Monday, April 24, 2023

Seventh Island Light - A Short Story


Seventh Island Light

Christopher Setterlund

Copyright © 2011, 2023

All Rights Reserved

Cover Image by Christopher Setterlund

Fonts Used: Liberation Serif

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever without prior written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Chapter 1

“So you’re really going to do it, huh?” Alan said with a wry smile.

“Of course, it’s going to be a celebration,” Blake replied as he stuffed a fuzzy gray sweater into his gym duffle bag. “You sure you don’t want to go?”

“Nah, I can’t get the day off even though it is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Besides, you’re going to have enough trouble getting out there by yourself, let alone carrying my ass along too.” Blake laughed and zipped up his duffle with one quick pull.

“Suit yourself, but it’s going to be fun. A cottage, way out on 6th Island, some beers, and the sound of the waves.” Alan, Blake’s roommate, and friend of ten years patted him on the back.

“I am sure you will drink enough for both of us. Just remember don’t drink and boat. See you when you get back.” The two friends laughed and Blake headed for the front door of the apartment.

The air was surprisingly warm and sweet smelling, especially for late November in mid-coast Maine. Blake hustled across the apartment parking lot to his silver Jeep Liberty. There were a few stops he had to make before his ultimate goal could be reached. The first stop was the corner of Washington Street and Hampton Avenue and Mid-Coast Liquors.

It was 2:30pm when Blake pulled into the small, pothole-filled, parking lot. He had to laugh to himself, even though he lived in a small, family-oriented town the liquor store still seemed to find a way to feel like it was out of the ghetto. The automatic front doors squeaked and struggled to slide open as he approached them. Blake knew exactly where he was headed. He strode confidently down the center aisle of the small liquor store knowing that although he did not look twenty-four years old his valid Maine driver’s license said otherwise.

Facing the coolers of six-packs of beer Blake grabbed his favorite and headed for the register. He almost always bought the same beer no matter if he was at home or out at the bar. It was a fact that caused him some ridicule at the hands of his friends while he was a student at Central Maine University. He didn’t care though, Blake knew what he liked and that was that.

The man behind the counter gazed skeptically at the baby-faced young man carrying the clinking collection of beer. He rang in the price before asking the obvious question.

“You have some I.D.?” The man said while chewing on what Blake thought was gum. It made an awful slurping noise which was annoying. Blake fished his license out of his black leather wallet and slide it across the counter.

The man picked it up with his bony white thumb and index finger and breathed loudly out of his nose while his eyes scanned back and forth from the license photo to Blake’s face. He slid the license back and motioned for the money. Blake always enjoyed the looks of disappointment on the faces of most liquor store cashiers once they realized they weren’t going to be busting anyone for underage drinking. He took it as a compliment.

With the beer in hand, Blake got back in his Liberty and set out for the beach. It wasn’t just any beach, it was a private beach located near the end of the dead-end Shore Road. He slowed down as he passed a guard shack bordered on either side by sections of white picket fence. This was the sight of his ‘celebration’ as he had mentioned to Alan earlier. He gave a quick look toward the guard shack. He didn’t see anyone but knew that there was somebody always there. That shack was the entrance to a set of very private islands numbered one through seven.

Blake’s grandparents had been well off and had been able to build a two-bedroom cottage back in the early-1940’s on what was called 6th Island. The island itself was only about a square mile in size even back then and the ocean had been reclaiming the land ever since. Now the cottage was no more than thirty feet from the ocean. Sadly it was going to be torn down on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Having spent many carefree summer days in and around that cottage Blake was understandably upset that it was going to be taken down. He had decided after hearing the news a few weeks earlier that he would find a way to get out there and enjoy one last night at the old cottage.

Getting out to 6th Island, which was about 5 miles offshore, would have been difficult enough on its own. However, the cottage had been passed down to Blake’s Uncle Kevin about five years earlier when Nana and Grampa Jackson had been put in a retirement home in Southern Florida.

Uncle Kevin did not get along with Blake and they had not spoken more than a handful of words since the cottage changed hands. There was no chance that he would allow Blake to visit the cottage out of the goodness of his heart. This was the reason why Blake passed by the entrance to the private islands. Even if Blake was a perfect gentleman to the guard he would still have to call Uncle Kevin to vouch for his identity. Knowing that was never going to happen Blake had to go to Plan B.

Plan B involved Alan’s Dodge Ram Pickup. With that beastly piece of machinery, Blake was able to take his modest fifteen-foot Runabout to the private beach and stash it in the dunes just off of the parking lot early that same morning. The boat was a gift from his father so he made sure to hide it well. He had a slight hint of worry even though it was small-town Maine and it was Thanksgiving week. The chances were pretty good that nobody was going to be strolling around those dunes.

The parking lot of the private beach was empty as he had expected it to be but just to be safe Blake parked his Liberty as far from the road as he could and locked it. There was a bit of a breeze coming off of the water but it was warmer than he had thought it would be during November in mid-coast Maine. He was a little uncomfortable in the three layers of clothing that he had worn. Rather than suffer Blake tossed one sweater back on the floor of the Liberty behind the driver’s seat.

‘It’s only for one night,’ he thought to himself, justifying leaving a layer of clothing behind. Besides, he had a sleeping bag, pillow, and of course, his six-pack of beer to keep him warm in the cottage on 6th Island.

Blake lugged his sleeping bag, duffle bag, battery-operated lantern, flashlight, and beer into the Runabout and loaded it all inside. The tide was high but the boat was still out of the water. Blake and Alan had put the boat where they thought that the tide would come in. The anchor was even dropped along its side to keep the boat from drifting out to sea. Now the anchor was sitting a few inches into the moist sand and the water was a good ten feet away from the Runabout.

Pushing the boat into the water had not been anticipated. He was happier now that he had gotten rid of one of his sweaters. The only saving grace, and it was not that much of one, was the fact that the particular Runabout that Blake owned was one of the lightest produced. Made of fiberglass it weighed in at a shade over 700 pounds. It would not be easy but Blake knew he could get the boat into the water.

A forty-minute struggle ensued. Blake rocked and twisted the boat in the sand creating what looked like a sand angel. After pushing and pulling and breaking a sweat the rear of the Runabout slipped into the cool ocean water. It was nearly 3:30pm and Blake knew the sun would set within an hour. He needed to get out to 6th Island before dark to settle in for the night and it was about five miles on the open water to get to the cottage.

Wanting to avoid being spotted by anyone at the guard shack Blake purposely drove the boat away from where the islands were. He headed nearly a mile offshore. Figuring even powerful binoculars couldn’t see him he turned and headed east. The sea was a bit choppy but nothing that he could not handle. His father had let him take the wheel of the very same Runabout on the same stretch of water from the time he was ten years old so a little chop was nothing to Blake.

Chapter 2

The sun had disappeared, leaving behind a warm orange and red glow by the time the bottom of the fiberglass Runabout struck the soft sand on 6th Island. Blake dropped the anchor off of the port side and brought his things up to the porch. He stopped and gazed at the sunset which lit up a very familiar sight to him: 7th Island Lighthouse.

“Should have brought a camera,” Blake said. 7th Island Light had been as much of a fixture in Blake’s childhood as the cottage itself. He remembered sitting and playing in the wet sand facing the lighthouse and wishing that he could go up inside it and see what he could see from there. Grampa Jackson always said he would take him there someday but that day never came. When Blake would ask why Grampa always had an excuse. Sometimes the wind was too dangerous. Other times the weather simply ‘wasn’t good.’ On a few strange occasions, he would tell Blake that he had gone over to the lighthouse before Blake had awakened and asked the keeper if they could go up in it but he had said ‘no.’

Those times were the most confusing because Blake remembered his father telling him that the lighthouse was ‘automated’ when he had asked him one time. There had been lighthouse keepers but the cost of their living out there had proved to be too much. It was much cheaper to use solar power to keep the lighthouse running. Blake never pressed Grampa for more information and never questioned his father about the lighthouse being automated. He accepted what they both said as fact.

Now there he stood, alone on 6th Island at the cottage that he had called his second home for so much of his life. As the light slowly faded he took the time to walk around the property and take in everything he remembered about the sixty-plus-year-old cottage. There was no electricity on the tiny island. Grampa used to have a strong generator located underneath the kitchen window that supplied all of the power necessary. Blake remembered how the generator’s low hum would help him get to sleep at night. It was soothing and made him feel safe.

Then he nearly bumped into the old clothesline. Oh, how he loved watching the clothes sway in the ever-present sea breeze. His mother had told him when he was older that it was the best babysitter she ever found. Blake would park himself in his small beach chair and stare at the clothes flapping. She had often worried about his eyes as Blake would watch the clothes with no regard for whether the sun was beating down on his face. Luckily his vision was still great now in his mid-twenties. He did almost bump into the clothesline but that was beside the point.

After doing a lap around the cottage Blake finally decided to bring his things inside. The front door was locked but he knew how to get around that and he jimmied the lock with a credit card. It would not work on many doors, but this lock had not been updated since the 1970s so the credit card trick still worked there.

Blake dropped the sleeping bag and duffle beside the door and felt around in the dark for the end table which had always resided next to a wicker couch with pink-flowered cushions. This would be the spot where he placed the battery-powered lantern. He walked slowly, hands extended, feeling in a sweeping motion. Step by step he began to realize that there was nothing there. He backtracked to be sure and then decided to turn it on in the middle of the living room.

The lantern came on in a brilliant flash of light. Once Blake’s eyes had adjusted to it he was able to see that the cottage was empty. To be certain he picked up the lantern and walked into the kitchen and then into both of the bedrooms. There was nothing. Blake was not sure why he was disappointed, the cottage wouldn’t even be there in a week. Still, seeing the emptiness of this cherished childhood memory hit him in the heart. He sat down against the wall in the bedroom that he had always claimed as his own. Blake closed his eyes and listened to the ocean waves as one by one they pulled a little more sand from 6th Island.

He allowed himself to meditate a little bit before going back out into the barren living room. Each of his footsteps echoed off of the walls. In a last-minute addition to his packing, Blake had remembered to bring food. Beer alone was not going to sustain him through the night. Granted he had only brought a few granola bars and a bag of trail mix but it was good enough. Although it was five miles offshore Blake still was paranoid that even a tiny fire to cook with would alert someone at the guard shack of his presence.

Dinner consisted of sitting cross-legged on the porch and eating a granola bar. He was transfixed by the immense shadow of 7th Island Lighthouse. It had gotten colder once the sun had gone down, feeling much more like November in Maine than it had on the way to the beach. Blake was thinking that he should have brought that extra sweater.

The ocean waves were soothing, lulling Blake into a dreamlike state even before he had cracked the top on the first beer. His mind wandered so much in fact that he had finished both granola bars and was well into the trail mix before he noticed something strange. The beacon of the lighthouse was not shining, there was no light crawling across the water looking for vessels to warn. Blake sat with his back against the cottage. He began to think back to his childhood times there. He was not sure if he had ever seen the beacon of 7th Island Lighthouse for that matter.

‘It must have shined, right? It is a lighthouse.’ Blake thought as he dipped his hand to the bottom of the bag of trail mix. He figured that it was just something from his childhood that he could not recall. After all, he had so many wonderful memories from the cottage on 6th Island that he was bound to forget something as trivial as whether the lighthouse beacon was shining.

It was not going to bother him though. Once Blake had finished the trail mix he decided to go inside and ‘warm up’ with a few beers. It was only 7:00pm according to his cell phone but it felt later because of the cold and darkness. He had almost not taken his cell phone with him out to the island since there was little chance of having a signal five miles out in the ocean. He was right, there were no ‘bars’ on his phone’s display which made it essentially only good for telling the time.

A few sips into the first beer and Blake began to not care as much about the cold, his phone, or the lack of light from the nearby lighthouse. He grabbed the lantern and walked around the cottage again. He needed to see for sure that there was nothing left inside of it. Back through both of the bedrooms, the bathroom, and the attached kitchen and dining area. There was nothing but patches of sand near where a window must have been left open at some point recently. Then Blake remembered the attic.

Yes the attic, Blake remembered it well because it was only accessible by ladder through a hole in the ceiling. He also remembered it because he had never been allowed to go up there. Grampa Jackson used to tell him that when he was older he would show him what was up in the attic. Blake used to think it was a magical place and he could not wait to grow up. Now there was nobody to stop him except for the ladder which was gone with everything else in the cottage.

“Damn it,” Blake mumbled to himself. He went over to where his six-pack of beer was sitting and popped off the top on a second one. He sat and pouted until he spotted the bookcase which was built into the wall. It was close enough that he could climb it and pull himself up into the attic through the hole. He chugged the fresh beer and let out a wall-rattling belch before proceeding over to the bookcase with the smaller flashlight in hand.

Blake cautiously climbed up three shelves before tossing the flashlight up through the opening in the ceiling. Then came the tricky part of trying to figure out where the lip of the opening was with little light. Blake reached back with his right arm while still clinging to the bookcase with his left. He swung his arm around until he found the opening. It was only a matter of doing a pull-up after that and Blake was up where he had never thought he’d be.

The first thing he noticed was how much colder it was in the attic. There was a small vent at the end of the house facing 7th Island which seemed to be a magnet for the cold wind. Shivering a little Blake grabbed the flashlight and started looking around. The next thing he noticed was that there was not very much room if Blake even tried to stand up he would smash his head into the wooden beams.

The ‘exciting adventure’ only got worse when it seemed as though the attic was empty as well. Still, he was there so he felt obligated to look around. Blake crawled along the plywood from end to end and saw nothing. He was disappointed and ready to drop back down into the living room when the flashlight’s beam reflected off of something. He crawled over and found a few photos. The cold had become almost unbearable so Blake tossed the photos down through the hole and headed down to retrieve them.

Blake tried to drop the flashlight down on top of the bookcase as gently as he could. This of course meant the light dropped with a crash and turned off as it hit the floor. He noticed the cottage felt colder as he scaled down the bookcase himself and onto the floor. This was because the front door was still open. Closing it did not make that much of a difference. He went searching for the handful of photos he had dropped down from the attic.

They were impossible to see in the dark but with the aid of the flashlight, Blake corralled the photos. He took them to his old bedroom where the lantern was to look at them. The wind whistled a bit through a gap around a bedroom window, Blake shivered and went back to the living room to retrieve his sleeping bag to use for heat. He unzipped it and wrapped himself up in it as best he could.

The photos were amazing. There were five of them, all featuring one or both of his grandparents not too long after the cottage had been built in the 1940s. The black and white photos had a sort of perforated edge to them as lots of photos did back then but the quality of the photos was remarkable, especially for sitting up in the attic for so long.

Blake smiled as he looked at each photo. Each had a handwritten description on the back. One photo was of his grandparents standing together on the porch with ‘The Happy Couple’s New Home’, scrawled in black ink on the back. They were snapshots of a simpler time in his grandparents’ lives. It was a time when children, grandchildren, and being placed in a retirement home were far from their minds. It made Blake sad as he looked upon their youthful faces while sitting in a cold empty cottage that was a week away from being torn down.

He was about ready to put the photos down and grab another beer when he did a double take on the last photo. It was a shot of his grandfather standing on the shore of 7th Island with the lighthouse in the background. This was not anything special. However, it was the inscription that caught his eye. On the back of the photo in black ink was written: ‘7th Island lighthouse, as close as I ever want to get to the scene of the crime. What did you see?’ Blake furrowed his brow and looked off into the darkness.

“Scene of the crime? What does that mean?” He looked at the photo again, studying every millimeter of the black-and-white image. Blake racked his brain, there did not seem to be anything inherently odd about the photo. The eerily ominous words in his grandfather’s handwriting gave him chills though. Blake took a deep breath and then got out from the warm grasp of his sleeping bag and grabbed another beer before walking out to the porch again.

The moon had risen. It reflected off of the surrounding water and also made the lighthouse into an imposing silhouette in the distance. Blake shivered as he stared off at 7th Island Light while going over his grandfather’s words in his mind. Blake had always been a fan of true crime shows, trying his best to solve whatever crime was featured before the solution was revealed. To him, this seemed like something similar only he had nothing to start with except for the lighthouse. Blake debated momentarily in his mind before realizing he’d likely never have the chance again. He would go snoop around the lighthouse for any ‘clues’ to this sixty-plus-year-old ‘mystery.’

Chapter 3

Blake loaded the anchor back into his Runabout for the quick 200-foot trip across the water to 7th Island. After running the boat aground to make sure he did not have to step into the chilly saltwater Blake dropped the anchor and turned around. It was the first and probably the last time he would ever see Nana and Grampa’s cottage from that vantage point. With the moon shining bright the cottage was visible and Blake became lost in his memories as he gazed across the narrow channel toward his summer playground.

7th Island ironically was even smaller than 6th Island. It was ironic since Nana and Grampa Jackson’s cottage was being torn down while the lighthouse remained untouched. The reason for this was that as erosion began to threaten the lighthouse in the early 1980s the Coast Guard asked the Maine government for help. They had already lost the keeper’s house to the ocean and were trying desperately to save 7th Island Light.

The government allowed for tons of sand to be dredged from the harbor and placed around the island. This deepened the harbor to allow safer passage for vessels and also padded the area around the lighthouse. To be sure that the erosion was slowed as much as possible there were five breakwaters built, each stretching out about fifty feet into the ocean. This made 7th Island look like a starfish, the nickname stuck, and ‘Starfish Island’ was featured prominently in several local Maine tourist guides. This became sort of humorous as the name of the island changed but the lighthouse was always referred to as 7th Island Light.

The lighthouse sat almost a hundred feet from the water’s edge and stood forty-five feet in height. The enormous shadow cast by the moonlight nearly reached where Blake stood meaning his walk to the lighthouse would be in total darkness. He quickly turned on the flashlight and started up the sandy path bordered on either side by thick beach grass.

There was only the sound of the lapping ocean waves and the soft muffled crunch Blake’s sneakers made in the sand. It seemed as though everything had become still once his boat had touched the shore of 7th Island. Blake shined the flashlight straight ahead as it began to barely touch the side of the conical light tower. Then he heard something. It sounded like a rustling in the beach grass but there was not even the hint of a breeze at that moment. Blake froze and shined the flashlight toward where he thought the sound was coming from.

It was deathly quiet again and Blake thought his imagination and the beer were playing with his mind. He started walking and did not even make it three steps before he heard the noise again, this time louder. Blake thought about turning back and forgetting about this last adventure out on the islands but he was so close to the lighthouse that he forged ahead. The rustling in the beach grass stopped as he approached where he thought it was coming from. Blake shined the flashlight and focused on a small mound of sand.

Step by step he crept up. It was an effort to try to see without getting any closer. Then there was a high-pitched screech and a breeze caused by something rushing past him. Blake dove to the ground and shielded his face. He shined the flashlight around but saw nothing. He looked around frantically and then caught a glimpse of something on top of the lighthouse. There was a seagull perched on top. It was the bird that he had stumbled upon and frightened. Blake’s heart was pounding in his ears and he yelled at the gull before staggering back to his feet.

Still shaking, Blake continued until he stood directly in front of the granite behemoth. He stuck his hand out; the stone was cold to the touch. It felt rough and weathered like this lighthouse had been through many big storms but still stood. Blake had finally made it over to 7th Island after so many summers of wishing he could. It felt like a major achievement and made him glad he had come out for one last night at the cottage even though it had grown steadily colder since the sun had gone down.

The mystery of Grampa’s inscription on the old photo returned to Blake’s mind. He started looking around the base of the lighthouse with the flashlight. There were no plaques or markers near the lighthouse that might reference some ‘crime’ like had been mentioned in the photo. Blake decided to try to open the front door just for kicks even though it was probably locked. The handle was severely rusted, a shade of reddish brown, it seemed a bit odd. Blake thought that if the Coast Guard had cared enough to have tons of sand dumped around the island they could have at least kept up on the simple maintenance like a door handle.

It was coldest on the eastern side of the lighthouse where the next piece of land you’d hit was in Europe. Blake had not found anything on the island worthy of a mystery besides the mystery of the nocturnal seagull. He decided that it would be best to pick up the search for the mystery after he had returned to his apartment the next day.

He turned and walked back to the Runabout all the while in the shadow of the imposing lighthouse. Once back on the shore of 6th Island Blake anchored the boat and looked back at the lighthouse. Even after being scared to death by the sleeping seagull, it was still an exciting achievement to have been able to touch the granite walls of something that had always seemed so far out of reach. This called for a celebratory beer inside the empty cave that was his grandparents’ cottage.

Blake took his time nursing the third beer. He tried to stay warm by singing a few songs loud enough to cause echoes off of the living room walls. It was a fun, albeit slightly cold final evening at Nana and Grampa’s cottage. Not wanting a hint of a hangover the next morning Blake stopped at the third beer and decided it was time to curl up in his sleeping bag. He checked his cell phone and it was a little after 10:00pm, early for a normal night but just fine for that night. Blake wanted to be sure that he was out of the cottage and back on shore before 8:00am the next morning. For all of the fun and excitement that the night had provided it could easily be ruined if he was caught and possibly arrested for trespassing. An early night would mean a jail-free morning.

Blake slept in his old room, curled up in a corner using his duffle bag as a pillow. It was a rough go of it at first as the wooden floor did not give any support and Blake knew one way or another he was probably going be sore in the morning. Eventually, he settled on lying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. The moon was bright and lit up the bedroom, he stared at the two rectangle shapes of milky light on the wall opposite the windows. The sounds of the ocean helped lull Blake to sleep even without finding a comfortable position on the wooden floor.

At some point during the night, Blake was awakened by a loud noise. It pulled him from a dream and thrust him back into the cold and uncomfortable night. He opened his eyes. The room was darker now as the moon has ascended to a point where its light did not filter into the windows anymore. Blake had no idea what the noise was that awakened him and after a minute his eyes started getting heavy and he began drifting back to sleep.

His eyes were just about closed when the noise returned. It was a high-pitched shriek. Even though it was far away it was shrill enough to cause Blake to wince a bit. What was it? He waited a moment to see if the noise would happen again so that he could further analyze it. It did not. Blake remembered his walk earlier in the evening on the sand at 7th Island. He remembered the sleeping seagull that he had stumbled upon and scared. That seemed to be the logical answer in Blake’s mind. There were probably other seagulls on the small island that he had not seen and now they were up for a late-night frolic. He even cursed out loud from his sleeping bag on the hard wooden floor.

“Go to sleep you damn birds!” Blake yelled before starting the process again of falling back to sleep. He let out a deep, forceful yawn when the noise came back again, louder than before. He cut himself off mid-yawn and blinked his eyes. That was no bird cry.

He thought about simply ignoring these bone-chilling shrieks. He had seen enough horror movies to know that curiosity often killed the cat. Still, even half-asleep Blake thought about the last ‘great adventure’ at Nana and Grampa’s. He’d love to have some more to tell Alan and the other guys at the bar tomorrow night. Slowly he sat up and unzipped the sleeping bag. After a quick stretch, Blake crept down the hall and toward the front door.

He gripped the ice-cold doorknob and pulled the door open. On the porch facing 7th Island, there was nothing but the sound of the waves casually lapping the sandy shores. Part of him hoped that he would not hear anything and then he would be able to go back to sleep knowing that he had tried to have an adventure even though it didn’t materialize. He decided to give it about five minutes of shivering on the porch before calling it a night.

Blake clutched onto one of the posts on the porch and stared across at 7th Island which at this point in the night was lit on the front by the moon. Again Blake wished he had brought a camera as it was an impressive-looking scene. His mind began to wander and he felt himself slipping away toward sleep again despite the cold temperatures outside. Blake decided that the noises he had heard were probably those seagulls and he turned around to go back inside.

Before he could close the door Blake heard the noise again. It was much clearer since he was outside. It sounded like a woman’s scream but that was impossible. He had been over to 7th Island only a few hours earlier and had not seen or heard anything besides the lone seagull. Then Blake thought it might be a passing boat whistle. He was trying to find some other solution besides the obvious one.

Shivering and tired Blake waited some more just to confirm that the noise was not a woman screaming. He didn’t know why he needed more confirmation. Perhaps a minute later he heard it again. There was no denying that it was a woman screaming from 7th Island. The only question now was what Blake intended to do about it. Should he ignore it and try to sleep, or should he get back in his Runabout and go to investigate?

Several times Blake turned to go back inside and then subsequently turned back to face the brightly moonlit 7th Island Light. He ran his hands through his hair before deciding to go for it. He closed the front door even though there was not another soul around for miles, or so Blake thought. He walked down to the water’s edge where the Runabout bobbed slowly up and down as the tide started flowing out.

As quietly as he could Blake pried the anchor from the cold wet sand and lay it in the boat. Then he heard the scream again which gave him a chill. It sounded as though the voice was crying ‘Help!’ Blake hesitated.

‘I must be crazy,’ he thought to himself before pushing the boat sideways and jumping in.

Chapter 4

The Runabout began to turn toward 7th Island with the current which was a good start. For just such an occasion where stealth was key, there were a pair of three-foot-long oars that were kept in a compartment where the First Aid kit was. Of course, Blake could not feasibly row the Runabout, but he could use one oar to steer the boat to the other shore since it was a short 200 feet away.

Blake leaned to his left and began pushing with one oar to make sure that the boat would touch the opposite shore at the furthest point from the lighthouse. He felt the bump as the water turned to sand and Blake quickly jumped out and secured the anchor in the sand. The wind and waves had muffled most sounds as Blake had crossed the narrow channel from 6th Island to 7th Island for the second time. He was not sure if the voice had cried out again.

Despite trying to be stealthy the bright moonlight that shone down onto the island made it very difficult for Blake to hide. He walked straight toward the lighthouse and heard the scream for help again when he was only about fifty feet away. Blake froze and turned sideways, contemplating retreating to the boat. It was quiet again but for the gentle ocean waves. Blake continued, but slowly. He took each step deliberately to give him ample opportunity to hear any further communication.

Hearing nothing Blake continued walking up to the lighthouse. He reached out and touched its cold granite exterior with his left hand and guided himself cautiously around the conical shape until he reached the locked front door. By force of habit, Blake still tried to open it even though he knew it was locked. Now in the shadow of the lighthouse, Blake looked around. As far as he could see the ocean was a milky gray color around the island fading to black the further it got away.

The lighthouse was locked, that was for certain, so where was the voice coming from? There were no other boats that Blake could see near the island which made it more confusing. He turned back to the lighthouse and saw a small window to the right of the door that he had forgotten to check. For the hell of it, he walked up and wiped a bit of salt spray from the glass. He looked quickly around the room and did not see anything out of place. He was about to turn back for his boat when something on the floor of the lighthouse caught his eye. Blake put his face up to the glass even putting his right hand over his eyes to shield any stray moonlight.

He pulled away quickly in shock and rubbed his eyes. It couldn’t have been what he thought it was. Blake stepped back to the window and peered in again. His eyes were not deceiving him there was somebody inside the lighthouse face down on the floor! Not knowing what else to do Blake began tapping on the window to see if he could rouse whoever it was inside. There was no movement from the person inside but the scream for help was heard again, this time from directly overhead. It was coming from the catwalk area of the lighthouse.

Blake backed away from the lighthouse to try to see more of the catwalk area. He was too stunned by what he had seen inside to call out to the female voice, instead, he looked and listened.

The voice cried out ‘Help!’ Blake did not hesitate and called out to her.

“Hello? Are you all right?” He yelled toward the catwalk. Then he saw movement. A shadow appeared at the top of the lighthouse, possibly a head and shoulders but it was difficult to make out.

“Help!” The voice cried out again. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared the shadow disappeared from view. Blake was about to call out again when he heard a horrifying scream. This was no call for help, this was a cry of pain. It made Blake’s blood run cold. It was a helpless feeling knowing that there was something terrible happening at the top of the lighthouse and there was nothing Blake could do but listen and wait.

“Help!” The female voice yelled again, this time with much more urgency.

“I don’t know what to do!” Blake called out. There was another blood-curdling scream, followed shortly thereafter by another that was quickly muffled. Then there was silence. Blake stood, staring up toward the catwalk. He was no longer cold as the stunning developments on 7th Island filled him with adrenaline. Seconds felt like hours as Blake hoped to hear or see something else from the mysterious female at the top of the lighthouse. Instead, he saw something much worse.

Up at the top of the lighthouse appeared a shadow, head, and shoulders like before, then another appeared, and a third. Three shadows were peering down over the side toward where Blake was standing. He was frozen with fear. These people must have been the reasons that the female voice was calling out for help. They must also have been the ones who killed the person on the floor at the bottom of the lighthouse as well. Blake was sure he wanted to run but his legs felt stuck in the sand.

“You there!” One of the shadows called out in a haunting baritone voice. Blake did not answer.

“What did you see!?” The second shadow shouted in a slightly higher pitch. Blake knew he had seen the body inside the lighthouse and even without seeing what happened to the female he knew that he needed to get out of there before he became a third victim. Getting another rush of adrenaline Blake took off running. It was a hundred feet to shore which seemed like a mile.

“He must not escape!” The third shadow yelled in a deep growl upon seeing Blake fleeing for his Runabout. Blake heard the threat which made him run even faster. Once alongside the boat, he yanked the anchor from the sand and tossed it in the back. Blake jumped in and turned around to pull the cord for the outboard motor. Standing next to the lighthouse, side by side, were the three shadows. They did not move but were an ominous sight.

Blake did not hesitate any longer. He took off across the narrow channel between 6th and 7th Islands. The Runabout slammed into the shore of 6th Island nearly tossing Blake out of the boat. He hurried into the cottage and slammed the door behind him. It was imperative that he grabbed his things and get to shore to alert the police as to what he had seen.

It was hard enough to see in the dark cottage when things were calm. After the horrible events that he had just witnessed Blake was barely able to make it down the hall and into his old room. He had to get a grip for a moment. While he was on 7th Island he had not seen any sort of vessel which could carry the three suspected killers across the narrow channel. Still, that did not mean that there wasn’t one.

In the milky moonlight, Blake shoved everything he had into his duffle bag and rolled up his sleeping bag as best he could into a ball. He shoved the shaft of the flashlight into his pants pocket and grabbed the battery-powered lantern which was on the living room floor. He was all set to go. While reaching for the front door handle he glanced out of the window on the left. His eyes grew wide and the lantern dropped with an echoing thud onto the floor. There on the shore of 6th Island, standing next to his Runabout, his escape vessel, were the three shadows.

Blake was frozen with fear. They must have swam across in the cold water since he did not see any sign of a second boat. The shadows did not move. They were as still as scarecrows. Blake could not tell which way they were looking. One thing he knew was that it would not take long before they figured out where he was. Blake needed an escape route and fast.

There was no back door to the cottage. He was more concerned about getting to the boat and it was surrounded. Then he had an idea. Maybe escaping was not feasible at that moment, but it might be later on. If he could only find a hiding spot and wait out the killers there would be a chance that he could escape later on in the night. Of course, Blake had a perfect hiding spot up through the hole in the ceiling in the attic.

His eyes had not left the three shadows on the beach and they had not moved a muscle in several minutes. It was quite peculiar as it made Blake wonder what they were waiting for. He wondered if his eyes were playing tricks on him. Snapping back to the moment he slowly backed away from the window toward the bookshelf.

First, the sleeping bag was tossed up through the hole without incident. Next was the duffle which also went through the hole easily. Rather than heading straight up the shelves after his belongings, Blake stepped back to check if the shadows were still lurking near the Runabout. As he moved through the darkness he accidentally kicked the remaining three beer bottles in the six-pack. The glass clinked and then made a terrible racket as the bottles rolled across the wooden floor and into the wall.

“You there!” The first shadow yelled in the distance. There was no more time to waste. The three killers would soon be inside the cottage. Blake jumped up the bookcase’s shelves and swung his way up through the hole in the ceiling into the attic.

Blake crawled away from the hole and curled himself up by clutching his knees to his chest. It was bitterly cold in the attic and he shivered uncontrollably. Down in the cottage, it was eerily quiet. A few minutes passed and Blake had not heard the sound of the front door opening. He began to wonder again what the killers were waiting for. Trying to control his violent shivering Blake leaned forward and was about to crawl back toward the opening to take a look.

“You there!” The first shadow yelled from almost directly underneath the hole. The voice echoed off the walls. Blake stopped in his tracks and held his breath.

“What did you see?!” The second shadow followed up with. They were in the cottage looking for him. Blake knelt a few feet from the opening shivering and silently praying that the killers would lose interest and leave the cottage.

“He must not escape!” The third shadow added. That particular voice was quieter. It sounded as though it was coming from down the hallway. Blake made a bold decision; since the three killers were inside and heading further from the front door he might be able to make it to his boat. He did not want to risk jumping down into one of their waiting arms so he went another route.

Carefully Blake turned his body around and crawled on the plywood to the other end of the attic. There he gave a gentle push to the small vent which faced 7th Island. It was loose enough that it could be removed, but it would have to be pushed out.

“You there!” The first shadow called out once again but from down the hall in one of the bedrooms. There were only so many places they could search. Blake knew there was no time to hesitate. He reached back with his cold, shaking right hand and gave an open palm thrust. The vent moved but did not fall out. The noise was surely enough to alert the killers down the hall. Blake reached back and hit the wooden vent again, and again, and again. His palm throbbed in pain but after four tries the vent tumbled to the soft sand below.

The cold wind poured in through the hole, and Blake stuck his right arm and shoulder out into the night. He was thin enough that he was able to fit through. It was just a matter of trying not to fall head first. Even though it was beach sand below it was a ten-foot drop and he would likely be injured.

Once he was halfway out of the vent Blake rested his waist on the opening and reached up for the small lip of the wood at the top of the vent. He needed to grab it, do a pull-up, and swing his legs out before letting himself drop. Blake reached up and grabbed hold of the one-inch protrusion from the house. He strained his fingers to hold on which was tougher with the cold wind causing them to start to lose feeling. That was his undoing. Almost as soon as Blake lifted his legs to begin the pull-up process his fingers slipped and he fell. Luckily he did a bit of a turn and landed on his knees. It was almost as painful as if he had hit concrete. The fall and the cold caused pain like an electrical current running through his legs.

The fall had not made much of a sound which was his saving grace. Blake knelt facing the outside wall of the cottage just right of the window. He tried to recover quickly knowing that soon the killers would realize he was not inside and come out. Blake stood up and turned around. He staggered down to the shore. His heart sank when he noticed something was wrong. He had not anchored the Runabout when he had slammed onto the beach. In his haste, Blake had made a critical mistake and now the boat was floating with the current out to sea. All he could do was watch it drifting a few hundred feet offshore and getting further. There was no way that he could catch it. Blake hung his head.

“You there!” The first shadow shouted in its baritone voice. It startled Blake out of his self-pity. He turned around and saw the three shadows standing side by side on the porch in the same manner that they appeared next to the lighthouse on 7th Island. Blake did not know what else to do so he began running along the shore of 6th Island to the right of the cottage.

“What did you see?!” The second shadow called out. Blake kept running on the more compact wet sand along the water despite his legs still being sore from the fall. Running across the entire length of the island amplified to Blake just how much erosion had taken from it. After passing the wooden clothesline there were only another thirty feet of shore until the waves were lapping at his sneakers.

“He must not escape!” The third shadow growled in the distance. Blake turned at the edge of the water and saw the three perfectly straight, motionless silhouettes against the moonlit sky. They stood just on the other side of the clothesline but did not pursue him. It seemed like a game to them and they figured they had Blake cornered.

What the suspected killers had not anticipated was the fact that Blake had been a state champion swimmer in high school, and was on the team as well at Central Maine University. Swimming the distance from 6th Island to 5th Island was not going to be a problem. He was aided by the fact that the tide was on its way out; this made the shore-to-shore tally a manageable 120 feet. The distance was not the problem, the water temperature was. In late November in Maine, the water temperature hovered anywhere from forty-five to forty-seven degrees. Hypothermia becomes a serious threat when the water dips below sixty.

“You there!” The first shadow bellowed out from near the clothesline. Blake knew he did not have any longer to debate whether swimming was a good idea or not. He needed to dive in and get out as fast as he could. Otherwise, he risked becoming another victim of the three killers stalking him. He turned back to the rippling waves and dove in.

The shock of the cold caused him to immediately lose his breath like someone was putting him in a bear hug. Blake trod water for a second as he gasped for air. Then he took off like a shot. He did not think about the cold or the killers, Blake only thought about getting onto the beach of 5th Island. The 120 feet was traversed by Blake in just over thirty seconds; slower than his normal best for a similar distance but he was not keeping score at that particular time.

He crawled out of the water and onto the wet sand. Blake took several wide-open mouth breaths. His extremities had already lost some feeling. Once out of the water, he began shaking his hands and stomping his feet to get the blood flowing again. He turned back to the gray semi-circle of land where his grandparents’ cottage stood. There was no sign of the killers and Blake had hoped that they had given up and gone back to the lighthouse.

Chapter 5

Feeling safe momentarily Blake sat in the sand and took several more deep breaths. He was shivering but he tried his best to block it out. 5th Island did not have any homes and it was barely more than half a mile in length. There was little in the way of vegetation, no trees, and some beach grass that sparsely covered the sloping dunes which peaked at roughly twenty feet above sea level in the middle of the island. Not surprisingly 5th Island had never been of much interest to Blake growing up. Who could give a second thought to a barren pile of sand when there was a fascinating lighthouse on the other side?

It took him a few minutes to feel up to it but Blake knew that the cold and lack of shelter from the bone-chilling winds meant he had to keep moving. He wearily stood up and began the walk to the other side of 5th Island. The moon still hung high in the sky, Blake had no idea what time it was since he had left all of his possessions behind in trying to escape from the killers.

The gradual grade of the dunes on 5th Island normally would not have been any trouble for the very fit Blake, but the short swim in the sub-fifty-degree water had caused his muscles to tighten up. He stopped for a moment at the top of the dunes in the center of the island and looked back again at his grandparent’s cottage on 6th Island. Part of him was wishing now that he had not come out here on one last grand adventure. Now when he thought of the cottage on 6th Island he would always be drawn to the images of the body inside the lighthouse and the sounds of the poor woman screaming for help. Those sounds and images came to the forefront of his mind yet again in the silence of the moment.

Blake jogged down the back end of the dunes toward the shore to escape his thoughts. He stopped at the water’s edge and looked across into the milky moonlight. He was having trouble gauging how far it was to the shore of 4th Island. The fact that he could see it meant it was no more than a few hundred feet. It was a manageable distance except of course for the cold water.

He had a little time to prepare himself for the next leg of his journey. Blake stretched his legs, bending at the waist, and took some deep breaths. It was as if he was preparing for a swim meet in high school all over again. He bent down and wrapped his hands around his ankles. He took a deep breath when he heard something in the wind. Slowly he raised and cocked his head to one side. Then he heard it again.

“You there!” The first shadow shouted in the distance. Blake whirled around and caught sight of the three shadows standing at the top of the dune no more than a hundred feet away. The three silhouettes stood in a line, perfectly spaced apart, with their arms by their sides not moving a muscle. There was no time for Blake to question how they managed to get onto 5th Island in the first place. After a deep breath, he dove into the cold, salty ocean.

The cold hit him like an electric current and for a moment Blake lost his bearings and began to swim perpendicular to 4th Island. When he looked ahead and saw only the ocean he managed to pull it back together and keep pushing across the channel. His mind was racing and his body was tingling. Blake knew he had gone a couple of hundred feet and was praying to feel the sandy bottom soon before hypothermia began to get to him. His prayers were answered when he felt the push from underneath.

Blake crawled out of the water gasping for air and trying to wring out his wet clothes with his numbed fingers. His abdominal muscles ached from the constant contraction. The killers could not be seen or heard but Blake did not trust the silence. His body was shaking uncontrollably but he knew that there was no time to be in pain. He needed to muster all the strength he had and keep on moving. Mind over matter at that point was easier said than done.

The tide was still going out. Blake stood at the shore of 4th Island and hoped that the most recent swim was the longest of the night. 4th Island stretched out over a mile in length and was dotted with some scrub pine trees which were a pleasant break from sand and beach grass only. It also gave him some potential hiding spots if need be.

Blake knew nothing of the island except for the fact that it also did not have any homes on it. Of the seven islands in the chain only 2nd and 3rd Islands were inhabited, along with Nana and Grampa’s cottage on 6th Island. Slowly the feeling began to return to his extremities. Blake began to think about possibly trying to seek shelter in one of the empty summer homes on 2nd or 3rd Island as a way to ride out the night and keep safe from the seemingly ever-present shadows.

Blake staggered a bit as he walked up a natural sandy path among the scrub pines. The moon drifted in and out as a few wispy clouds had begun to drift toward the coast from the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The cold was unbearable at times. When the slightest breeze kicked up it made his wet sweatshirt feel like a sheet of ice pressed against his skin. He continued to rub his arms and stomp his feet to get the blood flowing properly again.

The only thing Blake remembered about 4th Island from growing up was that it had a strange natural formation of rocks called the ‘Witches Cave.’ It was on the southern shore of the island and there were stories Grampa Jackson would tell of a witch who had died while fleeing from English settlers in the 16th century. She fled to 4th Island but fell into the cave where she died. It had always scared Blake and he had sworn that he’d never go to see the ‘Witches Cave.’ Now here he was, alone in the dark, and only a few hundred feet from the supposed haunted cave. He never thought he’d be there and also never thought that it would be the least of his fears at that moment.

Blake trudged on, the sand became firmer as the beach grass became more plentiful. He was making better time and started to think the worst might be behind him. From out of the corner of his eye he saw a light. It was from a passing boat no more than a few hundred yards offshore. Blake forgot everything else that was happening and ran toward the light.

“Over here!” He yelled as he got down to the edge of the water. Blake waved his arms frantically. Just then the moon broke free of the clouds and lit up the island and the area around it. Surely the passing boat would see him now underneath the moonlight.

“I am over here!” Blake yelled as loud as he could until his throat was sore. The boat kept going toward the harbor. The light grew dimmer until it disappeared. Blake hung his head, knowing that a golden opportunity to end this nightmare had just sailed by.

“You there!” The sinister baritone of the first shadow yelled from in the distance. Blake’s exuberance over the passing boat had alerted the persistent killers to his location.

“What did you see!?” The second killer followed up in rapid succession as if on a cue. Blake did not wait around. He took off running down the beach desperate to get off of 4th Island. His running took its toll on his already weakened body. Blake could feel his legs tightening up and began to doubt whether he could make the swim to 3rd Island. Sure, the tide was going out but it was going to be at least a couple of hundred feet from shore to shore. How much did his body have left?

“He must not escape!” Blake could hear the third shadow growl. The voice was fainter as if they were playing with him. They were like cats with a mouse, letting him get far enough away and then making their move. Despite this torturous game Blake needed to find a place to hide and recoup his strength. There was only one place he knew of, the ‘Witches Cave.’

In the moonlight, it was quite easy to spot. The shoreline of 4th Island gradually began to rise and to Blake’s left appeared a rock outcropping, sticking a good twenty feet out into the ocean. He ran as quickly as he could up to it but then had to slow down to maneuver his way through the slippery rocks and into the shelter of the cave.

It was a daunting task to find his way inside through a narrow, three to four-foot gash in the rocks on the west side of the cave which faced 3rd Island. Blake kicked himself for leaving all of his belongings behind at the cottage, particularly the flashlight. The waves, although smaller as the tide flowed out, echoed with loud crashes as they entered every crevice of the Witches Cave. Blake entered into the darkness and felt around for a dry spot, preferably one where he could sit and rest.

Luckily he was able to find one such spot thanks to a hole in the ‘roof’ of the cave. The moonlight shone down on a makeshift rock chair which Blake gladly partook in using. He closed his eyes but remained alert. The three killers would surely be on their way to find him again in their macabre game of Hide and Seek. Still, Blake’s eyes grew heavy and he wondered if it was feasible for him to try to take a little catnap.

The rhythm of the waves hitting the outside of the cave started to get to him. It was not comfortable, nor was it warm, but the Witches Cave began to feel more and more like a bedroom for the weary young man. Blake gave in and closed his eyes.

It was not certain how much time had passed. Blake’s cell phone was back in the cottage on 6th Island. However, Blake knew that he had slept because he awakened after a particularly loud wave crashed along the outer rocks of the Witches Cave. He stared straight ahead, several little beams of light sprinkled the rocks from where the moonlight was able to find its way through the cracks. Blake yawned and then looked up toward the opening at the top of the cave.

While in the middle of a stretch, he immediately froze with fear. There at the top of the cave, staring down at him through the opening were the three shadows each with a pair of dull blood-red eyes. How long had they been there? Why had they not come inside to get him while he was sleeping? Blake was even more terrified when he began to realize that it seemed as though these shadows were enjoying the ‘chase’ and could probably take him out whenever they felt like it.

Further proving this idea was the fact that they continued to stare down at him as he sat still, too scared to move. Their blood-red eyes never blinked, they just stared. It was a horrifying game of chicken. Blake sat completely still with his eyes transfixed on the six eyes staring down at him. Someone had to blink at some point. Blake decided it had to be him.

He remained still and formulated his plan. As best he could he looked toward the entrance to the cave making an escape route in his mind. He was going to have to be in a full run shortly after getting free of the rocks. It did not matter if his body was physically ready for another swim or not. Blake did not want to be sitting prey for the three monsters hovering over him. He took a deep breath and watched the breath form a cloud in front of him as he exhaled. Now was the time. Blake rocked forward and leaped to his right. The shadows’ dull eyes turned bright.

“You there!”

“What did you see!?”

“He must not escape!” The three shadows yelled over the top of each other as if brought back from a trance by Blake’s movement. He heard their cries which only made him move faster. He slipped on a rock and felt his pants and his skin tear on its jagged edge but there was no time for pain. Dodging the rest of the rocks Blake sprinted toward the shore like it was the finish line of a race.

“You there!” The first shadow roared from somewhere behind him. Blake did not look back and did not stop. He dove into the chilly water in a dead sprint. He hit the water in a hard belly flop that nearly knocked the wind out of himself. Blake swallowed a bit of the salty water and gagged. He was losing control. In a few more moments he could end up being pulled under the waves.

Blake needed to regain his composure. It started with treading water. Then Blake was able to get his tired body moving in the right direction. In his mind, he kept himself going by thinking of the homes waiting for him on 3rd Island. He would be able to hide, maybe find dry clothes, and maybe use a telephone. It was all a bit far-fetched but it kept Blake’s legs churning. As he drew closer to shore it began to get to him. Blake’s limbs were growing numb and he felt as though someone was squeezing the air out of him. He could not swim anymore. In a last-ditch effort to avoid drowning, Blake turned over and tried to float his way to shore. It worked. Finally, it seemed as though something was going his way.

Blake washed up on shore like a piece of driftwood and lay on the sand while the waves repeatedly lapped at his body and then receded. He wanted to lie there and rest after nearly drowning but he knew that somehow the three evil shadows would be on the shore of 3rd Island in no time. Despite knowing this he could not move. Several swims in the sub-fifty-degree water had caused his extremities to go numb. Blake wanted to move but had to wait it out.

In time the feeling began to return enough. Blake clumsily rolled himself over and crawled up the sand before finally standing. The ‘pins and needles’ sensation that he felt in his limbs was an intense pain that made him want to cry out in pain but he kept quiet for fear of alerting the killers as he had with the passing boat. To quell a bit of the pain he stood perfectly still formulating the next phase of his escape from the chamber of horrors that the island chain had become.

Blake knew that there were two nice summer homes on 3rd Island; he could only hope that there might be some dry clothes and maybe an active telephone line in one of them. From where he stood shivering on the beach Blake could not see any sign of these homes. 3rd Island was the largest of the chain of seven and the homes had been built as far from the vicious ocean tides as possible.

The trail leading away from the shore was an uphill climb. Blake had to prepare himself for the inevitable pain in his limbs once the hiking began. He took a deep breath and started on his way. The breeze which was so prevalent near the water began to fade. For a few seconds, it was eerily quiet. That’s when Blake heard the voices return. Slowly they became clear.

“You there!” The first evil shadow shouted. Blake heard it but could not see it as the moonlight had become dull behind thickening clouds. He was not sure if he should run, or where he could run to for that matter. Blake squatted down and tried to focus on where the shadows were located. It grew silent as Blake turned his head to the right.

“What did you see?!” The second shadow roared right next to Blake’s ear. It was a teeth-rattling screech that caused Blake to jump to his feet and take off in a dead run up the hill.

“He must not escape!” The third voice growled from in front of him. Panicked Blake dodged to his left and stumbled over a tree stump nearly falling. He maintained his balance and kept going. The only way he could tell where the shadows were lurking was their bright blood-red eyes which shone like beacons against the pitch-black night. He began to slip as he tried to dodge the third shadow and ended up stumbling onto all fours.

Blake’s skin felt a rush of cold. He thought he had fallen into a puddle but the sand was dry. He turned around as he tried to stand. Directly above him was a pair of blood-red shining eyes. The bone-chilling cold came from the shadow itself. Blake tried to stand but he felt as if he was being held down. He flailed his arms around and only felt the icy cold. There was a heaviness to the air and all Blake could do was crawl on his hands and knees to escape it.

“You there!” The first shadow exclaimed as it began closing in on Blake. Just before the killers could converge on him Blake escaped the heaviness and made it to his feet. The voices faded away again as Blake made it to the top of the sandy hill and began running on a dirt road he hoped would lead to one of the two summer homes.

3rd Island was the largest of the chain at more than a mile in length. With only two homes on it, there was a lot of open space. All Blake could do was keep his feet moving and continue along the dirt road, eventually, it would bring him to where he needed to get to.

The voices of the three evil shadows were no longer audible and Blake slowed his pace down to a fast walk. For the first time since he had initially arrived at the cottage on 6th Island Blake was warm. There were even a few beads of sweat forming on his brow which immediately turned cold. His mind tried to focus. Who were these shadows? Why were they repeating the same haunting words over and over? What of their bright red eyes? Why were they cold to the touch? Blake could not wrap his head around it. In the end, he focused on getting back to shore and to the police. They could find the answers.

The scenery on 3rd Island reminded Blake a bit of back home in Mississippi when he and his family would go up to Holly Springs National Forest to see the foliage on the magnolia and dogwood trees during autumn. Sure there were no magnolia trees and no dogwood trees on 3rd Island but in the darkness of the night the spruce and pine trees that loomed overhead made it feel as if he was there.

For a short while as he walked it seemed to Blake that there was not going to be any sign of civilization on the island. The dirt road continued on and on as the moon periodically broke from the clouds to light the way for him. It was still only trees as far as Blake’s eyes could see. He felt disconnected from the rest of the world where he was.

Then he noticed a strange-looking tree, one far too smooth and free of branches to be natural. Blake looked up the trunk and noticed the wooden cross-arm of a rural utility pole. That could only mean that he was closing in on the pair of summer homes on 3rd Island.

Blake picked up the pace and jogged along the dirt road hoping that good news awaited him in one of those homes. The road rounded a gradual curve and there stood the first summer home brightly lit by the returning moon. It was like an angel from heaven in the form of a modest single-story home, white with black shutters. Blake let out a huge sigh of relief and jogged the remaining few hundred feet up the stereotypical seashell driveway to the front door.

Being a gentleman, and a bit paranoid, Blake knocked on the door despite there being no lights and no car. There was of course no response so Blake then tried to simply open the door. It was locked as was to be expected. It was not in his nature to break the law so he tried to avoid breaking and entering if it was possible. Unfortunately with three killers on his trail, there was no other option. Blake justified it to himself by telling himself that if the people who owned the house knew of his predicament they would not be upset with what he was about to do.

As the moonlight faded again behind clouds Blake looked around the front yard. On the side of the house, he procured a baseball-sized rock. Thinking that the shadows might notice a gaping hole in a window in the front of the house Blake walked around to the back. He opened the screen back door and then began to quietly tap on the storm door’s window with the rock. Blake was hoping that he might be able to break the window without alerting the possible approaching shadows.

He tapped and tapped until he heard a crack. Blake used his elbow to knock the glass to the floor inside. It was then just a matter of reaching in and unlocking the door. The door creaked as Blake entered the first house on 3rd Island. It was dark, not even a light from a clock on the oven. Blake flipped the light switch on and off over and over but there was no power in the house. This would make finding any clothes or supplies difficult.

With his arms out in front of him to avoid bumping into anything Blake began to wander around the house. He went out of the kitchen and down a hallway sliding his fingers along the walls to find the doors to the bedrooms. Inside the first of three, he found nothing of use. Sure, there was a bed which he would have loved to make use of but he knew time was of the essence so he moved on.

The second bedroom was a much greater success. Blake found a closet of clothes hanging, there was nothing for the cold air outside but he thought that if he put on three or four shirts underneath his sweater that it would be adequate insulation for the two remaining swims he had ahead of him. Blake took off his sweater and threw his cold and damp shirt on the hardwood floor. One by one he slipped on the short-sleeved shirts until they started to get tight around his shoulders. Then he slipped his sweater back on and felt warm.

With no power in the house, there was no food in the refrigerator. The darkness made it difficult to tell exactly what he was grabbing in the cabinets. Rather than risk it Blake decided to leave the first house and continue down the dirt road to the second house on 3rd Island.

The wind that had been so bone-chilling before now was not as tough to take with six layers of insulation. Blake felt that the worst was now behind him and that whether he found some food or any other sort of supplies at the other house on 3rd Island he would still make it to shore all right.

The dirt road to the second house was easier to follow as the rural power lines hovered over the road just to the right. It was like a trail of breadcrumbs for the weary Blake. The island road was quiet but for the soft squishing made by Blake’s sopping wet socks and sneakers. He had forgotten to check for dry ones in the first house and was now kicking himself. The first second on 3rd Island came into view at the end of another long driveway. This one was paved with asphalt, not sea shells.

Blake ran to the front door and knocked as he had done at the previous house. Of course, there was no answer and the door was locked. The moon dodged in and out of the clouds and was now in full shine as Blake stood on the front step of the house. He sought shelter from the killers in the shade. Blake needed to slither his way around the house to the back door but it was made more difficult by a seven-foot tall picket fence that surrounded the backyard. The only opening faced the ocean so the owners could have an unobstructed view.

He thought about trying to crash through the fence but the noise and resulting hole might alert the killers to his whereabouts. He had not heard any of their haunting voices in a while and wanted to keep it that way. Blake settled on the smarter and longer route of creeping along the perimeter of the fence. Once he came to the point where the fence ended Blake was relieved to find a few feet of land left. It allowed him to enter the backyard without dangling himself out over the rocky cliff which led to the shore below.

Blake crept along the grass. He tread carefully out of fear of holes in the ground as much as alerting the killers to his presence. The back door was a large sliding door that was locked. This made entering more difficult since breaking a seven-foot tall pane of double-thick glass would take more effort and cause a much louder noise. The debate lasted a minute or so internally before Blake realized that he might be better off trying a bedroom window.

A few loose rocks were lying along the edge of the house, Blake chose one that was no larger than a tennis ball but had a pointed end to it. This shape made it easy for him to crack open the bottom left-hand corner of the first window he found. Carefully he pushed as much of the jagged glass inside onto the floor, giving Blake enough room to reach in and up for the window lock. He hung his head sheepishly when he reached up and found that the window had been left unlocked.

‘Figures, just my luck,’ Blake thought to himself as he tossed the rock aside. The window was lifted and Blake braced himself up on the sill, slowly swinging his left leg inside. He remembered the broken glass on the floor so he touched down with only the toes of the sneaker to try to avoid shards. Blake even closed the window behind him and locked it this time.

He flipped the light switch on and off. There was no power in this house either. That meant there would likely be no food as well, or at least no food that he could be sure of in the darkness. Blake exited the bedroom and went searching for dry socks. He entered the master bedroom and began rifling through the drawers. With luck, he found some summer clothes much like in the previous house. He grabbed two pairs of socks, unsure of the size or color but that was irrelevant. Once the dry socks were on he slipped his wet sneakers back on which then defeated the purpose of the dry socks in the first place.

There was no other reason to hang around in the house, Blake knew he had been lucky to get the dry clothes and should get moving toward the mainland. He headed for the master bedroom door when he heard a disheartening sound.

“You there!” The baritone voice of the first shadow was heard from the vicinity of the front door. It was followed shortly thereafter by two more familiar phrases.

“What did you see!?”

“He must not escape!” Blake was frozen with fear. Each of the voices came from a different location. The house was surrounded. He was alone in the dark and not sure which way to go to escape. The voices repeated themselves unabated and got closer with each round. Blake thought about going out of the master bedroom window when suddenly every light in the house came on at once.

For a moment there was not a sound. Blake was frozen still. The silence was deafening. Then the voices began again. There were only a few seconds before the killers would be in the house. Blake turned around, looking for any place to hide as escape seemed impossible. The logical choice was underneath the king-sized bed. There was a nice long quilt hanging down nearly to the floor on all sides. It would shield him pretty well. Blake slid underneath the bed facing the opened bedroom door so that he could see if anyone came in. All he could do was wait.

There was no sound of a door opening or closing but Blake felt a rush of cold come over him in a wave. He knew something was inside the house. No footsteps echoed on the hardwood floors yet Blake could sense that a presence was getting closer. There was a deafening silence that caused his body to tense up with anticipation waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was almost as if he wanted to shout out for them to ‘get it over with!’ Blake kept his mouth shut and his eyes open though.

From the right side, something appeared. Blake could not make it out but it had gone past the opened door in a flash. His heart was rattling around in his chest and it became uncomfortable lying on his stomach on the hard floors. Something else began drifting by the opened bedroom door, this time Blake was able to catch the back of a shadow as it disappeared. Like the last car on a train, a third shadow glided across the opening but this one stopped. Slowly it slid into the bedroom, followed soon after by the other two shadows.

This was the moment that confirmed that those who were chasing him were not human at all. The shadows floated across the room a few inches above the hardwood floor. They did not move their limbs. It was as if they were one solid black shape, a frozen silhouette unable to bend. He would not have been able to make out their slightly-human shape if not for their blood-red eyes which were located near the middle of the rounds ‘heads’ at the tops of the silhouettes.

The shadows drifted around the room their aura causing Blake’s skin to tingle with cold as they got dangerously close to the edge of the king-sized bed. The block-like legs of the shadows slithered around the room. They appeared to pass through each other when they got close. The three entities never made a sound in their voices or movements. If he could not hear the faint hum of ocean waves Blake would have thought he had gone deaf. His heart raced and his stomach began to hurt from the anxiety. He felt as if he was simply waiting for the end.

He closed his eyes and accepted his fate that his life was to end in the cold bedroom of the house on 3rd Island. Blake took a deep breath and exhaled. Then suddenly the biting cold in the air dissipated. With trepidation, Blake slowly opened his eyes. The three shadows were gone. They were likely not far. It was time to make a break for it now or risk being trapped by them again.

There was not much room for maneuvering underneath the bed. Blake found himself wobbling from side to side in a sort of alligator crawl to get himself free of the underside of the mattress. Halfway out from under the bed, Blake paused when he felt a cold breeze down the back of his neck. He turned his head to look up.

“You there!”

“What did you see!?”

“He must not escape!” The three terrifying shadows were perched on top of the bed. Their red eyes got brighter as they shouted their phrases. He did not hesitate. Even hitting his lower back on the footboard slat of the king-sized bed did not stop him. The shouts of the three shadows grew louder and more intense, echoing off of the wood paneling of the bedroom.

Blake scurried out of the master bedroom and practically broke down the front door to escape. He did not look back to see if he was being chased. All Blake knew was that the shore was not very far from the house, and he was ready for another cold swim.

Blake ran downhill, it was steep with many loose rocks. He did not stop even as he got to a broken-down wooden dock. It was here that the owners of the first house tied their boats up upon arriving on 3rd Island. The dock needed repair and listed side to side under the weight of Blake’s pounding feet. The momentary loss of equilibrium that came with the moving of the dock slowed Blake down to where he nearly fell into the water at the end of the dock. It was only for a few seconds then Blake took a deep breath and dove in.

At first, the swim in the cold, choppy waters was much easier than with any of the other channels between islands. This was partly because Blake had time to rest and recover, and also partly because of the several extra shirts he was now wearing. His speed was excellent as he pushed on across the 500-foot gap between 3rd and 2nd Island. Then the sub-fifty-degree water began to seep through all of the shirts. The cold began to once again take its effect on young Blake.

His legs grew tired and heavy and Blake knew he needed to make it to the shore of 2nd Island quickly or else risk going under the water. The shore drew ever closer but then Blake noticed a major problem. There was no sandy beach along the shore of 2nd Island where he was approaching. Instead, there was a steep rock face stretching nearly twenty feet into the crisp night air. Blake got to within about thirty feet of the rocks. Far enough away to not risk being thrown into any jagged edges lying in wait under the surface. He trod water and tried to contemplate his next move as fast as he could.

The rock face stretched out as far as Blake could see in either direction. He did not have the strength he thought to swim around it and hope that there was a safer passageway onto 2nd Island. His legs were cramping and losing feeling. Blake struggled to breathe in the cold water and decided it was climb or drown.

The initial steps out of the water were easy as the rocks seemed to be placed as a sort of breakwater to protect the island from erosion. This meant that they were relatively flat and had a uniform shape to them. It was the sudden breeze striking Blake’s sopping wet clothes that caused him to slip back down into the water. It felt like the air was being squeezed from his lungs when that breeze crashed into his body.

The drop back into the water did not help matters. Blake had summoned a lot of strength to pull his body out the first time. He felt depleted. In the first bit of good luck he had in a while Blake was able to steady himself by standing on a couple of rocks beneath the surface of the water. This motivated him to start climbing again. He readied himself mentally for the cold wind and it was no longer a factor.

Blake grasped onto a pair of large rocks just above his eye level and did a weak pull-up. He held himself there until his feet found secure places to rest. With the aid of the returning moonlight, he looked up and was able to see the best pathway up the rock face. It was still a difficult climb for Blake in the dark on wet rocks though he managed to make the final ascent with no more slipping.

Once he was at the top of the rock face on the dirt of 2nd Island he turned and looked back in the direction of 3rd Island. He took a few labored breaths while on his hands and knees.

‘They’ll be on me soon,’ he thought.

Chapter 6

Blake was not as tired as he had been after his previous swims. He figured that the wind dying down and his five extra layers of shirts were keeping his body insulated a little more. 2nd Island was about the same size as 3rd Island with two houses on it as well. He hoped that there might be food and possibly more clothing although he was not sure how many more shirts he could fit on his body.

Blake rose from the dirt and turned toward the mass of land that lay before him. No more than a few steps into his walk Blake heard growling shouts coming from directly behind him.

“You there!” Blake turned but kept walking backward. In a nightmarish scene, the three shadows slowly rose from beneath the rock cliff. They hung in the air momentarily, their blood-red eyes focused on young Blake. He was terrified of the way they did not stop coming after him but was fascinated by the hypnotic way the silhouettes levitated off the ground. Not wanting to find out the hard way how they achieved that feat Blake turned and began running through the scrub pine trees and brush that littered the area of 2nd Island where he had arrived.

“What did you see!?”

“He must not escape!” The other shadows cried out loudly once they realized Blake was on the run again. Blake knew the shadows were following closely behind as their continued shouts did not fade. Their chase was the only thing keeping his tired legs going. If he stopped he was at their mercy. There was no telling what these creatures were or what they would do to him if he was caught.

Like a beacon in the distance, Blake spotted the first house on 2nd Island. The moonlight shining off of a window on the house’s second floor gave it away. Blake got a second wind and sprinted to the front door. At this point, he no longer cared about the people’s property. All he cared about was escaping the islands alive. Instead of knocking Blake rammed the door with his right shoulder until it ached. He then leaned back and repeatedly kicked the door until the frame cracked enough to get inside.

Rather than closing the door or hiding inside Blake left the door wide open. He wanted to use this house as a decoy, drawing the shadows inside while he fled to the second house. Despite the risk, Blake still did a quick once over in the dark kitchen and the only bedroom close enough that he could search. There was nothing of use to him in that small of an area but he could not take the chance of checking upstairs and being cornered by the three shadows. Blake had to be satisfied at that moment with his six layers of clothing.

He leaned into the back door and opened it only enough to squeeze his slight frame through it. Then it was closed very gently. He wanted to give every illusion to the shadows that he was inside that first house when they arrived.

“You there!” The first shadow bellowed in its baritone from the front of the house. Blake stood safely hidden behind it. He felt his plan might work as there were no second or third shouts from the other shadows. They must have noticed the opened front door and gone inside to investigate. As quietly as he could Blake jogged away toward the edge of the yard. He had to walk through the trees and bushes surrounding the house to be sure he was concealed before he stepped foot onto the dirt road.

Once safely out of sight, hidden behind a very thick pine tree, Blake turned back toward the house. He could hear the sounds of the shadows calling out their familiar taunts muffled by the walls of the house. Blake began to creep away when suddenly all of the lights in the house turned on much like they had in the house on 3rd Island. The house lights were not capable of lighting up where Blake stood more than a hundred feet away. However, an issue arose when the floodlights attached to the back of the house came on and shone brightly in Blake’s eyes.

He turned and ran hoping that one of the shadows had not looked out into the backyard at that moment. Blake did not wish to find out for certain. He ran for several hundred feet before the dirt road curved. Finally, he was able to step out of the woods. Blake bent over and gasped for air just for a moment. Despite the momentary quiet, he knew that there would most likely be a lot more running in his future.

The moon vanished again behind the high thin clouds making it nearly impossible for Blake to see where he was going. It also made it nearly impossible for him to see whether he was being tailed by the three shadows. Luckily, or unluckily, they always made their presence known with their terrifying shouts. All he could do was assume he was alone on that quiet and dark stretch of dirt road on 2nd Island.

The pace was much slower than Blake would have liked. Each time he tried to run he got the ‘pins and needles’ feeling in both of his lower legs. His muscles felt like solid blocks each time his foot hit the ground so he would go back to walking. Then he would think about the possible approaching shadows which would make him start to run again. This cycle continued until he caught sight of the second house. Actually, first, he saw the replica of 7th Island Light in the front yard and then he saw the house.

The five-foot-tall wooden lighthouse statue was haunting to stand beside after what had transpired on 7th Island a few hours earlier. Blake stared at it and his mind wandered back to all that had transpired. How did this all happen? All he had wanted was a final celebration at the old cottage and now he was in a battle for his very survival.

“You there!” The first shadow shouted from up the dirt road. They had realized in short order that Blake was nowhere to be found in the first house. There was little time to think. Blake ran up the sea shell walkway and barreled into the front door. It did not budge. He rammed his right shoulder into it again and again with little luck. It ached with a piercing pain as if something had been broken.

“What did you see!?” The second shadow called out as they got closer. Blake could now see the tiny blood-red dots of their eyes and knew he had to get inside the house somehow. His tired mind was going blank all he could see in the immediate area was a large rock weighing about fifteen pounds. Blake picked it up and began to pound away on the doorknob.

“He must not escape!” The third shadow growled from no more than thirty feet away. They were closing fast. When it seemed like there was no way out Blake felt the knob give way and fall with a metallic ‘ping’ onto the front step. He crashed through the door, falling onto the floor briefly before staggering to his feet and running through the living room. He had no intention of hiding in the house instead he went right through the back door.

The shadows were already calling out their torturous phrases from inside the living room. Blake knew that they would be on his trail virtually the entire time he was running so he decided on a different course of action. He stopped in his tracks while standing on the deck which stuck out a good ten feet from the house. There was maybe two feet of clearance between the bottom of the deck and the ground which was enough for Blake to squeeze into.

He hopped off the deck all the while keeping his eyes toward the back door just in case he had to make a quick escape. He lay on the ground facing away from the deck and wriggled his way underneath, going back until the bottoms of his sneakers touched the foundation of the house. All there was left to do was wait and hope that the shadows moved on believing that Blake had already made his way to 1st Island.

The voices of the shadows were silent. There was no way for Blake to know where they were at that moment. All he heard was the distant waves repeatedly hitting the shore. All he felt was the gentle wind that flowed underneath the deck. It was ominously like the cold air that surrounded the shadows. Blake crossed his arms under his chin to allow him to see as much of the surrounding landscape as he could. He was very tired and still very cold. His right shoulder throbbed and he knew that swimming might be an issue.

The cold breeze continued running across his face but slowly dissipated in his mind as Blake fell asleep under the deck. The cold breeze was replaced by warm sunshine in Blake’s dream. Now he was sitting on the porch at his parents’ home in the summer staring out at the old neighborhood he had loved so much. The air was so sweet he could almost taste it.

Blake got up from his chair and rested his arms on the railing to watch his younger sister skip rope in the driveway. He smiled widely realizing just how much he missed those childhood days at home. He watched as his father wheeled out the old push lawnmower. He tried in vain to get it started and had to turn it over to try to fix some problem with the motor. Blake laughed out loud.

He watched as his sister had some good momentum skipping a pink rope with purple handles. She jumped faster and faster until the rope became a blur. In an instant, she stopped. After staring down at the driveway for a moment she turned her head toward Blake. His smile turned to horror. His sister had deep blood red eyes and she curled her lips like an angry dog.

“You there!” She hissed. Blake opened his eyes and immediately felt the cold breeze again on his face. His head was down in his arms to try to shield himself from as much of the cold as he could. It was at this moment that Blake felt uncomfortable. He felt like he should raise his head to look around but was afraid of what he might see.

Slowly he lifted his forehead off of his arms and looked straight ahead. There was a set of unblinking dull blood-red eyes staring back at him. Blake got ready to roll and escape to his right when he saw a second set of deep blood red eyes staring at him. An ominous feeling came over him as he turned his head to the left and saw the third set of blood-red eyes staring at him. He was surrounded. There was no way out for Blake.

It was like a showdown in the Old West. Blake did not move and the shadows did not move or speak. It was the same as when he was hiding in the ‘Witches Cave’ on 4th Island. The shadows only moved when he moved. All he could think was that he had made some sort of noise while sleeping that had drawn the shadows in.

Blake thought about remaining still and seeing how long the shadows would reciprocate. A little voice inside his head however told him maybe he was wrong and that the shadows at any moment would slither their way under the deck and do with him whatever they wanted to.

Blake did not know what his next move was to be. Escaping unscathed seemed unlikely. Keeping as still as possible Blake scanned the nearby sand hoping for an answer. What he found were several hand-sized stones to throw. They were not to injure the shadows. What he hoped for was a distraction long enough for him to get by. There would be little time once any sort of movement was made. The shadows reacted much the way sensor lights did.

He took a deep breath and his heart began to beat hard in his chest. Blake eyed a stone mere inches from his right hand. Twitching his fingers like a dueling gunman waiting for the ‘draw’ signal Blake pumped himself up for the oncoming chase. In a quick motion, he snatched the stone, there was an immediate response. The three sets of dull red eyes immediately turned bright.

“What did you see!?” The second shadow shouted from his right. Blake went to hurl the stone at the shadow and bumped his head on the deck beams. His plan was failing.

“He must not escape!” The third shadow cackled from Blake’s left side. He continued to scramble trying to grab the stone again.

“What did you see!? What did you see?! What did you see?!” The second shadow badgered Blake repeatedly as if was glitching.

“Nothing! I saw nothing,” Blake cried out. “I won’t tell anyone about you, I swear!”

“You there!” The first shadow called out again, completely oblivious to Blake’s panicked statement. He realized that these shadows had no interest in cutting a deal. Blake grabbed the stone and hurled it toward the second shadow directly in front of him. It appeared to pass right through it. He then began flinging handfuls of sand all around while wriggling his way out from under the deck.

This worked to a degree as the shadows backed away from the sandstorm just enough for Blake to scoot by. They did not back off for long.

“What did you see!?”

“He must not escape!” The shadows were hot on his trail. It was a few hundred feet to the shore and much of that was at a steep decline. Blake began to lose control of his strides as he sprinted his way down the final slope toward the ocean shore. There was a concrete boat ramp that led to the water, as Blake’s feet struck it he could feel jolts like lightning up his legs.

It was nearly five hundred feet to the shore of 1st Island even at low tide. Blake knew that it was going to be tough. He also knew that this would be his final cold swim.

“You there!” The first shadow called out just before Blake hit the water. Those voices and their blood-red eyes were all the motivation he needed to dive into the chilly ocean water.

Once the water hit his skin Blake felt his breath go out of him. He gasped and inhaled a mouthful of cold salty water. He knew he was in trouble. Bobbing like a buoy Blake coughed and spit some of the water out while trying to regain his bearings. He did not look back to see where the three shadows were, instead, he refocused and began to swim.

It felt like hundreds of knives were sticking into his body with every kick and every stroke of his swim. This last one was harder than the others due to the cumulative effects of all of the time spent in the frigid water and the exposure to the cold mid-November air.

Blake kept his eyes straight ahead, waiting for the moment that he was close enough to see the outline of 1st Island. His legs felt tight and heavy and he started to drift to his left. His injured right shoulder was keeping him from swimming a straight line. It was either swim or die. He pressed on and finally caught sight of the 1st Island shore. It was a sprint to the end.

There was barely any feeling left to his limbs when his feet pressed down into the wet sand near the shore. Blake could not even find the energy to stand. He crawled on his hands and knees until he was fully clear of the lapping waves. His right shoulder gave way and he collapsed face down in the sand.

Chapter 7

He was not sure how long he was out for but when he came to he felt better. Blake rose to his knees and looked straight ahead. It was starting to get light. It was only a milky gray dawn but it was a wonderful sight for Blake’s tired eyes. Streetlights were shining at either end of the fifty-foot wooden bridge that connected 1st Island to the mainland. He had a few hundred feet to go but the end was in sight.

Blake got to his feet unsteadily. Like a newborn calf, his legs shook from a night of unbelievable punishment. Before he took a step forward he noticed someone in the distance. There was a figure standing just in front of the bridge under the streetlight. It was a man in some sort of security guard’s uniform. The man began coming toward him but not in a menacing way like the shadows. Blake met up with the scrawny-looking old man in the security guard uniform in front of a rickety guard shack.

“Who are you?” Blake asked in a voice barely above a whisper. The old man pointed to a patch on his left breast pocket.

“I’m the guard,” he replied in a high nasally voice. “The better question is who are you?” Blake opened his mouth to speak and had to brace himself a bit on the side of the guard shack.

“I saw a murder,” he stated in between gasps of air, “well, two murders, out at 7th Island. A man and woman were killed by these three people, at least I thought they were people. They look more like…”

“Shadows?” The old man interrupted.

“Yeah, how did you know?” The old man did not seem to be surprised in the least.

“You didn’t see any murders tonight, son,” the old man calmly told Blake.

“Yes, I did,” he replied getting more animated with his hands. “The woman was screaming for help, I went over to investigate and saw a body inside the lighthouse.” The old man scratched at his right cheek and shook his head.

“I can assure you that Ron and Janet were not murdered tonight.”

“Who are Ron and Janet?”

“The last lighthouse keeper and his wife.”

“I thought there were no keepers anymore, that the light was automated.”

“It is.”

“But you just said the keeper and his wife were not killed tonight! How do you know that?”

“Because they were killed more than fifty years ago.”

“That’s impossible, it was all so real. The sights, the sounds.”

“Ron and Janet were the last keepers and after their murders, the lighthouse was left to be automated. Nobody has lived on 7th Island since, well except for seagulls, noisy little buggers.”

“Then what did I see out there?”

“Why ghosts of course. Their ghosts haunt 7th Island.” Blake’s blood ran cold and he got goosebumps on his arms and neck.

“And the shadows? Are they ghosts too?”

“Yes, and evil malevolent ones at that.” Blake’s mind was racing from all of the new information this old man was sharing. He had so many questions.

“What about those things they kept saying to me?”

“What did you see, and the like?”

“Yeah, it was like they were robots or something.”

“There was a witness to the murders who the three killers chased across the islands. When they made it to this shore the guard who was on duty came to investigate. He shot the three killers dead, and those phrases, they were the last words spoken by each of them. Now it is all they remember for eternity.”

“So they’re forever stuck on these islands? Just chasing people and tormenting them?”

“If you are foolish enough to go check out 7th Island at night they do. They died pursuing a witness so in the afterlife it is all they know how to do.”

“What about the keeper and his wife? Why are they still there? They weren’t evil, were they?” The old man drew a deep breath and sighed.

“No, they, unfortunately, got caught in a net by mistake if you will.”

“What do you mean?”

“After the murders, and before authorities could retrieve the bodies, a sort of curse was put on these islands. It was meant to keep any and all who perished on them from that night on from ever escaping. It was a way to keep the evil contained, unfortunately, some good people got stuck here as well.”

“A curse? I don’t follow you.”

“Those three shadows are pure evil. Why do you think they have no earthly form in the afterlife? Only darkness. In their lifetime they were doing some horrible Satanic things and thought the lighthouse was a perfect hiding place. Ron and Janet happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“You said some good people got stuck. Are there others out there?”

“A few. The islands have seen a couple of lost souls end their lives among the rocks of the Witches Cave. All who die on the islands never leave them, even if their earthly remains do.”

“You there!” The first shadow called out. Blake lost his breath and turned around. There in the milky gray dawn stood the three shadows, no more than thirty feet away. In the light Blake could see there were no discerning lines to their forms, it was almost like a fog condensed down as close to human form as could be.

“Go away! I didn’t see anything!” Blake screamed at the evil silhouettes and hid behind the scrawny old man.

“Don’t worry,” the old man said confidently, “they can’t hurt you now.” A trembling Blake was not so sure and remained behind the old man pressed up against the wall of the guard shack.

“How can you be sure?” He asked. The old man pointed to the first sun rays peeking through the pine and spruce trees.

“It is almost light.”

“I don’t understand.” The three shadows began gliding toward him. Blake was hoping for a miracle as there was nowhere else to run.

“What did you see!?” The second shadow cackled as it took the lead. Suddenly it glided into the path of a ray of sunlight. There was a groan from the shadow and plumes of smoke rose from its top. Within seconds there was nothing but a small black imprint left in the sand. The shadow was gone.

“It’s part of the curse, son,” the old man said. “Once the first rays of light hit those who have perished on these islands they disappear. It’s like a reset button.”

“He must not escape!” The third shadow growled. It glided around the patch of black left by the second shadow but could not maneuver around the increasing sunlight which was starting to envelop 1st Island. There was a groan from the shadow and the plumes of smoke again. The third shadow was gone.

“You couldn’t escape that, huh!” Blake shouted with a defiant smirk. Still, he did not come out from behind the old man.

“You there!” The first shadow called out in its baritone voice. It was quickly cut down by the outpouring of the sun. There wasn’t even time for a groan, just a puff of smoke. For the first time in hours, Blake breathed a sigh of relief. The evil shadows were gone.

“What happens to them now?” He asked the old man.

“They ‘wake up’ when the suns goes down, back on 7th Island, completely unaware of what happened the night before. It basically erases their memory, a fitting torture for such malevolent spirits.” There was still one question that haunted Blake.

“I have to ask. How do you know all of this?” The old man smiled and put his hand on Blake’s shoulder.

“Because I was that guard on duty the night of the murders. I was the one who shot the three killers. I was the one who put the curse on these islands. After my time was up on this Earth I asked that I be sent back to keep the evil at bay.”

“So you’re a ghost as well?”

“Yes, it is my eternal job to make sure nothing leaves these islands.”

“What happens if it is cloudy? Couldn’t the shadows get past you?” The old man laughed, sounding like a crow. He reached into his uniform and pulled out a small box fit for a diamond ring or necklace.

“Oh, I have been given a special weapon if that is the case.” He turned the box toward Blake. ‘Sunlight’ was what it said in plain black letters on the top of the box. Blake smiled and nodded.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am that you were here to save me from those things. I will be so glad to sleep in my own bed tonight.” He turned to walk toward the bridge but the old man grabbed his arm.

“Not so fast,” he said sternly.

“What’s the problem?” The old man took a step to the side and pointed a frail bony finger toward the shore. Blake turned around. His heart was in his throat. There down on the beach lay his own body. He had not survived the final swim to 1st Island. Hypothermia had killed him. Blake began to shake and put his head in his hands.

“I am sorry, son.”

“No, no, I made it all this way. This can’t be real. It’s a dream. I am asleep, right? I am going to wake up somewhere alive, right? Oh God no, why did this happen?” The old man stood stoically, unmoved by Blake’s gut-wrenching words.

“I am sorry, son,” he said again. “I told you that these islands were caught in a net. I cannot let you go.” Blake started to plead with the old man.

“Of course you can. I won’t tell anyone wherever I end up that you let me leave.”

“It’s not that easy. THEY would know.” The old man pointed toward the sky.

“Can’t you make an exception? I’m only twenty-four, I have so much of life left. I was here to celebrate one last night at my grandparents old cottage on 6th Island. I’m not evil, I’m not suicidal.”

“You don’t understand. If I let you cross that bridge it undoes the curse. If you leave, everyone leaves, including the three evil shadows. Who knows what happens then? For the greater good you have to stay.” Blake knew that there was nothing he could say or do to change the old man’s mind.

“So what happens now?”

“You can either step out from behind this shack into the sunlight, or I can open the box. The choice is yours.” Blake looked at the box and then out toward the beautifully sun-kissed beach.

“Does it hurt?”

“I don’t know, you will have to find out on your own.” Blake sighed and stared at his feet.

“Okay, I guess I have no choice. Will you remember me, you know when I show up here tomorrow morning?”

“Yes, but I cannot inform you of that, it is another part of the curse. You can never be informed of what is happening. I am so sorry that you got mixed up in this, son.” The old man had a look of genuine sorrow on his face, breaking the cold fa├žade he had worn from the moment Blake met him.

“I am sorry too.” Blake looked out toward the beach and took two steps forward. The sunlight hit his face and he closed his eyes. He felt a similar ‘pins and needles’ feeling as when he was swimming in the cold ocean waters. Then everything faded to white. Blake had left his body on the beach at 1st Island but his soul had been left to eternally try to find an escape from the islands that would never come.

Blake opened his eyes. There he stood on the porch at Nana and Grampa Jackson’s cottage. The moon had begun to rise behind 7th Island Light. It reflected off of the surrounding water and also made the lighthouse into an imposing silhouette in the distance. It was all happening just as it had the previous night but true to the old man’s words Blake had no recollection.

He shivered as he stared off toward 7th Island Light remembering the ominous words his grandfather had written on one of the old photographs he had found in the attic. Blake had always been a fan of true crime shows, trying his best to solve whatever crime was featured before the solution was revealed. To him, this seemed like something similar only he had nothing to start with except for the lighthouse. Blake debated momentarily in his mind before deciding that a little trip was necessary. He threw the anchor into his Runabout and began his trip across the water to see 7th Island Light up close, for the first time, again.


About the Author

Christopher Setterlund is a proud 12th-generation Cape Codder and comes from a large family. He has previously written seven books. The In My Footsteps travel trilogy through Schiffer Publishing, a Cape Cod history trilogy through Arcadia Publishing which includes Historic Restaurants, Cape Cod Nights, and Iconic Hotels and Motels, and most recently Cape Cod: The Heart and Soul Beyond the Beach through Fonthill Media. In addition, he hosts the In My Footsteps Podcast. Lastly, he is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Medical Fitness Specialist.