by Katrina Basnett
Phoebe pushed the rowboat off the beach with her back, her feet slipping on the sand until the hull gave way and slid into the ocean. Without the boat to lean on, she fell backwards onto the rapidly cooling sand. She brushed herself off and took off her shoes to climb into the boat, bringing her black sandals with her. Using a paddle she pushed off the beach and propelled herself into the ocean.
The sea was calm tonight, barely a wave displacing the glassy surface of the water. All Phoebe could hear was the gentle rush of the hull through the water and the soft splashes of the oars as she pulled and stretched rhythmically. The hills full of trees rose above her as she swished along the edge of the cliff towards her destination.
Phoebe had been planning this expedition ever since the beginning of the summer, when her cousins had been telling ghost stories around the campfire after they thought she’d fallen asleep. Phoebe didn’t believe in ghosts, but there was something in the story Maxie had told that drew her in. Maxie said that the ghosts of those who drowned around the cove gathered on the little island off Mariner’s Rock. The island was forbidden, so much so that the adults were afraid to even speak of it. According to Maxie’s tale, this was because anyone who got too close to the island was pulled under the waves by the ghosts, and were never seen again.
Rubbish, Phoebe had thought as she lay in her sleeping bag with her back to the campfire. As she thought about it further, however, there was something strange about the island. It could rarely be fully seen from the beach or Mariner’s Rock, and even on the warmest summer day wisps of fog seemed to dance around it. While Phoebe told herself ghosts weren’t real, she had to admit there was something wrong with the island. Yet she had had no desire to explore it until Johan had knocked on their door in the middle of the night, chattering about ghostly figures floating around the island. He’d screamed when she’d come down the stairs to see what was the matter, calling her a ghost and an abomination before Mother had told him it was only Phoebe, strange, silent Phoebe who everyone ignored and no one liked.
This had given Phoebe an idea. As she slipped through the calm waters towards Mariner’s Rock at the end of the cove, she wondered again if Johan had really seen people that looked like her. She had always felt like she was born in the wrong place. She looked nothing like her fair haired, tanned cousins or parents. Phoebe’s hair was too dark, her skin too pale, and her light blue eyes were far too big to ever fit in in a school photograph, or not attract a stare or two as she did her mother’s errands on the one main street in town. Perhaps – such a great yet such a tantalizing perhaps – the people who lived on the island were people like her. Perhaps, she thought as she stirred her hand through her reflection in the water, the island was where she could truly belong.
Mariner’s Rock, that monstrous object rounded by wind and waves, loomed above Phoebe and her little boat as she rounded the corner at the very end of the cove. Phoebe had often amused herself on crabbing days by looking for faces in the little holes in the rock’s ancient face. Tonight she rowed straight past. The dark shape, though Phoebe was loath to admit it, was a little frightening in the darkness. The silence, too, was the tiniest bit eerie. Phoebe wished she had brought a lantern of some kind. The moon, while half of its full size, didn’t give off enough light to dispel the shadows cast by outcropping and rocks against the cliff. It did, however, show her that the dark shape of the island was not too far away now, a pleasant thought for Phoebe’s aching arms. She attacked the water with the oars with renewed force.
A sudden wind whipped her bangs across her forehead. “Curses,” she said. Something murmured back from behind her right shoulder. She looked back, and saw only the shape of the cliff looming above her. The wind had pushed her back a bit. She put her back into the movement of the oars and was pleased to see herself moving quickly forwards, away from Mariner’s Rock. The island was closer now. Phoebe pushed against the water, feeling her heartbeat begin to race, pounding in her head and almost drowning out the swish of the water. Nearly there, she thought.
A wisp of fog stroked her cheek, feeling cold and wet against her skin. She looked towards where the cliff should have been and saw only grey clouds of fog. It wasn’t the kind of fog that rolled into the cove in a sheet on autumn mornings, either. This fog looked like clouds that had fallen to earth from the heavens. Phoebe reached out her hand and ran her fingers through the fluff. “Beautiful.”
There was more murmuring. Phoebe looked around, but all she could see was fog. She couldn’t see the island anymore, either. Perhaps she was close enough to have alerted the island’s inhabitants to her presence, and they had come to investigate.
“Hello?” she called into the fog.
“Hello?” answered the distant voice of the unknown island person.
Phoebe smiled. There was someone there after all, perhaps someone who looked like her. She allowed herself a small glimmer of hope, but contained it. It could turn out to be an ordinary fisherman of the same sort of the inhabitants of the cove. “Is there someone there?” she called out.
“Someone there?” the voice repeated.
“I’m here. I’m Phoebe.”
“Phoebe?” it said.
“Hello!” Phoebe thought it best to be polite, though she thought to herself the islander didn’t seem terribly bright.
“Hello,” the voice replied.
A bit of movement caught Phoebe’s eye. She saw a figure in greyish white rising above her little boat. An adult, she thought. She couldn’t quite make them out through the fog. “Hello?” she said, reaching out her fingers to see how close the islander was.
“Hello?” said the voice. It seemed to be behind her. Phoebe looked, then pulled her fingers back as a sharp pain sliced her fingertips. There was a thin line of blood on each fingertip. She frowned. The figure wasn’t there when she looked back. Perhaps she wasn’t welcome?
There was a crunch, and Phoebe’s boat rocked violently. She squeezed the sides of the boat, ignoring the pain as splinters of wood dug themselves into her fresh cuts. The noise split the still air and sounded like the crack of a tree branch when it gave way under someone’s weight. Phoebe felt something cold on her bare feet. She reached down and brushed her sandals. The bottom of the rowboat was full of water, and in the seconds Phoebe’s hand remained in it it crawled from her wrist to halfway to her elbow. Phoebe screamed, and the voice echoed the sound, as though mocking her. The weight of her skirt dragged at her legs as she tried to swim. A figure blocked her path, and she reached for it as the water dragged at her clothes and hair. There was, she realized, a fast current around the island. Phoebe struggled to get away from the dark shapes and back to the open sea to no avail. The back of her head knocked against something cold and hard, and she screamed again. The voice echoed the sound as the water closed over her head.
Katrina Basnett is graduating high school and generally terrified. She enjoys writing strange fiction.
Image credit: Matthijs via Flickr, All Creative Commons. Image is of an ocean covered in fog, with a small rusty looking ship to the left and the edge of the marina dock on the right.