“OK! This spot should work, hopefully,” Dex announced loudly and thrust the boat into neutral. He poked me in the shoulder to make sure I was paying attention to him. “Can you hold the wheel steady and press this button here when I tell you to? It will be stop and go and you’ll have to hold your finger down to make it run.”
I nodded and got up, scooching over behind the wheel and making sure I could reach the black button that stuck out on a low panel on the boat’s side. The creepy feeling hadn’t left me yet but I was glad to be concentrating on something else.
Dex made his way to the front of the boat. I quickly stole a glance at the forest. It was entirely plausible that I imagined the whole thing. After all, it didn’t move even once and the lines and shadows of the forest could be molded into any figure of your imagination, like a Magic Eye painting.
“OK go,” Dex cried out from the bow, amongst the sound of clanking chains. I pressed the button, holding it down while the anchor lowered into the water. It didn’t seem like that hard of a job until the current began to tug at the wheel, making it shake underneath my hands. I tightened my grip and held it steady, while holding the button down with my other hand.
The wheel began to move even more under my hands, almost violently, like someone down below was pulling the rudder left and right. I put the weight of my boobs against the wheel for extra leverage, not able to let go of the button yet. But it was getting tedious. I was close to having to take my hand away.
“Let go!” Dex yelled, and I gladly did so, putting my other hand on the wheel to steady it. He ran along the deck towards me, not even bothering to hold onto the lifelines as he did so.
“The wheel is going crazy,” I explained.
“The currents are fucked here.” He put his hand on the anchor button.
“Are you getting hold of anything?”
He frowned. “I should be. It’s a really sharp slope so I have to be sure.”
After a few moments of hearing the anchor motor purr, he let go with satisfaction and turned the boat off. He looked at my white knuckles at the wheel and smiled wryly.
“You can let go now,” he said. “We aren’t going anywhere.”
I did so. And the boat swung quickly to the left, away from the island. It was almost as if the island was giving it one huge push to stay away.
I almost fell over but Dex grabbed my arm quickly.
“You were saying?” I glared.
He sucked in his lip and looked back at the shore while the boat continued to spin like the second hand on a clock. He grabbed hold of the wheel and kept it steady. He glanced down behind him.
“There’s no stern anchor to keep us from swinging all weekend.”
“Does it matter if we aren’t on the boat?”
“Hell yes it does. The anchor is barely holding up front and this is a fucking calm day, for this place anyway. Another hour of this and the boat will wiggle itself free. If we left, it wouldn’t be here when we return.”
So what he was saying is that we were fucked. Oh well, time to call it day and go back to the marina. Nice try but not in the cards. I understood.
Oh, but no.
“Doesn’t matter, there’s an easy fix,” he said while my shoulders deflated. “Here, take the wheel.”
I did so, shoving my weight against it. It was even harder now to keep steady than before. Just what the hell was going on in the water? It looked like a lot of commotion on the surface, but not enough to make steering as difficult as it was.
The image of sunken coffins slowly rising to the surface entered my head. I pictured fingerless hands coming out of the rotted caskets, skin peeling, bloated white flesh, reaching for the rudder underneath in the dark, green depths.
“Perry!” Dex barked. I snapped out of it and gave him my attention. He had lifted up one of the benches and was pulling out a long yellow rope out of a hidden storage area. “You hear me? Keep that wheel as still as you can, we’re in a good position now.”
The boat had done a 180 around the anchor and the bow was facing the way we had come in. I nodded and did as he said.
He came beside me and tied the rope around a metal hook thing, finishing it off in a fancy sailor knot, then opened the lifelines behind me and started to pull in the Zodiac.
“Where are you going?” I asked anxiously. I didn’t want him to leave me on this thing.
He kicked over a metal ladder and stepped down towards the Zodiac, jumping the rest of the way. He landed with a thud, the boat shuddering beneath him, but managed to stay upright and inside. He pointed to the cliff area. There was a lone arbutus tree that was jutting out of one of the rocks.
“I’ve got to tie us to that tree there,” he said, starting the small engine on the Zodiac like a finicky lawnmower. After a few attempts it roared, blueish smoke emanating from the tank, the propellers whirring violently.
“Do you have enough rope?” I asked. He nodded and adjusted himself on one of the pontoons.
He looked up at me. “Just hold it as steady as you can; otherwise, you’ll be leading me around. Make sure the rope doesn’t tangle. I’ll be right back.”
How many times had I heard that?
And off he went. The little boat straggled a bit at first and I could see Dex jerking the engine around, fighting off the current, but as soon as the boat picked up speed, it was smooth sailing.
I watched him, aware that the wheel was trying hard to be free of my grasp. There was no way in hell I was letting go for anything. The rope trailed out from behind the Zodiac and it looked like the spool of it at my feet was going to unwind sooner rather than later.
Just when the rope’s length was almost all used, Dex reached the rocky outcrop beneath the cliff. He killed the engine, leaped on land, climbed up over a few wet boulders and reached the tree. It made me nervous. It was obvious that he knew what he was doing and Dex could certainly be a little monkey at times, but seeing him scamper over those wet boulders, crashing waves beneath him, I knew it just took one wrong step for him to lose his footing and tumble backward into the sea.
This seemed like an awful lot of trouble just to visit this island. Why the government decided to make it a park was beyond me. How the hell did most campers get here anyway? No wonder there was rarely anyone here – half the people probably gave up. There was another island only a few miles away that had a dock and everything. The smart boaters went there; the crazy ones came to this hostile place.
Hostile was the most apt term. From the moment we saw this place, this feeling of GET OUT was running through my bones. I didn’t like it at all and all this trouble with the currents and the boat weren’t helping.
Dex got the job done though. He had tied the line around the tree as much as he could before there was no more slack and got back into the Zodiac. He started the engine, motored along loudly and within a minute he was back at the boat and climbing aboard.
He breathlessly tied the Zodiac back to the boat and said, “Now let go.”
I did so and braced myself for the swing. The boat moved over but stopped after a couple of feet, the rope straining tightly against the tree. I could hear the anchor chains from the bow rattling. But we weren’t going anywhere.
We breathed out a sigh of relief in unison.
“You’re not a bad skipper,” he said to me. “Maybe you should take up sailing after this.”
“We’ll see,” I said.
Now that that was all done, we climbed below and started organizing everything for our pilgrimage to the campsite on the opposite side of the island. We had two large backpacks each full of our personal crap, a small cooler that Dex had stuffed with food we had purchased on the way to the marina, a small cooking stove with propane, a long duffel containing the tent, pegs, mattresses and a tarp, two sleeping bags, two pillows, the large professional camera, the handheld camcorder, a strange old camera case I hadn’t seen before, an SLR camera, two large golf umbrellas, lighting boards, a small pack full of our ghost–hunting equipment and the like, Dex’s laptop…and a bunch of other crap.
“Uh, don’t you think it’ll be easier if we just left everything on the boat?” I pointed at all the junk. “It’s going to take several trips to the island just to take everything.”
“So it will,” he mused, gathering up his backpack. “Can’t forget the jackets either.”
He went to the forward cabin and pulled them out. They were real, proper sailing jackets. I knew they would come down to the knees on me. He placed them in my hands then noticed the look on my face. “What?”
“I’m just saying, maybe I should stay on the boat? That will at least cut down on bringing some stuff.”
“Are you getting cold feet?”
“I’ve had cold feet this whole time.”
“So you’re scared?”
“Yeah! It’s called Island of Death for a reason and it obviously doesn’t want us here.”
“Don’t be so dramatic.”
I felt like throwing the jackets in his face but just held his gaze steadily and with a stern eye. I could see the wheels working behind his brow.
“Fine,” he said, “if you want to stay on the boat tonight, that’s fine. Do whatever you got to do. But you know you still have to come on the island, bringing the rest of the stuff, and do all the damn filming we have planned.”
I nodded; of course I knew that. He did not look impressed with my decision though.
“Well, I’ll go do the first run. You stay here. Try not to wet yourself.”
He turned, gathering up as much stuff as he could and climbed on the upper deck. I sat down and opened the cooler looking for something to eat. It was way past lunch by now and the nausea that had killed my appetite earlier was gone.
I heard the sound of the Zodiac starting and through one of the portholes, saw Dex on it as he passed briefly outside, heading for the shore.
There was just enough food in the cooler for the weekend. We erred on the side of being cheap and having less to carry. As long as we had coffee, I was good. In fact, the two of us could live off coffee.
There was a strange poking feeling in the back of my conscious that was starting to make me reconsider though. Now that I was here, going to the island with minimal rations didn’t seem like the smartest idea.
I walked over to the galley and opened the tiny fridge and freezer. Empty, obviously.
I pulled open the cupboards up above and found a few boxes of half eaten cereal, several cans of soup, some canned vegetables, pasta sauce and an unopened box of Triscuits. That made me feel a bit better knowing there was food on board. No one said we couldn’t come back to the boat.
I grabbed the Triscuits and opened them. I doubted Zach would miss it and it was better than me nibbling at the food we were bringing to the island. I shoved a few in my mouth and walked over to the table.
A movement out of the corner of my eye made me stop. I slowly turned my head to the wall.
There was a hand on the outside of the porthole glass. A hand reaching up from the depths.
I screamed like hell, dropped the box and made a frantic dash for the stairs, pulling myself up them in a ragged, scrambling hurry.