“What about your daughter?”
“She’s three years old. And she’s dead.”
“So are you.”
“She’s dead to me. There is a difference. How could I love something like Maddy when all she did was bring me pain and bring me death?”
I took in a deep breath. I didn’t like where the conversation was going.
“Yesterday you said that people here could harm me and Dex…”
“When was yesterday? Who is Dex?”
“Dex…the man I am with.”
“No.” I didn’t want to embellish.
She shrugged. “Forgive me, I forget details. You trust this man?”
I nodded. She shook her head. “No you don’t. He had his way with you, too.”
I ignored that. She obviously had no idea what she was talking about. I took a step toward her. She eyed me up and down, her delicate frame tensing.
“Mary,” I reasoned. “Mary, Dex and I seem to be in a bit of a predicament and we were hoping you could help us out.”
“We? He doesn’t know about me. You haven’t told him.”
“No, you’re right. I haven’t.”
“This is because you are unable to trust him.”
Who was she, a ghost shrink?
“If you tell him about me, it’s only going to make him angry,” she continued. “And when he gets angry, you’ll be in a lot of trouble. More trouble than you are in now. Believe me.”
“Why? Why would he be angry?”
“He doesn’t like secrets. And he’s jealous of you.”
The second part didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Why on earth would Dex be jealous of me?
I let it pass, for now. I crossed my arms and said, “Tell me more about this trouble we are in.”
She shrugged again and started to hum a song to herself in a lilting tune.
“Mary?” I repeated.
She looked at me and smiled brightly. “Oh, you again. So glad you could join me.”
Oh my God. She was a fucking nutter. Maybe she was the loon roaming the forest last night.
“I’m really grateful you are talking to me,” she said in her singsongy voice. “No one ever stops and chats with me. I can’t remember the last time someone acknowledged my existence. You must be a special person, Perry.”
“I’ve heard that before,” I scoffed.
“That’s why he’s jealous of you. Right now, he’s out there, walking up the beach looking for you and cursing you.”
“You have something he wants. You also have something John wants and something San will want. I’ve seen them watching you. You can see them if you look harder.”
The hairs on the back of my neck tickled unpleasantly.
“What does Dex want?”
“You’ll have to ask him that.”
I sighed, trying to compose myself. My brain felt sluggish and lazy. Too lazy to really understand what was going on.
“What do John and San want? Did they slash the Zodiac? Are there other people on the island?”
Mary started to sing to herself again.
“Mary!” I yelled, exasperated, and reached for her. I shook her bony shoulder, feeling the bones crack and crush underneath my hand. I gasped and recoiled in horror.
She looked down at her collapsed shoulder with all the breeziness in the world. “They won’t be so easy to break. The sea, it does peculiar things to your bones.”
I wanted to tell her that I was sorry but I couldn’t form the words. I felt like vomiting.
“Look,” I said, sucking the feeling down. “I know this is a strange situation and all. For me, anyway. I mean, I think I might actually be mental. Maybe you’re not real at all. Maybe this whole place isn’t real. But still, if you could somehow help me out in any way, help me get off this island, I’d really appreciate it.”
She laughed. “I can’t leave this island. What makes you think you can?”
“Because I’m not dead.”
“You will be soon,” she said simply, her little–girl voice gone. The frankness cut me to the core.
“Will you help me, Mary?” I tried. “Can you just…just tell John and this San person to leave us alone? To let us leave. We don’t have anything to do with whatever this all is. As soon as the weather clears, we will be out of here. We will never come back.”
“I can’t. I hope I never see them again. I’ve been moving around this island for God knows how long, trying to stay one step ahead of them. Perhaps you need to borrow a lesson from me. You’re much easier to catch than I am.”
I felt breathless. “Where are we?”
“This is the Island of Death. This is purgatory. This place has a dark soul of its own. And it will drown you in its depths.”
And at that Mary got to her feet, her bloody, pussing feet. “I have to keep moving. My advice for you is to do the same. Don’t trust anyone. Anyone. He does not have your best interests in mind. No one does. Not even me. But I recommend you take my advice to be safe.”
And then she was off and running. I looked behind me, expecting to see Dex, or God forbid, the Reverend, but there was no one there. And of course she was long gone.
I tried to shake some sense into my head as I carefully slipped past the rose bush’s prying thorns, and down the orchard trees, dead and grey from the cold winter or a hundred years of neglect. I didn’t know what to make of anything anymore. Reality seemed to be losing its grip on me, sliding off like the chains on an anchor. None of this was possible but I had to accept it as truth. If I didn’t, it would mean I was going crazy. And which one of those scenarios was better? I’d either end up in a mental institute or in some brutal fate here, which could be worse.
I wondered if that’s what Creepy Clown Lady had been talking about. She had said something about people coming to take me away. Take me in away in straightjackets? Take me away to the loony bin? I had been treating Dex like the enemy in this regard but maybe he had the total right to worry about me. He couldn’t see the things I could. Not all of them anyway.
If only I could actually see Creepy Clown Lady here, then maybe I could get some real answers. It’s funny how she brought an utmost sense of fear in the base of my being, yet if I saw her creeping around in the trees, in her ridiculous taffeta gown, I’d almost be comforted. It would be another tie to that world I knew before this place. This place was taking over day by day, hour by hour. Even Dex was becoming something else to me. Someone foreign.
I thought about that long and hard as I made my way through the brush back to the tent, hoping that maybe she would materialize if I thought about her long enough. She didn’t.
Dex did though. The minute I stepped on to the path, he came booking it out of the campsite towards me.
“Where the fuck did you go!?” he yelled at me. He looked like hell. He almost had a full–on beard going, his eyes were bloodshot and the space under his eyes looked like half–moon plums.
“I went for a walk,” I said and tried to walk past him.
He grabbed my arm sharply and yanked me towards him. His eyes were crazy. “Bullshit!”
I looked down at his rough grasp, trying to stifle my own anger and avoid a massive blowout.
“It’s none of your business,” I snapped. I knew that was going to set him off. I probably should have said something else.
He was taken aback, and for a moment, speechless.
“Where were you when I woke up?” I asked.
“In the bathroom,” he said through gritted teeth.
“What’s wrong with you?” I questioned.
He cocked his head and loosened his grip on me. He smiled sarcastically. “What’s wrong with me? Shit, Perry. That’s rich. You’re the one who flips out whenever I leave you alone. What about all that bullshit about you needing me then? You don’t think it’s not the other way around?”
I snorted. “No! I don’t. And maybe it was just bullshit anyway. You should know all about that, you’re an expert at it.”
“Now you’re just being a bitch.”
I glared at him. “We all have to be experts at something.”
He rolled his eyes and took in a deep breath. He was trying to keep his temper in check. I could see it strained across his face.
He put his other hand on my shoulder and gave it a lighter, nicer squeeze. In my head I had the image and feel of Mary’s bones shattering under my own grasp. The disgust showed up on my face.
Dex noticed my expression and looked correspondingly uneasy. “What’s happening to us?”
“What happened? Well, we ended up getting stuck on this god damn island first of all. You know what this is? It’s purgatory.”
“Come on now–”
“I am serious. This place is death!”
“And that’s why we’re going to see if maybe we can get the Zodiac going. I have some ideas.”
“What if it doesn’t work? Why hasn’t anyone come for us? I mean, we were supposed to be back yesterday. There’s this storm. Why hasn’t the Coast Guard shown up? Doesn’t Zach want his boat back? Wouldn’t he have reported us?” I started blathering on like a woman on a verge of a nervous breakdown.
Dex abruptly pulled away from me, suddenly apprehensive.
“What?” I asked.
“I…” he took in a deep breath again. I knew I was not going to like what I was about to hear. “I told Zach we were staying an extra couple of days. They won’t expect us back until tomorrow.”
I was floored. Stunned. Unable to process. Did not compute.
“Tomorrow?” I managed to say. “But…tomorrow is my birthday.”
“I know it is. I figured since you don’t have a job, it wouldn’t matter if we stayed here a while longer. You know, to get some real good shots and–”
“Tomorrow is my birthday!” I shrieked, my arms flying out to my sides. “Why the fuck would you think I’d want to spend my birthday on an island with you!”
“I didn’t think you’d care. I didn’t think your family would notice.”
There was no warning or premeditation over what happened next. I felt myself making a tight, hot fist, felt my arm winding up and felt the animosity powering my arm through.
I punched Dex right in the nose. Felt it give under my knuckles as my knuckles themselves erupted in a flurry of fiery pain.
Dex screamed and stumbled backward, grabbing his nose in agony, looking at me with wild animal eyes, half afraid, half livid. I grasped my throbbing hand and held onto it tightly, trying not to feel the pain. I had to admit, punching Dex felt better than I thought it would. If I broke my knuckles on his nose, it would have been totally worth it.
“You bitch!” he cried out, taking his hand away from his nose and looking at it. It was bleeding lightly, a tiny trickle coming out of his nostril and gathering in his moustache. “Jesus fucking Christ, I think you broke my nose!”
“Good,” I challenged, still feeling the impulse to hit him again. An absent thought, the one that this island really was changing me, snaked across my brain and then faded into the thud and whir of my pounding heart and pulsing veins.