Island, p.3
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       Island, p.3

           Richard Laymon
 

  As for Thelma, she’s sort of cute in a thick, blocky way, but nothing much to look at. I don’t mean to be unkind. She’s a pretty nice woman and I actually like her quite a lot most of the time. The whole trip, I haven’t once seen her in a bathing suit. She always wears a big floppy straw hat, a loose blouse that she doesn’t tuck in, baggy shorts, white socks and Reeboks.

  I probably shouldn’t be writing this stuff about the women. It’ll be embarrassing if someone happens to read it. Also, it sort of makes me look shallow and creepy. As if all I care about is how a gal looks in her bikini.

  That isn’t all I care about.

  The thing is, it’s probably easy to be nonchalant about gorgeous, semi-nude babes if you’re a handsome, confident guy who has nailed about fifty of them. But I’m eighteen, short and skinny and zitty. My name is RUPERT, for Godsake. (I was named after Rupert Brooke, the poet. He was a great poet, and I love his stuff, but if my parents had to pick a poet’s name for me, why not Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, or Walt Whitman? Rupert? Please! I guess I should count my blessings; at least they didn’t name me Wilfred, Ezra or Sylvia.)

  Anyway, I’m basically a shrimp with a dumb name and an attitude. Connie goes for me - to the extent that she does—because I’m nonthreatening, she thinks she generally controls me, and she often finds me amusing. There might be other reasons, but those are the most obvious.

  I think there are always other reasons for everything. Invisible reasons. Sometimes, they’re so well hidden that nobody knows about them at all.

  There might be some deep, dark reason why I’ve been going out with Connie. I hope so. Otherwise, it’s just because she’s the only gal at school who has ever shown the slightest interest in me. It certainly isn’t her glamorous looks or her winning personality.

  Among other things, she’s a real prude.

  I mean, I’ve gotten nowhere with her in the romance department.

  Which is about as far as I’ve gotten with most girls, which might explain why I’m so interested in looking at people like Kimberly and Billie.

  Or maybe there are hidden reasons.

  It’s almost too dark out here to see what I’m writing. I’ll quit now and go over to the campfire, where everyone else is.

  Day Two

  A Mysterious Disappearance

  Keith is missing.

  It must’ve happened while he was standing watch.

  Right after I joined the bunch sitting around the campfire last night, we had a discussion about whether we ought to take turns on guard duty. Most of us were against it. Why bother, since we’d been on the beach since late morning and hadn’t found any reason to consider ourselves threatened? But then Andrew said that, even if we didn’t seem to be in any danger, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, he thought we shouldn’t let the fire go out.

  ‘We ought to keep it going day and night till we’re picked up,’ he said. He was packing tobacco into his briar pipe as he spoke. ‘Don’t need to get caught with a dead fire when a search plane comes along. Besides, we let it go out and we’ll wind up lighting new ones all the time. That’ll get a bit more difficult after my Bic runs out of juice. I’ve stopped using it to light my pipe, of course.’ As he said that, he pulled a stick out of the fire and sucked its flame down onto the tobacco in his pipe. He puffed to get things stoked up. Then he explained that the men should take turns staying up to keep watch and feed the fire.

  There were three of us, and he figured about nine hours till morning. That meant that we would each have to stand a three-hour shift. (Finally, I get to participate as one of the guys! Thanks a heap, skipper.)

  Then Kimberly asked why the women weren’t being included in the guard duty. ‘Do ovaries disqualify us?’ she asked.

  Which made me laugh. Which won me some points with Kimberly and Billie, but didn’t seem to be appreciated by the others.

  There was a general discussion. It stayed friendly, and the decision was made that the women could be responsible for watch duty on the second night, if we’re still here by then. That ended the complaints.

  Andrew was supposed to take first watch, then wake up Keith, who would do his three hours and then wake me up at about four in the morning to keep an eye on things for the rest of the night.

  With that settled, we all turned in except Andrew, who remained by the fire.

  The night was warm and nice. We each made up our beds with assorted blankets, clothing, and whatnot that we’d either brought with us when we came for the picnic, or that Keith and the skipper had retrieved from the water. (Everything was dry by then.)

  All of us stayed in the general area of the fire. Couples made their beds together. Not Connie and I, though. We helped each other build separate sleeping places - side by side, but with a space between us. Which was fine with me.

  She gave me a goodnight peck on the mouth, then we retired to our rag piles.

  There was method in her arrangement.

  Billie’s bed was only about ten feet away. Once we were lying down, however, I couldn’t see her; Connie blocked my view.

  I might’ve been able to see Kimberly in the other direction, but she and Keith had insisted that Thelma share their quarters. It was nice of them. Otherwise, Thelma would’ve had to spend the first night of her widowhood alone.

  Kimberly, unfortunately, stretched herself out between Thelma and Keith. Which ruined any chance I had of watching her.

  Thwarted on both sides, I shut my eyes and let my imagination take over.

  The next thing I knew, someone was shaking me by the shoulder. I opened my eyes. It wasn’t Keith waking me up. And the sky wasn’t dark anymore.

  At first, I didn’t recognize the guy squatting over me. It was Andrew, of course. The skipper. But he was wearing nothing except his khaki shorts. I’d hardly ever seen him when he didn’t have on a T-shirt, sunglasses and ballcap. He had a gray fur all over his chest, his eyes looked sort of pale and bare, and he was bald and shiny on the top of his head. He seemed older than usual, and not as tough.

  ‘What’s going on?’ I asked.

  ‘You tell me.’ He didn’t sound angry. Concerned, though. ‘Why aren’t you up and standing watch?’ he asked.

  I had to think about that for a minute. Then I said, ‘Nobody woke me. Keith was supposed to, wasn’t he?’

  ‘And he didn’t?’

  ‘No. He was supposed to, though. Yeah. When he was ready for me to relieve him at four.’

  ‘That was the plan.’

  ‘If he didn’t wake me up, it’s not my fault. I mean, I haven’t got an alarm clock.’

  I sat up to see what was going on with Keith. Thelma and Kimberly were sleeping side by side, but Keith wasn’t there.

  I gave the whole area a quick scan, and didn’t see him anywhere.

  ‘Where is he?’ I asked.

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘Uh-oh,’ I said.

  ‘You don’t know?’

  ‘Huh-uh. I fell asleep right away. You were over by the fire, and Keith was with Kimberly. That’s the last I saw of anybody till now.’

  ‘I never took Keith as the sort to desert his post,’ Andrew said.

  ‘If he had a good reason.’

  ‘Such as?’

  ‘I don’t know, a bad case of the trots?’

  ‘He should’ve gotten you up three hours ago,’ Andrew said, making a point of the three hours part.

  A mighty long time to spend squatting in the jungle.

  ‘Maybe he decided to let me sleep ...’ I looked over at where the fire used to be. Only a smokeless pile of ashes remained. Obviously, nobody had fed the thing for hours.

  I suddenly got sort of a sickish feeling in the pit of my stomach.

  ‘What’s the matter?’ Connie asked, sounding groggy. With a yawn, she pushed herself up on one elbow. Her hair was a messy tangle, in spite of being almost as short as mine, and her T-shirt hung off her shoulder. She actually looked sort of cute that way. This was the first time
I’d ever seen her wake up in the morning.

  Andrew explained to her about Keith. ‘Did you notice anything last night?’ he asked.

  She yawned again and shook her head. Then she added, ‘I bet he went jogging or something. He’s such a fitness freak. Probably on the other side of the island by now.’

  ‘Maybe,’ Andrew said, but I knew he didn’t buy it. I’d noticed before how he sometimes agreed with his daughters and wife even when they were obviously wrong. It was just his way of keeping the peace.

  Anyway, our discussions were getting nowhere fast.

  So Andrew went over to Billie, bent down and shook her. She seemed to be quite a heavy sleeper. She moaned and rolled onto her side. She’d gone to sleep in her bikini, and wasn’t covered by anything else. Looking between Andrew’s legs, I saw that her upper breast had gotten dislodged a little. About half the nipple showed. I kept watching, hoping her entire breast would fall out. But then Andrew turned around, so I had to look the other way quick.

  ‘Honey, go on over and wake up your sisters, would you?’

  Connie groaned like it was a chore, but she followed orders. While she was on her way to where Thelma and Kimberly were sleeping, I got to my feet. I checked on Billie. She was sitting up and rubbing her eyes. One of her elbows was in the way, so I couldn’t see much of her bikini top.

  I turned my attention to the others. Connie nudged Thelma with her foot and said, ‘Guys, wake up.’

  Thelma, flat on her back, blinked up at her and scowled.

  Kimberly was covered to the shoulders by a blue blanket. (It wasn’t the good one that we’d brought with us to spread on the beach for our picnic. Andrew and Billie claimed that one.) Kimberly’s blanket had been retrieved from the inlet. A survivor of the boat explosion, it was missing a comer, had a rip down one side and a bunch of burn holes with dark, charred edges. I could see her skin through some of the holes.

  She didn’t move when Connie said, ‘Guys, wake up.’ Then came, ‘Keith’s disappeared.’

  Kimberly threw the blanket aside and sat up fast. Frowning, she swung her head from side to side as she got to her feet. She was still in her white bikini. She looked terrific. She also looked worried.

  Andrew and Billie were already striding toward her. (Billie had straightened her bikini top so nothing showed that wasn’t supposed to.)

  Kimberly said, ‘Dad, what’s going on? Where’s Keith?’ ‘We don’t know, honey. He was supposed to wake up Rupert at four, but he didn’t. From the look of things, he’s been gone a long time.’

  Kimberly suddenly shouted ‘Keith!’ toward the jungle. She got no answer, so she cupped her hands to the sides of her mouth and belted out, ‘KEITH!’

  Then we all started yelling his name.

  We even tried calling out in unison. That was Billie’s idea. She counted to three, and we all yelled ‘KEITH!’ at once.

  Then we waited, but no reply came.

  ‘Do you have any idea where he might’ve gone?’ Andrew asked Kimberly.

  ‘No. Are you kidding? He wouldn’t go anywhere, not when he’s supposed to be keeping watch. Not Keith. Except maybe for five minutes, if he had to go to the john. He wouldn’t take off for hours. No way!’

  I’d never seen her this upset. She wasn’t hysterical, though. She didn’t cry, but her voice sounded tight and she had a frantic look in her eyes like she wanted to scream for help.

  ‘Something’s happened to him,’ she said. ‘He’s had an accident, or ...’ She shook her head. ‘We’ve gotta go and find him.’

  We might’ve started a general discussion about the various possibilities, but Kimberly didn’t hang around. She picked up her shoes and started running toward the jungle.

  ‘Kim!’ Andrew yelled. ‘Wait for us.’

  Still running, she glanced back over her shoulder.

  ‘Stop!’ he ordered.

  She quit running, turned around, and walked backward toward the jungle.

  ‘Somebody should stay here,’ I suggested. ‘You know, in case Keith shows up. If he comes back and everyone’s gone...’

  ‘Good idea,’ Andrew said. ‘You wanta stay?’

  ‘No, but ...’

  ‘I’ll stay,’ Connie volunteered.

  ‘I don’t want you here by yourself,’ her dad said.

  ‘Rupert’ll stay with me.’

  ‘I want to help search for Keith,’ I said.

  The skipper pointed at me. ‘Stay with her.’ He dug into his pocket, came up with the lighter, and tossed it to me. ‘Get the fire going, Rupe.’

  ‘Aye-aye, sir.’

  Andrew, Billie and Thelma spent a couple of minutes picking up odds and ends such as shoes, hats, and sunglasses. Then they hurried to catch up with Kimberly.

  Before long, they vanished into the jungle. Connie and I stood by ourselves on the sand.

  ‘He’ll turn up,’ Connie said.

  ‘I hope so.’

  She frowned the way she does when she wants you to know she’s concentrating hard. ‘What do you think happened to him?’

  ‘He went out in the jungle to take a dump last night, and the local headhunters nailed his ass.’

  ‘Ha ha ha. Very funny. You’re sick if you think that’s funny.’

  ‘Maybe not headhunters,’ I said.

  ‘I should think not.’

  ‘Maybe a snake got him. I bet something did. Might’ve been one of those giant spiders I heard about - they’re indigenous to these islands. They have this special venom that turns your blood to acid so you burn up from the inside out.’

  ‘Yeah, right.’

  ‘Really.’

  ‘Get fucked,’ she told me, then spun around and walked off toward the water.

  ‘By you?’ I asked.

  ‘In your dreams,’ she said, not even glancing back.

  Not in my dreams, I thought. I didn’t say it, though. I’d already said enough, pretty much.

  She went in for a swim, so I built a new fire in the ashes of the old one. When the fire was going good, I fetched my pen and journal and got to work.

  The search party still hasn’t returned.

  Connie’s been leaving me alone.

  After swimming around for a while, she went climbing on the rocks at the point. (Good thing I didn’t leave my journal hidden up there. She probably would’ve found it and read it, and then I’d be in some real trouble.) Later, she climbed down and swam some more. Then she sprawled out on the sand. She’s acting like I’m somewhere else.

  We didn’t exactly have a model relationship before this trip, but it started to really deteriorate as soon as the others entered the picture. I think she considers it a big mistake that she asked me to come along.

  Oh, well.

  I’m having a good time, mostly, in spite of her.

  On the negative side of things, it’s not a good sign that the search party has been gone so long. I’m afraid something bad might’ve happened to Keith.

  I sure hope they’re all right.

  Shit! What if they don’t come back?

  I don’t want to think about that. Besides, it isn’t very likely.

  So long for now. I’ve got a few personal matters to take care of while I’ve got the place pretty much to myself.

  Keith Turns Up

  Oh, man. Oh, shit.

  The search party hasn’t come back yet. No wonder. They’re still out there looking for Keith, probably.

  I found him.

  I didn’t have to look far, either. Just up.

  Here’s what happened. Since there was nobody around, and I’d been holding things in for a while, I decided to take advantage of the privacy to answer nature’s call. I took a paperback book with me. Not for reading purposes. I figured I could start ripping out pages from the first half, which I’d already read. (It’s not that great a book anyway.)

  I went wandering over to the area that our group has been using since our arrival yesterday - in the jungle and a pretty good distance south of the stream
. It wasn’t very far to walk, and the foliage in there was thick enough so that you could disappear after just a few steps.

  Most everyone had gone in, at one time or another.

  It was the first place that Kimberly and the others had searched, too.

  But they’d missed him.

  I didn’t stop at the first likely trees, but went in a little deeper. After all, no telling when the searchers might return.

  I found a good place, and did my business.

  I had taken off my swimming trunks to make the job easier, so then I had to put them back on. The problem was, I hadn’t taken off my shoes. When I stood on one foot and tried to slip the other into the leg hole of my trunks, the heel of my Nike got caught and I lost my balance. I hopped and tried to work my foot loose. All of a sudden, though, I was out of control. My shoulder slammed into the trunk of a tree in front of me. The blow turned me, and I landed flat on my back.

  Which is when I found Keith.

  I’d crashed into his tree.

  It wasn’t a palm tree, by the way. The jungle here was full of regular, non-palm trees of maybe a zillion different varieties. This one looked like a normal tree - the sort that has a thick trunk, branches starting about ten feet up, and normal-sized leaves instead of fronds.

  Keith was a little higher than the first set of branches.

  All I saw, at first, was the bottom half of a naked man dangling almost directly above my face.

  I pulled my trunks on, fast as I could, then got out from under him.

  He was up there so high that I couldn’t see enough of his face to recognize him. There was no doubt in my mind, though. This was Keith. He’d lost his flip-flop sandals. He’d also lost his trunks. What he still wore was his bright green, blue and yellow Hawaiian-type shirt. It was fluttering in the breeze up there. And he was swaying just a bit from side to side.

 
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