“We need to get out of here,” he said, skirting the issue.
“That’s an understatement.”
“I tried to use my phone while you were gone. I think a text to Zach went through.”
I perked up and rolled my head over to look up at him. “And?”
“I didn’t hear back. Now the phone is dead. Charger is on the boat.”
“So back to the plan,” I muttered. “Which is nothing.”
“I would have made a swim for it. But you kind of went missing.”
“Oh, so it’s my fault.”
“Jesus Perry,” he swore bitterly, flicking ash across the tent. He glared at me. “What is happening to you?”
“You tell me. Why was I tied up to a tree?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“Well I don’t fucking know! I told you that! I got hit in the back of the head. I don’t know who did it. They hit me and tied me up to the tree. I thought it was you.”
His shoulders slumped slightly and his eyes fell, looking soft in the flickering light of the lantern.
“Why would you think I would do that? How could you think that? You know I’d never hurt you in a million years,” his voice wavered a bit.
“Just mentally,” I mumbled.
“Nevermind. So you didn’t club me on the head.”
“No I fucking did not.” He shook his head to himself, looking pained and confused. His hands started to shake again, the dull glow of the cigarette tip buzzing like a spastic star. He closed his eyes.
After a moment of silence, he opened them and looked at me. “I know you hate me now after last night. Maybe you hate me for a lot of other reasons. That’s OK. You can hate me all you want. But I don’t hate you. I care about you. I’m on your side. We’re in this together now. I need, I beg you, please be honest with me. Please just tell me what’s been happening to you. You’ve been seeing ghosts. I know you have. You’re hiding it from me. Please, Perry, just tell me.”
As weirdly distant as I felt from him, as much as there was a current of distrust running beneath my skin, as much as I feared what he thought of me, there was still an ache in my heart that longed to keep on loving him. It was hard to pretend my chest didn’t hurt seeing him there, twitching, smoking, out of the loop, and wounded.
And so I told him everything. Starting from seeing Mary running through the woods, all the way up to when he found me tied up to the tree. He didn’t say anything the entire time and was watching me so intently that his hands started to shake again.
“That’s the truth,” I finished, out of breath from talking so much. It actually felt good to get it all out, even though I didn’t know what he thought or what he was going to do with it. “And now you really think I’m crazy.”
“You’re not,” he said quickly. “You didn’t tie yourself up to a tree. I didn’t do it. Someone else did it.”
“Random people on the island?”
“Maybe. Does it matter?”
“Why do you have such a hard time believing they are ghosts? After all you’ve seen, Dex, why is this so hard for you? You’re a damn ghost hunter!”
He laughed bitterly. “We may hunt them. But I haven’t found them yet. Only you have.”
“Then take my word for it!”
“I am! But I still think there is a more rational explanation.”
“There are no rational explanations! You won’t find them here. Nothing about what has happened to us is rational.”
“That’s because you aren’t rational.”
What? Once again, I was utterly flabbergasted by his choice of words and the sneakiness of his attacks on my personal character.
“OK Dex. I’m going to ask you now, what you think is going on. Tell me. I’d love to know what your mighty opinion is.”
“It’ll just make you mad,” he said, putting the cigarette out on the carton, burning a hole through it. He took out another cigarette, lifted it up to his lips. I tried to formulate what I was going to say without blowing a gasket.
A solid whacking sound from outside the tent. We eyed each other suspiciously.
“What is–” I started.
CLUNK. CLUNK. CLUNK.
I grabbed the lantern. Dex scooped up the Super 8 and a flashlight. I looked at the camera with disdain as I undid the tent.
“Are you seriously still bothering to film this now?”
He looked at me as if I had two heads. “Yeah. I am. Missed an opportunity last night.”
Ouch. I pretended I didn’t hear that and climbed out of the tent and into the face of a minor hurricane.
The sound was still audible despite the howling, whistling wind and groaning forest. The clunks continued sporadically, coming from the beach area. Out here it was a loud, hollow sound, like someone knocking slowly on a heavy wood door.
I raised the lantern in the direction of the beach, the wind pushing into my chest and flinging my hair wildly around my face. It was too dark to see, the light didn’t reach that far. Dex walked past me, the camera rolling, the flashlight lighting his way. I had no choice but to follow.
We walked down the path and onto the beach. His flashlight searched the waves, an eerie beacon against the darkness. The waves were so large and angry that they would have been a crazy surfer’s dream, had they not crashed unevenly against each other and wiped out on the shore.
“What is that?” I heard Dex yell above the noise.
I came down beside him and looked in the direction of his light. It was focused on the rocky outcrop. There was something dark bumping up against the rocks, pushed into them by each incoming swell, producing the clunking noise. I squinted, trying to recognize the shape but couldn’t quite make it out.
A scraping noise to the right of us.
Dex whipped the flashlight in the direction just in time to illuminate a heavy block of wood that had been dumped on the shore by the waves, the scraping sound coming from the pebbles as they raked against the bottom.
We walked towards the object, slowly, uneasily.
It was at least seven feet long, solid wood, maybe a few feet high.
It was a coffin. A coffin washed up on shore.
Another scraping sound from in front of us. Dex brought the light over, the beam shaking in his hands. Another coffin plowed forward onto the beach, the stones spraying out towards us as the edge of the coffin caught the ground.
He brought his flashlight over the rest of the waves. I raised my lantern.
There were coffins everywhere we looked. At least eight, maybe ten coffins riding the waves, coming in towards us like the Grim Reaper’s surfboard.
Dex aimed the camera around frantically, not knowing where to focus his shot, until a flicking sound was heard. He lowered the camera. Film had run out. But the coffins kept coming.
He turned around and looked at me. There were no words to describe what we were seeing. But as scared as I was that one of the coffins may start to slowly creak open and a waterlogged body might rise from the grave, it was a relief to know that Dex was seeing this too.
He walked over to me and grabbed my hand.
I was still annoyed but it wasn’t worth it anymore. Not with coffins that came crashing to shore.
“What do we do?” I whispered. He shined the light on the nearest coffin, the dark, wet wood gleaming under the light.
“We open them,” he said, wild–eyed. He let go of my hand and walked toward it. I was too terrified to move. I don’t know why I asked. Of course Dex thought opening the freaking coffins was the best course of action.
He tried to push the lid of the first coffin off. With his hands placed down, his body straining, legs out, trying to move the object against the weak lantern glow, it was almost a comical sight, like an exaggerated cartoon.
He managed to dislodge it after a couple of well–placed kicks to the edge. The lid splintered into two and went clattering off onto the pebbles.
He paused after noticing what he’d done. We made eye contact. And then he peered over the edge into the coffin. My breath froze in my throat, pure anticipation.
“Empty,” he sighed, putting his hand to his chest in relief, then wincing at the pain from the fresh wound there.
I took a step forward and held out my hand. I didn’t want to spend the evening turning over all the lids on every coffin that came ashore during the night.
He glanced at it, then faced the storming surf and the rest of the floating graves that were making their way toward us. I know he wanted more than anything to go back to the tent and get more film and record the rest of the night away. The filmmaker in Dex was never too far.
But I couldn’t handle it. We were done with this. It was time to put it to bed.
He looked back at my hand, saw my face, and relented. He reached out and I grasped his cold and clammy hand and pulled it along with me as we turned our backs to the coffins. We went to bed cold, wet and miserable, to the faint clunks and scrapes as the wayward coffins were delivered overnight by some unseen and menacing force.
“Happy birthday, kiddo.”
My eyes fluttered open. After a night of listening to the coffins, followed by restless tossing and turning due to over–exhaustion and nightmares, I must have fallen asleep during the wee hours of the morning. Now that it was brighter in the tent and Dex was gently shaking me awake, I wanted nothing more than to keep on sleeping.
But, as he said, happy birthday. I was now 23 years old. My birthday had totally slipped my mind last night.
I groaned and rolled over. Dex was kneeling in front of me with a goofy–looking grin on his bruised face. In one outstretched hand he held a paper plate with a Twinkie on top. There was a lit cigarette sticking out of it.
I burst out laughing. “That is the most ghetto birthday cake I have ever seen.”
“Well, I didn’t have cake and I didn’t have a candle but I thought this might do. Just don’t blow out the cigarette or you’ll get ash everywhere.”
He plucked the cigarette out of the Twinkie and stuck it in his mouth.
“Mmm, Twinkieliscious,” he said with a smile. I sat up, still giggling, and he handed me the plate. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a good laugh.
I picked up the Twinkie and took a bite. Dex blew the smoke away from my face.
“How is it?”
“It’s a Twinkie,” I told him. “Where did you get this, anyway?”
“I took a few from Zach when we left. I already had one this morning. Was saving it for a special occasion. Oh right, that reminds me.”
He disappeared out of the tent for a second. It was then when I noticed that aside from being 23-years old now, something else was different. The wind had eased up to a steady but less–ravaging gale and the rain was nowhere to be found. It was a few degrees warmer as well, which wasn’t saying much.
He came back inside and handed me a hot cup of coffee. “Spiked with the last bit of Jack D.”
I took a sip and coughed. “This is sad. This is probably the most American birthday meal you could have.”
He smiled at that and sat down in front of me, puffing away. He was in better spirits than he was yesterday, or even the day before. He still looked tired and washed out, though, and his nose where I had hit him was swollen and tinged with yellow and purple that was reaching up for his eye. His beard was getting pretty impressive. He was starting to resemble a ragged mountain man. Maybe he could have his own outdoor adventure show where he wrestled raccoons.