We won the tickets and were not to be taxed so there was little debate over whether or not we would go to the island.
“It’s a contest,” they said, “and you’ve won!”
That felt good. We were proud of one another and happy for an exciting change.
We were told we would be taken care of so we did not pack much but a few magazines and books and an extra pair of tennis shoes each. We were concerned there would be some physical element we were unprepared for.
“You have the opportunity to extend your stay and cash in on bonus prizes,” they said.
We liked that it was an opportunity, not a requirement.
“Why is the island called Ghost Mountain Island?” we asked.
“Everything you need to know is in the literature,” they said.
On the ferry ride over, we shared a colada and read through the literature. It was called Ghost Mountain Island because it was an island with a mountain at center that was rumored to be haunted.
My wife is fond of the idea of ghosts, though it frightens her. I have little interest in ghosts other than their potential effects on my wife, who is sometimes noticeably nervous and anxious and other times nervous and anxious in ways I cannot measure or detect.
There was nothing in the literature about the bonus prizes or the opportunity to extend our stay.
The island was very plain with a mountain at center. The beach was clean and lined with manicured palm trees. As you moved from the water the trees grew dense, giving way to cliffs of jagged rock.
“This island is your island,” they said, “for thirty days, unless you choose to extend your stay.”
“We need to know more about that,” said my wife.
“Every week you’ll discover a clue. If you can solve the mystery, you can stay as long as you like. Otherwise the boat will be back for you in thirty days.”
“Four clues in all,” said my wife. “But what kind of mystery is the mystery?”
It was clear from the very first night that the island was not entirely our island but also the ghost’s island and we had to respect that.
My wife and I had nightmares and every now and then the beach would become blood and soak our feet and dot our calves.
Each thing the ghost did went away eventually, but it all took an emotional toll.
My wife was happy to know that ghosts were real and that there was more to life than we expected in a way that made sense to her.
“I get this,” she said. “Ghosts have always made sense to me.”
We drank a lot of coladas to get over the emotional trauma brought on by the ghost.
We called it, “Hard Island Living.”
“He’s fucking with us,” I said. “The ghost.”
I was covered in snakes and trying not to move.
“Don’t move,” said my wife.
“I’m trying not to,” I said.
“It isn’t real,” she said.
One of the snakes bit me on the leg but I could not see which snake it was. I could feel that I was bleeding from the snakebite and I said,
“When these snakes disappear we need to treat this snakebite and we’ll need to do it carefully.”
“Why would anyone want to vacation like this?” said my wife, wrapping gauze around my leg with one hand and brushing an army of tiny crabs out of her hair with the other. “This is a horrible prize.”
“But we were happy for a change,” I said. “And you were excited about the ghosts.”
“I don’t want to argue,” she said.
The first clue was a wooden cane wrapped in plastic. It was in a log that appeared suddenly on the beach one morning.
“I have no idea what this could mean,” said my wife, turning the cane in her hands.
Neither did I.
“I wouldn’t want to solve it anyway,” said my wife, “because I don’t want to stay.”
“But what about the prizes?”
“They could be anything,” said my wife.
We put a note inside the plastic wrapping and put that in the log and set it back out to sea.
“So far,” read the note, “we are undecided about the mystery.”
“Maybe we should climb the mountain,” said my wife.
I didn’t think it was a good idea.
“That’s probably where the ghost lives,” I said.
“Maybe we should meet him on his own terms,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s a very good idea,” I said.
We didn’t have any rope so we decided I would stay at the bottom and try to catch her if she fell. I couldn’t really climb because the snakebite on my leg was infected and sore. We were right to have brought the tennis shoes. We have an uncanny sense about these things. I watched my wife scale the mountain and when she was just overhead I realized that I still found her extremely attractive.
“Looking good,” I called after her.
She did not respond.
“Looking good,” I yelled.
“Stop,” she said. “I am trying to respect the mountain.”
She was gone for three days so I camped out at the base of the mountain and drank coladas by myself.
My leg got worse. It was too gross to look at. I imagined a doctor saying,
“There’s no hope for the leg. We’re going to have to amputate.”
I had no nightmares or visions while she was gone, which I appreciated. It was a very peaceful time.
She appeared on the morning of the third day.
I asked her what happened and she said there was more to it than she could really explain.
“It’s complicated,” she said. “I really needed rope.”
Our second clue was a coil of climber’s rope wrapped in fresh plastic, delivered in another log. We suspected it was the same log.
“They’re fucking with us,” said my wife.
“There’s no way of knowing,” I said.
“Your leg looks terrible,” she said.
“I know,” I said.
“This is terrible,” she said.
“How high up did you go?” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“To the top?”
“It’s hard to say.”
“Did you get to a point where there was no more up?”
“When I got past the trees, it was nighttime. I couldn’t see where I was going. I could see the ocean and the stars and the moon but I could not see the mountain itself. I climbed until I was suddenly back at the trees again and it was daytime and I just kept going until I was back where I started.”
“So you climbed up and over?”
“I don’t know.”
“Were there ghosts?”
“There was one bitter ghost.”
“Did you see him?”
“How did you know he was there and how did you know he was bitter?”
“He kept saying things to me.”
“What kinds of things?”
“It’s hard to describe.”
“He did impressions.”
“Like a comedian?” I said.
“No,” she said, “I told you you wouldn’t get it.”
I thought she was being shitty and withholding so I pouted and drank coladas under some banana leaves. Visions came and went and I did not engage. When I saw snakes, I waited it out. When beetles crawled out of my mouth, I closed my eyes and let them scuttle away. She stayed near the water. She ran her toe through the sand and watched the water smooth the rut.
“How many more days of this?” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“What do you know?” I said.
“A lot,” she said.
The third clue was a bottle of wine and two red candles in crystal candleholders.
She set the candles and the wine on the log and waited for me to join her.
Over wine we agreed not to fight anymore. We were on vacation. We were wasting our time here together. It wasn’t all bad. I told her I would appreciate it if she were more sensitive and open. She told me she needed me to respect her right to have her own private thoughts.
“This is good,” I said, “this is headway.”
The next few days were incredibly pleasant. We talked a lot and she said a lot of things like,
“I think a ghost is like a spiritual bruise.”
“A spiritual infected snakebite,” I said.
“That festers,” she said.
“Until you have to amputate,” I said.
“Or it’s all wound and no body.”
We decided to play a game called Wound. We spread our bodies out on the sand and tried to take up as much room as possible. We pushed out from the tips of our fingers and the tips of our toes. We tried to grow and deepen. Then the beach turned to blood and that was incredibly hilarious to both of us.
I became very pale because I was very sick.
“I think the snakes were real,” I said. “Do you think the snakes were real?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Shh. You’re very sick.”
“I think I am becoming more like the ghost,” I said.
“You’re not like the ghost at all,” she said. She brought water from the ocean in little leaves she plucked from the dense vegetation. She cooled my head with cool water and said she didn’t know why she said that. “I didn’t really mean that when I said it,” she said.
“Which part?” I said.
“I’m just upset,” she said.
She was really upset so I tried to show her how not sick I was.
“I’m feeling pretty good today,” I said.
“Your teeth are falling out,” she said.
“Hard Island Living,” I said.
I wanted to seem less sick so I said,
“I think I might give the mountain a try.”
“I think that’s dumb,” she said.
“I’ve got the cane and the rope,” I said, “and the candles. I’ve got more strength than I’ve felt in a long time.”
“I am not happy about this decision,” she said, “and I do not support it.”
The truth is, I did not have more strength than I’d felt in a long time. The truth is, I thought I might climb the mountain for a while then die on the mountain and become a ghost and it would be very mysterious and she would work really hard to solve the mystery until she solved it so she could stay on the island with me forever.
“I thought maybe you would try at the mystery while I am gone,” I said, coiling the rope around my hand in a productive-looking way.
“We don’t have all the clues,” she said.
Then I produced the fourth clue, which had arrived that morning: a single shot pistol wrapped in plastic.
“Then I think I solved the mystery,” she told me. “They’re just giving us what we need.”
“That’s cheesy,” I said.
“It’s a travel company,” she said.
“It’s a sweepstakes,” I said.
“It’s a scam,” she said.
“It’s a mystery,” I said.
“Not any more,” she said.
“You don’t know that,” I told her. “Not for sure.”
“Is it loaded?” she asked.
I didn’t know. The clip was glued into the handle.
“If that’s the fourth clue,” she said, “it means they’re coming to get us soon.”
“A few days, maybe,” I said.
“That’s good news,” she said.
“You’re ready to leave?”
“You’re very sick,” she said.
“I’m not,” I said, “I’m just winning at Wound.”
“We’re not playing anymore,” she said.
“Said the quitter,” I said, to my wife.
“I’m not a quitter,” she said.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I said.
“Wounds can’t answer questions,” she said.
I was fingering my wedding ring and I said,
“It’s sort of an odd thing, to promise to be together until you die.”
“That’s not exactly what we said,” she said.
“It’s sort of what we said,” I said.
“It’s not what I said,” she said.
“It’s not exactly what we said,” I said, “but what we said implied it.”
A swarm of gnats settled around us and all of these frogs came out of the dense vegetation to eat them.
“Whoa,” said my wife.
“I thought we were the only things here,” I said, “or, the only living things.”
“That’s very self-centered,” she said.
“Well goddamn it,” I said, “I’m dying.”
“I miss the ghost,” she said after a dozen or so coladas.
We hadn’t been haunted in any way for several days, unless you count the frogs, but that seemed unrelated.
“I appreciate your honesty,” I said. I was in an awful mood because the pain in my leg kept interrupting my thoughts.
“Do you want me to tell you what the ghost was like?” she said.
“I would have before but now I just want to go home,” I said. “That’s all I care about.”
“Well I would have liked to tell you,” she said.
“How long have we been here?” I said.
She didn’t know.
“Why don’t you think they’re here yet?” I said.
“Because we’re deciding if we want to stay,” she said.
“Not me,” I said.
“Maybe there’s more to all of this than what you want,” she said.
“I’m going to climb that fucking mountain,” I said.
“It’s not a good idea,” she said.
She was right. I was pretty rotted away by then, pretty much unsalvageable—just a puddle of puss for a leg and my skin rotting off in rings circling out from the wound.
I tried to move, but each step was painful. I yelled until I was out of breath. A group of green parrots lifted from the trees behind us.
“Where is that coming from?” I demanded.
“Hard island living,” she said, with tears in her eyes.
“Do you think if I kissed you enough times whatever you have could pass to me and we could both be sick but you a little less sick?” she said.
“Probably,” I said.
We kissed over and over and over and over and over again until nothing happened.
“It didn’t work,” she said.
“No,” I said.
“I’m going to shoot myself with the gun,” she said.
“But then I’ll be alone,” I said.
“No,” she said, “I’m going to wait until you die first.”
“You probably shouldn’t do that,” I said. “We haven’t been married that long. You might regret it.”
She thought about it for a long time but never said anything.
“They’re not coming,” I said.
“This was a terrible vacation,” she said.
“There were some good parts,” I said.
“I don’t even know if that’s true,” she said.
“We’re indecisive,” I said, “so it’s true sometimes and not true others.”
That made her laugh and cry, which was sad for me.
I wasn’t getting any better, which was a thing that used to happen all the time, so I felt nostalgic and lonely.
“Maybe I’m just sick because I’m old,” I said. “Maybe I’m too old to get better.”
“You’re not that old,” she said.
“No one ever really thinks they’re all that old,” I said.
“Some people do,” she said.
She was right. Some people do. I wasn’t one of those people. I was glad to suddenly know a truth about myself.
“I’m not getting any better,” I said, “and they’re not coming to get us.”
“I know,” she said. “You were a really good husband.”
“Thanks,” I said. Then, “tell me what kind of things the ghost said while you were on the mountain.”
“Mainly quotes from TV shows and old movies.”
“That sounds pretty good, actually,” I said.
“He was really good at it,” she said.
“Dynomite,” I said.
“Not like that,” she said.
A swarm of turtles appeared where the sand met the water. They inched their awkward way toward us.
“I guess this is just going to keep happening,” I said.
“Forever,” she said, “because they’re not coming.”
“You’re my wife,” I said, “and I love you.”
“I’m going to shoot myself with the pistol,” she said.
“You have to wait,” I said.
“Obviously, I’m going to wait,” she said.
“Then I won’t know what you did,” I said.
“You could go on living on the island and hang out with the ghost and the frogs and the parrots and the turtles forever,” I said.
“I might just do that,” she said.
“I’m going to tell myself you did that,” I said.
“Let’s play Wound,” she said.
I was too tired for anything else, so it seemed like a good idea. I started playing Wound. She told me I was winning.
“You’re winning,” she said. “Look at you.”
“I’m doing pretty good,” I said.
“You’re doing so good,” she said.
“I just said that,” I said.
The sand turned into blood again and the humor was not lost on me, that now the ghost was quoting himself.
“We’re all doing great,” she said.
The truth is, she wasn’t doing very well. She was sitting up and moving the clues around like frogs or parrots or turtles, or awkward puzzle pieces.
“You look awkward doing that,” I said, “Focus, or you’re going to lose.”
“What?” she said.
“I’m winning,” I said.
“What?” she said.
“I’m winning,” I said.
“I love you,” she said, like she couldn’t hear me.
“You’re not even playing it right,” I said.
“I love you,” she said.
“I don’t like this game and I want to stop,” I said.
The sand turned into snakes then into beetles then into blood then back into sand.
“Old hats,” I insisted.
“I love you,” she said.
“Are you even listening to me?” I said.
She kissed me a bunch and didn’t get any sicker.
“I love you,” she said.