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Manitou Island: Part 5

Into The Mist

CHARMIAN SAT IN the back seat of the car with her hand pressed to her stomach. Drake sat beside her, staring obliviously out the window. When she glanced at him she saw his nose was actually pressed to the glass. Before the only thing of "interest" that could be seen was the pretty patterns the leaves made dancing away from the curb. Now, a vast expanse of water stretched out beside them--Lake Huron--but Charmian didn't bother looking for the Mackinac Bridge because she'd seen it before.

"Whoa, cool!" Drake murmured. "Charm, look at that."

"It's a bridge, I know, Drake. Just a bridge. Chill out, we aren't even there yet."

She sighed and shut her eyes. It hadn't been very hard to convince her mother to drive them to Mackinaw City. It was now Saturday, the weekend, and since she was such a "good girl" she had all her homework done already. She wasn't so sure about Drake, but his parents had seemed happy enough to hear he'd been invited on a "trip." Charmian had hoped she didn't have to explain too much to her parents, about her sudden desire to go to Mackinac Island, especially so late in the year; but her parents had hardly asked any questions at all.

"Well, it's about time," her father had said. "I've been telling you all sorts of things about that island for ages now, it's about time you finally decided you want to see it."

"But this late in the year?" her mother had inquired. "I mean, wouldn't it be better to go in summer, when it's warmer?"

Charmian had quailed slightly. Her father had cleared the matter up by stating, "Look, Mel, it's still not that bad out, in fact it's unseasonably warm. It's best to go in the autumn, that way you miss all the damn fudgies!"

So they had packed themselves up in the car and set out in the morning to catch one of the early ferries.

Despite the "unseasonable warmth," Charmian felt a chill in her bones, and she couldn't stop shivering. It wasn't the wind coming off the water, though. It was what she'd found on waking up from that strange dream, the dream with the weird Ocryx-demon--Tal Natha, he'd called himself.

The dream had been strange enough, considering she remembered it so vividly. She never had dreams that were so linear and made such sense.

Neither had she ever woken up with a long thin slash across her stomach, for that matter.

That was pretty much what decided her.

"WEIRDness!" Drake had exclaimed (too loudly, in the middle of the crowded school hallway) when she'd begun to tell him about her dream. "That sounds just like something I dreamed about!"

"Yeah, well, it doesn't end with me waking up in the cave, would you let me continue? I looked around and there was this creepy--"

"Animal thingy? Like, a big dog--"

"No, it was a wolf--"

"Yeah, like a big black wolf with red wings and a snaky tail and glowing eyes? And he had a funny name?"

"He said his name was--wait a minute! You mean--you had this dream, too?"

That had been bizarre enough to make up her mind, but what Drake had said next finally closed the deal:

"Yeah, well, wait'll you hear the ending; this funny wolf-demon-thingy told me that you'd have whatever 'proof' I needed if I didn't believe him--he said he had 'left the mark' or something--but I said heck, I believe you already!!"

That had been on Thursday. She had no idea why, but she felt compelled to go on Saturday. She couldn't miss school over a mere tourist trip, no matter what she'd promised Tal Natha. So Saturday it was. If the "timing" was wrong, well...she most certainly couldn't be blamed!

"Whoa," Drake said again. "Charm, really, I mean, look!"

"It's a bridge, Drake!"

"Yeah, but--"

"Oh, come on, dear, take a look," her mother, driving, interrupted. "Maybe you can get a nice picture of it. Did you leave the camera out so you can take a picture? Oh--never mind, then, that's too bad...I knew this would be a lousy time of the year to take a trip to the Island!"

"Wha--?" Charmian muttered, opening her eyes. She glanced out the window to see if it was raining, snowing, or what. Well, it had snowed in June before, why not in September?--

Her eyes widened and she leaned over Drake to gape out the window. The lake was still there, but not all of it, and where the bridge should have been, she couldn't see anything at all.

Fog. As far as she could see, fog. Only the first twenty or so feet of the water could be seen, gray and rippling at the shore. Beyond that, nothing. Only a dead gray-white, as if the world ended just offshore.

"Your father really has no knowledge of weather systems," her mother said from the front seat.

"Isn't that creepy?" Drake commented.

Charmian couldn't reply. The chill, which had started in her bones, spread like an infection through her blood. She hadn't forgotten a bit of her dream but one part in particular came back to her now.

You will have to wait for the next great fog.

And what Miss Anne had said:

You must set out at the time of the next big fog.

Both in reality, and in her dream...the same thing had been said. She didn't know why, but she'd "felt" the time was right to go today. And now, here was the fog, almost as if it had been...waiting for her.

"Isn't this just cool?" Drake interrupted her thoughts. "He said to wait until the big fog, and now here it is!"

"'He'?" Charmian's mother glanced over her shoulder briefly. "Who are you talking about back there, dear?"

"The wolf--" Drake started, only to feel Charmian's elbow in his ribs.

"Our history teacher," she filled in. "He said Mackinac Island would be a cool place to visit. He said it would be even more interesting if we went when it's foggy."

"When it's foggy? What a weird thing to...well, if he's your history teacher, I suppose he knows what he's talking about...but it won't make for good photographs..."

She broke off muttering to herself, and Charmian sat back while Drake rubbed his aching side, relieved that she didn't have to explain further. She knew her mother would never believe any of this. Well, she thought, glancing out the window again, who can blame her!

They drove on in silence. Charmian hoped her mother thought they were merely sulky about the weather, rather than tense about...whatever might lie ahead.

What did lie ahead? Miss Anne and Tal Natha had not been very clear in what was expected to happen. The most she could determine, this "Red Bird" was some kind of savior or hero for the Island, and she was in danger. Ocryana had something to do with it. She and Drake had apparently been enlisted as Red Bird's..."bodyguards." The term made her want to laugh but anxiety kept it in. So far everything else had led her to believe none of this was made up, why should she start finding it funny now?

Before long they had reached Mackinaw City, and located the parking lot of the ferry service they'd chosen in advance. There were three competitors to choose from; her mother, for some reason, had finally decided on Shepler's. Whichever boat they took, the trip across--to the Island--was supposed to take only about a quarter of an hour. Tramping across the parking lot with her pack slung over her shoulder, food and drink and necessities tucked away inside, Charmian glanced out at the lake. With this intense fog, would the ferries even launch for today?

A girl wearing a Shepler's jacket directed them to the line waiting for the next ferry. There weren't many people at the dock today. Charmian suspected it was the weather. Obviously, these people knew to keep a closer eye on the Weather Channel than her family did. She supposed this was for the best. If they really knew where they were supposed to go...

Drake nudged her and whispered in her ear while her mother walked on ahead. "Hey, Charm. I just thought of something. Somehow this funny fog is supposed to get us to this weird alternate-dimension Island, right?"

"Yeah, I think that's right. Manitou Island."

"Well, what I'm wondering is...just how is it gonna do that? Do we just, I dunno, get on the boat, wait and see what happens, then poof, end up there? Or does it get all funny with glowing lights and this zooming sound and a lot of wind like you're getting sucked in a black hole, or what? And what about these other people, are they coming along with us, or are they gonna end up someplace else? I mean, that wolf-demon-thingy said that only we were needed on the Island...right?"

Charmian didn't respond. She looked over at the people in line. She didn't have an answer. Drake's questions just fueled the confusion inside her. How would they get to the Island, and what would become of these other people?...

"Maybe this was all a stupid idea," she murmured.

"Huh?" Drake blinked. "Don't say that! We promised to help that Bird lady out, didn't we? I mean, I'm just wondering, is all...I'm betting that wolf-demon-guy has everything all figured out. I mean, his dad does have absolute power over the Island, right?"

Yeah, Charmian thought. And he's also an evil demon!

This brief thought was shattered when her mother leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Charmian tried very hard not to rub it away. "Well, this is where I'll have to leave the two of you. What time is it again that you'd like me to be here to pick you up?"

"Late, Mom. I think we were planning on being there all day...so...I think the late ferry leaves around eight o'clock."

"Eight PM? That's a tad...well, all right. I'll find some things to do in town until then. You two have fun. And if it starts to rain, try to find some place to keep dry." She looked out at the fog uneasily, gave Charmian and Drake their tickets, and headed back for the car, murmuring to herself about her husband's inability to comprehend simple weather systems.

Charmian took a breath and let it out. "Well--let's go and get this over with."

"Aw, you sound so negatory!" Drake said. "This'll be fun! I've never been to the Island before. They don't have cars there, y'know. I bet it'll be cool!"

How has he already forgotten we aren't even GOING to that Island? Charmian thought, but instead of asking him, sighed again and followed him to the line.

The wait wasn't very long. The ferry was already coming in to the dock, a large white roostertail spraying out behind it. It slowed as it approached and it was only then that things seemed to take forever. Charmian stood with one foot atop the other to keep from fidgeting. She hadn't exactly dressed very well for an island trip. Despite the fog the weather was still warm, so she wore sandals and shorts, and a vest over her t-shirt, with all kinds of pockets to keep things in. She figured once they showed up there would be paved streets and horse-drawn carriages, just like she'd seen in television ads. Nothing any different from the usual. As weird as the dream and Tal Natha's message had been, she still couldn't completely believe there would be anything weird there waiting for her.

The ferry had docked and put out its ramp. The line moved along, passengers handing their tickets to the Shepler's worker to tear in half; Charmian and Drake were the last in line, behind a couple of college students pushing their own bikes which were then taken down to cargo. Charmian wondered why she hadn't thought of bringing her own bike when rip!--her half of the ticket was handed back, and she found herself starting to tromp down to the lower level of the ferry.

Drake grabbed her arm. "No, no, no, Charm! C'mon, up on top! It'll be cooler up there!"

"Cooler" is right, Charmian thought, but didn't protest. She started digging around in her pack as they went to the upper level, looking for her jacket. She didn't want to be a popsicle by the time they reached the Island.

They picked out a seat on the side, near the front, to get a better view of the lake. Nobody else joined them on top; the chilly look of the fog probably kept them downstairs. That was fine with Charmian. She needed some quiet to think about what might happen ahead. If Drake would only keep his mouth shut.

"My mom got this a year or so back," Drake said, pulling out a battered guidebook. "She's been there a couple times, but not me, I was always at camp. Camp sucks. Thank God she doesn't make me go anymore." He flipped through the pages. "Hey, did you ever hear the story of Devil's Kitchen? There's supposed to be these cannibal giants who live there and--"

"Drake, please, I really want to think for a bit. If that dream we had is true, we're going to need to think this through. What are we going to do if we show up and it's Mackinac Island after all?"

"Wha--? Oh. Well, I guess we just hang out there till eight o'clock! I mean, not like we can shift dimensions or anything, right? We'll just have to tell Wolf-Demon-Guy we had to break our promise. Unless there's some way to get into that other dimension once you're already on the Island? I mean, maybe there's a cave you can go in or something--that wolf guy lived in a cave--with lots of crystals too--so maybe all you have to do is crawl inside one of those, rub a crystal, close your eyes, think really hard, show up in another dimension..."

Charmian shut her eyes again as he prattled on. If she concentrated hard enough, she believed she could tune him out. She was still tired anyway; getting up so early to make it to Mackinaw City on time was something she wasn't used to. Maybe if she could get a short rest, by the time they reached the Island she'd be able to think more clearly...

Drake's voice eventually faded out. She wasn't sure if it was because she'd been successful in tuning him out, or if he'd actually fallen quiet on his own. In either case she didn't care. The ferry had begun to move and after a moment she could hear the spray start to kick up behind them; they were on their way. She sighed in an effort to release some of the built-up anxiety inside her, wasn't entirely successful, then instead of thinking about the trip ahead began to drift off...

She wandered around in a dream that wasn't quite a dream, one of those half-waking, half-sleeping dreams where you still have some awareness of what's around you, yet you are just asleep enough for some elements of the strange to enter the picture. She dreamed she was still on the ferry only now she was alone--Drake, the passengers, the captain and crew, they were all gone. Anxiously she crept down to the lower level to look around. The passengers had left their belongings--the bikes and suitcases were still down in the cargo area--but the people were nowhere to be seen. She went over to a window to look out at the water, hoping to see land. Instead, the boat was surrounded by water, and the water was surrounded by fog, that thick fog through which only the dimmest bit of light penetrated. Everything was gray. And as she stared out at the gray choppy water, she saw something begin to emerge--a point--the tip of an antler--the white furry top of some creature's head, then a pair of malicious glowing blue eyes, a face that was mooselike and yet demonic--large gnashing teeth and a dripping mouth, and then a paw-hand with curving black claws, reaching out toward the boat--

Vaporous colors swirled before her eyes. Something juddered and ground beneath her. Charmian, still in a half-sleep, felt her stomach do a roll and fell forward out of her seat. She expected her head to hit the back of the seat in front of her, and reached out to stop herself. Instead of the metal seat back, however, she simply kept falling, further than she should have, and after a moment her hands struck earth. Her face and chest and the rest of her struck it as well, as she fell harder than she'd expected. Beside her she heard another thud and Drake's voice, saying, "Oof--!" She coughed the dust out of her throat and sat up abruptly, blinking and rubbing her eyes.

"Drake! Are you okay?"

"Huh? Yeah, I--I think I am."

"The ferry must have hit something, a sandbar or something! How far are we from land...?"

She staggered to her feet, hoping the damage wasn't so bad that the boat would sink, as she didn't have enough confidence in her swimming skills, not in the middle of the Great Lakes in autumn, no matter how mild the weather was. Only as she started looking about for land she noticed...she didn't really have to. Land was already there.

"Huh?" Drake said again, dumbfounded.

What had felt like earth on landing had been earth. Charmian and Drake stood just uphill from a rocky beach, the water lapping peacefully behind them. The fog was gone; the sky was sunny. The ferry was gone as well. Where there should have been a large gouged area of beach where it had run aground, the sand was undisturbed. It was as if there had never been a ferry at all.

Charmian gaped.

"Huh?" Drake sputtered again. "Where's the boat? There isn't anywhere around here it could have landed! I mean, is it hiding somewhere? Where do you hide a boat? Did we fall asleep and they just left us here?"

"No," Charmian said quietly, after a moment. She picked up the guidebook, which Drake had dropped. "They didn't leave us here. They didn't even make it here. It looks like we're the only ones."

"What d'you mean, we're the only ones? And where are we, anyway? Is this the Island?"

"Yeah," Charmian replied. She was staring at a photo of Mackinac Island in the book. Fancy Victorian-style houses lined pretty little streets with pretty little horse-drawn carriages. She glanced up at the land before them. A grassy rocky cliff rose from the ground not too far inland. There were no roads along the beach, no docks, no horses and no carriages. No people. Nothing but the Island.

"We made it," she said, almost in a whisper. "Only this isn't Mackinac Island. This is the real deal. Manitou Island."

"Really?" Drake almost shouted, jubilant. "Cool! We made it! This is so cool!"

"Yeah, well, not so cool, since it looks like we're the only ones who made it. If we need any help, who else will even know we're here?"

"Well, he can probably help us out, if we just ask him nice."

"I don't even think any of the passengers knew we were--'he'? What're you talking about, Drake? There's nobody--"

She turned and looked in the direction Drake was pointing, up near the rocky cliff. Her words died in her throat as she saw what--who--he pointed at.

Somebody stood atop the cliff, staring down at them. A pair of small two-point deer horns and four feathers--two standing upright, two lying back--decorated his head. He carried a deadly-looking sharpened stick in one hand, and the look on his face was not friendly.

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