Dark Island by Steve Carter
This week Chuck at Terribleminds had us roll for our titles.
The boat’s small outboard motor lost its place as the only sound when Jessica spoke.
“I still don’t think this is a good idea.”
Carl rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you’ve made that pretty clear. But we need you, Jess. You’re the one who looked up the legends in the first place.”
“They’re just legends. I don’t see why we have to come out here.”
“For the truth!” That came from John, who sat by the engine to steer the boat. “You said yourself there are a lot of unanswered questions about Lindsey Swanson and how she died.”
Jessica didn’t say anything. She stared into the fog. It wasn’t uncommon for the vast lake near their town to be blanketed in swirling gray, especially in the morning, but usually strong winds from the hills came down to clear things up, and let those living on the edge of the lake see the faint outline of the small island in the middle of the lake. But today, there was no wind. It was calm. Quiet. And silent.
Jessica felt another chill go through her body.
“It’ll be fine.” Carl gave Jessica a smile. “You’ve got the knowledge, John’s got the boat, I’ve got the gear. Not to mention the military training.”
“You’ve been in ROTC all of a semester and a half, dude.”
“Shut up, John, it’s still military training!”
“Quiet, both of you.” Jessica’s voice was a soft hiss. “We’re here.”
Up close, the island loomed out of the mists. The mound was mostly wooded, and Jessica’s research indicated a cabin sat in the middle of it. John leaned away from the outboard engine.
“Any chance someone’s still living there?”
“As far as anybody knows, it’s been abandoned since the 1880s.” Jessica crossed her arms. “Reports of people coming out here are sketchy, at best.”
“Not so sketchy anymore.” Carl pointed. “Look.”
On the shore of the island, a few boats lay scattered on the rocks. Two were aluminum canoes, one a wooden kayak, the others larger craft like the one they were using. Jessica turned to John, whose face had gotten considerably more pale. Carl pulled out his phone and started taking pictures.
“Instagram,” he told the others. “No way we’re getting lost without a trace, or anything.”
“Stop it.” John eased the motor down as they approached the shore. “There’s nothing here. It’s just trees and stuff.”
Jessica picked up her backpack, which contained a few flashlights, a bottle of water, her camera, and a notebook with her research and notes. Neither Carl nor John had brought much besides the contents of their jeans, as far as she could tell. John guided the boat within a few feet of the shore, and Carl hopped out of the boat to pull it up onto land. The three got out, and Jessica handed out the flashlights.
“Just in case we need them.”
“I’m telling you, there’s nothing here. We should just leave.”
“Come on, John, we’re already here. We might as well take a look around.”
“And if there’s nothing here, there’s nothing for us to worry about, right?” Jessica gave John a smile that belied the creeping feeling under her skin. “Let’s head up the hill and have a look.”
The fog made travelling through the forest slow. All three of them watched their footing more than anything else. As they approached the summit, a dark shape loomed out of the mists. Jessica felt, simultaneously, vindication for being right and an even more pronounced sense of dread.
“Okay. So, there’s a cabin. Great. Can we go now?”
Carl ignored John, reaching under his shirt. “You said nobody’s supposed to be leaving here, right, Jess?”
Carl produced a pistol and pulled back its slide, checking its action. “Just making sure.”
“What? Carl, why did you bring a gun?”
“I’m being prepared.”
“Jess brings flashlights and water and God knows what else, and all you can think to bring is a gun?”
“Look, your pencilneck…”
“Shut up, both of you!” Jessica wanted to yell, and struggled to keep her voice down. “Let’s just look inside, take some photos, and get out. Okay? Carl, put the gun away.”
“Do it.” She walked past him and reached for the handle of the cabin door. It swung open on its own.
“I’m going back to the fucking boat-”
Before John could finish speaking, Carl grabbed him by the collar and pulled him into the cabin. Jessica rolled her eyes and followed. Their flashlights penetrated the gloom, moving over smashed plates, rotted food, animal carcasses, and floors stained with blood.
“Is it just the one floor?” Carl asked. Jessica shrugged. She looked past the threshold within the room to the bedroom, then moved her light over a metal ring set in the floor. A gentle tug opened the trapdoor, and she moved her flashlight to peer into the darkness.
“Looks like a root cellar.”
“I’m not going down there,” John whispered. “You can’t make me.”
“Now, listen, you little-”
In turning to face John, Carl bumped into Jessica, sending her down the dark stairs in a tumble. There weren’t many stairs, eight or so at most, but Jessica still managed to strike her head on one of them. For a moment, everything was dark.
A sharp, loud sound she’d never heard before snapped her back to her senses. She tried to stand, but the ceiling was low. She smelled smoke, like something burning, and looked up to see a thin haze at the top of the stairs.
The sound, again, accompanied by a bright flash of light. Gunfire! It was a lot louder than on TV. Something moved in front of the cellar door – Jessica couldn’t make out what it was, but it almost looked like the hem of a white dress.
John came down the stairs, like he’d been tossed. His face was covered in blood, his eyes wide and unblinking.
Jessica screamed, and the cellar door slammed shut.