side of my left wrist.  It was the only clue I had, and yet it meant nothing to me.  Tattooed onto my skin was ‘JD291183.’

What does that mean?

On many a day I asked myself that question.  I had come up with several wild and crazy notions, but only one fantasy persisted:  It was a prison tattoo. I had done something so awful that I blocked out all personal memories and given myself amnesia. Maybe I was still a prisoner and this island was not a lost paradise, but something more. Either way, it felt like a prison.

I watched the sun move across the sky as my thoughts spun out of control.  It was the slowest day I remembered and yet it was almost done.  The fish would soon begin their dance. I would have to face yet another night of terror; dreams that repeatedly raped my soul and now threatened me with physical harm.

“Ouch! What the …?”

Something unrelenting was brushing against my body, keeping in time with the slow, mesmerizing wash of the tide. Many small things had washed up on the island beaches, but never something like this fully intact wooden crate.

In truth, I didn’t care what was inside the floating box.  It was something different, a distraction from the current normal. I pulled the crate onto the sand and quickly gathered my hand-crafted tools.  Fifteen minutes later I was still struggling with the unrelenting slats.


The harder it was to open, the more I wanted to see inside. As a last resort, I decided to roll it over. Perhaps I would have more success with the soaked bottom.  To my great surprise, stenciled on the wet wood and standing out like a bright shining beacon was ‘JD291183,’ the exact sequence burned into my wrist. Intrigue grew into overwhelming adrenaline as I pounded my sharp stone into a crack and pried off the first board.

Did these items belong to me?

Drenched in sweat, I threw the broken board to the ground and attacked the crate like a starving person fighting a coconut. I finally pulled out the first treasure as the sun began to fall in the sky.

I had no memories of opening gifts; but, the idea of unwrapping this item concealed in cloth and held together by a bow, filled me with the same glee I must have experienced as a child. Relishing the moment, I sat down with my first present and slowly pulled the faded string. I peeked under the layers of fabric to find a dirty hand mirror with a crack running jaggedly across the center.

Surprised, I let it sit in my lap for many moments. This was certainly unnerving. Except for my blurred, watery reflection, this would be the first time seeing my face.

Will seeing my reflection bring back any memories?  And if it does, do I really want to know?

Finding the courage and the gumption just as the fish started to dance in the bay, I wrapped my fingers around the handle and gazed upon myself. The eyes that stared back at me belonged to a complete stranger.  No matter which angle I chose, there was not an ounce of recognition.  Just some woman with blue eyes and a heart-shaped face framed by long black hair, curly tendrils blowing freely in the breeze. Tucking the hair behind small ears exposed one was slightly higher than the other. Full lips and rosy cheeks accented dark skin, evidence of many days in the sun. All of it was topped off by a huge knot and colorful bruise on the tall forehead.

What do you think?  Late twenties? Early thirties?

I stared at myself for a long time and got no additional answers, but as I moved to put the mirror down and continue my rummage, something odd happened. For just an instant, my mirror image distorted as years and color faded away; and, even more startling… the reflection blinked when I didn’t.


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