I looked back at the water and cautiously dipped in my boot. I carefully sloshed the water around, making sure the mud was coming out before I splashed some of the water on my leg. It was as cold as anything. I hoped when we launched the Zodiac, we would reach the boat quickly because being in the water for more than five minutes meant certain hypothermia. It was amazing I didn’t catch anything the other day and I was only in the water for a minute, tops.
I scooped up water once more and was about to re–douse myself when I saw the reflection again. My lungs seized in fright but I didn’t turn around and I didn’t make a noise. I slowly splashed the icy ocean on my calf while keeping my eyes focused on the reflection. Because of the waves, I couldn’t see it clearly but it was the same person I had seen briefly in the forest. Blonde beard, large frame, black jacket and white shirt. He raised his arms behind me and had a piece of roped rope spun tightly between his hands.
I screamed and whirled around, expecting for the rope to come down around me, but just as it happened before, there was no one there. Now I had Dex’s attention and he was looking at me quizzically.
“Cold water?” he asked, though from his tone I knew he thought it was more than that.
“Sure is,” I squeaked out. I pulled myself away from the water and sat back on the pebbles, quickly jamming my cold boot back on. My foot was sufficiently frozen now but I just had to deal with it. I tied the laces up as fast as my cold fingers would allow and got back to my feet.
Dex was still staring at me.
“How’s it coming?” I asked, trying to sound breezy.
He frowned. “It’s coming. You better go check on the rope.”
I smiled in response and started sprinting down the beach towards the cliff. I felt like we were running out of time and seeing that man’s reflection in the water just added to that feeling.
The cliff wasn’t as challenging as it looked from far away. It wasn’t that steep and was a gradual climb, save for a few places where I had to haul myself up onto the rocks and boulders. It didn’t take long for me to get to the top, where the yellow rope was clinging onto the arbutus tree for dear life, and the tree in turn was clinging on to the soil.
I looked down at the view, the spread of beach beneath me, Dex busy patching up the half–deflated Zodiac, the boat attached to the land only through a single twisting rope. The backdrop of the scene was the fathomless fog that seemed to lick at the sides of the boat from time to time.
I inspected the rope along its length and the way it was wrapped around the tree. Dex had done an amazing job the first time around because I couldn’t see a single weak point or fraying anywhere. As long as the whole tree didn’t give way, I think we were going to be OK.
“You’ve seen him.”
I jumped, my heart almost coming out of my throat, and looked behind me. There was a strange, murky shimmer in the air and Mary stood between the view of Dex and the beach, hands on her hips, looking strangely authoritative despite her wispy figure.
It gave me the creeps. It always should have given me the creeps but now that we were so close to leaving, I wanted to forget about Mary and everything else. Yesterday, talking with her, the whole thing seemed like some weird sort of trance I was sucked into, just like my leg was inhaled by the mud. Now I felt more in control, mentally, and ready to move on. I didn’t want to lose that again.
So I didn’t say anything to her. I just went back to looking at the rope, hoping that by ignoring her she would disappear.
She took a step closer. “You’re not going anywhere, Perry.”
Just hearing her say my name was chilling, maybe even threatening. It didn’t really sound like a threat but I had to look at her to make sure. Her one visible eye through the glasses seemed innocent enough.
“Dex and I are leaving soon,” I said to her. “As soon as he is done patching up the Zodiac.”
“That’s what you think,” said Mary.
“That’s what I know,” I replied on the defensive, feeling anger rising through me.
“You’re starting to see John now. Soon your Dex will too.”
“The tall guy with the blonde beard?”
“Yes. That is John. The lepers will be next. Then Dex will believe you but alas, it will be too late.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked, not sure of not wanting to believe her myself.
She pursed her cracked lips and thought that over. “I know things. I’ve been here a long time. This is how it always works.”
Always works? There were others like us? I didn’t want to think about that; it was too much of a mindfuck.
“Well. I don’t see anyone else here. Who is going to stop me, you?” I said, taking a step toward her. With her tiny, frail body, I knew I could hurt her easily. But then again, she was already dead so, really, what harm could I do?
Mary laughed; it was shrill and worrisome. “Not me. Dex will.”
I cocked my head and looked over her shoulder at the beach. Dex had stopped what he was doing and was kneeling on the pebbles, head turned in my direction and watching me. I wondered if he could see Mary.
“How…why…why on earth would Dex stop me, stop us, from leaving?”
“He’s going to think of a reason. He may not know the reason right now but it will come up, and you’ll have to go back to the campsite.”
I shook my head and then stopped, suddenly self–conscious that it might be a one–way show that Dex was witnessing from far away. I decided to play Devil’s Advocate.
“All right then, Mary. Say we go back to the campsite. Then what?”
“You both will become sufficiently paranoid of each other. He’s going to accuse you of being ill and you’re going to accuse him of being ill. That’s when John will appear. Maybe San too. When you are both alone and at your weakest. If not them, then the rest of the lepers.”
“Why? What did we do to them?” My voice was becoming higher by the second.
“It’s about responsibility, my dear. No one has ever claimed real responsibility for what happened here. I tried to fix it but look what happened. They turned on me. They killed me.”
“I thought John killed you.”
“This place killed me. There are wrongs that need to be righted and these souls won’t rest until that is done. This place is too close to the black and white world. It’s the responsibility of humankind. It’s a shame it got passed on to both of us. It’s a shame for two 23-year olds. We were so young.”
That caught me off guard. How did she know it was my birthday? And what did she mean “were”? I swallowed hard and tried to concentrate on something else. The sopping wet sock inside my boot. The feel of the smooth arbutus tree bark that I had one hand against. The smell of rain, even though there was no rain.
“I’ll be seeing you on the other side,” she said with a quick smile that slid easily over her missing teeth. “One more time. I’ll have something you’ll want to know.”
Not if I can help it, I thought.
She looked down at her dress, tugged at the skirt of it, straightening out her bodice and walked timidly into the trees that led up the rest of the cliff, as if she was strolling off to church. I had no urge to stop her. I did have the urge to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
With Dex still watching me (seriously, OK, I’m talking to myself, get over it and get back to work), I scrambled down the cliff as quickly and carefully as I could. As soon as my feet hit the stones on the beach, I was off and running toward Dex at full speed.
“How’s it coming!? Let’s go now, shall we!” I yelled, coming to a stop in front of him, pebbles skidding everywhere.
He blinked hard a few times. He had been in the middle of removing the engine from the back. The tear on the left pontoon had been patched up and a million bandage wrappers littered the bottom of the Zodiac.
His lips formed to make words but nothing came out.
“What? You need help?” I asked, and bent over in front of the engine, working the vice back and forth, loosening it. As I did so, I kept my head down and said, “Yeah, I was talking to Mary. Not myself. Though I can tell you still don’t believe me.”
With a few yanks, the engine came loose and Dex was there, helping me lift it off the back of the boat and onto the beach.
“That’s fine. Thanks,” he said monotonously. I eyed him quickly. I could see he was having a battle in his head of what to think and what to say. Obviously he didn’t see Mary. It didn’t matter. We could deal with my apparent psychosis later.
“Are you ready?” I straightened up and tried to get the urgency across.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. He lightly kicked the left pontoon. “Are you ready?”
“Fuck yes. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Dex gave me a quick (but noticeably wary) smile. “I’ll pull from the front if you push from the end.”
I moved into position behind the Zodiac, my hand placed firmly on where the engine used to be. He picked up the backpack and put it on his shoulder.
“Are you sure the Super 8 will stay dry in there?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if he had a special bag around it or if he was going to wear the backpack on his head so it didn’t get wet.
“It should be OK, as long as the pontoon holds out,” he said as he started to pull the front of the boat along. It moved awkwardly, like we were dragging a dead body. “The only thing I’m worried about is the film if…”
He trailed off and stopped pulling. He let go of the boat’s front. His face was awash with panic. For a second I thought he saw something in the trees behind me but after a quick look, that wasn’t it.
“What’s wrong?” I asked slowly. A sickly feeling started to creep throughout my veins.
“We have to go back.”
My eyes widened. No. No, no, no. This wasn’t happening.
“We are not going anywhere,” I said, half inhaling my words.
He looked terrified, to say the least, but he stood his ground. “No, we have to go back, Perry.”
“We have to go back? What the fuck, this isn’t an episode of Lost, Dex!”
“The film! I left the film cartridges in my other bag. I changed them over this morning. Without that film we don’t have a show.”
I let go of the Zodiac and stood up. Shocked. Enraged. “Screw the show!”
“Sorry, kiddo,” he said, coming around the boat and heading off toward the trees. Toward the rest of the island and all the horrors I knew were hiding there.
I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t. It really was a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. I had to do something.
This time, instead of thinking about doing it, I did pick up a rock. I flung it at him. It hit him square in the back.
“OW!” he cried out and spun around like a cornered animal. “What the…did you just throw a fucking rock at me!?”
“I had to! Please, forget the film. We have to leave now. We have to leave right now!” My voice was reaching epic dog whistle proportions.