Dex handed me the camera and motioned for me to keep it on the tent wall while he squirmed out of his sleeping bag and stood up. He was ready to go outside. And as I handed the camera back to him, I could see he expected me to go as well. Going outside to where those…things were was a horrifying prospect but the idea of him leaving me alone in the tent wasn’t any better.
I got up and stood beside him, our eyes shifting between the tent flap and the phantom raking motion that was still going on. I could barely see him in the shadows but I knew he was trying to plan an ambush. He put his hand on my shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. His reassurance before shit got crazy.
In one stealthy motion he reached over and unzipped the tent flap and leaped awkwardly outside. I did the same, following right behind him, the flap smacking me in the face.
I barely noticed the cold damp air or the rough pebbles beneath my socks. I grabbed onto Dex’s arm and we looked over at five large deer that were poking and prodding our tent with mechanical simplicity, as if in a trance. Their antlers scraped up the sides and didn’t stop when even we had emerged. Any other deer would have gone bounding skittishly into the forest but these ones…they didn’t move an inch. They didn’t even look at us.
“What the hell,” I whispered, my voice higher than I hoped. The deer didn’t seem too bothered. I gripped Dex’s arm harder while he aimed the camera at them.
He swallowed hard and said, “Five against two.”
That wasn’t comforting at all. Those five deer could do more than enough damage to us. Where did they come from? What were they doing?
I looked over towards the picnic table and through the fuzzy haze of the barely lit sky I could make out strange shapes amongst the trees and bushes. I gasped. There was something there too.
Dex looked at me and then in the direction of my wide eyes. He brought the camera over and I peered over his shoulder at the lit night vision screen, which presented everything to us in a green wash of grain and blur.
There were at least a dozen deer waiting in the bushes. Some were on the path. Some were at the picnic table just feet away from us. They all waited, frozen on the spot, staring at us, eyes glowing like white/green orbs. Five against two? More like twenty against two.
I thought my nails were going to dig clear through Dex’s sweater. If he felt it, he didn’t show it. He switched the camera up between the two herds, between the creepy, ogling eyes and the robotic, thoughtless bucks. We didn’t know where to look.
“Should I turn on the lantern?” I whispered, my voice coming out in throaty rags. I knew it was just at the side of my feet. For better or for worse, maybe that would get their attention.
“Yeah,” he said through a sharp breath.
I quickly picked it up and turned the knob until it flashed on. The light was so bright I had to shield my eyes with my free hand. When they recovered enough, I looked back and saw… nothing.
Nothing at all but the trees, the bushes, the table and the tent. And Dex standing in front of me with a dumbfounded expression, the camera shakily pointing at nothing. No deer.
“What happened?” I cried out. How could they have just disappeared like that?
“I have no fucking idea,” he said, and anxiously started the playback on the screen. He stopped it after a few seconds and we watched together as the footage showed the bucks with their antlers against the tent. In one second they were there. Then a flash of light that overwhelmed the night vision. When that faded, the deer were gone. They just vanished. All of them.
“How is that even possible?” I asked, unable to grasp the reality of it.
He shook his head and walked around to the side of the tent where they had been poking and prodding.
“Bring the light over here,” he said, gesturing to it.
I raised the lantern and walked over beside him. The side of the tent was marked with dark trails.
“Dirt?” I asked.
Dex squatted and ran his finger over one of them. He sniffed it then held it out for me in the light.
That was too much. I looked around me, scared, my heart thumping around irregularly. The forest and the shadows began to spin. I realized I still might have been drunk. What time was it anyway? I didn’t even have my phone to check.
“This is great. I’m not fucking sleeping tonight. What if they come back?”
“I don’t think they will,” he said absently, searching the ground around the area like a bloodhound picking up the scent.
“What if they do?”
“We will deal with it when it happens.”
He bent over and gently placed his fingers on the earth. He looked up at me. “They left hoof prints. We didn’t imagine them.”
“And we got them on film too. So, no we didn’t.”
“Just making sure. I think it’s good if we start questioning our sanity more often.”
“Easy for you to say,” I mumbled under my breath. I was too tired, too cold and too woozy to deal with any of this. I knew that if I gave it an ounce more thought, I’d have to give it my all and I’d be up for the rest of the night. All I wanted now was that warm sleeping bag and that blissful oblivion of my rested head.
“Go back to sleep,” Dex said. “I’ll finish up here.”
“OK. Don’t be too long or I’ll worry,” I replied. I stepped back into the tent.
He called from behind me, “Just look on the bright side. We got all of that on film.”
I stuck my head out of the flap looked at him wryly. “Huzzah.”
I stuffed my shivering soul back into my comfy, slightly damp sleeping bag and attempted to drift off to sleep. It didn’t happen until the lantern’s light went off and Dex was safely back in bed beside me.
* * *
My sleep wasn’t as solid as I had hoped. Dex got up at dawn to go take a whiz and considering the circumstances of the hours before, I automatically woke up too. Luckily the light of day was creeping over the top of the tent. Dawn always brought a sense of comfort and relief, an end to the night and the horrors it hid. As he climbed back in, I glimpsed a bit of the sunrise and a hit of the cold wind that had picked up in the last few hours. Everything was outside was red. Blood red.
“Some sunrise,” he said through chattering teeth as he slipped back into his sleeping bag.
“Is it the apocalypse?” I croaked, half–joking. I leaned over and pushed the flap an inch to get a better look. The trees were swaying in the breeze, the sky was a textural mixture of thick, fast–moving clouds and a muddy red color.
“Red sky morning, sailors take warning,” he muttered, rolling over so his back was to me.
Red sky night, sailors delight, I thought.
“What does that mean for us?” I asked. But Dex was already asleep and I was left to answer that question on my own.
* * *
It had only been a couple of hours but the weather had changed radically in that time. When I finally woke up again, the tent was shuddering from blasts of wind and whips of rain that slashed the sides with a rat–a–tat sound. This time I knew it wasn’t because maniacal deer were outside. A storm had come. The nautical adage was right.
Everything inside was this grey–blue color from the tent walls. I wanted to keep on sleeping. Being all cozy and warm in my sleeping bag, I didn’t have any desire to leave my snug cocoon for wet and windy weather. That was the thing about camping. Outside of your tent, you had to be outside.
I rolled over and saw Dex’s bag was empty. He was out there, somewhere, braving the elements. I kind of hoped if I stayed huddling in bed all morning that maybe he wouldn’t notice. Also, my head didn’t exactly feel like moving all that much, thanks to the copious amounts of Jack Daniels we had shared. I don’t know how it was but sleeping in those extra hours had only made me feel even more hung over. I probably would have been better off if I had gotten up in those wee hours of the red dawn.
“OK, lazy bones,” I heard Dex call from outside.
I groaned and pulled the sleeping bag further up over my head. I heard the front flap unzip and felt my leg being grabbed and shaken.
“You can’t possibly feel as bad I do.”
I peeked my head out and looked at him. He looked fine, maybe a bit pale, and had a noticeable five o’clock shadow spreading between his chin scruff and his sideburns.
“Why are you up then?” I moaned.
“Shit, shower and shave,” he answered. “But I could only do one of those. Come on, I have breakfast going. There’s coffee.”
I normally didn’t crave coffee when I was hung over but I needed something to wake and warm me up. And the idea of Dex making breakfast was intriguing.
“Is there a storm coming?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s here. Come on.”
He squeezed my calf and took his head back out of the tent.
I tried to take my time getting ready but the chilly air seeped through the fabric with each frightening wind gust, turning me into turbo mode. It would be Doc boots today, jeans again and several layers. Even with the giant jacket from the boat, I knew I was going to be soggy and miserable.
I stepped out of the tent and was immediately met with a misting of water. The sky was dark and grey, and the trees and bushes waved sporadically in the gusts that came off the water, which was mounted by a light fog that completely covered Little D’Arcy and made our island seem like it was the only one in the world, floating on the edge of misty space.
The tide was up and the waves crashed loudly on the shore, tickling at the driftwood. There were no birds flying about and there was no sound except the wind and the water. Everything was wet, cold and angry.
Dex had set up the stove on the picnic table, which was occasionally getting sprayed with a lashing of sideways rain. The tarp above that and the tent swayed with each gust but was holding together for the most part, giving us at least a partially dry place to huddle in.
I quickly zipped the tent flap shut, my fingers already feeling hard and icy, and scampered over to Dex, peering over his shoulder. He was actually in the midst of frying up some eggs to go with the bacon he had laid out on a greasy paper plate. The wind must have carried the aromatic wafts away earlier, because if there was anything that got me out of bed, it was the smell of bacon.
He gave me a quick glance and then pulled out a cup that he had kept down on the seat, handing it to me.
I thanked him and took a quick sip. It was instant coffee with the right amount of cream and sugar. He knew what I liked and considering it was instant, it wasn’t half bad.
Once the eggs were done, we sat down and tucked into our food. Dex was a surprisingly good cook. OK, it was just bacon and eggs and maybe I was easily impressed but I’m pretty sure if I tried to make breakfast, I would have burned the bacon into the ground. I can make pie and that’s about it.
He leaned back, looking full, and pushed his empty plate back from him.
“Hope you don’t mind bacon for the next couple of days. I made a bunch in advance in case it went bad in the cooler.”
I shook my head no just as the wind swooped in and picked up his plate, flinging it into the forest. We watched it go, flying through the air like a paper UFO. I raised my brows at him. “What do we do if it’s like this the whole time?”