Saturday, October 08, 2005

Discovery at Little Hog Island, Chapter 1: The Warning

i. The warning

Dana stood poised at the edge of the sea in her bathing suit. A rough wind tossed and tangled her hair. She studied the island, its rocky shore and the tangle of dark hemlocks and spruces. Sweeping away, barely visible behind the trees, was a barren rocky spit with birds flying in and out. Her birds, terns, by the look of it. The island was wild, intriguing and tempting, and close enough to swim to. She stepped between the rocks into the shockingly cold water, and paused, shivering.

A man coming up the beach waved his arm urgently. She considered going on, but decided to wait and stepped back onto the damp sand.She was a little embarrassed because she no longer trim, but bulged a little in her suit. The man was fully dressed and did not look as if he would ever wear swim trunks. He was gruff-looking, weather-beaten and sported a two-day beard. He looked to be fifty-ish, about her age.

“You thinking of swimming out to Little Hog Island?” He asked. “Not from these parts, eh?”

“Yeah, I thought I’d swim out and back. I like a destination, when there’s one nearby."

“I need to warn you: it’s not safe. The way the tide comes in and out around the island, there are currents, and they get very fast. People have died trying to swim out there, visitors. Most of the locals know better. Ask anyone. Want to swim? Go over the dunes there and swim in the lake. It’s warmer, too.”

“Thanks,” Dana said, as the man turned and strode back down the beach among the rocks.

She looked back at the island, considering the man’s words. The island was so close, and she couldn’t see any currents. She looked at his back retreating through the rocks. He turned and saw her looking at him, and paused. She stepped back up the beach.

She went over the dunes and found a lake, picturesque amid the pines. After she’d swum, she lay on a blanket and half-dozed, thinking and dreaming of the island until voices woke her. A some teens set up a volleyball net and were playing, diving for the ball, leaping high. From their banter, she gathered they were locals.

“Excuse me,” she asked, “Has anyone drowned swimming out to Little Hog Island?”

“Yes,” a girl said, “a couple people, three or four. I guess there’s bad currents there.”

“Have any of you been out there?” The kids all shook their heads.

“My Grandpa said he’d been out there, and kids used to go out when he was a kid. I guess the current shifted. He said there was some ruins.” one boy said.

“But you never went out to look?”

“Nah, never thought about it much.”

Dana couldn’t stop thinking about it. As soon as it got dark, she hauled her inflatable kayak out of the trunk of her car and blew it up. She felt like a spy or a criminal. If there were bad currents, she would avoid them. She paddled along the shore until she was well past the island, then out to sea, and then back around. She landed without incident on the far side of the island and stowed the kayak in the bushes. Then crept carefully up a narrow path through the darkness, shining her flashlight with a red gel on it low to the ground.

Did she think she was some kind of sleuth? Who was she kidding? Her imagination was overactive, probably, thinking that man was trying to hide something. And if he were, would she be able to find it? Then what?

The trail climbed steeply, winding between rocks and a thicket of trees, and then opened into a clearing. There were ruins dimly visible, stonewalls, foundations, a small stone building that looked intact. There was a light coming from the window—and voices.

Originally posted April 25, 2005

ii. footlockers

Dana crept along the tumbled edges of the ruins, carefully stepping over and around fallen stones. She pressed close to the wall, but if anyone came out with a flashlight, they would see her. There was nowhere to hide. This is really stupid, Dana thought, Why am I doing this?

When she got to the window, she slowly, carefully raised her head and peered in. Her heart was racing.

Four men were playing cards by the light of a kerosene lamp. The one facing the window, was the man who had warned her not to swim to the island. He was looking at the cards in his hand and did not see her. Dana walked past the door and past the next window, which was dark. She climbed over the crumbled wall, walked along the intact wall, past three more windows, and turned to walk behind the building. She was hoping to reach one of the other windows where she could look in without being spotted by someone coming or going.

But someone was behind the building. Dana heard him crashing around, saw his light moving. She crouched in the deep shadows between the wall and some tumbled stone. There was another building out there. In the light of the man’s flashlight, it looked like a stone shed. The man went in, banged around a little, and then was silent. A little while later, he reemerged and went back to the card-game building.

Dana waited a little while, and then walked over to the shed. A rusty padlock hung on a hasp. She looked for a window, then realized the lock had not been pulled shut. She slipped it off, pulled the loop from the hasp, swung the door slowly open, and peered in. On the wall were rusty swords and bayonets. Footlockers were stacked on either side of the inside of the shed. Dana opened one. Guns. More guns. On the other side, grenades. Dana shut the lids and headed for the door.

A light shown in her face.

“What have we here?” asked a voice. It was the man who had warned her about the tides.

Originally posted April 27, 2005

iii. Buck Skillin

He looked her up and down. "You don’t look wet," he said.

"No, I took your advice and did not swim out here." Dana heard her voice come out calmly and normally, though inside it felt squeezed with fear.

"Good choice," the man said, gruffly, his voice low and gravelly. "So what did you do, fly?"

"I paddled."

"At night? That ain't exactly safe, either," he drawled. "Why are you standing in the munitions shed? What are you doing here?"

"I was just curious. I wanted to look around."

"You could see better during the day. Name's Skillin. Buck Skillin." He held out his hand. She took it gingerly. It was warm and dry. Hers was clammy with fear. "And you?"

"Dana. Dana Waznik."

"Wanna Beer?"

"A beer?" Dana heard her voice rise with surprise, almost incredulity.

"You a TEE-totaler?"

"No. I just didn't expect you to offer me beer?"

"Why not, seems like the polite thing to do when you have company. Come on, I'll introduce you to the guys."
Buck Skillin turned and walked back toward the stone building. Dana followed, still feeling nervous. She didn’t know if she should bolt for the darkness, grab her kayak, and paddle madly away. But she didn’t. She followed Buck. He held the door for her.

"Boys," he said, "We have company. Four faces turned toward Dana. They all rose to their feet. They did not look happy.

Originally posted April 28, 2005

iv. accusations

The men formed a semi-circle around Dana.

"So," said one, who was tall, thin, angular, and scruffy, "We have a spy, do we?" His voice was even lower and more gravelly than Buck's."

"I'm not a spy," Dana started, her voice sounding high and nervous.

"Simon," Buck said. "Get our friend Dana a beer. Bring another chair, Garrett."

Two other men disappeared in opposite directions.

"Come have a seat," Buck said, pulling the chairs clustered around the table into a wider circle. "You play Black Jack?"

Dana took the seat he offered. It was the one he’d been sitting in. She shook her head.

"Poker?""Well, occasionally, for fun."

Simon came back with a six-pack of beer. He was young and blond, sunburnt. His nose was peeling. Garrett came back with a chair. Buck took it and sat beside Dana."Deal us a hand, Glenn," Buck said.

Glenn was the lean man who’d asked if she was a spy. He dealt out a hand, looking at Dana from under bushy eyebrows that were knitted together in the center like a bushy caterpillar. He glared at her.

Buck handed around the beers. "This here is Willie," he said, indicating the last man. Willie was a stocky man, slightly pudgy around the face. He had a bland dull look and unfocused eyes. He nodded at Dana, his eyes never turning toward her.

"Don’t mind Willie," Buck said, "he’s a little under the weather." Buck opened Dana’s beer and handed it to her.Willie nodded slightly.

Glenn snorted. He popped open his beer, took a huge slug, and turned to Dana. "So," he repeated, glaring at her, "you’re a spy."

Originally posted 4/29/05

v. Glenn

"I gotta hand it to you, Simon said, "You're the first spy who penetrated our defenses."

"An unprecedented act of heroine-ism," Garrett added. They all laughed. Willie nodded.

"I'm not a spy. I'm a camper. I was just curious."

"More than curious," Glenn said. "Downright nosy."

"Now, Glenn," Buck said, "be polite. Dana is company."

"Unwanted company," Glenn snorted, "Unwanted and unwelcome."

Willie nodded. The others all nodded along with him. Everyone but Buck.

"Put your hands on the table, Dana, palms down," Buck said. Dana did as she was told. She looked down at her hands. They were not typical women's hands. They were tan and scratched, covered with cuts and bruises and reddened bumps of poison ivy. Dana liked taking pictures of wildflowers and was always crawling around in the bushes. She remembered an advertisement for some dish detergent, Dove maybe, or was it Palmolive, where a mother and daughter laid their smooth, lily-white hands next to each other. Their perfect unblemished hands. Dana's hands did not pass muster.

Buck placed his hands on the table beside Dana's. Buck clearly worked with his hands. They were thick and strong, tanned, scarred, and had as many cuts as Dana's. There were embedded with some kind of grime that looked as if Buck had tried to scrub out and failed.

The other men stared. Then Willie placed his hands on the table. They looked much like Buck's. Garrett followed suit. His hands were similar, except Buck's fingers were longer. Simon laid his hands down. The hands all nearly matched. They were sturdy, battered and dirty.

Everyone turned to look at Glenn. He stared at Dana. His eyes were black, narrowed, and full of hatred.

originally posted 4/29/05

vi. hands

Dana cringed and looked away. She looked at Buck's hands, and then at Buck. Buck looked calmly serene and strangely handsome in a rough sort of way. He sat looking at Glenn with a small smile playing around the edges of his mouth. Everyone waited without moving or speaking. They all looked toward Glenn. Dana looked back at Glenn. He was still staring at her with utter malice. Then, in an exaggerated motion, he slowly lifted his arms and placed his hands on the table. His face darkened.

originally posted 4/30/05

vii. when the chips are down

Now all eyes turned toward Buck. Dana looked to Buck, too. She had no clue what was going on, but it was obvious that whatever it was, Buck was in charge. Buck sat with his hand flat on the table and the small smile on his lips widened slightly. He sat grinning and silent. The others looked toward him expectantly. "Maybe we could initiate her," he finally said, very quietly. "That's impossible," Glenn snorted. "She's female." Garrett said. "She’s a camper, and a transient," Simon said. "We don’t know if she's eligible," Willie whispered, shaking his head. Buck picked up a stack of blue poker chips and moved them toward the center of the table. Everyone stared. He set another pile out. "Fifty says she's eligible. Double or nothing." No one moved. "Don’t matter," Glenn said. "Even if she is she ain't." He turned and glared openly at Dana.

originally posted 5/1/05

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