Copyright © 2010 Maggi Andersen
All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.
"I'm sure I saw something," I said, looking up and down the empty hallway.
"Perhaps there are rats," suggested Will.
"No, it was bigger, human-sized."
"Could it be a shadow from that tree, through the window?" asked Annie. Outside, a tree was buffeted its branches swinging wildly. A fresh sea wind had sprung up.
"Well, no one went through this door. We would have heard them. It has to lead to the attics," said Will. "I'd love to check them out, but never mind, we'll deal with that later. There's work to be done."
Will and I went to get the last of the provisions from the boat. He used the machete to cut a more defined path through the long grass, while my eyes and ears strained for signs of anything reptilian.
"Strange to find snakes on an island," Will said. "They must have been here for a long, long time."
Mom stored the supplies in the big cool larder while Annie set the table. We opened a few tins and washed tomatoes in the old sink, then sat down to a welcome meal of tuna salad. I followed it up with two huge slabs of cake and some cordial with a hint of rust. Will thought the water in the tank would be okay after all the rain and would improve when the pipes were used a bit.
After lunch, we continued our examination of the house, finding each room stuffed to bursting with old books and artifacts.
"There's some very interesting stuff here." Will scanned the shelves, oblivious to the dust coating his hair and clothes.
"Look at this," called Annie. She held an oddly shaped statue made of black stone. A man's head seemed to be coming out of the jaws of a large snake.
It revolted me. Will took it to the window and turned it slowly in the gloomy light.
"This is remarkable," he said. Hearing the excitement in his voice, I knew it must be something important. "It's made of granite. Another image of Quetzalcoatl, emerging from the serpent's mouth. Your great uncle Jake certainly had an interest in the Aztecs. See?"
He held it towards me. I saw Annie watching, so I swallowed, reached out a shaky hand, and held it in my trembling fingers. Its open jaws were menacing and dangerous. Despite my knowing it was just a piece of rock that would hurt no one, I handed it back as if it were too hot to hold and left the room.
I walked through the other rooms, all the time berating myself for my irrational fears. I was checking for books on the Aztecs on the shelves in the library when Annie joined me. I hoped she wouldn't ask me about it. She didn't. We searched shelf after shelf, and before long, my angst eased. We chatted about the house and made plans to get out and discover the island.
That night we took our candles to bed, just like we were living a hundred and fifty years ago. Mom and Annie shared one room and Will took the other. I volunteered to sleep on the overstuffed sofa in the living room with the huge fireplace. I liked the fact that its tall windows looked out through the trees to the water beyond, but when I snuffed out the candle, it became too dark to see anything. I settled down to listen to the strange night noises. Something crashed into a window and took off again, huge wings beating. Talk about things that go bump in the night! It was busier than the mall back home. Night birds called and something thrashed about in the undergrowth. I'd opened the window a crack so that fresh, salty air blew into the stuffy room, and before long, I drifted off.
I gasped. Someone stood near me. It felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room by a stifling, malignant force. I tried to open my eyes, but for some odd reason, I couldn't, and sweated with fear.
I fuzzily fought my way out of the dream and awoke. Gripping my blanket, I heard the floor creak as if someone crept over it, and then an odd sort of grinding, rumbling noise. I fumbled about until I found the matches and with trembling fingers, lit the candle. Chilled to the bone, and yet sweating, I held the candle high with shaking hands. Its feeble light swung back and forth around the room. My gaze raked every corner. There was nothing. No one. I leapt out of bed and examined every dark corner, but there was nowhere for anyone to hide. I tried to put the whole thing down to too much apple pie, but it still took every fiber of my being to snuff the candle out and lie back down on the sofa.
The impenetrable darkness become suffocating and I contemplated going to find Will. The moon came out, its silvery rays lightening the blackness to grey. Although everything in the room now became a dark sinister shape, I soon explained every object and placed every shape. My hand in front of my face, my heart gradually returned to its normal beat.
I swore I'd stay awake and forced my tired eyes to remain open, but I didn't count on exhaustion taking over and awoke hours later to the swell of bird song.
The first weak rays of sunshine lit up the windows. Shivering, I told myself what happened had to have been a dream. I threw back the blanket and mapped out a plan for our exploration of the island in my mind, but still the memory of the night before lingered. Hearing movement on the stairs, I went to tell the others.