‘Rupert,’ Billie said. She sounded upset, but still fairly calm. And she wasn’t whispering. Apparently, it was all right now for Connie to hear what she had to say. ‘Go on over to her,’ she told me. ‘Quick, okay? She’s sounding... I don’t know, I’m afraid she’s about to lose it.’
‘Lose it?’ Connie blurted. ‘You’re afraid I’m gonna lose it? Ho ho ho! Surprise, surprise! It’s lost!’
I started to hurry in the direction of her cage.
‘Connie?’ I asked.
‘Over here, Rupert. Right over here.’ The mocking, coaxing tone of her voice gave me the creeps. ‘I’m waiting for you.’
‘Hey,’ I said. ‘Take it easy.’
‘You miss me?’
‘Bet you missed my mother more.’
Right on the money, I thought. I said, ‘No, I didn’t.’
‘Liar, liar, pants on fire.’
From the direction of her voice, she seemed to be straight in front of me. I stopped walking, and faced her cage. Reaching out, I moved my hand from side to side.
The cage was too far away to touch.
Just the way I wanted it.
‘How about Kimmmmm-berly?’ she asked. ‘Bet you missed herrrr.’
‘I missed all of you.’
‘Bullll. Bull, bull, bull! You missed her more than me. You missed ’em both more than me. Admit it. You wanta fuck ‘em, don’t you! Or maybe you’ve already done it. Have you? Huh? Have you fucked my mom yet, Rupie? Or the fabulous Kimmmm-berly? Have you? How were they? Were they good and ... ?’
‘And you called Thelma a jealous dog?’ I said.
Which was not the best thing to say, just then. Connie screamed.
Not a fright-scream like you hear in the movies. This was a rage-scream, a shrieking snarl. ‘RAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!’
She sounded nuts.
My skin crawled.
I dug the lighter out of my pocket, raised it in front of me and thumbed it. A yellow flame spurted up.
‘Kill that light!’ Kimberly gasped.
I kept it going, and stared at Connie.
Still shrieking, she clung to the bars of her cage about halfway up the front. Her feet were planted wide apart, her knees bent, her back hunched. She jerked her body back and forth, up and down, as if she were trying to shake apart the cage.
Which didn’t budge.
I’d expected her to be filthy, for some reason. She looked clean, though. Clean, but shiny and dripping with sweat.
‘Rupert!’ Kimberly snapped. ‘Put that light out! They might see it from the house!’
My thumb stayed, holding down on the gas lever. The flame stayed up.
Connie stopped all her jerking and shaking. She stopped the shrieking, too. But she didn’t climb down. She clung to the bars, panting for air, and grinned at me.
She was too high on the bars for me to see her old shoulder injury from the time Thelma had thrown the rock over the falls. Her short blond hair was wet and clinging to her scalp, but there wasn’t any blood on it that I could see.
Her face looked okay.
If you forget about the wide, mad eyes and peeled-back lips. If you ignore the fact that she grinned at me like a maniac.
Which is to say, they’d been careful not to wreck her face.
From the neck down, her bare skin was a map of bruises, raw abrasions, scabs, welts, scratches and cuts.
The usual handiwork of Wesley and Thelma.
I groaned at the sight of her.
I muttered, ‘My God, Connie.’
‘Pretty as a picture,’ she said. She tilted her head to one side, and licked her lips. ‘Gimme a little kiss?’
Kimberly said, ‘You’d better get out of here, Rupe. They might’ve heard the screams. If they looked out and saw your light ...’
‘Come here,’ Connie said. ‘Come, come, come.’ Leering, she thrust her pelvis toward the bars. Somebody had shaved her. Instead of pubic hair, she had smooth, glistening skin. ‘Come and gimme a little kiss. Gimme a little kiss on the lips.’
As if to punish me for looking, for seeing what I shouldn‘t, my lighter suddenly died.
Blackness clamped down on us all.
I let up on the gas lever and got ready to strike the lighter again.
‘Go!’ Kimberly said. ‘Get going!’
‘No, no no,’ Connie said. ‘Come. Come right over here, Rupie. I got something for you.’
‘Rupert,’ Billie called from her distant cage. ‘Leave. Right now. Run. If they get their hands on you, we’re all finished. We won’t have a hope.’
Turning away from Connie’s cage, I scanned the darkness. In the jungle and down the trail, I saw a bit of moonlight - and nothing else but black and vague shapes of gray. No sign of the house. No sign of anyone.
I heard plenty.
Nothing that sounded like anyone approaching us.
If Wesley and Thelma realized I was out here, though, they wouldn’t come dashing after me, yelling and waving a torch. They would come in darkness and silence.
It might already be too late for me.
‘I got something for you, Rupie. Come a little closer. Or are you scared? You aren’t scared of me, are you? I won’t hurt you. Promise. I’ll make you feel real good.’
‘Bye, everyone,’ I said.
‘Oh, no you don’t!‘ Connie cried out.
I hurried away from her cage. Behind me, she shrieked and raged and called me horrible names.
Into The Lair
I stumbled through the jungle, feeling my way in the darkness, until I came to the edge of the mansion’s grounds. Staying in the bushes, I crouched low and peered out.
After the nearly complete blackness near the cages, the moonlit lawn and house seemed amazingly bright.
No sign of Wesley or Thelma.
I’d last seen them entering the house. Were they still inside?
Off behind me, Connie continued yelling things like, ‘You bastard, come back here!’ Billie and Kimberly were talking to her, trying to calm her down. Their voices, and Connie’s wild shouts, got mixed in with the usual squeals and squawks of jungle creatures.
I doubted that they could be heard inside the house. Even Connie’s first and loudest raging shriek had probably gone unnoticed by Wesley and Thelma. They might’ve caught the noise if they’d been standing, quiet and listening, near an open window in one of the front rooms. But the chances were against it. In a huge house like that, they were more likely not at a front window.
They probably weren’t standing quiet, either, straining to hear sounds from outside. More likely, they were doing something in there. Moving around, talking, sleeping, whatever.
It was unlikely that they’d heard Connie.
There seemed to be a better chance that they’d noticed the glow from my cigarette lighter. For one little dab of flame, it had really knocked a hole in the darkness. A fairly narrow strip of jungle separated the cages from the mansion’s lawn. If the foliage wasn’t really thick, the light might’ve been visible from the mansion.
It would’ve gone unnoticed, though, unless Wesley or Thelma happened to be watching from a front window.
After a while, I reached the conclusion that we’d overreacted. I could have stayed with the gals.
Better safe than sorry, though.
I am their only chance.
Besides, it’s just as well that I got away when I did. Things had gone a little haywire with Connie. No telling what might’ve happened.
My departure improved the situation with her. After a while, she quietened down. Within about fifteen minutes, no more voices were reaching me.
By then, too, it was obvious that nobody had shown up to check on the prisoners.
I tried to figure out what to do.
There seemed to be three choices:1. Do nothing.
2. Sneak back to Billie’s cage.
3. Sneak into the mansion.
I was very tempted, though, to sneak back to Billie’s cage. If I could do it with complete stealth and somehow get her attention without any of the others catching on ... My God, no telling what might happen. I got excited, just thinking about it.
But why restrict myself to Billie? I could sneak over to any of the cages.
Wouldn’t want to get near Connie, of course.
How about Kimberly? Man!
No. Kimberly’d be all business. She might grab my hand, but she wouldn’t want to mess around.
What about paying Erin a visit?
I liked Erin.
She seemed to like me, too.
She’s too young, I told myself. You can’t do anything with her.
Who says so? She’s only four years younger than me. That isn’t so much. When I’m thirty, she’ll be twenty-six.
But she’s only fourteen now.
So what? In some cultures, people get married when they’re fourteen.
I imagined myself over at Erin’s cage. Touching her in the dark. Both of us exploring each other through the bars. In my mind, I could almost feel the smoothness and warmth of her small, pointy breasts.
The more excited I got, the more guilty I felt.
I couldn’t let myself sneak back to the cages.
If I went to Billie, I might end up going to Erin.
Which would be a very wrong thing to do, in spite of the arguments I could give myself in its favor. How could I even think about trying to mess around with Erin? I’d be no better than Wesley.
I was angry at myself.
Maybe I wanted to punish myself for being so tempted over Erin. Or maybe the awful urge to take advantage of her - the wrongness of it - sort of shone a spotlight on the right thing that needed to be done.
I’ll go back to the cages, all right. I’ll go back when I’ve got Wesley’s key-ring in my hand.
And not before.
There weren’t three choices anymore.
Number three: sneak into the mansion.
Staying in the jungle’s darkness, I made my way along the perimeter of the lawn until I came to the area that faced the side of the house.
Then I gazed out.
Directly ahead of me, a short sprint away, was the window where I’d watched their vicious abuse of Erin.
The window was dark.
No light showed anywhere.
I saw no sign of Wesley or Thelma. Most likely, though, they were someplace inside the house. I’d seen them go in. There was no reason to believe they’d left.
But they might’ve left.
They might be almost anywhere.
Just waiting to nail me.
I broke from cover and dashed through the long grass. I was so scared that I did that thing where you separate into two people: one of them doing this crazy and dangerous thing while the other watches, astonished, from a distance - sort of cheering on the fool.
I thought, Oh, man, you’re asking for it.
But I kept running, and didn’t stop until I reached the side of the house. I leaned my shoulder against the wall. I gasped for air. It didn’t take long to get my breath back, but my heart wouldn’t slow down. It pounded like mad. Because it knew what was coming.
The dash across the lawn had been the safe part.
I stepped over to the window. Pressing my face against the screen, I peered in.
Actually, I could see a lot. This wasn’t the sort of blackness I’d found at the cages. The room seemed to be filled with a dim mist - moonlight that had spilled in from the window and spread itself around.
Enough to show me that the room was cluttered with darkness.
Plenty of darkness to hide two people - or twenty.
Exploring the bottom of the screen, I found the pair of flaps that I’d made earlier with my razor.
What if Thelma found them?
I wished I hadn’t thought of that. If she or Wesley had spotted my handiwork with the screen, they’d know a prowler had paid them a visit. They’d be ready and waiting.
But they probably hadn’t spotted it.
They probably hadn’t so much as entered the room after Thelma’s return visit to pick up the clothes, blow out the candles, and so forth.
I poked my index fingers through the flaps, bent my fingertips downward and swung the screen toward me.
A few seconds later, I had my head inside. Without the screen in the way, the view was much better.
I could see the darkness a lot more clearly.
I stood there, the screen pressing against the back of my head while I scanned the room.
Black blotches all over the place.
Nothing appeared to be moving, though.
There was a lingering, somewhat foul odor of cigarette smoke. I smelled candles and blood, too. Or thought I did; those might’ve only existed in my imagination.
I pictured Wesley and Thelma sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor, smiling as they patiently waited for me to enter their lair.
With the moonlit outdoors behind me, I would be easy to see. Like a black bust of Pallas perched upon the windowsill.
I went ahead and started to climb in, anyway.
The ‘other’ me seemed to stand back and shake his head and warn me, It’s gonna be your ass.
The book bag on my back caused some trouble. I had to elbow the screen up out of its way. Finally, though, I got myself over the sill and into the room.
Sidestepping away from the window, I put a wall to my back.
Then I just stood still and listened to the house. The only human sounds came from me: my own breathing , md heartbeat - and my stomach gurgling now and then.
Too long since my last meal.
I had food with me, but this was no time to pause for a snack.
I dug into the right front pocket of my shorts. First, I took out the lighter. I switched it to my left hand, then reached down again and brought out the straight razor.
I kept its blade shut.
Wanted it ready, but not that ready.
Then I tried to make myself flick the lighter.
The Bic was slippery in my hand. My thumb didn’t want to move.
Go on and do it, I thought. What’ve you got to lose? If they aren’t in the room, they won’t see it, anyway. If they are here, you’re already a dead duck and just don’t know it yet.
I struck the lighter.
So did a guy standing off to my left in the comer of the room.
I jumped. I gasped, ‘Yah!’
Then I realized the guy over there was a mirror-made duplicate of yours truly.
(I know, I know, I’m an idiot.)
I killed the light and stood in the darkness for a long time, waiting for someone to come and investigate my odd little yell.
I ignited the lighter again. This time, the guy in the mirror didn’t scare me. In fact, I appreciated him; he doubled the brightness.
We both stood motionless and scanned the room.
It seemed to be deserted, except for us.
I started walking slowly. He and his flame followed me.
When the floor suddenly went slick under my foot, I skidded but didn’t fall.
I turned around and bent over to see what I’d stepped in. On the floor was a wet, reddish smear. This was where Thelma and Wesley had finished their fun with Erin. Thelma had come back into the room for their clothes and to blow out the lights, but she hadn’t bothered to wipe up the blood, sweat, and so on.
Now, I’d made skid marks in it.
After taking a step backward, I found a clear imprint of my sneaker’s tread pattern.
I killed the flame. I dropped the ra
Inside, I found the towel-vest that Connie had made. I held it between my knees while I put the pack on again.
Standing in the dark, I lifted one foot, wiped the bottom of its sneaker, stepped backward, wiped the other, and repeated the process. Then I got down on my knees and lit the lighter. My mirror-double and I crawled forward, mopping away our tracks. We stopped at the edge of the wet, blood-smeared area. The skids could stay; since they didn’t show tread marks, they might’ve been made by someone barefoot.
We stood up and walked backward slowly. No new tracks were being made.
In darkness again, I rolled the towel-vest and returned it to my book bag. This took a while. Also, the towel made my hands wet and sticky. I had to wipe them on my shorts.
When I lit the lighter, my double reappeared. He didn’t last long - only until we got close to the doorway and I killed the flame again.
Keeping the lighter in my left hand, I took out my razor and stepped through the doorway into the corridor.
Room by room, corridor by corridor, stairway by stairway, I searched the enormous house. Last summer’s long, boring tours of ante-bellum mansions along the Mississippi paid off: the general layout of this mansion was similar to many of those I’d seen. I felt as if I’d been here before. Much of the time, I sensed what was coming.
Though I held on to the lighter, I didn’t use it.
I searched in darkness, creeping along, often stopping to listen.
After a while, I put the razor back into my pocket; I needed a free hand for feeling my way.
The house seemed terribly silent.
Except for the thousand times its floors moaned and squawked under my footsteps.
I made very little sound, myself. My breathing and heartbeat seemed noisy, as did the frequent growling of my hungry stomach - but they were quiet compared to the outcries of the wood under my feet.
The flooring of the house seemed to be in cahoots with Wesley and Thelma. Sure it is, I thought. It likes those naked bodies tumbling around on it, enjoys the feel of all that bare skin, loves having its planks oiled with blood and sweat and semen. I was here to put a stop to such things. So, of course, it wanted to cry out warnings.
Island by Richard Laymon / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes