He picked up the camera from the ground, shoved it into backpack, and strode off into the forest.
I was alone. My one wrist continued to bleed, though it was slowing down a bit. I struggled to catch my breath and watched the beads of blood roll back and forth, depending on what way I turned my arm. A lot of the blood was starting to clot in sticky black balls.
I don’t know how long I stared at my wrist and my arm. It was much easier to think about that than it was to think about what had just happened. What I had just said. I had just ripped Dex’s heart and pride out of his body and stomped on it. It felt shamefully good at the time, the way the words just flew out of me like volcanic fire, wanting nothing more than to burn him with them, burn him slowly, so he could feel all of it.
Now I just felt ashamed. I had hurt the man I loved in the most poignant way possible. There was no way we could recover from that. Even though he was partially guilty, I had a feeling that this wound was impossible to blot.
Don’t forget, he thinks you’re the crazy one, I thought to myself in an effort to cover up the remorse that was taking over. I didn’t want to feel guilty about this. I needed to remember that he wasn’t innocent. Even though he should know better, he would rather think I was crazy than think I could actually be seeing ghosts. That said a lot about how he felt about me.
I let out a long, shaky breath and tried to get my bearings. Regardless of what happened, I still needed to cover up my other wrist.
I walked unsteadily through the salal bushes to where the strips of shirt had fallen like oversized confetti. Even vegetation was scary now.
I picked up a strip and quickly wound it around my wrist as tight as I could without cutting off the circulation. I really was going to have start getting ghost hunters insurance or something like that.
If I was even going to be a ghost hunter after everything that had happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dex decided he didn’t want to work with me anymore. Hell, I didn’t even know if by the time I showed up at the other beach, the boat would even be there. If he sailed away without me, it would be tantamount to homicide. But that look in his eyes had been murderous.
I’d just have to hope for the best. And I’d have to act on it soon. The longer I was here, alone, the more vulnerable I was.
I finished tying up the wound and threw the rest of the cloth back into the trees. As soon as I did so, a familiar scraping sound came from behind me.
I slowly turned around to see but there was nothing there except for the picnic table, our cooking gear and the tent.
The scraping sound again. Pebbles on the beach. The sound that the coffins had made the night before.
I didn’t want to look, but I knew I had to. I gingerly crept to the edge of the tent and poked my head around the side of it.
The coffins had washed up on the beach again. Eight of them; old, decaying wood crates, sitting there in the surf like dead whales. It was still terrifying, even in the daylight.
They were all lined up in a row, perfectly placed, waiting for…
The lids of the coffins popped off simultaneously, clattering on the stones.
The Chinese lepers with their poor bulbous faces and missing hands and feet, lurched out of the coffins and, catching sight of my head peeking out beside the tent, started heading my way in jerky, awkward movements.
Just like zombies, I thought mildly. Then it sank in. Whatever the fuck they were, they were coming for me, and considering they were walking around on stumps, some even on all fours like disfigured hounds, they were coming fast. The reality hit me like a sledgehammer. This was real. This was it.
I had to run and I had to run fast.
I turned and sprinted up the path, turning into the woods. I moved my legs as fast as they would go. I didn’t know if they could catch up to me and I didn’t want to waste time looking behind me, so I just kept going, leaping over logs, sprinting across dead twigs, launching myself over the mud puddles. The only advantage I had was that I had walked across this stupid, godforsaken path so many times, it was like I knew it like the back of my hand, knew each turn and twist and obstacle that was waiting to trip me up.
Then again, this island was their home. My knowledge was nothing compared to theirs.
I could only hear the blood from my heart pounding at a techno rate in my head, my breath as it wheezed with each painful inhale, the sound of my boots hitting the ground, kicking up sticks and sending dirt flying.
I rounded a slight bend, knowing that the dead glade was coming up ahead and the real mud pits that were waiting to try and swallow me whole again. I was making good time, at least I thought I was, but I hadn’t come across Dex yet. He must have run the whole way too. Smart boy.
I entered the glade seemingly at the speed of light, not looking around, just concentrating on the fast–approaching ground as it rushed at my feet. For some reason I had “More Human Than Human” as my mental soundtrack. It worked to keep me moving, to keep me going, to keep me from turning around seeing what was behind me. I was grateful and amazed at the adrenaline I had rushing through my muscles and that I was able to keep running without collapsing in a heap in the mud.
The mud was now upon me on either side, new puddles and depressions that weren’t there earlier. I had to leap quickly across them, narrowly going in a few times. I kept my eyes at my feet and up ahead on the trail. There was a huge puddle in the way.
I leaped to the left side of it, nearly colliding with an ancient mossy stump. I pushed myself off of it in time to see Reverend John Barrett leap out from behind it, rope stretched across his hands.
Before I had time to scream or react, his slimy, foul–smelling hand was at my mouth and the rope was going around my arms. I kicked out with my legs, squirming violently, trying desperately to break free, but it was useless.
He held me above the ground, choking away my breath, and turned me around in time to see the pack of lepers slinking towards me with vengeful curiosity, their fingerless hands extended and reaching for me. They didn’t stop coming.
My mind reeled awake like the slow wind of undeveloped film. Everything was black. Very black. A shade of coal darker than anything behind closed eyes. And then I realized my eyes weren’t closed at all. They were open, squinting against a light mist that burned them like salt.
Where was I?
I couldn’t bring my mind around fast enough to remember anything concrete. But there were thoughtless flashes. The reel in my head spun wildly, more shady images skittering past the spokes. There was a forest. I was running. I was hunted down by hounds. Or humans on four legs. Their grotesque, disfigured shapes flicked flickered in the woods like a pilot light. Then nothing.
My watery grave. The phrase floated around in my head for no reason.
I lay still. I was on my back, on top of something awkward and bony. I told my limbs to move but nothing happened. I concentrated, desperately finding some light my retinas could latch o to, to give some meaning to where I was and what was happening.
There were sounds, suddenly, like ear plugs were plucked out of my head. I heard muffled cries, like someone was yelling very far away and the sloshing sounds of water encompassing the space around me. The distinct feeling that I was floating was apparent and my inner ear rolled and swayed back and forth inside my heavy head.
All my senses were coming to me now. I could smell seawater and a putrid, decaying smell like rotted fruit and mold. I felt dampness at my back and bit by bit, the sensation that my hands were emerged in ice–cold water.
I moved my arms and this time they responded sluggishly. They had been in water, though the rest of me was dry. I moved them out to the sides and they struck hard barriers with a force I barely felt through my numbed nerves. The sound of the impact echoed around me. It told me I was in some sort of box or…or…
Panic began to sweep through me. I moved again, feeling like I was balanced precipitously on top of something very peculiar yet very familiar. Whatever it was, it was smaller than the length of my body and I noticed my legs dropped off below at an angle. I kicked them up. A spray of ice water fell up on top of my shins and my waterlogged boots met with the bottom of something.
I felt all around me, wildly placing my hands and feet on whichever surface they could reach. I was in a box after all. The space above my head was only about half a foot before a damp wooden ceiling cut me off from the rest of the world.
I tried to catch my breath but the fright inside my chest was overpowering it. I was trapped, trapped in a box. A mime’s worst nightmare.
Not only that, but the box was filling with water. I could feel the liquid fingers crawling up my legs and arms and saturating my back.
I started writhing and fighting. I couldn’t keep it together any longer. I was in a box and I was going to drown in here.
I started pounding my hands against the top, hoping to break through. They were tired and without much feeling and soon I felt a gush of warmth flowing from them. My blood. More blood. It seemed oozed freely from the wounds at my wrist. I didn’t care. I had to get out. If I didn’t I was certain I would die.
The water came faster now and it wasn’t long before I was floating slightly above whatever had been below me. In seconds it would come over the tops of my pants. My pants, where my front pocket felt tighter than usual.
I quickly slipped my hand into my front pocket on a hunch. There was the lighter in my pocket from earlier.
I pulled it out and started to flicker flick it. My fingers were cold and clumsy and I almost dropped it but after a few awkward attempts, the flame came alive, the spark catching hold. I held it up and away from me. The weak, orange light illuminated the space around me.
I was right. I was in a box. It wasn’t just a box though. No, it wasn’t. I knew with sick, absolute certainty what it was.
My watery grave.
I swallowed hard, feeling my world jar wildly with the incoming waves. I was in a coffin, set adrift in the sea.
“Your ship has come in.” A man’s voice echoed inside my head.
Amidst all the commotion in my head, among all the confusion over what had happened – I knew where I was and why I was here. I wished I was alone. But I knew that wasn’t true either. I knew that awkward, protruding, lumpy shape beneath me spared me of that luxury.
I felt my left hand slip into the water and gingerly feel felt for the bottom of the casket. Maybe the only way out was through. It met with the ragged wood bottom and felt around. I was careful to avoid what was directly beneath me.
The water was up to my chest now, heaving and wet. I was running out of time and fast.
I placed my hand on the bottom and tried to stabilize one part of me while I prepared to kick out with my legs, hoping that the splintery walls would give way.
Tiny, slimy fingers made their way around my submerged wrist.
I screamed but it escaped through my lips like a wordless gasp. The fingers tightened like a tiny clamp and held my wrist down, drowning it.
Something shot out from the water beside me and knocked the lighter out of my hands, enveloping the casket in darkness again. My arm was seized by another miniature grasp. It pulled it roughly down into the water.
I tried to move, to yell, to fight but the water’s chill seized me like poison. I was being held down, the water was rising and almost to my face.