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“Is that the island, Daddy?”
Bill Andersen glanced down at his eight-year-old daughter, Terri, and smiled. “Yes, honey,” he replied, putting his hand on her shoulder. “We should be docking in about fifteen minutes.”
They stood by the rail in the bow of the commuter ferry to Mateguas Island on the way to their new home. There was no bridge to this island – access was only by boat.
Bill gazed out over the water, watching as they neared the island’s craggy shoreline. It was a beautiful sight – waves crashing against the rocks, spray shooting into the air, and everything sparkling in the late afternoon sun. But it was cold. A shiver ran down his spine.
“Daddy, what does Mah-tuh-gwoss mean?” asked Terri as she leaned over the railing, her long blonde braids whipping around her head in the brisk sea breeze.
“I don’t know, sweetie, just some Indian name, I suppose.”
Terri looked at her father with disappointment, a frown on her face. He was supposed to know everything. She was the more analytical of his twin girls, always questioning and expecting answers to be readily forthcoming. Sophie, who was sitting inside the cabin with her mother, tended to be the quieter, but more creative, of the two. When they were together, Terri usually took the lead with Sophie trailing happily along behind her.
Bill adored his daughters and prayed this new home would be good for them. The elementary school they would attend was one of the last of Maine’s fabled “island schools.” After that, they would have to get up at dawn to catch the ferry to the mainland and take the bus to the middle school in town. It would be quite a change for them, but he hoped it would be for the better.
His thoughts were interrupted by a deep voice coming from behind them. “Mateguas means ‘rabbit’ young lady.”
Bill and Terri turned toward the speaker.
A tall man, Bill guessed his age at around fifty though his face was so weathered by sun and sea, he could have been younger.
“Rabbit?” replied Terri. “That’s a funny name for an island. Why is it called that? Are there lots of rabbits there?”
“No, honey,” the man said. “You’ll see the occasional jack rabbit, but that’s about it. The Indians who settled here, the Abenaki, named the island. You see, they worshipped the Rabbit. He was the ruler of The Land of the Dead. But don’t let that scare ya – he was pretty much a good old boy, that Rabbit. Not like some other Abenaki spirits.”
“What other spirits?” asked Terri eagerly.
The man laughed. “Oh, honey, those stories are for late at night when you’re safe at home with a warm fire crackling in the woodstove and you’re surrounded by your loved ones. Then’s the time for tales of the Mskagwdemos!”
“What’s a muh-skog-day-moose?” asked the little girl with some anticipation.
A plain-looking woman on the other side of the bow turned to the man. “Now don’t you go telling your tall tales and scare that poor child, old man!”
She shook her finger at him and then looked at Terri. “Don’t you mind him, honey. He thinks he knows just about everything there is to know about the Indians and their legends. But most of it’s just a bunch of hooey!”
“Are there Indians on the island?” asked Terri.
“No, honey, they all left. Moved to Quebec many years ago. You might still find an arrowhead on the beach, though, if you look real closely.” The woman smiled at Terri, then turned to Bill. “Are you folks Janie Morgan’s kin?”
“Yes, she was my aunt,” said Bill, offering his hand. “I’m Bill Andersen and this is my daughter, Terri. My wife, Karen, and my other daughter, Sophie, are inside.”
“Name’s Pete McKinney,” the man said, shaking Bill’s hand. “The one over there with the mouth is the wife, Louise.”
Louise frowned at her husband, then looked at Bill and smiled. “Happy to meet you. And please accept our condolences for your aunt. She was a grand lady. It was a sad thing when she passed. We are all going to miss her. Are you and your family just here for the summer or are you planning on staying year-round?”
“Oh, we’re here to stay – uh, I mean, year-round,” replied Bill.
“Good, we need more year-rounders. Girls be going to the island school?”
Bill nodded. He was about to reply when he heard the cabin door open and a tall, slim blonde with cool blue eyes emerged from inside.
“Bill, it looks like we’ll be docking soon. Are you sure there’s no taxi service to take us up to the house?”
“Pete, Louise, this is my wife, Karen,” said Bill. “Karen, this is Pete and Louise McKinney.”
Karen nodded and smiled, then turned back to Bill, looking at him questioningly. “A taxi, Bill?”
“No, Karen. We talked about this before,” he replied with a hint of irritation. “The taxi only runs during the ‘season’ and that doesn’t start till the Fourth of July. I’ll jog up to the house and get the car. It’s only a half-mile.”
Karen frowned and pursed her lips, obviously annoyed at the inconvenience.
Pete watched the couple carefully – the tension between them being almost palpable.
“Hope you don’t mind me putting in my two cents,” he interjected, “but you’re going to have a pretty hard time getting Janie’s car down to the wharf. When she took ill, she put the car away in the garage. Battery’s most likely dead and I expect it probably needs oil and air in the tires, too. Why don’t you let Louise and me give you a lift? Our truck will hold all of you and your stuff and it’s on our way anyway.”
“That’s very kind of you. We’ll take you up on it,” said Bill.
Karen nodded to Bill and to the McKinneys, thanking them, and went back into the cabin. She did not smile.
Bill sighed, worried about how his wife would adapt to life on the small island. She was a California girl used to all the conveniences.
How’s she going to make it here with no movie theaters, no malls, and just one small grocery store? And there’s only a single burger joint and a seafood takeout place. She’s a woman used to dining in the finest of restaurants. Staying home all the time is not going to sit real well with her, that’s for sure.
He frowned as he gazed at the rocky shoreline. It was spring now but it wouldn’t be long before winter came and, with it, the cold. And there would be snow.
Oh, yes, the snow. That’ll be tough on her, too.
Inside the cabin, Karen sat stiffly on the wooden bench next to her daughter, a frown on her face. She glanced around the room, which was about half full. Most of the people in the cabin were elderly or looked working-class. In their hands or sitting at their sides were ugly canvas bags jam-packed with groceries and God knew what else.
Soon, I’ll be one of them, she thought, shuddering.
She looked toward the bow of the boat and could see her husband through the window in animated conversation with some of the islanders. Her frown deepened.
This isn’t going to be easy. Moving to this god-awful place so far away from everything. And Bill – I can’t help it. Every time I look at him, I just get so mad.
Thinking about this, she mentally chided herself. But why am I so angry? He lost his job because of the recession. Well, at least that’s what he tells everyone. But, I know him and I’m sure somehow he was responsible – he did something – something he’s been keeping hidden from me.
“Mommy, are we there yet?”
Brought back to reality by the sound of her daughter’s voice, Karen smiled. “Yes, honey, I think we’re coming in now.”
Outside, Bill and Terri observed the boat’s captain as he expertly maneuvered the ferry up to the small dock. As the deckhand tied up the boat, Karen and Sophie emerged from the cabin. Bill turned when he heard the door open and reached out to his wife. She looked down at his hand for a moment then moved away, over to the rail, and stared at the mainland behind them. A stiff breeze whipped her hair around her head and she clutched her sweater tightly to her neck to ward off the chill. Bill sighed, a look of frustration on his face.
Making note of the silent exchange between the new couple, Pete turned to his wife and raised his eyebrows. In response, she gave him a stern look and an abbreviated shake of her head. When the ferry was securely tied up to the dock, the Andersens carried their belongings to Pete’s truck. Karen watched the activity on the wharf as Bill and Pete carefully loaded everything into the back. The other passengers from the ferry had debarked and were carrying their canvas bags and pulling their wheeled carts to their cars, chatting amiably with each other on the way.
At the end of the wharf, Karen noticed a group of men standing beside a boat loaded with what she guessed were lobster traps. One of the men nodded in her direction and another, whose back was to her, slowly turned around.
He wore a baseball cap that partially obscured his features, but she guessed he was about Bill’s age. He had on jeans and rubber boots and, despite the cold, wore only a light windbreaker over his tight T-shirt. His body appeared lean and well-muscled. Their eyes met and they stared at each other for a moment. Then a slow, suggestive grin started to grow on his face as his eyes began to travel up and down her body. She felt the beginnings of a blush and tore herself away and turned back to her husband, who had finished the loading and was helping their daughters into the back of the truck.
“Karen, you hop in next to me,” called Louise, squeezing over toward her husband, who was behind the wheel. With relief, Karen climbed into the front seat of the truck. Her daughters were giggling and she turned her head and smiled as she watched them through the window. They were obviously excited to be riding in the back with their father.
As they drove away from the wharf, they passed the group of men standing by the lobster boat. Karen could hear them laughing as they went by and she deliberately kept her eyes straight ahead, refusing to look in their direction. However, she could feel him still watching her, arms folded across his broad chest and that slow, sexy smile lingering on his face.
In the back, Bill put his arms around his daughters’ shoulders, hoping they didn’t catch a chill. The sun was warm, but there was a blustery ocean breeze, a remnant of the winter just past. It was early May and, though it was beginning to warm up, there was still a long way to go until the heat of summer arrived. Bill planned the move for this time of year, hoping to stave off the high cost of heating oil they would experience in the winter. Once a successful software engineer, he also prayed he could find work on the mainland, hoping the marketplace here was not as glutted with tech types as California’s was.
A fresh start, he thought as the truck pulled away from the wharf to take them to their new home.
Mateguas Island, A Novel of Terror and Suspense, the first novel in the award-winning, best-selling Mateguas Island Series, can be purchased for only #99cents through July 5, 2021.