Stories

A Horror Story – Chloe Pingeon

I

I throw up out the window of my dad’s minivan on the drive back to the airport. I’m carsick, not hungover, despite my mother’s insistence that she can see the partying weight on my thighs. It’s pouring rain and nobody wants to pull over, least of all me. It’s so dark out and the hum of the car is so familiar and I wish I could let the rhythm of things lull me to sleep. 

My dad is talking about how he wishes he was Less Rich. Donate some money then, I say. He wishes he was symbolically less rich, he is saying. He wishes he had everything he had but it was just Worth A Little Less. That’s really fucking stupid, I say. Then I vomit out the window. 

I wish it was still summer. I feel like picking a fight, but not about this. 

II

My mother hates the clambake because the pressure to rave over Aunt Rachel’s cooking just makes everyone anxious and it ruins the meal. I like the clambake because I lay out the silverware and I put on a blouse and I sit at the corner of the kids table closest to the back door and I can hear the sound of the ocean over the conversation. My feet can’t touch the ground at the table. Not in my memory, at least. Maybe the table is just incredibly tall or maybe everything is just starting to blur together.

III

Julia says I am the most nostalgic person she knows, and I become very paranoid that nostalgia breeds insanity, or worse, delusion. I fear I am looking back on nothing good with false fondness. This would signify irreparable misdirection. I keep a meticulous journal and I periodically cast my memory alongside my records. So far, everything tracks.

IV

Six summers ago was the summer my cousins found a body washed up on NoMan’s Land. The body was human, they got that part right away, but they thought it was wearing a wetsuit at first because the skin had gone all shriveled and tight and blackened over time. It still had skin. This was the part that was most disturbing to me. I did not realize you could decompose into the smothering grasp of your own tightening, suffocating exterior. Nobody else says it out loud but I think everyone is thinking the same thing because no one can stop talking about the body’s blackened tightened moldened skin. Just like a wetsuit. They say that sentence so many times at dinner.

My mother thinks it’s distasteful how excited everyone is about finding a body. 

“It’s a human body,” she says

“But it’s been dead forever,” says everyone else.

I remain more concerned by the semiotic matter that it seems to be an eerie coincidence for a body to wash up on NoMan’s Land. It is essential to my worldview that anomalous tragedies happen entirely at random. It is essential that I could never be at risk. It is essential that I could never be to blame.

I only remember that they found the body on the night of the clambake because everyone passed pictures around the table and Aunt Rachel was annoyed because now, no one would eat. The images didn’t bother me. It really did just look like a lost wetsuit lodged under a branch in some festering creek on some desolate island. Objects get sealed off and forgotten because the tides change all the time. It was only later that I remembered there was somebody trapped under all that hardened skin. 

V

Picture this: you anchor off of NoMan’s Land.  (Wampanoag: Cappoaquit) also mapped (“No Man’s Land,” or “No Man’s island“).  An uninhabited island 612 acres in size, located in the town of Chilmark, Dukes County, Massachusetts. Situated about 3 miles (4.8 km) off the southwest corner of the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Signs mark the shoreline. Bold red writing. 

“No Man’s Island. Keep Off. Property of the United States Navy. Extreme safety risk of unexploded ordnance.”

The island was used as a practice bombing range from 1943 to 1996. Picture that one time you sailed there, years ago, and picture you were in the forest alone when they actually started bombing. You were younger then. It was 1995 then. You made it out alive then. There’s a nostalgic adrenaline in returning now. It’s safer now. Desolate now. It was desolate then but now it’s really just you. 

Picture you find a body and it’s been there for years but its skin has not decayed. Its skin has survived mold and wind and the salt and bacteria of a stagnant tidepool and now its skin is hardened and dry and folded and sealed over what used to be eyes and a mouth and a nose. Picture you find a skeleton that has become entirely encased in itself. 

Picture the coast guard arrives by boat. You call and they arrive quickly but you’re three miles off shore at best and so for a moment– you’re not sure for how long, you’re not sure about time here generally – you are utterly alone. 

You see a woman walking down the shore in that moment. You tell everyone about this at dinner as you pass around photos of the stretched, shriveled, dehydrated corpse of John Doe. A subheading in SouthCoast Today. 

JOHN DOE FOUND ON NOMAN’S LAND.

You think this is eerily sad. You never hear anything else about the woman. It’s impossible that you saw a woman because you were entirely alone but it is impossible, too, that your memory would betray you.

Picture that the island’s always been called NoMan’s Land. Picture that its name came from a century before the bombs and the navy and that no one has ever lived there. It says so in a notebook that you find months later in the back corner of New Bedford Vintage Warehouse. It says the name was derived from a Wampanoag sachem in the 17th century. You think it’s ominous that a place has always been called a name that is so forlorn.

The coast guard isn’t concerned about the body or the women or the name of this godforsaken island. The coast guard is just concerned that You Were There. They call over and over and over again in the days following your discovery. They can’t understand that You Just Wanted To Explore.

Eventually, they stop calling.

Picture this all fades away. 

Picture that all of this actually happened. Not necessarily the parts about me, but the parts about you. 

Picture what this would do to your unwavering faith in the existence of bad luck as purely coincidence.