Island, p.26
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       Island, p.26
 

           Richard Laymon

  I crouched, drew the razor out of my sock, and flipped open its blade. Then I made my way slowly toward the area where we’d been attacked. I crept along, turning, checking to my rear and sides, glancing in every direction.

  Not far from the edge of the chasm, I found Connie’s beach-towel vest. The last time I saw her, she’d been wearing it. Now it lay crumpled in shadow beside a block of stone. I clamped the razor handle between my teeth, then crouched and picked up the vest. I spread it open and studied it. The stripes looked like different shades of gray in the moonlight.

  The vest appeared to be free of blood—another good sign.

  I couldn’t leave it behind. I wanted to keep my hands free, though. Wearing the vest seemed like the best solution, so I put it on.

  And felt closer to Connie. As if the vest was a living part of her, keeping company with me. (This explained a lot about why Kimberly had gone around almost constantly in her dead husband’s Hawaiian shirt.)

  While still crouched in the place where I’d found the vest, I spotted a wadded rag and picked it up. Though it was dark with dry blood, I wasn’t alarmed. It appeared to be the piece of old T-shirt that Connie’d been using as a bandage for her shoulder. She must’ve lost it along with the vest.

  I dropped it, took the razor out of my teeth, stood up and continued my search.

  I probably looked like a madman, roaming through the night with my wicked straight razor - and wearing not a stitch except for the vest and one sock. A demented Crusoe. A castaway Sweeney Todd.

  Anyway, I continued my search of the battlefield.

  The ax and rope were gone. I found none of our makeshift spears or tomahawks, either.

  Nor could I find the Swiss Army knife.

  I looked very carefully for that, not only walking a grid pattern over most of the area, but getting down on all fours to study the ground in the vicinity where I’d last been holding it.

  The knife wasn’t there. Except for Connie’s vest and bandage, it appeared that nothing had been left behind. Someone must’ve carried away everything that had fallen (including the women?).

  I didn’t find blood on the ground, though. Which gave me more reason for hope. If Wesley had used his machete on anyone, vast quantities would’ve gotten spilled. Even though several days had gone by and I was doing my search by moonlight, a mess like that should’ve been easy to spot.

  Unless someone had cleaned it up.

  I pictured Thelma on her knees with a bucket and scrub brush. Ridiculous.

  In some other setting, dirt and leaves might’ve been spread around to cover telltale blood. Not here, though. Most of this area was bare rock.

  If blood had been spilled, much of it would’ve remained for me to find.

  Nobody’d been chopped or slashed or stabbed to death, not on our field of battle.

  Before leaving, I crawled to the edge of the chasm and peered down.

  Nothing at the bottom except Matt.

  He appeared to be on his back, the way I’d left him. Staring up at me.

  He was not staring up at me; he had no eyes. Down there after turning him over, I’d gotten a good look at his face. It had been smashed apart: nose flat, cheekbones and mouth demolished, nasty little craters where his eyes should’ve been.

  But I felt him staring up at me. My skin crawled.

  What if he gets up and starts climbing out?

  A dumb thought, but mine.

  It creeped me out plenty.

  The moment I was sure that nothing new had been tossed into the chasm, I backed away from the edge.

  One more quick look around the scene of our ‘last stand,’ then I scrammed.

  For a while, I couldn’t get Matt out of my head. We’d been almost like buddies when I was down at the bottom with him. But now I felt as if he hated me. Maybe because I’d gone off and left him?

  I pictured his mutilated, rotten corpse scurrying up the chasm wall, coming after me.

  Stupid. But you know how it is. You get some sort of spooky crap into your mind, and it’s hard to get rid of.

  Trying to get away, I got lost and went in circles for a while. I half expected to rush around a boulder and bump into Matt. Didn’t happen, though. Finally, I came to the stream.

  By then, I figured I’d given him the slip. (I know, I know, I’m nuts. I was spooked. So sue me.)

  Anyway, I felt better and better as I followed the stream downhill toward the lagoon. An irrational relief at leaving Matt behind. More than that, though, I felt a growing sense of elation about my women.

  Sure, they might be dead.

  I doubted it, though.

  No bodies at the scene of the fight. And no blood.

  It now seemed more likely than not that they’d been taken alive.

  If you take people alive, you probably want to keep them that way. Otherwise, why not just go on and kill them in the first place? Save yourself the trouble of tying them, taking them somewhere, risking an uprising or an escape.

  By the time I reached the top of the waterfall, I felt certain that I would be able to find my women alive, and rescue them.

  I felt great!

  So great that I had an urge to leap off the falls - in spite of knowing the water at the bottom was only waist-deep.

  Already wrecked enough from various plummets, I fought off the urge and made my way down to the lagoon by foot. I stopped on the flat rock by the side of the falls and made sure the razor was secure in my sock. Then I took off Connie’s towel-vest and rolled it into a bundle.

  After lowering myself into the water, I raised the vest overhead with one hand. I kept it dry all the way to the other side of the lagoon. Not climbing out, I tossed it onto the same rock where I’d left my shorts, etc.

  Then I spent about fifteen minutes having a very pleasant time: floating on my back, sometimes swimming, just relaxing in the smooth warmth of the water, relishing the way it slid over my body, always very aware that it was like a magic vanishing fluid: I could make parts of me, or all of me, disappear at will.

  For a while, I felt as if I’d found a wonderful new home.

  I would abandon our camp at the beach, and live at the lagoon.

  Over near the north end, I saw a place where a slab of rock the size of a dining-room table slanted down into the water. I had probably seen it before, but paid no attention. This time, though, it caught my eye. Though the rest of the shoreline was either dark or dappled with specks of moonlight, the special rock was brightly illuminated. It must’ve been aligned perfectly with the moon and a break in the treetops. It looked pale and smooth like a patch of snow.

  I wanted to climb on.

  I wanted to lounge on that glowing white slab and bathe in the moonlight.

  I swam most of the way over to it, then waded.

  When I first started wading, the water came as high as my shoulders. With each step, the level lowered a little. It was waist-deep when I stepped into something soft and squishy that wrapped around my foot and tripped me. I fell headlong with a splash, and my foot pulled free.

  Whatever had grabbed my foot, it wasn’t like anything that I’d ever stepped on before.

  I didn’t know what the hell it might be.

  Standing again, I turned around. Nothing to see except black water and a few shiny coins of moonlight shimmering on the surface.

  I had my ideas about what had tripped me.

  I needed to find out for sure.

  So I took a deep breath and bent down into the water, reaching toward the bottom with both hands. At first, nothing. I walked slowly, moving my arms.

  Instead of finding the thing with my hands, I bumped it with my right foot. I kept my balance, though, and didn’t fall. After coming up for air, I went down again, bending and crouching, and explored it.

  A naked woman.

  She was split wide open from sternum to crotch.

  She had a load of stones where her guts should’ve been.

  When I figured it out, I screamed or some
thing. I’m not sure what I did, exactly, but I took in a mouthful of lagoon. I popped up choking. I would’ve screamed my head off then, except that I couldn’t breathe. I could only cough and gasp for air and cough some more.

  When I was breathing again, I just stood there and shook.

  I wanted to be miles away.

  But how could I leave without knowing who it was?

  I’d touched her enough to know that she was a woman, that she’d been gutted and stuffed with rocks - probably to keep her down. I hadn’t explored her well enough, however, to identify her.

  So down I went again, quickly, before I had time to change my mind.

  The first part I found was a shoulder. I held on to it with one hand, and explored with the other.

  I started with her face, feeling it with my fingertips but trying to keep away from her eyes. I did not want to touch her eyes; they might be open - or gone.

  Her mouth was open. I fingered her lips, touched the edges of her teeth, and tried to imagine the face that went with them. Which of the women had nice, straight teeth?

  In my memory, all of them.

  I ran my fingers through her hair. It felt limp and slippery and very short. Kimberly had much longer hair than this, so she was ruled out (unless someone had cut it). Thelma, Connie and Billie all wore their hair very short.

  I had my hopes pinned on Thelma—though she seemed unlikely, being Wesley’s ally.

  After surfacing to take another breath, I went down again.

  I wasn’t exactly thrilled about touching the breasts of a corpse, but I figured the size of them would tell me plenty. So I took them in my hands. (My first time ever to actually handle bare breasts, and it has to be like this.) They were too large for Kimberly or Connie. Though big, they didn’t feel enormous like Thelma’s. They seemed to be about Billie’s size.

  Billie.

  God, I sure didn’t want it being her. But it had to be Billie. Nobody else had breasts the right size.

  In a frenzy of despair, I went at the body with both hands. I felt her wide shoulders, and how her sides tapered in, then flared out at the hips. I felt the solid thickness of her thighs.

  Not just the breasts had Billie’s shape and size.

  She felt like Billie all the way up and down.

  No!

  I went a little nuts and straddled her and dug into her split torso with both hands and started snatching out the rocks that someone had packed in to keep her down.

  Someone?

  Wesley!

  Wesley-fucking-Duncan Beaverton III.

  How could he do it to her! How could he kill my Billie? How could he ruin her this way?

  I suddenly thought, If Billie’s like this, why not the others?

  Why not Kimberly and Connie? Maybe they, too, were sprawled on the bottom of the lagoon, hollowed out and stuffed with stones.

  I kept digging rocks out of the woman under me.

  When I ran out of breath, I flung my head up out of the water and yelled at the top of my lungs, ‘Wesley! You fucking cocksucking load of shit! I’m gonna kill you! I’m gonna cut you to pieces and make you EAT ’em, you motherfucking asshole!‘

  I cried while I yelled.

  And I kept on yelling.

  I yelled a lot of things that don’t even bear repeating.

  With all the yelling and crying, I wore myself out. Finally, I quit. Then I just stood in the waist-deep water, panting for air.

  It took me a long while to calm down enough to let me hold my breath and go under again.

  She still held plenty of ballast.

  Instead of unloading the rest of it by the handful, I crouched beside her, took her by the upper arm and the back of her thigh, and lifted.

  Turned her over.

  Dumped her out like a canoe.

  Right away, she began to rise. I kept hold of her arm, and stood up. There were soft lapping sounds when she broke the surface. I could see, just barely, the dim, pale shape of her. In a few places, the moon put white marks on the skin of her back and rump. The patches of light scooted down her body as I floated her toward shore.

  I climbed onto the tilted slab of rock.

  Squatting at its edge, I lifted her by the arms. I staggered backward and dragged her up with me. She made sloshy sounds like someone rising out of a bathtub.

  I let go of her arms, but stayed kneeling above her head.

  The moon shone down like a spotlight onto us. A white spotlight, dimmed for gloomy atmosphere.

  Bright enough, though, to let me see a few things.

  She’d been beaten. Her back and buttocks were stained in places with gray blotches that appeared to be bruises. They were also criss-crossed with stripes as if she’d been whipped.

  She’d also been stabbed in the back many times. Each wound was a narrow slot, more than an inch long, with puffy edges. (Probably made by a blade about the width of the knives that I’d seen on Wesley’s belt when he leaped across the chasm.) I had a difficult time finding all of them - some were hidden among the lash marks. So I crawled alongside her body, searching them out, studying and counting them.

  I found eighteen stab wounds in her back.

  I found none in her buttocks.

  But I made a startling discovery there - something I might’ve noticed right away if my attention hadn’t been focused so completely on her injuries.

  Bruises and lash-marks aside, her buttocks were the same pale shade of gray as her lower back and her thighs.

  Where was her tan line?

  Billie, I knew, had stark borders between her tanned skin and the parts covered by her bikini. Where she wasn’t tawny, she was as pale as milk.

  With her black bikini pants gone, she would certainly look as if she’d changed into a new, white pair.

  She shouldn’t be all one shade, like this.

  For a few moments, I knew this wasn’t Billie. Then doubts came.

  Not enough time had passed, since I’d seen her last, for her tan to fade so completely. But several days had gone by. If she’d spent them naked in the sun, the white of her buttocks might’ve darkened enough to match the rest of her.

  And what about being submerged in the lagoon? Over a period of time, the water might’ve done something to her skin color.

  She hadn’t been in it very long, though.

  Not very long at all.

  From the start, I’d been vaguely aware that she seemed to be in decent shape for a dead person. I hadn’t given the matter much thought, though, except to be thankful that she wasn’t as repulsive as she might be. That is, she didn’t feel slimy or stiff or rotten.

  (Compared to Matt, she was a regular Sleeping Beauty.)

  Suddenly, it dawned on me that she was extremely fresh.

  I picked up one of her hands. Holding it close to my face, I studied the fingertips. They were pruned, all right. But not that much.

  I compared them to my own wrinkled fingertips.

  I’m no damn forensic pathologist, but it was suddenly obvious that she hadn’t been in the water for more than about an hour.

  She had probably still been alive while I was above the falls trying to find our battleground.

  If I hadn’t gotten lost up there (twice) ...

  If I hadn’t spent so much time looking around ...

  I might’ve returned to the lagoon in time to find her being murdered, gutted, stuffed, sunk.

  Maybe I could have saved her.

  Or maybe I would’ve gotten myself murdered, gutted ...

  Life and death, a matter of destinations and delays. Only they don’t tell you the right or wrong place to be, or when.

  I couldn’t bear the thought that I might’ve missed a chance, by such a slim margin, to save Billie’s life.

  I turned the woman over.

  Glimpsed the terrible chasm down the middle of her torso. Looked a bit longer at her breasts: bruises, welts, scratches, but no stab wounds. Then made myself gaze at her face.

  It was gray in the moon
light, etched and pocked with black shadows.

  Enough of it showed, though.

  This was not Billie’s face.

  This was the face of a woman I had never seen before, not even in my dreams.

  I swam back to the place where I’d left my stuff, found Andrew’s lighter, and returned to the body. Kneeling by her side, I studied her by the lighter’s small, shaky flame.

  She was definitely a stranger.

  Physically, she bore a lot of resemblance to Billie. They seemed to be similar in age, size, build, and hair color. Even their faces had much in common. I could see that this wasn’t Billie, but it would’ve been hard to describe the differences. This woman’s face had obviously been attractive, even beautiful, before her death.

  Her face, by the way, showed no signs of injury.

  (Wesley hadn’t wanted to spoil her looks, more than likely - just torture and murder her.)

  Before leaving, I dragged her a small distance away from the lagoon. I hid her in among some rocks - so I’d be spared the sight of her, maybe, if I should return to the lagoon in the near future.

  Speculations

  I’m now nearly caught up to the present. A good thing, too, because I’ve only got a few pages left in my notebook.

  I’ve had plenty of time to think about things.

  I think the dead woman was probably linked, somehow, to Matt. I think they lived together, here on the island, before our arrival. My guess is that they were married to each other.

  Wesley murdered Matt first - probably just before Thelma came into our camp and told us she’d bashed Wesley’s brains in. He would’ve expected us to go looking for his body as soon as we heard the news, so it would’ve been in position at the bottom of the chasm on Day Six, waiting for us. That was two days before I got thrown down on top of Matt’s remains.

  Wesley kept the woman alive, abusing her, and didn’t get around to killing her until shortly before I found her body in the lagoon two nights ago.

  Obviously, Thelma had a hand in things, too. They’re in it together. Partners, allies, accomplices.

  Some of this is just speculation, of course.

  But it makes sense to me.

  I wonder about a lot of things, though.

 
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