I carefully pulled my body around so I was facing the other way and tried to let myself drop to the rocky ground beside him as carefully as possible.
“Wait!” he screamed.
I paused, hanging off of the boulder, feet dangling, my arms barely gripping the slippery surface.
“Move to your left more.”
I sidled over to the left as much as I could and then my hands and arms gave away.
I landed on my feet but immediately fell backward and pointy, crusty rocks went into my ass, elbows and back.
Now it was my turn to swear my head off and moan. Why was I so clumsy all the time?
I looked at Dex, who was staring at the space right beside me. The hunting knife was there and for some reason it was lodged in the ground with the sharp blade facing straight up. Had he not told me to move to the left I would have landed right on top of it.
I shivered, feeling nauseous at the close call.
“You OK?” he grunted, trying to sit up.
“I came down here to ask you that.” I looked at my hands, which were lightly scratched with blood and dirt but nothing seemed too gruesome.
“We’ve both been worse,” he said and moved to get up. He paused and lowered his head a bit, dark eyes fixated on something at the base of the boulder.
“What is it?” I asked, trying to see.
He got to his feet slowly, trying to hide the wincing, and took a few steps before squatting in front of the rock, where a small depression made a short and shallow, dark cave. He reached in, his disappearing hands out of my view.
When he brought them out, in them was a very old, dripping shoe. A man’s shoe, quite small, brown and decrepit. We exchanged a curious glance. I guess finding a shoe wasn’t that strange but...
He turned it over in his hands.
His eyes bugged out and he gasped in outright horror, dropping the shoe in disgust and stumbling backward away from it in a wild panic.
Instinctively I jumped up, scrambling to get to my feet and stumbled over to where he was. I grabbed onto his coat.
His hands were at his mouth, looking like he was about to vomit.
“What?! What is it?” I cried, not wanting to go any closer to it.
He closed his eyes and tried to compose himself. I put my arm around him to let him know I was there. After a few breaths he opened them, shaking his head very slowly, eyes focused on the shoe in horrid disbelief, skin transparently pale. The stubble on his cheeks stood out like dark cacti on a white sand beach.
“There’s a foot in that shoe,” he said blankly.
“Excuse me?” My hands flew up to my mouth as well. He had to have been kidding.
“There’s a human foot in that shoe.”
“Oh my God,” I said, turning away and trying to remain calm. “What the? How? Why would there be a foot. Did someone cut off someone’s foot?”
“I don’t know. It might have fallen off.”
“Jesus, Dex,” I exclaimed. I looked at him with disgust. He gave me a barely perceptible shrug, his complexion still ashen.
“Leprosy,” he said matter–of–factly.
“OK, for one thing their feet didn’t just fall off like that. They lost feeling in their feet and hands and whatever, but that was totally different. And for another, that foot couldn’t possibly be a hundred years old!”
“Did you see the foot?” he asked, looking at me wryly.
I did not want to see the foot. Sure, there was a part of me that wanted to look, the same part of me that slows down at car accidents in some sick hope that I’d see a dead body, but I also knew that if the sight caused Dex to nearly puke, it would do something much worse to me. In fact, I felt like spewing right here on the rocks just from the thought of it.
“I hate to say this, but I really think we should get going,” I said, eyeing the moving fog that seemed to creep in closer. I wanted to be as far away from the foot as possible, even if the only other option was to continue on our pointless trek around the island.
Dex agreed and, after he scooped up the knife from its deadly resting place, we were back on our way, scrambling over the rest of the rocky coast in silence, mulling over the damn foot in the shoe. I didn’t know what Dex was thinking but at least he was the one to have seen it, to have seen something for once. The shoe could have been a hundred years old, it could have been a few years old – the sea and climate ravaged things out here like nothing else. It could have been a leper’s foot, it could have be the foot of someone murdered, or it could have just been the only remains of a drowned kayaker, washed up to shore. Apparently finding feet on the coast was a common occurrence in B.C. I didn’t want to think about it anymore than I had to.
We had other things to contend with, including making our way through the forest again, choosing the cover of dark pine and twisting arbutus trees with their scaling red bark that reminded me of dead, sunburned skin. We rounded the head of the island and started down the other coast with the wild waves now crashing turbulently on our right side. After a while of exhaustive bushwhacking, my fingers cold, numbed and scratched to bits from pushing back scathing branches, we came back to the a familiar area where a trail opened up and the Mary Contrary could be seen rollicking off the coast.
She was a sight for sore eyes, all right. There was nothing I wanted more than to just toss everything aside and make a swim for it. We paused near the beach and watched her ride the waves. Dex could tell what I was thinking.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “if the weather is better, I’ll try and make a go for her.”
I didn’t like that idea but knew we might not have the choice. If we were even given the choice. The good news, though, was that if someone had actually sabotaged the Zodiac and meant to strand us here, they would have just taken the boat. With the sailboat still here, that seemed more unlikely.
We continued down the path until we reached the turnoff for the dead heart and the campsite. Instead of turning left, we kept going down the coast. This was all new to me. The path was almost wider at points and took on the appearance of a well–worn stroll through a city park.
“Did you come down here earlier?” I asked Dex. He said he hadn’t.
It wasn’t long at all before the trees around us began to clear. If there was a view to be had through the encumbering fog, it would have been quite the sight. With the sea falling below the low cliffs to our right, you could have probably seen for miles.
The first surprise came in the form of what was supposed to be the old caretaker’s woodshop. There was nothing left of the building except low cement fixtures that would have held together the foundation and a single cement staircase that led to nowhere. The building was now home to spindly trees that twisted sideways from the wind.
The area around the cottage was strange, with a weird, thick feeling in the air, like the fog from offshore was choking us with an invisible hand. All I could think about was the history behind the ruins, how the coldness that was constantly seeping through my supposedly waterproof jacket and throttling my bones and joints was just a daily fact of life for the poor people who were left here.
Dex surveyed the area with one glance. Either he didn’t care or it spooked him out as much as it did me. We walked for a bit longer until we came across another ruin.
It was half a house, still standing. There were no floors or rooms, but two walls of vertical cement that met together in a tangled mess of vines and overgrown weeds that declared residency on the skeleton.
An arbutus tree shot up from the middle of the building, nature’s triumph over mankind. Flanking the remains of the ruins were large toppled stones and boulders that were covered in a thick layer of dark green moss. Civilization still had its grasp on the place with the numerous tags of graffiti that sprawled against the walls. Some lovebird’s initials, some racist slang, some innocuous cheers for Grad 2000.
Standing there with Dex, looking the eerie relic over, I think we were both glad to see something so trivial and modern as moronic graffiti. In any other situation I probably would have made some remark about punk kids ruining a historical artifact but all I could think about was how soothing the vandalism was. There was another world out there, another world of modern people who were going on about their lives. A world that occasionally brought over teenage kids to this godforsaken island so they could have sex away from prying eyes, get drunk and tag decrepit old structures that no one cared about.
“What do you think?” Dex asked. We had paused in front of the crippled cottage, both of us looking it over in silence.
“It’s creepy and comforting. At the same time.”
He looked out to where the lack of trees gave us a clear view of the briny waves and the vanilla cotton candy mist. “Would have been a hell of a view for the caretaker. You can’t buy this location back at home.”
True. But it would still be a hard sell. Sure you get a view, you just have to share an island with a bunch of lepers.
“Wish I had brought the Super 8,” he lamented to himself and walked along one side of the ruins. I stayed put, not wanting to explore it any further. Like the previous ruin, there was something unsettling here. Then again after a day of almost drowning, finding our Zodiac slashed and discovering a foot on the beach, it didn’t seem all that strange to find every single thing we came across just a tad creepy.
He went around the corner to the upright slabs and vanished out of my sight. I knew he was there, just a couple of yards away, but a wash of prickly cold came over me, almost as if I had an icy breeze inside of my body.
“Hee hee hee.”
The girl’s giggle.
I spun around and looked behind me at the forest.
The sound of leaves being crushed, branches cracking, light footsteps. But there was nothing there. Nothing I could see.
I listened hard. I couldn’t hear anything else. Not even Dex. I was about to open my mouth to call from him when I heard a SNAP.
I looked around me again and saw a glimpse of a white shirt disappearing behind the concrete where Dex had gone.
“Dex!” I yelled and ran over. I went around the corner and saw nothing. Where was he?
I kept running and was about to round the next one, the area where the dying vines overwhelmed the cracked and pebbly walls, when Dex appeared. I put on the brakes, almost running right into him. He reached out and steadied me with his hand.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Did you hear that?” I asked breathlessly.
“The laugh. The girl laughed and then I saw her, I saw her, she would have run right into you.”
I could see the hesitation in his face, followed by a tinge of concern across his brow. He kept his hand on me, tightening his grip.
“I didn’t see or hear anything, Perry.”
Of course he didn’t. I gave him a wary smile.
“Guess I’m going nuts then!” I felt small and simple. Maybe I was going nuts. Though if I wasn’t, I was a bit relieved to know that the girl, whether she was dead or alive, was still alive…if that made any sense.
I knew Dex was looking me over like some clinical scientist so I just brushed it off. “Well anyway, maybe you aren’t very observant. Can we finish this stakeout up? I’m getting colder by the minute.”