“Clearly we’re going to go insane,” he answered.
I eyed the tarp flapping above us. “What if that doesn’t hold? What if our tent gets wet?”
“Then we get wet.”
“What if our cameras get wet? Your computer?” I asked, pushing at the point.
He pondered that for a second. “Maybe I should take the footage that we shot last night and bring it back on the boat. I could do some uploading there too.”
“If the boat is even there,” I pointed out. I hoped by bringing it up, I would be insuring it would actually be there.
“It’s there,” he said, though he didn’t look as confident as he sounded.
And within five minutes he was ready to go out on a mission to make sure.
He had the cameras gathered in their cases and nodded at the tent.
“I left you the Super 8…in case you happened to capture anything while I’m gone.”
“I hope I don’t have to!” I said. Even though I was the one reminding him about the boat, I didn’t actually want him to leave me alone at the campsite. Yes, it was daytime and, even with the mist obscuring the nearest point of civilization, there was a harmless vibe to the air. But being apart from him wouldn’t do us any good. Hell, I didn’t want him to trek across the island all by his lonesome, going through that creepy place with the dead trees and rabid raccoons.
He adjusted the pack on his back and gave me a dry look. “Look, I’ll be gone for an hour. Two at the most. I’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.”
I loved that he assumed I was more worried about him than myself. It was kind of true though.
I sighed and shrugged. “If you’re not back in two hours, I’m coming after you.”
He gave me a wink. “Perry to the rescue again.”
And then he was off walking into the waving, wet branches of the forest. I watched him until his bright red boat jacket disappeared into the bushes and then I felt utterly alone.
I wasn’t sure at first what to do. There wasn’t much exploring to be done in this weather and though there was probably more shelter in the forest, there was no way I was stepping foot in there. I thought about checking my emails (not for comments) and browsing the internet but of course Dex still had my damn phone. I couldn’t even check what time in the morning it was.
I decided to crawl back into the tent. At least it was warmer in there and most definitely drier. Plus if the urge struck and I got really bored, I could always go back to bed. There was no one here to prod me awake.
But even though I was lying down comfortably on top of the sleeping bag, my mind kept reeling around to thoughts about the island. There was so much more to learn about this place and I knew so little.
I brought out the books I was reading yesterday and started flipping through one of them, looking for a chapter or a phrase that was eye–catching. And I found it in the heading “The Woman.”
It seemed that when the Reverend John Barrett from Northern California had come up to D’Arcy Island, he hadn’t come alone. He brought up a 19–year–old missionary with him by the name of Mary Stewart. Mary was one of the youngest missionaries at a San Francisco mission, but had expressed an overwhelming desire to help the lepers. Even though the attorney general in Canada had denied their first request for them to work on the island, their second request went through. The book speculated that bribery may have been the cause. The government wasn’t going to spend any money on these forgotten people, but had Rev. Barrett paid them, they would have easily made amends. The author didn’t know why the Reverend and Stewart would have wanted to be on the island so badly, and didn’t make any attempts to explain it.
Weird thing was, for me, as I was reading, I could almost feel why. As weird as it sounded, there was something very uneasy about the whole thing, as if I was picking up on some vibe that had died a very long time ago. There was duplicity at the root. Questionable motives.
It didn’t help that the further I read, the more disturbing the story got. Mary died seven months into her island mission. The earliest records from the supply ships had noted her as a short and weak woman who barely spoke, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Reverend informed them during one of their runs that she died due to pneumonia. The island was like it was today, a wet, inhospitable place. Mary would have died during the three–month lag where no contact was had. She would have been buried where the rest of the lepers were, buried by them or the Reverend in one of those delivered coffins.
My heart felt funny, as if I had some strange affinity towards Mary and her plight. All she must have wanted to do was help these poor, forsaken souls and, in the end, she died like one of them. And at only 19-years old. She basically sacrificed herself.
I shivered at that and tucked part of the sleeping bag over my legs for extra warmth.
“Hee hee hee.”
I froze in mid page.
A child’s giggle from somewhere outside the tent.
Did I really hear that?
Was it the wind?
I listened hard, trying not to breathe or make any sort of noise that would compromise my ears.
My mind was on overdrive and I was spooking myself out for no reason.
I carefully turned the page in the book and tried to get back into it, to find out what happened to the Reverend after Mary had died.
I heard it again.
“Hee hee hee.”
That innocent, yet inherently creepy giggle plus the sound of scattering stones from the ground in front of the tent. Someone was outside.
I sat up as quickly as I could, body poised, my heart pounding painfully, flooding my head with blood and pressure. My eyes searched wildly around the walls of the tent, looking for signs of anything abnormal. The walls ebbed and flowed with the wind but there wasn’t anything peculiar.
The giggles came again, this time from right behind my head. I spun around expecting to see a child there in the tent with me. But I was alone.
Then I heard it again. I quickly turned to the sound and caught a glimpse of a small shadow running back from the tent flap.
I stood up and unzipped it as quickly as I could and burst out of the tent. The giggling had stopped but I could hear delicate footfalls over the wind. I ran a few steps and stopped in the middle of the path. The rain had led up for the moment but the ground was already muddy, like brown soup. I looked down towards the beach area and then up to where the path led either into the woods or the outhouse.
There was nothing.
A terrible, skin–crawling feeling washed over my arms and legs, as if I were being watched by something I couldn’t quite see. I wanted nothing more than to see Dex coming around the corner.
The giggle again, this time from behind me in the direction of the beach.
I turned and saw a little girl running along the sliding wet pebbles, skirting the incoming waves and dodging the hulking driftwood. She was wearing only a long men’s shirt that covered her whole body. It was pressed against her tiny form in a bluish transparency, soaked from the rain.
I wasn’t sure what to do. Why was there a kid here on the island, running around in the storm? Why was she wearing just a men’s shirt? Where were her parents?
I looked around me and started off after her. I didn’t have much of a maternal instinct but I still couldn’t let some young girl run around in this weather dressed like that. As I reached the beach, I could see she didn’t even have shoes on.
I stopped and watched her run excitedly down the beach until she stopped halfway, her back to me. She couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. I started to take off my jacket, wanting to put it on her while I figured out what was going on. It was totally possible that she was the child of someone visiting. Maybe boaters or kayakers on the other side of the island. Or maybe there were people on the island all along. We were at the one campsite but that didn’t mean people weren’t camping on other areas of the island. For all Dex and I knew, there could have been a whole group of people on the south end. Maybe that was even the voice I heard last night, carried from a far–away bonfire.
The girl slowly turned around and made eye contact with me. She looked afraid. I held out my jacket for her to see.
“You’re going to catch a cold,” I said, raising my voice forcibly and trying to keep it from shaking. Couldn’t say the same thing about my arms though. “Where are your parents?”
The girl didn’t say anything but her face grew increasingly concerned like she was about to cry. I didn’t want to scare the poor thing.
“I won’t hurt you. I’m not angry,” I yelled. “You look cold. Your parents must be worried about you.”
The girl shook her head. “She hates me.”
I was startled at how strange the girl sounded. Her voice was almost accented and a bit stunted. She might have even had a lisp.
I looked around me, thinking that at any minute some distraught hippie couple would come out of the woods and run towards her, while giving me a dirty look for scaring their kid or something like that. But there was nothing but the wind and the cold spray it whipped up from the waves.
I couldn’t let the girl be out here like this. I didn’t care if she was scared of me or if her parents were going to get mad at me over my parenting. She was a little kid and a lot colder than I was.
I started walking towards her, confidently, but not forcefully so I didn’t scare her.
“Here, wear my jacket. It’s warm, you’ll like it.”
I was ten feet away from her. She looked a lot worse off than I thought. Her legs were all scratched up, her hair was long and a total mess. Her skin was dirty and there was a strange dullness to her blue eyes, almost like they were clouded over by that same fog that sat a few yards off shore.
She watched me approach, but didn’t seem to take me in. She looked afraid but I knew it wasn’t because of me, as hard as that was to explain. She was afraid of something else. I might as well have not been there.
She looked at the waves.
And ran into the ocean.
I was stunned. I watched her splash through the grey water until the waves broke on top of her. And finally I was able to snap out it.
I dropped the jacket and ran after her, my boots sliding around on the pebbles as I tried to gain traction. After a few paces I headed into the water as well.
I could barely make out a flail of her small arm or a glimpse of her head as the waves crashed over and over again but she was out there and that was enough for me to keep going.
I was annihilated by the sheer coldness, as my legs sank into the water and the ocean crept into my boots and splashed violently up the front of my jeans. In seconds my feet and legs were unfeeling blocks of ice and I thought my whole internal system would collapse on me, even with the water just below my knees.
But that didn’t stop me. I kept pushing through until the waves reached me and started to crash into my stomach.
The first hit took my breath away. I couldn’t even inhale if I tried, it was that cold. It took over everything and spread through my limbs and to my brain, where it erased all thought and reason. The only thing left outside of the numbness was the instinct that some little girl was drowning in the waves, somewhere near me.