I followed behind him, not bothering to say anything. We made it through the dead part (the dead heart) without incident, though I could tell we were both extra paranoid knowing we had more than animals to worry about.
Back at the campsite Dex worked quickly to find the flare gun and the hunting knife. I thought that the knife was purely for kitchen use but Dex was a bit more prepared than I was. He had grabbed the flare gun from the boat’s emergency kit as well when we first left the boat.
“So you thought we’d need it?” I asked him as he gave it the once–over and stuck it in his pocket.
“You never know,” he said matter–of–factly and placed the hunting knife in my hand. “This is for you. I suggest we split up.”
I was speechless. I looked down at the knife in my hand, the glinty steel which that matched the glinty ocean that crashed around us. There was seriously something wrong with Dex. There was no way in hell we were splitting up on this island. Didn’t he care at all about my wellbeing? Didn’t he see what happened the last time he had left me? I nearly drowned.
“I think you’ve lost your mind,” I said quietly. “I can’t even begin to explain why I think that.”
“I’d give you the gun if I thought you knew how to use it.”
“Actually, I do know how,” I said through gritted teeth. “I’ve taken shooting lessons. With real guns too. And I’m a good shot. It doesn’t matter. We aren’t splitting up. Even if you try to lose me, I’m going to be right behind you. And if you don’t like that, you can just waste that flare on me!”
I spat out those last words like it was crushed up Aspirin.
His eyes softened for a moment. Maybe he was starting to get it. “Don’t be like that.”
“Don’t be like what?” I growled. “I’m pissed off that you would even suggest I go off there alone with a knife to protect me from who knows what. Pissed off and actually a bit hurt. Because it’s nice to know you give a shit about my life. Seriously!”
There was something weird happening between us. I didn’t know what it was. I felt like it had been building up for the last past couple of days, some strange animosity or an overload of tension or something. Being here on the island was only making it worse. I know I felt angrier and more uncontrollable than usual these last past few days and he was acting a bit more callous as well.
I wanted to keep staring at him with fire and intensity, but I had to relent and relax. The minute I did so, he did too. Maybe it was a girl thing, but I knew when I felt vulnerable, he often stepped up as the protector. Sometimes it didn’t work but at least this time it seemed to.
He took a step towards me and pulled me into him. He wrapped his arms around me, the scratchy fabric of our jackets creating a vibrating sound as they rubbed against each other. I put my arms around his waist, careful with the knife in my hand, and rested my cheek against his chest. He put his chin on top of my head and sighed, long and controlled.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, his voice gruff but sincere.
He still held me against him. I listened to his heart rate, which was slowing down from a frantic dance.
“I don’t mean to be such a dick. I don’t know what it is. I just…this place. It’s everything. It’s Jenn. It’s this weather. This island. Whatever the fuck is going on. It’s you...”
“Me?” I asked, keeping my head on him, enjoying the comfort and the warmth.
“Yeah,” he said after a moment of silence. “There’s something about you…I don’t know what. You’re acting out a bit. But it’s not you. It’s hard to explain.”
I pulled back and looked up at him. His lips were so close to mine. I was afraid of what I might to do to them if we continued to stand like this.
He took my face in his comforting hands and gazed at me, closer, deeper. My heart started to jump around sporadically, my nerves were on fire. I loved and hated it at the same time. I hated what he was doing to me, but I loved him. I hated my feelings, but…I loved him. I hated that he could just look at me like that and I couldn’t think of anything else.
“I’m still me,” I said heavily.
“I know. But you know you’re acting…spazzier than normal.”
“Can you blame me?” I whispered, too aware of how close our mouths were.
“No. I can’t,” he said. The pressure of his fingers was firm on my cheeks. “I’m worried that it’s this place. That there is something here. Like there’s been something everywhere we go. You went for a bloody swim earlier. Now we don’t know what it was out there – what you saw – but it almost killed you and I can’t let that…situation…happen again.”
“So you wanted us to split up…” I leaned in closer.
“I’m sorry. I’m not thinking properly. No. Of course I don’t want us to split up. If we had, I would have come running after you within seconds. I’m not like that. I’m really not. I have your back, OK? Don’t forget that. I won’t let you.”
I nodded slightly. But for some reason I wasn’t entirely convinced.
With his thumbs he wiped off smudges of mascara underneath my eyes and gave me a small, almost pained smile. “I won’t do anything crazy, don’t worry. I just want us to be armed if anything happens. We won’t go all Kato on these people, if we even find them. I just want to know what we are dealing with.”
I nodded. My cheeks felt so warm in his hands. It made me realize how my exposed skin was continuously frozen for the past 24 hours.
He stared at me for a bit longer. His eyes were fathomless, a mix of too many things I wanted – needed – to read into. It was unbearable. Our distance hadn’t changed. I didn’t know what he wanted. If he was going to kiss me, then god damn it, just kiss me. Do it before I do it. I was too impulsive.
Maybe he read that thought because his face came an inch closer to mine. The space between us was disappearing, and fast. Heat radiated from his lips and neck. My eyes drooped lustily, ready to close, and my insides pulsed vibrantly.
And then there was a flinch in his eyes. A hesitation. He pulled back and took his arms off of me. The spell was broken.
“Shall we get going?” he asked casually, as if nothing had just happened.
Nothing had just happened but something almost happened and that spoke volumes, but he pretended not to notice. Maybe it was all in my head.
I flashed him a quick, brave smile that I willed to be as nonchalant as he was feeling and we walked off into the woods once more. I tried to leave the awkwardness behind.
Dex had decided the best way to search the island would be to walk around the entire coastline, even though there were no trails that skirted the coast, aside from the one on the northwest side. This meant a lot of bushwalking, which in inclement weather and without proper equipment would be difficult to do.
We started off with the remaining campsites that sat inland from the ones we were staying at. On a normal, sunny day the little clearing would have been an ideal spot for a small group. There were three gravel sites, two picnic tables and a grassy, mossy bottom.
But on this day, it looked like the creepiest place to be, let alone camp. The picnic tables seemed rotted through and covered with black slime and moss. The grass beneath our feet was saturated and sinking, and all around us were clumps of piled rocks. We knew those were graves. It amazed me that people could actually be camping beside the sad, makeshift tombstones and not know about it. Or perhaps not even care.
After the campsite we headed inland for a bit. There was a small bog with year–round groundwater that used to be the only source of water for the lepers. I guess Dex and I were lucky in the fact that we were able to collect the deluge of rainwater that was falling every other hour; otherwise we’d probably have to drink the bog water. With the drooping, brown weeds that sprouted from the dingy murk and the broken, hanging grey limbs that surrounded it like a cage, the bog seemed like the kind of place where you were more likely to drink poison than water.
We were glad to get out of there and back onto the coast again, even though navigating was becoming more and more challenging the further we hiked away from the campsite. I had my stupid knife I had to contend with while I was struggling to break through the salal bushes. At first I tried slashing through like it was a machete and I was on some jungle expedition, but after a few futile attempts and one sharp cut to my finger, I gave up on that.
When we weren’t dealing with tangled undergrowth, we were out in the open, climbing over large boulders and rocks that made up the craggy shoreline. With my lack of balance and agility, plus the knife in my hand, I was definitely slowing us up.
Dex stopped on top of one boulder that was covered in reddish moss and bird shit and gave me an impatient look.
“Are you going to make it?” he asked. His tone said he wouldn’t care either way.
I narrowed my eyes at him and waved the knife. “You try this with a knife in your hand.”
He sat down on the rock and held his hand out for the knife. I gave it to him and he grabbed my hand and helped pull me up, the slickness of the rain–soaked rocks falling away from my straining boots.
Once on top of the rock, I lay there for a minute and let the rain fall on my face, taking in a deep breath. I was soaked to the bone, freezing cold and absolutely miserable. We had only been on the move for about a half an hour and with the thick fog settled just a few yards off shore, it was hard to tell what direction we were facing. Any sign of the nearby Sidney Island, or even the closer Little D’Arcy, was obscured. It was disorienting.
What sucked the most was that I couldn’t just give up and go back to the campsite. We had to keep going.
Dex moved over and peered down at me, his head blocking the rain from my eyes. It made a pleasant pitter patter sound on the back of his hood.
“Catch your breath. Then we’ll keep going. I don’t want it to get dark while we’re out here.”
I nodded and breathed in deeply. We did have flashlights with us, but he was right. There was no way I wanted to be in the forest during nightfall, looking for people who may or may not be waiting for us.
He got to his feet and grabbed hold of my hand. He started to pull me up as my Docs slid around a bit. Just as I got to my feet in an awkward, hunched–over manner, his left foot shot out from under him and he went flying over backwards off of the rock.
I screamed and reached for him as he went but I fell too, only onto my stomach, still on the rock.
“Dex!” I cried and pulled myself forward and peered over the edge of the rock face. He had fallen about eight feet and was lying below the other side, looking all bent up and battered. Fuck, I hope he hasn’t broken anything, I thought wildly. If he had, we were screwed to high heaven.
He groaned and looked up at me. “I’m OK.”
“How? Are you sure?”
He nodded then stopped himself. He held his head. “Ow.”
“You’re not OK, oh shit.”