“Try not to blush when in walks your crush.” I read the underside of the Magic Hat bottle cap aloud from my perch at the front of the open faced kayak. I’m facing the wrong way, my paddle underneath my crisscrossed legs. Fog rolls over the harbor, marring the perfect streaks of pink and purple the sun had painted in the sky. The water still reflects the gold of a sunset and the promise of summer, but the well-worn Red Sox sweatshirt wrapped around me suggests otherwise.
“I like that one,” Nick says. I flip the cap at him, hitting him square in the face. “Hey, if you’re not going to paddle at least be nice.”
“Faster, slave. We have an island to explore.” I lie down in the massive kayak and sip my beer. He digs the paddle deep into the water, salt and foam spraying, droplets reflecting the last bit of light, showering my legs with icy water.
“Hey!” I sit up and grab my paddle, ready to use it as a lance or a means of soaking him.
“Get paddling then.” I turn around and realize we’re close to our destination. An island on the outskirts of the harbor, seemingly uninhabited. As we skim along the water, I spy a retail sign.
“Buy me an island?” I ask as we hit the thin stretch of sand acting as a shore. I hop out of the boat, and help pull it out of the water. The small island is essentially a tree covered hill. I can’t see much besides the scattering of broken glass and remnants of bonfires. I roll my bare foot over the blackened logs, ash sifting into the fine sand.
“What do you think is here?”
“The truth is slippery, like eels.” Nick responds, throwing another bottle cap at me. He pulls the kayak up a little further up the shore. I sit back down on it trying to finish my beer. “Get up lazy!” He grabs my hand and pulls me off the kayak, nearly knocking me over as I spill my beer onto the sand.
“Fine, fine. Take it easy, Lenny.” He rolls his eyes at me. I’d had to explain the reference to Of Mice and Men the first time I called him that. Considering he’s twice my size it’s a regular thing for him to accidentally knock me over when he’s trying to help.
There’s a set of crooked wooden stairs leading up the massive hill. It’s missing almost every other step; the wood splintered in places, nails sticking out in others. The thick green trees press in on either side, thorns pull at my hair and sweatshirt as I try to keep his pace up the steps. I have to skip several steps that are broken.
“Maybe I should’ve worn shoes” I mumble.
“You’re fine, my feet don’t hurt at all” he helps me up the last broken step, pulling out another beer from his pocket and handing it to me.
“Blow off all the show offs.” I read, raising my eyebrows at him. The harbor sparkles in the early evening from this vantage point. Boats nod up and down in the gentle water, lights on the top of their masts winking. The fog has gotten denser.
“Come on, let’s look some more.” He pushes his way through the trees, towards the center of the island. The rubble from the foundation of a house appears in the fog. I dart around the corner of the house, eager to explore. I can see another one in the dim lighting a little ways off.
“Beat you there,” I take off running towards the next foundation, trying not to trip on roots and thorns. I turn the corner of a crumbling wall, flinging myself behind the next ruined house. I can hear his footsteps. Just one more and-
“Ah got you!” I jump out at him. But it’s not him. Suddenly I’m looking down at a tuft of scraggly gray hair bent at an absurd angle. The figure is leaning on a knotted wood cane, matted gray hair hiding its face. It lifts up its gnarled claw of a hand and beckons me to come closer. What? Where the hell did Nick go?
“Go,” The stooped man? woman? specter?, lifts their cane off the pine-needled floor and smashes it against my shin- letting out a long wheezed laugh that ricochets off the surrounding trees. “There is a method to our madness” its harsh voice wheezes, the smell of rot hitting me, making me recoil.
I take off running again, faster this time. A light catches my eye in the dense fog. Turning my head I can see fire through a break in the trees, other figures bent over the flame, warming themselves. I don’t see Nick though. Or the massive branch that blocks my path, clipping my ankle and bringing me to the ground. The figures are facing me, but I can’t see their faces. All have the same matted hair, and are much closer than they were a few seconds ago. What is going on?
“Come on,” I feel a hand grab me by the sweatshirt pulling me to my feet. We trip down the hill, a rock piercing my foot; the feeling we’re being followed pressing on my back. But Nick pulls me swiftly behind him, back to shore. I hurl myself back onto my perch at the front of the boat as he pulls it into the water. Pushing us off the island and into the night, Nick jumps in the back. Frantically I grab my paddle and plunge it into the now black water. I was paddling now, that’s for sure.
“Well that was weird,” Nick laughs.
“That was creepy! What was that?”
“I don’t know, hobos? But we’re okay now,” he says with rubbing my shoulder, passing me another beer.
One last bottle cap: There is a method to our madness.