“How are you feeling? I’ll need to change your bandages,” I reminded him. He rolled up his pant leg to show me. The dressing was soaked through with blood. Ew.
“I’ll live,” he said nonchalantly, ignoring the seriousness of the wound. “You just eat your birthday breakfast first. How are you feeling? Do you feel any older?”
“Yes. I feel disgustingly older.” Not only was my head still a bit achy from the hit yesterday, my limbs and bones throbbed mercilessly. On top of that, I felt absolutely gross, having not showered for days. Last night I even forgot to brush my teeth or wash my face. I guess in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter, but in the ugly light of morning things were always a bit different.
I finished the Twinkie, not knowing what it was going to do to my stomach. We had barely eaten anything yesterday.
“Oh,” he spoke up, pointing at me. “I have something else for you.”
He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a purple Silly Band. It was in the shape of…well, actually it looked quite phallic.
“Um,” I stammered, trying not to laugh. “Cock and balls?”
“What? No!” he cried out and did a double take. “It’s an anchor.”
I took it from him and slipped it on my wrist, “Sure it is, Dex. What were you trying to say with this, huh?”
“Well, I thought I was being poetic by saying I could be your anchor. But if you want to make this perverted, you know I’m game.”
I chuckled at that but didn’t forget what he meant by it. He could be my anchor. I hoped he would be. I didn’t plan on taking the bracelet off, ever.
I wanted for us to stay in the tent and continue joking about things and pretend we were having fun on a camping trip and that everything was going to be OK. But from the way his brow furrowed as he put his cigarette out on top of his black combat boots, I knew things were going to get serious.
“Do we have a plan yet?” I asked quietly.
He nodded. “It’s a long shot. But after we get me all cleaned up, I think I might be able to patch together the tear on one pontoon by sticking all the remaining bandages across it.”
“How would that help? Isn’t it deflated?”
“Not all the way. It would be enough to prevent some water from seeping inside. Then we lose the motor. Leave it on the beach. We take only what we need from here. Just one bag between the both of us. You might have to lose some clothes, I don’t know. Go as light as possible. We’re going to get wet. It’s going to suck. But if we can use the Zodiac as a raft, we should be able to make it to be the boat. Use it like a boogie board and kick our way over. The wind has died. The swells aren’t too high. There’s only fog. I think we can make it.”
I pondered over what he was saying. His voice was optimistic but it still sounded like an extremely desperate attempt. I guess things were getting desperate. I didn’t want to spend another minute on this island and each second I was awake and past the frivolity of my birthday “festivities,” the reality of what was going on was sinking in fast. Just because everything was fine at the moment didn’t mean it would be fine in five minutes. Whatever tied me to the tree, whatever was out there and after us, they would come back.
“What about the coffins? They floated. Couldn’t we carry one across the island and–”
“Coffins are gone,” he said flatly.
“Go and see for yourself,” he nodded at the tent flap. “There isn’t a trace of them. Vanished. Like we never saw them last night.”
“But,” I said cautiously, “you know we saw them, right?”
“I know.” He sighed, scratching at his beard. “Really wish I could shave this thing right off.”
“You could always do it Crocodile Dundee style with the hunting knife,” I suggested lightly.
He smiled. For just a wonderful second. It slowly faded from his lips, turning sad like his eyes. I wanted to apologize to him for the way I had been acting but I couldn’t find the nerve or the words. Maybe he was thinking the same thing. I wanted to crawl over to him and kiss him, scratchy beard and all, and have him make me feel like everything was going to be all right.
He picked up my backpack that was behind him and tossed it at me.
“I’ll give you ten minutes. Get ready and fill half of it with only what you really need to bring. Nothing heavy if you can help it. I’ll go clean myself up.”
He took the first aid kit and exited the tent, leaving me to wonder which clothes and items I was going to have to leave behind. My boots were heavy, but I wasn’t going to part with them. I’d be wearing them anyway. My beloved Chucks wouldn’t make the cut but I had more pairs at home. Neither would my yellow peacoat, my pajamas or my two other pair of jeans. I slid into my cargos (they were somewhat expensive), put on my favorite Alice in Chains tank top, my hoodie and a light leather jacket. I put some of my makeup in the backpack, thankful for the waterproof plastic bag it was in, and my own underused point and shoot camera and I was good to go. It was a shame to leave everything else but the sacrifice would be worth it if we could get off the godforsaken hellhole of an island. Hell, Dex would have to leave his tent and camping equipment and that wasn’t exactly cheap.
When I was done I brought the bag out of the tent and did a quick inspection of Dex’s wounds to make sure he wasn’t cheating himself.
“I much prefer it when you’re the nurse,” he said, wiggling one brow as I made him lift up his shirt. I did my best to ignore him. His self–bandaging job looked fine and he still had a lot of bandages and adhesive tape left over in the kit for the Zodiac repair job.
I quickly brushed my teeth and combed back my greasy, dirty hair into a tight bun and was good to go. The old Perry would have been wincing at being makeup free around a guy, but if this weekend taught me anything, it was that vanity was no longer ruling my life. And that raccoons were evil.
Dex filled the remainder of the backpack with the library books (“don’t want Zach to deal with overdue fines”) and the Super 8. I observed the campsite to make sure we weren’t missing anything.
He was right about the coffins being gone without a trace. The curve of the beach looked unblemished except for a few new pieces of driftwood and washed–up clumps of kelp. The fog looked like it had settled in even closer, like it was giving the island a frothy hug, but the color was light and airy and the wind was down to manageable gusts. It really was the perfect window to try and to leave through. We might not have another chance.
“Ready to go?” he called out from behind me as I stared at the beach.
I turned and nodded. I had a funny feeling it wasn’t going to work out quite as he hoped. It’s almost as if we couldn’t say goodbye to this place, despite how desperately we wanted to.
We walked as quickly as possible across the island. Despite the change in weather, the forest looked extra foreboding. The dead branches reached into the sky like skeleton arms, the shadows seemed to quiver out of the corner of my eye, and the moss looked less like vegetation and more like the green guts from an impaled monster. The last few days of rain had done a number on the ground, turning the trail into an obstacle course of limbs and mud that sucked at our feet. It got worse as we approached the glade.
At one point my foot went through the ground and the mud sucked me in all the way to my knee. Well, there went my expensive pants.
“Dex!” I cried out. I put my hands on the firmest part of the mud and tried to push myself off. “Little help?”
He stopped and came over, trying to pick up my hands while not getting stuck himself. He pulled at me but it only made my arms feel like they were going to pop out of the socket.
“Ow!’ I whimpered.
He bent over, wrapped his arms around my leg and started to pull me up that way. If I wasn’t starting to feel panicky, I probably would have laughed at the way we looked. He grunted and with a powerful tug, my leg came free with a huge suction sound. I almost fell face first into the mud but his arm shot out and brought me upright.
“I gotcha,” he said. We looked down at my muddy leg with interest. I could feel the cold sludge seeping down into my socks. Ugh.
It was an uncomfortable, uneasy walk the rest of the way. Adding to the discomfort of mud squishing between my toes was the horrible feeling that the Mary Contrary might not even be there. If it was somehow still afloat after yesterday’s storm, that would be a miracle indeed.
I watched Dex’s face as we got close to the coast. Between nervous chewing and the intensity of his pupils, he was probably thinking it too. If the boat was gone, we were pretty much dead.
I pushed the thought out of my head and told myself I would deal with it when I had to deal with it. It kept the terror in check.
As soon as we reached the coastal path, Dex sprinted forward a few steps to the treeline and peeked through the branches.
“Hallelujah,” he yelled.
I ran up and joined him. He put his hand on my back as I leaned over and peered through the spaces in the trees. The boat was there. It was a miracle.
We went back on the path and hurried along until we were on the beach and sprinting towards the Zodiac joyously. The Zodiac looked the same as we had left it, no further damage done, and though it seemed that the Mary Contrary’s anchor was no longer working and the boat was wriggling back and forth with the waves, the rope’s tether to the shore was still intact.
We looked at each other, both shining jubilant smiles.
“I think we can do this,” Dex exclaimed.
“Me too.” And I meant it. Maybe it was possible to say goodbye to this nightmare after all.
“We’re going to make it after all, kiddo,” he said as he reached forward and tipped up my chin. His fingers felt warm. I thought maybe he was going to say something else but we just stared at each other for a few beats, all smiles and unsaid words.
“OK, I’ll get started on the Zodiac,” he said, letting go of my chin and kneeling down to snap open the first aid kit. “Can you go check on the rope, making sure it’s not about to give? If you can tighten it or do another loop around the tree, then do it. We don’t want it floating away while we are making a go for it.”
I told him I could, bringing my eyes up to the cliff top. It didn’t seem like it would be that hard to get to and Dex had done it with ease the other day.
“You might want to wash off your leg first,” he said, eyeing the mud. “You don’t want to slip.”
That was true. Even though I didn’t want my calf and boots to be soaking wet, it was better than the mud.
I walked over to the water and tried to catch my muddied leg in the incoming tide. The waves on this side of the island were almost nonexistent compared to the east side, which made it seem even more likely that we were going to get our asses out of there.
I undid my boot and slipped it off. I reached over into the water to use it as a scooper. As I did so, I saw the reflection of a tall, menacing form standing over me from behind.
I gasped and spun around, almost losing my balance in the numbing surf. There was no one there. Dex was busy emptying out the kit and wasn’t even paying attention to me.