Chapter Eighteen

Fox Island


Fox Island

Chapter 18

A cool breeze ran along the cobbled village road, lifting a tribe of red and orange leaves into the air. A brick sidewalk framed it on the side of a hill, wrapped by markets, restaurants, and salons. At the top, a decrepit mansion sat idly—a monument of yesteryear. People strolled, bartered, and peddled on every corner in listless languor; each more irreverent and apathetic than the last. 

He walked up the hill and attempted to greet the people. But he was unnoticed by them—nothing but a nuisance. They chatted with one another about shopping, trades and weather, never looking him in the eye. He wondered why he was unseen by them, but refused to ask because he worried he may truly be invisible. It were as if his presence shrunk to minuscule the nearer he approached them until he disappeared from their existence altogether. The more he tried to meet someone, the more they turned away. 

He found himself on a bench, staring at an ornate metal sculpture. It was of two men holding grand and delicate instruments, laughing wildly, eyes closed and jazz music coming from their strings and fingertips. He studied the metal-men, investigating how they could make music without moving their hands. 

Oh, there it was. A speaker hidden in the hedge, playing Billie Holiday and deceiving the passerby. 

He smiled and recollected how his wife would love to hear the music and see the metal-men play. Yes, his wife. He now remembered that he was looking for his bride. He stood from his place of rest and walked back onto the street. 

“Excuse me,” he called out to a man in the window of a shop. “Have you seen my—”

The man shook his head and promptly closed the door of his shop and shut the blind.

He continued up the street, frantic in his search. The longer he searched, the more he knew she was not in the village at all. She said she would be at the mansion. But he didn’t want to believe it. 

He looked at the top of the hill and saw it. An ancient Victorian in faded cream, stained by weather, wear and tear. It towered over the village, looking down on her like an angry old man that would never be pleased till she were gone. A cupola stood in the center of its roofline between overhanging archways. Earth and vines spread off of it and through a cornice protruding underneath. They ran down its sides and draped out onto the ground below its feet. A decorated frieze wrapped the building, telling the stories of those it wished were still alive; though it was broken and ruined in many places now. He shuddered when he looked at it, but he knew that his wife ventured to the house and he must go to find her. Its doors were wide open. 

Each step felt heavier and more strained than the last. He reached halfway and thought of turning back. The path was painful, so much so that he didn’t think it was really worth the effort. It embarrassed him to know that if it weren’t for his promise to meet her, he would have given up and left. But the promise pushed him, and on the path he walked with tense muscles and sweat on his brow. 

Soon, he felt as though he were making progress and believed he could actually finish the climb. He encouraged himself audibly. He wasn’t a quitter, and in the climb he lived. He came to the top of the hill and looked upon the house. It was far less ominous than it seemed from the village. It wasn’t until now, at the end of the road, did he realize the strain came from the incline and not the destination.

The entry read: A Cat in the Attic Antiques. He walked up the steps and entered.

Inside, the room smelt of lacquer and pine. Golden rafters exposed themselves overhead. The windows were the only source of light. The place was old and worn, but pleasant and warm. 

An older woman, hidden by shelves and pillars, was rummaging through a bundle of dresses. She  looked up and smiled. “I believe she is upstairs,” she said to him. 

He turned to a balustrade of iron and oak. He scaled the steps, one at a time, and with every stair, he relented to a growing excitement. 

At the third floor, he saw her. Her hands were holding a piece of antique pottery. She looked up and grinned. She ran to him, as if her feet were gliding under the white dress she wore. She leapt into his arms and put her head on his chest. She sighed and squeezed him tightly. 

“I’m so glad you finally are here,” she said. 

“Why did you leave me?” he replied. 

“Its only going to be a little longer now.” Her smile faded, and she looked deep into his eyes. “But you still have to get hit a few more times.”

“I don’t understand.”

She stomped her foot on the wooden slats. A thud shook through the antique store. She was smiling. He looked down at the floor. The foot stayed still, but the pounding against the wood floor recurred. 

“Its only going to be a little longer now,” she kept smiling.

The thud kept coming. 

He opened his eyes. He was on his back in the hull. It was dark still. Though the moon and stars hid behind a blanket of clouds. Slight shadows crept through them, illuminated on the far side near the heavens. He listened to the water smack against the canoe like a typewriter.

He was lost at sea. His mouth was parched and his head continued to hurt. He gasped for breath, but the air was stale and briny.

Thud!

The pounding against the wood-slats was real, after all. He couldn’t move but only a little; he turned his body over to its side and pressed his hand against the hull. His heart raced inside his chest, but his body remained still.

Thud!

The canoe bent under his palm. Something in the dark was ramming the boat. His eyes were wide open, though he saw but two-feet into the darkness. They flicked around in scattered glances, focusing on nothing and peering into naught. Little waves splashed in the darkness.

His hand refused to leave the side of the hull. It was a small boat, but the darkness made it feel large. He curled into the fetal position and closed his eyes. He prayed for it to rain and for the sound to go away.

Thud!

The sound persisted. His head hurt. His ears rang. And soon he was dreaming again.


Sunlight sparkled through the canopy; glitter danced on the forest floor. The underbrush rolled down a rocky chasm and up again, forming a large trench lined by moss-laden rocks and loose soil. It was black and formless, ghastly and long. In the center, he lay in the fetal position, cowering in terror.

In the distance, thunder clapped the forest, and the canopy shook. He knew the sound was after him, but he didn’t know from what direction it came; he didn’t know from what it came. He must escape for he would surely die. He must get out of the trench and into the jungle.

He rose and took a step forward, only to hear a familiar but sinister rattle in the leaves. He looked round and with horror saw that in the trench were dozens of serpents—golden and scarlet eye-lash vipers, rock and dusky rattlesnakes, fer-de-lance, taipan, and kraits waiting in the leaves. They were watching him, vitriol in their black eyes. 

He stepped in hesitation, making for the nearest bank. As he climbed, he reached for a branch and a yellow viper lashed at him, just missing his hand. He pulled back, nearly fell, corrected himself, and froze in fear. The two stared at each other—one in stark terror, the other in a devilish grin. Its eye pierced him like a knife; the long slit of black through the middle of the speckled yellow orb. Its horny jagged edges crowned its evil eyes, like a horrific dragon trapped inside of a frail body. 

He backed up and stepped on a rattlesnake. The rattler lunged back without striking but its rattle primed to a terrible roar and disturbed all of its relatives in the trench. Soon a symphony of deadly rattles were drowning out the jungle. 

Fear was alive, creeping down his spine and up the back of his legs. And then the sound came from the jungle again.A terrible thud—but no, it differed from that—longer, melodic, rusty and booming. The same noise that haunted him from his beginning. From the first moment, he lay against the ceiba and thought himself a victor; the same moment the storm beat him. 

He remembered it was a monster called Koh hunting him and wanting him dead no matter what. It was a great lizard of grotesque proportion, with red eyes, a long, black, forked-tongue, and a tail like a dragon’s. It was just on the other side of the trench, waiting for him to leave the frying-pan and crawl into the furnace of its jaws. 

Rain fell in the forest, and he heard the monster scream. It sounded like a cry of pain and retreat rather than ferocity and pursuit. He noticed the serpents began slipping away while the rain fell on their faces. He looked at his side, and sure enough, the viper and rattlesnake retreated. 

He was at the top of the trench when he slipped in the mud and fell forward, doubling over himself and sliding down a long, wet path. Mud and leaves whipped him in the face until he landed painfully against a tree trunk. 

He stood on a felled tree at the center of a swamp. The rain was falling harsh and the water level was quickly rising around him. Brilliant droplets of water burst into the swamp, forming bubbles and whitecaps in the wind. The drops were dense, powerful, and viscous, like they were growing into something. The bubbles and waves collected together and formed into bumps and ridges. The thing became white and black, striped and spotted. Two eyes slid open into the shape of brilliant glass orbs, opening and closing under the viscous membrane; green cat eyes peered out and caught him in their gaze. Next the nostrils formed and a blast of water erupted from them. Large white jaws came from under the water, opening and closing in mesmerizing rhythm.

It was a crocodile. Long and powerful. Majestic and horrifying in every sense of the words. It draped itself on top of the water and swayed its tail, merely calling to him. He stood erect on the tree trunk. From the fallen tree, he noticed a dozen more in the water now, slowly drifting toward him. 

He looked to the sky, exasperated, and saw a cloud racing by. The sun peaked from behind and shone down on him. Then it disappeared. The rain filled his mouth, and he had a hard time swallowing it. He was coughing and trying to get the stuff out of his lungs, but for whatever reason he couldn’t turn himself over to let the water out of his mouth. He was drowning and couldn’t lower his head to breathe. 

He shook himself awake and gasped for air. It was raining on him and his face was in a puddle of water. 




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