Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Short-short horror: The Island

I remember the first time I saw the island - or didn't see it, actually. The sky at the airport had been hazy, but relatively clear. By the time we reached Stonewood Island, however, a great fog bank had pushed in and the island itself was lost in a deepening luminescent gray. The pilot had been garrulous the whole way out, going on about the price of fuel, lobsters, and his alimony (too high, too low, and obscene), but as the fog got thicker he became quiet, leaving the roar of the prop to fill the space.

The plane was a bright yellow Piper Cub - an ancient but reliable craft - and smelled of oil and Avgas. Somehow over that thick, heavy odor I could suddenly smell the sea, that oppressive, almost rotten-egg smell of the water at low-tide. I looked out the window again, though I'd given up trying to see the water five minutes earlier when the fog had gotten too thick.

For a moment there was just the featureless grey that had so troubled my eyes earlier. With no way of gauging distance my eyes tried to focus on something, anything - pulling patterns out of the chaos like a giant Magic Eye picture. The strain, combined with the smell, set my stomach adrift and I could feel the liquid contents shift and roll.  And then, strangely, there was a lone small pine tree below us – hovering above the fog like some spell had conjured it out of the formless nothing. And then another, and another – and I realized that it was the tops of trees and that the island lay below us.

The pilot sucked in his breath, just loud enough to activate the mike so I only caught the end in a burst of static. He turned back to me and told me that there was no way he could land, that the island was socked in. As he turned back I could see he was relieved and I wondered if it was because he’d made the decision not to chance the fog or because he wouldn’t have to land on the island. 

We banked to our left and pulled around to head back, gaining altitude. As the plane tilted I looked down and thought I could almost see the bulk of the island just beneath the fog, a darker shape within the swirling gray with those treetops pushing up above it like the fingertips of many hands.

That’s what I remember most – the impression of something hidden; something vast, and dark and ominous just below the surface, like an iceberg grown black and heavy with the accumulation of years.

This was inspired by this past weekend spent visiting my wife's folks. They live on Matinicus Island, which is roughly 25 miles off the coast of Maine. It was pretty foggy on the flight back into the mainland and I couldn't help but wonder what it might look like if we were headed out instead.

The original photo is by Terry Eggers and is a lot less creepy. You can see it here: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/island-in-the-fog-eggers--photography.html

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