When I was twelve years old, my parents called it quits. My mom chose her new family over us, leaving my dad no choice but to take me to the small town of Christy, North Carolina. He left me in the care of some relatives while he ran off to ask an old friend of his for a new job. Once he could get hired and settled, he would send for me.
“Don’t worry, Kelly,” he told me as he dropped me off. “Everything is going to be fine sooner or later.”
My Uncle Walter and Aunt Pam lived in a little house by the sea that looked like it belonged in a Stephen King novel. It appeared to be a regular house, but it gave off a chilling and unnerving vibe the moment you stepped onto the property. Nearly every door creaked, my bathroom sink always dripped, and the downstairs shutters always slammed closed. It also attracted creatures like birds and cats, which kept tapping on my window.
Even without the eerie elements, I had to deal with my fourteen-year-old cousin Jeremy. He fit the description of every clichéd bully in an eighties movie from his slightly bulky body to his ugly face. He threw random things at me like stones and eggs, he left my window open so that I would return to my room and witness a cat tear a bird apart, and the very first thing he said to me when I arrived was, “So, I heard your mom ran away with a lawyer.”
Long before I arrived, my dad had informed me that Jeremy once had a twin brother named Adam who went missing. Neither my aunt nor my uncle would discuss it with me, and Jeremy looked like he would beat me up if I asked him. Would Adam have been just as awful as Jeremy if he were still here, or would he have been nicer to me? Either way, Jeremy planned to give me the worst summer of my life.
Fortunately, I didn’t always have to stick around with Jeremy the Jerk the whole time. He would normally spend his days at the arcade or baseball park with his friends Kevin and Joe, so I would run off to the beach or hang out in the nearby forest. My backpack would normally contain a notebook, some snacks, and a stuffed horse named Lucy that my mom gave me years ago when I still mattered to her. I would spend hours running around in nature and collecting everything I saw in my notebook from sketches of a bird to a description of a new berry that I discovered. Even with Lucy, I was able to forget about the pain that my mom had caused me.
During my first trip to the beach, I noticed a small island in the distance. I asked Uncle Walter about it, and he said he and my dad once tried to explore it.
“We were halfway to the island when these storm clouds came out of nowhere, causing us to turn back to shore. I was knocked right out of the boat by the strong winds and your dad had to fish me out.”
“Would you like to try to explore it again?” I asked.
“Not in a million years. I think that island wants to be left alone. Legend has it that you can hear a lady singing this song:
Be careful, young children
Watch where you roam
For if you are woeful,
You’ll never come home
Honestly, I think you’ll be much safer on the beach.”
Of course, I couldn’t help but gaze at the island in the distance everytime I returned to the beach. This might sound crazy, but I was sure that this island was calling my name. I couldn’t help but feel this desire to sail over there. Unfortunately, Aunt Pam said I couldn’t go sailing with my uncle, and I couldn’t convince anyone to take me to the island for free. If couldn’t get there by boat, I would have to swim.
A week later, I put my plan into action. Uncle Walter had already left for work, Jeremy had left with Kevin and Joe, and Aunt Pam had settled down for a nap after lunch. Once I was sure she had dozed off, I sneaked out the door and hurried down to the beach. I stripped down to my swimsuit and tucked my clothes into my backpack, which I hid between some of the big rocks I liked to climb on top of. The waves were calm and the sky was clear, so this was the perfect time to swim to my destination.
“Not so fast,” boomed an unpleasant voice.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up the second I recognized that voice. Standing right behind me was Jeremy with my backpack in his hands and his ugly pals Kevin and Joe by his side.
“My folks are kind enough to let you stay with us, and you repay them by doing exactly what they told you not to do. Were you also disobedient to your mom? Is that why she didn’t want you anymore?”
“Jeremy, give me back my backpack.”
“Why? I know you’re just going to try to get to the island again. You can’t just run off and do whatever you want.”
“Ok, I promise I won’t try to swim to the island.”
“How will you try to get to the island, then? Will you steal a boat? Will you ride a shark over there? Will you fly?”
“Just give me back my backpack!”
“Boys, let’s take my little cousin for a stroll through the woods.”
With a chuckle, all of three turned on their heels and bolted into the woods. I sprinted straight after them, determined to get my things back. It didn’t help that I had just ran across some small rocks barefoot, and now I had to deal with thorns and even more small rocks. Despite all this, I continued my hunt for the teen monsters. I managed to catch up with Joe, only for him to shove his empty hands in my face and laugh like crazy.
“Guess again!” he cackled.
I left him there and ran after Kevin, who was peeping from behind a tree. I managed to tackle him and snatch my backpack away from him, but then he gave me a mischievous grin. I checked my pack’s contents and realized why he was so gleeful.
“Missing something?” he asked.
I kept running without much of a destination. Jeremy could’ve been anywhere in the woods, and I had no idea where I was. Finally, I found myself out of the woods and on the road that led straight back to the Stephen King house. I quickly and quietly snuck back to my room and changed my clothes before Aunt Pam could wake up from her nap.
I stood in front of the front door when Jeremy finally came home two hours later. He didn’t look at all concerned as I stood firmly on the porch.
“Where is she?” I asked him.
“Probably still with that lawyer,” he replied blatantly.
“I meant Lucy,” I snapped. “My stuffed horse.”
“You don’t need that baby toy. Now get out of my way.” He reached for the door.
“Not until you give her back to me,” I said as I smacked his hand. “She was a gift from my mother.”
“Then it’s completely worthless now. Besides, I’m not giving it back to you until I can be sure that you won’t make another attempt to explore that island.”
“What did you just say?” screeched Aunt Pam, who was listening from the other side of the door.
“You tried to swim to the island?” Uncle Walter exclaimed later that day. “Why would you try to swim there?”
“I couldn’t get a boat, so I found another option.”
“Kelly, we told you to stay either in town or on the beach! Nobody knows what’s other there, and you could’ve drowned!”
“But I’m a strong swimmer! I would’ve been fine!”
“Don’t argue with me! Your dad left you in our care, and we’re not going to let anything happen to you!”
“I’m sorry! I had nothing else to do and I wanted to do something fun!”
“In that case, Jeremy can take you somewhere like the arcade or the movies.”
“Excuse me?” Jeremy was listening from the other room.
“I appreciate you keeping Kelly away from the island, Jeremy. You can keep up the good work by taking her somewhere else for fun.”
“Dad, I am not going to be a babysitter!”
“Would you have rather dealt with her missing body?”
“Then you are to stay by her side whenever she’s not at home or with your mother. She’s all of our responsibility.”
My cousin stormed out of the room and refused to come downstairs for dinner. I felt kind of bad for him as I struggled to swallow my meal. His parents assured me that he would calm down and warm up to me, but that didn’t stop me from dreading the rest of my stay with them.
The next week wasn’t awful, but I wouldn’t call it the time of my life, either. Jeremy took me to a couple of movies, the arcade, and a baseball game with his friends, and all with a glare in his eyes. I should’ve been having fun, but I felt I wasn’t allowed to whenever he was around. I kind of wished I had drowned on the day I tried to swim away.
We walked to the beach one day in silence. As we grew closer and closer to the shore, I noticed that the color was draining out of his face. He looked like he was going to be sick.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, just do what you got to do and let’s get out of here.”
“If you’re not well, we can go home.”
“We’re already here, so hurry up.”
“Jeremy, what is wrong? Why don’t you want to be here and why were you so concerned about me going to the island?”
“Why do you care?”
“Because if you really didn’t care about me at all, you would’ve let me go and possibly get killed. You’re scared about whatever’s over there.”
Instead of being defensive almost immediately, he stared off at the island and took a deep breath before giving an answer.
“About a year ago, my twin brother Adam said he wanted to sail over to the island to see what was over there. We haven’t seen him since. You arrived around the anniversary of his disappearance, and you really made me nervous when you said you wanted to explore that place.”
“Do you have idea what happened to him?”
“I don’t know. He was seen departing in his sailboat, but it was never found. If he drowned like some of the adults claimed, they never found his body. What’s interesting is that all of the people who disappeared were kids.”
“Has an adult tried to get over there?”
“Not really. They sailed past it, but never really tried to get onto the island.”
“Do you want to try to get over there?”
“Kelly, what are you thinking?”
“I really want to know what’s over there and you want to know what happened to Adam, so I think we should—”
“Listen to me. We’re never going to that island, and I’m never returning to this town once I’m finally old enough to leave. Just stay away from that place and everything will be fine.”
No matter what Jeremy said or did, I couldn’t stop thinking about that island. Why was Jeremy so afraid of that place? Did he think his brother’s body was over there? Had he secretly been there before and was hiding something?
That last question had kept me up at night. Jeremy spoke in an almost threatening tone when he told me to stay away. I was certain he was hiding something, and he knew I would make it to the island and find it unless he stopped me. I told myself I would return to the town and explore the island for myself, and I kept my word.
Thirteen years later, I was driving into the small town of Christy, North Carolina once again. I had told Aunt Pam that I would arrive at the house at noon, so I would have to complete my task early that morning. At nine o’clock, I pulled up to the dock, rented a boat, and made my way towards the island. The waves were calm as they carried me under the partially cloudy sky.
As I drew near, I slowed down as I almost collided with some rocks. I dropped the anchor and stripped down to my swimsuit. A small bag containing a waterproof camera was fastened around my waist as I swam through the rocks. I climbed up a tree growing out of the water and stepped onto land.
The island seemed small from my boat, but it felt like the size of three football fields when I roamed around. There were nothing but trees everywhere I looked, making me think that it was all a waste of time. If Jeremy was hiding something here, there was no way I was going to find it. Just when I was thinking about returning to my boat, I finally found a clearing.
My lungs failed me as I discovered a cemetery before me. Tombstones that came up to my knees were scattered everywhere with a statue of a crying angel in the center of it all. One of its wings had broken off and was nowhere to be found. Dead silence filled the air as I debated whether or not I should observe the graves. I gave in and read the names and dates off of the tombs, realizing that they all belonged to children. They also contained quotations like “I want to go home” and “I can’t swim”.
But why are these unusual quotes written on children’s tombstones? I thought to myself as I took pictures of everything I saw.
It wasn’t until I reached a certain grave that I finally understood why. My lungs failed me again when I read the name of the deceased.
“I’ll be back soon, Jeremy.”
A blue baseball cap with a white A on it sat on top of the tombstone. I picked it up saw the name “Adam Turner” written on the inside in black letters. What did this mean? Was Adam murdered and buried on this island by a deranged child killer? Did Jeremy do it? No, he couldn’t have done it because there was no way he could’ve made that tombstone. Then again, that quotation sounded like Adam’s last words, so Jeremy must’ve been the last one to see him alive. As I stood there and panicked, I heard an angelic-yet-haunting voice ring through the air.
Be careful, young children
Watch where you roam
For if you are woeful,
You’ll never come home
I couldn’t take it anymore. I sprinted out of the woods, dove into the sea, and climbed back into my boat. I hurried back to the dock like there was no tomorrow and drove up to the house without bothering to dry off or change clothes. I smiled as the Stephen King house came into my view once again, and I spilled out of my car as I raced up to the door. I pounded on it with all my might until a familiar face finally answered.
“Kelly? What are you doing here so early?”
I flung my arms around my aunt as I tried to catch my breath. How I managed to travel all the way over here from the island with no breath in my lungs, I’ll never know. Aunt Pam welcomed me into the kitchen and gave me some water as I regain the ability to breathe.
“I went to the island,” I said softly.
“What? You actually went there? Is that why you’re not wearing any clothes? Don’t tell me you swam all the way over there.”
“No, I rented a boat and swam through these big rocks surrounding the island. I found the children that went missing.”
“Look at this,” I said as I showed her the photos on my camera. “These tombstones contain the names of the kids who went missing in that location.”
Aunt Pam nearly fainted when she read the name on one of the tombstones.
“Adam,” she whispered.
She actually fainted when I pull out the baseball cap.
Aunt Pam, Uncle Walter and I waited patiently as our video chat recipient on the laptop finally picked up. I almost didn’t recognize him without all that weight he had as a kid.
“Hey Mom and Dad. What’s going on?”
“Honey, we have a visitor,” Uncle Walter replied as I came into view on the webcam.
“No way. Is that Kelly? I almost didn’t recognize you. Gosh, you were so ugly back then.”
“I went to the island,” I snapped.
“I thought I told you to stay away from there,” he growled as his smile disappeared.
“Why do you care? You said that you were never going to return to this town, anyway.”
“What did you find there?”
“Jeremy, why are you behaving this way?” his father asked.
“What did you find there?”
“See for yourself,” I replied as his mother emailed him the photos I took. His face turned the shade of paste as he went through them. When he looked back up at us, I held up Adam’s baseball cap.
“I’ll be back soon, Jeremy,” I said calmly.
Jeremy hung up.