“Thanks” I said, taking a swig of it.
“Shoulders hurt?” he asked.
I nodded. He walked behind me, reached over and placed both of his strong hands on my shoulders and started massaging them very slowly. It was a beautiful pain.
“Did you take massage classes as well?” I asked lightly, trying to keep him from knowing how much I was enjoying it.
He grunted a no. I expected him to make a remark about giving Jenn massages but he didn’t. And I was glad. That would have been too much. I liked to live in this weird fantasy world of mine where mentions of Jenn were jarring and inappropriate. Though, you know, half the time I was bringing her up.
Dex continued to massage but I could tell his attention was elsewhere. Had we been anywhere else, I might have felt a bit rejected. But I could feel he was scanning the dank, dark forest around us, taking everything in. I started to pick up an uncomfortable vibe, one that was miles away from the massage or Jenn.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t like it here.”
“I don’t like it anywhere here,” I admitted. But for Dex to say the same thing was saying a lot.
He slowly brought his hands to a stop and paused. We held our breaths in unison. There was something weird here. A feeling in the air, like the atmosphere was dragged down with the heavy, overgrown moss.
We heard a crunch behind us.
We whipped around, my upper body aching from the sudden movement, and saw a family of raccoons creep out from behind an old rotted stump.
We had a lot of raccoons in the Pacific Northwest and it was a nightly occurrence in the area around my parents’ house. I still didn’t feel any easier around them.
There were two babies and four adults. They stopped about five feet away from us and even though we were larger, I felt outnumbered, like we couldn’t win in a fight.
They would have been cute if they were on another side of a fence, with their human–like paws, black eyes and twitchy little noses. But here they seemed like vicious predators wanting to attack. I had hoped the last of our “animal” encounters were behind us in Red Fox.
The raccoons made funny little noises and a few of them leaned back on their hindquarters to get a better look at us. Or perhaps to intimidate us. They stood like that for a bit, not moving forward or backward. They weren’t exactly in our way but gathering up our stuff with them there didn’t seem like a smart idea.
“Start filming,” Dex said softly through the corner of his mouth. I looked down at the Super 8, which was beside my backpack.
“Just do it,” he hissed.
I eyed the raccoons and then made my way over to the backpack, lifting up my legs carefully, not wanting to scare or startle them. It was at that moment, when I sighted my backpack as I picked up the Super 8, that I realized we had no weapons with us. As far as I knew, we had no guns, no pepper spray, and probably nothing bigger than a kitchen knife. Even a baseball bat would have been something.
I picked up the Super 8 and pressed record. I didn’t know what to shoot, but I just aimed it at the raccoons and heard the film spinning around the reel inside. I knew it was going to quickly run out.
“So we film them and then?” I asked, my voice low. “This is just more nature documentary?”
“Could be,” he whispered, his voice low and his eyes focused on them.
At that, the closest and largest raccoon opened its mouth, teeth bared, eyes white, and hissed at us. It was a loud, unearthly sound like nails on a chalkboard over growling. It took a step closer and we took an instinctive step back.
“Or, it could be the part where everything starts to go horribly wrong,” he quickly whispered.
I kept filming but wasn’t sure what to do next. I looked at Dex. He had on his cargo jacket and hoodie underneath and his boots and long pants added protection. If the raccoon did make a leap for him, it would take a lot to bite through the fabric and by then I was sure I would be beating the off rabid beast with the Super 8.
But then all the other raccoons – including the babies – started hissing at once. We were looking into six open jaws filled with sharp white teeth and black gums. The noise was terrifying.
I was pretty close to either peeing my pants or throwing the Super 8 into the forest as a distraction but as quickly as they had appeared, they suddenly dropped to their haunches and scrambled off into the woods. It reminded me of a pack of dogs responding to their owner calling them home.
I hit the off button and let out yet another sigh of relief. “What the fuck was that?”
Dex looked a bit shaken. “Guess they aren’t used to humans intruding on their property. This is probably their little territory here.”
“Well they can have their fucking territory,” I said and quickly gathered up my stuff. I was getting the fuck out of there, pain or no pain.
Dex did the same and within minutes we were leaving the dead area, our legs moving faster than they had all day.
It only took about ten minutes before the claustrophobic tangles and damp undergrowth were forgotten and the foliage was replaced with waist–high, green salal bushes that allowed for uninterrupted views of the water and the beach. Though I didn’t feel 100% welcome here, this area was at least bright and the traces of the campsite brought in an air of civilization. I was even comforted by a sign for the drop toilet.
The trees around this area were quite bare around the bottom; their branches didn’t start until quite high up, which gave an open, airy feel to the campground. Judging from the breeze that was steadily picking up from the water ahead, it was probably due to the continuous bashing from coastal weather.
We walked down the path that led us past the seven campsites, each site marked with a square gravel plot and a picnic table, and stopped among the dry knee–high grass that led down onto the wide, expansive curve of beach. With the smaller “Little D’Arcy” Island just across a tumultuous stretch of water, and the lumps of the Unit Rocks just south of it, it could have made a beautiful postcard.
To my relief, Little D’Arcy had a fairly large house on it, nestled amongst the trees. It was the house a rich recluse would have owned.
“Do you think anyone lives on it?” I asked hopefully. Though I knew the short stretch of ocean between the two islands was notoriously turbulent and impossible to swim across, it would be comforting to know help was just a stone’s throw away.
But Dex just shook his head before heading back up the trail towards the campsites. “I doubt it. Not now. Maybe in the summer.”
Discouraged at that, I sighed inside and followed him back to the sites. We decided on the one closest to the beach. It had the best view and I was happy to be as far out of the forest as possible. The only problem was that if the weather turned, our tent was going to take more of a beating. But since everything seemed OK for the moment, we would just deal with that when and if it happened.
It felt good to have the backpacks off of us, but we didn’t have time to relax and enjoy it. A quick glance to my phone told me it was already 2 p.m. and the sun would be setting in about two hours or so. I sent off a quick text to Ada and my dad to let them know I was OK and had made it safely (no point in telling them about any of the hassle we had). Then we made quick work of the tent.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had been camping but, as usual, with Dex it was like second nature. Also, it was his tent after all. I helped him when I could, holding down the pegs, fishing the poles through the tent legs and keeping everything together. He even went so far as to put a wide tarp on top of the tent, strung between nearby trees, to shelter us from any rain.
“Well done, sir,” I said, admiring his handwork when he was done.
He wiped his hands on his pants and gave me a tense smile.
I stooped over and entered the tent. It was a four person tent so it was just big enough that I could stand up, albeit hunched over with my neck at a crazy angle. We laid out the large foamy mattress on the bottom and put the sleeping bags and pillows on top. I took the right side and put down my backpack, bringing the books out and other essentials I didn’t want to go digging for later.
Dex pointed at the books. “You better get your script ready. We don’t have much time if we want to shoot some stuff before the sun goes down.”
“What kind of stuff?” I asked, stiffening. For some reason I didn’t think we’d be shooting anything with me on camera today but, like I said earlier, he was an opportunist.
“Just the intro, you know the drill. There’s that little grassy hill to the left out there that looks over the beach. Would be a perfect shot. You go whip something up, I’ll get everything here ready. Then we’ll shoot it, come back here and we’ll figure out what to do for dinner.”
Dinner sounded good. The Triscuits were barely holding out inside of me. I scooped up the books, as well as a notepad and pen, and got out of the tent. He obviously needed some time alone to get his shit together. Probably wanted some privacy to talk to Jenn on the phone or something like that. I looked down at the beach and the dried, reddish logs sprawled out along its length. It looked like the least scary place for me to do some work.
I walked further down the beach than I initially planned. Picking what log to sit on was a bit like trying on underwear. Some had bird poop on it, some were too small for my ass to rest comfortably on. Eventually I found a nice broad one and took a seat.
I was at the very end of the beach and had a wonderful view of our blue tarp poking up amongst the trees and leafy bushes, the grassy knoll that Dex had been talking about and the short distance to Little D’Arcy across the way. Gulls flew about in the sky, letting out an occasional cry, while other birds floated among the waves.
I wasn’t sure where to start with my reading and what I should incorporate into my quick introduction script, but it didn’t take long for me to feel completely creeped out again.
It turns out that where the lepers’ housing had been was where the campsite now was and that the graves where they were haphazardly buried were all over the place. Apparently they were never marked either, except by a small mound, or by the placing of a boulder or two. I had already seen a few places like that around the tent and that realization turned my spine to custard.
I twirled around on the log, suddenly afraid with my back to the dark bushes and had this mounting urge to flee. I know I had read that they were all buried here, but I figured maybe a place like the dead mossy glade would have been the area. Or, you know, an actual cemetery. Not where I was, where we would be sleeping tonight and where so many other people had slept. To think that the next suspicious looking rock might house a rotting casket underneath…
I shivered violently.
I didn’t need to read anymore. I didn’t feel like I needed a script either. The history of this place already felt ingrained inside of me. I wanted to enjoy the casual scene of the beach, the glittery waves and the open space as the sun made the shadows long. The beauty of D’Arcy Island was so misleading.
I closed the books and gazed over the scenery. I did this for a few blissful minutes before I felt a little itch in my head. Surfing the internet seemed like a better, more distracting use of my time. I pulled out my phone and noticed the battery was already half used and the reception bar was nonexistent. Uh oh.