I fell on the deck, scraping my knees on the pebbly surface, and scampered for the wheel, pulling myself behind it as if that was going to offer me some protection.
Dex had finished dropping the gear high on the beach and was walking back to the Zodiac. I couldn’t tell if he had heard my scream or not; it didn’t seem like it. I looked back at the cabin and let the sticky, eerie feeling wash over me. The cabin wasn’t the problem. The hand had been on the outside of the boat. Someone had to have been in the water, like they were trying to climb on board.
That thought made me want to vomit and having my back to the open sea was now becoming a problem. I stepped out from around the wheel and stood as in the middle of the cockpit as I could. I didn’t want to look on the sides of the boat; I was too afraid of what I might see.
I waited, standing as still as possible, hand on my chest, trying to hear anything besides the whoosh of blood in my head and the sweet, sweet sound of the Zodiac motoring back to me.
Well, that settled it. No way in hell was I staying alone on the boat tonight.
Within a minute, Dex was back and climbing back on board. He re–tied the rope, giving me a funny look.
“Are you OK?” he asked, coming over to me. “You look like you’ve seen…”
He didn’t finish the sentence.
“Can you do me a favor and look on the sides of the boat?” I squeaked. “The left side in particular.”
He appeared confused but did what I asked. He glanced over the left side. “What am I looking for?”
“There’s no one there?”
“No,” he said slowly. He walked over to the other side and did the same. “No one or nothing there either.”
He stopped in front of me and folded his arms. “What’s this about then? Saw another face?”
I could tell he wasn’t going to be very supportive, no matter what I said. “No, I didn’t see a face. But I’m definitely not staying on the boat tonight.”
He smiled wryly. “Decided you would miss me too much?”
“Something like that,” I answered.
A wave of suspicion clouded his eyes. I wasn’t sure if he was judging my sanity or what, but he didn’t say anything. Had it been the other way around I would have been bugging him to death but I guess that is where we differed. Well, that and the fact that I wasn’t a medicated nutter.
He let it go and I decided to as well. I probably just thought I saw a hand. Maybe it was a gull or something flying past, I don’t know.
We climbed back down and my eyes immediately went to the window. He was right in that he didn’t see anything. Whatever it was wasn’t there anymore.
Yet I couldn’t get the image out of my head. I know I saw a hand. I had seen it clearly. It was a greenish white, bloated and scabby. The palm had been open and pressed firmly against the glass, the wrist and arm leading down below out of sight, belonging to some… body.
Dex gathered the rest of the stuff. I supposed I should have helped but something was bothering me. I walked over to the window, heart in my throat, and peered closer at it. I moved my head around, trying to lose the glare from inside the boat and then I saw it. There was a very faint impression on the glass, like half a handprint. I could make out the lines where they would have snaked across at the top of the palm. It was fading quickly.
“Come look at this,” I commanded, no time to explain or ask nicely. To his credit Dex came right over, his head right beside mine, smelling like cigarettes and aftershave. I pointed at the mark on the glass, careful not to touch it myself. Not that it mattered, since the impression was on the other side.
“Look,” I whispered and looked at him to make sure he saw it, before the impression faded before our eyes. His eyes were locked like lasers. He saw it.
“It looks like an oil or heat smudge,” he said. “What is it?”
“It’s a handprint,” I said incredulously.
He frowned. It was all but gone now. “Are you sure? Did I touch the side of the boat?”
“No, not you. While you were on shore, I saw a hand come on the glass, on the other side, like this,” I put my hand on it to demonstrate. When I lifted it off, I too left a mark, albeit a full one.
“You saw a hand?” Now it was his turn to sound disbelieving.
“Yes,” I hissed. “I didn’t tell you because you wouldn’t believe me and then you said you didn’t see anything so then I didn’t believe me, but here it is.”
“Here it was,” he conceded. He rubbed his chin as we both watched the mark I left disappear, at a much quicker rate than the other one. I prayed that he believed me. I wasn’t crazy and I wasn’t making it up. There was proof and he saw it.
“I don’t know if that was a handprint,” he finally said. He looked at me carefully, obviously afraid that I was going to blow a gasket at him. He was on the right track but I managed to suck the explosion inside.
“It was a handprint,” I stressed through my teeth. “You could have given it a palm reading. Now what kind of fucking ghost leaves a handprint?’
“The same kind that leaves a mark…” he said invitingly and reached over with his hand and stroked his finger slowly down the length of my neck, “… here.”
I shivered internally. Partly because I was remembering when Old Roddy had left bruises on my neck after our little altercation, partly because his soft touch was borderline sensual. That and the serious, almost seductive look in his eyes as he stared at my neck, like a vampire before its first meal.
“So what do we do?” I whispered, trying to not break the moment.
His eyes met mine. I wasn’t sure if he was thinking about ghosts. I was thinking about him running his wide tongue down my neck. Maybe that’s what he was thinking too. A weird heady tension was building inside of me and spilling out into the air.
“We keep doing what we’re doing,” he said, his voice low and gravely. “And try and keep a camera on us at all times.”
He held my eyes for a few extra beats before straightening up and going back to the stuff. I eyed the glass again, feeling the tension dissipate.
“You believe me though, right?” I asked him, coming over to his side and bringing my backpack on to my shoulders. Please say you do believe me.
“I do, kiddo. If you say that was a handprint, then that’s what it was.”
“Thank you,” I said softly.
“Of course, it would be better if I had seen it too, or if you got it on tape but since we just got here, I’m going to take this as a sign of things to come. I’m sure this is only the beginning.”
He scooped up most of his gear, gesturing for me to take the cooler and the ghost equipment bag, and headed up the stairs. His words were not encouraging. This was only the beginning. We weren’t even on the island yet.
I guess when you expect the worst it’s always a pleasant surprise if everything ends up going smoothly. I totally expected some dead soul to rise up from the waves and overturn the Zodiac as Dex and I motored towards shore, or perhaps we might have run into some hidden rocks and sank (then get pulled down by that…hand).
But we didn’t. We arrived in one piece and, loaded down with stuff, pulled the Zodiac up along the pebbly beach until it was far away from any rebellious tides. Dex even tied it to a tree to be safe.
The fact that we had to carry so much shit in a half–hour trek across the island was also distracting me from the ghostly dangers that lurked about. I had the backpack on, my sleeping bag under one arm, the cooler under the other, a camera case and the ghost equipment bag hanging off of each shoulder, and the lighting boards in my hand. The weight was nearly unbearable and made it hard to walk on the stones.
Dex was no better off, but at least he had the frame to carry everything on him like some sexy, overloaded pack mule. And he somehow managed to fish out a camera out of the old–looking case.
He shoved it in my free hand.
“You film our walk,” he said. I looked down at it. I hadn’t seen one of these in years but it was a totally vintage Super 8 camera. Luckily that meant it was easy for me to carry (it’s kind of shaped like a gun), but still. If I fell over at any point, and that was very likely, the camera would be the thing breaking my fall.
“OK,” I said slowly.
He reached over and flicked it on. “But don’t film anything unless you have to. You’ve only got three minutes and 20 seconds of film before we have to refill and we won’t have the time to do that yet. Or, I won’t have the patience.”
I wanted to ask him why he didn’t film it but he did have both his hands full. What a little opportunist he was.
Dex walked into the forest and I followed. We broke through the bushes, taking our time since both of us weren’t very agile, and came across a small trail heading up and down with the coast.
We walked along the path in silence, listening to the cry of far–away ravens, the crunch of dead leaves and broken twigs beneath our feet, and the sound of waves against the shore, stirring the pebbles. From the glimpses between the heavy trees I could see that Mary Contrary was still anchored out on the water. Whether she was tied up or not, I was still going to worry about her. What if we came back to the boat tomorrow to charge our phones and she was gone? I had a mini heart attack just thinking about it.
After we trudged along for a few minutes, another faint trail looked like it broke off into the depths of the forest, marked by a red and white plastic disc on a tree.
“Straight or turn?” I asked Dex as he stood at the intersection. “Is this even a path?”
He pointed south where our path continued. “If we go south for a bit we can see the ruins of the caretakers’ cottage.”
That sounded creepy. “Uh, how about we come back and do that. Let’s just get all this crap off of us.”
He nodded and we started on the path heading inland. It wasn’t as well trampled as the perimeter trail and with each step we took over the jumbled roots and overgrown ferns, I felt more and more uneasy. Sometimes the path wasn’t even obvious anymore, especially when the spaces between the trees opened up. It took Dex’s vigilant eye on spotting the discs on the trees to keep us going in the same direction.
It was when we reached this strange little glade that I told Dex we had to stop. My shoulders were killing me and the cooler was slowly but surely working its way out from under my arm.
I probably could have picked a better place. All the trees around us were dead and decaying, weighed down by old moss that dripped with stringy moisture from their branches. They looked like crippled, hunched–over people being enveloped by killer slime, frozen forever in agonizing positions.
Even when Dex said, “Are you sure you want to stop? It can’t be that much longer to the campsite,” I heard more fear in his voice than the annoyance that I was slowing things down.
I put the cooler down as gently as possible and then flung my backpack off through that one arm. Even with the weight off, I felt as broken as the rotting trees.
Dex saw the pain in my face and relented. He took his bag off as well and put everything else down on the ground. He walked over me and passed me a bottle of water from the cooler.