“You stay here,” he said angrily, feeling for his back where I had hit him. “Please, just stay here and stay out of my way. I’ll be back.”
I shook my head violently and ran after him. He started running too, to get away from me, but I grabbed his arm roughly and pulled on him hard. I hoped he could see the pure panic in my eyes.
“Mary said this would happen, Mary said…,” I stammered.
“Now you’re just babbling,” he admonished me, trying to swat away my arm like I was some sort of fly or pest.
I pulled on him harder. “Please Dex, please don’t do this, we have to forget it, we have to leave now! Right now! Right now! Right now!” I started screaming it. His eyes went wide, unsure of what to do with me, but he quickly composed himself and put my face in his hands. He looked deep in my eyes.
“I’ll be right back. You can’t stop me. We need that film. We are fucked without it. Without it, this whole thing would be for nothing.”
It didn’t matter to me. Nothing else mattered except getting off the island alive. Oh, if only he had seen Mary, seen what I had seen, then he’d know.
I started crying. It was really the only thing I could do. He took his hands off and rolled his eyes.
“Not going to work. Now please let go, or I’m dragging you along with me,” he threatened, the niceness gone from his eyes. He wasn’t going to let up. I began to think about all the things I could do to get him to stay. I could pick up the nearest heavy rock and hit him over the head with it but then what? I couldn’t paddle both of us to the boat.
“Are you shitting me? Are you seriously thinking about bashing me over the head?” he asked incredulously. He had followed my eyeline to a barnacle–covered stone that was just large enough to do the job.
I bit my lip.
“Unbelievable,” he spat out. “You need to get a fucking hold of yourself.”
And at that he flung his arms out of my hands with whip-like ferocity. “Now you can come with me or stay here. Your choice. But those are your only two choices.”
He adjusted the backpack angrily, then turned on his heel and marched off into the woods. I looked at the Zodiac and Mary Contrary and prayed both of them would be there when we returned. If we returned.
To Dex’s credit, he did know that we were pushing our luck by going back for the God damn film cartridges. Considering the wound on his leg, we jogged all the way back to the campsite, not even stopping once to catch our breath. This time we were aware of the mud pits too, so we were able to sidestep them without getting bogged down.
All the running left my chest wheezing painfully and my stomach doing topsy–turvy things with the Twinkie. By the time we saw the stupid campsite, one more time, I had to head off to use the outhouse. I did not want to. I did not want to leave Dex’s side. But some things can’t be ignored and this was one of them.
“I’m going to use the bathroom,” I told him as we came to the junction near the campsites.
“Yeah, seriously. Can you come and get me after you find the film?”
“Sure,” he agreed, giving me an uneasy look. Maybe he was afraid I was going to sneak around and club him over the head.
He headed off to the tent and I ran as quickly as I could over to the outhouse. My stomach often gave me trouble. It figured that it would happen at a time like this.
On the way over, as I passed across the mossy, rocky outcrop that the outhouse stood on, I noticed a charred ring around some logs. I saw it before, but it never clicked. It had been a campfire at one point.
It got me thinking. Maybe if we took all the toilet paper out of the outhouse and stuffed it under the logs (turning it over so we got the dry side) and lit it, we could create a signal fire. That might cause some attention. Not that anyone would see it through the fog, but you never know. Dark, thick smoke might stand out against the gauzy fog and a nearby ship that plowed the international shipping lanes that were only two miles off shore, or a low–flying seaplane, might see it and investigate.
I sat down on the outhouse hole and looked at the stack of toilet paper beside it. There were enough rolls to do some sort of damage. It sounded pretty naïve, I know, but in case things didn’t work out, if we could light it and then maybe the flare as well, there was at least a chance of rescue.
After I was done in the bathroom and felt a million times better (well, my insides did), I stepped out, my arms full of the toilet paper rolls. I began lifting up the pieces of burnt firewood and sticking the rolls in at various angles. The only problem was with how damp the logs were.
Then I remembered the fire pits they had up by the other campsites that were further inland. There was coal and stuff like that, I thought anyway. I got excited and started off for them.
I ran to our campsite first and saw Dex sorting frantically through the bags he had laid out on the picnic table.
“Did you find the damn thing?” I asked.
He glared at me and kept looking.
“Anyway,” I continued. “I have an idea. I’m going to light a signal fire, just in case. There’s some coal or kindling up at the other campsite. Can I have your lighter?”
He didn’t say anything. I expected him to applaud me for my idea. But maybe he was still mad that I threw that rock at him. He did reach into his front pocket and pulled out his gold lighter. He thrust it into my hand and went back to searching.
I gave him a weird look and took off for the campsite, my boot still squishing with each step. I wanted to do this as fast as I could as each second away from Dex was an invitation to disaster.
I went straight to the fire pit/BBQ in the grassy campsite and pried the metal grill away from it. I dipped my hands into the coal but most of it was either wet or pure ash. I couldn’t use any of it.
“Shit!” I swore out loud. Now what? Some great idea.
I felt sickly defeated. My shoulder slumped automatically and I turned around, ready to make my way back to Dex. Then I remembered where I had seen kindling before. There had been stacks of cut orchard trees by Mary’s rose garden. Some of them were even underneath the stone bench she had been sitting on, which meant they had to be at least partly dry.
Still…it would mean I would have to go a bit further inland, and go to her garden. Her territory, which was even further away from Dex. I would just have to chance it. She always had to keep moving, there was a huge possibility that she wouldn’t be there.
I headed off at a trot through the wild brush and within a couple of minutes I was running up along the graying orchard trees, all bent over like a row of forgotten old people. The wet grass brushed up against my legs and I nearly slid a few times before I reached the roses. I moved through the grabby bushes as carefully as I could and came out the other side.
She was already there.
Mary was sitting on the stone bench. Her hands were clasped on her lap as if she was praying. Praying with her eyes open, staring right at me. Was she praying for me to show up?
I stopped between the bushes and the bench, not wanting to go any closer to her. A quick glance to the bottom of the bench showed that there were indeed some logs underneath. The question was, would Mary let me get them? She seemed to be on my side. But then again, I didn’t know who I could trust anymore.
She took her hands out of the prayer position and patted the space beside her. “I told you you’d see me again. Sit down, please.”
“I’m good. I’m just here to get some logs.”
“Ah. A signal fire. No ships would stop for us. Why would they stop for you?”
“Because it’s not 1880 anymore,” I pointed out. “This is a national park now. The world has moved on, Mary. People have taken responsibility.”
“Your friend hasn’t.”
“For what?” I asked, throwing my hands up in the air. I refused to get dragged into another pointless, aggravating conversation with this loony ghost. I had had enough.
“He won’t take responsibility for being a father. I didn’t take responsibility for being a mother. Nothing good can come out of that.”
“That’s…none of my business,” I managed to say.
“It will be. He won’t let you leave. Did I not tell you?”
I chewed on my lip, trying to take in proper breaths through my nose. If I shoved Mary off the bench and grabbed the logs, could she do anything to stop me?
“He’s hiding so much from you. Always will. He refuses to take responsibility for his actions and instead blames everything on you.”
“Blames things on me!?” I was taking the bait. I couldn’t help it.
“Why do you think he is so afraid to believe you? He thinks he’ll go down that path again. Part of him is jealous because you are seeing things he is not, and part of him thinks if he did see the same things, that they’d put him away again.”
“I’m sorry…what?” I asked, my heart stopping cold. Put him away…again? She was talking about Dex, right? Put him away where?
“He was in a mental institution for two years,” Mary said, her eyes gleaming, obviously taking some sick pleasure in telling me that.
I went numb inside. I shook my head. “I don’t think so…”
“It is true. You can ask him. It may push him over the edge again, though. To know that you know. One of his deepest, darkest secrets. Just one of them, but it’s enough.”
I couldn’t breathe. My hands flew up to my hoodie and I frantically tried to loosen the cord at the top, feeling like it was choking me. “How…how do you possibly know this?”
“I told you, I just know. I don’t know how. I’ve stopped asking the Lord. He’s stopped listening. We are both accustomed to this by now.” She rolled her eyes back, looking up to the heavens.
Abruptly, she brought her head back to me, eyes focused on me like a hawk. She removed her glasses and put them on the top of her hair. I could now see that she was slightly cross–eyed, at least the other eye was. It pulsated strangely.
“You need to dispose of him. Before he harms you.”
“You need to kill him.”
I laughed. It was nervous, raw and frightened. My mind was having too much trouble comprehending any of this. All I needed was the logs. That is why I was there. I needed to start a fire. Start a fire, get help, and go back to the Zodiac with Dex. Dex and his stupid film that he couldn’t even find. How convenient. Maybe there was no film. Maybe he was going to try and to stop me from starting the fire…
“You know you can,” she said, her tongue sneaking out of her mouth for a second like a curious snake. My lip curled in response.
“I can’t kill Dex. I don’t want to kill him. This is ridiculous. I mean…I love him,” I said truthfully, realizing how absurd that string of sentences was.
A twinge of sympathy passed through Mary’s face. “I know you do. San loved me. John did too, in his own way. Yet, they killed me. And Maddy. I loved her. You won’t believe it, but I really did. But I still killed her.”