And yet they meant everything. Good old drunk thoughts.
I used the bathroom as quickly as possible. I barely sat on the seat. This had little to do with germs but this fear I had of using outhouses at night. I always imagined something coming up and grabbing me. Maybe that hand I saw on the side of the boat…
Stop it! I yelled in my head and finished up as quickly as possible. I stepped out of the outhouse, put the flashlight between my legs and brought out a small vial of hand sanitizer from my pocket. It would have to do in lieu of a sink. Dex and I would be brushing our teeth with bottled water and my makeup would be coming off with wet wipes later.
As I quickly rubbed the acidic–smelling gel on my hands, I kept my eyes focused on the light coming from the forest. Dex had enough sense to keep the lantern lit until I got back. It was just a tiny illumination, but it made the island seem like less of a bottomless chasm of trees and unknown creatures.
“Don’t listen to him.”
A tiny, timid voice called out from behind me. I gasped and spun around, the flashlight dropping to the ground from between my legs, my lungs seizing from fright. I rapidly picked it back up, choosing to drop the hand sanitizer instead, and flashed it around me in a panic.
Someone did say something, right? I wasn’t imagining things. It had been a woman’s voice, a suggestion.
That was impossible. Wasn’t it?
“Hello?” I said just as quietly. I wasn’t exactly the picture of courage but I didn’t want to feel like a loon either.
I held my breath and kept the flashlight searching around the outhouse and the surrounding rocks. I waited a few more seconds before my knees started to shake from the cold and the fright. I bent over to pick up the hand sanitizer. And then I heard it again.
“He lied to me.”
It was a woman’s voice. My first thought was that it could have been Creepy Clown Lady’s but this voice was accent–free and spoke with the quavering uncertainty of youth. It sounded as if she wasn’t sure she should be saying anything at all. I wasn’t going nuts, I clearly heard it, which then made the situation more absurdly terrifying.
I slowly panned the light around, afraid of what I might illuminate. I only picked up the black of night, the far–off waves, the rocks and grass and stoic pines that lined the shore.
“Who lied?” I asked, still keeping my voice at a minimum so Dex wouldn’t hear me.
The only sound was the waves and my rapid breathing. No response.
I waited for a minute, maybe two.
I almost shit myself. Would have been embarrassing so close to the toilet.
It was Dex, yelling from the trees.
“Coming!” I yelled back, my voice shaking. I hesitated before returning, thinking if I waited a tiny bit longer, the voice might come back and tell me who was lying.
But there was nothing again. Nothing but the increasing cold, which was starting to win out over my curiosity.
I scampered back to the campsite as fast as I could, grateful to see Dex still sitting at the picnic table with two bottles of water out and a vial of painkillers. Before the light of our small civilization engulfed me completely, I turned one last time to look at the darkness I felt nipping at my heels.
There was nothing there but I had no doubt that whatever was out there would be back.
I tried to push that thought out of my head and quickly prepared to hunker down for the night. As Dex went into the tent to get changed, I wiped the makeup off my face and did a fast brushing of my teeth, spitting out the frothy excess onto the ground. I paused, thinking I might have heard something coming from the bushes. But it was only the sound of Dex shuffling around in the tent, the flashlight bobbing around from the inside.
I grabbed the lantern off of the table and brought it over to the front of the tent, choosing not to turn it off until I absolutely had to.
“Are you decent?” I yelled at Dex, tapping on the tent flap.
He mumbled something in response. I was going to have to take my chances.
I unzipped the flap and crawled inside. He was already in his sleeping bag, a heavy zip sweatshirt over his pajamas, aiming the flashlight at a torn copy of Stephen King’s Carrie. How he could read while drunk was a mystery to me.
“Sorry, you’re going to have to get out while I get changed,” I told him.
He gave me a funny look and went back to reading. “I don’t think so.”
He smirked and shrugged. “Whatever, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”
He didn’t say anything else so I smacked him on the leg. “What do you mean?”
He sighed and put the book down on his chest. “I’m the one who undressed you after you were attacked by that birdman hick in Red Fox.”
“You said you didn’t look!”
He chuckled, “Of course I looked. I had to take your clothes off and bathe you. I had to look.”
“Oh my God,” I groaned, my hands flying up to my face. The utter humiliation was boiling up inside of me. At the time I had other things to worry about, so the chain of events that happened after I was clawed up and nearly raped totally took over from worrying about something as silly as him seeing me naked. But now that there was enough distance between then and now…ugh.
“Oh, grow up. We’re adults here. I liked what I saw, if that makes you feel any better.”
You’d think it would have but it didn’t.
“This is so mortifying,” I said to myself, my words muffled and hidden by my hands.
“Well, would you have rather it been Bird or Maximus, cuz those were your options.”
Honestly, I would have rather it have been Maximus. Though I thought he was a sexy beast, I wasn’t in love with Maximus and I didn’t have to work with him every weekend.
“Oh come on, don’t say you would have rather had the Ginger see you all nekkid.”
I looked at him and shrugged.
He shook his head at me, saying, “You’re breaking my heart here.”
“You don’t have a heart to break,” I said. It came out in a light, joking way but I would have been lying if I didn’t feel there was an ounce of truth to that.
From the way his eyes twitched, I wasn’t sure if he took it as a joke either. So I smiled bashfully and said, “OK, fine. Just keep reading your book and don’t look at me.”
“Done and done,” he said and went back to reading.
I wasn’t sure if I trusted that or not but anyway, I got my pajamas out of the backpack, turned my back to him and sat down. I pulled off my jeans and shoved the bottoms on as quickly as I could. It was so fucking cold in the tent, the air hit my bare legs like someone was emptying a bag of ice cubes on them. Then came my tops, pulling them off of me as fast I could and struggling to do undo my bra. I shoved on my pajama top, the hoodie, and shivering like hell, climbed into my sleeping bag.
I looked over at Dex. He was still reading but the more I stared at him, the more his lips twisted until he was grinning and finally laughing quietly to himself.
I couldn’t help but laugh too. It felt good.
“You totally looked, didn’t you?”
“Just a bit,” he said, closing his book and giving me a cheeky wink. It was the last thing I saw before he turned the flashlight off. I hoped the image would give me good dreams.
I woke up with the feeling that something was wrong, that horrible feeling of extreme uneasiness. I was on my back looking up at the ceiling of the tent. It was dark but I could see my breath rise in the air like a frozen cloud. The tent was moving slightly, like the wind was rocking it back and forth. I strained my ears but couldn’t hear any wind at all.
I did hear Dex’s breath in a sharp withdrawal next to me. I slowly rolled my head to the side and looked at him. His eyes were open which gave me a terrible fright. He had been looking over my head at the opposite side of the tent. Something in his eyes, the way they seemed stuck in an unblinking, concentrating position, told me that I shouldn’t follow his gaze. That it was safer to stare at him instead.
So I did, until he looked at me. His eyes seemed to be asking, “Do you hear that too?” I listened hard. There still wasn’t any sign of a breeze yet the tent was ruffling and flapping lightly. That was producing one sound. The other sound was coming from the area where Dex had been looking, where our bags and gear were. It was a scratching, shuffling noise. My first thought was that there were rodents in the tent with us, going through our bags. Rats that were waiting until we fell asleep before they chewed our fingers off.
I had to look. If it was rats I would be out of the tent like a shot. I gave Dex a weak nod and eased my head over to the other side.
In the dark I couldn’t make out what was going on with our bags, they just looked like dark lumps. But the bags weren’t the issue. The side of the tent was being raked from the outside. That was the easiest way to describe it. Something was outside of the tent and pushing inwards, in many places. It was almost as if a dozen fingers were running down the outsides.
My body went cold, colder than the air that nipped at my nose and cheeks. I watched in fear, unable to move myself, unable to decipher what was going on and what to do next. Something was out there, and as frightening as the idea that it was people (or aliens!) outside running their fingers up and down our tent, the strange scratching noise and the even placement of the trails said otherwise.
I felt Dex shift beside me, propping himself up slowly, as silently as the nylon sleeping bag would allow. He reached down for my face and gently turned it his way. He looked frightened, for sure, but determined. I knew he wouldn’t stay in the tent and wait to see what happened next. He would make what happened next happen. He was making sure I knew that. He was also telling me, somehow, without saying a word, that he had my back. At least, I hoped that’s what he was trying to get across.
He raised his finger to lips and then pointed at the video camera closest to us. It was the one with night vision and it was no coincidence that it was out. He had been prepared for something just like this. I wondered if he knew something about the island that I didn’t.
I moved as quietly as I could and leaned over to pick it up. As I did, I looked up at the side of the tent. I couldn’t make out what was out there, but I was right in thinking they weren’t fingers. They were too pointy for that. It was almost like a couple of trees had come alive in the night and were prodding at us with their branches, their scaly bark creating this raspy noise that was getting louder by the minute.
Feeling too close to it, I pulled back and gave Dex the video camera. He flicked it on and started filming. I sat up and moved further back so I was out of the way, and for a minute we watched the trails do their vertical dance. Each second that we filmed, I felt more calm and relaxed. There was something, at least this time, about having it all on film that made me feel like nothing bad could really happen. If I was looking through the lens like Dex was, I would be even more removed. No wonder he wasn’t as scared as me half the time.
At that thought, the camera pointed in my direction. I gave up on vanity and just gave the camera the most incredulous look. No acting needed. I had no fucking idea what was going on either.