The wind whipped around the corner of my little sanctuary on the outside deck of the ferry so hard it blew out my cigarette.
“Dammit,” I yelled, but could barely hear myself over the screaming wind.
I thought about trying to salvage the remaining stem of what would probably be my last smoke for at least six months, but I had already pressed my luck enough. It was only a matter of time before someone spotted the 17-year-old sucking on the contraband he had stolen from his stepdad’s truck and alerted the proper authorities.
Too late. My killed stub hadn’t even hit the frothy waves by the time I saw the teenage blonde girl pointing her phone at me from over by the heavy porthole-style door that led out to the deck.
“Oh you gotta be shitting me,” I groaned before the girl took off into the ferry and slammed the heavy steel door behind her.
I hadn’t even made it to Eden yet and I was already getting kicked out for being a fuck up.
I trudged back into the warmth of the ferry cabin expecting Coach Raphael to be waiting for me there with my last straw in one hand and a return ticket to the mainland in another. Instead, the blonde girl who had spotted me was waiting for me inside.
At a closer vista, two things became instantly recognizable about this girl.
She was trouble.
She was beautiful.
“I’m going to tell,” the girl whispered playfully at me through pursed lips as if I needed another reason for my teenage heart to quiver.
Before I could get my thoughts in order, the girl took off and disappeared around a doorway.
I followed the scent of what I recognized as perfume around the corner and to a small corridor that housed just men’s and women’s bathroom doors.
“Gonna go hide in the girl’s bathroom, seriously?”
My last word was still rolling off of my tongue when the girl burst out of the men’s bathroom and yanked me back in with her.
“What the hell?” I muttered as she pushed me into the unoccupied of the two stalls and locked us in.
I could feel the embarrassment of the shitting guy in the stall next to us before she even started talking.
“You’re going to Eden?” She asked me with green eyes that sparkled in the tiled light of the room.
I tried to clear my throat of awkwardness before I spoke.
“Uh. Yeah. I guess.”
“It’s a weird, weird fucking place. You’re going to need someone to show you around. I wouldn’t mind. My name’s Gabby.”
She stuck me with a handshake so soft it hurt my heart and slipped out of the stall.
Gabby wasn’t lying. Eden was bizarre as fuck.
Case in point, I was standing at the free-throw line in a dark gym with a 6’4 woman barking at my back.
“If you can make free throws in the dark, you can make them anywhere,” Coach Raphael’s voice called out behind me.
Basketball had brought me to where I stood confused and aggravated in the dark. Who knew being good at something could actually put you in the worst situation of your life.
A stellar junior season in Seattle had put me on the map enough to get a scholarship offer from the University of Oregon to play basketball. The only problem was my academics and three drug habits were bad enough to kick me right back off that map.
My high school coach found a solution floating out in the rough waters of the Puget Sound. He heard about a tiny reform-type school on a small private island in the Puget Sound where a former women’s All-American basketball player he knew was the basketball coach. He figured that if I went out there for my senior year, a complete lack of distractions would help me get my grades together, stay out of trouble and get excellent training from his coach friend, Coach Raphael.
I had no choice in the matter. My parents were onboard once they found out and I was onboard a ferry headed to a town called Eden on the barely populated Kaa Island come September 1st to attend the Corsair Academy and live in a tiny guest cabin at the back of Coach Raphael’s house.
Now here I was in the dark with Coach Raphael barking at me, wishing I had never even played basketball. I needed to make one more shot in the dark before Coach Raphael would dismiss me and I could shower in an old church basement.
A blind shot made in my pocket, I now stood in hot water, making sure shampoo wouldn’t run in my eyes so I could keep them open and alert. The distant sounds of footsteps that stuttered around the small men’s locker room had me on red alert. I hadn’t seen a single other person in the men’s locker room since I started using it upon my arrival at Corsair a couple of weeks ago. No men’s sports were yet in season and I only used the room long after school hours had closed. I initially thought that my ears were playing tricks on me, but the sound of feet were unmistakable when they shuffled just outside of the plastic curtain that separated my wet naked body from the dusty lockers and wooden benches.
I pulled the curtain away so hard the plastic loops ripped off the metal pipe from which it hung. Through my glossy field of vision, I couldn’t see anyone, but I soon heard a chorus of toilets flush just seconds after one another and felt the sting of cold water upon my back.
I danced on my toes out of the shower and fell onto the floor of the locker room where I was greeted by applause and guttural laughter.
Gabby stepped out from the shadows of the toilet stalls as they started to fill the air with the sound of them refilling. I scrambled to cover myself up with my hands. She finished her clapping just over my head and then offered a hand to help me get myself back to my feet.
“I wasn’t sure if that was going to work,” she said as I found my footing.
“How the fuck did you get in here?”
“Your coach always leaves the door unlocked when you two are in here practicing.”
I of course couldn’t tell her, but Gabby’s presence was a huge relief compared to the monsters my head was dreaming up as the sources of the footsteps I had been hearing in the locker room during my showers the past few days.
The situation was so shocking it took me a few moments to realize I was standing naked in front of her. I clasped my junk as well as I could and took a sheepish step back.
The two of us had spent just about every afternoon in the time between the final school bell and my practice sessions with Coach Raphael making out in the woods near the school, but we had barely seen any of each other’s skin. I couldn’t believe she would pull a prank so intimate and bold, but she didn’t seem to be the least bit fazed. She actually took a steam towards my wet body and a cartoonish gulp dropped down my throat.
She wrapped me in a soft grasp, the water all over my body soaking into her blouse as we staggered back towards the shower. Her kisses were so soft, I felt like I was insulting her when I replied with sloppy tonguing with a jaw locked in nervousness. The laughter that slipped out of her mouth into mine did little to calm my nerves.
We were just outside of the splash zone of the shower when she finally broke off her confidence. I was shocked to see her pull her face away from mine and start to play with her hair just above her ear.
“What? It’s fair for me to be naked, but you get to have your clothes on?”
A tsunami of regret washed over me right after I spoke.
She chewed on her lip for a second before she answered.
Gabby was interrupted by the pounding of footsteps coming from the top of the stairs that descended down into the locker room.
“Shit,” I whispered and started searching for my towel.
The steps started to slowly descend the stairs. The cocky glow had evaporated from Gabby’s face, she looked to me without breath.
“Come on,” I pulled Gabby with me into the shower and closed the curtain.
The water beat down upon both of us and I mouthed the word “Sorry” at her scared face as the footsteps reached the bottom of the stairs and started shuffling around the locker room.
“Who is it?” Gabby whispered into my chest, barely audible over the sound of the beating water.
I didn’t answer, just focused on the curtain dancing in the wind that the presence in the locker room was creating. I bit my lip, waiting for the curtain to rip open, I tightened my grip on Gabby up to even harder than she was squeezing me.
But the curtain never opened.
The steps went back up the stairs and could be faintly heard walking away from the top of the stairs. I felt Gabby let out a deep breath just as I did.
“Probably just some guy who was using the gym,” I said unsure if I really believed that.
Gabby shivered in my arms even though the water soaking us was plenty warm. She looked up at me with the most terrified eyes I have ever seen.
“I don’t think so. There’s a lot that you don’t know.”
The streets on Kaa Island always reminded me of a Hollywood set, like the ones you would see on some back studio lot tour while a tour guide told corny jokes. The only town on Kaa, Eden, was a planned community for a proposed nuclear power plant that they never actually built. All of the houses were the same exact one-story, two-bedroom, white painted colonial style dwellings with small front yards that lined streets which were perfectly clean because you didn’t need a car since it was so small.
Gabby and I looked at Coach Raphael’s house from the safe cover of some bushes nestled across the street. Her hand was still pruney from the unplanned shower as I held it with my eyes stuck on the white front door confirming that her lights were out and she was asleep.
“I think we’re good to go.”
I kept hold of Gabby’s hand and we dashed across the street and ran through the little patch of lawn to the south of Coach Raphael’s house that led back to my little cottage of a backhouse. We hustled into my one-room cabin and jumped together onto my single bed with all of the lights off.
My hand started tickling its way up Gabby’s blouse until it rested just on her upper thigh. The warmth I felt distracted me from asking the question I should have asked.
“We can’t do this,” Gabby’s words stopped me in my tracks.
I didn’t even have to ask. Gabby went on.
“I couldn’t tell you back at the gym. I couldn’t risk anyone hearing. We can’t do it here. This place is fucked up. You don’t even know. I don’t even know where to start.”
My hand slithered back to a harmless position at my side.
“Are you a virgin? And don’t fucking lie,” Gabby added before I could respond.
“Ugh,” I gasped out a nervous laugh. “Yeah, I guess.”
My answer seemed to put her a little bit at ease.
“Everyone on this island is a virgin,” she blurted out.
“What?” I fired back.
“Every last person on this island is a virgin,” she went on. “You have to be. It’s all so fucked up.”
I resisted the urge to question Gabby and let her tell the story that she clearly wanted to tell.
“This island was started by the government in the 70s. Back then, there was this cult, the Sistines, they lived up in the mountains a ways outside of Seattle. No one really knew that their beliefs were, but after the Manson Family thing happened in California, the state freaked out and sent a bunch of Marshals and cops up to their camp. The cops freaked out and burned down their camps, shot at a bunch of them and ended up killing about half of them. It turned out that the group was completely harmless. They were just hardcore Christians who were a little weird. The government didn’t want the public finding out that they basically slaughtered a bunch of Christians for no reason, so they took the ones that survived and told them they could live out here on this island and they would subsidize all of their living costs as long as the group remained silent on what happened. The town and everything was all already built for a nuclear power plant they were going to build here in the 50s, but cancelled. What they didn’t tell them was they abandoned the project because the island was mildly toxic because of a fuck up with the plant they tried to build. The government thought the toxicity would kill the group over time, but it didn’t, it just made them sterile.”
“This is the longest story a girl has ever told me to avoid giving it up to me. You could have just lied and said you are on your period,” I said with a laugh.
Gabby hit me as hard on my shoulder as a human being has ever hit me.
“Okay, okay, okay, shit,” I whined as my entire arm went numb.
“The Sistines freaked out when they realized that they were all sterile. There was something in their own little religion that said sex without intent to have children would make everyone in a group not be able to bear children, so they went berserk about having sex because they thought their sterilization was some punishment from their god or something. The little religion also said sex without intent to have children was punishable by death.”
“But we go to school with 40 kids, where the hell did they come from?” I interrupted her.
“About 20 years ago, they realized they were going to all eventually die off and the younger ones were getting depressed about never being able to have kids so they opened the academy. They would take in troubled, unwanted kids through the academy and they would stay there and basically become their children. Most of the kids come in a lot younger than me and you, so it isn’t as weird for them. I came in just a couple of years ago after getting kicked out of my school.”
“Okay, but why are we here then?”
“Temptation. We are the test to the other kids to make sure that they don’t give into their desires. They want us to tempt their teenagers, but I have no fucking interest in those baby Hueys. That why I was so drawn to you the second I saw you. I haven’t interacted with a real guy on a daily basis in years. But we still can’t go all the way.”
“Because they are watching us.”
My eyes drifted out to the darkness that haunted the windows that were on all sides of my little box of a cabin.
“One of the other girls at schools told me all of this and she told me that adults follow all of the kids everywhere they go at all time, no matter what. She told me that when they are little, they give the kids these books about a snake called Michelangelo that follows them wherever they are to make sure that they follow the principles of being Sistines. The book says that if they disobey the rules, the snake will sliver out of its hiding spot and eat them. She showed me the book for a second once in the bathroom before she got too scared and pulled it back away. There is no fucking snake though, it’s just the adults. Everywhere you go, they are around, if it doesn’t seem like it, they are off in the distance watching. They are out in the woods out these windows right now watching us.”
My eyes flew out into the darkness of the woods that were outside every window in my living box.
“Don’t even just worry about them watching you in-person either. They have cameras everywhere. They probably have a camera in this fucking thing. The only place they don’t put them are bathrooms. That’s why I pulled you into one the first time we met, that’s why I pulled that prank in the locker room. So they couldn’t see us.”
“But we are fine as long as we don’t have sex?”
Before Gabby could respond, the sound of a knock on the back of the cabin shook every fiber of my being. Gabby and I screamed in unison and my eyes checked on the lock before I snatched up my phone and beamed a spotlight out into the darkened woods out the back window.
Two figures clad in black from head to toe stood in the grass right at the edge of the forest without shame. A moment of focus showed the figures to be a male and a female adult of about average sizes, they wore black pants, black turtlenecks and what looked to be dark green masquerade-style snake masks that covered just the area around their eyes and noses. The only light in their outfits were little white fangs that jutted down at the bottom of the masks.
The two figures didn’t move an inch, even when I shut the spotlight off, I could still see their faint outlines motionless in front of the silhouette of the trees.
“They aren’t moving,” I whispered.
“I should leave,” Gabby whispered back.
“Are you kidding me? With those weirdos standing out there?”
“They want me to leave.”
“I’m walking with you. You aren’t going by yourself.”
“Don’t be such a guy. You walking with me will just make things worse. Then they will follow us.”
Gabby jumped up off the bed and leaned over for a kiss that burned my insides with what I couldn’t have. I watched longingly as she left out my door and then jumped up to lock it behind her.
I turned around and stretched out towards one of the cabin windows and looked back up the hill. The two figures in the masks still stood there, their hands now clasped together.
It had just been another unnerving day in Eden. My classes were just as stale and boring as they were back in Seattle, but my colleagues were a numb group of introverts who seemed to look at me like I was an alien and rarely engage unless they absolutely had to. I felt like I was in solitary confinement. I couldn’t interact with Gabby all day because the girls went to school in a different building.
My only respite came when the final school bell would toll and I would rush to the ring out woods that lined the far edge of the school track and meet up with Gabby for our daily make out/Eden venting sessions. I would savor every moment as we shivered in the thin strip of woods because we only had 35 minutes before I would have to be in the gym being tortured by Coach Raphael.
Our time together just didn’t feel right this day though. I couldn’t get the image of the masks, the black-clad figures and the snake slithering in the night out of my head. I thought about what Gabby had told me and how they were probably watching us.
I actually cut off our time together almost 10 minutes short and headed to the gym.
Coach Raphael kicked my ass even more than usual. She threw balls at me during rebounding drills, made me run endless gassers and never once let me take a water break during my two hour workout.
I stood at the free throw line in the complete dark trying to make the shots that would allow me to go home with legs so fatigued they wobbled and worn out arms. Even just lifting the ball felt was tough.
Still, I stayed poised in the pitch black in my shooting stance, waiting for Coach Raphael to bark at me to shoot, but her voice never came. I initially wasn’t going to say anything because everything I had said had seemed to enrage Coach Raphael and turn her into a BDSM nightmare this afternoon, but I eventually had to speak up.
“Coach,” I said between ragged breaths.
My only answer came in the form of something heavy clumsily rolling into the back of my feet. It sounded and its weight felt like a bowling ball when it bumped up against my shoes.
I quickly discovered that it was not a bowling ball when I reached down to pick up the object. A blind scan with my hands felt a wet clump of long hair and the unmistakable features of a face.
I felt a presence behind me and I was pretty sure it didn’t belong to the rest of the body of whose face I had just held in my hands. I could feel whoever was there stomping on the hardwood of the court right behind me.
I didn’t wait to find out what that presence wanted to do to me. I sprinted with my sore legs towards where I thought the doors to the gym were but it was a complete guess as I couldn’t see even an inch in front of my face.
I could feel the hot breath of the presence tickling the hairs on the back of my neck even though I was running at full speed. That full speed to come to a grinding halt when I tumbled over a heavy lump lying on the edge of the court.
The squeaking of my sneakers skidding on the court filled the air and my palms burned against the slick wood as I tried to lighten my fall. I fell hard on my back and rolled up like a turtle in a quick attempt to protect myself from whoever was bearing down on me.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I screamed.
My plea was answered by a ray of light shooting in through an opening door. The warmth of the light bathed my face and I screamed at the dark figure that stood in the open doorway.
“Help!” I screamed. “Help me!”
My screams were soothed when I saw who had opened the door step into the light – Gabby.
“What’s happening in here? I was waiting for you outside and I heard screaming,” Gabby said before her face locked into utter horror.
“I don’t know,” I started in and worked my way to my feet as fast as I could before I turned around to have my eyes look upon what had thrown Gabby’s face into terror.
Coach Raphael’s headless torso laid in a hideous twist just behind me and a pool of syrupy, dark red blood that collected right where her head should be.
“Oh my God,” Gabby screamed before she covered her mouth with her hand and I stumbled over to her.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” I yelled at Gabby and grabbed her hand to lead her out of the gym.
Gabby and I tore out of the gym and sprinted across the school’s playfield in the direction of our usual make out spot in the woods. We sprinted silently until we reached the shelter of the trees.
We embraced each other when we reached the potentially safe cover.
“You know anything about that shit?” I asked.
“Yes, and no.”
“I thought she was a virgin,” the sentence dribbled out of Gabby’s mouth.
I shot a look over my shoulder up the hill of trees before going on.
“I’m gonna need more than that.”
“If you have sex here and they find out about it, they come for you. It’s happened before. There was a guy a couple of years ago I was hanging out with. Supposedly he brought some girl he knew from the mainland in and had sex with her. No one ever saw him again. That’s what they do, if they find out you had sex here, they kill you. Your coach must have had sex here.”
Just as Gabby finished, two people stepped out of the doors of the gym. It was the same two figures from the night before that were outside my cabin. They calmly walked away from the door and disappeared around the corner of the building, out of sight.
“But you’re okay. Apparently they just wanted her,” Gabby said but was interrupted by the sound of crunching leaves behind us.
We turned around to see two new figures clad in black, faces obscured with snake masks, descending the hill behind us full speed in our direction.
“What the fuck?” Gabby yelled at me and we ran back into the playfield and towards the school. “Go to the school, go to the school.”
We sprinted across the playfield and crossed into the blacktop maze that was the school grounds.
Built like a fortress, the school grounds had just a couple of small entrances that allowed penetration into a shell of heavy walls that housed in a cluster of tall skinny buildings that housed the classrooms and administrative buildings. Splashed periodically around the asphalt walkways that floored the grounds were clusters of playground equipment for the younger kids – mini pea gravel pits dotted with monkey bars, swing sets and wooden play sets shaped like ships, the little areas frequently beamed with the laughter of children.
Gabby and I weaved our way around the asphalt of the grounds when she looked over her shoulder.
I knew all of the school buildings would be locked after hours, but I also knew that the other side of the school was home to the only other entrance/exit to the grounds and this one led out to the harbor. Our best shot might be to go to the marina and try and steal or at least hide on one of the boats.
That plan went up in flames when we neared the other side of the school and I caught a glimpse of two more of the snake mask-wearing figures waiting in the exit.
“Shit,” I shouted.
“Come on,” Gabby yelled back and yanked my arm.
Gabby pulled me towards a small little yellow playhouse in the back corner of a small pit of pea gravel tucked in the space between two school buildings. We dove into the little thing that was not that much smaller than the cabin I lived in and Gabby quietly shut the door behind us.
In the dying light of the fall sunset, the interior of the cabin was almost completely dark. It was certainly difficult to see us from the vista of the walkways. We both covered our mouths to conceal our biggest tell, our raging breaths.
“I don’t know why they still care about us, they have to know we haven’t actually done it yet,” Gabby whispered.
“I need to tell you something,” the words that came out of my mouth pained me.
I wanted to finish, but was curbed by all four of those who donned snake masks stepping into our field of vision on the path in front of our little playground.
“Come on,” Gabby whispered.
Gabby pulled up a section of the floorboards and lifted up to the level of her eyes. I could barely see in the dark, but below the opening in the floorboards was a little dirty hole just about big enough for the both of us. I followed Gabby down into the hole and she shut the rickety boards above us.
“A little schoolyard secret.”
We breathed quietly in the dark for a few moments, praying not to have our lungs drowned out by the sound of our pursuers walking into the playhouse.
“What were you going to tell me?” Gabby broke the dark of silence.
“I had sex with Coach Raphael,” I blurted it out louder than I should have, given our situation.
I could almost feel Gabby’s face heat up in the dark. There was a long, long awkward silence.
“Shut the fuck up,” Gabby snapped back before I could go on.
Another long, long, awkward, awkward silence.
“I know what to do,” Gabby exhaled.
Gabby and I shuffled along the walkway of the schoolyard, wrapped up in each other, our steps were very slow and stilted but we were making moves under the light of tall lamps that lit grounds since night had almost completely fallen. There appeared to be no one else in the yard at the moment, but we still wouldn’t break our bond in the least.
And we were right not to. Just as we reached the back exit that led to the marina, we saw the snake masks shining in the lamplight.
“Any of you makes even the slightest move on him, you are going to have to kill me,” Gabby screamed at the masked figures who maintained their distance as we staggered out of the grounds and towards the marina.
Gabby had told me that while the Sistene’s were ruthless in regards to those that broke their rules, they wouldn’t touch an innocent like her. She would be my hostage basically. We staggered together to the docks like some kind of bizarre two-legged race with our pursuers staring at us from the bluff above the beach.
Gabby ushered me over to a small ocean boat and led me on board with the judging eyes above still searing our skin. She pulled me over to the wheelhouse and muttered.
“Just drive this fucking thing to the mainland.”
A sense of ease and relief I hadn’t felt since I stepped onto the misty shores of Eden started to trickle into my blood like a slow stream of morphine from the point of a syringe. I leaned against Gabby in utter exhaustion and closed my eyes with the last thing I ever saw in Eden being the disappointed faces of those dark figures that had chased me from its dark shores.
My nerves rattled much in the same way they would when I stepped up to shoot a free throw in a gym packed with frothing opposing fans. I wiped the freshly formed sweat off of my fingers and onto the thick comforter of the hotel bed.
I had not seen Gabby in almost nine months and even though we had spent almost every day since I last saw her IMing, Facebooking, Instagramming and Skyping, I couldn’t have been more nervous to see her walk through the door of the hotel room I cleaned out half of my savings account to rent for a night in downtown Seattle.
Just as I was going over all of this in my head, I heard that highly anticipated knock on my door.
It took me a few moments to catch my breath when Gabby walked in with a smile and I struggled for words. She occupied my mouth with a soft kiss before any awkward words could stumble out of my lips. She slipped past me in her tight, little black dress and walked into the heart of the room.
“Thanks…for coming,” I said, the words stumbling over my tongue.
I was hard to do anything – talk, walk, breathe – all I could think about was what Gabby had been telling me we would do as soon as we reunited in this hotel room.
She interrupted my dreaming when she walked over to me and whispered into my ear.
“I’m going to go change.”
I bit down hard upon my lip, took a numb seat on the end of the bed and watched Gabby disappear behind the door of the bathroom.
The seconds felt like hours as sat there, palms sweating and knees shaking until the clicking sound of the door opening flashed my gaze over to the bathroom door.
All those fluttery feelings of anticipation and sensuality would vanish when I saw Gabby step out of the bathroom because of what she was wearing across the top half of her face.
A green snake mask.